33 reasons 2016 wasn’t all bad

metronomy

I’ve collected my favourite songs from last year in a 2 hours and 8 minutes long playlist. That might sound long. But that’s before you start listening, here.

  1. Frida Hyvönen – Imponera på mig (First single and an immediate female empowerment classic from one of the best Swedish language albums in years.)
  2. Metronomy – Night Owl (2016’s best pop song from England’s most under-rated pop song masters.)
  3. Kanye West – Waves (Say what you will about his person, but his musical genius is undisputed. This is just one example from a brilliant album)
  4. Tindersticks – Second Chance Man (Perhaps last year’s most important song on a personal level, a brooding theme song for my own self reflection.)
  5. Snakeships, Anderson Paak – Money On Me (2016’s best argument to buy a convertible or move to the US West Coast.)
  6. Frank Ocean – Nikes (The musical universe on ‘Solo’ took a while to get into, but when Frank sings “I’ll let you guys prophesy, we’ve gone see the future first” it’s an apt metaphor for the level he is operating at.)
  7. Willie West – I’m Still A Man (Lord Have Mercy) (Released by a Finnish label (!) in the autumn on 2015 – with the instrumental version appearing in the trailer for the 2016 film Paterson – this minimalist soul jam about being left for another man, sung with verve by 78 year old Willie West, is retro soul at its absolute best.
  8. Blood Orange – Best to You (Perhaps 2016’s most immediate start to a song, which is then followed by Dev Hynes’ melodic and airy disco funk sounds.)
  9. Håkan Hellström – Pärlor (A shameless attempt by Sweden’s biggest artist to become Bruce Springsteen, but as an outcast anthem it’s impossible to discard.)
  10. Angel Olsen – Intern (She used to be a bit too brooding, but on her 2016 album Angel got the balance just right. “I don’t care what the papers say, it’s just another intern with a resume” is one of my favourite lines from last year.)
  11. Anderson Paak – Come Down (2016’s best Kendrick Lamar replacement.)
  12. Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane – Black Beatles (A frustratingly uneven duo, but when they get it right, as they did with this unexpected mega hit, they‘re addictive.)
  13. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (This arty Brooklyn post-punk orchestra keeps moving the needle forward in their own way, here with one of last year’s best guitar driven choruses.)
  14. Amanda Bergman – Blue Eyes (One of my favourite voices in music, this is a slow burner that seems ready made for driving at night.)
  15. Skepta – Shutdown (The definite London anthem of 2016 (even though it came out in 2015); an in your face aggressive and hilarious flag bearer for the current grime revival.)
  16. Nick Waterhouse (feat. Leon Bridges) – Katchi (unapologetically catchy retro rnb/funk from a ridiculously underrated artist.)
  17. Eleanor Friedberger – Open Season (Perfect 70s sounding easy listening rock, a playful nod to Neil Young’s masterpiece ‘On the Beach’.)
  18. Basia Bulat – Infamous (A perfectly crafted folk pop number with a strong chorus that I thought would (and should) become a hit.)
  19. The Comet is Coming – Space Carnival (Psychedelic jazz funk is not normally my cup of tea, but Space Carnival packs one of the catchiest trumpets I’ve ever heard. One of the most pleasant surprises last year.)
  20. Alexis Taylor – I’m ready (The Hot Chip singer’s album is a minimalistic gem that is about the most soothing thing to be released in 2016. Beautiful, understated and underrated.)
  21. Vince Staples – Pimp Hand (Perennially angry and publicly feuding West Coast rapper who continues to avoid melodies and catchy hooks, which is just fine with rap skills like these.)
  22. Maria Andersson – Lift Me Up (2016’s best build-up, it’s actually pretty much all build-up, wrapped around one repeated verse.)
  23. Pusha T – H.G.T.V. Freestyle (Dry beat, dry flow, ominous base, and that excellent rhyme “9 to 5 money is just as sweet as the grave shift / El presidenté, Blowbama, blow by ya /Chopper next to me in every picture, Osama”.)
  24. Klangstof – Hostage (Smooth. Ridiculously smooth.)
  25. Fekky, Giggs – Gossip (2016’s best siren/gunshot/cowbell grime tune.)
  26. Bon Iver – 33 “GOD” (It seemed too ambitious and convoluted at first, but the emotions that Bon Iver manage to evoke are simple and difficult to escape.)
  27. PARTYNEXTDOOR (feat. Drake ) – Come and See Me (Turns out that this year’s best Drake song was not made by Drake, although he did play his part in this relationship melodrama.)
  28. Lambchop – NIV (These alt country veterans deliver a surprisingly light and catchy gem with some brilliant synth hooks and unexpected auto tune.)
  29. Okkervil River – Okkervil River R.I.P. (What better way to return to form than with a lighter sound and an eulogy for your own band?)
  30. Peter Bjorn & John – Breakin’ Point (another lecture in pop song writing from my Swedish favourites.)
  31. Lee Fields & The Impressions – Never Be Another You (Lee Field’s old man soul continues to hit a nerve with his honesty, brilliant band and a voice that has lived.)
  32. Marlon Williams – Dark Child (Retro alt-country that makes the most of Marlon’s voice, an effortless croon that is difficult not to get caught up in.)
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And Tesco’s stealing my money (London poetry)

King Krule – “Easy Easy” from Foundation Content on Vimeo.

King Krule’s debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is finally out. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. He’s 19 years old, Archy Marshall, the person behind King Krule. I don’t know where he gets wits and brains from, but he has that effortless aura about him that Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines had just at the very beginning, when they could just play around and turn everything to gold.

King Krule is probably not going to become that big, these jazzy and loose tunes are a bit it’s a bit too tricky for that. But in my view there is a musical genius at work behind these seemingly slapdash numbers. Easy Easy encapsulates it all, and when Archy sings about how Tesco is stealing his money I somehow completely understand what he is saying.

A Tegan and Sara song (to forget Lena Dunham’s mega book deal)

Better late than never, some people say. I’ll borrow the expression for now, to refer to myself finally seeing the second season of HBO’s mega success Girls, the favorite TV-show for cool popular culture critics who have already analyzed Man Men to death. Although by now I’m quite certain they’ve been through this one as well with their quirky comments and post-modern ideas.

I’m slowly pushing my way through it, although it doesn’t require much pushing, since it’s great. Six episodes in and I’ve already completely stopped thinking about the mega book deal Lena Dunham got. Because there are so many truths about big city life here, about artistic ambitions, fickle relationships, of failing to become what you want. All that good stuff. And then there’s the music; perfectly picked as always, like this tune which closes episode 6 and sent me on a pretty serious google trip, resulting in a real surprise when it turned out to be a Tegan and Sara cover of a Rolling Stones song.

I have nothing against Tegan and Sara, but I honestly didn’t think they could pull off this kind of dreamy retro summer nostalgia feeling this well. And the fact that I had no idea that it was a Rolling Stones song probably says something less impressive about myself. Nonetheless, this is really a sweet song.

Post-festival music (Modern London soul from Fryars)

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ Primavera Sound

I spent a few days at the Primavera Sound festival i Barcelona, running around to see random concerts, smuggling vodka in my tweed jacket, drinking beers, shaking my Swedish ass and other festival related things. Now I’m back, in a sunny London, looking out on a quiet bank holiday street. Listening to Ben Garrett, a Londoner who makes music under the name Fryars. These is something very compelling in these soulful songs, a romantic sentiment, a longing, something for the day after, a sense of heartfelt and maybe even positive melancholia (if there is such a thing) which suits my post-festival mood perfectly. For the calm after everything happened at once. Fryars new album should be out later this year and Ben was supposed to play a London show in early July, but this has now been postponed to October. Based on these two songs, I think it could be a pretty special occasion.

They say love is a virtue, don’t they (the return of an old favorite)

It remains one of my strongest music memories, when I randomly saw The National at Rote Fabrik in Zurich on a Sunday in 2005. We were perhaps 50 people there, most of us hungover and lethargic. The National had been stuck at the border and looked a bit annoyed and tired as they entered the stage. The singer, Matt Berninger, drank white wine from a milk glass. A few songs in I could not believe what I was hearing, and at the end, when they closed the set with a ten minute version of About Today, they had the entire crowd in their hand. I knew they were something else then, this song from their new album is further proof.

The leader of the mini-revolution of cross-over underground mix-tape-rappers

asap rockyA$AP Rocky did his first live show in Sweden at last year’s Way Out West music festival in Göteborg. I was there and witnessed  the some serious love he got that afternoon, clearly surprised his already classic mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, was so big in this northern outpost. He was on fire that afternoon, constantly running back and forth, even jumping into the crowd at one point. I remember spending most of the show with a stupid smile on my face, seeing all these Swedish teenagers who knew the words to his songs.

It was a heavy experience, the beats were faster, harder and louder, the breaks bigger. A$AP occasionally screamed more than rapped, but that’s not really uncommon at rap concerts. Still, when his debut album was finally released in January, after a series of delays, I forgot to listen. Until now.

On LongLiveA$AP he cements his place as one of the driving forces behind the mini-revolution of cross-over underground mix-tape-rappers, who together together with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q are going mainstream. His song Goldie was huge already last summer, as this video from his Way Out West concert clearly shows. On the new album slow songs like Suddenly and Phoenix, also illustrate that he’s quite the poet as well when he wants to:

Painting vivid pictures, call me BasquiAnnotateat Picasso
Capo Head Hancho, now my following’s colossal
Ain’t no boxer, Pacquiao, but got the chopper en todo caso
It’s like you heard, God spoke, I’ve seen the ghetto gospel
The choir like my reefer and the preacher got my eyes low
Sister Mary Jane to make me see from singing high notes
The bible or the rifle, goodnight folks

If Junot Diaz has been attributed to having one of the new voices of contemporary American literature, then A$AP can claim an equal space in the rap world. Santigold’s great chorus on Hell, the great chill wave pop beat in Fashion Killa, and the necessary banger about having lots of sex (with Drake, Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz) are only a few reasons why I’m certain to return to this album many times.  Despite London’s inability to bring anything resembling spring, this sounds like an appropriate soundtrack for warmer and brighter times.