I heard a discussion on radio a few weeks ago declaring ‘the album’ as being dead. In the debate they were suggesting people not only don’t buy albums any more but also don’t want to listen to them, preferring to make play-lists of single tracks or streaming only songs they like. I couldn’t help but think that those experts in the discussion must move in very different circles to mine, which given my age would suggest I am out of touch. If I take a look at my own family, a couple of my kids (a young adult and a teen) are snapping up vinyl old and new and having a distinct preference for the format, whilst another (a younger teen) is a confirmed child of the digital download age. I would argue that the kind of people who consume music only as downloads are more akin those who would never have bought albums back in the day anyway and may have only bought the odd chart single or Top Of The Pops compilation albums. There has always been a difference between the typical single and the typical album buyer, and then there are vinyl singles collectors which were especially active during the punk era. How gratifying then to subsequently hear that in fact in 2016 vinyl album sales by value (rather than unit sales) outstripped those of digital purchases for the very first time since the introduction of CD nearly did for vinyl all together over 30 years ago.
Here, in no particular order, and with respect to all the great music not heard by me, or not referenced in this selection, are 20 reasons why in 2016 the album (whether vinyl, CD, or download, or even tape) was very much alive and kicking arse.
Raveneye – Nova
Having served an apprenticeship as the next great white Brit blues guitar player hope, Oli Brown let his inner rock animal out and formed the three piece Raveneye with spectacular results.Raveneye was my 2015 support band most likely to step up, and touring extensively with Slash will have honed their stage craft ready to hit ever larger venues and festivals.Think of a blend of Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, and Muse, add in Oli’s classic rock vocal as well as his undoubted guitar prowess, and swaggering stage presence, add thundering bass riffs, and songs that could straddle Planet Rock and Kerrang devotees. The début album Nova delivers heavily, sounding like a record you might expect from a band two or three albums further down the line.
Syd Arthur – Apricity
My 2016 support band seen most likely to step up.
Syd Arthur, not a retro bloke but a band who’s name cleverly plays on the title of the classic novel Siddhartha (and at the same time reputedly in homage to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee), has itself created in Apricity something of a contemporary classic work. The Canterbury band of three brothers plus one makes a passing nod to the local 70s prog rock scene but with a slicker, more widely accessible sound, clever jazz rock arrangements, a crisp and clean production brings the best out of their superb musicianship and the soulful voice of Liam Magill. Equally at home on stage as in the studio, the name Syd Arthur won’t be confusing people for much longer.
No Sinner – Old Habits Die Hard
With a complete supporting line up change from the début album Boo Hoo Hoo, it’s really all about the stunning and versatile vocals, and sheer sass of Colleen Rennison. She can’t do it all on her own of course and the assembled musicians on Old Habits Die Hard rock hard and tight. Soul, blues, hard rock, classic rock, psyche rock, it’s all here, and it’s all just so down and dirty rock and roll. Colleen handles each role with aplomb, at times vulnerable, at times headstrong, at times downright naughty, always bloody awesome. No Sinner’s début album reminded me a lot of Vintage Trouble, the second has retained the vintage but cranked up the trouble by several notches.
Old Habits Die Hard is my album of the year.
The Cult – Hidden City
The Cult has never shied away from making new music, and each successive album contains a gem or two to compete with their ageing classics for space in the live set. Yet the band has never been immune to a bit of bland filler when the creative juices are not in full flow or the twin Astbury/Duffy axis is not perfectly aligned. In Hidden City they have produced their most holistically complete and edgy work for 25 years, an album which when the eulogy of The Cult is finally written will surely rank alongside their very best work even if the days of hit singles are long gone.
Garbage – Strange Little Birds
Garbage is so much more than Shirley Manson, as iconic as she is the stalwarts around her in Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig make up a band of equals and it is remarkable to note that the band has never had a changed line up. Equally remarkable is that in Strange Little Birds they have come up with their strongest work since their early recordings of two decades ago.
Blues Pills – Lady In Gold
Blues Pills self titled release in 2014 was my favourite début album since Free’s Tons Of Sobs, with singer Elin Larsson giving the rock gods of the 60s and 70s a run for their money and young guitarist Dorian Sorriaux’s blistering solo playing reminiscent of the best of all time Paul Kossoff. The rock world has woken up to Blues Pills on the strength of that début and their live performances, and eagerly awaited the sophomore album. So it takes a brave and confident band to take the script and if not quite tear it up certainly give it a good scrunch, and morph into a funked up, psychedelic, soulfest, throw in some keys and a choir, put the rhythm section centre stage alongside Elin and not a single guitar solo to be heard, though Dorian is not slouching around with his licks. Between their two albums, and favourite EP cuts, Blues Pills already has an enviable portfolio and it must be a nightmare to decide what to leave out of the live set on any given night. With Lady In Gold, Blues Pills gambled bravely and won.
Rival Sons – Hollow Bones
Too many churlish direct comparisons have been made about Rival Sons to Led Zeppelin, mostly by people who wouldn’t go out to see a band that wasn’t churning out their 70s catalogue in some soulless arena. Such remarks may or may not be welcome attention but mostly very wide of the mark. The Sons would have been a stellar band had they been around at the same time as their influencers Zep, Free, Pie, Doors, and so on and I’m sure would be every bit as much revered today. In Jay Buchanan they have the outstanding male rock and roll vocalist of this generation, a rock God if ever there was one. Hollow Bones continues their impressive bi annual album output but goes further in creating a holistic recording where the songs are less individual hits of varying styles and more a formation of seamless sounds making a whole that was made for vinyl and for reverential listening. Hollow Bones may well in time be looked back on as their finest hour and I look forward to the day when I can hear these songs played live.
Wilco – Schmilco
Following hard on the heels of 2015’s raucous release Star Wars, Wilco take it down, right down, with a consciously lo-fidelity production, the creativity, genius and productivity of Jeff Tweedy and his Wilco cast is probably only bettered in this generation by Neil Young.Schmilco is easy listening with a deceptively hard and sharp edge, such as crooning about hating ‘all those normal American kids’.
Scorpion Child – Acid Roulette
Difficult second album syndrome is recognisable only in its absence on this monster of a hard rock album from Scorpion Child. With a number of line up changes to contend with since the début self titled release you could be forgiven for expecting something a little fragmented yet the opposite is true and The Child turned the changes to firm up a more stable and complimentary line up including keys in place of a second guitar which perfectly balances Chris Cowart’s power chords and classic solos. The new sound is unmistakably Scorpion Child with the distinctive and charismatic Aryn Jonathan Black possibly the most underrated front man in the business. Acid Roulette, together with their dynamic live shows, should be propelling Scorpion Child into the hard rock stratosphere.
The Temperance Movement – White Bear
With their second album TTM progress their classic and derivative blues rock sound with a mature and strident set of diverse songs which is less dependant on ‘southern rock’ and Black Crowes influences and marks The Temperance Movement as a contemporary blues rock creative force to be reckoned with.Suffering the loss of two founder members from its line up since the release of White Bear early in 2016 the impact remains to be seen but the fan momentum is now solid and in Phil Campbell they have the vocal and visually energetic focal point to rally round and continue to tear up halls around the world.
68-75 – Consequences
Don’t expect a band called 68-75 to be breaking new ground but what you can expect from them is high quality powerhouse vocals from Suzy Sledge and guitar playing with riffage and a stonking tone from Andrew Cylar, all with tunes which do justice to the era evoked, and beyond. A much strengthened rhythm section does holistic wonders with brilliant Consequences.
The Last Vegas – Eat Me
New York Dolls meets The Faces meets early Alice Cooper meets Aerosmith, The Last Vegas is a five piece of pure high energy rock ‘n roll which clearly enjoys itself and wants to take the listener along for the party. With Eat Me the production is slicker, the performance swaggers with confidence of a band that’s been around for a while but yet only now hitting their hard working stride.
David Bowie – Blackstar
It’s Bowie, it’s his parting gift to the world, it’s all of the genius of Low, Heroes, and Station to Station, and more, in one final resting place.
Gaby Moreno – Ilusion
This wonderful guitar playing singer songwriter, lately of L.A. but hailing from Guatemala, came to my attention when singing on one of the songs on my 2015 album of the year, Edge Of The Sun by Calexico. I followed up and found that she handles everything from jazz to soul to blues with equal aplomb and straddles Spanish and English lyrics often with a mash up of each language. That her 2016 album should showcase her range and talent was no surprise but being nominated for a Grammy was certainly unexpected and no more than this unassuming Latin songstress deserves and her star should be ever ascending.
Jack Savoretti – Sleep No More
Jack is now getting the recognition and audience that his raw talent and work rate deserve, a little belatedly and in no small part down to Radio 2 presenters who finally knew a good thing when they heard it. If the last album had me a little concerned that Jack might follow a well trodden easy A&R path once a bit of success arrived, Sleep No More is a terrific album which retains enough of a commercial sound to appeal to his later adopters whilst also showing he has lost none of his ability to pen a great tune and then sing as if he means it.
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
It takes some guts for a southern American band to go against the grain and risk alienating a good proportion of its red neck fan base with a liberally tinged politically pointed rock and roll album, yet that is what Drive-By Truckers has done. If the music was crap the plaudits would be meaningless but in fact American Band is full of passion, and the cause of tolerance and resistance has served up an album in which every chord is struck with purpose. They’ve always been a band that knows how to hit the outsider nerve, Feb 14 being a particular favourite whenever that auspicious day comes around but with American Band DBT has stuck its flag firmly in the ground, an important album for these times.
Clare Maguire – Stranger Things Have Happened
After a five year wait for a follow up to her chart success début album, Clare Maguire provides a showcase of her many and varied influences. Distinctly mellow and easy on the ear, the album may lack the bombast of Light After Dark, it may lack an obvious Radio One playlister, but instead concentrates on fidelity and vocal quality with each song worthy of its place unlike some of the filler padding out the début. My track by track review of Stranger Things Have Happened can be found here …
White Denim – Stiff
White Denim hits a peak of maturity with this release, a beautifully evolved sound combining blue eyed soul with Santanaesque virtuosity and Mannassas diversity, throw in much of their earlier indie sparkiness combined with Black Keys riffage, and in Stiff they gave us an old school eight tracks album of sheer musical delight. An excellent band which excels even further in a live setting.
Holy Fuck – Congrats
Electronic trance music does not regularly feature in my play-lists however every now and then a band comes along which takes its genre defined sound into areas accessible to others, and Canadian outfit Holy Fuck, lead by Brian Borshart (alter ego Dusted) is such a band. Mash up Sons and Fascination of early Simple Minds, a little bit of Kraftwerk, and a lot of Hacienda era New Order, and you get the picture. Up front electronic keys underpinned by driving bass licks and real live drums, with blurry oft indistinct and distant vocal chants, make for a trippy rush, turn it up to set the pulse racing, yet Congrats is undeniably easy to listen to.
Wovenhand – Star Treatment
Following from the arguably better known 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand is the current incarnation of the genius David Eugene-Edwards. His overtly Christian lyrics of a distinctly opus dei nature make for an unusual combination with grungy low scale, alt Americana guitar driven music, and he looks for all the world like a true rock star. The dark power of the music of Wovenhand allows a listener of non religious persuasion to wallow and feel the heavy noise. Star Treatment is full of dystopian soundscapes yet is possibly the most accessible Wovenhand long player to date.