Archive | December, 2016

My Favourite Albums of 2016

22 Dec

1. The 1975 – ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’
2. Touché Amore – ‘Stage Four’
3. Nick Cave – ‘Skeleton Tree’
4. Whitney – ‘Light Upon the Lake’
5. Car Seat Headrest ‘Teens of Denial’
6. Modern Baseball – ‘Holy Ghost’
7. Pup – ‘The Dream Is Over’
8. Beyoncé – ‘Lemonade’
9. Chance the Rapper – ‘Colouring Book’
10. Hinds – ‘Leave Me Alone’
11. Joyce Manor – ‘Cody’
12. David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’
13. Kanye West ‘The Life of Pablo’
14. Bon Iver ’22, a Million’
15. Parquet Courts – ‘Human Performance’
16. Slow Club – ‘One Day All of This Won’t Matter Any More’
17. Bruno Mars – ‘XXIVk Magic’
18. Angel 0lsen – ‘My Woman’
19. Jeff Rosenstock – ‘Worry’
20. Skepta – ‘Konichiwa’
21. The Goon Sax – ‘Up to Anything’
22. The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’
23. Shura – ‘Nothing’s Real’
24. M83 – ‘Junk’
25. Frank Ocean – ‘Blonde’
26. Cats Eyes – ‘Treasure House’
27. Busted – ‘Night Driver’
28. Meilyr Jones – ‘2013’
29. Radiohead – ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’
30. Iggy Pop – ‘Post Pop Depression’
31. Deakin – ‘Sleep Cycle’
32. Blind Pilots – ‘And Then Like Lions’
33. Thomas Cohen – ‘Bloom Forever’
34. A tribe called quest – ‘We Got It From Here’
35. Dmas – ‘Dmas’
36. Margot Price – ‘Farmer’s Daughter’
37. Weezer – ‘Weezer’
38. Crying – ‘Beyond the Fleeting Gates’
39. White Lies – ‘Friends’
40. Connor Oberst – ‘Ruminations’
41. Frankie Cosmos – ‘Next Thing’
42. Teenage Fanclub – ‘Here’
43. Weyes Blood – ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’
44. School of seven bells – ‘SVIIB’
45. Against me – ‘Shape Shift With Me’
46. Honeyblood – ‘Babes Never Die’
47. Public access tv – ‘Never Enough’
48. Kaytranada – ‘99.9%’
49. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – ‘The Soft Bounce’
50. Carla dal forno – You Know What It’s like’

My favourite singles of 2016

21 Dec

(NOTE ABOUT FORMAT: I’ve restricted this list to singles, and one entry per artist, purely because making a list like this is difficult enough and I wanted to narrow the field a little bit. What constitutes a ‘single’ in 2016 is up for discussion and therefore I have tried to be as inclusive as possible.)

1. Chance the Rapper – ‘Blessings’
2. Pup – ‘DVP’
3. Bastille – Good Grief
4. Skepta – ‘Man’
5. Parquet Courts – ‘Human Performance’
6. Nick Cave – ‘I Need You’
7. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘We the People’
8. The 1975 – ‘The Sound’
9. Car Seat Headrest – ‘Fill in the Blanks’
10. Kanye West – ‘No More Parties in LA’
11. The Stone Roses – ‘A Beauitiful Thing’
12. Iggy Pop – ‘Gardenia’
13. The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Dream Synopsis’
14. Shura – ‘What’s it gonna Be’
15. Justin Timberlake – ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’
16. Hinds – ‘Garden’
17. Angel Olsen – ‘Shut up, Kiss Me’
18. Radiohead – ‘Daydreaming’
19. Dmas – ‘Delete’
20. Beyoncé – ‘Hold Up’
21. Loyle Carner – ‘No Cd’
22. Cabbage – ‘Free Steven Avery’
23. Father – ‘Please Stop Wearing Fake Versace’
24. Modern Baseball – ‘The Wedding Singer’
25. Whitney – ‘Golden Days’
26. Lucy Dacus – ‘I Don’t Want to be Funny Anymore’
27. Bon Iver – ‘8 (Circle)’
28. Joyce Manor – ‘Fake I.D’
29. James Arthur – ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’
30. Dj Shadow – ‘Nobody Speak’
31. Touché Amore – ‘Palm Dreams’
32. How to Dress Well – ‘Lost You/Lost You’
33. Joey Purp – ‘Girls’
34. Bruno Mars – ‘Versace on the Floor’
35. Mystery Jets – ‘Bubblegum’
36. Fhin – ‘but now a warm feel is running’
37. Cats Eyes – ‘Drag/Chameleon Queen’
38. Frankie Cosmos – ‘On the Lips’
39. Blossoms – ‘Charlemagne’
40. Hannah Diamond – ‘Fade Away’
41. Weyes Blood – ‘Do You Need My Love’
42. Dark0 – ‘Forever’
43. Sneaks – ‘True Killer’
44. Moses Sumney – ‘Lonely World’
45. Get Inuit – ‘Teriyaki’
46. Crx – ‘Ways to Fake It’
47. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – ‘Diagram Girl’
48. Taylor Swift and Zayn – ‘I Don’t Want to Live Forever’
49. Mitski – ‘Your Best American Girl’
50. -The Magic Gang – ‘No Fun’


Busted ‘Night Driver’ – Review

10 Dec

Back in 2013, James Bourne and Matt Willis from Busted teamed up with Mcfly to form the unfortunately named supergroup ‘Mcbusted’. A successful, nostalgia tinged tour was followed by a concessionary sigh of an album – a regrettable acknowledgement that a fully fledged Busted album was unlikely to ever happen. Mcbusted’s self-titled album somehow exaggerated Busted’s worst traits – dodgy accents, corny cultural references, a sprinkling of casual misogyny – while containing little trace of the hooks and humour that made the band so great in the first place. You see Busted always skirted close to the edge of good taste and it didn’t take much for Mcbusted to tip the balance. Matt (at least) has since conceded that the album was a somewhat rushed, hatchet job; an effort to capitalise on a moment that had already passed in the space of six weeks. Nostalgia, it seems, won’t sustain an audience much longer than a two hour live show. If you want them to stick around, you have to offer something more substantial.

Then, last November something truly remarkable happened in the bizarro land of planet pop. Busted announced they were getting back together. As in Charlie, Matt and James. This is the same Charlie who vehemently swore he’d never rejoin the band, who said so countless times in interviews, who mocked his old group and talked of his embarrassment at even being associated with them. There’s a reason the band called their comeback tour the ‘pigs can fly tour’. But it isn’t hard to see why Charlie left the band in the first place and why his stance has since softened. In 2005 he was a teenager with a serious interest in alternative music. When he went to see bands at local venues he would be heckled – one time by the band themselves. In that stifling climate you can understand why he would feel the need to separate himself from Busted. Now he’s in his thirties and the musical climate is a whole lot more forgiving to pop acts. The same binaries between genres don’t exist to anywhere near the same extent. Pop generally is in a much healthier condition than at the turn of the millennium. The idea of a pop act being taken less seriously than an alternative band feels almost prehistoric. In this context Charlie is free to peruse both bands without losing any credibility at all.

And so we arrive at ‘Night Driver’, Busted’s first album since 2003’s ‘A Present For Everyone’. The stuff we heard on tour already suggested that we were in for a better ride than ‘Mcbusted’ and thankfully the album doesn’t disappoint. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced step up from previous releases that sounds at once like the work of a band all singing from the same hymn sheet. There is none of the animosity or musical concessions that I half expected. It conveys the virtue of friendship overcoming difficulty and heartbreak.

Each of the pre-release singles, ‘Coming Home’, ‘On What You’re On’, ‘Easy’ and ‘One of a Kind’ sound as different from one another as they do from the kindergarten pop-punk of Busted’s original lifespan. ‘Coming Home’ is a streamlined take on Chrvches throwback synth-pop. It’s lyrics are total cornball but it contains an uplifting sentiment that sets the tone nicely for the reunion. ‘On What You’re On’ is a more robust and modern anthem that rips off Daft Punk so overtly it’s almost comical. That said, it reminds me of nothing so much as S Club 7’s classic but largely forgotten ‘Don’t Stop Moving’. ‘Easy’ was debuted on tour and serves as the closest link to Busted’s previous incarnation. With its pretty top line, warm acoustic arrangement and emotive singing, it recalls classics like ‘Sleeping with the Light On’ and ‘3AM’. Next single ‘One of a Kind’ is more of an outlier sonically but captures the same giddy enthusiasm that guided Busted’s upbeat songs; things like ‘Year 3000’ and ‘What I Go To School For’. On ‘One of a Kind’, and much of the album, classic 80s instruments dominate the arrangements. Synths, drum machines, keytars and saxophones all get dusted off and played faithfully alongside some more 21st century, electronic elements. It works impressively, with perhaps ‘Kids with Computers’, a giddy and annoying ‘Owl City’ rip off, being the only exception.

Perhaps inevitably, there is none of the exuberant humour or cockiness that made Busted’s early songs so infectious. Nor is there the far reaching, youthful enthusiasm that allowed the band to write songs about tripple breasted women, crushing on school teachers and obsessive Dawson’s creek fans. As you grow up, quirks and enthusiasms get diluted or forgotten. Heartbreak, loneliness and anxiety are the where Busted’s interests now lie. That is one of the only regrettable things about the new record; just how seriously it takes itself. The misjudged importance of ‘Kids With Computers’ and the emo moodiness of ‘Without It’ and ‘New York’ rather sour what could be a euphoric moment. It’s for this reason the context of the record – reunion, friendships mended, bridges built – becomes a more interesting narrative than anything contained in the songs themselves.

One of the surprising things about ‘Night Driver’ is just has much it indulges in the pop sounds that the band originally tried so hard to distance themselves from. Their big boast when they released ‘A Present For Everyone’ was that there were more live drums and louder guitars. Charlie left because he wanted to chase a heavier sound. This time they’ve abandoned those elements almost entirely in favour of synthesised flavours and artificial surfaces. We find vocoders, drum machines, keytars and synths galore. The poptimist in me applauds the band for embracing the genre they once tried to escape from but at the same time I’m slightly regretful that the band have put down their guitars. The pop landscape is even more synthetic and processed now than it was in 2002 and more than ever it would be nice to hear some guitars, bass and drums on the pop charts. Busted were a brilliant Trojan horse and that’s what we need once again. 5 Seconds of Summer notwithstanding, there is a significant shortage of young, popular guitar bands in the mainstream. Even successful indie-pop bands are ditching real instruments – recent albums by The 1975, Bastille, The Vamps and Two Door Cinema Club have made a point of how little guitar is featured. Of course the instrument has been out of vogue before, and Busted played a large part in changing that thirteen years ago. They made it ok for Radio programmers to play guitar music again which in turn opened the door for bands like Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight and The Libertines.

I’m not bemoaning the choices Busted made here – Mcbusted shows what a mistake it would be to simply pretend nothing has changed over the past decade – and what Busted set out to achieve here they do. What I’m really calling for is a new act to pick up the baton and run; to make pop music that isn’t terrified of real instruments. But that’s a different argument for a different day I suppose. ‘Night Driver’ works in its own right as a fantastic modern pop record. It tastes even sweeter because of how improbable its very existence (let alone its various successes) actually is. Mcbusted now seem like a bad dream everyone’s glad to have awoken from. Busted are well and truly back; and it turns out pigs don’t just fly, they soar.



The Killers ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’- Review

7 Dec

A curious glance at the charts this week informed me that ‘Mr Brightside’ was back in the top 100 – or more likely it never left. That song’s enduring and ever growing brilliance rather blindsided listeners of The Killers recent ‘Direct Hits’ singles compilation. ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Human’ are classic singles in their own right but I wonder how many people made it past track one when track one was the most replayable karaoke masterpiece of the past twenty years? ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ doesn’t have that hurdle to overcome and as such can actually serve as an insightful secret history of the band. It’s eleven festive songs, one released each December since 2006, trace the band’s evolution from flamboyant new-wavers to indie Springsteins to bombastic hard-rockers whilst flaunting their stranger impulses at the same time.

The Killers Christmas songs, released to raise awareness and money for Elton John’s aids foundation, often sound half formed, half-genius, half baked or half asleep. They present the band at their silliest and least attentive and therefore at their most endearing. The opening trio of songs also happened to come at a time when The Killers were arguably the biggest band in the country. Hot on the heels of the majestic ‘Sam’s Town’ and proceeding ‘Day and Age’, these songs are from that brief period when the band were full of ambition and verve. They had the desire to be as big as U2 and as cool as joy Division. As a snapshot of that period the songs work excellently; they are catchy, funny, sky scraping and ridiculously pompous. Guests abound on these tracks; Elton John and Neil Tennant turn up on ‘Joseph, Better You Than Me’, a song that spins Shmultz out of the nativity story over a euphoric chord progression. The song, and Tennant’s overwrought performance in particular, reminds me of nothing so much as ‘We’re Sending Our Love Down a Well’, the spot-on Band Aid parody from The Simpsons. But this was a time when The Killers could execute such things with melodic ingenuity and well intentioned enthusiasm.

After that release the band disappeared in to themselves somewhat. Over the next seven years they released just one album, and the ensuing Christmas singles conveyed an alternatively disregarding and devil may care attitude to songwriting and production that found them fluctuating between the kind of stuff they could knock out in their sleep and genre curiosities like the mariachi rooted ‘Happy Birthday Guadalupe’ and the country ‘Cowboy’s Christmas Ball’. These two songs still impress partly because of how strange they are. Elsewhere though, the more they stuck to tried and tested techniques, the less successful they were. ‘Boots’ is a yawning take on ‘Hot Fuss’ synth pop and ‘I Feel It In My Bones’ is a boring hard rock sibling of ‘Battle Born’. We cared less about them during this period and they seemingly cared less about making their Christmas songs matter.

In a bizarre twist the album ends with a daft trilogy of novelty tunes that, if the predictive trend continues, suggests that the band have a future as a comedy act. And a bad one at that. ‘Joel the Lump of Coal’ was written and recorded in an afternoon with TV host Jimmy Kimmel and its as forgettable as that description makes it sound. ‘Dirt Sledding’ is a truly odd rock n roll vignette that only gets going after a long, atmospheric spoken word introduction. Even new addition, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ manages to update the festive Classic in a weird style, by way of another spoken word introduction where Brandon Flowers tells us about his experience of Christmas in Las Vegas before inviting his influential primary school teacher to sing the song with him.

But it’s strange moments like this that make ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ such a singular and heart warming collection of Yuletide tunes. The band may fall short of penning their own Christmas Classic – an ambition they seemed to briefly harbour (‘Great Big Sled’ comes closest) – but that said, I’m struggling to think of another popular band who have even attempted a Christmas album in the timespan of the songs collected on this album. The Christmas single is an old tradition that has fallen out of favour. The band’s adherence to the form speaks to their reverence for rock history and their desire to belong to the cannon. But these irreverent and often ambitious festive experiments prove that The Killers aren’t just thoughtless hacks going through the motions. They have always been more interesting and peculiar than they have been given credit for, and ‘Don’t Waste You’re Wishes’ emphasises that point with jingle bells and aplomb.