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My Songs of the Year

I managed to get to three gigs this year. It doesn't sound like many, and indeed it isn't many, but three tends to be about my average per year. At the beginning of March, I went to see Låpsley in Bristol. This was followed two and a half months later with a visit to Bristol again with my mate Simon (who's just turned 50!) to catch Slow Club prior to the release of 'One Day All This Won't Matter Anymore', their third album.  Then, if you think things couldn't get any quieter on the gig front, things did get quieter.  All my focus was on getting everything finished and signed off at Bath stonemasonry college, and then barely a week later - in the second week of July - I was off to London for the start of the Prince's Foundation apprenticeship in traditional building skills.  This has taken me all over the country, but the apprenticeship was based in East Ayrshire in Scotland for the first three months.  

I listened to a massive amount of music while I was in Scotland.  Many of my fellow apprentices (as well as some of the students of the summer school, including Blythe and Charlie) had a similar taste in music as I did.  This made for a great exchange of music throughout the three months that we were there, particularly while we were cooking.  I knew it at the time and it's even more apparent now: being around so many like-minded people in terms of both profession and philosophy, and being in the supreme comfort of The Bunkhouse, it really was a dream situation.  

While I was there, I managed to spend three weekends in Glasgow, the second weekend of which I managed to see Angel Olsen at SWG3 in Glasgow.  Her third album, MY WOMAN, had been released the month before and the acclaim for it spread like wildfire.  Like many other indie music lovers, I knew about Angel Olsen, but this album sent her into the musical stratosphere.  It's extraordinary, and is easily - easily - my favourite album of the year.  The gig was by no means perfect, but Sister, the album's masterpiece and the centrepiece for that night's performance, was probably the best live performance of any song I've ever heard.  Whatever higher place great songs are plucked from, this one came from there, and taken from the very very top of it.  I'm convinced it will become a classic as more people listen to it - it certainly deserves to be regarded alongside some of the very best.  Spotify has provided a "Your Top Songs of 2016" playlist and this song tops the lot.  I'm not going to argue.  Tops my most played list and wins by a country mile.  Wins my Song of the Year on my Album of the Year as well.   

The collaborative album 'case/lang/veirs' by Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, was another marvel of 2016.  To be honest, I've not been able to get beyond Laura Veirs' Best Kept Secret, a wonderfully upbeat song that really captures a mood.  It has a killer first verse, which I was really touched by it when I first heard it. 

December: I was lost in darkness that I couldn't shake,
Called you in California and you answered right away,
You answered right away,
You picked up right away. 

I can't say why this verse resonated as much as it did.  That I guess is the wonder of music.  Perhaps it's the way that Veirs sings it, but hearing this was a tonic that I felt could cure most ills.  A shoe-in for best lyrics I've heard this year.    

CocoRosie's Heartache City is another album I've not heard very much of, other than a song I got obsessed with in July and there's been very little let up since.  Although a 2015 album, I'm not restricting this list to songs and albums released this year.  If I first heard it this year, that's good enough for me.  Lost Girls is a collage of a town or city's dark underbelly, of night-time scenes, focusing mainly on the story of a prostitute. It starts as a very competent spoken word piece and slips effortlessly into full song.  There's no linear narrative so it's quite disorientating - more a collage of things gathered, cut out and stuck back together.  The only disappointing thing about it is a single forced rhyme, which is such a shame for a song that is otherwise perfect.  But I am fond of repetition in things, and this part of the song has that on full display.  I could dwell on the lines "witches displeased by their own magic" and "Shaman women fuming with shame" for a very long time, but for the purposes of this blog entry I will give you the whole part of the song and then move on.  

Witches confused by their own magic, 
Witches displeased by their own perfume, 
Shame-locked women, 
Shaman women fuming with shame, 
Love-locked women, 
Women their own magic women.

I was introduced to King Creosote by J.J, a fellow apprentice and the person who came with me to see Angel Olsen in Glasgow.  After a spot of shopping in Ayr, we walked to the seafront and as we sat looking out over to The Firth of Clyde, he put on 'Diamond Mine', an album that King Creosote did in collaboration with John Hopkins.  We sat on the tidal wall and considered the sea in our different ways.  A strip of flamingo pink light sat along the horizon and disappeared behind the Isle of Arran.  As we all sat along the tidal wall, John Taylor's Month Away came on and I thought it was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard.  This would be an overwhelming favourite for my best lyrics of the year.  The way King Creosote sings it - well, it's just heartbreaking and perfectly evokes what it must have been like for those men.

A dozen men, thirty days with 24 hours in each
Of shattered boyhood dreams and not much sleep.
I'd much rather be me.
For once I'd much rather be me.

I was first made aware of Tindersticks through a video that the YouTube music channel La Blogotheque recorded of Hey Lucinda, a song that appears on their 2016 album 'The Waiting Room'.  Subsequent research found that Tindersticks have been going for a very long time, but they've flown under my radar until early this year - that is, until Lhasa de Sela's luscious vocals reached my eardrums.  I was hooked instantly.  I was sad to find out that she died in 2010, so the recording is at least six years old.  I love a male-female duet and this is among the best of them.  Like all great art, the song gives the listener space to think.  And major props to the video that accompanies it - it really complements the sleepy elements of the song.  I actually bought the album for Simon - my gig friend I previously mentioned - without really knowing whether or not it would be his thing.  When I heard The Waiting Room, I knew I had to buy it for somebody and I knew Simon had the necessary musical tools to understand why. 

My cover of the year has to go to Slow Club with Seasons (Waiting on You).  Although not released this year, discovering this was a revelation.  I got obsessed with Future Islands' original during the second quarter of last year (between visiting my brother in Coventry and our trip to Poland), but I discovered Slow Club's cover of it shortly after going to see them earlier this year.  To my mind, Rebecca Taylor  - one half of Slow Club - is a national treasure, possessing one of the best voices these shores have to offer.  There are many covers of Seasons (Waiting on You) on YouTube, but in my opinion this one's by far the best.  The Jinx, a song from Slow Club's new album, should also get an honourable mention.  It's one of the highlights of the new album and stands alongside some of Slow Club's best work.  

Other honourable mentions (to be extended as I think of them):

Haunted Head by Ezra Thurman
iT by Christine and the Queens
Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby by Cigarettes after Sex
Kerala by Bonobo
Red Earth & Pouring Rain by bear's den
The Jinx by Slow Club 


  1. This is a very cool post Tom, not least because I get a couple of mentions. ( But did you have to tell everyone that I've just turned 50? You'll ruin my playboy image... )
    Some interesting musical choices here that I need to check out. The Tindersticks album is indeed a thing of beauty - thanks again for buying it for me.
    Have a wonderful Christmas my friend!


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