I’m not sure it’s been quite the vintage year all-round, although Television and Graphic Novels continue to go from strength to strength. 2016 will be remembered for the painful and wholly unexpected passing of David Bowie and Prince - two of my best loved and most significant all-time influences, we’ve also had the onset of Brexit and Trump - which are set to influence all manner of other things in various ways yet to be seen.
There is as ever a plethora of fabulous music in all guises and across all genres. I’ve gotten more and more into guitar this year, but that has not impacted significantly on my listening preferences. I try to find new and bold rock music I can buy into, but most of it is somewhat regressive or overwrought - Radiohead are a shining exception. I love the sound for instance of Periphery, but the vocalist ruins the songs for me. Too much of rock seems bereft of new ideas and innovation. For me the last major innovation I loved was the rap-rock infusion led by Rage Against The Machine etc. I like some of the new metal sound-wise, but I’ve never got into ’vocalists’ shouting unintelligibly into the microphone.
Anyway, Bowie left a fine swansong - slightly jazzy and avant garde, but ever so expressive and poignant, and modern and timeless. I really wanted to make Blackstar my number one pick, but Kate Tempest’s ’Chaos’ pipped it to the post. The Streets - ’Original Pirate Material’ is one of my favourite albums of all time, and Kate’s latest work is the female counterpart to that if there is such a thing. She is just a wonderfully expressive beat poet for our age - watch the whole live recording below - you may not agree with everything she says, but you can’t fault her sentiment or evocative delivery - it’s just an amazing work of art which underlines the strength of the album format when done right. A highly intricate weaving, dancing narrative that ties together 7 lonely souls in the twilight hours of London - 4:18 AM...
I was one of the few that really rated the latest Crystal Castles album, otherwise the contents of my top 10 aren’t so different from many other critics’ lists - just the order varies. I try to order most of these by which of these artforms impacted and moved me the most. It’s a combination of personal resonance, frequency of replay, frequency of recall and overall memorability. I do these lists to share the love of these arts - to expose new things to those who might be interested - to keep shining a light - so please enjoy and be inspired to seek out and try new things:
(by Preference) ::
There was a fair bit of dancehall-influenced pop this year. Stranger Things was a huge influence on me - both analog-synth-wise and 80’s sci-fi nostalgia, Twin-Peaks-esque quirkiness etc. For a while the Stranger Things Theme was at the top of the list - but I finally went with yet another vintage Massive Attack classic in the form of ’The Spoils’ - just a beautiful timeless track that evokes much of their best work.
There’s more Bowie here, newcomer Olga Bell, the ever-present Sia, a fabulous return by Tribe Called Quest, and some great eclectic pop and hip hop. I’ve no doubt forgotten something obvious here - but this is what sticks out right now at the tail end of the year.
Note that the best music video of the year is The Weeknd’s False Alarm - directed by Ilya ’Hardcore Henry’ Naishuller.
(by Preference) ::
For a long time I thought nothing would be able to dislodge Stranger Things - so resonant was its impact on me this year. But then along came David Attenborough and the BBC with the marvel that is Planet Earth II - the baby lizard weaving its way through the snakes is one of the most gripping TV spectacles you will ever see - and the rest of the series was more of the same - years in the making, filmmakers sitting patiently in a secluded camera enclosure and scanning through hours and hours of captured footage - this is truly a marvel for all times and all ages - and by far and away the most popular show for everyone under 16 in the UK.
Then there was of course ’The Resurrection of Snow’, ’The Battle of the Bastards’, ’Hodor’ et al, and the finest GOT season yet, the exhilarating offbeat quirkiness of Dirk Gently, and the cinemascope production values of Westworld. It’s pretty much the usual saga of HBO, Netflix and Amazon Video ruling the roost - with a smattering of BBC. Television really is at its prime now - the new Television that is - that you can stream on demand - as little or as much as you like, whenever you like. The choice has never been broader, and the quality of production never more refined. I subscribe to NowTV / Sky - really just to catch all the HBO shows in the UK ...
(by Preference) ::
I’m holding off seeing Star Wars Rogue 1 until I can watch with the whole family over Christmas - also looking forward to Passengers and Assassin’s Creed. These below are the films that stood out for me. Top slot is taken by the ever-so hypnotic American Honey whose great soundtrack has inspired much of my listening in the latter months of the year. (The first half was taken up mostly by Bowie and Prince!).
I loved Deadpool, Nice Guys, Jungle Book and one-take masterpiece Victoria. Dr Strange was best visual FX / 3D spectacle of the year - which otherwise saw a great mix of influences - popularist and arthouse. I would have loved to have witnessed more adventurous sci-fi - although Star Trek and Midnight Special were entertaining in their own right. Arrival was a fabulous take on high-brow sci-fi, although as with many films this year it kind of fizzled out in the final moments.
There were some spectacularly visually exhilarating films this year which did not always get their due - Jungle Book is a triumph of production design, as is Fantastic Beasts and Miss Peregrine. A lot of critics seem to get hung up on social message and social worth. All of the following though resonated memorably with me in one way or another. This was a big cinema year for me where I attended near enough once per week...
(by Preference) ::
I announced a year or two ago that we were in the Second Golden Age of Comic Books, and that is still very much being maintained. Leading the pack as usual is Image Comics - which takes most of my money in this area. I got turned on to the Cinebook imprint at last this year and caught up with most of their principal series - including the amazing Jean Van Hamme trio of XIII, Largo Winch and Thorgal as well as the fine sci-fi works by Léo (Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira) - Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Antares, The Survivors, Kenya, Namibia etc.
Humanoids was mostly reissues this year, but they did release the fantastically epic, almost cinematic works - Carthago, and Thousand Faces. Lots of good things coming out of Valiant Entertainment imprint too. I found it impossible to arrange these in any logical order of preference - most of these really are exceptional, and as such are simply listed alphabetically: