I’m regularly lambasted for being old and out of touch, but I’m quite proud to prove that at least one of those accusations wrong with at least 90% of this list! Not a Metallica or Rolling Stones in sight, though I’m still fond of this year’s output. And I still don’t like Bowie.
- Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu & Sun Kil Moon. When you’ve got a name that catchy, I think it makes sense to use it on your album too! Amazing how adding one element can make everything so different. It’s never been such a stretch to associate previous Jesu stuff to Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh past, but Kozelek’s ultra-slacker vocals unexpectedly shift this right into Red House Painters territory (more so than his Sun Kil Moon incarnation), rather than the post-rock shoegaze you’d expect, even though it’s often still there in the background textures. I love Jesu, I love Red House Painters, this is a very unlikely dream come true!
- Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow. More shoegaze, but this time I’d call it post-hardcore shoegaze! There’s some really incredible soaring and shimmering guitar at play here, but with an occasional hint of heaviness to it that sets it apart from the likes of my other favourites Klimt1918, Swervedriver or My Vitriol, veering towards early Smashing Pumpkins. That heaviness applies even more to the lyrics though, nodding to the band members’ hardcore past and echoing Ian Curtis with a bit of disease and decay sprinkled on top.
- Desert Mountain Tribe – Either That or the Moon. Driving, melodic psychedelic rock that can really suck you in and mesmerise you for it’s full length. Multi-layered and complex, great vocals and some really captivating instrumentals. One of my new finds of the year!
- Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter. I know I wasn’t actually there, but this takes me right back to my beloved early seventies Texarkana swampland; look up The Legend of Boggy Creek on YouTube! Feral, gothic, sparce Americana about murder and addiction and stuff, just like I plan to make one day!
- Dawn of Ashes – Theophany. I listened to this more than any other [new] album this year. Intense but accessible modern industrial black metal, only let down by an unnecessary Nine Inch Nails cover at the ends, but that’s very easy to avoid.
- FEWS – Means. My annual breakthrough psychedelic post-punk act, and these Swedish-Americans definitely outshone anything else in this admittedly specialist genre in 2016! Literally 20 seconds of Apple Music preview was all it took me to know I’d found one of my albums of the year. Emotive guitar lines, a driving, almost hypnotic bass and a lovely air of playful gloom. Great album.
- The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum. I think this was the first album I picked up this year and one I had high expectations for. I’ve been a fan since their first album, and always seen them as a bit of a throwback to something, but it’s hard to pin down what – the late 60’s and The Beach Boys; some proggy thing from the 70’s that I’d probably claim I’m not familiar with even if I was; early 90’s shoegaze… For anyone else that’s followed the band, it is a bit by numbers, albeit feeling slightly more “dense” than the more dreamy last couple of albums. That said, they live in their own grandiose, atmospheric world, and I was more than happy to visit it repeatedly through 2016 with this album.
- Dinosaur Jr. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
- Ihsahn – Arktis. Intensely atmospheric latest release by the man from Emperor. Moments of dark ambience, prog and electronica perfectly complement an emotional black metal masterclass.
- Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree. Beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure. Just put it on through some decent headphones and listen to every word. He deserves nothing less.
If a Star Wars film doesn’t continue to top my annual list for the rest of my life, I’ll be very unhappy. But apart from that predictability, this year has produced some unexpected horror gems and decent action fare, the appearance of which here might also have not been predicted by some.
- Rogue One – A Star Wars Story. I’ve watched The Force Awakens at least once a month since it appeared on blu-ray so had big hopes for this. Didn’t disappoint at all. Stunning film (and female lead, which has a lot to do with it being at the top this list). Great story, great characters, great visuals. And easily Peter Cushing’s best performance since he died.
- The Greasy Strangler. This film is insane. Nothing else in my collection of 2000+ films comes close. The premise of the killer is ludicrous enough, but the backdrop of a bizarre father and son disco walking tour takes it to another level. It’s cringeworthy, filthy and there’s a couple of moments that still make me laugh just thinking about them now. Everyone should see this; it’s a life changer!
- Night of Something Strange. If Porky’s had absolutely no moral compass, and was a bad early eighties zombie movie, it might have turned out like this. It’s gratuitous, obscene and doesn’t know when to stop. Like zombies with VD… The kick her in the vag scene was a particular favourite!
- Deadpool. I didn’t really know much about this guy until I saw the film, but it’s everything an adult superhero movie fan that’s realised that 99% of everything from now on is being dumbed down for the Pixar generation could hope for. It’s funny, has some great nods to other films and is just a fun action film from start to finish.
- The Conjuring 2. I’ve often criticised stuff like Paranormal Activity for being horror for people that don’t like horror films, similar to Nickelback being rock for people that don’t like rock music. One of my biggest bugbears with this stuff is telegraphing the scares from a mile away; leaving a special space on the screen for something to jump out at you. What makes The Conjuring 2 so different is that you’re left wondering where on almost every frame something is going to jump out at you! It might happen, it might not, and this makes for incredibly tense viewing, winding you up to the point that you’re even left wondering whether you saw the old man sitting in the chair as the camera panned past, or simply imagined it. If you are aware of the Enfield poltergeist case, you just need to be a bit willing to excuse how “based on a true story” it really is – my understanding is that the two Americans these films are based on did turn up in England at the time but were sent packing much more quickly than the film suggests! But otherwise this is a great horror film; the best proper one of the year easily, if not the last decade.
- The Witch. Wonderfully bleak and unsettling tale of black magic and possession. Beautifully shot with fantastic attention to detail, and one of the more original horror films you’re likely to catch this year.
- Blair Witch. I’d just watched the first two again – both of which I love – when this one had its surprise announcement. It retreads familiar ground but for someone into the Blair Witch lore that accompanied the original, it adds a bit to the story and does justice to the source as a decent horror film.
- Suicide Squad. I’ve got no problem with shallow characters if there’s big explosions involved. This probably won’t appear in many top ten lists, but I enjoyed it loads!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Megan Fox dressed as a slutty schoolgirl. No further review needed.
- Doctor Strange. Another Marvel character I’d heard of but had no clue about. Quick backstory was more than enough to fill in the blanks though, then straight into a visual thrill ride.
The majority of my limited gaming time this year seems to have been spent in last year’s The Witcher 3, which eventually got finished just before Christmas. Absolutely loved it but had had my fill after sixty hours. Also want to mention Until Dawn, which would have been near the top of last year’s top ten had I played it in time. I got my first platinum trophy with another favourite game from last year, Rocket League, and finally got to play and complete something even older when Grim Fandango appeared as a PS+ freebie. Here’s games that actually came out this year; it’s a bit mobile heavy, mainly thanks to the above, and moving to an almost medieval house with an equally medieval internet connection.
- No Man’s Sky. It didn’t take me that long to work out that just beyond the technical marvels lies something very shallow, but as someone with very limited console gaming time, and no interest in cooperative or multiplayer play, this is pretty much all I want from a game. There’s a story of sorts if you want it, but the joy of this for me is making my own story at my own pace. Beautiful achievement.
- Crashlands. This game knows exactly what’s fun about exploration, crafting and survival games, and lets you concentrate on the fun, rather than learning arduous systems or recipes. Really nice progression, whether you choose to follow the story, the side quests, or just enjoy mooching around for new stuff to make. I’ve literally lost hours and hours on this recently, usually stopping only to recharge the battery on my iPad. Incredible mobile gaming achievement.
- Lego Dimensions Midway Arcade. Not strictly a game in its own right, and quite a bit different from the mass of other packs we’ve collected over the last year in that it’s as much of a retro gaming compilation as a standard level pack. And it includes some of my favourite games ever! 720, Spy Hunter, Toobin, Rampage, Super Sprint, Paperboy, Gauntlet… Unbelievable, as is the Lego Spy Hunter car, which I only wish I’d owned thirty years ago!
- Tomb of the Mask. This one came early in the year on iOS but I’m still playing it. It looks like a Spectrum game, plays like a casual mobile game, and like Downwell before if, is deceptively sophisticated and very addictive.
- Trackmania demo. That’s right, a PS4 demo has made if into my list! I’m sure had I felt the need to buy the game yet, the full version would be here instead, but I’m still more than happy dipping in and out of this, trying to better what I’ve done before and enjoying the insanely high speed, highly polished arcade racing.
- Galaga Wars. Last year my high score craving was satisfied by Pac Man 256, and this year it’s another modern take on ancient history with this. Plays mostly like the original, albeit with a bit more freedom of movement, looks great, and employs a very fair and unobtrusive free to play model. Frantic and addictive.
- PinOut. Fantastic endless pinball game on iOS. Mechanically it’s normal pinball, but you’re flipping the ball up the screen to the next set of flippers against the clock. A lot of fun, very addictive, and a special mention for the extremely stylish eighties-esque neon look.
- Clash Royale. For a game I grew to hate after about twenty hours, I continued playing it for over one hundred more! The height of gaming addiction, and whilst I never spent a penny on it, I can fully appreciate it sitting at the top of Apple’s top grossing charts!
- Atari Flashback Console. Okay, also not strictly a game, and I’ve only owned it for less than a week, but it’s endless Atari 2600 action in my filthy mitts! This is pure gaming history, and whilst of course there are duds in the sixty games pre-installed, the classics like Frogger, Missile Command, Centipede and Asterois deserve to be mentioned in top ten lists at every opportunity.
- Tricky Towers. A PS+ freebie in the summer, and one that probably has a permanent place on my PS4’s hard drive. Essentially Tetris, with frantic and fast-paced challenges in single player mode, but where it really shines is in local two player, where you race to build your tower to a certain height whilst trying to scupper your opponent’s. Great to play with the kids, though if you’re a past Tetris master just remember not to go too nuts for the first few goes!