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December 2016

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (10)

nothing-tired

Nothing – Tired Of Tomorrow

Definite 90s revivalism going on here, with strong influences from two quintessential genres of that decade: grunge and shoegaze. What is it about shoegaze that makes it so enduring? As niche genres go, it has shown surprising longevity. In my opinion there’s something highly satisfying about the thick, seething guitar chords that envelop the listener. In Tired Of Tomorrow I can hear shades of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Sugar mixed with UK shoegaze (obvious reference My Bloody Valentine) – it makes for a meaty sound, quite heavy on the guitars, offset by some prettier, gentler songs.

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (9)

hanssen-transit

Hanssen – Transit

Irritatingly only realised physically on cassette* (although thankfully also digital), this is Hanssen‘s follow-up to the excellent Seven Years Week from 2014. Transit is a little more lively and beat-driven than its predecessor but retains the same dense, kinetic electronic style, which I love. I think the influence of minimalists, such as Steve Reich, on the dance music world are so clear here, with busy, intricate patterns and rhythms repeating, overlapping and intersecting with each other. My only criticism, as with last time, is that it’s all over too quickly!

*(seriously, can this particular hipster phase die out now, please? I mean, I get the vinyl thing – they may be expensive but they do have a certain warmth of sound and the large packaging allows for the artwork to be displayed nicely – but cassettes really had no redeeming features beyond homemade mixtapes.)

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (8)

nicolas-jaar

Nicolas Jaar – Sirens

There’s no point trying to pigeon-hole this genre-wise, as it’s absolutely all over the place. Where his breakthrough debut album (Space Is Only Noise) was very consistent in sound and style throughout, this is the complete opposite, packing an enormous amount into its relatively short running time (and only 6 tracks) without ever feeling rushed or over-stuffed. As you can probably tell from this attempt at a review, it’s pretty difficult to get any sort of handle on but that only adds to its compelling nature. In sewing it all together into a coherent whole, the one thing abundantly clear here is Jaar’s talent as a producer.

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (7)

the_midnight_sun

C Duncan – The Midnight Sun

C Duncan‘s excellent debut album, Architect, somehow fell between 2015 and 2016 for me, and didn’t make it onto my 2015 list, although it might well have done so in retrospect. This follow up came remarkably swiftly but doesn’t seem to be compromised in quality in any way. You can hear his classical training in his tasteful but also rich approach to harmony, and his melodies have a curious old-fashioned quality to them, as if they have been in a time capsule since the 1930s, before rock ‘n’ roll was invented. On The Midnight Sun his self-produced accompaniment is almost purely electronic, a dreamlike sheen of synths with some lovely minimalist arpeggiated motifs. He imbues it with just enough energy to keep things bouncing along until the gentle lullaby-waltz of closing number Window.

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (6)

mint-julep-broken-devotion

Mint Julep – Broken Devotion

Here Keith Kenniff (whose solo record as Helios was one of my favourites last year) pairs up with his wife, Hollie, on vocals for some gorgeous electro pop. I find Keith Kenniff’s work quite compelling – he just seems to have perfect judgement in production and a very musical ear for melody and harmony. This album is much more energetic than his tranquil Helios material, with some driving tempos and quite thick, almost shoegaze-y synths.

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (5)

radiohead-a-moon-shaped-pool

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

After 2011’s The King Of Limbs, which I found admirable but difficult to love, Radiohead’s return this year was another stylistic change in direction, and probably closest to Amnesiac (2001) in feel. There is much to enjoy here, in a rich and varied collection of songs, some of which I understand have been live staples, in some form, for years. I would pick this purely on the strength of the first five songs: propulsive opener Burn The Witch, gentle piano-led Daydreaming, Decks Dark‘s gorgeous and haunting harmonies, pastoral and folky Desert Island Disk, and the fantastically ominous, insistent Ful Stop. Such variety of mood and instrumentation, but always compelling. The second half fades a little in comparison but ends on a strong note with the gentle, but haunting True Love Waits.

 

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (4)

weval

Weval – (self-titled)

I am amazed that this superb album didn’t get more exposure this year. It is a compliment that I have been really struggling to find comparisons: the closest touchstone I can come up with is Caribou‘s excellent Our Love (2014), although this is definitely the shade to Caribou’s light. Both share a similar restraint, employing aural spaces to allow listeners to fill in the blanks. These spaces exist in time but also across the aural field, with Weval employing a limited number of instruments – clipped electronic beats (brilliantly augmented by crisp live percussion), often just a single synth and voice, often down-pitched (a nice contrast to the frequent chipmunk-ed high-pitched vocals in dance music).

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (3)

the-range-potential

The Range – Potential

The concept behind this album was that James Hinton (aka The Range) sourced all his samples from wannabe stars of YouTube, whose videos often had fewer than 100 views. You can hear about the project in a short documentary here. However, high concept or not, what stands out for me is the strength of what’s going on around the samples. It touches on a few of what I could crustily call ‘urban’ styles, as well as house and breakbeat, but all with a warmth and accessibility that don’t make you feel an outsider for not having grown up on a sink estate. The general tone is hugely uplifting – these intricate, immediate arrangements elevating their source material well beyond its obscure origin.

The 2016 Round-Up: Albums of the year (2)

hammock-everything-and-nothing

Hammock – Everything and Nothing

How had I not heard of Hammock before 2016? Here is a band entering their second decade of making music, with at least seven albums under their belt, whose blend of slow motion post rock and shoegaze is an absolute perfect fit for me. I am amazed that I had never picked up on them, and that no-one had recommended them to me before, unromantically, this popped up via Amazon’s recommendation engine. On the plus side, it meant that I have had 10 years plus of back catalogue to explore! Anyway, Everything and Nothing is their most recent album and a great introduction into their distinctive and highly consistent sound. In a nutshell, its a gorgeous veil of slowly unfurling reverb-soaked guitar, strings and voices. Alternatively, like Stars Of The Lid sped up so that the tempo is actually recognisable. I’m still enjoying exploring their back catalogue but this album remains my favourite.

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