Below is my annual recollection of some music highlights of the year, for the good guys and gals at [sic] Magazine who introduce me to so much of it.
Although the twelve months of 2016 are likely to be remembered as much for who left us, as for what was left for us, (not to mention leave-ing) there were as always some great records, including Savages, Kiran Leonard, Ed Harcourt and Radiohead. Bowie‘s Blackstar – with the mystique surrounding the timing of its release – was a great record to start a year, and set the tone for tragedy-turn-triumph; the late Viola Beach were immortalised at Glastonbury, and also by achieving a number one album of their own (crucially, not a cash-in job), and there were countless events such as the ‘Glabstonbury’ all-day event I attended, which saw a host of bands and musicians generously coming together for a worthy cause. Here follow my ten highlights of the year.
‘What if the songs aren’t as good, if he’s run out of ideas?’
It is no secret that Mansun are this writer’s favourite band. 2016 saw former frontman Paul Draper, long suspected to be out of the music industry for good, patch up the wounds created during and since Mansun’s split in 2003, and release two EPs. Fans could have asked themselves the above question, their excitement matched with fear. Fear not; The lead track for EP One had previously leaked as a demo, but EP Two was fresh, angry, melancholic and as glorious as Mansun in their pomp. Both EPs were completed with equally-strong songs, effortlessly switching between genres, as Draper was known for. Quite possibly the best of the bunch is a song about having “No Ideas”, a perfect riposte to anyone doubting Draper’s return, no doubt with calculated irony. Roll on the album in Spring 2017.
And, in alphabetical order…
Ghost Of Social Networks
A three-piece band which nods to the Bunnymen and Joy Division, and are split between Manchester, Birmingham and London, GOSN have played only a handful of dates and released two singles so far. Their dark rock has already received a string of great reviews, 6 Music airplay, and a vocal champion in Steve Lamacq. Let’s hope for more of the same, and maybe a debut album, next year.
As headliners seemingly fell like proverbial dominoes at the 2016 OFF Festival in Poland, one benefit was Korea’s Jambinai being moved to a main stage prime slot. It’s not known how many of the large crowd would have stayed until for the band’s original 3am slot in the tent, but Jambinai won their new audience over regardless, with a mesmerising blend of traditional Korean music, post-rock, and blasts of full-on metal.
Liam Frost and the Slowdown Family
September saw the 10th anniversary of the release of Show Me How the Spectres Dance, Liam Frost’s debut album, recorded with his band The Slowdown Family. To mark it, the group played two sold-out shows at Manchester’s Deaf Institute, wonderfully capturing the beauty of the record, in front of an audience that knew every word, a decade on. Better still, Frost ended by promising a new album with the Slowdown Family.
2001’s Finelines album positioned My Vitriol at the cusp of a new Brit-rock scene, their heavy shoegaze sound a welcome pre-Stokes riposte to Nu-Metal and the seemingly endless stream of MOR acoustic acts. But the second album never came. Fifteen years, numerous false starts, fall-outs and press derision later, the crowdfunded second album surfaced in 2016. The Secret Sessions was a wonderful reminder of how much energy, melody and psychedelia My Vitriol can pack into four-minute pop songs.
Topping my 2013 album of the year list were garage-rockers Parquet Courts, with Light Up Gold. The prolific Brooklyn band have since released a further three records, but it was 2016’s Human Performance which scaled the same heights of Gold. Adding the garage-punk urgency of their sound, Human Performance suggested a frailty and sincerity, which singer Austin Brown confirmed to me for [sic] Magazine: “I think the record is made with a lot of heart and emotions, but it was something that we were ready to deal with.” Bonus points, too, for the record containing a mellotron.
The Slow Readers Club
Having seen the Slow Readers Club many times during their ten years together, it was a triumph to see them sell out the magnificent Ritz venue in their hometown of Manchester. Their second album Cavalcade was released 18 months previously, but, with no record label, and very little airplay, it was a victory for hard work (and obviously bags of talent, and great tunes) that saw word-of-mouth build the momentum for the unsigned, electro-dark four-piece.
The Small Faces Musical – All or Nothing
It might be unconventional to include a musical, performed by actors, but this show really was special. To a Small Faces fan who will never see the band or Steve Marriott, this show was more than merely a covers band playing the classic 60s mod songs. The story of the band is, in itself, fascinating, funny, and in equal part tragic, with this take on Marriott’s life capturing all those associated emotions (barely a dry eye in the [Opera] house for the closing scene). The highlight was the music throughout the show, performed with power, vibrancy, and demonstrating a glimpse of the genius of this R’n’B band, who ended far, far too early.
The Stone Roses
The comeback I had convinced myself would never happen came in 2012, and seeing the Roses at Heaton Park was everything I had hoped for, and more. Those shows had been enough for me, but if these four men felt they had something more to offer, then even better. “All For One”, the band’s first new music in twenty years, sounded like the Stone Roses, somewhat underwhelming, yet equally reassuring that the Roses were back making music together. Within weeks came a sudden, midnight release of “Beautiful Thing”. There can be few better ways to spend a holiday than sat by the pool with the most aptly-titled single on repeat, Reni, Mani and John Squire locked in their unmistakable groove, with Ian Brown at his spikey best. Beautiful.
It is often cited that, ‘if it’s too loud, you’re too old’, but the ear-splitting volumes blasted out by the Saturday evening sequence of bands during of the International Festival of Psychedelia in September had me questioning both the limits of that statement and my supposed youth. In the centre of this sequence came Ulrika Spacek, who introduced themselves to me with an assault of Psych-Grunge hooks from their debut album. Very loudly, and very brilliantly.