Tag: Massive Attack

Review: Massive Attack – Mezzanine XXI @ the 02


On Friday I wrote about why I consider Mezzanine to be one of the greatest albums made in my lifetime. In addition, Massive Attack are a truly great live band; one who I’ve seen on over a half dozen occasions and who have never failed to transport me to a magical place with their live music.

For the Mezzanine XXI show, the band said in advance that this would be a re-imagining of the album, with group member Robert Del Naja describing it as a “one off piece of work; our own personalised nostalgia nightmare head trip”. In addition, the band once again collaborated with Adam Curtis, with Curtis compiling the stark visuals for the show. In advance of the tour, he said of the visuals:

“The show tells the story of the strange journey we have all been on over the past twenty years since ‘Mezzanine’ was released: How we have moved into a strange backward-looking world, enclosed by machines that read our data and predict our every move, haunted by ghosts from the past. A pleasure dome that makes us feel safe from the endless wars outside, and plays back stories both of dreams of glory and the fear of others. But in that safe world suspicion and distrust is spreading — like a virus. The air is growing stale. Everyone sees conspiracies everywhere. But maybe suspicion is control?”

The band took to the stage at 2115 and it’d be fair to say there were a few external factors that weren’t in their favour. I’ve already blogged about how the venue right royally fucked up, but in addition two factors played out that did not help the gig at all.  An awful lot of the audience didn’t seem particularly interested in the gig; the audible chatting levels really hindered the experience for many, the Penguin included [I took two particularly loud girls chatting behind me to town with language that was somewhat fruity]. But the chatting was even more noticeable because the sound levels for the first five tracks was appallingly low.

The set started with a wall of guitar noise and a cover of the Velvet Underground’s I Found a Reason, a song sampled on Mezzanine track Risington, establishing both the raw, punky edge the night’s proceedings would have and also flagging up that this would be no ordinary Massive Attack gig. The band then went on to play Risington itself, which baffled plenty who expected the album to be played in its entirety from start to finish. Unfortunately the sound issues meant it fell flat; there was little applause or delight at the end.

The same process – of playing a sampled rock song featured on Mezzanine followed by the album version – was repeated next, with a lively and impressive version of The Cure’s 1015 Saturday Night followed by a disappointing rendition of Man Next Door, as Horace Andy’s vocals sounded flat and the incredible atmosphere of the original failed to migrate into the arena.

Black Milk was the last of the five songs to be played at such a low level of volume that they could barely reach the Penguin’s ears. But the cheer that erupted for Elizabeth Fraser’s first appearance on stage was certainly loud enough; the levels of affection pouring from the audience showed that she’s still held in the highest regard by music fans.

It was the title track, Mezzanine, when this gig really got going. The volume was cranked up, and it was the first of several tracks to receive an extended outro – with heavy guitars – that got the heart beating faster. It was a fantastic rendition and one of the best moments of the evening. An excellent cover – Baugaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead – followed, and whilst the original track was unknown to this penguin, it was noticeable from several members of the crowd that this was a very popular song to include.

The band were masked in darkness at the backstage, and never addressed the crowd. Leaving the talking to the music and visuals, it felt strange for them to not even acknowledge the reason we were all there, or to give a skeleton of an idea for how – and why – the show had come together. The band seemed almost awkward about a nostalgia tour – perhaps because of how difficult it was to record the original album, or perhaps because they fear that by looking back they’re somehow undermining their own musical future – but the visuals seemed to indicate that the real point of this show was to use Mezzanine’s appeal as a pretence for speaking about the world we experience in the here and now.

The visuals across five huge screens – spanning the entire stage – were pointed and intentionally provocative. At times harrowing, others comical, the general theme seemed to be that the world has become increasingly bizarre and nasty since 1998, and maybe we should reconsider our approach. There was a heavy emphasis on data and its misuse; Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein made regular appearances, as did children’s toys. Putin and – in particular – Donald Trump perhaps deserve special credits given their number of appearances. The latter’s face was transplanted onto a number of other celebrities, including Britney Spears in her school uniform in her debut video Baby One More Time. Disturbing doesn’t even begin to cover my reaction to that.

Various scenes of war, the destruction it causes and the grieving family members of victims were all shown. In addition, we were treated to a selection of political slogans ‘Brexit Means Brexit’, ‘Stronger, Closer Union’ amongst the most notable, alongside some of Massive Attack’s own messages, including ‘There are no enemies’. The difficulty with these type of visuals is – ironically – they’re so common place in live music experiences [see any Muse or U2 concert for example] that they had little impact, other than perhaps to lessen the connection the audience has with the band. The slogans in particular felt so obvious as to be passé; more A level art project than pioneering political point. In trying to elevate their show into a call to arms, they ended up cheapening the music that brought the fans to the arena in the first place. It’s also a little ironic – as several people pointed out on Twitter – to rail against capitalism and materialism when playing the O2 arena and selling your t-shirts for £30 a pop.

The second half of the set featured some impressive performances. A faster version of Horace Andy’s own track See a Man’s Face was an absolute reggae delight, and Andy also fronted a superb rendition of Angel. Live favourite Inertia Creeps suffered from sound problems – as did all of the tracks featuring 3D’s rapping – as you could barely hear the vocals. The opening notes of Teardrop saw a notable wave of excitement surge through the audience, and the visuals on the screen dropped to simply leave swirling white lights. It was a heavenly moment – the rarest of moments on this night when audience and the band united – and all of the O2 basked in Fraser’s peerless vocals.

The show closed with the operatic Group Four, which musically wowed but vocally struggled as again 3D’s voice barely left the stage. Fraser certainly shone, but it felt like an abrupt way to finish proceedings. The band walked off, and as people prepared a mental list of possible encores, the house lights sprung up.

What you’ll make of this gig will depend largely on your tolerance. Could you cope with the sound issues? Could you appreciate the harsh visuals? Do you mind the band not addressing the audience? I’ve seen Massive Attack enough times to know they’re better than this, but also that this was as much a statement of their art and opinions as it was their music. Certainly the brief snippet of an Avicii cover towards the end indicates that the band have a sense of humour and wanted you to see that this wasn’t meant to be a fluffy experience.

But ultimately this tour was about celebrating an album of tremendous importance to many people, and instead this tour was hijacked for other purposes. Sure we got the songs – albeit in a random order – the samples and the original vocalists, and we got some enhancements with the rocky outros, but we also lost a lot of the feeling that made the album so special. it’s an album of paranoia, isolation and darkness, and it didn’t translate particularly well to huge LED screens and propaganda. There were moments of genius, but there was also a steady flow of people leaving from about the halfway point. All in all, it was disappointing.



The O2 Arena – Serious questions to answer

the-o2-london-infoI wasn’t intending to blog today, but last night’s Massive Attack gig at the O2 Arena in London prompted a lot of thoughts and emotions. This post will be followed by another which is more focused on the gig and the band, but first I want to address the venue.

The O2 Arena has been running gigs in North Greenwich since 2007. I’ve seen some of my favourite gigs and artists there; Nine Inch Nails, Gorillaz, Madonna, Rihanna, Fleetwood Mac (four times), Prince, Marilyn Manson, Justin Timberlake, Rammstein. So many great memories.

I’ve always considered the O2 to be a necessary evil. It’s a big indoor venue – the second biggest in the country – and with that comes upsides and downsides. But I’ve always accepted the latter (most notably queues/delays to get home, iffy sound quality) because it’s close to home and attracts the biggest acts in the world.

I haven’t been to the O2 for nearly a year, and the experience last night was one of the worst I’ve had at a gig anywhere. It has somehow managed to turn itself into an anti-music venue.

Like almost every ticket purchaser, I received an email in advance stating:

In a separate email, we were advised to allow a little extra time:

The Penguin did, but still found himself joining a queue of hundreds – if not thousands – of people with standing tickets that snaked it’s way around the arena nearly back to the entrance of the building. For anyone who is familiar with the O2, that’s a bloody big queue.

Now I realise that post the attack on Manchester, there are serious issues for venues to consider to ensure the safety of people attending. But the stupidity of this system must be abundantly clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense. The music arena is one tiny section in the middle of the complex; there are shops, restaurants and huge concourses where you can roam – and where we were forced to queue – without being searched.

Is a system that compresses lots of people together – creating serious issues with flows of people in the process that resulted in someone getting knocked over – in an area where people aren’t searched safe? In the name of security, have the O2 not made their venue a more dangerous place?

[as an aside, the Penguin worked in a building that was of the highest security level for many years, and whatever measures were put in place were considerably less ridiculous than what we went through last night]

That’s before we get to the inconvenience of the system, the angst it created for fans – this writer included – who were worried they were going to miss the start of a set they’ve been waiting for for months. A number of people were visibly fuming at the situation.

But the strange thing is that Massive Attack played for around 90 minutes, playing pretty much the same set they’ve played on all of this tour. They came on at 2115, and I rather suspect they always intended to. So for those who arrived early – and who were expecting a long set, given it was meant to start at 2030 – felt let down by the band, harming their experience of the gig. For those who were stuck in the queue outside, the anxiety certainly harmed their experience. In short, everyone was annoyed one way or another.

So who gave the instruction to tell fans it was an 2030 prompt start? If, as I suspect, it was the venue, then they’ve seriously undermined a band performing in their venue and pissed off plenty of fans in the process. Are Massive Attack aware – and comfortable – with how the fans have been treated? Is this something the O2 are regularly doing to acts? Lying to fans on behalf of acts playing there because they can’t get a queuing system that works?

I wish I could stop there. But there’s a lot more. We were told in an email not to bring bags, and certainly not large ones. So why were there people in the standing section of the gig with giant rucksacks? So large that the people wearing them don’t even notice when they knock a drink out of other people’s hands? The venue aren’t even enforcing the stupid rules they’re making such a song and dance about.

And then we come to the bars. Of which there are very few if you’re in the standing section. Queuing for twenty five minutes for a drink is not particularly good fun, especially at those ludicrous prices. The bars that are there have half the number of staff they need to keep things moving quickly. Does anyone from the management of the venue actually attend any of their events as a punter? I seriously doubt it.

Since I last visited the O2 have introduced an ingenious ‘recycling’ scheme, which I hasten to add is not optional. If you get a drink, it has to come in one of their new reusable cups, for which you pay £2 for the pleasure. The cups are annoying to hold, but who cares about that?

The ‘best’ bit is that to redeem the £2, you have to queue at the end of the gig. When they’ve seemingly halved the number of staff at the bars, adding twenty minutes to your evening. The people in the queue at the end of the evening were laughing at the O2’s claim it was for recycling – because if it was they’d go out of their way to make it easier to sort – it’s just another way of bringing in a few more quid, and it stinks.

Finally, we come to the queue to get home. I understand the O2 gets a lot of visitors, but it seems like every time I go to a gig there they’re surprised that so many people want to get the tube home. There’s never any order, any barriers. There’s one person with a megaphone. People just calmly walk round the Long way and skip the queue. It’s chaotic and – probably given my comments above – a security hazard.

This was more of a rant than I’d hoped, but the O2 has now gone from being a necessary evil to a anti-music fan venue. Terrible organisation, ridiculously OTT security, stressful queuing, impossible to get a drink quickly and a nightmare to get home from. Oh and it’s crazy expensive. Maybe we just have to put up with it. Maybe they don’t care because enough people are going that quality is very must the servant of quantity. Or maybe they need a few more people to make them aware that it isn’t acceptable.

I’ve spent thousands of pounds on tickets for events at that venue. I very much doubt I’ll ever do so again. I’ve got tickets for one more event at the venue, and if it’s anything like it was last night I’ll never be going again. And I’d advise all music fans to do the same.

O2 – feel free to respond to any of the points above via email: astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com

Celebrating: Massive Attack – Mezzanine


Before Christmas I said there was a series I wanted to write about the ten albums that had had the most influence on me. It was prompted by a question from my dad and had left me pondering for a while.

I think there’s a huge distinction between your favourite ten albums and the ten that have had the the most influence. There may also be a further dividing line between the ten that you think are the best albums of all time and your favourites, but that’s for another day.

I have interpreted the challenge as identifying ten albums that have shaped my musical tastes. Albums that I can look back and think ‘that opened up so many doors to other artists I like’ or ‘I’d never really listened to a genre like that until that album’. My musical taste is fairly varied, and I’ve been pretty obsessed with music for nearly twenty-five years, so there’s a lot of options to consider.

But the first one I have chosen is also timely, because tonight I’m going to see it played live in its entirety. Celebrating twenty years since it’s release, Massive Attack will be showcasing Mezzanine at the O2 in London.

I started with the preamble about favourite albums not being the same as influential because I wanted to avoid confusion at this point, as Mezzanine is one of the few albums that would make both lists. A lot of the albums I consider influential to me would almost certainly not make anyone else’s favourite records of all time, but Mezzanine is different; it’s a stone cold classic. It may be the finest album released in my lifetime.

It’s the only album that I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard it. I can remember the first listen like it was yesterday. I was on a school trip to London and we were staying in UCL accommodation near Goodge Street. It was nearly midnight, the window was open and the sound of sirens and London traffic hummed in the background. The lights were off and I put the CD I’d bought that day in HMV Oxford Street on as I laid down in bed.

The next twenty minutes were magical. Mezzanine starts with Angel, possibly the most ironically titled track of all time. When you think of Angels, you think of white light and figures levitating in the air. Instead, the Mezzanine Angel is the darkest of fears, the monster under the bed you’ve feared forever. From the opening note it crawls over you, gaining strength through sapping yours. It is fucking terrifying. Horace Andy provides the vocals – with lyrics largely borrowed from another song – but whatever hope his singing provides, you never escape that creeping bass. That harsh drum beat. Those snarling guitars. The suffocating air of tension and paranoia it sets remains for almost the entirety of the album in one form or another.

A noticeable thing about Mezzanine is that it is one of the most majestically mixed albums I’ve ever heard. There’s sheer perfection in the way you can hear every instrument, every note. The songs rise and fall, but so too do the instruments and samples. The albums breathes with you, lets you enjoy the bass before shifting it back slightly to let you feel the guitar and symbols, before the samples march forward. I don’t often comment on the mixing of music because it’s super geeky and I don’t really know enough to take it much further; but I can say with certainty that Mezzanine is a cut above almost everything else. This was an album made with absolute precision. So clear and precise, yet so utterly loud and intimidating.

The monstrous Angel gives way to Risington, and here there’s no relief either. In a tale of dark and murky clubs, you feel like you’ve dropped into a nightmare filled with claustrophobia. The guitars tinkle, the bass explodes. Then Teardrop begins.

I daren’t think how many times I’ve listened to Teardrop, but the most amazing thing about it is that I still don’t feel like I’ve ever truly grasped its enormity. It’s a real shapeshifter of a song; every time you feel you’ve understood it all, you discover something else that makes you reconsider it all again. It’s both a wall of sadness and a beacon of hope. With lyrics written inspired by Jeff Buckley’s passing and a vocal performance of astounding quality by Elizabeth Fraser, Teardrop feels too delicate to move, too fragile to comprehend.

Inertia Creeps has an almost Middle Eastern feel, with added tribal drumming. If Marvel need a song to represent their next super villain, there aren’t many better options. The sounds squirm out of your headphones, like they’ve been waiting for their release for thousands of years.

Those songs are arguably the finest opening four tracks on any album ever made. If the album stopped there it’d be worth the money I paid. But it doesn’t, it continues at a relentlessly high quality.

Dissolved Girl has enough guitar licks to erode your face. Man Next Door is perhaps the best song on the album, a terrifying portrayal of paranoia that can equal any horror movie, with drums that change the rhythm your heart beats at.

Black Milk may be the only song in the world dedicated to breastfeeding, with a borrowed bass line from Manfred Mann rumbling away in the background. The title track adds bristling electronic glitches into the now-familiar paranoid terror, raising the listener’s threshold for fear just a little higher. Then we reach Group Four, which nowadays would probably be called G4S. Inspired by shift workers, it explores the isolation these workers feel, as they are tempted by the angelic freedoms that Fraser’s vocals offer. It’s all rounded off by (Exchange), which may be Massive Attack’s way of offering a comedown after what came before. It stands out because it sounds, well, almost friendly.

Mezzanine is suffocating. Full of paranoia, fears and despair, it offers you only brief moments to recover within its rise and fall. It’s also genre spanning. Ostensibly an electronic album, it encompasses huge chunks of rock, punk and prog, along with elements of jazz and hip hop. I think the reason it had such a big impact on me all the way back on that school trip was because I’d never really heard anything that sounded so distinct and like it belonged there and then, amidst the throb and cultural melting point that is London life.

Along with the three Massive Attack members, who basically disintegrated during the making of the album and were to never be a three piece again, huge credit also has to go to other members of their team. Producer Neil Davidge managed to keep the band together long enough to finally complete the album. Mark Stent oversaw the mixing, which I’ve already mentioned above. But the real star may be Angelo Bruschini, the guitarist who elevated so much of Mezzanine by giving some of the dirtiest guitar parts ever recorded.

A copy of Mezzanine hangs on the wall in my front room, a constant reminder of the sheer joy the album provides. To this day, I search for electronic, dance and pop music that has a dark and mysterious edge, that makes me feel on edge. Listening to Mezzanine changed my tastes in music in so many ways, and made me a lifelong fan of Massive Attack in the process.

Mezzanine is a masterpiece, one of my favourite albums, one of my most influential albums and one I simply cannot wait to hear in its entirety tonight, original vocalists and all. If you haven’t already, go and check it out.

Top 50 of 2016

Like a lot of music geeks fans, at the end of every year I go through all of the tracks I’ve loved and put together a top 50 tracks. I usually only share it with a few friends but it seems like an ideal thing to stick on a music blog.

It’s a slightly random mix, taking in rock, hip hop, dance, punk and some straight up pop. I thought 2016 produced an awful lot of interesting music, but lots of it went under the radar.

If you are so inclined, you can listen to the list (in descending order) here:


  1. Pierce The Veil –           Circles

Man I’m a sucker for emo. This song is catchy as hell and gave me a lot of pleasure in the summer. The album was rubbish, but Circles makes me nostalgic for Leeds festival in the early 2000s.

  1. Skott –           Lack of Emotion

Skott was one of the most interesting pop acts to enter the scene in 2016. This was the last of a series of impressive singles and makes its way into my top 50 partly because it’s super catchy, but it also leaves me feeling slightly disorientated and seasick. It’s pop on the surface, but there’s an uncomfortable edge not far underneath.

  1. Frost –           Better off Lonely

Frost dropped his debut EP in 2016 and this was the standout track from it. Sounding an awful lot like Disclosure, it has an excellent chorus, hypnotic beats and impressive vocals. Unsurprisingly – given the title – it’s pretty melancholic, but it sounds good on every listen.

  1. Car Seat Headrest –           Fill in the Blank

Lyrics like ‘I’m so sick of … fill in the blank’ and ‘You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it’ would stand out on most tracks, but when you throw in the driving guitars and pulsing drums, it comes together to create one of the indie anthems of the year.

  1. Twin River –           Knife

Twin River stayed under the radar in 2016, but consistently delivered solid indie singles with a strong pop heart. Knife benefits from a nice juxtaposition between a sassy chorus and sensual verses; hopefully these Canadians will deliver other solid efforts in 2017.

  1. The Last Shadow Puppets –           Aviation

Aviation has a timeless quality to it. It feels like it could have been produced at any moment since 1955, and yet TLSP make it sound so reassuringly now. The only track I liked from their recent album, it grows on me with every listen.

  1. Creeper –           Valentine

Creeper came onto my radar in a big way in 2016. Effectively stealing the American pop-punk/emo sound and giving it a British twist, Valentine was from their debut EP. Bolshie riffs mixed with tempo changes, it is – to my mind – the best reflection of what Creeper are about. Expect to hear big things from these guys in 2017, because they know how to write tunes.

  1. Kings of Leon –           Find Me

Kings of Leon have a cracking formula. Good guitar riff, driving drums, weighty vocals and a catchy chorus. Almost every band tries to make it work, but KoL are better than most. Find Me is all of the simple things brought brilliantly together. I tried to resist, I tried to tell myself that I’m being manipulated by a simple formula, but I am weak.

  1. NVDES –           Can You Not

Take a track by The Rapture, stick it in a blender, add in two parts of LCD Soundsystem and a slice of punk, and you’re on your way to creating a NVDES track. One of my favourite new bands in 2016, Can You Not was my favourite of three or four solid tunes they released this year. They were also absolutely brilliant live.

  1. VANT –           FLY-BY ALIEN

A second appearance in two years for VANT, who never fail to remind you they’re from planet Earth. Fly-By Alien was a live favourite that finally got a proper release this year. Stepping slightly away from their usual sound, it bodes well for their debut album, due in February.

  1. Vera Blue –           Settle

I’ve been following Vera Blue’s stuff for the past couple of years and her FINGERTIPS EP from May was an excellent reflection on how developed her song writing has become. Settle lures you into a false sense of security, sounding like it’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy, before hitting you with a chorus written to knock your socks off. Settle has a lot of layers to it and I look forward to her future releases.

  1. Laura Gibson –           Two Kids

Laura Gibson released one of my favourite albums of the year. Two Kids was the most ill-fitting tracks on that album, and yet it’s a fantastic single. A mix of pop and country, it tip-toes along the ‘too cheesy to be good’ border but always stays the right side. It also reminds me of the Carpenters, which is never a bad thing.

  1. Pet Shop Boys –           Inner Sanctum

Man did I not expect the Pet Shop Boys to make one of my end-of-year lists. I certainly didn’t predict they’d come in with an absolute banger of a dance track. Working with the brilliant Stuart Price, they decided to create a track that could fill the clubs in Berlin, where they recorded their album. Inner Sanctum is the result, a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a ‘best dance hits of 1999’ compilation CD.

  1. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam In A Black Out

That voice. That amazing voice. Here it’s more than matched by – initially – some hypnotic guitar playing and then, in the last minute or so, an unexpected burst of jollity. It’s a beautiful combination and one of a number of solid tracks on an album that falls far away from their previous work in The Walkman and Vampire Weekend respectively.

  1. Luca Bacchetti –           Above The Line

A vast, sprawling dance track from an obscure Italian dance producer? Of course it made my top 50. This came out in the same week as Massive Attack’s EP, and I was impressed that this managed to get a look in, let alone consistent plays. There’s a restless energy to this track that grows and shifts throughout its eight minutes.

  1. iSHi –           We Run

iSHi absolutely nailed this track. Featuring some of the best production in hip hop from 2016, the uplifting chorus and playful piano help to give a melancholic tone to what could easily have been a by-numbers ego trip in the wrong hands.

  1. Warpaint –           New Song (Jono Jagwar Ma Remix)

The very last addition to this list. This is a stunning remix with three fairly distinct parts, earning comparisons with the Thin White Duke Remix of Rokysopp’s Eple and the Alle Farben Remix of MO’s Walk This Way, both of which have a special place in my heart. A hugely impressive remix that keeps it simple, sexy and supremely dance-able.

  1. Otzeki –           Falling Out

‘Hard-core pornography, made us feel useless, when we were teens, Jupiter, Backlit screens, fucking the strangers, of our dreams’. So sing Otzeki in this superb single, emanating from the same sweet spot where electronic meets downbeat indie that The XX have dominated for the past half-decade.

  1. Monika –           Secret in the Dark (Juan MacLean Remix)

A disco-inspired remix that seems to plagiarise the bass part from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Funky guitar, hand claps, tambourines… every trick in the book is there, but you won’t notice, you’ll be too busy dancing.

  1. Estrons –           Belfast

When gig-buddy Matt first me to see Estrons, I was far from sure that they were going to develop into one of my new favourite bands. I was wrong. Belfast is a balls-to-the-wall punk-rock statement that starts at a 100 miles an hour and doesn’t dip from there. Two minutes of proper rock and roll.

  1. James Blake –           Love Me In Whatever Way

The return of James Blake usually means at least one entry on everyone’s end of year list, and so it is. Although the album was too long and a little bit meandering for my taste, Love Me In Whatever Way is a beautiful and delicate track. Unsurprisingly stunning vocals and production, it leaves me feeling warm and fragile.

  1. Black Foxxes –           Husk

First entry for Black Foxxes on this list and a cracking piece of rock. The chorus will invade your head and simply will not leave. The bleak tone will grip you and you simply can’t ignore guitar work that sounds this good.

  1. Pumarosa –           Cecile

Second year in a row that Pumarosa have made the list. Cecile sets off at a slightly faster pace than – last year’s entry – Priestess, but the core DNA is the same. Haunting, sensual vocals, creeping guitars and a core rhythm that simply won’t let you go. An album is likely to arrive in 2017, which is very exciting indeed.

  1. Eliza Shaddad –           Wars

Eliza Shaddad is a half Scottish and half Sudanese singer-songwriter. In March she released her second-EP Run, which showed a level of song-writing maturity way beyond her years. Wars was the opening track on the EP and builds beautiful soundscapes to match her sorrowful vocals.

  1. Laura Gibson –           The Cause

Back in the first week of January I set off in search of new music to fill the void that December and the end-of-year list always creates. One of my very first finds was The Cause, the opening track from Laura Gibson’s album and her second entry on this list. It falls in a beautiful spot between folk and pop, and beautifully showcases her vulnerable voice.

  1. 1991 –           Nine Clouds

A rare drum and bass entry on my end of year lists. This is the kind of dance music that I love; a little dreamy, a mixture of dejection and euphoria, with stonkingly good beats. I followed them religiously after I heard this track and they refused to release any other good songs, but Nine Clouds remains a highlight of 2016.

  1. Ever so Android –           Pretty Teeth

Ever so Android are an unsigned duo from Seattle. They released their debut EP The Civil in 2016 and it’s brilliant, a truly-impressive collection of records. Pretty Teeth has all sorts of swagger about it; brutal electronic beats, driving guitars and fuck-you vocals.

  1. Charli XCX –           Trophy

Falling somewhere between pop, punk and anarchy, Trophy is either two and a half minutes of madness or one of the best-constructed pop singles in a very long time. Leaning heavily on Major Lazer’s penchant for EDM-esque drops and shifting tempo and production style every thirty seconds, it has been on repeat since Miceal pointed me in its direction.

  1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis –           White Privilege II

Disclaimer: this is likely to be a controversial selection. In a year in which Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump have bookended almost every story emanating from the USA, this was an excellent contribution to the conversation. Reflecting on the role white people can play in the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as openly discussing the merits of his own career – and his fans – in relation to the racial challenges in America, the level of honesty in the track is worth considering. But added to that is the sheer ambition of the track; it’s effectively a documentary masquerading as a song. Ryan Lewis provides shifts in tone and production that I can’t help but admire. This song isn’t for everyone, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s brave, ambitious and impressive. I honestly thought it’d be much higher on the list, which reflects what a strong year it has been.

  1. Drake –           One Dance

The Biggest track of 2016. Massive dance hall beats and a simple catchy chorus. If you were on a dancefloor in 2016, you almost certainly heard this. I assume Drake will go back to being shit now, but it was kind of him to temporarily stop his one-man crusade to destroy hip hop to give us this.

  1. Estrons –           I’m Not Your Girl

Second entry on the list for Estrons. The first time I heard this – live – I really didn’t like it. But on record it’s stupendous; containing some of the best ‘fuck you’ vocals of 2016, it somehow blends vulnerability with bristle to create an alternative feminist statement. And yet… is she really happy in her defiance? The ambiguity only makes me love it more.

  1. Honeyblood –           Ready For The Magic

A track so good that Sky Sports stole it for their football coverage. Gig-buddy Matt first introduced me to Honeyblood a couple of years ago and, whilst they were always strong, they never had an absolute banger. They do now. Ready For The Magic is simple, catchy and bloody good.

  1. Lapsley –           Cliff

When I first saw Lapsley she played what was then an unknown track with mournful vocals revolving around dance beats. It was my favourite track of the night and turned out to be Cliff. My initial reaction to hearing it on record was that it didn’t quite match the live version, and in particular ends too abruptly (we’ve just got to the good bit!) but, having gone back to it in October, I have come round to the fact that it’s a brilliant piece of song writing.

  1. Michael Kiwunuka –           Love & Hate

Michael Kiwunuka produced my favourite album of the year and possibly suffers in the end of year list from producing so many wonderful musical moments in 2016. He had more entries that anybody when I created the long-list that became the top 50. Soaring strings, beautiful backing vocals and his incredible singing leave you in no-doubt that this is an artist in his prime; channelling his anger at the world into art that needs to be shared far and wide.

  1. Yak –           Harbour the Feeling

Seeing Yak live is one of my favourite experiences of the year. The lead singer quite literally walked on the ceiling. And then picked someone out of the crowd, gave him the guitar to play, and then dived headlong into the pit. Their album pretty much reflects what they do live, a bit all over the place, a little incoherent, but fucking tremendous if you like punk rock. And yet, Harbour the Feeling is the odd-one out. This is the anchor around which the band works, a genuine stand-out track that is coherent and catchy.

  1. Vince Staples –           Loco

Vince Staples in unbelievably talented. Listening to Loco is a pretty stunning experience, every element in this track is perfectly judged to create an uncertain listening experience; is it you that is going insane or is the artist giving an insight that is just too real? Uncomfortable and yet reassuringly brilliant, this track eats away at your brain.

  1. Frank Carter & Rattlesnakes –           Snake Eyes

The lyrics of Snake Eyes would have been enough for inclusion on this list. The tale of pains caused by excess, and the battle with mental demons are hard to listen to. Yet the vocal delivery and epic rock sound more than play their part in creating one of the tightest tracks of 2016. Brilliant.

  1. Femme –           Fever Boy

Sometimes it’s best just keeping it simple. A pop track with a strong indie heart, it reminds me of Le Tigre’s Decapitation. If you can listen without tapping your foot then there’s something wrong.

  1. Naked Giants –           Ya Ya

I thought Yak had the anarchic ‘don’t give a fuck’ rock sound covered for 2016. But this Naked Giants track had me won over on the opening riff, and only gets more fun as it goes along. There’s all sorts of little pleasures in here, but ultimately it’s all about the guitarist taking centre stage and nailing it.

  1. Ariane Grande –           Into You

The best slice of straight-up pop pie that 2016 delivered us. Sexy vocals, brilliant production and a chorus that just keeps getting better, this was a massive hit worthy of the praise.

  1. Massive Attack –           Dead Editors

Is there a more enjoyable NME headline than ‘Massive Attack release new music?’ Dead Editors is the opening track on the Ritual Spirit EP. It finds Roots Manuva in full flow and fine form, with the Bristol boys somehow combining the dark beats of Mezzanine with their more modern techno flourishes underneath. Now can we have a new album please?

  1. Slovenlie –           Disaster

The most exciting debut single since Pumarosa dropped Priestess. Sounding (something) like the bastard lovechild of a short-lived Nine Inch Nails / Lana Del Ray relationship, it delivers a level of menace and production rarely heard in a ‘pop’ track. It’s superb, and I can’t wait to hear more from her in 2017.

  1. Isaac Tichauer –           Higher Level (Bicep Remix)

For the second year in a row Bicep make the top 10. Having now had the pleasure of seeing them DJ (twice, once at a pool party) and do a live set of their own music in 2016, I can confidently say there is no other act in music better at making you feel euphoric (read: like you’re on drugs). Higher Level is a relatively simple track, but its continual build and gripping melody made it a central part of my 2016.

  1. Drones Club –           Feel No Pain

This track would make the Happy Mondays, 808 State and all the other Madchester bands proud. Drones Club are one of the most interesting new bands that I’ve come across this year, precisely because they sound they’re revisiting an era of music that I love and putting their own twist on it. Feel No Pain is pop, electronic, dark and catchy, often all at the same time.

  1. Vince Staples –           War Ready

The standout track from my favourite EP of the year. Starting with an Andre 3000 sample, and developing into the kind of statement of intent most rappers dream of making. Sparse beats and a minimalist electronic backing track – from James Blake – leave Vince’s vocals front and centre, and man does he deliver.

  1. Plastic Mermaids –           Alaska

I’ve been on a journey with this track; I wasn’t even sure I liked it at first, then I questioned the vocals, then it got lost in my Vince Staples phase. Then I fell in love. It’s beautiful in the ‘so sad, I feel broken inside’ sort of way. The darkness underpinning the lyrics was my way in, and everything builds from there. It’s a stupendous piece of indie-pop that deserves a much wider audience.

  1. HAELOS –           DUST

All the way back in January this track hit my Spotify and it’s been on repeat pretty consistently ever since. Combining elements of Massive Attack and The XX, DUST captures a raw emotional vocal and more than matches it with a stunning, creeping musical performance in the background. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing HAELOS twice this year, and I think they’re destined for very big things indeed.

  1. Black Foxxes –           Maple Summer

From the moment the vocals kicked in on my very first listen of Maple Summer, I knew it was a winner. You can feel the pain and anguish in every note, the anger flutters in and out along with exhaustion. The end of a relationship has rarely been so brilliantly captured on record.  This was the best piece of rock I heard in 2016, and they backed it up with a very solid debut album as well.

  1. Drones Club –           Shining Path

For about 95% of my work on this list, Shining Path sat at number 1. Formed in the dark corner where dance, indie and the vibe of Manchester in 1991 meet for illicit activities, this has a ‘fuck you’ vibe that music in 2016 generally lacked. If you get the chance to see them in 2017, you should say ‘yes’ without hesitation.

  1. Alfonso Muchacho –           Until the End – Original Mix 

Some tracks revel in simplicity; a few layers and repeated notes that combine and create something much greater than the sum of their parts. This is one of those tracks. Until The End is a purposeful 9 minute masterpiece that constantly builds to a stunning drop at the 6.50 mark. It raises the pulse and takes you to euphoric heights, yet also has a dream-like quality. It wins because every time I’ve listened to it I’ve found something new to hear and enjoy, and it never fails to make me want to be in a club. This is a stupendous track that deserves a wide and adoring audience.