2016 On The Spin

So as I slip what is likely the last 2016 addition (the tortoiseshell edition of Chapter & Verse I received for Christmas) into place in my collection it’s time to chew over those other new albums that crossed my turntable over last year.

This isn’t a Top Ten such list nor does it include those I’ve streamed as I tend not to do whole-album listens in such a way, just a look at those I’ve purchased and spun.

I think this is the first year in which I’ve not bought any new album on CD. If I’ve parted with cash for it it’s been on vinyl. I’m clearly not alone in this habit as 2016 saw sales on this format reach a 25 year high at 3.2 million units in the UK. But then I also read that at least half of vinyl purchases never have a needle dropped on them…. people are just buying them for decoration and using the digital download code instead. I find this somewhat discouraging. For me, digital purchase alone has never been as satisfying as I like the feel of actually owning something and if I buy a record it gets played before I download and burn to CD for car use and played again (and again). Even the most attractive and (apparently) valuable item in my collection gets a regular play. Why own it otherwise?

Anyway, I’ve digressed. The new music buying started in earnest in January with some pre-orders and the discovery of Milk Teeth who’s début Vile Child got a lot of plays, was something my wife got into too and felt like a real blast from the past with a vital, punky, 90’s feel. A lot of fun to listen to and they’re only bloody kids (in comparison, that is).

Two of those pre-orders dropped through my post box on the same day – albums from two of post-rock’s finest. The Atomic soundtrack / album from Mogwai comprises material reworked from their contributions to a BBC4 documentary “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise” about the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and its legacy. More textures and soundscapes than ‘rock’ it’s a wonderful album. Explosions In The Sky spent the four years since Take Care, Take Care, Take Care working on soundtracks (all well worth a listen) and this year’s The Wilderness was a triumphant return for EITS. Understated and beautiful, the album’s tracks are their most concise and direct to date, there are no ten or fifteen minute epics here – the longest track just tips over the seven minute mark – instead they’ve found a way to distil down to the purest, most urgent elements and create a great album. The artwork / packaging was stunning too.

Atomic recording and touring duties not enough, Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite joined up with members of Slowdive and Editors to form the brilliant (don’t say supergroup) Minor Victories and their self-titled album is a fantastic one that crackles with a taut electricity and energy and I hope there’s more to come from the group.

“‘Alt-rock’ legends with new album” was probably slapped on reviews for at least a handful of bands this year, begging the question as to how many legends there are. Of the two I got my hands on that I’d apply such an honorific to I’d say Dinosaur Jr fared better than the PixiesHead Carrier – their first with Paz Lenchantin as a legit replacement for Kim Deal – is a strong effort, don’t get me wrong and certainly recalls more of the earlier quirkiness of their heyday. It’s always a mistake to try and judge a band by their work of twenty years earlier and if you leave your expectations and baggage at the door it’s a good effort. However, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, the band’s eleventh album, found Dinosaur Jr offering up a tight, focused slab of what makes them great.

In a similar vein Weezer‘s self-titled ‘White’ album is easily the best thing they’ve done in at least a decade. Without the self-conscious apologetic hues of 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End,  this one represents a genuine return-to-form that had been long hoped for and given up on at least a few times, I’m still finding new things to enjoy some eight months after it first dropped.

Oh, on the subject of legends offering up new albums there was a new offering from that little outfit from Oxford… A Moon Shaped Pool was everything you could have hoped for from a new Radiohead album and more. Atmospheric, beautiful and compelling. At once their most direct and least-angular, this album certainly deserves the plaudits and places atop year-end polls its received.

Available digitally in 2015 but unheard by me until the physical EP arrived in February,  Foo Fighters‘ Saint Cecilia was a lot more enjoyable and blast-of-fun than their previous studio album and seemed like  – without Butch Vig at the helm – a more varied and energetic collection of songs than they’ve made with any producer thus far with the title track being one of the best things they’ve dropped for a while.

It’s always a pleasure to listen to the Twin Peaks OST and I was lucky enough to be given this year’s re-release of Angelo Badalamenti‘s score on vinyl which is just gorgeous to behold. Not always the case with coloured vinyl, it’s a great pressing and the sound is crisp – it’s done by Death Waltz / Mondo who are also responsible for the Jurassic Park OST in my collection that’s equally beautiful and high in quality. Shame they’re so sodding expensive really.

Perhaps the new album most played in 2016 was Heaven Adores You by Elliott Smith. I was still listening to it this morning. I’d held out for the vinyl of this one, the accompanying music to 2014’s film of the same name about Elliott’s life and music (I’ve still yet to watch) and resisted urges to stream until I could give it the proper attention. Not necessarily an entry point for those new to Mr Smith’s music, for those already converted it’s an essential – there’s tracks you love, twists on existing tracks and tracks previously unknown. I’m very much looking forward to 2017’s release of an expanded and remastered Either/Or.

2016 releases I missed and still plan on getting round to:

Regina Spektor – Remember Us To Life

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK?

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Swans – The Glowing Man

 

3 thoughts on “2016 On The Spin

  1. I see a lot of end-of-year lists but I can never do one simply because I’m not sure that I even listen to enough new stuff in the course of any given year any longer. And then if I do, some of them just suck and so I’m lucky if I’m left with a couple. Oh, well.

    Oddly enough, I’m a Radiohead fan and I have not yet given this CD any kind of spin. Will have to do that.

    As to the vinyl thing, that seems kinda dumb of some people to buy it on vinyl just to have. I thought the whole push was that it sounded better, at least to some ears. If so, play it! (Even if it does, nothing will ever push me back to vinyl. Having records that skip? Flipping them over? Screw that. I’m digital all the way. And I’m not convinced that other than the most ardent audiophile, that most people – in a blind test – could distinguish vinyl from CD).

    BTW, I think the WordPress gremlins got to your post. It says “Expositions in the sky.”

    • I think the debate as to whether or not you can hear the difference in compression rates is one that’ll rage on elsewhere. I know that even amongst digital there’s often a marked difference depending on whether it’s downloaded as mp4, flac lossless etc.
      Personally I’m more a fan of the tactile side of it, I like the physicality of owning it (having lost a lot of digital music via accidental deletes and hardware failures) and the artwork.
      Bloody gremlins

      • Unquestionably within digital there is a difference. MP3 sucks but we’re kinda stuck with it to a certain extent. When you go to Bruce Springsteen’s site to buy an album, he gives you several different download options. When I bought “my show,” I went with Apple lossless. The tradeoff, of course, is that were I to want to put that on CD, I’d need a lot more than if on MP3.

        Neil Young has been trying to address this fidelity thing for a while with his Pono player which he claims is higher fidelity. But then of course, one has to update all one’s music. If you’re looking for something to read, here’s the inevitable takedown:

        http://gizmodo.com/dont-buy-what-neil-young-is-selling-1678446860

        As to losing music files on faulty hardware, I use a service called Carbonite which backs up all my data “into the cloud.” Music files are just computer files and they are treated no differently. So unless Carbonite folds, I got all my stuff permanently.

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