POSTSCRIPT: NEW SONGS, NEW LIFE 2016 - 2018
It’s all very well writing about the soundtrack to your life but where do you stop? Me, Myself & Music was originally supposed to end on New Year’s Eve 2015 when I found myself in the fortunate position of never having to work again, and it would have too if I’d pulled my finger out and got on with it.
From 1st January 2016 my new life beckoned but that didn’t mean I stopped listening to music. Far from it. With an infinite amount of ‘leisure time’ to fill, I listened to more music than ever before. A lot more. In fact so much more that I thought a short postscript about my favourite songs from 2016 to 2018 was in order, the songs that if you take on board the argument that you need at least two years to judge whether a song really stands the test of time, may not pass muster somewhere down the line.
Another thing that happened in 2016 was that streaming became my primary source for listening to new music. Not that I ditched my trusty old iPod completely, but with number one site Spotify averaging over 13,000 new songs a month (more new music than at any other time in recording history), I opted to use it as a handy, cheap filter to help sort the good stuff from the rising tide of bullshit I was having to wade through to find it.
Anyway here they are, my songs of 2016, 2017 and 2018. And what better way to start than with David Bowie, a major figure in my life for as long as I can remember.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Lazarus’ (Blackstar LP January 2016)
When David Bowie died on 10th January 2016 it affected me in a way I would never have believed possible. Having given up on the old chap producing new music of any lasting value, initially I got drawn back into the records he made in the seventies because that was how I wanted to remember him. It was only after a couple of days wallowing in Hunky Dory through to Heroes that I bothered to seek out Blackstar and in particular ‘Lazarus’, a song which somehow seemed to mark the start of the official goodbye with lines like ‘Look up here I’m in Heaven’ and ‘Just like that bluebird / Oh I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me’ taking on more meaning than possibly even Bowie intended.
ANOHNI ‘Crisis’ (Hopelessness LP May 2016)
While it would still have been a potent political statement about ecocide, drone warfare, loss of liberty and the other tragedies of our age, Hopelessness may have been something of a slog if the music hadn’t matched the intensity of the subject matter and given appropriate space to the sheer, visceral beauty of Anohni’s voice. An extraordinary album by an extraordinary artist.
CHANCE THE RAPPER ‘Same Drugs’ (Coloring Book LP May 2016)
Oh how I’d love to be a bit more like the eternally joyous and spiritual Chancelor Bennett instead of the unforgiving arsehole I tend to be. Is it possible I could shift from being someone who finds others a bit of a strain, is a bit of a recluse and watches too much TV, and work towards becoming a trusting and open hearted human being? The kind of steady, calm, non-judgemental bloke who writes songs like ‘Same Drugs’, a Peter Pan story about growing up and falling out of step with someone you used to be in tune with, although listening to Coloring Book it was hard to imagine Chance being out of tune with anyone.
DJ SHADOW FEAT. RUN THE JEWELS ‘Nobody Speak’ (The Mountain Will Fall LP June 2016)
It was DJ Shadow who sparked my interest in crate digging and ‘old school’ sampling in the early nineties, and it was EL-P and Killer Mike on Run The Jewels 2 who helped renew my faith in hip hop twenty years later. Theirs was a partnership made in heaven although ‘Nobody Speak’ didn’t make too much sense until my first trip to New York later in the year when it’s brutal, bruising mentality tied in perfectly with the sudden, gonzo turn in American politics and the protesters being dragged away by the cops outside Trump Tower.
THE AVALANCHES FEAT. DANNY BROWN & MF DOOM ‘Frankie Sinatra’ (Download June 2016)
Coinciding with the comeback of fellow sampledelic luminary DJ Shadow, The Avalanches returned with ‘Frankie Sinatra’, a stupidly addictive earworm based on Wilmoth Houdini’s 1947 recording of ‘Bobby Sox Idol’ with Danny Brown and MF Doom chatting shit over the top and a blast of ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound Of Music.
FRANK OCEAN ‘Nikes’ (Blond LP August 2016)
On first listen Frank Ocean’s second album sounded like a collection of loose sketches waiting to be hammered into shape, its muted and introspective tone full of spectral guitar yet noticeably lacking in hefty beats. The sound of an artist taking the rare opportunity to create an album answering to his own vision, Blond only revealed itself as a stunning work of enigmatic beauty, intoxicating depth and intense emotion after repeated plays. Unconventional and fragmented, like life itself nothing was crystal clear other than the fact that it was impossible to think of another album from the 21st century remotely like it.
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE ‘Kinda Bonkers’ (The Painters EP February 2017)
Animal Collective can always be relied upon for their mix of campfire, pop primitivism and electronic experimentation and ‘Kinda Bonkers’ was no different. Kicking off with a simple tribal chant that progressed until Panda Bear and Avey Tare were practically finishing off each other’s sentences, it resolved itself into an invigorating, communal mantra of ‘Unity of all kind, unity of all kind’ that made me go mushy and feel suitably good about the world.
KENDRICK LAMAR ‘God’ (Damn. LP April 2017)
My mother died in April 2017. Killed off by her failing heart after a miserable four months in hospitals and care homes, in her own typically imperious way she refused to accept her fate, even when her consultant explained as gently as he could that she was unlikely to be around for Christmas. Given how her earthly world had revolved around religion, the concept of heaven and, in her own words, her God given right to be there, I was shocked to see the terror in her eyes.
Her reaction confused me. My own complicated relationship with religion dated back to the strict, Methodist, belief system imposed on my childhood. And yet, while I tended to dismiss it out of hand, my mind often turned to it during periods of depression. So I did the only thing I knew how and turned to music for an answer to the questions about heaven and hell most ministers, vicars or priests make it their mission to fudge.
A devout Christian, Kendrick Lamar’s exploration of God has always been woven through his work, his questioning thornier than that of other artists. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only answer he seemed able to offer was his own faith which didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Of course my mother would have approved of his devotion even though the psychological damage she purposely inflicted on her own sons had been defiantly unchristian.
Nevertheless, aware that her time was coming to an end, I reached out to her for some kind of final reconciliation, the young boy in me still desperate to hear the words of love and pride she’d been unable to utter for my entire life. But she remained distant and disapproving to the bitter end. Crumpled up like a tiny bird in her hospital bed, she turned her head to look at us one last time, her coal black eyes giving us her standard look of disapproval as she had so many times before. She died alone twelve hours later, neither my brother nor I possessing the necessary love or forgiveness to ease her suffering as she exited this world.
EVERYTHING IS RECORDED FEAT. SAMPHA ‘Close But Not Quite’ (Download May 2017)
Sampha and Curtis Mayfield’s ghostly duet mirrored the conflicting feelings of elation and regret I felt in the aftermath of my mother’s death. I hadn’t expected to feel anything, but with the sudden proliferation of long lost aunties, cousins, second cousins and old family friends knocking around at the funeral who I would never see again, it felt very much like the end of an era, which of course it was.
TYLER, THE CREATOR ‘Boredom’ (Download July 2017)
Tyler, the Creator is both predictable and unpredictable, jazz and underground elements burbling along beneath hardnosed, unapologetic rhymes from an MC who delights in crossing the line. What’s unpredictable is what he’s going to say or what direction he’s going to go, but as a sonic sketch of my plan for the good life being thwarted by a year of hanging around waiting for old folk to die, ‘Boredom’ was spot on.
BAXTER DURY ‘Miami’ (Download August 2017)
Ian Dury’s son Baxter didn’t start making his own music until he was nearly thirty and steered clear of his old man’s notoriously cunty vein of self-interest, arrogance and vindictiveness until he tried his hand at being a properly mean prick for the first time on ‘Miami’, a storm of sweary invective built around a brilliantly funky bass pattern.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Tonite’ (Download August 2017)
The return of LCD Soundsystem six years after what was billed as their final show was an unexpected treat, the burbling ‘Tonite’ reading like an updated treatise defending the type of outmoded music nerd James Murphy first detailed on the immaculate ‘Losing My Edge’. A pep talk for anyone who’s ever felt cheated by capitalism’s gobbling up of punk values in the name of branding and moneyed elitism, it may have been an easy thing for a rich, multi-millionaire like Murphy to say, but as music recedes ever further into the background of popular culture, surely such bemused, wishful thinking couldn’t hurt.
HAK BAKER ‘Skint’ (Download January 2018)
Despite the obsession with celebrity and obsessing most about those with the least substance, talent or relevance to justify our fascination, something which continues to make us fall for the myth that current pop music is rubbish, twenty something East Ender Hak Baker proved otherwise, the deceptively upbeat instrumentation of ‘Skint’ knocking against his easy-to-relate-to tale of mundane struggle.
YOUNG FATHERS ‘In My View’ (Cocoa Sugar LP March 2018)
‘In My View’ navigated around a neat hook asserting that nothing is ever really free, a simple statement but one that was turned into the kind of sparse yet explosive belter only the Young Fathers are capable of pulling off. Straddling the line between downbeat and anthemic, you could still dance around your living room if you so wished, but nothing was quite what it seemed.
CHILDISH GAMBINO ‘This Is America’ (Download May 2018)
Mid-thirty year old jack of all trades Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, has never claimed to be a fantastic actor, a genius comedian or a brilliant rapper, and you can say what you like about the one dimensional nature of his most renowned song. And yet the reception to ‘This Is America’ and its associated video, a brutal but intricate commentary on US gun laws and race relations, turned the mirror onto black America and the cynicism of the post-Trump era to become one of the most important pieces of musical protest art in years. Released at a time when it’s virtually impossible for music to be considered anything more than a means of entertainment, if nothing else ‘This Is America’ caused some heated cultural discussion and for that alone Donald Glover should be applauded.
NEAR FUTURE ‘Field This’ ((Download May 2018)
The politics of Westminster rarely impacts directly on my life so I remained completely unaware of the Tory government's plan to provide 300,000 new homes a year by the mid 2020’s until the bulldozers began to obliterate vast swathes of the once green and pleasant fields surrounding our village. With 3,000 houses built in double quick time and a further 15,000 at the planning stage, suddenly the longing for a lost land that can never be recovered expressed by Near Future and ‘I remember when this was just a car park / I remember when this was just a field’ began to ring true.
LET’S EAT GRANDMA ‘Ava’ (I’m All Ears LP June 2018)
At the grand old age of nineteen Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton released I’m All Ears, an album that included the remarkable ‘Ava’. A simple piano led affair, it spoke softly and plainly of an experience that has rarely, if ever, been articulated so well in song. Displaying the kind of intense, loving bargaining you go through when trying to help someone battle their demons, it was an unerringly accurate description of what it feels like to be trapped powerless on the sidelines awaiting that final, inevitable catastrophe.
JAMES BLAKE ‘Don’t Miss It’ (Download June 2018)
In the summer of 2018 I had to face up to my own demons when a mysterious lump on my neck was diagnosed as lymphoma following three months of tests, scans and incapacitating worry. While that was bad enough, what terrified me the most was how every last drop of hope I’d managed to cling onto had evaporated the instant I was told and how utterly desolate and alone it had left me feeling. I had never experienced such depths of hopelessness before. Thankfully it wasn’t to last.
Just four days later in one of the most surreal scenarios of my life, I received a phone call informing me that a specialist had revisited my case and concluded that in fact the lump on my neck had been caused by an unidentifiable virus and not cancer as first suspected. The tune playing when I took the call? Britain’s best sad boy James Blake’s ‘Don’t Miss It’, a song that a minute earlier I’d been considering as suitably melancholic for a funeral had been transformed into my equivalent of Chic’s ‘Good Times’. Bizarre!
LES BIG BYRD ‘Geräusche’ (Iran Iraq Ikea LP October 2018)
Keen to put my traumatic summer behind me, I found some unexpected pleasure in an album with the subtly poetic yet politically intriguing title of Iran Iraq IKEA. Seeking the sound of something familiar, ‘Geräusche’ was based on the comforting motorik beat of Can and as such possessed an inbuilt sense of joie de vivre that made me feel grateful for being alive.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE QUEEN ‘Merrie Land’ (Merrie Land LP November 2018)
With its eerie, Specials like fairground Wurlitzer whirl, English folk, Paul Simonon’s post Windrush dub bass and distant echoes of Blur’s greatest moments, Merrie Land was beautiful and elegiac, Damon Albarn singing the hard hitting title track while literally jabbing a finger at the uneasy alliance between the working classes feelings of abandonment and the toff Brexiteers. A Parklife sequel in all but name, except said park was now full of dog turds, covered in graffiti, overgrown and unkempt due to a lack of council funding, it was an impassioned diatribe appalled at the uncertain future of our soggy little island and as good a place to end my story as any.