10 best tracks of 2016

Charles Bradley – Aint It A Sin

The man described as the “closest living equivalent to James Brown” by Pitchfork released 3rd album ‘Changes’ back in April, with its title taken from Bradley’s majestic, heart-wrenching cover of the Black Sabbath classic. The whole album is drenched in retro-soul sounds, peppered with post-funk grooves and hip hop elements, forming the perfect background to Bradley’s signature garble. This, for me, a particular highlight of many to be found in the soul star’s best release to date.

 

Massive Attack feat Tricky – Take It There

Forming part of the band’s Ritual Spirit EP release in January this year, Take It There featured the long awaited return of Adrain ‘Tricky’ Thaws – his first appearance on a Massive Attack record since 1994’s Protection. An intoxicating, trip hop waltz that reaffirms the assertion that Massive Attack are the masters of their own creation.

 

Minor Victories – A Hundred Ropes

A refreshing addition to the ‘supergroup’ tag, Minor Victories, comprising Rachel Goswell from Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, Justin Lockey from Editors and James Lockey of Hand Held Cine Club. Their self titled, 10 track debut release arrived in June to much critical acclaim, and the organic, lush synth-pop orchestral sound of first track ‘A Hundred Ropes’ made for a surprising and thoroughly welcome addition to this year’s music scene.

 

Van Ts – Blood Orange

Glasgow’s premier surf rock exporters The Van Ts – based around twin sisters Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson – have taken the city, and Scotland, by storm in 2016, thanks to their energetic shows, surefire swagger and most importantly, scuzzy, scorching musical output. None more so evident with the chaotic, raw beauty of  ‘Blood Orange’, taken from July EP ‘A Coming of Age’. Ones to watch for sure in 2017.

 

Mitski – How Deep Is Your Love (cover)

2016 has without doubt been the year of Mitski, with her Puberty 2 album appearing in the top 10 of album lists both in the UK and the US. Her fourth release is more a personal statement than album proper, with the Brooklyn singer-songwriter addressing her own views of the world with vigorous lyricism washed over with folk-punk, emo, and even 60s pop hooks. A live favourite, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ takes Calvin Harris’s original and adds a velvety, rich layer with teeth.

 

Deutsche Ashram – Little Matter (extended version)

Perhaps the best find of 2016, Ajay Saggar’s (King Champion Sounds/The Bent Moustache) new project – a two piece with singer Merinde Verbeek…, released LP ‘Deeper and Deeper’ in November this year. Full of transfixing waves of shoegazey post-punk vibes that cut deep on first listen, Verbeek’s vocals and Saggar’s industrial soundscapes marry perfectly to deliver dark swathes of experiemental dream pop of the highest quality.


Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”

Stark and stirring, Bon Iver returned to our ears with perhaps his most powerful and eclectic music to date in the form of 3rd LP ’22, A Million’. Rich in experimental textures that speak of optimism and melancholy in equal measure, 33 “GOD” features samples from the likes of Paolo Nutini, The Browns, Sharon Van Etten and Lonnie Holley, and perfectly encapsulates Iver’s hard to pin down ragged soundscapes – the likes of which only Bon Iver could create.


White – Step Up

If there’s a party going on in Glasgow, White will either have started it or will appear at some point in the night, such is the presence they have carved out for themselves in the city. Sharp dressers and even sharper musicians, their infectious, frenetic disco pop takes distinct elements of LCD Soundsystem, Prince and Franz Ferdinand and wraps it up in a shimmering cloak of attitude. The aggressive, pulsating Step Up – from recent EP ‘Cuts That Don’t Bleed’ marks a exception to the rule, and in doing so showcases the band’s talent for experimentation and desire to chart their own course.

Ulrika Spacek – Beta Male

A standout of British experimental band Ulrika Spacek’s debut LP, ‘The Album Paranoia’ – released in February this year, was for me the song of 2016. Labelled by DIY as “the soundtrack to a trip through space-time”, the band’s sound is an abrasive mix of distortion, repetition and fuzz that made their debut release nothing short of remarkable – as evidenced by the epic, 6+ minutes of  ‘Beta Male’.


Anohni – Drone Bomb Me

Sung from the point of view of a cilivian, the second single o Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’ release is an intimate portrayal of the faceless nature of drone warfare, against synth beats provided by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Seductive and sublime in equal measure, the subversive quality of the release marked a level of beauty few, if any other artist captured this year.

SOMEONE THINKS THEY’VE FOUND A NEW BANKSY IN HELSINKI

Helsinki locals are quietly excited about the possibility of a new work by the elusive Banksy having been uncovered in their city, which would represent the first reported by the artist since the appearance of his’Les Miserables’ protest piece at the French Embassy in London back in January of this year.

The graffiti (below), which depicts a standing brown bear, was found under a railway bridge and although it was first noticed in late August by a local resident, it is still visible today.

bear

Although not a de facto symbol of the country, bears are a very popular animal in Finland. For ancient Finnish people they were considered a sacred and ‘totem’ animal, and it is estimated that there are around 1200-1500 left in the wild, mostly within Eastern Finland’s densely forested zone.

The location (see below) of the bear is approximately 4 miles north of the city centre, next to  Pohjois-Haaga station. And although the site lies around 600 metres from Helsinki underground record label Hold On Records HQ, its lack of proximity to the centre raises strong doubts about the possibility of it being the authentic article.

new-helsinki

Interestingly, this year’s Flow Festival – which takes place over a weekend in August in the former industrial area of Suvilahti – was headlined by a certain Bristol trip-hop group Massive Attack (alongside Young Fathers) on August 12th, adding more credence to the rumours that Banksy is actually the band’s Robert Del Naja, or at least a collective headed by him.


The local who came across the work, who gave her name as M.P. said, “I don’t know much about graffiti, but I have never seen any graffiti of that quality or style in Finland before. Finnish graffiti artists have a very different style. I saw the work for the first time at the end of August. I took a picture of it because it is so unusual to see this kind of graffiti here in Helsinki.”

If – by a large stretch of the imagination – it was confirmed as a genuine Banksy piece, it wouldn’t be the first time the artist has used a bear in his work. The artist could be claimed to have something of a penchant for the furry, mountain dwelling animal, by analysing his previous works, of which there are four.

Firstly, his ‘Mild Mild West’ mural, created in Bristol in 1999, depicts a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police.

mild

Cut to 2002 and Banksy produced a controversial work for Greenpeace, entitled ‘Jungle Book Execution’ illustrating the execution of various jungle book characters – including Baloo the bear – to highlight the issue of deforestation. The image appeared on billboards and leaflets for the NGO throughout February and March of that year.

bank

Again in his native Bristol in 2003, Banksy turned to the image of a bear to create ‘Pooh Bear’, a stencil depicting EH Shepard’s Winnie The Pooh  with his foot caught in a trap next to a tipped over jar of money.

A canvas print of the stencil was bought by a New Zealand tourist for £35 from a stall in Central Park during Banksy’s “Better Out Than In’ month long New York public project in 2013, and was subsequently sold for £56,250.

pooh

Also, a poem attributed to the artist entitled ‘The Bear and The Bee’ was uncovered on a council bin in Notting Hill, London, in 2005.

bearbee

Perhaps with this new work we are able to advance another reason behind the suggestion that Banksy is indeed Robert Del Naja but, until such a theory is confirmed by the man himself, we have to bear with him remaining anonymous.