Musicandotherthingz Best Album of 2016

Our final and biggest category had a wide spread of votes for all the albums featured on it and this is testament to the closely matched level of excellence from all of our nominees on the long list. This meant a lot of them came close to reaching the top of the voting pile with Childish Gambino’s late addition, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Blood Orange Paul Simon and Frank Ocean all getting close, but not as close as our top three who feature in descending order. 

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (11.11% of the vote)

As Q-Tip suggested, this will be the groups final album and was only recorded because of their anger and dismay at the world around them. Their sixth album was started in secret just after the Paris attacks and completed in November this year at the peak of this dismay. With a long list of collaborations and excellent, diverse production, they were able to produce an album as relevant as ever and a defiant shout of unity amongst a nation and a world that’s tearing itself apart. If that is their final album, it’s an album that will be rated as one of their best. 

2. Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine (18.00%)

Since she’s featured so highly in almost every category she was placed in, you are probably very familiar with all the superlatives attributed to her. She is a magnificent performer, lyricist, vocalist and producer and throughout her debut album, there are no points of weakness. Each song is its own beacon to a particular set of thoughts, set to slick and ambitiously minimalist music or gracefully arranged pieces. The album is bursting with emotion and eccentricity in equal measure and this is perhaps key, for these two traits are often so divorced from each other, yet she winds them together with style and confidence. 

1. David Bowie – Blackstar (22.22%) 

Bowie left a terrifying and wondrous parting gift to the world with Blackstar. It was an album made up of complex fusions, melodies and rhythms as if the creation of a mad scientist of which Bowie must serve as the closest musical equivalent. What’s more intriguing about the album, and this is something not widely picked up on, but it’s his most personal album. Amidst the great characters and stylistic personas of that thread through Bowie’s career, his final album showed him to be just as vulnerable, scared and curious as the rest of us. Amongst all of the seemingly invincible and otherworldly alter-egos, Bowie playing the role of a mere human is perhaps the most powerful character of all. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Songwriting of 2016

There’s been a lot of content for songwriters to ponder over this year and amongst shocking deaths of icons, social exclusion, war and political upheaval, they’re pretty much all covered by the songwriters in our long list. Mitski and Christine and the Queens delved deep into gender issues and identity whilst Pinegrove offered up an almost quaint and close personal narrative. All came close, but did not crack our top three. 

3. Paul Simon – Wristband (12.20%)

There aren’t many people better at providing a social commentary of America than Paul Simon. He’s been identifying and observing it with every last crumb of detail for over fifty years and it’s only fitting that in 2016 of all years, he was spot on again and producing some of his best work for well over two decades. Here, he takes the small event of him being locked out of his own gig, because he didn’t have a wristband as was required and equates this to American society. A society in which no one has a wristband and no one can get through the door. His words becoming more ominous given how the election played out just a few months later. It was also reassuring to have a legend like Paul Simon firing on all cylinders when so many of his contemporaries were lost. 

2. David Bowie – Lazarus (22.00%) 

There is little else to say other than ‘David Bowie – Lazarus’. It is typical of Bowie to go out in such a way as he almost flaunts and projects all of his fears and reflections of his coming death and the life that he had lived. Again, only Bowie could make death appear to be like a release from the shackles of limited time on earth. This is a strong concept in general, but made even more terrifying and astounding is that less than three days after his final album was released, he had passed. Even in death, Bowie did it in his own unique and bold fashion. 

1. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013 (24.39%)

It shows the measure of Kendrick’s songwriting ability to win this category for the second year in a row and not only that, but do so with an album of throwaway tracks from last years album To Pimp A Butterfly. In a way, he is almost a modern Paul Simon in that his commentary of America is so distinct if not a little more direct in his case. Untitled 03 is a prime example of this as he takes stereotypical advice from all the different peoples that make up everyday American society. In doing so he highlights the diversity, but also the hypocrisy of all of them and how they are at least the same in that sense; each motivated by selfish goals. It almost acts as a commentary of humanity itself which sounds like an ambitious task, but Kendrick just rolled out that task with ease and it still didn’t even make the cut for his album in 2015. 

Owen Riddle 

Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger Review

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One of the most prolific songwriters of all time is back and at the age of 74 has crafted a thirteenth album called Stranger To Stranger. That man is Paul Simon and the legend New Yorker has talked of forming a ‘genre bending’ album of both new and familiar sounds. One constant in this, will be the relaxed and casual delivery of some eccentric and telling lyrics. Whatever the case with this album it can only add to the stature of the man and with the tragedy of fellow musical legends passing, it is a big boost to have a musical great still creating music for us all.

‘Wristband’ is quite simply a wonderful track. The song has unrelenting rhythm and energy through rapid percussion and handclaps and beyond that there isn’t a whole lot else other than a simple bass line. At the conclusion, he brings in trumpets to escalate the energy further. As well as this, are Paul’s vocals which are as calm, yet steadfast as they’ve ever been. The message behind the song matches the energy. He recalls being locked out of his own gig as he didn’t have a wristband and likens it to exclusivity and privilege in society before envisaging a social revolution. He commentates on American society in the same was as Kendrick Lamar, just through a highly relatable metaphor. ‘Werewolf’ is a folk-rock track with a lack of musical exclusiveness as it embraces many more contrary elements from the shuffling percussion to the deep-rooted and resonant organs. Simon rolls off his politically charged lyrics and social commentary through his relaxed and sarcastically tinged vocals. The track gradually builds to a peak with added instrumentation and raised tones. Another brilliantly arranged and thought provoking track delivered effortlessly. ‘Cool Papa Bell’ is a song that pays tribute to the legendary baseball player of the same name, but in the track he asks questions the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ and asks questions of society as a whole. He delivers those lyrics with slick wit and style around the light, feathered acoustic rhythms around him. Though not as punchy as ‘Wristband’, it shows Simon mixing up song structures and melodies in a more familiar environment.

‘The Riverbank’ is a slick riff oriantated track and the crisp guitar work is made the most prominent piece of the song with shuffling percussion behind it. In the song, Simon laments war and its ‘poisonous’ effect which ends with a mother with a folded American flag. The song expands out from its tight arrangement with faded strings to end a simple track with another unflinching narrative. The title track mixes whirring guitars echoed and drawn out with clean acoustic sounds and percussion layered on top of it. Paul’s vocal is at the forefront of the track and has a subtle echo to it. He leads the song to each transition including a jazz interlude that accentuates this beautiful, swooning track, but a tense and focused song too. ‘Proof of Love’ features rotating acoustics and echoed percussion. From this come angular and delicately distorted lead riffs that ominously rise high above the other sounds. Simon becomes perhaps more a philosopher than narrator on this track as he guides the lulling sounds easily. Other tracks such as ‘Street Angels’ feature instrumental quirks such as    the pitched shifted samples that intercept the percussion of the song. Each track features Paul Simon firing away each lyric in smooth and effortless tones. The album is undoubtedly his best for some time and is a subtle reminder of the sheer talent he has in all areas. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album quite like this in 2016.

Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger = 9/10

 

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Paul Simon – Werewolf

With Stranger to Stranger fast approaching it’s June 3rd release, Paul Simon has released a third single in ‘Werewolf’. It is a folk-rock track with a lack of exclusiveness as it embraces many more contrary elements from the shuffling percussion to the deep-rooted and resonant organs. Simon rolls off his politically charged lyrics and social commentary through his relaxed and sarcastically tinged vocals. The track gradually builds to a peak with added instrumentation and raised tones. Another brilliantly arranged and thought provoking track delivered effortlessly.

Owen Riddle

 

Single Review – Paul Simon – Cool Papa Bell

‘Cool Papa Bell’ is the second instalment from Paul Simon’s thirteenth studio album Stranger to Stranger which is out on June 3rd. The song pays tribute to the legendary baseball player of the same name, but in the track he asks questions the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ and asks questions of society as a whole. He delivers those lyrics with slick wit and style around the light, feathered acoustic rhythms around him. Though not as punchy as ‘Wristband’, it shows Simon mixing up song structures and melodies in a more familiar environment.

Owen Riddle

Single Review -Paul Simon – Wristband

One of the most prolific songwriters of all time is back and has announced a thirteenth album called Stranger To Stranger. That man is Paul Simon and we can expect his album on June 3rd and the first single to come from it is ‘Wristband’ and what a single it is! The song has unrelenting rhythm and energy through rapid percussion and handclaps and beyond that there isn’t a whole lot else other than a simple bass line. At the conclusion, the brings in trumpets to escalate the energy further. As well as this, Paul’s vocals which are as calm, yet steadfast as they’ve ever been. The message behind the song matches the energy. He recalls being locked out of his own gig as he didn’t have a wristband and likens it to exclusivity and privilege in society before envisaging a social revolution. He commentates on American society in the same was as Kendrick Lamar, just through a highly relatable metaphor. He promises his upcoming album to be another genre-bending affair and at 74 he’s trend-bending too and remaining ahead of the game.

Owen Riddle

Sunday Suggestion – Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer

I readily admit that at this time of year I find it hard to throw myself into the traditional or obvious Christmas songs but it does not mean I am devoid of the good old Christmas spirit (Indeed not). Though in recent years I seem to pick up songs around this time of year that have no intention of being a Christmas song. From these it has been songs by Simon & Garfunkel that stand out the most to me this time of year. A few like Homeward Bound and The Only Living Boy In New York come to mind but for me The Boxer stands out. The steady rocking back and forth nature of the acoustic rhythm in conjunction with the soft tapping of the percussion that gives it that gentle and warm feel even before the vocals begin. In unison; both Simon and Garfunkel combine in such a wholesome and melodic fashion. Together they sound like a whole choir with such effortless harmonies. As the song reaches it climatic peak with the growing instrumentals and crashing percussion; it almost reflects the harsh and dangerous conditions outside as oppose to the warm and contented feel of indoors that is being portrayed in the music with the verses and through the songs rhythmic hook to which it reassuringly ends in the same fashion. The lyrics as well as the music evoke the Christmas feel. The opening verses about the poor man trying to rid himself of his lonely situation and the strength and perseverance of the boxer which could both be outlines of a Christmas film to which these emotions and feelings are played upon to drive the story. The greatness of it is it’s subtlety. For it was never designed or made up as a Christmas song and you could probably find many similar examples if you delve deep enough into the makings of a song, but few will surpass Simon & Garfunkel in manufacturing such accidental festivity.

http://youtu.be/wzUEL7vw60U

Image from www.simonandgarfunkel.com