Joe Brown has supported & encouraged this blog since the very beginning. When I wanted other voices to contribute their end-of-year stand outs he was the first person I asked because he got good taste. It’s a tradition now, the 5th year, that Joe points us to his favourites so, without further ado, it’s that man again !
There’s not an end of year “Best Of”, broadcast, in print, written & talked about anywhere on the planet that doesn’t acknowledge 2016’s Haul of Fame, I can be no different . When the indestructible Lemmy left us at the end of 2015 who could possibly have imagined who would have followed him by the end of 2016. I know it’s life and what can you do, but to see so many big hitters depart in an unreal succession was difficult to comprehend. Personally, Bowie,Prince,Leonard Cohen and Gene Wilder’s leaving shook me the most… what more can be said…so it goes.
OK, my top 3 musical highlights of the year in no particular order. In the words of Willy Wonka (via Oscar Wilde), “the suspense is terrible, I hope it’ll last”…on we go!
“Skeleton Tree”” is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ follow up to 2013’s “Push The Sky Away”. The album, his 16th with the Bad Seeds, bears all the Cave hallmarks, masterly crafted songs concerning doomed romance & foreboding fate. Only this time Art & Reality have collided to add a unique poignancy to the record. “Skeleton Tree” was written & recorded around the time of the tragic loss of his teenage son Arthur. With that in mind listening to it had me in awe! For the man to continue on with day to day life must have taken some strength but to complete an album and pour his heartache into it takes a person with unimaginable courage and commitment and love. This is not a record for all occasions but you should find the time to give it consideration. It’s a mesmerising listen & will stop you right in your tracks.
From early this year Parquet Courts’ “Human Performance” was, for me, their best since 2012’s “Light Up Gold”. After the improvised experiments of “Monastic Living” (2015) New York’s finest (really) return to the stripped back post-punk, anxious lyrics combined with irresistible, melodic hooks, pure & simple human performances. Its an easy option to throw out the Modern Lovers/Velvets/ Pavement comparisons. Parquet Courts have a lot more going for them than their influences. Lyrically the album is packed with “what did he just sing?” moments but it’s tough to choose standout tracks such is the quality & consistency of the whole. “I Was Just Here” deals with displacement and the dreadful situation when you return home you find your favourite Chinese restaurant/chip shophas shut down..a horror I am familiar with.The title track, a great pop song, has a melody faintly reminiscent of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner”..wonderful!
Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” is an album that shows you something new on every listen, As Thom Yorke sings in “Daydreaming”…”this goes beyond me, beyond you”. Often described as a band in constant motion, they’ve shifted again. Sustained experimentation is probably their only familiar theme. Their skill lies in tweaking levels, dropping in signals, making serious music that is still bright & uplifting. “Ful Stop”, a tour-de-force, is up there with my favourite musical pieces of the year. The Latin shuffle of “Present Tense” counters the natural melancholy of Yorke’s lyrics. There’s so much to admire & discover on this record, Radiohead are operating in Miles Davis country, making records that are innovative artistic statements. “A Moon Shaped Pool”s musical journey has been my choice to accompany my own journeys this year.
Thanks Joe, you’re the 2nd friend this week to endorse the Radiohead record…that’s enough to put me on to it. In 2017 I look forward to new music from Joe’s band the Gatefolds &, you never know, a reunion of Derry legends Bam Bam & the Calling (Joe is the bassist) on the occasion of your upcoming big birthday would be the very thing.