2016. A year that probably isn’t going to go down in the history books as a particularly good one (I got out of it alive, so you know, bonus) as we all felt the horrors of the world, and saw a horrible turn to the right politically speaking, but I’m not here to look at that – there’s enough of it out there on the internet – I want to look at the music that helped keep me sane. It might even have worked for some of you too whilst we battled against the world. I have to say I was spoilt for choice this year, so whittling it down to these 10 was not easy, which explains why this is going online just a little bit late.
Band name links will take you to their official websites (or as close to it as I could find), and the album link will take you to a site where you can buy the album. I’ve tried to go for an artists own store but there’s a couple of amazon links in there I’m afraid, and there is a Spotify playlist at the end if you want to give them a listen first, but I’d like to give something back to the artists that have given so much to me and no one makes any money from Spotify….well except maybe Spotify!
Like pretty much everyone I know, this was love at first listen. Unfortunately for me, I started listening to them like a day after their gig in London! I’ve done this so many times with some of my favourite artists, I really should pay more attention to what you lot are saying in advance. ‘Fever Daydream’ is just the most gorgeous piece of synthpop I’ve heard in a long while – unbelievably emotive with some very personal lyrics, with members of Dillinger Escape Plan and Puscifer in their ranks, they were destined to be something special. If you’ve not heard this and have even a passing interest in any of the members previous work, or 80s synthpop (think Depeche Mode) you will love this.
2016 was the year that Black Stone Cherry finally clicked for me. I’d always liked songs here and there but never thought to look in to them in any great detail. I went to day 1 of Rambling Man Fair (I wanted to see Whitesnake! Also shut up :)) and before I went I did some listening to bands on the line up and it dawned on me how perfect BSC are for me. Proper anthemic classic rock with a bit of grunge and country chucked in for good measure, with the soulful vocals of Chris (whose accent makes me go a bit weak at the knees!) is just the best package. Their live show is incredible too – they truly put their all in to it and look like they’re having as good a time as the audience are. Kentucky is packed with huge rock songs (their cover of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ has to be heard by everyone!) but the most heartfelt track is their country number ‘The Rambler’, clearly a story, but one that’s come from personal experience of life on the road and being away from their families. A superb album with something in it for most rock fans.
‘Enter to Exit’ was only just released a couple of weeks ago and it was instant for me. This feels very different to anything that Enduser has produced before – it’s almost like emotional drum and bass, if such a thing is possible. There’s a significant lean towards almost modern classical/Hecq territory in its own way, but it is perfect. Less in your face, more nuanced. It’s quite clear that Mr Standafer may have been going through some personal difficulties, and has channelled his feelings directly in to his music, but it has given his sound a whole new depth that simply wasn’t there before. Stunning.
Another Rambling Man Fair discovery. This is a band that my friend Andy had been going on about for a couple of months, and luckily for me, they were opening act on the day we were there, and I was immediately won over. Nathan James has showman written all over him! He’s like this glorious mixture of Graham Bonnet (Rainbow), David Coverdale (Whitesnake) and Axl Rose (Guns N Roses) and he is a pleasure to watch/listen to. They are easily the best British rock band right now, and again, clearly enjoy playing live/interacting with their audience. If classic rock is your thing – go and give them a listen right now!
Rock music seems to be more of a thing for me this year than most other years of recent. Not sure if that says a lot about the lack of noise gigs in London, or that I have more rock friends to go to gigs with. Rock music has always been a constant in my life so it’s no real surprise to anyone, just a curiosity for me. Dorothy was in one of those Spotify recommends playlists, probably the gorgeously sleazy ‘After Midnight’, and Dorothy Martin’s vocals are just sublime. Bluesy but full of rock and whisky! She’s exactly what women in rock need right now, someone ballsy who quite simply tears the rock world a collective new one!
Blush Response has evolved in what seems like no time, from EBM with vocals to hard Berlin Techno and ‘Reshaper’ is just fantastic. His set at this year’s Maschinenfest just blew me away – none of this laptop tweaking; he’s full on live synth. It helps that the sound system at Oberhausen’s Turbinenhalle is so powerful you can feel your hair vibrating! I had seen him before, but this was a couple of years ago when he’d just started heading in a more techno direction, but he is much more confident now and it shows in both ‘Reshaper’ and his live gigs.
The solo project of Brant Showers of Aaimon was a surprising hit for me. I’m a huge fan of Aaimon’s work, but this shows off a much more confident sound from Brant. In Aaimon, his vocals are fairly buried in the mix, or under a swathe of different vocal effects, here they take centre stage, and he has a truly astounding voice. This is reminiscent of early industrial but with a modern spin. It took me a few listens to really get in to it, but this is something I feel will only get better with repeated listens, which I am only too happy to do.
Sonic Area constantly astounds me with his growth as a performer. As a huge Chrysalide fan, it goes without saying that I follow any and all linked artists to them, but Sonic Area is both visually interesting as well as musically. He seems to create a character for each album, and builds around the imagery: Music for Ghosts had a Victorian medicine man, so had a strange mechanical sound going on, here, he looks almost alien and it goes with the music. Sampling Carl Sagan’s ‘Little Blue Dot’ is a beautiful touch. His set at Maschinenfest this year was so utterly absorbing on so many levels I would have watched all night. Wherever he goes next, I know it will always be surprising.
Not sure how I stand on this as an album of its own as this is a remix album, but it is so good, and so well put together that I simply couldn’t leave it out. I also like there are versions of the same songs on the album, to show just how different a remix can be from different musical backgrounds. I think my favourite is Perc’s take on ‘Anti Body’ as it reminds me so much of the power noise I was listening to when I first started going clubbing regularly, but the whole album is a thing of beauty.
10. Kaleo – A/B
These are a strange bunch. A modern blues band from Iceland, not a place known for its blues (at least to my knowledge) but these guys have gone huge in the past year. I first heard them on a trailer for ‘Orange is the new Black’, but have heard them on many different trailers and adverts since then, so no wonder they are doing so well. As for the music, think bluesy rock, like the sort Kings of Leon used to do when they were awesome (Ah Ha Shake Heartbreak and before) and you’re somewhere close. They are quite stylised but if you can get past the wrapping, the content is totally worth a listen. Knowing my luck some record company will probably turn them in to the next Maroon 5 or some thing equally hideous!
And, as promised, here’s a spotify playlist with a couple of tracks off each of the above albums. Happy listening.