A pretty sluggish start to the year gave way to a flurry of interesting releases as spring arrived and since then there’s been plenty to keep these ears twitching. Here are my favourite lps from 2016 and a couple of bubbling under, honourable mentions. Music from the selected works will be among the offerings each week during the month of December on C60. Saturdays, 2pm on RTÉ 2xm… or anytime on the RTÉ Radio Player…Links below…
C60 – 2016 – Part 1 Featuring Case / Lang / Viers, PJ Harvey, Lambchop, Explosions In the Sky, Lisa O’Neill and lots more
C60 – 2016 – Part 2 Featuring Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Drive By Truckers, Van Morrison, The Avalanches, School Of Seven Bells, Bell X1 and more
C60 – 2016 – Part 3 Featuring Pixies, Drive By Truckers, Cathy Davy, Emmy The Great, Christy Moore, Mutual Benefit, Arborist and a bunch more
Pothole In The Sky – Lisa O’Neill
“What is important is feeling the heart…” Maybe it’s the Cavan blood that draws me to the music of Lisa O’Neill. It seems to me to be rooted in a place or a mindset that’s perfectly verbalised and conjured by her words and melodies. Pothole In The Sky is great from start to finish. Tales of the road, of wonder and of magic. A productive year saw her play a significant part in the Yorkston / Thorne / Kahn lp and Lisa O’Neill’s contribution to the Dublin Port sponsored Starboard Home compilation (‘Rock The Machine’) was the standout there. But Pothole In The Sky tops all else. A record full of heart.
Songs For The Walking Wounded – The Frank And Walters
In 2016 most of my favourite bands delivered new work. In some cases I was able to take a detached view and appraise them in some shape or form. But not here. Songs For The Walking Wounded was as cohesive as anything they’d produced in ages and track for track outstripped a few other recent and not so recent efforts. I’m thinking that when you grow with a band, you can have blind spots but everything about this, to me, was 20/20 territory. Laden with instant classics.
Heart Like A Levee – Hiss Golden Messenger
When I first heard this band a few years back, I was floored by ‘Mahogany Dread’ (from 2014’s Lateness of Dancers). On this year’s release, that theme of progression was maintained and expanded. The result was eleven tracks that stomped, serenaded and stunned in equal measure. One of the most instant listens of 2016 too. One spin and you’ll be hooked. Highly recommended.
The Gloaming 2 – The Gloaming
No departure from the template that made their first outing so special a few years back, essentially this was a continuation from where The Gloaming left off. No bad thing. This is music of us, from us and for us. Their semi-permanent residency in the National Concert Hall yielded a flurry of great nights at the start of the year. Hairs were standing on the back of the neck when they defied the odds of the setting to pull off a barnstorming performance at the Galway Arts Festival Big Top in late July. Listening to them and seeing them perform, you can’t but be moved at the way in which everything seems so perfect. So much going on, all in perfect union. Powerful, important and special music … All kind of summed up a line from the sprightly ‘Cucanandy’ … “I wouldn’t sell my pipes for all the wives in town”
Astronaut Meets Appleman – King Creosote
Speaking of pipes, this one features the best use of bagpipes since Mull of Kintyre. Kenny Anderson’s not as prolific as he once was but the quality control seems to have been upped as a result. This is a cracker. Builds beautifully across nine tracks. His other effort this year (Bound Of The Red Deer) with his Burn Unit accomplice Michael Johnson was also an essential listen.
Here – Teenage Fanclub
It’s great to be alive when Teenage Fanclub do their thing. And they always do their thing. Lots of the reportage around this release centred on the aging process. The attendance at their concerts has reflected this for some time. A band of brothers, linked by receding hairlines or expanding waistlines… or both… all gathered to watch five men with little evidence of either. Watching them play in Dublin a few weeks back was one of those rare moments when everything seems right. Soaring harmonies, killer melodies and 120 minutes when all is perfect. Here was just as brilliant as everything they’ve ever done. And better in many places. What more could you want?
Foreverland – The Divine Comedy
After the disappointment of Bang Goes The Knighthood a couple of years ago, I was initially perfectly content to break with the habit of more than two decades and ignore the latest lp from Neil Hannon. But this was a great return to form, which harked back to the glory days of Liberation and Promenade. Essentially twelve love songs, laid out and sequenced in such a way that the album hangs together perfectly. Trite at times but no less delightful for it.
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
Any record with True Love Waits deserves inclusion on a list like this but both the familiarity and freshness of this summer release was what made it so special. Thought this was the most engaging and warm Radiohead have sounded in years. Beautifully structured and perfectly poised throughout. All killer, no filler.
Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
A tidy, comforting, uncomfortable and captivating listen over its eight tracks, Skeleton Tree floors you. More than any other release this year, this had the habit of rooting you to the spot. I still don’t fully get or understand its beginning, middle and end but it has each of those components and they make an amazing whole. A must have from 2016.
American Band – Drive By Truckers
Coming late in the day, this sounded like a soundtrack for the year. Patterson Hood’s liner notes are worth the price of admission alone. After DBT alumnus Jason Isbell released what, for me, was 2015’s standout, his old band staked a strong claim for that imaginary gong this time round. They’ve a great knack of bringing the listener on a journey with their music and this lp is full of that travelling song-smithery. So many great tunes. Like other great works down the ages, this is a record for the times we live in.
Home Burial – Arborist
Straight outta Ballymena, I chanced upon this debut after hearing a tune from it on the wireless one morning. Radio is still important to help you discover new sounds! There’s a lovely languid feel throughout and nothing first time about the sculpted sounds here. Instead it plays like a record that was finessed, tweaked and polished before being sent to the pressing plant. A fulfilling find.
2013 – Meilyr Jones
This was another chance encounter. A taster on a cd with Uncut magazine earlier in the year (“How to Recognise a Work of Art”) didn’t seem representative of what followed. This lp recalled the early Divine Comedy works referenced above. A glorious mix of bassoon, flugel horn, chamber organ, theorbo (?) to name but four of the multitude of instruments, 2013 soared and glided across twelve songs.
For Better, Or Worse – John Prine
Sixteen years after his first lp of duets with a range of female counterparts (‘In Spite of Ourselves’), John Prine repeated the trick on this strong follow up. More of the same. If you liked the first instalment, you’ll love the second. The time worn voice fusing perfectly with sweet country notes to make an album full of tunes to make you laugh and smile at the glory of love. Had the best cover art of the year too.
Commontime – Field Music
Always engaging, Field Music have a habit of making perfect, jaunty, spiky pop. Commontime had one of the tunes of the year in “Disappointed” – a good indicator of the overall dripping in funk vibe on this release. Toe tapping, intelligent music.
22, A Million – Bon Iver
In a time when the excerpt rules over the whole when it comes to albums, the way they’re sold and the way they’re played, 22, A Million was the complete package. It’s put together in a manner that demands it be heard in one sitting. This is a journey lp. Put it on. Turn it up. Listen. Some of the songs seem more like fractured parts but with repeated plays the magic is revealed. Three in a row is no mean feat when it comes to great albums. 22, A Million challenges accepted wisdom.
Bubbling under…The Mountain Will Fall – DJ Shadow / Né So – Rokia Traore / New Forest – Cathy Davy /Meet The Humans – Steve Mason / Void Beats Invocation Trex – Cavern of Anti-Matter / Everything Sacred – Yorkston / Thorne / Kahn / The Hope Six Demolition Project – PJ Harvey / Wildflower – The Avalanches / Late Night Tales – Olafur Arnalds / Kindly Now – Keaton Henson
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