This is late, I know, and I also know that you’ve all been dying to find out what my top five for 2016. That being said, 2016 has been a strange year for listening. I think I’ve been more scattered in my listening, and more focused on the Monday Graveyard style stuff rather than other music, and most of the albums that made the list are not necessarily new albums or bands. That’s a reflection of my changing musical habits, and mostly also that I just don’t have the time anymore to listen to stuff. That, and the loss of Wi-Fi at work for streaming, has stopped the random listening to new stuff; everything needs to be planned and downloaded ahead of time, so the immediacy of recommendations is lost.
That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed music this past year. Quite the opposite actually.
You can listen to all five albums here.
Local Natives - Sunlit Youth
The album Hummingbird is one of the those albums I love with Connie. We adore the heartfelt vocals and honest lyrics, and the heart-breaking subject matter only amplifies the album for us. Connie couldn’t listen to the record throughout her pregnancy with Joni due because of the lyrics. Sunlit Youth expands on that, and with one of the rare but emotive immediate tracks that Connie just becomes obsessed with on release. Luckily, the rest of the record is just simply brilliant, with smart lyrics and wonderful instrumentation – in fact, five of the songs on the album are some of the band’s best work.
De Rosa – Weem
Of all the band’s to release material this year De Rosa was the most anticipated and probably the most surprising. Several years ago I went to see them pay an amazing set in a small dingy bar in Aberdeen and ended up vastly more drunk than I expected to be. It ranks as one of my favourite gigs and was a fabulous night out – and shortly afterwards (like, maybe two or three days later) they announced they were splitting. Weem, their returning album, is simply wonderful – emotive, expansive, and just barrels along in so many fabulous ways I feel in love with it from the moment I heard the first notes. If you want to read more thoughts about it, you can read my full review for Scottish Fiction here.
Ital Tek – Hollowed
I was listening to this album after a recommendation from Craig of VVSI fame and it really was dark. So dark in fact it met the mood I was in perfectly. One track features a “pip” as part of the rhythm that matches a notification sound that is constantly piped in around the Sellafield site to let you know you are in an active area. If the pips stop, run as fast as you can. This is just one of the many reasons I like this record – its complex, dense, dark and fantastically subtle at the same time, and it just feels like a monolith of sound, with layers denser than the last. It’s not “normal” music either; a challenging listen, I am sure, but I’d recommend trying it. An EP of other tracks was released as well, which is just as strong.
Loscil – Monument Builders
When I first started listening to the ambient music genre Loscil was the first artist I fell entirely in love with. I adore every release of his, from the debut Triple Point, Submers, and the darker Endless Falls. Sketches from New Brighton soundtracks Joni’s early life for me, and it is just fantastic to hear him expand his sound even more on Monument Builders. A leaner album than his sprawling Sea Island it features new moves into louder sounds and more focused sounds, like on Red Tide with its swirling thudding bass line and synth based hook. If anything, it is probably the best material he’s released since Coast/Range/Arc, and might not convince anyone who isn’t sure of his work, but for me as a acolyte of his it’s a pleasing set and a worthy addition to the canon.
Tycho – Epoch
I did not enjoy Tycho’s 2014 album Awake. It didn’t sit well with me for its scattered design, short running time, and lack of memorable tracks. This was set against the absolute adoration I heaped on Dive back in 2012 when I got round to listen to it. Awake didn’t grab me, but Epoch absolutely has. It has some of the Awake meandering and unsettled tracks, but they are more fully-fledged. They do seem more settled, and certainly are more memorable, and it feels like the matching of the post-rock live band style with the dreamy synths has matured, where on Awake (to me) it never was fully realised. There are also slower tracks, and they hark back to the best of Dive. I’m unsure of the minimalistic artwork, even knowing the story behind it, but that’s a minor nit-pick