983 pieces of music were aired on Eclectic Kettle in 2016. Once again at the turn of the new year, I get to distill that into just five records.
From “Let Them Eat Chaos” (Lex)
It goes without saying that 2016 was a crushing blow against all that we hold to be good and dear, and as we look forward to the inauguration of a cheeto stain Twitter egg as the leader of the free world and Britain pressing self-destruct on the achievements of post-war peace and prosperity it's inevitable that we find refuge (if not solace) in powerful expressions of protest. Kate Tempest dropped “Europe is Lost” early, at the end of 2015, a precursor to her second full-length record “Let Them Eat Chaos” that eventually landed in October.
The whole record — a long-form poem — traverses the complexity of modern identity, loneliness and isolated, societal strain. It effortlessly, fluently hops from the deeply individual experience of modern London living, to nailing the societal traits of racism, xenophobia, distrust and manipulation that laid the foundations of Brexit and Trump alike. It's a fantastic record, with great beats, synth loops, and a level of lyrical complexity that catches my breath. The timing of the release and its message is all too appropriate. Truly the album of the year.
From “Hella Personal Film Festival” (Mello)
Mike Eagle featured in last year's top 5 for his “Dark Comedy Late Show” EP and the full album release with Paul White maintains form. Cutting through pop culture and jugular social observation with wit and class, “Hella Personal Film Festival” is a very fine album, underpinned by excellent samples and hooks.
From “Spells” (Erased Tapes)
Boysen had a busy release year, with two records — Gravity and Spells — being released by Erased Tapes. Gravity (I just discovered) dates back to 2013, so I'll highlight a track from “Spells” instead, though the two records pair together, with the four parts of “Nocturne” spread across both records beautifully.
The familiar Erased Tapes sound is quite obvious in these works, and if you follow Nils Frahm, Kiasmos, Ólafur Arnalds and their peers, the piano led fusion of classical and electronic styles here will be a familiar blanket on a rainy day. Boysen errs more toward the classical composition end of this genre though, and both compositions are sublime and beautiful. An always welcome break in intensity for the rainy days in a year that wouldn't let up.
From “Jet Plane and Oxbow” (Subpop)
Shearwater hold a special place in my heart because they were one of the first bands I discovered just after moving to the US, and their music proceeded to accompany various early adventures in this adopted home. Part of my first road trip soundtrack, and theirs were among the albums bought to start my new record collection, a time doing 20x2 with someone who'd been part of the band. Might even have been my first show at Bottom of the Hill, come to think of it.
This year their record Jet Plane and Oxbow was very good, and notable after a run of albums that have been consistently worth a listen but stood out a little less. The live show that accompanied it was excellent, and was accompanied by their coincidental but ultimately extremely poignant and well done performances from David Bowie's “Lodger”, and eclectic source of encore even before his unwelcome death.
From “Blackstar” (ISO/Columbia)
We dedicated an entire show to Bowie in his wake, which remains one of my favourite sets we've ever aired on Kettle. With a year to get accustomed to his absence, I supposed there's a gladness to be found in the quality of Blackstar, what turned out to be his final record.
An artist whose output was so diverse throughout a 6-decade–spanning career, everyone has their preferred era. Yet, I think, Blackstar has qualities in it that makes it feel very appropriate in the reflective mould. Hints of his past sounds pop up throughout, the grooves in Blackstar, jazz-influenced saxophones, industrial drumming breaks in Sue, while all the while sounding like its own work. The thought that Bowie planned the record entirely around his impending demise may be exaggerated (or certainly romanticised) but the reality is that we're left with an album that does feel right in its finality. Lazarus itself very direct in its admission of mortality and damage.
Staring into the bleak smog of 2017 it's difficult to think about music in isolation. They say political hardship makes for great art, but honestly I think those people are arseholes whose privilege protects them from a personal cost of the Trumps and Brexits and the damage they will do. At the least, I suppose, I hope the music we play over the next twelve months channels our energy in positive ways, or provides some solace and comfort in which we can take care of ourselves. Good luck out there.