Bancs picks of the year for 2016 mainly consists of stuff we have been bumping in the car on the way to commercial shoots, gigs, in and out of our venues, and streaming on Spotify.
Here they are in no particular order;
David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ & Leonard Cohen – ‘You Want It Darker’
This has been the year of the epic parting albums, David Bowie’s was in the form of a departing sonic letter that reminded us just how incredible of an artist he was that even his departure was an immaculately curated work of art. In the end of his video for the single, ‘Lazarus’, which he released just three days before he lost his battle with cancer, you see him walking himself back into a wardrobe, which seems to double as his coffin and the doors close as he disappears into the darkness.
Leonard Cohen departed much in the same way, the first song on his last album, he sings in Hebrew, ‘hineni’, meaning, I stand here before you, “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready, my lord” and as the Cantor and choir back him up, you can feel all that he had went through, all the love, all the pain, all the questions that washed away with clarity and healing, you hear the age and wisdom, sadness and acceptance in his voice.
A Tribe Called Quest’s – ‘We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service’
With ‘We Got It From Here’, A Tribe Called Quest earns their first no. 1 album on the Billboard 200 in 20 years, the last one was ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life’. 18 years was a long wait for another Tribe album, but it seems it came just in time, the need for that golden era style hip hop has never been stronger, in the midst of too many hip-pop heavy clubbed up tracks seemingly about nothing at all, Tribe returns with a blend of their dreamlike samples, head-nodding beats, live bass-lines and rhymes that touch on the ‘us vs. them’ feeling that the President elect helped show exactly how far we still have to go and how little progress has been made in so many parts of the country. It doesn’t get more real than when Q-Tip sings, “All you Black folks, you must go, All you Mexicans, you must go, And all you poor folks, you must go Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways So all you bad folks, you must go.” Tribe paved the way for so many out of the box and celebrated emcee’s, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper amongst them, and with ‘We Got It From Here’, they prove that they can still slay any day.
Kendrick Lamar – ‘Untitled Unmastered’
‘Untitled Unmastered’ is a masterpiece of a b-sides album, its better than most a-sides of any album we’ve heard in hip hop for years. Kanye definitely had some great songs of ‘Pablo’, but as it went on it started to feel like a poorly curated mixtape and Chance’s album felt like the Gospel album Kanye was hoping ‘Pablo’ would shape up to be. But it is Kendrick that transcends all of the offerings from all of the emcees, as he raps ‘drugs will get you high as this,’ you realize his searching for breaking the boundaries of what might be expected from an artist that hits mainstream is his drug and he is a fiend, moving in and out of the jazz enfused boom bap with phrasing and voicing that Coltrane himself would dub ‘a wall of sound’.
Bon Iver – “22, A Million”
In 2007, Justin Vernon defined a genre with the release of Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”, a beautifully messy tangle of acoustic guitars, reverb, and heavy-handed harmonies. Vernon had composed melodies and later put words to the syllables in a “sound first” approach. A work of pure sonic genius masquerading as a folk record. Then, in 2011, the release of its sophomore record “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” earned the band a Grammy award for “Best Alternative Music Album”. This record showed progression and growth, but was very much the same Justin Vernon we’ve come to know and love. In many respects, a more well-produced and polished “For Emma…”; well written folk songs filled with Vernon’s signature heavily stacked vocal harmonies and free form scattered instrumental melodies, reaffirming his “sound first” approach. Now, 5 years after announcing the band’s indefinite hiatus, Justin Vernon has once again broken the trend of monotony and familiar form in today’s music with another record that is hauntingly personal. The sound however, is something entirely new. Hidden beneath an array of glitchy vocals, synths, vocoders, and distorted drums, are lyrics that speak of familiar struggles and questions of existentialism. The album’s opening track features pitched vocals that echo a haunting reminder – “It might be over soon…” In the words of Vernon,” [22, A Million is] sorrow and pain explaining joy, and family, and fear of death, and love.”
Anderson.Paak – “Malibu”
I first fell for the voice and style of Anderson.Paak when I heard his six features on Dr.Dre’s “Compton” album, it was like hearing the modern day Sam Cooke. After Compton I heard Paak on The Game’s, “Crenshaw/80s and Cocaine”, after that I was hooked, I needed to hear a lot more of the new style that Paak seemed to launch with ‘Compton’ and just in time, his “Malibu” album was released, it took that style to the next level, with music to match, the album was steeped in hip-hop and found Paak often sounding a bit like Kendrick Lamar, but it is the singing and the soul that makes the album just as epic as the moments he appeared on Dre’s album. The LP sets off with Paak singing, “A bird with the word came to me, The sweetness of a honeycomb tree, And now my luck was taking over me, Couldn’t fake it if I wanted to..”, it’s the sweetness of the soul that Paak brings to the rap game that makes him an artist like no other.
NxWorries – “Yes Lawd!”
Anderson.Paak’s voice perfectly merges the soul of the 50’s and the swag of now and on all his recent output including his features on the albums of seemingly every top hip-hop album of the past year, his style seems to work so well because the juxtapoisiton of his retro style over the sound of now has proven unique, but with “Yes Lawd!” we find Paak keeping the throwback in full force over equally old sounding tracks flipped by producer, Knxwledge’s deconstructed samples, creating something so ‘Superfly’ that we haven’t heard it since Curtis mayfield himself did it to the blaxploitation film of the same name.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover has come a long way since his “Bro Rape” skit hit Youtube 10 years ago, and I doubt anyone, besides perhaps Tina Fey, could have predicted all that the world was about to see from Glover. From ‘Community’ to his epic new TV show, ‘Atlanta’ and upcoming Star Wars Han Solo film, the man can write, act, direct and produce in every sense of the word. Childish Gambino, his artist name given to him by the Wu Tang Name Generator, released two mixtapes and an album dubbed, ‘Culdesac’ in 2010. 2011 saw the release of his ‘Camp’ album that got him signed to Glassnote Records and it was all very much musically uphill from there, as we saw his epic hip-hop LP, ‘Because of the Internet’. It wasn’t until this year that we see just how musically tallented Glover really is. With the release of “Awaken, My Love!”, Gambino lets the world know that not only can he do just about whatever he likes, but he could do it better than just about anyone. We have previously seen rappers go the funk-soul-r’n’b route, but never with such dedication and extent. Common’s ‘Electric Circus’ blended the music style of Hendrix and Parliament, but the focus was still on Common as a rapper, and I love when Andre 3000 gets funkadelic and does his best Prince and Bootsy as much as the next Outkast fan, but it always felt like a tribute or an inside joke in some wa. With “Awaken, My Love!”, Gambino goes deep into dark soulful funk and the music is so real that the album can’t be written off. This is a new direction for a prolific artist, and a needed direction for music in general. Of course, the new direction is his 2016 version of the funk-soul of the 70’s tipping his hat to Parliament (George Clinton actually has a writing credit on “Riot”), Roy Ayers, and Rick James.
With D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah” and Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’, we see that beautiful music played on real instruments is not dead to the mainstream and with “Awaken, My Love!” the beauty is strong throughout the entire LP, all the way through the last song, “Stand Tall” which finds Gambino’s voice as delicate and serene as ever, when he sings, “I listen To what my father said, Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall, If you are strong you cannot fall. There is a voice inside us all, So smile when you can, …When you can..” and the more you listen, the more that you realize Glovers dreams are varied and powerful and have no sign of ending anytime soon.
The Lumineers – “Cleopatra”
When The Lumineers’ chart topping single “Ho Hey” hit the radio back in June of 2012, it became a foot stomping, crowd hollering, Americana hit. With the band’s first self titled album peaking at number 2 on the billboard 200 chart, you couldn’t turn the radio on without hearing the signature “…the last one!” at the end of the track. But 2012 is long behind us, with most bands who capitalized on the neo-folk genre moving on to bigger, more progressive sounds.
The Lumineers’ second album “Cleopatra”, brings the listener all of the foot stomping and energy that made them a success accompanied by an aged sound and visceral musical compositions that show this band’s perfect progression of sounds, while keeping to the warmth and nostalgia of the folk/Americana genre. The opening track, “Sleep on the Floor”, opens with eerie textural tones leading to to the kick drum, tambo, and hollering vocals — a nod to their 2012 hit. Once the song hits its stride just over a minute in, the new Lumineers come to the forefront, with the full percussion section going from one rhythm to another, and ending with the minimal sounds with which it began. “Ophelia”, the first single released of this album, brings out a bit more of a “janky” tune, down to the speak easy style piano breaks. The title track “Cleopatra” demonstrates the deep rooted and haunting lyrical prowess of the band’s lead vocalists and writer Wesley Schultz. As Schultz hits his stride in the second verse, singing “…So I drive a taxi, and the traffic distracts me, from the strangers in my backseat, that remind me of you…”, one can’t help but disappear to the metropolis the central character of this track is speaking from. The longing and nostalgia of Americana is heard through tracks like “Angela”, with Schultz yelling in the chorus, “home at last!”, and “Gun Song” which marches along to the snare, until it builds and builds, finally breaking as the band counts “one…two…three…four” and smashes into the final verse amidst the crashing of drums and piano rolls; Schultz hollers “Things I knew when I was young / Some were true, and some were wrong / one day I pray I’ll be more than my fathers son / but I don’t own a single gun!”, bottling up a fear and want so universal into the final moments of the track, you can’t help but yell along. Angst, confusion, and nostalgia are clear on The Lumineers’ sophomore album, in the best way possible, demonstrating that though Folk and Americana’s time at the forefront of todays musical landscape may have passed, it lives on strong as ever, and is there for those who seek it out.
Glass Animals – “How To Be A Human Being”
This is the type of group that spreads by word of mouth, from their ear candy melodies, to their danceable beats, their infectious tracks get stuck in your head long after your commute to work or leisure listening. Singer and producer, Dave Bayley, a neuroscientist pulled from hundreds of strangers’ stories that he’d been documenting in the two years he spent touring the Glass Animals’ previous LP, the stories morfed into character studies that manifested into the lyrics that make up the songs of this sophomore effort. The energetic beats that pulse through throughout bring to mind a futuristic tribute to Phoenix’s “Alphebetical”, while still holding on to a voice all its own, definitely worth a spin… or 2…. or 20.
Honorable mentions; Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”, Solange – “A Seat At The Table”, DJ Shadow – “The Mountain Will Fall”, Foy Vance – “The Wild Swan”, Schoolboy Q – “Blank Face LP”, Beyonce – “Lemonade”, Chance The Rapper – “Coloring Book”, James Blake – “The Colour in Anything”, Run The Jewels – “3” and the first half of Kanye West’s – “The Life of Pablo”.