Well, we’ve been talking about covers for a while on and off – perhaps coming to a future podcast episode near you – and I was staggered to come across this incredible version of a favourite Beatles track by a band I never would’ve expected to see do it.
Needless to say, it’s not nearly as raucous and rough as you’d expect it to be, but perhaps that’s what a great cover is: one that confounds your expectations. Which could lead down a rabbit hole all of its own. What else stands up to this? A few come to mind:
Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’?
Nirvana’s Bowie Cover ‘The Man Who Sold The World’?
(shameless love of mine) Hot Chip’s brilliant version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’?
Sinead O’Connor’s cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’?
or perhaps Hendrix’s seminal Dylan cover ‘All Along The Watchtower’?
What would you pick?
If February the 3rd, 1959 was the day that music died when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson all died in a plane crash, then surely 2016 will be remembered as the year that music died. From David Bowie dying in the early days of January to the passing of George Michael on Christmas day, you’d be hard pressed to find a music fan of any genre or era in the last 50 years that didn’t loose one of their heroes. Some of us were lucky enough to be treated to one final swan song with he likes of Bowie and Tribe Called Quest (Phife Dawg) releasing arguably some of their best work ahead of their departure, whilst all of the lost artists left us with music that will stay with us for our lifetimes.
2016 for me as a music fan was a strong year with a mixture of new artists and familiar faces releasing some very strong albums, especially within Hip Hop and Soul. I did how ever find that over all the UK seemed to take the foot off the gas after very strong years in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 2016 also saw coming out parties for many artists that were on the cusp of great things with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Anderson Paak and Solandge making strong statements of intent.
2017 is already looking to be a fantastic year for music. But ahead of us turning to the next chapter, please find my top tens of the year.
Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service
Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
NxWorries – Yes Lawd
Baio – The Names
She Drew The Gun – Memoirs Of The Future
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Lapsley – Long Way Home
Anderson Paak- Malibu
Common – Black America Again
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered
Jules Et Spatz – Rotwii Lied
De La Soul – Exodus
Moderate – Running (AME Remix)
Lee Burridge & Lost Desert – Lingala
Christine and the Queens – Titled
Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis – White Privilege II
Natia Rose – Sqwad
Matronomy – Old Skool
DJ Shadow feat Run The Jewels – Nobody Speak
David Bowie – Lazarus
- I decided to leave any tracks that were in my top ten albums off. Essentially, listen to those full albums.
Happy New Year brothers and I look forward to 2017!
Well, I know I’ve been listening to a LOT of David Bowie lately, and I’ve been discovering his old albums, and what a wonderful adventure it’s proving to be. His Berlin trilogy particularly, is a revelation. And Low, well, the influences come thick and fast, but the first few bars of The Speed Of Life, it’s just Blur, isn’t it? Fascinating.
Well, I was going to say “who saw that coming?” but we’ve been here before. As it’s been said, when you no longer tour and live as a relative recluse, you can control whatever the public sees of you. So it’s no surprise that after The Next Day, which skewered his early years whilst nodding in reverence to them, that David Bowie spent 2015 making a follow-up, confounding us all again with the title track in November. I have to confess I took a little time to finally listen to this, as I wanted to watch the video rather than just the audio. And it stopped me in my tracks. In fact I ended up stood on Cheapside in my lunch break with my mouth open.
As a statement of intent it’s pretty powerful. While I loved The Next Day, for all the parallels to his classic albums, lyrically it was very much in the moment, skewering his character, ageing, his legacy, and proving he still has the edge that made his music so alluring when I first listened in my teenage years. But while the words on Blackstar do find some common ground with The Next Day, that’s mostly where the comparison ends. There’s been a lot (and I mean a LOT) of frothing of about how avant-garde it is, as if he’s turned into John Cage, genetically spliced with Roni Size and Miles Davis, but I’d take much of that with a pinch of salt. For anyone that’s familiar with Radiohead’s more experimental (recent) work, or the likes of Flying Lotus, or Bjork or any other more outre albums of the last two decades (let alone all sorts of electronic music), it’s not that far-fetched, but I guess the praise is in someone of Bowie’s stature and reputation still feeling so fresh, raw, and willing to experiment. After all, I can’t think of many (any?) artists approaching 70 that would do this, or do it with so much success or style. Especially when they’ve had forays into more experimental work with such varying results. I can see how die-hard classic era Bowie fans (especially those who are the same age as the Thin White Duke) may struggle with it, but really forget the hype, and just listen: this is outstanding work, a potential classic in the making, even after a few listens.
The title track’s first half echoes so much of Radiohead to me, and this isn’t a statement of either artistic laziness or pastiche, (just think Thom Yorke singing instead, and it’d be one of their best works itself) but high praise. Coupled with a deeply disturbing video that burns itself onto your consciousness, with Bowie as some sort of excommunicated (punished?) preacher stating prophetic, abstract lines as adolescents convulse and shake in the background, it’s affecting from the start. Who knows what it’s about? There’s been discussion (denied by Bowie’s team) that it’s referencing ISIS, but really it’s the ambiguity that’s the point here. The dead ‘Spaceman’ (Starman? a nice touch either way), the huge candle, the eclipsed (black) star; there’s huge, broad stylistic strokes at play and then, just as you wonder where it can go from here, it slows and shifts into what feels at first like familiar Bowie, its sax and swagger, all offset by the harsh, discordant, repeating chorus. I’m massive fan of long opening tracks on albums (Station to Station, or Elton John’s Funeral For A Friend), after all, isn’t that what albums are for? As an opener you’d think it’s hard to live up to, but it’s a case of setting the scene.
There’s almost breakbeat-ish, brash rock in Tis A Pity She’s A Whore, then a self-effacing Lazarus, which was written for a stage version of The Man Who Fell To Earth. Sue, which is Bowie to d’n’b (in a good way, thankfully) and echoes things like Squarepusher. Similarly, Girl Loves Me goes heavy on percussion and electronics, but they never take over the song itself. Dollar Days and I Can’t Give Everything Away again talk of death and loss and age and the past. Even a few listens and I’m hooked, and you can only applaud the constant reinvention of a man that could’ve ‘retired’ in 2003 and had a legacy as good as anyone in music.
Bowie continues to confound, and this may be the best thing he’s done since his Golden Years.
So, another year ended and some great music from January the first to now. Aside from the albums of the month, there’s been some brilliant music, and here’s a bit of mine, so what’s yours?
Albums – (aside from our albums of the month, where my top 3 was AM, Pale Green Ghosts and Modern Vampires Of The City, but more of that later)…
Arcade Fire – Reflektor: I know this has got a lot of stick, but it’s been an essential album since it came out. It’s a change, it’s distorted, overlong in places (not in my opinion really), but it’s a step forward and brave doing it.
David Bowie – The Next Day: How do you manage to record an album in secret as one of the biggest artists in history and release it without anyone knowing? God knows, but even better is that it’s a great album. An elder statesman still on form, and some of his best work in 20 years.
John Hopkins – Immunity: Electronic album with emotion and atmosphere? This nailed it for me. I can’t wait to see him live.
James Blake – Overgrown: I did an air punch when this won the Mercury. It was a leap on from his first, and something that managed to combine the booming, hollow reverberation of dubstep with a very intimate vocal and melody. I wish I had 10% of this guy’s talent. It’s mesmerising music.
A Sagittariun – Dream Ritual: Another electronic pick, but one of the most inventive albums I’ve heard all year. Shades of so much of the music that first introduced me to clubs, but way more than that. (I wrote about it here: http://www.4clubbers.net/2013/music-reviews-161/).
Haim – Days Are Gone: Love it or hate it, it’s not hard to agree this is brilliant pop music. Bits of Fleetwood Mac, 70s soft rock, hip-hop (seriously) and modern guitars, there’s nothing else really like it about this year. And the hype was outlasted. I still love it, even if I’ve listened to it to death.
Phoenix – Bankrupt!: Another festival-inspired album, but more great pop music. A band that’s dismissed as being hipsters, but they can write a tune to remember. Their gig (hazily) at Glastonbury convinced me completely.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories: Ok, so the hype was relentless, the single, Get Lucky, played almost (almost) to the point where it got too much, but there’s something great about an album that goes big on traditional production. Strings, horns, guitars, on a massive studio desk, and not Pro Tools. A complete contrast to most of music in the charts today, and therefore a GOOD THING. It’s not perfect, but then what is these days?
Luke Solomon – Timelines: An unsung hero of UK house music, this album was much more than 12 dancefloor tracks. It was personal, it was poignant (in the case of Lonely Dancer, Solomon’s tribute to Kenny Hawkes) and it was wandering, in fact it’s everything a house music album usually isn’t. That’s why I loved it (and I reviewed it here: http://www.residentadvisor.net/review-view.aspx?id=12961)
Atoms For Peace – Amok: What do Radiohead do when they’re not making their own music? If you’re Thom Yorke then you’re assembling a superband (Flea from the Chilis, Nigel Godrich and more) and making haunting, fractured music that skirts between electronic and guitars. It’s pretty unique – and acquired taste too – but their gig at the Roundhouse was incredible.
Midlake – Antiphon: A late entry but one of my favourite American bands. They may be minus their frontman now, but this is just as good as their previous work. Lush, ethereal, wistful, painful, and sensational.
As for the rest? Singles and gigs were many, and here’s my highlights:
Tons really. Mostly electronic, as that’s what I get and what I listen to, but there’s been a lot of great ones around. Obvious ones and less so.
Todd Terje – Strandbar: You’d have to have been a hermit to miss this, but what a track. Ubiquitous, and no less catchy after the 50th listen.
Bonar Bradberry – 3two5: 50% of PBR Streetgang, it’s a cut of grooving house that is both deep and energetic, and those vocals… we didn’t know Bonar had it in him!
Deadstock 33s – The Circular Path: One of many of Justin Robertson’s alter egos, this is a rollercoaster cut of acid-tinged house that makes you want to find a sweaty basement and stay there until it’s light. Genius.
Jammhot – Chrysalis: Leeds outfit debut on Saints and Sonnets sounded like 90s garage hijacked on a spaceship and brought back 20 years later. In a good way.
Dan Mangan – About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All: A great title, a total fairground of a record. Every time I listened to this, it felt like I was walking down a street to the closing titles of my own film. Superb, and cinematic.
Daft Punk – Get Lucky: Obvious, yes. Still brilliant though. However you may hate it, hearing this will always mean summer 2013.
Justin Timberlake – Suit & Tie: The album may not have lived up to it, but this was the best thing he’s done in years and showed a lot of the noisy r’n’b nonsense of late just how it should be done.
Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey: Infectious, and better than Diane Young for me. A great album from a band I couldn’t really love before, but this changed my mind completely.
Ms Mr – Hurricane: I saw them for the first time at Glastonbury, and they were brilliant. This was the standout single from an album that helped fill an LCD-shaped hole.
Jagwar Ma – What Love: Another Glastonbury epiphany, like a sweaty Aussie rave build on the Stone Roses and Madchester’s hedonism.
Phoenix – Entertainment: Opener of a poptastic album from the French outift. The video’s almost as good (and odd) as the song itself.
David Bowie – Valentine’s Day: What a comeback, and what a record. A clever pun in the chorus, and a brilliant guitar hook. It’s like 1974 all over again.
Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know: Sheffield’s finest reborn as a west-coast power pop band. Many hated it. I loved it.
Haim – Don’t Save Me: I could’ve picked about five, but this was one of a great clutch of radio-friendly songs that you can’t stop singing. Seeing them in March next year can’t come too soon.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor: The opening single of an album that’s divided opinion. But this was a statement of intent, and you can see James Murphy’s fingerprints all over it. Seven minutes plus of majesty that revealed more and more every listen.
John Grant: It may have toured Pale Green Ghosts, but both solo albums got an outing, and the fragile singer with the molasses voice proved even better live. Mesmerising.
XOYO Loves – The Coronet in November gave us DJs (Lindstrom, Waifs and Strays, Aeroplane and Greg Wilson) but it was live sets from Crazy P and Hercules and Love Affair that topped it.
The Reflektors – Ok, so Arcade Fire, but who cares? Seeing a band that big in a venue like the Roundhouse and them playing from their new album and back catalogue, while the whole crowd was dressed up like a circus…. I wish I could do gigs like this every week.
Despacio – not a gig specifically, but James Murphy and 2ManyDJs’ own disco in December was a glorious throwback to pre-superclubs, lasers, glitter cannons and jets. Just an amazing soundsystem and brilliant tunes, for 5 hours.
Glastonbury – So many bands, so many memories. Some missing ones too. Haim, Ratpack, Rolling Stones, Seasick Steve, Phoenix, Jagwar Mar, Ms Mr, Chic, New Build and all sorts of other shenanigans. Going back here reminds me there’s nowhere else that comes close to it, anywhere.