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Eddie writesIn Memoriam: Five Last Songs from Artists Departed in 2016

by Eddie Sayago

With numerous deaths from all genres and eras of the music world, 2016 (or now known as “The Year That Shall Not Be Named”) has been incredibly brutal. It seemed like not a week went by without the passing of someone great. While this year will not be looked back positively by this writer, some of the departed left behind new music, which only reinforces that the art of the artist often lives on long after their physical presence leaves us. Here are five of those artists’ swan songs...

David Bowie, Blackstar (ISO/Columbia)

The year that should not be named didn’t hold back any punches. David Bowie died after a secret battle with cancer on January 11, just two days after his 69th birthday, in which he offered us a gift with his 25th and final studio album, Blackstar. Fans and critics immediately listened for any hidden messages that the Starman may have snuck in, even checking the album’s packaging for meaning. “I know something is very wrong” has taken a brand new meaning as the year continued in, delivering one shock after another. (One shock that still stings was it’s exclusion from the Album of the Year shortlist at the Grammy Awards.)

School of Seven Bells, SVIIB (Vagrant)

Once a trio, the magical-sounding School of Seven Bells was reduced to a lone member, Alejandra Deheza, after guitarist and fellow vocalist Benjamin Curtis died in December 2013 at only 35, after a year-long battle with sudden on-set lymphoma. This left Deheza alone with a nearly finished album. After a long break, she finished mixing and producing SVIIB, which was released in February through Vagrant. The album’s opener “Ablaze” seems to be a memorial for Benjamin from Alejandra once you listen or read the lyrics. (Those familiar with their long history may even become teary-eyed.) “When I was dark/You found a glowing ember/And set my world into a blaze again.”

Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Sony)

Released just two weeks before Cohen’s death on November 10 at age 82, You Want It Darker is a sparse yet complex look at what it’s like to face death. “You Want It Darker is a lovely farewell that’s both bittersweet and satisfying,” wrote the AV Club shortly after his death. The album was recorded in Cohen’s living room due to his limited mobility but there is no sense of feeling restricted in any of the songs that now mark his swan song.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “I’m Still Here” (Daptone, 2016)

“I’m Still Here” traces through Jones’ journey prior to becoming one of the most vibrant soul singers and performers of the 21st century. The song was released as a single to promote the documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, in which she preferred to perform shows rather than sulk at home while receiving treatments for the bile duct cancer that would eventually take her life on November 25 at age 60.

Viola Beach, “Boys That Sing” (Fuller Beans)

“Boys That Sing” is not a particularly great rock song. It’s got some catchy pop hooks that have a summer vibe (in fact, it could have been a “song of the summer” contender under better circumstances) but it’s merely good. The band behind the song received international coverage when the foursome and their manager were killed in a car crash while in Sweden for their first ever tour outside their native U.K on February 13. Fans mourned and numerous better-known acts paid tribute on social media and live in concert. Their sole self-titled LP was released in July as a somber reminder of what could have been.

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