by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Occasionally I indulge myself by posting on something unrelated to MICE or Business Events but this post has been a hardy annual since I started the blog. It’s the annual “best albums” post where I dress up as a rock journalist and list, in no particular rank or order, 10 new albums that I particularly enjoyed during the year. The best albums of 2016 comes from monthly Spotify playlists that I compile and post here and on SoolNua. The playlists themselves are made from recommendations from a variety of sources particularly Taylor Black at Extraordinary Events, Dara Lawlor at Lamnos Consulting and Spotify itself. So here goes.
Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker
In 2016 a trinity of Rock Hall of Famers left the building including Price and David Bowie. The one I’ll miss the most, however, is Leonard Cohen. In the late 60s / early 70s, along with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen was on auto-repeat (or the equivalent) in our house, thanks to my older brother, a true connoisseur of great music. You Want it Darker is undoubtedly Cohen’s best album in years, an amazing swansong to an exotic career that spanned 6 decades. It has the same feel to it as the brilliant Johnny Cash albums produced at the end of his career by Rick Rubin.
Look Park, Look Park
Look Park is a side project of Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne) and sounds identical to Fountains of Wayne’s power pop without the power. Collingwood and his FoW partner Adam Schlesinger have written some of the catchiest, cleverest pop gems ever (I95 is probably my favourite) but solo and alone Collingwood doesn’t disappoint. The single “Aeroplane” is a deceptively simple ditty that starts with simple observations about airplanes and ends with deep questions about identity and direction. It takes off easily, banks one way, then the other before soaring into a wonderful self-questioning chorus. Brilliant, relevant pop.
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Margo Price is the real deal, crafting great country songs from the raw material of her own undulating life. And now here she is at 34 an overnight success after 14 years of anonymity. This is country from central casting, in the style of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, delivered with the sincerity and honesty of someone who has lived through the ups and downs. These songs are true stories, none more poignant and finally hopeful and uplifting than the opening track “Hands of Time” or the super-short stunner “World’s Greatest Loser”
Foy Vance, The Wild Swan
2016 was a great year for Irish artists in general, across the full spectrum from singer-songwriter to EDM. The Wild Swan is Foy Vance’s 3rd album. Recorded in Nashville, this is a massively confident collection of great songs that’d fit nicely on a mixtape with the likes of James Bey, Iron & Wine and Gavin James. Maybe even Van Morrison too. Vance has had his tunes feature on Grey’s Anatomy and it’s easy to understand why when you listen to the stunning “Burden”, one of the highlights on the album.
The Gloaming, The Gloaming 2
The Gloaming avoided the curse of the “difficult 2nd album” by simply offering more of the same and there’s nothing wrong with that, particularly when the debut was so amazing. The Gloaming are to our era what The Chieftans, The Bothy Band and Moving Hearts were to previous decades – they colour outside the highly defined lines of traditional Irish music and create new, unexpected masterpieces, livid with new life. Different from the giants that went before them, The Gloaming have Iarla Ó Lionáird on vocals whose treasure trove of sean nós songs truly sets the band apart.
Empire of the Sun, Two Vines
This Australian band got massive radio play with “Walking on a dream” and “We are the people” way back in 2009. I must have been out at the toilet at the time as I didn’t come across them until the release of this year’s album, Two Vines and its gloriously anthemic single “High or Low”. They sound a lot like the 80s in general and like MGMT in particular and, apparently, are the band you really want to see at a festival as their live show is outrageous and flamboyant.
Darlingside, Birds Say & Whippoorwill
Wikipedia says Birds Say was released in 2015 while Spotify dates it 2016. Whatever! Darlingside appeared on my January 2016 playlist and I’ve listened to them and loved them all year. From Boston, they’re a 5 piece indie folk band along the lines of The Avett Brothers and their predominantly “unplugged” songs feature beautiful melodies, layered harmonies and haunting violin lines. Stand out track on Birds Say is “The God of Loss”. There’s a definite affinity in sound and scope between Irish Band, Little Green Cars, and Darlingside right down to both bands having songs called after Hollywood stars – John Wayne and Harrison Ford!
Angel Olsen, My Woman
Each year I check my Top 10 against the critics’ choice on, say, Pitchfork, and, with each passing year, I’m more and more out of step with the cognoscenti! Only two of my Top 10 are in the Pitchfork Top 50, You Want it Darker and this extraordinary album from country – pop artist, Angel Olsen. Extraordinary for many reasons, none less than the inclusion of 3 tracks over 5 minutes long, 2 of which clock in at over 7.30 minutes! This is an album with lots of room and spaces, it’s not over-produced, too compressed or too lush – just a truthful voice intoning real songs dressed exactly as they should be.
Teenage Fanclub, Here
I connected with Teenage Fanclub around 1997 with the release of Songs from Northern Britain, their most successful commercial album. At the time I recall it being like the proverbial breath of fresh air. A contemporary band in the style of Big Star or The Byrds with jangly guitars and close vocal harmonies. Almost 20 years later they’re still writing the same infectious pop and pumping it out there effortlessly. I missed their recent gig in Dublin but you can read all about it here courtesy of my buddy Dara Lawlor – Dara has never recommended a band to me that I didn’t instantly like.
Mondo Cozmo, Shine and Higher
This is slightly random in that Mondo Cozmo didn’t release an album in 2016. However, he – Joshua Ostrander – did cut two exceptional tracks that have been amassing Spotify hits like “likes” on a Facebook puppy picture. “Shine” is classic anthemic gospel – it rises gradually into a magnificently uplifting refrain that sticks in your mind like a bad though except it’s a good thought. “Higher”, meanwhile, is reminiscence, in general, of LCD Soundsystem and, in strange ways, An Emotional Fish’s superlative “Celebrate” (1989). Two brilliant standout tracks from an artist I reckon we’ll hear a lot more from in 2017 and beyond.
So there’s 10 for 2016 and here are the ones that were bubbling under:
Christine & The Queens, Chaleur Humaine – released in UK in 2016. Check out the single “Titled”.
The Jayhawks, Paging Mr Proust – 30 years doing great folk | country | Americana
Biffy Clyro, Ellipsis – didn’t expect to like this but I did. Particularly loved “Re-arrange”, “Medicine” and “Small Wishes”
Jack Savoretti, Sleep No More – another singer-songwriter graduate of One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy.
Bon Iver, 22, A million – still pushing out the boundaries; impossible to categorise this guy.
Local Natives, Sunlit Youth – guitars and harmonies, what’s not to love?
Rumer, This Girl’s in Love – Karen Carpenter | Dionne Warwick | Dusty Springfield all wrapped up in a single person.
Band of Horses, Why are you OK? – great album; loved “In a drawer”
You can hear tracks from all the albums listed above on the Spotify playlist available elsewhere on this page – Enjoy and let me know what you think!
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for Business Events.
He’s also a musician and songwriter and, along with Andrew Basquille and Eugene Murphy, has been part of FactorOne for over 30 years writing and recording original songs. Check out FactorOne here.