Stay Woke — 2016 in Music
As half the world watched global politics slide into a Boomer-backed dystopic future that was never meant to happen, numerous creative types had already began mobilising against the dark forces threatening to further polarise the folks Pollies like to call ‘the public’… to various degrees of success.
This year’s most visible bolt-from-the-blue came in the form of a new long player from Solange Knowles which threatened to eclipse sister, Beyoncé’s epic Lemonade project. Solange’s A Seat at the Table took Blood Orange’s gentle mix of race and gender politics, curious sound bites and ‘quiet storm’ styling (as witnessed by his 2016 release, Freetown Sound) and emboldened it. Solange (and invited collaborators) spoke literally during tracks titled ‘interludes’, expressing succinctly in crisp, clear intonations, on exactly why ‘Black Lives Matter’. These ‘interludes’ were interspersed between a series of tracks that managed to be warm and sad, melancholic and hopeful at the same time. The message was often exclusive — as was a lot of the very binary commentary coming from America during the year (even before the spectre of a real Trump presidency reared it’s head) — but the sound and the basic emotes Solange’s new music expressed were universal. Along with a couple of music videos produced with her video director husband, Alan Ferguson, Solange took many who hadn’t seen inklings of her Zeitgeist-y precision before, by very pleasant surprise.
Speaking of Zeitgeist-y surprise, the queen of it — Róisín Murphy — released another sequence of tracks taken from recordings she made before her previous album, Hairless Toys, with current creative partner, Eddie Stevens. Take Her Up To Monto separated itself from Hairless Toys with visuals and self-directed videos portraying London as a city constantly under construction, where domestic settings have been replaced by cranes (an obsession for Solange too), monoliths and building sized holes in the ground, where everyone inhabiting this newly bizarre landscape are either dressed for business or part of the Hi Viz army that swarms over our cities and suburbs today. I caught up with a couple of LPs that were released last year in 2016 that followed a similar path, namely Warm Brains’ ‘Big Wow’ and The Chap’s ‘The Show Must Go’, both albums that wore it’s weary world view on it’s sleeve echoing the way pop became political during Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s (see Fun Boy Three, early Bananarama and ABC’s ‘Beauty Stab’ for a handful or examples).
At the other end of this particular spectrum, there were a number of releases that came into view in 2016 that mainlined pure escapism. The Shears twins, Wyatt and Fletcher — of The Garden fame — both released tracks under their individual monikers. Fletcher as Puzzle and Wyatt as Enjoy. Enjoy’s full length release, Another Word For Joy providing a bonkers kind of jagged pop that proved insular enough to be comforting yet with an expansive, if naive, world view. As Wyatt explains on closing track Geography, “Do you know why I like Geography? Cause I can visit all the places that I wanna see.” Wyatt and Fletcher even pushed out a couple of frankly bizarre single plays this years as The Garden, accompanied by increasingly wacky videos, namely Call This # Now and California Here We Go.
On this music as escapism tip Connan Mockasin — an artists seemingly allergic to releasing music under his own name — teamed up with Sam Dust of LA Preist to release a series of similarly bonkers tracks under the banner of ‘Soft Hair’. Apparently, the pair had been working on tracks together for many years before putting them together on their debut release. Thank goodness they finally got round to it in a year when we really needed something this languid yet intriguingly subversive in tone to distract us. If you needed even more distraction Seth Bogart, formerly Hunx of Hunx and his Punx infamy, was on hand to supply some sleazy but silly enough nativity to affairs with a confident solo release giving a well needed buff and polish to his previous collaborative outings. Along with a look and feel home grown in his Wacko Wacko clothing and artwork store in L.A. this was an exciting and well bred release that deserved a heck of a lot more attention than it received.
2016 was a good year for Raveonettes fans as well as they experimented with releasing a fresh track each month via YouTube, a project they initially described as “potentially schizophrenic & disjointed” but proved more eclectic and thoughtful than even they seemed to have predicted. A compilation of these 12 tracks is expected to be available to purchase in the new year.
Our ‘2016 up in lights’ playlist
Another Queue At The Coinstar by Warm Brains
E.V.P. by Blood Orange
Don’t Touch My Hair by Solange
Like a Real Girl by Puzzle
Different for Girls by Of Montreal
Eating Makeup by Seth Bogart
Mastermind by Róisín Murphy
Neon Demon by Cliff Martinez
Drag by Cat’s Eyes
Choke on Love by The Raveonettes
Damned by Unloved
Long Goodbye by Charlie Hilton
Call this # Now by The Garden
My Dog’s Eyes by Zammuto
The Devil and his Anarchic Surrealist Retinue by Deerhoof
Alive Without Medicine by Soft Hair
Heading Towards Happiness by Enjoy
Along the Coast by Azealia Banks