It’s extremely late but, here, finally, are my favourite things of an interesting – and not always for the right reasons – 2016. Contrary to convention there are no star ratings, no marks out 10 and things are not listed in any particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree, or even to comment about your own favourite things.
Honourable mentions for Angel Olson, Jamie T, Nick Cave and Iggy Pop amongst others.
Lambchop – FLOTUS
For a band steeped in alt-country the introduction of soft pulsing electronics, dance beats and lightly auto-tuned vocals on their new album FLOTUS suggests a radical new direction. But it manages to sound both startlingly new and yet unmistakably like the Lambchop. Most importantly it is as gorgeous as ever. Definitely my favourite band named after a foodstuff.
The Coral – Distance Inbetween
When one of your favourite bands announces a comeback album, it fills you with trepidation. Does it confirm the decline that led to their breakup or provide evidence of a band revitalised by a hiatus?
Thankfully, any fears I had have been assuaged with a release that is just as engaging as their first 2 albums. Darker and heavier, but not as genre bending as their earlier works, it contains chugging psychedelic guitar riffs and enough great hooks to satisfy even the most obsessive fisherman. It’s good to have you back boys.
They certainly won’t win any prizes for the originality of the album title, but the music’s great. It’s a one paced, mainly acoustic Americana record from one of my favourite bands. An album that bears repeated listening. Described by lead singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy as “joyously negative… I just had a lot of fun being sour about the things that upset me.” That’s absolutely fine by me and long may it continue.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
My love affair with Radiohead has taken as many left turns as the band’s own eclectic and constantly changing career. An album of new songs, old songs and reworked songs, it is as both customarily dark and breathtakingly beautiful as their finest work. It is electronic, rhythmic and orchestral and topped off by Thom Yorke’s haunting voice. All these years my favourite album of their’s has always been The Bends, but maybe this storming effort even out-bends The Bends.
Teenage Fanclub – Here
The formula may not have changed, but I still anticipate any new Fannies release as eagerly as I did when I started buying their CD’s 25 years ago. It contains 4 songs each from 3 of the band members and combines power pop, jangly guitars and beautiful close harmony singing. Everything is, as always, impeccably crafted. Hold On, The First Sight and I Have Nothing More to Say are 3 of the loveliest songs you’ll hear all year. In fact it’s 45 minutes of loveliness and probably the CD I’ve played more than any other this year. They remain a criminally under-appreciated band. One of Scotland’s finest exports.
Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
Now that ex-Beta Band frontman Mason is finally believing in his talent, rather then let it be crushed by his long term depression and anxiety, he’s produced an album full of warmth, hope and personal stories. Encompassing pop, folk, dub and dance and overlaid by his sumptuous voice, it’s a winning combination that may finally get Mason the public recognition he so richly deserves.
Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
After 2 rather jumbled solo albums Morby’s 3rd is a serene folk-rock record. It’s an album from someone who sounds like he’s finally found his musical and lyrical voice, containing much mystical imagery and even the sound of the album titled ‘singing saw’. Having seen him perform a rip roaring live show in August, his future looks very bright indeed.
Adrian Tempany – And the Sun Shines Now
This is not your average football book, and sometimes not even a football book at all. Written by Hillsborough survivor Tempany and underpinned by that disaster, this book is part memoir, part social history and part survivor’s tale. After reaching its nadir at Hillsborough it looks at the changes in the game and in society at large driven by that disaster. It’s a real ‘state of the nation’ book that shows how football went from being described as a slum sport for slum people to being repackaged into the ultimate consumer product for the 21st century, one that both influences and reflects the society around it. Essential reading for football and non-football fans alike.
Stuart Maconie – The Pie at Night
Following up his excellent Northern Britain travelogue ‘Pies and Prejudice’, Maconie now looks at the after hours leisure pursuits of his fellow northerners. As Maconie tells us, this is a book about ‘love and work and the debatable land between… the place where the two come together and have a good time.’ The tapestry of our culture, he says, is woven from play. He looks at where the northern clichés end and truth begins, and finds answers in the most unusual of places – The Lawnmower Museum in Southport anyone? He best sums up his affection for the north whilst stood amongst the crowds on the platform at Warrington train station and realises ‘these are my people. I’m at home here in raw northern light with these hardy folk’. I’ve lived in The Netherlands for many years now and it’s definitely the place I call home, but whenever I return to northern Britain I have the same feeling – these are definitely my people. It’s a book to warm the cockles of my northern heart. Funny? Yes. Warm? Yes. Chippy? Absolutely. It wouldn’t be a proper book about the north, by a northerner, without those attributes.
Graeme Macrae Burnett – His Bloody Project
Essentially the fictional memoir of 17 year old Roderick Macrae, written in prison after his arrest for a gory triple murder in his home village of Culduie in 1869. The story masquerades as the author’s research into his family history, thus blurring the lines between fact and fiction, but leads you to believe that this is a factual account of a real crime. Being a novel about crime rather than a crime novel, it was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize, being easily the most readable novel to make it onto that list since 2008’s White Tiger.
I, Daniel Blake
This traces the story of the title character who, after a heart attack, is advised by his doctors he is unfit for work, but who according to government benefits advisors should be looking for work, thereby making him ineligible for the disabilty benefits that would aid his recovery. It’s traces his journey through the soul destroying, dehumanising modern UK welfare system. Like all Ken Loach’s best work it marries much warmth, compassion and humour in amongst the gritty drama, but overall the tone is heart breakingly sad. It should be beamed onto the side of the Department of Work and Pensions building 24 hours a day until somebody starts to take notice.
The Line of Duty
Series 3 of the police corruption drama was as tense and unrelenting as Series 1 and 2. Ostensibly about historic child sex abuse, it turned out to be part of a much deeper conspiracy, but ultimately it was about the chase to finally find corrupt copper ‘The Caddy’. Complex subplots, false leads and dead ends meant that each episode made your head spin. But it was so brilliantly executed that it all eventually made sense. The interrogation scenes were so claustrophobic that it felt like you were being personally grilled. It was buttock clenchingly exciting TV.
Having lived in Liverpool at the time of the Hillsborough disaster I’m only too aware of the pain, grief and anger that descended on the city in the aftermath of this tragedy. Indeed, one of our housemates attended the game, but in those pre-mobile phone days we endured an agonising wait till late in the evening before hearing our friend’s voice on the other end of the phone, reassuring us he was safe. This outstanding and indispensable one off documentary made for harrowing viewing as it reviewed not only how the day itself unfolded, but how in the immediate aftermath and over the following 27 years the friends, family and indeed the whole city of Liverpool was treated with complete contempt by the police, the government and the media as the entire establishment fought desperately and deviously to prevent the truth from emerging. It is a testament to the determination and dignity of those left behind that the truth has finally emerged. One can only hope that criminal prosecutions now follow.
This year I’ve seen excellent performances from Father John Misty, Wilco, William Tyler, Kevin Morby, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Jonathan Wilson, but all of these were topped by John Grant. It’s so refreshing to see an artist touring for pleasure rather than just in support of a new album. He charmed the audience with his language skills as well as his beautiful music. The accompanying video was shot with my own fair hand – explaining the shonky camera work – but highlights perfectly the beauty of his voice and his performance.
So, overall, 2016 was another excellent year. Much peace and love to everybody for 2017.