The mayhem of March took over us all again in 2016. Spring arrived, and The Stone Roses returned. Here's what our March soundtrack sounded like.
1. Brian Eno: The Ship
A 21-minute epic, ‘The Ship’ began as a piece of ambient music until Brian Eno discovered his vocal range had extended low enough to hit a bottom C. "The tide is still, the sky is young / drawn on towards the coast" is a simple enough text, but when croaked over a wash of slow-moving strings and synths, it gains a sage beauty. As ever, a subconscious listen will leave you enriched.
2. Mark Pritchard (featuring Thom Yorke): Beautiful People
Beginning in a world of tribal minimalism, 'Beautiful People' shifts slowly and imperceptibly from emotion to emotion – with several vocal lines completely out of focus, it reads like a train of thought, a mass of information moving and morphing linearly in an electronic haze.
The main lyrical hook smacks of worry: Thom Yorke mumbles “I smile careful”, almost shivering with dread. It moves from solitary melancholy to beatific euphoria in a few short blinks, and is cut short as soon as it came. Masterful.
3. Sufjan Stevens: Fourth Of July
It’s exactly a year since Sufjan Stevens released his album Carrie &Lowell, a collection of hauntingly beautiful songs. The beauty of 'Fourth of July' is matched only by the sorrowful tale it tells. Understated and mellow, the anguish from Stevens is never piercing, despite appearing to waver at sections. The repeated phrase “We’re all gonna die” has so many possible ramifications that its enduring presence hangs over the song, defeated, wistful, sometimes just accepting.
4. Michael Kiwanuka: Black Man In A White World
The most natural British soul voice returns with a bite to add to his bark. A simple defiant song is given the soul treatment, twisting between motown and spiritual influences, while Kiwanuka himself laments “I’m in love, but I’m still sad / I’ve found peace, but I’m not glad”. A powerful return.
5. Iggy Pop: American Valhalla
The man formerly known as James Newell Osterberg Jr. is back with a bang. Assisted by Josh Homme, ‘American Valhalla’ boasts a melancholy fuzz and proves that Pop still has a voice. Lyrics like "Death is a pill that’s hard to swallow" and "I’ve nothing but my name" show that voice in a low light. The growl of Pop’s unaccompanied voice to finish the track is harrowing, final, but resilient.
6. Kendrick Lamar: untitled 07 levitate
The first, trimmed single from the Compton rapper’s return untitled unmastered is just a snapshot of what he is capable of. Cut from 8 minutes to 2, it’s a perfect way in for those unfamiliar with Lamar’s work before – it’s swirling, morphing but grounded in his words. It’s uncertain in its message but definite in its delivery.
7. Rufus Wainwright: A Woman’s Face Reprise (Sonnet 20)
Taken from upcoming album Take All My Loves, ‘A Woman’s Face’ is one of 9 Shakespeare sonnets set by Rufus Wainwright. A crackling opening accompanied by a cosmic synth suggests The Bard has been thrown into the 21st Century. In fact, Wainwright’s unmistakable vibrato drawl treats the text with the utmost respect – ‘A Woman’s Face’ is a classic ballad, full of drama and poise.
8. Last Shadow Puppets: Everything You’ve Come To Expect
Creepy fairground music, nonsensical but brilliantly poetic lyrics, an annoyingly catchy hook – it’s all in a day’s work for The Last Shadow Puppets. While the build-up may confuse many ("Ghost Riders in the Rat and Parrot/Croc-skin collar on a Diamond Dog" is just a sample of the lyrical play at work), the chorus is crystal clear, if the sound of stepping into an elevator can be clear.
9. ZAYN: INTERMISSION: fLoWer
A moment of pure honesty from the former One Direction singer, ‘fLoWer’ comes at the mid-point of Malik’s debut album Mind of Mine. Sung in his native language of Urdu, the track perfectly mixes his cultural heritage with his public musical background. The simplicity is what is beautiful, and the sudden fadeout suggests there is more to come from this side of Malik.
10. Alessia Cara: Wild Things
Another remarkable teenage pop juggernaut has reared its head in the form of 19 year-old Alessia Cara. The Canadian does well to distinguish herself in an already over-saturated market, with a powerful voice and interesting vocal play in ‘Wild Things’. With little more than drums and a low lying synth to accompany her, Cara does well to showcase what serves her best.