Uneasy listening was the musical genre that defined 2016.
The spectre of death loomed large over several of the year’s best albums, namely David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker – both artists died in 2016, shortly after releasing their records – and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which, in places, dealt with the grief and sadness he felt following the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015.
All three albums were masterpieces and highlights in their creators’ impressive back catalogues, but were difficult to listen to.
Songs such as Bowie’s vulnerable, jazzy Dollar Days – my favourite track on Blackstar – and Cohen’s twangy, twilight ballad, Leaving The Table, were undeniably beautiful, but eerily prescient.
I defy anyone not to shed a tear while hearing Bowie croon “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me”, or Laughing Len intone, “I’m leaving the table – I’m out of the game.”
When Danish soprano Else Torp duets with Cave on Distant Sky, her beautiful vocals could break even the hardest of hearts.
On a personal note, I had a difficult 2016, having to cope with illness, anxiety and family bereavements, so these three albums often suited my mood, but, strangely, I haven’t chosen any of them as my favourite record of the year.
I so nearly opted for another dark album as my top choice – Richmond Fontaine’s brilliant You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – the final long-player from Willy Vlautin’s Portland-based, alt-country band who’ve now split up – but I didn’t.
Instead, I went for a record that always made me smile and cheered me up whenever I listened to it, thanks to its wonderful arrangements, sublime melodies and unashamedly retro vibe.
My favourite album of 2016 is Over The Silvery Lake – the debut record from London’s The Hanging Stars.
Released in March, Over The Silvery Lake was recorded in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. It’s a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock record that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.
It’s laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are songs where willows weep and ships set sail on the sea, hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute.
Earlier this year, I interviewed The Hanging Stars about the writing and recording of the album – you can read the article here.
The band have just finished making the follow-up and it will be released next year. I’ve already reserved a place for it in my Best Albums of 2017 list…
Here’s a list of my favourite 35 albums from this year and a Spotify playlist to accompany it, where possible – some of the albums aren’t available to stream.
This year, I interviewed several of the artists featured, so I’ve linked to the articles below. Happy Christmas – all the best for 2017 and I’ll see you on the other side…
- The Hanging Stars – Over The Silvery Lake
- Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Key
- Peter Bruntnell – Nos Da Comrade
- Vinny Peculiar – Silver Meadows
- David Bowie – Blackstar
- Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
- Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
- Ben Watt – Fever Dream
- Quiet Loner – The Battle For The Ballot
- Britta Phillips – Luck Or Magic
- Nick Piunti – Trust Your Instincts
- Cotton Mather – Death of The Cool
- Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door
- Papernut Cambridge – Love The Things Your Lover Loves
- Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
- The Senior Service – The Girl In The Glass Case
- Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House
- The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust
- Teenage Fanclub – Here
- Wilco – Schmilco
- Dr Robert – Out There
- The Explorers Club – Together
- Cool Ghouls – Animal Races
- John Howard – Across The Door Sill
- The Junipers – Red Bouquet Fair
- 8 X 8 – Inflorescence
- Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms – Basement Punk
- Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
- The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
- Paul McClure – Songs For Anyone
- The Monkees – Good Times!
- The Coral – Distance Inbetween
- Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [Japan only release]
- The Hosts – Moon