As is the nature of these things, I said I would write about some of my favourite albums of the year, rather more informally than normal, across the past month. I really intended to, but only the piece on the Villagers made it to the site. Now, with only two days of 2016 remaining, I’m going to resort to several summary pieces. The first of these can be found below. Click the album titles if you want to have a listen to anything. A second summary piece and a rough rank order will follow. Probably.
Meilyr Jones’ excellent solo debut, ‘2013’, was an early highlight, mixing hints of Randy Newman and Morrissey’s better side. 2015’s taster track ‘Refugees’ didn’t exactly set the scene, although subsequent singles have had the same pleasant problem. It sounds like a best of that ranges across the various eras of an artist’s career rather than the product of one period of writing. It makes for heady listening and pay close attention to the little details, including some beautiful field recordings.
A late addition to the list was The Radio Dept.’s ‘Running Out Of Love’. An emphatic recommendation from Totnes’ ever splendid music emporium Drift, this Swedish group’s fourth outing occupies a space somewhere between Erland Oye’s solo album and a fair chunk of New Order’s output over the years. It appears to have upset some of the faithful because of the reduced use of guitars, but it’s a magnificent record and one which works majestically in its entirety. Had it not escaped my attention on release it would likely be higher up my list.
With ‘Super’, Pet Shop Boys once again showed that they’re not ready for the smooth, elegiac descent that ‘Elysium’ implied, continuing the fine form of ‘Electric’ and delivering one of their finest ever singles in ‘The Pop Kids’. It’s a short, lively record that isn’t perfect but which indulges a fondness for high camp and almost comically excessive harmonies to a remarkable degree.
Although not really a 2016 release, or even 2015 if you go back to its original French language form of 2014, Christine & The Queens’ ‘Chaleur Humaine’ is a very special album indeed. You’ll know the glorious single ‘Tilted’ and may have been lucky enough to see some of her magical performances across the year. These are songs with a social message, a powerful, particular voice and a genuine purpose, as well as some of the finest pop hooks I’ve heard in an age. Most of that could also be said about Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’. Vintage soul grandiosity is a touchstone, but there’s no mistaking when these songs were made, adding all sorts of alternative, jazz and electronica references across its 21 tracks. It’s as fine a critique of modern America as several dozen lengthy New Yorker pieces will ever give you. I’ve still not quite fully got my head around it, but I already know it’s great.
Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Here’ offered welcome autumnal sunshine, marking their finest album since 1997’s ‘Songs From Northern Britain’. Mid-paced jangle and soothing textures are the order of the day and ‘I’m In Love’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Live In The Moment’ are useful ways in for the unitiated. Georgia Ruth broadened the sonic landscape of my album of 2013 to craft ‘Fossil Scale’, co-producer David Wrench adding yet another triumph to his collection, as her strident folk melded with a little more electronica than of old. Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ provided several of my all time favourite songs of theirs, not least the exceptional ‘The Numbers’, which has an oddly jazzy looseness to it that is utterly stunning. The deluxe edition was a right con though and the mastering left more than a little to be desired.
Michael Kiwanuka made a fair old leap from his rather lovely debut ‘Home Again’ on ‘Love and Hate’, being to the orchestral soul sound of the 1970s what Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ was to the emphatic propulsion of 1960s Motown. It’s an album that needs taking in its entirety and it will hypnotise you over a decent pair of headphones. Another which suits that method of consumption, but also served to be one of my preferred driving records of the year, was Ryley Walker’s superlative ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’. His previous album had already shown a fairly remarkable talent in the making but this was a tour de force, underlined by the bonus edition containing a forty minute workout of ‘Sullen Mind’ that pushed and pulled the song all over the place. Lyrically great and musically full of confidence, there were still shades of Tim Buckley but with added touches of Jim O’Rourke and Wilco at their most strung out. It’s an album with an evocative atmosphere across its duration, slightly out of step with the times of its creation.