Look past the losses of 2016 and what you’re left with is an otherwise stellar year for music. It speaks volumes, however, that so many of the year’s finest albums predicate on darker themes. But across albums that tackle topics as diverse as racism, sexism, age, death, tragedy, loneliness, what proves profoundly striking is the shared sense of fire, grit and perseverance that resonates through each. It has been a year in which so much of our music has dealt with despair and yet managed to deal out hope. Acceptance is perhaps the other big theme; self-acceptance, mainly. Whether it’s Angel Olsen’s defiant Woman, Chance’s celebratory Blessings, Bowie’s terminally beguiling Lazarus, or Solange’s soul-searching Cranes in the Sky. The mutual catharsis of this year’s best music seems to have given artists an urgency and vitality, a striking sense of relevance, that has allowed 2016 to become a year of music in which a Kanye West release can seem like only an afterthought.
For an album whose mode is most often melancholic, Michael Kiwanuka’s Love and Hate translates into a surprisingly energetic, even joyous live experience. These aren’t radical reconstructions of the album’s original tracks, but they are injected with a vitality and momentum that unearths the latent funk buried in the album’s slow-build introspection. Continue reading
Nick Cave is often at his most pretentious, and his most farcically overblown, when he indulges his demonic preacher alter-ego. As his croon has deepened and mellowed in his later years, he has developed a voice that is almost excessively rich in drama. His lyrics, which already walk a fine line between the poetic and the ponderously cliché, can seem exaggerated into melodramatic farce.
This, however, is a rare record where Cave truly sounds sincere. I have no doubt that his previous works have been performed with unshakeable sincerity and conviction – his passion and presence is undeniable – but here it for once sounds less like an act, a character, a stylisation. It is almost painfully real. Continue reading
Quieter, moodier, and more spacious than Passenger’s music of migration, At Swim marks a sea change for Hannigan. A decisive move away from her folk based roots into less easily-definable territory, At Swim is an album that shifts its sounds from song-to-song. Her more traditional songcraft, and with it some of her knack for narrative, fades from the foreground here, resulting in a work that is more abstract, more downbeat and more unpredictable. Continue reading
MY WOMAN is nothing short of a quantum leap for Angel Olsen. In a year in which some of the industry’s biggest hitters have come out for a swing, Olsen has knocked it out of the park. The album’s predecessor, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, was a critically acclaimed breakout for Angel’s moody folk musings. But it was also a trap. Few archetypes are as readily idealised as the image of the sad, beautiful, misunderstood ‘girl at the bottom of the well’ – as one critic called Olsen. With the album’s distant, sparse guitar and fuzzy, downbeat vocals, you can see where the image was drawn from; but here, with My Woman’s scorching guitar solos and passionate wails, Angel burns bright with the fiery determination to prove what kind of artist, and what kind of woman, she really is. Continue reading