There’s no turning back now folks, we’re well into 2017 now and I hope you’re all doing it the right way i.e. still recovering from NYE parties and completely failing at those resolutions, because whose idea was it to deprive yourself of the finer things in life? So even though this time is always about looking ahead to the excitement of the new year, here at cowbell, we thought we would reflect on some of the ab-fab albums that came out of 2016, particularly the ones that everyone, including us, seemed to have missed. So apologies for being late to the party on a number of these albums, but, I think we’ve just about made it in time to still be considered as fashionably late…
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest
Why this album didn’t get more hype is a complete mystery to us. Although there’s a lot of up and coming hip-hop artists on the rise these days, it would be a sin to forget about the guys that inspired all of them, and their fantastic, potentially final, album. Even after the death of Phife Dawg earlier this year, this album pays full heed to everything that The Tribe has ever represented: genuine, funky, cool, badass hip-hop. They have adapted their sound to fit with the flow of 2016, but every one of their songs still sounds like something straight outta the 90’s. Timeless and always appropriate, The Tribe can do no wrong.
Top Track: We The People….
Writings of Blues and Yellows – Billie Marten
It seems very easy today to muster up a sweet folk voice, pair it with the guitar you bought for a bargain in the outskirts of Amsterdam and call yourself a singer-songwriter. However the doe-eyed darling, Billie Marten’s debut album definitely greets us with more than the stereotype; more Laura Marling than Gabrielle Aplin. Her whispered vocals still have plenty of soul, and the instrumental arrangement, primarily guitar and piano, plays with hints of jazz that add a playful element to her shaded sound. Her cover of Royal Blood’s heavy Out of The Black shouldn’t work but improves the song tenfold. Seeing as she is only 17, this is definitely the beginning of great things to come.
Top Track: Green
We Move – James Vincent Mcmorrow
Poor Mr Mcmorrow, timing is everything. We Move was released around the same time as new material from Bon Iver, Bastille and Francis and The Lights, so, devastatingly, it got a bit lost amongst the rubble. But James, we listened and we loved. The album makes a bit of a shift from his previous acoustic folk style, to something a bit more beat-based and soulful, but never at the cost of his glorious falsetto. His voice on Killer Whales is what I imagine world peace to sound like, which we could have all used a bit of in 2016.
Top Track: One Thousand Times
Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest
I often find it hard to pinpoint the words to describe this woman. In my opinion, she will go down as the poet of our restless generation. Her lyrics mark her out as a storyteller of both giant and minute proportions. She can describe the gestation of the world as well as she can the struggles of everyday Londoners. Her new album, “Let Them Eat Chaos”, is a work of art. The album is vast, ever-changing and always dark. She has managed to weave an entire world that is at once realistic and painfully parabolic. But what makes her a truly monumental force is that she is never self-righteous. She observes, describes, empathises and ponders but she never looks down at you. She is the Shakespeare of mundanity, the TS Eliot of the eternally restless, the modern queen of people’s poetry.
Top Track: All of it.
Are You Serious? – Andrew Bird
You may remember Andrew Bird from my review of his lamenting cover album “Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of…” His new album escaped the mainstream but garnered big congrats from reviewers the internet over. His characteristically folky vocals glide over much more densely produced backing than we’re used to. Some songs, like “Capsized” and “The New Saint Jude” have a Vampire Weekend-esque alt rock vibe, whilst others sit comfortably in string enhanced folk territory. What underscores them all is Bird’s intelligent and perceptive lyric writing, which moves through moods tinged with nostalgic gloom like a well structured essay. Fiona Apple, (all hail), features on “Left Hand Kisses” which is a beautiful song about the romantic dangers of musehood.
Top Track: Puma
A Seat at the Table – Solange Knowles
For some, us included, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was one step too far in to the artistic and political direction. But step aside Queen Bey and make room for baby sis…Queen Sol? Probably best to stick with Solange for the moment. Her beautifully soulful album conquers the same racial topics as Lemonade but in a far more discrete and personal way. The delicate tones of songs like Don’t Touch My Hair and Cranes in the Sky show off her sweet potato pie voice, but with the bad-assery of old-school hip-hop/R&B. In true Knowles style, this is definitely an album for the ladies if you’re searching for sass.
Top Track: Don’t Wish Me Well
Long Way Home – Lapsley
It might seem that the market is currently saturated with lasses crooning longing lyrics over electronic beats. I’m talking Banks, MO, Grimes, FKA Twigs. This isn’t to say they’re not great artists in their own right but between the pop-y end (Banks and MO) and experimental mishmash (Grimes and FKA Twigs), there seems to be a void that needs to be filled. Lapsley delivers a welcome remedy. ‘Long Way Home’ is innovative but endlessly listenable. The production is minimal, with familiar house-y beats and less familiar spacey harmonies. Her subtlety could easily have been drowned out amongst the strong female talent in and around the mainstream. But she marks herself out by being able to combine soulful vulnerability with a breezy sound.
Top Track: Heartless
Woman – Justice
Remember D.A.N.C.E.? That groovy guilty pleasure of a song which almost sounded a little bit like a song from The Mickey Mouse Club? Well, the French duo responsible, Justice, sneakily released an album in November that, despite being funky as hell, escaped everyone’s notice. Woman is full of disco tunes whose futuristic sounds are made for experimental dancing and perfecting your robot dance. Tracks like Fire and Safe and Sound have that slappity-slap groove thang going on that fires up your feet, whilst Stop brings in their much-loved choir to encourage moves that require a bit more action from the hips. Although they might seem like a cheaper version of Daft Punk, this album has enough substance to give credence to Justice’s ear for innovative sounds.
Top Track: Alakazam ! (how can it not be with a name like that)
Not to Disappear – Daughter
The emotional depth of Daughter’s first album, If You Leave is what primarily drew in the cowbell team, and by the power of Grayskull, they’ve only gone and done it again. Thanks to their carefree combination of rock and electro, the fairly reclusive trio’s sound has remained melancholic with a starlit twinkle that comes from various flourishes and Elena Tonra’s subdued voice. But what makes this album far more striking than the first, is Tonra’s honesty with the lyrics. Doing The Right Thing sings of the struggle of Alzheimer’s in a most moving way thanks to painfully beautiful lyrics such as ‘Let the pictures soak out of televisions, float across the room, whisper into one ear and out the other one’. Although heavy topics, there is nothing but space and freedom on this album.
Top Track: Numbers
There’s definitely enough here to prove that 2016 was not all that bad, so stop ya whining.
Love, grooviness and nothing but the funkiest for the year to come,
Juliette & Emma xx