AMBY contributor Iain Fox’s favourite moments of artistic brilliance in 2016

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Car Seat Headrest

It may be tempting to dwell excessively on the ghastly awfulness that has been 2016 (and Death continues to ruthlessly go about his business as I write – RIP Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), but here at AMBY we’d like to remind everyone that amidst the tragic losses of many of our treasured cultural icons, emerged moments of artistic brilliance. They came in the form of incredible albums and inspired live performances and AMBY would like to share a few 2016 moments that will ensure that the year won’t be defined by the bad. The following bands and artists not only created some of the albums of the year but also the gigs of the year and although End of Year lists are subjective, I hope there are one or two moments below that have also provided a ray of positivity in your lives, in this most peculiar of years.

Daughter

Daughter

The epic soundscapes of Not to Disappear are braver and more mournful than the band’s debut and the songs have been enhanced by bleak textures reminiscent of 90s Massive Attack. This lifts the record to more distinct and satisfying emotional levels which the debut aspired to, but never fully achieved. The band performed twice in Manchester this year and both shows produced dark, captivating moments of brilliance, but it was the band’s flawless rendition of Youth, tenderly accompanied by the audience, that made both shows very difficult to forget. We said “it is moments like this that elevate the evening to such delightful and lofty levels and Elena and guitarist Igor Haefeli are clearly gracious by such a positive response to their introspective musings.”

Shearwater

Shearwater

The Guardian newspaper lay down the gauntlet when it wrote about an artistic silence engulfing the music industry regarding it’s ability to craft the protest song, but Jet Plane and Oxbow is acutely aware of current global anxieties and develops the themes from previous material that strives to make some sense about the world we live in. The band performed these special songs in Manchester’s Night and Day Cafe and the intimate confines of this venue enhanced the power of tracks such as Filaments which “very easily becomes one of the live highlights of the year so far. With the lights fading, the band become sinister silhouettes on a stage now bathed in an angry red hue. Stephanie Power’s bass leads the charge and Josh Halpern’s drums join forces in animalistic fashion before the thrilling vocals complete the utterly immersive experience.” This was at the start of 2016. With everything that has happened this year, one feels that 2017 could be the year of the protest album.

Basia Bulat

Basia Bulat

Good Advice was a subtle reinvention for the Canadian. Eschewing the folky tendencies of previous records, the new album was a timeless beauty, chock full of catchy, intelligent pop songs that came alive in the tiny basement of Manchester’s Soup Kitchen, prompting me to write that “the musical authenticity combined with Bulat’s compelling vocals contribute to the electrifying evening and it’s fabulous to see her band having so much fun as well.”

The Boxer Rebellion | Interview

The Boxer Rebellion

As some of you may know, I love The Boxer Rebellion and their new album Ocean to Ocean was a compelling and sophisticated follow up to the epic Diamonds, building upon this record’s sombre approach with its elegiacally retro stylings. The band performed the album’s songs flawlessly in Manchester’s Deaf Institute in May but it was older track The Gospel of Goro Adachi that led me to say that “the song illustrates the band’s clear bond as the exquisite introduction builds to an almighty crescendo of feedback amidst the relentless percussion, all performed with a fiery intensity that becomes irresistible in it’s presentation.”

Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest

Will Toldeo’s album has appeared on many end of year lists but if you ever needed convincing that AMBY really does have it’s finger on the musical pulse of the planet, this is what we wrote at the time… “Teens of Denial boasts a truly incredible collection of blistering introspection, lo-fi in spirit, evocative and relevant throughout and enhanced by production qualities that create an immersive depth and complexity that a lot of bands can only dream about.” Live, Toledo’s songs become even better! We described his Manchester show as “epic, innovative and completely enthralling… an incredible show that presents very ordinary fears and hang-ups in such a striking way that it never feels over-indulgent.”

Margaret Glaspy | Interview

Margaret Glaspy

Emotion and Math has also been appearing on many influential end of year lists and AMBY called it upon it’s release that this would be the case. The record is a glorious introduction to an incredible artist, proving that guitar music doesn’t need to be gimmicky to get our attention; the album possesses an authentic soul and Glaspy is blessed with a voice that truly kicks ass. We described her Green Man Festival performance as “an immaculate joy and tracks from her debut Emotion and Math are performed with a gutsy passion.” Amidst an outstanding festival, Margaret Glaspy’s early-afternoon slot was an exceptional highlight.

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson was an unadulterated joy at Green Man 2015 but he managed to eclipse this performance with a momentous show at Manchester’s Gorilla in July. Supporting the release of the incredible A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, the Kentuckian delivered a two-hour set playing the new album in full following a barnstorming set of earlier material. We said that “…the opinion from the masses this evening is the same no matter who you ask. “That was insane!” screamed one fan to me, who had been unable to stop dancing all evening as the band disappeared, sadly not to return. Sturgill’s job was done and I left the venue trying to remember when I had been so consistently entertained by an artist for two hours straight.”

Christine & the Queens

Christine and the Queens

Although already a huge star in her native France, it wasn’t until 2016 that Héloïse Letissier went global and her record Chaleur Humaine crossed boundaries in its presentation of universal themes that connected with us all. Her thrilling Manchester Apollo show in the autumn confirmed her significant status, leading is to write that “there is a connection that has developed between the artist, her music and her fans that transcends the typical adoration of stardom that the genre is perhaps synonymous with. This is pop with a purpose, refined through experience, humanized and erratic.”

Okkervil River

Okkervil River

Personnel changes along with personal tragedies and the tumultuous political position of the world seems to have had a profound affect on Will Sheff and his band. The outcome of all this is an unpredictable joy new record Away and this mercurial approach was also been adopted for the live show, which presented many songs in an unconventional, yet thrilling manner that was a joy to behold. The show took place the same week that the world lost Leonard Cohen and Sheff delivered an immaculate performance of So Long, Marianne that the crowd lovingly sang along to “proving that whatever is going on the world, a great song crosses boundaries, it can be an elixir helping to balance all our apprehensions and make everything seem alright again. This is what Okkervil River achieved in Manchester this evening. A performance fit for any end of year list.”

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Piece and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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