As it’s a given now to do so, with the coming of the New Year and all, we’ll be looking at what our favourite albums of 2016 were, and we’ll also be attempting to wittle them down to just five. Let’s hope 2016 doesn’t smite us down for missing anyone off. The first volume of The Black Wax’s series “My Top 5 Albums of 2016”, curated by Sam Rye.
5. David Bowie – Blackstar
It’s widely known to all of us now that “2016” has become synonymous with words such as: “terrible”, “awful”, “evil”, “joke”, and what better place to start than the first – and one of the worst – cruel jokes 2016 had to offer us: the passing of David Bowie himself.
The album offers as his last gift to the world: Lynchian jazz to lull you into wondrous stupor, tension-filled guitars that could cut to the core of planets, vocals all-knowing in their phrasing, other-worldy in their delivery, all wrapped in a little bow by the dying hands of the spaceman himself, as time took another cigarette…
At the time of recording, Bowie knew he was going to pass away at some point in the near future, and this seems to give the album it’s selfless, graceful complexion. David Bowie was a man completely dedicated to his art and his image, and it seems with “Blackstar”, even in death, Bowie wanted to take us on one last voyage into the stars.
4. Thomas Cohen – Bloom Forever
Thomas Cohen’s debut album, “Bloom Forever”, creates a conflicting array of emotions upon first listen. Another album birthed from tragic circumstances, the album stems up and around the prospect of life without a loved one; in Cohen’s case, “Bloom Forever” deals in most parts, directly with the devestating death of his wife, Peaches Geldof.
For this reason alone, you can’t help but feel the album shouldn’t have existed to begin with. The album, as you may expect it to, doesn’t dwell in sorrow, however. “Bloom Forever” is actually, suprisingly, a joyous, almost jubilant album. Songs such as “Hazy Shades” and “New Morning Comes” are full of optimism, hope; teeming with the dim light that seeps through the cracks.
It’s for this reason, and the brilliant songcrafting from the young, promising Cohen, that the album blossoms and stands proudly on it’s own, amongst the rubble and debris of such a tragedy.
3. Hannah Peel – Awake But Always Dreaming
Inpsired by her Grandmother’s battle with Dementia, Hannah Peel’s “Awake But Always Dreaming” is like taking fragments of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, and splicing it with 21st century electronica.
There’s songs that dwell within heartbreak and failed romances, such as on “Don’t Take It Out On Me”, or moments of clarity on the exuberant “All That Matters”, to moments of claustrophobia. This constant dynamic shift in mood and feeling, through hook-filled reveries, creates a sense of wonder, and charming unease in other places.
Hannah Peel’s Elysian vocals, and her ability to compose electronic pop on the same level as the likes of Grimes, make her one to keep an eye on in the future. “Awake But Always Dreaming” is as bold a statement as any, and it would also seem a state of mind for the zealous Hannah Peel.
2. Exploded View – Exploded View
Sharing the same label as the likes of Iceage and Marching Church, Exploded View’s self-titled album also possesses that similar, organic band sound that’s also found on their label-siblings’ albums; where technical prowess teeters constantly, and oh so effectively, on the edge of complete cacophony and disorder.
Lead single “Orlando”, with it’s dream-like disco beat, is the heart of the album, and sits nice and neatly within it’s own groove, as the rest of the albums veers and offshoots into other experimental and daring territories.
Exploded View’s debut album has a real modern beauty, a sheen to it on the surface; however, a peculiar kind of tension lives underneath, like a worm eating away within the core of an apple. A cause of wonderful nonplus, Exploded View is as weirdly disconcerting as it is absolutely fascinating.
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
An album with it’s own orbital gravity, “Skeleton Tree” is perhaps the heaviest of records in a year full of heart-rending au revoir’s. Whereas “Blackstar” and “You Want It Darker” deal with the acceptance of death for the artist themselves, Skeleton Tree sprouts up within the dense fog of emotional grief and trauma for the artist in relation to losing someone else; the coming to terms with the loss of a family member, in this case Nick Cave’s 15-year old son, Arthur Cave.
Supposedly 6 of the 8 songs on Skeleton Tree were completed before the tragic death of Arthur Cave, but still the cataclysmic events can be felt reverberating throughout the whole of the album. Although Nick directly adresses that he hates the almost “prophetic” fortelling life of it’s own the album took on, there’s no denying the chill one gets when hearing the opening lines of album opener “Jesus Alone”: ‘You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field near the River Adur’. Lyrics written before the incident, Arthur fell to his death from a cliff in Brighton, with the River Adur being only miles away from the scene. The album, whether it wants to or not, becomes a time capsule for the pain and grief.
The songwriting itself is second to none, from the poerty-in-motion of “Rings of Saturn”, to the Korg-swept soundscapes of “I Need You”, the band don’t waste a single, devastating note. The skeletal frame of the album, built by Warren Ellis and the rest of the Bad Seeds, supports and upholds the fragility of Nick’s voice in a heart-wrenching, almost dutiful way. The frailing, ageing timbre of Nick Cave’s voice becomes an instrument in itself; a fine quality, rather than a hinderance. With Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave lays almost everything on the table, and the Bad Seeds ensure you’re all seated.