Remember the 1980s? It was a time when shoulder pads were more common than actual shoulders, when the entire television-watching world were collectively asking what “Willis” was “talking ‘bout” and when a golden woodwind instrument reigned supreme. The sax.
No nostalgic ‘80s playlist is complete without a slightly unwarranted sax solo. From INXS to George Michael, Spandau Ballet to Men At Work, everyone was trying their hand at this reed-clad fad of an instrument.
And just when you thought there was enough saxophone in the 1980s to last us until the end of time, the music world has been shocked to discover that the saxophone is back in 2016. Impressively, the sax hasn’t always shown its face in the form of awkwardly timed solos this year.
It’s been a little while, old friend. For reasons unknown, 2016 has seen the saxophone make a full-bodied comeback, and here are 12 tracks to prove it.
Morningless by Paul Dempsey
The debut single from Paul Dempsey’s second record features both tenor and baritone sax pretty much the whole way through, adding to the track’s dense texture and seemingly inexorable momentum. The Something For Kate frontman enlisted the help of Paul Von Mertens to play saxophone on the track, who is perhaps best known for his work with legendary singer-songwriter, Brian Wilson.
Pattern by The Last Shadow Puppets
One of the more fleeting sax appearances on this list, the millennial supergroup didn’t have to look far to find someone who could contribute that extra layer of sound on Pattern. One of the band’s two lead singers, Miles Kane, lends his sax-playing skills to the track, having learned the instrument as a child before picking up the guitar.
Medicinals by PJ Harvey
As with The Last Shadow Puppets, a familiar face picked up the sax on this track. PJ Harvey herself played the instrument on four separate songs from her latest record, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Medicinals features sax lines which are based around a pentatonic blues scale, a scale favoured by jazz musicians since the dawn of the genre.
Your Rhythm by Bree Tranter
Perhaps it was to be expected that Bree Tranter, a founding member of musical explorers The Middle East, would delve into some funky tone colours on her debut solo record. She certainly did that, perhaps most notably on the jazzy Your Rhythm. The track features a recurring sax hook which is sure to get you moving. Promise.
Pretty much all of Blackstar by David Bowie
The late David Bowie regularly cited the saxophone as the first instrument he learned, and his partiality for the instrument is evident on his final record. Nearly every track features at least a cameo from the sax, with acclaimed jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin lending his trade to the album.
This Must Be A Dream by The 1975
One of the more retro examples of saxophone use on this list, This Must Be A Dream features a complete saxophone solo which is skilful enough to give Kirk Pengilly a run for his money. The 1975 are in form for sax work, having also featured the instrument on their debut album in 2013.
Untitled 05 by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has always been one to push boundaries, and his use of the sax on this track is no exception. The sax countermelodies on Untitled 05 are reminiscent of legendary free jazz saxophonists like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and help to add an air of both mayhem and energy to the track.
Go! by M83
Having done the rounds as a summer radio staple in the USA, this track is sure to continue featuring on party playlists throughout the world for the next while. Go! is coloured by a somewhat unexpected saxophone solo towards the beginning of the track, before M83 launch into catchy hooks and memorable vocal lines.
Connect The Dots by Car Seat Headrest
The manager of my local JB Hi-Fi has picked Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial as his album of the year for 2016. With moments like the brief, but exquisitely rambunctious, sax solo on this track, it’s not hard to see why. The record is being heralded as career best work from the Virginia-based band. Is it because of this sax solo? Bloody well could be.
Milk and Honey by Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
English folk duo Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker often integrate jazz influences into their work. On this track, the saxophone blends seamlessly with Clarke’s vocals, as it plays smooth jazz-inspired melodies and provides a structural foundation for the song.
By Ourselves by Blood Orange
The saxophone adds spice throughout Blood Orange’s latest record, but no more creatively than on this, the album’s opening track. As a monologue concerning women’s suffrage is read, two saxophones play off one another, propping up the powerfully political message of the song.
21 M♢♢N WATER by Bon Iver
This track sees the sax play in conjunction with electronic sounds, creating powerful tonal fusions on the album that many are heralding as Bon Iver’s most ambitious. As the saxophone plays on, it is digitally altered for extra effect, epitomising the musical creativity that has come to typify the work of this Wisconsin-based group.