My Best of 2016

There is apparently a scientific reason why, as we grow older, we tend not to resonate with newer trends in music. The songs we fall in love with when we’re younger will typically guide our subsequent listening habits and they are also the songs that we carry with us as we age. Our music tastes are said to get locked at some point, usually somewhere in our mid-thirties. That is not to say aging men like me do not listen to or enjoy new music – in fact one of my favourite songs this year is an electronic dance track, and for the first time in a long time I enjoyed, very much, a purely pop album, via Christine and the Queens. However, with each subsequent year, I find myself getting mellower, slower (and not just in my thinking) and looking for tunes spaced out enough to hush the noise. So it was great for Leonard Cohen to drop his swan song just before his heavenly transcendence. Thank you sir, for a life of music.

 

No one can deny that 2016 has been an incredibly crazy year in global politics, one that has probably ushered in a shift in the world order. Probably. How the next few years will shape up is anybody’s guess (and they are many expert guesses out there) but it’s certainly not business as usual. As Radiohead crooned on their 2016 album, this is a low flying panic attack. The music world too has been seeing changes in what is considered popular and acceptable. And as terrible as some of it may be, it has all been bearable, as long as the artists we have known, the real artists, have also been around to course correct and show the younger ones how a hit record ought to be done. However, in 2016 we lost several of these icons and legends, perhaps a harbinger that the even in the music world, life as we have known it is also coming to an end.

I have had good reason to fear that soon there may be nothing new or interesting for me to listen to, and that perhaps these ‘best of’ lists I make every year may just feature compilations of greatest hits CDs. Or a collection of aging rockers’ making Christmas records and the great American songbook. So any band this year that enabled my make-believe that it was the 80s or 90s again, got a thumbs up from me. It didn’t matter what the genre was, as long as they could Rock the Casbah like it was 1982 or party like it was 1999, they gave me my one dance. The times may be a-changing, but I still want art served with proper napkins and cutlery. Bin the plastic stuff.

So the neo-soul/R n’B of Solange’s A Place at the Table, Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate, the repetitive sound of Kings of Leon’s Walls and Red Hot Chilli PeppersThe Getaway were a welcome accompaniment through the year. Radiohead’s new album was, as expected, different and blissful. Even at their most willfully obscure and stiflingly depressed, they can still funnel underground touchstones into populist anthems. Like Kanye West, Radiohead have aimed to reinvent themselves every time out, and like Kanye, their every reinvention has spawned a list of clones. My immediate response to “A Moon Shaped Pool” was not quite so rhapsodic, but I’ve learned from experience that a Radiohead album is more likely to sneak up on you than floor you from the start. And talking of Kanye, G_d only knows what has happened to him these last couple of weeks. However when a lesser known French girl on a lesser known track from a lesser album interpolated one of his songs into hers, asking in a strained, pained voice, “how could you be so heartless?” I knew I had found my song of the year. (listen to Paradis Perdus)

The Albums

  1. Walls KINGS OF LEON
  2. A Moon Shaped Pool RADIOHEAD
  3. Love & Hate MICHAEL KIWANUKA
  4. Cleopatra THE LUMINEERS
  5. The Getaway RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
  6. You Want it Darker LEONARD COHEN
  7. A Seat at the Table SOLANGE
  8. 22, A Million BON IVER
  9. Chaleur Humaine CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
  10. Mangy Love CASS McCOMBS

 Watch the albums here:

The Songs

  1. Paradis Perdus CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
  2. I Took a Pill in Ibiza MIKE POSNER (acoustic version)
  3. Cheap Thrills SIA
  4. Ophelia THE LUMINEERS
  5. A Kele Nta MHD
  6. Dancing on My Own CALUM SCOTT
  7. First COLD WAR KIDS 
  8. A 1000 Times HAMILTON LEITHAUSER + ROSTAM
  9. Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance) SILVERSUN PICKUPS
  10. See You LIONS HEAD

See the songs here:

The Films

There are films that you don’t think you’d like in the first ten minutes, but then days after watching them you find yourself still musing over the plot. Land of Mine, a story about German prisoners of war, all barely teenagers, sent to clear land mines in Denmark after the second world war, is one such film for me. Beautifully acted, beautifully done. Sing Street did what most music couldn’t, it brought 80s pop back- with its bad hair and make-up.  And any film that features Duran Duran has to be a winner. The Salesman confirms that Asghar Farhadi is possibly the greatest film maker to come out of Iran and will likely earn him another Oscar nomination. If someone wants to discuss Elle, please drop me a line. I still haven’t figured that woman out. There were several films this year on migration and on the lives of minorities in Europe – Mediterranea, Black, Divines, all fantastic. But the year’s boldest, and my toppermost of the poppermost, are the ones that pulled on the heartstrings. So I hope Moonlight or Manchester By The Sea win the Best Picture Oscar in February; though we know neither of them will. 2016 was a really hard year for left wingers, misfits and other artists, so real stories about real people may not be what Hollywood wants to celebrate this time round. I guess Tinseltown, like me, would rather go back to a better time and make believe in la la land.

  1. Moonlight
  2. Manchester By The Sea
  3. Lion
  4. Sing Street
  5. The Salesman (Iran)
  6. Sand Storm (Israel)
  7. Divines (France)
  8. Land of Mine (Denmark)
  9. Loving
  10. Hell or High Water
  11. A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
  12. Krisha
  13. American Honey
  14. Pelé: Birth of a Legend
  15. Mediterranea (Italy)
  16. Black (Belgium)
  17. A War (Denmark)
  18. Sully
  19. Elle (France)
  20. The Invitation

The Books

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My book of the year (Imagine Me Gone) is a story of a family confronting the tumult of non-conforming, besieged minds; a story told from the points of view of different family members as they deal with depression and suicide. Te-Nehisi Coates’ book (Between the World and Me), in the form of a letter to his son explores the truth of what it really means to grow up a black man in America – how frequently black lives can be destroyed legally through incessant police violence and mass incarceration. At several points of the book I had to stop and catch my breath before re-immersing myself in its unfiltered radical truths. Carla Power’s Pulitzer finalist book (If the Oceans Were Ink) is one of the finest commentaries I’ve read on the real message of the Qur’an and role of Islam in the contemporary world.

David Szalay (All that Man Is) offered us a weave of nine stories, of men at different stages of their lives, an indelible portrait of modern male existence. Bruce Springsteen’s memoir (Born to Run), a book I’m currently still reading, recounts The Boss’ full life, from his catholic boyhood in New Jersey to the present day. He writes in the same candidness you find in the lyrics of his songs, a rock icon and cultural force who never lost his simplicity and charm. Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is one of the most moving, wildly inventive novels one is likely to encounter in any year. The protagonist, a widowed father of two small boys struggles with his loss and n the derangement he conjures up a shape-shifting crow, who snacks on unbrushed teeth and feeds on death. “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people,” Max Porter writes, “because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.

In The Association of Small Bombs, one of the characters, a Kashmiri terrorist, considers the explosion he set off in a busy market in Delhi and concludes that it “was all anticlimax”. The book forces us to look at the inner lives of the people who commit terrorism, even if we don’t want to know about a suicide bomber’s diabetic parents and his belittling ex-girlfriend. Even as we don’t quite ask what happens to the families of those who lost loved ones in an attack, especially the “small ones”. This novel makes us care for people for whom the effects of an attack never ends, as something that forever changes who and what they are.

These are the ten books I loved best this year:

1. Imagine Me Gone ADAM HASLETT
2. Between the World and Me TE-NEHISI COATES (Finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction)
3. The Association of Small Bombs KARAN MAHAJAN (Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award)
4. If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey into the Heart of the Quran CARLA POWER (Finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction)
5. Grief is the Thing with Feathers MAX PORTER
6. All That Man is DAVID SZALAY (Shortlisted for 2016 Man Booker Prize)
7. The Sellout PAUL BEATTY (Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize)
8. Born to Run BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
9. The Gene: An Intimate History SIDDHARHTA MUKHERJEE
10. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone OLIVIA LAING

So allow me to end with a quote from Paul Beatty’s Man Booker prize winning book, The Sellout,

“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.”

May your 2017 be historic, even in this mixed up, muddled up, trumped up world.

                                                                        

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