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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.

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Charles Bradley’s ‘Changes’

Rarely has the release of new material been so welcomed amidst the backdrop of such horror and violence at home and abroad. The man known endearingly as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” is back with ‘Changes’, his third studio album, an album which reinforces Charles Bradley’s world weary funk and soul holler as a true tonic of our times.

With long-time producer and co-songwriter Thomas Brenneck again at the helm, Bradley takes us on a musical journey from smoke-filled satin sheeted bedrooms to full blown race riots, such is his capacity to engineer a voice that deviates between Pentecostal preacher (to an already converted public) to that of sugar coated, silver tongued Casanova.

And while previous albums ‘No Time For Dreaming’ and ‘Victim Of Love’  were recorded with Dunham Records house band Menahan Street Band, ‘Changes’ sees Bradley collaborate and expand to perform with various different musicians, including members of Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and Charles’ touring band The Extraordinaires, alongside a number of renowned background vocalists (Sha La Das, Gospel Queens, Saun & Starr).

The result being that, although in many respects rooted in the heyday of 1960s/1970s R&B and soul ala Al Green and Otis Redding, and most importantly, James Brown , ‘Changes’ embodies a more modernist approach and feel, entrenched in familiar themes of suffering, strength and love, as evidenced in both ‘Change For The World’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Give It Up’.

And with typical zeal and piety, as if kneeling at its altar, Bradley yields to the power of love more than ever on this album in comparison to its predecessors, as the buoyant ‘Things we do for love’, the poetic ‘Crazy for Love’ and the slow burning conclusion of ‘Slow Love’ suggest.

The presence of the aforementioned Godfather of Soul is none the more so visible in the outrageously funky ‘Good To Be Back Home’, a tribute to his homeland as patriotic an anthem as Brown’s own ‘Living in America’, coming hot on the heels of preamble ‘God Bless America’, in which Bradley confesses his love for his nation.

The fantastically broody ballad ‘Nobody But You’ sees whimpering horns wrap around Bradley’s soulful howl, while the gregarious ‘Aint It A Sin’ is a juggernaut of raw energy, backed by background hollers and claps to give it a visceral, almost unrefined feel.

With title track ‘Changes’ we see Bradley truly measure up to the level of the masters of his craft, delivering a cover full of lingering emotion and resonance that it penetrates deep into the soul, rendering the listener utterly in awe of the artist formerly known as James Brown tribute act ‘Black Velvet’. An instant classic, and fitting title to an album that magnetizes, charms and captivates in equal measure against a backdrop of Bradley’s timeless vocal purity the likes of which come along once in a blue moon.