2016 was quite special for music. Perhaps the greatest year to be a fan of the medium so far this century, the quality has been such that it’ll take well into 2017 to fully appreciate the nuances of every great album released since January, where records which may have topped lists in years gone by barely make it into the top half of this one. Some years are defined by the names we now considered greats, some by fresh voices… This year had both, happening all at once.
It was a year where we bade farewell to Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, George Michael and Leonard Cohen, several of whom released some of their best work in their final months… The myth that an artist peaks at middle age is no more. In a year of political turmoil dissident voices in music haven’t been as strong or as impassioned since the counterculture movement of the 1960’s and early 70’s, while pop culture’s biggest names in Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West undertook some of the most hype-building, and frustrating, release cycles yet.
This list was compiled by three music fans based only the albums they heard this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
‘Counterculture’ may be a term only coined in the sixties, but its reach stretches back into the movement of 18th century Romanticism, and its foundation in the poetry of William Wordsworth. In truth, it’s always been about the poetry. From the writing of Bob Dylan in the folk revival of the sixties, flanked by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, to Patti Smith; laying down the groundwork of punk in the 1970’s. A lack of poetry then is perhaps to blame for the lack of an emergent counter-culture in recent decades; although it may be the most lyrical of musical mediums, rap music, which seeks to lay the path for a future resurgence.
The point of a counter-culture is that exists on the fringes. When it becomes populist then naturally it becomes a culture to be countered: such is the ebb and flow of the music industry over the past sixty years. The beat generation was the first counter-culture to boast popular music as one of its facets, and the first to emerge since the Bohemian movement of mid-19th century Europe. Encompassing the likes of painter Jackson Pollock, author William S. Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg, the scene emerged in response to the clean-cut and wholesome, but tepid state of being eminent in post-war America, and folk-revivalism in the heart of Greenwich Village was an essential aspect of the movement. Continue reading “The Birth (and Death) of the Popular Music Counterculture”→
David Bowie was one of the greatest musicians of the last 50 years. He produced some of the most iconic music of his era, but also some of the most innovative and challenging. A cultural chameleon; he became quickly bored with one style and leapt headfirst into another. He pioneered glam rock, punk rock, ambient music and new wave and tried his hand at soul, drum & bass and disco along the way. His music came with a cast of characters, from the infamous Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom to the more obscure Nathan Adler and *ahem* Jareth the Goblin King (hey, it was the 80s!)
Bowie’s music can be hard to pin down and, with such a formidable catalogue, it’s hard to work out where to even begin. In the wake of a death which touched music fans across the globe, it’s time to understand the hype: here are some suggestions on where to start. Continue reading “An Introduction To The Music Of David Bowie”→
David Bowie made a return to Earth at the start of 2013, on his birthday no less, with the announcement of his new full-length, The Next Day. Later in the year he released a bonus EP with yet more music, including a ten minute dance remix of one of the album’s less notable tracks. The compilation Nothing Has Changed came a year later partnered with a vinyl release of a new song, a seven minute jazz odyssey about domestic abuse, with a B-side titled ‘Tis Is A Pity She’s A Whore. What was Nothing Has Changed then, but much needed affirmation that yes, everything is still okay: this is still the same David Bowie who danced in the street with Mick Jagger, stormed America with Fame and glammed up as Jean Genie.
And which manner of new release could be more comforting than that of the compilation? The most reliable of mediums, featuring all the hits with the boring bits banished to recycle bin perpetuity. Just the headlines, the column inches exonerated. Except this was David Bowie, one of the most curious and consistently enigmatic figures in the history of popular music, and Nothing Has Changed held no solace for the fly-by listener. For a start it doesn’t even have all of his greatest hits. For second, it’s structured in reverse chronological order, starting with said previously unheard seven minute jazz cut and ending with his obscure first single under the name of Davey Jones in 1964.