The Round Up: 2016
What a year.
Between Brexit, Trump and countless other low points in humanity’s long, slow journey down the pisser, it’s hard to find anything positive to celebrate as we ride out the last couple of days of what could have been a year of unity and progress.
Yet, amidst the rubble that the wrecking ball of 2016 has left, there’s been relief in the form of an absolutely vital year for music. It’s often said that chaos and turmoil breed creativity, and this year might just be the perfect example of that. As our late friend Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”
Keeping this in mind, the Lonely Table family present our End Of Year Round Up. As well as 2016’s best music, we’re also sharing the top discoveries we’ve made this year. Plenty to chew on.
Have a wonderful 2017.
AS ALWAYS, CLICK ON A PIECE OF ARTWORK TO HEAR A TRACK.
DJ Metatron/Traumprinz - 2 The Sky
I first heard about this release from Theo’s first feature article Soon To Be Innocent Fun #1. I was hooked in a similar way to when I first heard Burial; both create a sound that captures melancholic atmosphere within a euphoric floor filler context. This is soul music with killer beats and fits many an occasion from the pre-party vibes to the emotional bus journey home – get involved.
Show Me The Body – Body War
(The Famous Letter Racer)
This has been my go to record for 2016. Musically, it is a blinding mix of noise-punk, hardcore, and hip-hop that lyrically ignites in a blaze of raw and visceral energy. Chiefly, it’s directed at issues affecting the band today, from gentrification to police brutality, all whilst capturing a heavy groove and wicked flow.
The Comet Is Coming - Channel The Spirits
(The Leaf Label)
The energy of punk channeled through an Afro-futurist jazz influenced electronic punch in the face. This has to be one of the most forward thinking, innovative records to come out of the UK in years. Heavy rhythms and ferocious beats from Betamax, furious postulations and layered sounds from synth wizard Danalogue, and percussive playing and astral melodies from King Shabaka. This is your antidote to a tumultuous 2016.
Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos
Kate Tempest’s second album Let Them Eat Chaos is 2016’s anthem. A record encapsulating the global turmoil that has included Brexit, the refugee crisis, war, terror, the rise of Trump and the rise of the right. The music and lyricism on Let Them Eat Chaos sustains Kate’s underlying message of uneasy restlessness, quickly changing tempo and tone, keeping the listener on edge. Meanwhile her characters make up a society that continues to suffer through these dark, dark times. Yet despite such dark messaging, this album has remained infectious for me. Perhaps the cracks in our society, explored in the desperation of each character’s narrative, is something that is so familiar and relatable. Or maybe it’s the delivery of such powerful unspoken stories in such a concise manner. Either way, Tempest perfected her art and sound on this record. And if that’s not enough to tickle your fancy, it even features a downbeat, beautifully twisted reworking of Sister Sledge’s ‘Thinking of You’.
Ragnar Kjartansson & The All Star Band – The Visitors
(The Vinyl Factory)
The Visitors is an odd one for this end of year list, an anomaly of sorts. Roughly 60 minutes in length, I discovered this piece of music-cum-video installation at Ragnar Kjartansson’s Barbican exhibition earlier this year. It was undoubtedly one of my most memorable musical experiences of 2016. As the song weaves in and out, I still find myself listening to and craving for the hook, “once again // I fall into // my feminine ways”. It’s something of such simplicity that fills me with the fuzziest of feelings that I can’t, and don’t want to, explain. Aside from the exhibition I’ve listened to this music just three times this year, each of which remains an intensely intimate and fond memory. Seldom do I find a record that I know so well after so few listens. I urge you to experience the installation and/or music, should you get the opportunity.
Yussef Kamaal - Black Focus
In a year where jazz music has been reborn for new, younger audiences, Yussef Kamaal take the trophy of most hyped 'jazz' record of the year. It’s a record whose roots go deep into a combination of Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams’ influences, from Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie to grime, drum and bass and Henry Wu’s (Williams’) 22a / Peckham sound. I saw them do their thing at the first Church of Sound, a huge musical highlight of the year. Back then the energy created was very of the moment, a jam of sorts. What Black Focus does is perfectly capture that live essence of their music. In doing so, they’ve created an album that falls somewhere between jazz-funk, disco and broken beat, and I can’t get enough of it.
Nils Frahm & F.S. Blumm - Tag Eins Tag Zwei
Anybody that knows me will tell you I’m a sucker for sad, ambient music. So maybe no surprises that Nils Frahm has ended up on my top picks of 2016. The nine tracks that make up Tag Eins Tag Zwei were the result of a series of improvisational sessions between Frahm and frequent collaborator F.S. Blumm – their soft, almost aloof scatterings of piano and guitar capturing the magic of accident, chance and circumstance. The recordings were then layered on top of each other, with instruments drifting in and out of conversation with each other, creating some of the most affecting, intimate, and beautifully messy music I’ve ever heard.
Solange - A Seat At The Table
It’s made it onto many end of year lists, and rightly so; Solange Knowles’ third solo album, her own personal celebration of black womanhood, already appears as a document of real historical substance. It captures a wave of protest, indignity, but also empowerment in opposition to the powers-that-be in America. Various interludes, such as one featuring Knowles’ father Matthew speaking about his own experiences of racial discrimination, serve to widen the historical scope of the album. Another, from her mother Tina, places white entitlement and privilege under lucid, impassioned scrutiny. Not only crucial in terms of its social commentary, A Seat At The Table is also an exciting, innovative record of high artistic quality, with Knowles crafting her own brand of psychedelic, funk-tinged neo-soul as forward-thinking as it is true to its musical roots. One of the best albums of 2016? Probably one of the best of the entire decade.
DJ Sotofett - ‘Current 82 (12 Mix)’
(Keys Of Life)
I listened to a lot of downtempo music in 2016, chasing that elusive dragon of incommunicable, aural satisfaction you can only attain through music. Then I heard this tune. Its simplicity is what makes it so captivating: a two note heartbeat of a bassline; distant, minimal percussion; and unbelievably ethereal chords which saturate the entire ensemble with raw, unadulterated emotion. And it just keeps on giving, for nearly a quarter of an hour. Relentless, restless relaxation. Nothing really changes that much, apart from a bit of a switch up at the halfway mark where elements fall out of the mix and back in again – a perfectly executed ‘anti-drop’. I’ve listened to this tune so many times and its impact never wavers.
Noname - Telefone
This debut full-length mixtape from Chicago native Noname has received a fair amount of attention through her associations with that city’s breakout star Chance the Rapper. While she definitely has a distinctively Chicagoan sound, her labelling as the ‘female Chance’ definitely undersells the richness of this record. The warmth of the opening tracks, both in terms of the production and the subjects of Noname’s soft-spoken delivery, belie the bittersweet, political edge that underpins the record. ‘Casket Pretty’, in particular, offers almost seemingly throwaway musings on police violence (‘Blue and the white/Badges and pistols rejoice in the night… Too many babies in suits’) that have an incredible poignancy. For me, the standout hip-hop release of the year.
Shabaka and the Ancestors - Wisdom of the Elders
Jazz has certainly enjoyed a moment in the sun over the last couple of years on both sides of the Atlantic, with many young players benefiting from the genre’s renewed cultural currency amongst younger hip-hop and electronic audiences. In the UK, Shabaka Hutchings is definitely the pick of this emerging scene. The saxophonist and composer has had a prolific year, touring with Sons of Kemet, receiving a Mercury nomination with the Comet is Coming, and releasing this debut with the Ancestors. While Hutchings’ distinctive, commanding sax playing is often, deservedly, the centrepiece, the South African musicians who make up the Ancestors, especially trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni, offer vital incursions throughout. Drawing from South African heritage as well as the full range of the jazz tradition, this is brilliant, groove-driven spiritual music.
Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer - A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
A fantastic release from experimental stalwart Wadada Leo Smith and the restless pianist Vijay Iyer. Smith’s piercing, brittle trumpet pairs amazingly well with Iyer’s enigmatic soundscapes on the piano. While avant-garde jazz can often seem like inhospitable and uninviting music to newcomers, the sparse textures and mournful vibes on this record should feel familiar to someone who only knows a record like Kind of Blue.
Kenza Long & Rory Connaughton
Steven Julien - Fallen
Double-cover LP Fallen is a production masterclass spilling with raw post-future rollers like ‘Jedi’ and ‘Kingdom’, backed with those reebok-scuffing drums so prevalent in house right now. It could easily be the soundtrack to the end of the world in a Sega video game, kicking off with dancefloor quaker ‘XL’ and ‘Chantel’, which is packed with enough flashy synths and warm jazzy undertones to transport you to Yoshi Falls. From cover to cover it’s complete listening for escapists – what a way to mark your first studio album.
Session Victim - Matching Half
(Delusions of Grandeur)
The German duo pulled through massively with their latest EP, Matching Half. Groovy, melodic perfection – what more could you want from these two? And a bonus remix from Byron The Aquarius to top it all off. With globally successful bangers like ‘Good Intentions’ it’s hard not to get lost in the sounds of Session Victim.
Lapsley - ‘Operator’ (DJ Koze Remix)
When smooth operator Koze stepped on this track it was always going to be special. A truly timeless disco classic in 2016 is virtually unheard of. With dreamy melodies and Lapsley’s bullish soul, it only required some kicks and percussion from the Dekmantel prez to bring the track to the dance, however Koze’s intricate production went ten steps beyond and a feel-good banger was born.
Okzharp & Manthe Ribane – ‘Piki Piki’
I probably could’ve guessed at the end of last year that I’d be including the second meeting of Okzharp & Manthe Ribane in my favourite EPs of 2016. Certainly their last was one of the best things of 2015. The jagged, angular, space-bass productions from the duo are the hyper-modernity of current music. They sound as though they’ve come from some otherworldly culture, or like the soundtrack to futuristic occult ceremonies where people paint themselves in symbols ranging from the Yoruba language to emojis, to ward off duppy spirits and embrace each other in the vast quasi-urban ruins of the old world. They are on another level completely.
Moses Boyd – Rye Lane Shuffle
Jazz is making a bit of a comeback (have you noticed?). This tropical shuffle from Moses Boyd – who managed to enter 2016 relatively unknown, despite winning a MOBO for Best Jazz Act in 2015 – is named after a bustling, diverse strip in Peckham, and has an alluring danceability. Picking up from the tantalising opening blasts, the heavy, soca-influenced rhythms and spiraling melodies target your brain’s jazz centres and get to work making mind, body and soul move to their liking. It’s mind-controlling, vision inducing music. It’s also seriously likeable and could provide 4:22 worth of fun for Mum, Dad, and anyone else. Sweater-vested uncles could step to this. It’s modern jazz for everyone.
Omar-S ft. Diviniti – ‘On Your Way’
There’s an individuality to Omar-S’s music, one often defined by its apparent simplicity and mismatched feel. The elements he uses in his songs are frequently contrasted, bringing to mind an image of their creator pouring his substance into whatever random musical devices he’s been able to find – mechanisation of the soul at its finest. In ‘On Your Way’, the kick and hi-hats meld harshly, neither one giving way for the other, while the skittering percussion rolls over the top without too many fucks given. There’s a rawness and an ugly beauty to these sounds that challenges you not to like them. Using the broadly appealing vocal on ‘On Your Way’, Omar-S could probably have made a smooth, easy listening, popular classic house anthem. Instead he made his own brand – god love him for it.
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas - Mariner
Despite being a longtime fan of both Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas (of Made out of Babies and Battle of Mice fame) I definitely went into Mariner with an equal amount of curiosity as excitement. While both artists deal in the more extreme, arty end of the metal spectrum, they encompass very different sides of it. All doubts are thrown aside upon grandiose opener ‘A Greater Call’, where Cult of Luna’s affinity for massive guitar driven soundscapes mesh perfectly with Julie’s distant vocals. Each of the five tracks on this album, despite mostly pushing the 10 minute mark, are engaging while never slipping into self-indulgence. By the time the hypnotic riffs and atmospheric synths of closer ‘Cygnus’ come to an end, you’ll be wishing that all collaborations are as natural sounding as Mariner.
Savages - Adore Life
Savages’ first album Silence Yourself is a great exercise in post punk. It’s raw, urgent, but has a level of finesse that set them apart from their peers, and predecessors. Adore Life sees Savages hone in that sound into tighter, and at times breathtaking compositions. Every song stands out on its own, and whether it’s the Fugazi influenced ‘Evil’, or the fantastic vocal and guitar hooks of ‘When in Love’, the album never sounds formulaic or the songs lazy. The one-riff opener ‘The Answer’ is genius in its simplicity, in a way only Savages could pull off. Perhaps one of the most interesting songs on Adore Life is the title track, a minimalistic ballad that slowly burns to an extremely powerful conclusion. While not as primal as their debut, Adore Life sees Savages lose nothing of what caught people’s attention in the first place, while delivering another set of fantastic songs.
Neurosis - Fires Within Fires
All Neurosis super fans (guilty as charged) will tell you that each album brings with it a promise of the next step in a music evolution that has seen the band go from apocalyptic crust-influence doom to ambient folk and back again over the past 30 years. Fires Within Fires continues this trend of trimming the fat and placing greater emphasis on urgency. While this is the most urgent Neurosis have sounded since the mid 90’s, each of the five tracks seem to effortlessly condense everything Neurosis is known for into single compositions. While this more direct approach may sound slightly like that of a band resting on its laurels, on Fires Within Fires, Neurosis sound like a band relishing the opportunity to revisit the past and once again prove how influential they are.
BADBADNOTGOOD - IV
(Innovative Leisure Records)
2016 has been a shit year for everything, apart from jazz. With jazz becoming less Carlton Banks and more Will Smith, albums are gaining a much wider audience. More musicians are breaking out of the highbrow confines and allowing previously neglected genres influence their music. IV is a perfect example of this. After last year’s insanely good Sour Soul it was always going to be difficult for BBNG to follow up, but you would have been wrong to doubt them. The whole album is a much more grown up, considered affair than their early releases. From start to finish the music engages you, the instrumental tracks setting the scene for amazing collaborations with the likes of Sam Herring and Mick Jenkins. Even though the album contains some seriously accomplished jazz chops, it never grates on you; everything played is tasteful and included for a reason.
Alogte Oho Jonas & His Sounds Of Joy - Mam Yinne Wa
When the instant classic ‘Zota Yinne’ came out in 2014, Alogte Oho Jonas & His Sounds Of Joy promptly and deservedly became eminent in the world music scene. Alogte’s music is so refreshing; it really sets itself apart from the sea of West African music that has come out in recent years. Mam Yinne Wa lived up to all expectations set by his debut. It perfectly mixes classic Afro jazz sensibilities with modern trends and instrumentation. The grooves and polyrhythms are interesting and challenging yet sit so perfectly in the track you completely forget about them. As usual the Sounds of Joy provide completely heartfelt and honest backing vocals, which transport you straight to northern Ghana. The same can be said for the B-side ‘Yu Ya Yumma’, an Afro-reggae tune that mixes everything that makes early reggae so special with the raw passion and rhythm of West Africa.
Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered
(Top Dawg Entertainment)
With the dust barely settled after To Pimp a Butterfly, the surprise release of untitled unmastered at first seemed unnecessary, but after giving it the attention any Kendrick album deserves, it is anything but. Despite the content matter being just as meaningful, untitled unmastered isn’t the cinematic epic that To Pimp a Butterfly is, it occupies a different space; you can listen to it without stopping everything you’re doing and putting on your hip hop hat (not literally). From the luscious fluid jazz of ‘untitled 05’ to the candid, rambling recording at the end of ‘untitled 07’, untitled unmastered provides more of what made To Pimp a Butterfly so exceptional, and at the same time a deeper look into the workings of Kendrick Lamar.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Just an incredible record by the best rock & roll band on the planet by a mile. The impenetrable squall of last year’s Monastic Living was less of a surprise than the melodic frankness of this year’s Human Performance. It felt different: the subject matter felt simpler and somehow more close, stripping away the songwriters’ natural inclination to be clever or obscure, and revealing something more personal. Just like previous albums though, listening to this from start to finish was like a triumph, and catching them live is transcendent.
Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
(Sacred Bones Recordings)
A concept album about femininity and blood, an ambitious and varied piece of pop construction, a devastatingly gorgeous collection of songs – Blood Bitch went above and beyond. Maybe Jenny Hval is what we should demand of all modern artists: as capable of crafting avant-garde oddities as she is emotionally undeniable body-music.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani - Sunergy
A really amazing piece of music this: loads of weird alleys to weave through on their cosmic odyssey. I grew to love these kinds of indulgent long-listens in 2016 and this was my favourite. Special mention too to James Holden, Camilo Tirado and Luke Abbott’s Outdoor Museum Of Fractals.