I was reminded recently of the film Ratatouille. Towards the end, the chef creates a jazzed up version of the eponymous dish. A food critic eats it and is immediately given a flashback to childhood. It is powerful. The dark Parisian restaurant disappears and we see the critic as a boy standing in the doorway: sunfilled, Provencal hillsides behind him. The smells of his mother’s kitchen coming back. Innocence returns and with it, joy, pleasure, and simplicity.
Great food, great art, great music. For me, they follow similar traits. I am looking for something new and wonderful and beautiful, which is synonymous with that time and place. And one which in years to come may foster a nostalgic moment in my life.
We never seem to notice those important moments as they pass us by – or at least I don’t. Instead, it is only later that I realise that a particular moment, a song, scene in a film, passage in a book, evoked something in me.
When Bon Iver released 22, A Million at the end of September, it arrived at a moment of newfound bliss in my life. I had began a new relationship. I had just celebrated my birthday. The weather was just turning into my favourite of the year: crisp, bright days with a slight bitter cold. And I heard 22 (Over Soon) open that album as I stepped out into the day. The drums and vocals seemed to hang in that cold Autumnal air and light everything up. I had no idea that moment would stay with me, but it was the sign of a beginning for me that has stayed with me ever since.
I loved the Bon Iver album more than I thought I would. It’s not often that old indie/folk favourites from my pre-electronic years stick with me as much today. But this record really stood out. I loved the evolution which included electronic elements, sampling and more diverse instrumentation.
Yet for Bon Iver’s great evolution, the most interesting development I found this year was with Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.
The New York Times’ Popcast Life of Pablo discussion from the end of November is essential listening for anyone who loves this album.
In it, they compare Life of Pablo to a Prince moment in Kanye’s career. A moment when we won’t get final versions again. Everything is a work in progress.
This album was discussed in this was even before we heard any of it. But it’s multiple revisions and versions since then have only added to that.
But a turning point for me was a month ago when a Redditor uploaded his version called Life of Paul. Now usually I’d see that as typical fan version affair. Probably not worth a listen and if it is never again.
Instead Life of Paul fits into this record’s whole evolving universe. It makes me wish I had spent more time reading Baudrillard when I was supposed to at uni.
Life of Paul extends and blends. Reintroducing fuller samples that Kanye had cut into fragments. Blurring lines between the leaked OG versions and and the versions which made the TIDAL release.
The release has felt like a piece of open source code: forked and tweaked by different groups to extend it as they see fit.
I approach this with the furore that I approached Dylan bootlegs as a teenager. How can I know which my favourite version of Don’t Think It’s Twice Alright is when I’ve only heard these 100 or so? What about the rest. There’s probably a gem there.
This means that a track like Waves now becomes one of the greatest songs of the year – thanks to Life of Paul. It means that Highlights gets the attention it deserves thanks to the OG version. And why Kanye was right to stick to the official version of Famous.
The only severe disappoint of any of the TLOP incarnations is that I Feel Like That is missing. This to me is my Kanye discovery of the year.
Pop music took a battering this year, which is a major disappointment. Beyonce’s record was nice. I liked Sandcastles a lot, and Daddy Lessons was great. But sister Solange stepped up with an overall better record.
Taylor’s long rumoured October/November album never happened. Which means the highest ranking pop moment on this list Crash Cove’s remix of Rebecca Black’s The Great Divide.
Rhythm Section International have become consistently impeccable. That Duke Hugh LP is incredible and the video version of Church In The Wild a particular highlight. Elsewhere on RSI, Prequel’s Saints is an evolution for anyone who loves St Germain’s Rose Rouge. As one of Bradley Zero’s tracks, it’s no wonder why he snapped this future classic up.
Elsewhere in the dance spectrum, Koze’s Operator mix is a wonderful slice of summer disco, although now darker days have drawn in it feels more distant in every way.
Soul, hiphop, rnb
I’m so outside the grime scene that all I really heard this year was that Birthday Girl track by Stormzy and the Skepta album (which was okay but not amazing).
But the new riser of the year is Sampe The Great’s Blue Boss. Wow wow wow. What a track. I played this as the second track at my UCL gig this year and it ended up filling the floor way before I was ready to. Taking it down a few notches after didn’t go quite as planned.
This year has been pretty frenetic year for me, but some of the usual standpoints that I had last year have gone. I don’t do a weekly radio show anymore. I’m now not the only W&S selector. As a result my listening has become narrower.
Simultaneous to this has been more of a desire for familiarity within this spectrum. It’s why I dove into albums and lionised them like I used to.
It’s why Kanye West’s Fade was one of those empowering moments of the year. It mixed something new with an instant nostalgic of hearing Mr Fingers for the first time. Just like with Prequel’s Saints and how it took me back to hearing St Germain at Rhythm Section three years ago. And just like the reintroduction of Bon Iver into and how it took me to entirely different places altogether.
My listening may have narrowed this year, but perhaps as a result I’ve managed to plant the seeds future moments of nostalgic with more power.
Top songs of the year
Bored Young Adults (Blawan) – Check Up from the Neck Up
RüF Dug – Ruffys Jungle Sensi
Alicia Keys – In Common
Unknown Artist – Leaving You
Hidden Spheres – Well Well
Jay Daniel – Paradise Vale
Solange – Cranes in the Sky
Mala – 4 Elements
Stormzy – Birthday Girl
Rebecca Black – The Great Divide
Låpsley – Operator (DJ Koze’s Extended Disco Version)Ptaki –
Kanye West – Highlights (OG Version)
Sloneczny Ply (Eltron Remix)
Kanye West – Famous
Duke Hugh – Church In The Wild
Real D – Rhodes That
Kanye – Real Friends
Sad City – Steady Jam
Willie Hutch – Brother’s Gonna Work It Out (Joey Negro Remix)
Prequel – Saints
Sampa The Great – Blue Boss
Bon Iver – 8 (circle)
Kanye West – Waves
Top albums of the year
Mala – Mirrors
Moodymann – DJ-Kicks
Solange – True
Duke Hugh – Canvas
Kanye West – Life of Pablo
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Top podcast of the year
TLOP – Popcast
Top compilations of the year
Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!