At about this time each year, you start to see a lot of ‘Best of 2016 So Far’ lists cropping up. It would be unthinkable for me to not jump on this bandwagon, seeing as half a year having gone by is clearly such a remarkable landmark. But rather than try to summarise the best music of half past 2016, in an exercise that will almost certainly omit plenty of deserving artists, I’m going to narrow the criteria a bit. After all, what else would I talk about in a column about musical fusions? Here are some of the best collaborations of 2016 so far.
James Blake with Bon Iver – I Need A Forest Fire I’ll admit that James Blake has come a long way since the meandering, repetitive tropes of his vastly overrated debut. After a while he picked up how to write a good song, and I Need A Forest Fire is one of his best. It’s a triumphant example of the great things that collaboration can bring forth, especially when the styles are as unexpectedly complementary those of James Blake and Bon Iver.
BADBADNOTGOOD with Colin Stetson – Confessions Pt. II Over the course of six and a half minutes, Confessions PT. II gradually leans into the avant-garde tendencies that one would expect from Colin Stetson, but never forgoes BADBADNOTGOOD’s distinctive groove. Despite irregular rhythms, some considerable overblowing and a fairly frenetic pace at times, Confessions Pt. II packs one hell of a punch and is funky as Hell, if Hell were a place that was well-known for its funkiness.
Minor Victories – Folk Arp Here’s one from one of the best kinds of artistic collaboration – the supergroup. A band consisting of members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors were always going to be one to watch out for, and they’ve delivered excellently. Featuring shoegaze haze, beautiful orchestral swells and alternative rock vigour, and accompanied by a music video consisting of one continuous shot of the inside of a pizzeria, Folk Arp strikes me as a pretty major victory.
Kaytranada with Anderson .Paak – Glowed Up Kaytranada’s debut features some excellent guest spots (Phonte, Little Dragon, even Craig David) but this one might be the weirdest and most wonderful. Considering Anderson .Paak’s talent, he certainly doesn’t need the unconventional delivery he utilises here to stand out, but he uses it anyway. Following in the oddly-shaped footsteps of Q-Tip, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Danny Brown may seem like a risky venture, but it pays off wonderfully.
The Body and Full Of Hell – The Little Death Ambient music for the deaf. Not for the fainthearted. Have some ibuprofen and some holy water on standby.
Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith – Passage In my review of Iyer and Smith’s excellent collaborative debut album, I likened Passage to “some kind of dead satellite lost in deep space”. I still can’t think of a better way to describe it, though I’m sure many exist. It may not be your idea of ideal summer listening (believe me, it’s not exactly mine either), but if you want an introduction to experimental jazz, I can think of no better entry point.
Chance the Rapper with Jay Electronica – How Great Chance’s third mixtape was painfully hit and miss, mostly owing to the high number of dreadful features: Kanye’s obnoxious and overloud presence, Lil Yachty’s irreverent spiel, and 2 Chainz’ delivery of possibly the worst rap verse I have ever heard. But when Coloring Book reached its highest peaks, it could be truly breathtaking. How Great is perhaps the tape’s best track. Two and a half minutes of gripping choral vocals give way to one of Coloring Book’s finest gospel samples, over which Chance and Jay roll out some lines so discerning you’d think their tongues were red carpets.
Radiohead with the London Contemporary Orchestra – The Numbers Two heads are better than one. Five heads and an orchestra are better than two. The Numbers is a fitting title. The London Contemporary Orchestra are masters of collaboration in their own right, having worked with the likes of Terry Riley and Jimmy Page, whilst Radiohead have practically been working within their own ranks for the best part of two decades. Perhaps that’s part of what makes The Numbers such a magnificent collaboration, or perhaps not. In either case, The Numbers is an excellent showcase of the strengths of both ensembles.
Listen to the Pear Up #7 Playlist below.