Staff Picks: Ben Gallivan

This year has put me in mind of a sketch from ‘The Day Today’ where a swimming pool supervisor reels through the number of people that died during his employ, year by year. “In 2016, pretty much everyone died.”

I guess it’s mainly because everyone is a celebrity these days. Look on Wikipedia, and the number of notable people dying in each year has increased hugely recently, due to the fact that being notable is quite a common occurrence these days. But come on now…. Bowie and Prince? Two artists who, thanks to my parents having quite the excellent music collection, I grew up with and listened to on pretty much a daily basis (except for the times when my dad was going through another prog rock reminisce). Hell, even the recent loss of Pete Burns came as a shock.

Anyway, this is meant to be a celebration of all the good stuff that’s come out of 2016. My music buying has been somewhat slowed by forking out as much on my wedding as I would on music in five years, but there have been some excellent albums flying around from a wider selection of genres than I’d usually lend my ear to. I must be growing out of the music snobbery phase which has thus far lasted 20 years or so.

Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ would have made my top 10 regardless, although admittedly now that I know that he was dying while recording the album, it does make it a lot more poignant. The strain in his voice and the content should be expected from a man who gave 50 years of his life to his music, but I base my opinion on the fact that this is a strong set of songs, not because they are his last.

My biggest surprises of the year came from Lambchop and Underworld. The latter’s ‘Barbara, Barbara, We Face a Shining Future’ gained a disappointing, ill-researched two-star review from me when it first came out, but my word is it a grower and it’s ended up being my most played record of 2016. But that is coming under threat from Lambchop’s recent ‘FLOTUS’ LP which I simply can’t get enough of, despite the pretty much omnipresent use of the vocoder. Sprawling, 12-minute opener In Care Of 8675309 is definitely my song of the year.

There have been some excellent offerings from Welsh musicians this year and the two stand-outs entertain different ends of the psychedelic spectrum. HMS Morris’ ‘Interior Design’ and ‘Fforesteering’ by CaStLeS should be well backed for next year’s Welsh Music Prize. Right Hand Left Hand’s eponymous debut along with the 2015/16 winner Meilyr Jones’ ‘2013’ were definitely up there for me this year too.

Live performances of the year? Well, one of them was a criminally under-attended show featuring Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert back in May. They both worked on Emma’s amazing ‘In Search Of Harperfield’, released in January and which has been getting repeated plays and wearing out the needle on the record player ever since. Was also very impressed with The Irascibles (HUB Festival, August)– a psychobilly band containing a certain ex-Young Marble Giant.

Definitely a year of two halves.

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