Music in 2016.

2016 has been a year in which music has been a very interesting topic for two particular reasons. The first of which of course is the abundance of records that have come out but the second is the constant shift towards access over ownership and streaming growing larger and larger.

Spotify now has 40 million subscribers to premium accounts whilst Apple has 17 million. Other companies have entered the competition such as the well established Deezer, Rhapsody and Google Play with Amazon and Pandora having recently entered, but I think Spotify is the winner here and there is the assumption from some industry analysts that it will go public before long.

It is still being booed down by some artists but the argument is a very convoluted one. Streaming has ultimately killed piracy, that’s a good thing right? Payment is still at a low rate, but it is dependant on a major area, and that is whether you have a hit….most people don’t, but if you are in the top 50, you are earning more money than ever.

Some artists have taken advantage of the debate in an insidious way, namely Adele who held off Spotify for a cash grab and ended up streaming eventually. Frank Ocean’s exclusive with Apple was a tipping point, causing frustration amongst fans to which Lucian Grange refused any Universal act to sign an exclusive deal. Exclusives haven’t been much of a thing since.

And with that, the major record labels have reconsolidated their power. When I was in university, the belief was that independence was all to play for, but the tables turned in 2013. Still, never has the bar been so low to enter the game. You spend a couple of hundred on recording through your laptop, you set up a license with CD baby or Tunecore and boom! You’re in the digital world with your record. Just don’t expect to make a living from it!

But is the top 50 any good? Justin Beiber had the come back of come backs, credit to his manager Scooter Braun, and the record he made was one of huge hooks that enraptured teenagers if you are able to listen to him as a pragmatist and concede that. The charts were almost ubiquitously dominated by Electronically Dance Music and in my opinion it is for the most part banal, but once again, acting as a pragmatist, it is music that is reflective of the current culture. Life is hard, no-one knows what is going on, there is uncertainty, there is brexit, trump and inequality. Music provides an escape to which people just want to dance and have a good time!

But if you are not a casual listener, if music is something that you listen to in self reflection, introspection and sincerity, there was so much music on the periphery that provided just that. (My top picks to follow). That’s the music I look for, a mainstream with streams that meander off into their own unique beauty. Less people will listen, but they listen closer, they voice their passions louder. This is the music I search for and whilst people can choose to stream, they are buying vinyl too.

The baby boomer generation is dying out. First it was David Bowie, then Glen Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and the list goes on. It is tremendously sad but their resonance and legacy is one that is enormous, all generations old and new are listening, remembering or discovering. These people pushed the boundaries, and our generation in all honesty needs to step up if we are to have a fraction of the same impact as they did. Maybe we are but in a way that includes more people in a frustum. Read this fantastic article by Seth Godin released at the start of the year, it made me look at the state of play with sheer optimism.

It is a fascinating time for music, and the truth is more people are listening than ever. When music hits you, it makes you feel alive and the means to do so is more wider than ever. Choose the best way for you, stream it, spin it but most importantly…

Experience it.

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My Jan/Feb Playlist

The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

The Haxan Cloak is an artist I discovered through Bjork’s latest album, Vulnicura. He contributed towards the production of the album and his personal characteristics shone through on ‘Family’ which is probably my favourite piece on the record. A low pulsating whirwind of such sonic depth that it shakes your very core. Such a sound gives you a very visceral image of what it is like to see your family fall apart.

His own album though is even yet more terrifying, one of the scariest musical experiences I have encountered probably since listening to Throbbing Gristle. The clue is in the title, and the album artwork. It would be an exemplar horror soundtrack. Some of the most impressive low frequency recordings I have ever heard, heavy beats, whirling strings, humongous reverb: it is masterful electronica music. Turn the lights off and prepare to let yourself be very creeped out by this record.

Julia Holter – Have you in my Wilderness

I have been very fortunate to discover this absolute gem of an artist. How refreshing it is discover someone new that just seemingly does whatever she pleases. Julia is very fun to listen to and her recent record has really seen her mastering her craft of writing artful pop music. There’s a lush range of instruments on display, stunning strings throughout with ‘Lucette stranded on an island’ being a personal favourite of mine, an awesome double saxophone solo on ‘Sea Calls Me Home’, and Beatles vibes on ‘Everytime Boots’. Heck she even rocks a harpsichord in ways that I would never imagine possible! Julia definitely has you in her wilderness, and you keep on wanting to come back to the record, time and time again.

Julia Holter – Loud City Song

As with any artist I discover, I get super obsessive with their back catalogue and similar musings are on display here. The exception being that the album is very much dedicated to themes of living in a big loud city, and how that impacts one’s life.

Jackson Browne – Late For the Sky

Jackson Browne is a writing genius in my book. Not so well known in the UK. But he wrote Take it easy and has associations with The Eagles. His album, ‘Late For the Sky’ has some of the wisest lyrics I have ever heard, up there alongside Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, in a time where music that mattered drove the culture so much more. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful album to listen to, tender, deep, comforting.

 

David Bowie – Blackstar

The man can only be marvelled at for choreographing his own death. Death is indeed a part of life and one that art explores often. However, there is something about Blackstar that is visceral in ways I’ve never experienced before. I saw Lazarus before knowing Bowie was going to die, and the transformation of the song’s actual meaning became very haunting.

Bowie is an artist who has indirectly influenced a lot of people. He has always been there in my musical upbringing and what is particularly notable about his death is that it marks the end of an era, where artists could experiment, push the boundaries and still be accepted by the mainstream. I hope Bowie’s parting gift resonates with people not only as just a great record, but a beacon for the future where a new generation of acts can arise who can push the boundaries once again.

 

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Out of character of my normal tastes you may say. Good music is good music and Kendrick Lamar’s recent album is one of the most exciting hip hop records I have heard in a long time. I think his outlandish and uncompromising lyrics and the concepts exploring racism, hood politics and soul searching are enthralling but the music and production of this record offers some jaw dropping moments. Lamar also fearlessly ventures into jazz at times, this is a record subsequently that has a lot of people talking…a brilliant record.