Wednesday 21 December 2016

The Top 50 Albums of 2016

Are you lying down? Are you sleepy? There there, my friend, it’s all over now, shhhh, close your eyes, we’ve made it. Deep breaths and happy thoughts, I’ll take it from here. I am going to tell you a story. A real life story. About music. Organised sound put together and offered to us during this year we called 2016, because numbers. Would you like that? Do you want to hear this story? I am assuming you do, as here you are.

So I’m just gonna come out swinging and say this: 2016 was musically the best of the decade thus far. A really special period which I will elaborate on near the end, but I do want to quickly say right now that without a doubt, this designated period of time was an absolute joy to have experienced, and a complete fucking nightmare to write a Top 50 list for. Some of the albums I had to cut out makes me physically nauseous, blergh. But it’s done now, triple stamped it, no erasies, let's just try and deal with what I have done.

Not sure if you recall, but this is the 7th time we’ve had this End of Year Album conversation, and boy are my arms tired! I did rather well this year though, eating and swallowing and digesting a whole 450 albums (three times each at very least, I’ll have you know), which beat last year’s score by 50 and places me in a nice little position of pretentious advantage, one where I can see for miles and miles, way further than probably anyone you've met in real life, as I barely cling onto my sanity as one man trying to compete with the various publications who have teams of people doing the exact same amount of work. Plus they get paid! But it is no matter, because once again, here we are, together, discussing what matters the most. Music matters the most.

But before I open up my brain and let you crawl inside, we have the standard rules and regulations bit which has been implemented for your own safety. Please turn off all devices and pay careful attention to the following points, as they will ensure you have a more comfortable trip, and also waver me of any blame when things go wrong. Just sign on the dotted line:

1. Every single one of those 450 fuckers went through a rigorous testing process in our laboratories, and you can witness this amazingness by looking back upon all my rough notes on this spreadsheet, over here. I highly recommend it, as this collection is in many ways much more impressive than this final list, and should help you understand why your stupid favourite record was not included.
2. The cut off date for this articles' new entries was the 6th of December. No records released after this date were even considered. It’s fine, because NME released their whole list of the 24th of November, which is fucking careless and shameful, and so at least my ejaculation was a little less premature.
3. And finally, perhaps the most important point to rule them all, is to note that these albums were not chosen because of how good they were. It was never about talent or production or songwriting or influence. It was about how deep they stuck into my own personal mind, digging their nails into my crevices, lockjaw refusing to let go, continuously reminding me of their existence even when I was nowhere near my headphones. I can’t please everyone, I can’t even please myself, so instead I opted to please these dudes, rewarding their persistence in my own mundane routine. However, I do recommend you check out this Spotify playlist called God, because by ordering them from date added and giving a listen, you shall find the best songs from every single worthy 2016 album I heard. Because I love you.

There we go, that wasn’t so bad was it? Ok, so what the fuck? Are you ready? No? Not my problem, mate, here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 50. Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield

50. Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield

Indie Rock
January 29

After Scottish band The Delgados broke up in 2005, founding member Emma Pollock took the bold move of going solo, releasing two albums before this very one you see here, both of which received their fair share of warm responses and friendly hand claps. Now, to be fair, I had no idea about any of this, which is a shame because In Search of Harperfield has successfully introduced me to a lady who I fell slightly in love with from the very first listen, wondering just where I had been for the last decade or so. What it achieves above all else, is an accomplished understanding of pleasant dynamics, covering an impressive amount of moods that shine grandiosely over your standard pop with a dark depth so self assured that her career’s under-appreciation (from myself and the general public alike) falls to be all that more regrettable. And while the first half of this record is decidedly larger, Emma’s vocals hold strong with leadership throughout, encouraging a well deserved slot on my precious list—perhaps not as the most unique of entries, but as a compelling talent all the same, giving us its everything without overexerting itself and leaving me with a serious head nod and a gut full of happiness, right to the last note.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 49. Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule

49. Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule

Technical Death Metal
January 29

While much ritualistic worship can be admitted towards Chthe'ilist’s musical abilities (in particular, the dirty riffage, which knows how to show off with clever details when the time calls for it, yet also feels completely comfortable in grinding and chugging to the groove if that better serves the song), but it is Philippe Tougas' vocals which I consider to be the main key point of this outfit’s doomy intrigue. He has truly enslaved the ability to appear grossly inhuman, a beastly savage creature which consistently sounds like it's viciously eating something, quite possibly digesting itself, complete with occasional effects which would indicate that very process exactly. But even those of us who may find this snarly relentless disgust too much to bear, or perhaps struggle to see through the murky production swamp, we can all appreciate it when our death metal is served marinated in unconditional evil without intentionally becoming ludicrously humourous like so many others do. And once it’s reached the end, it is nice to wave something off whilst admitting you were raped, but you enjoyed it anyhow.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 48. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town

48. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town

Contemporary Country Pop
June 10

What makes Big Day in a Small Town my go-to representative for the best country record this year has to offer, is because it is quintessentially devoted to the genre’s foundations without being a carbon copy. The themes are as standard as they come, except with a bite motivated by purpose, discarding the naivety that far too many country artists are renowned for, and instead opts to tell you like it is, straight up, no frills, you go, Brandy Clark. She never sounds like she is trying to be clever, but rather hits you with continuous one-liners that simply work, song after song telling stories anyone could identify with, and ultimately blossoming into a different type of clever she invented all in her own little sneaky way. But what it truly excels in, is that each song works independently, and is almost customarily better than the track that came before, which is one helluva trick that literally everyone on this list could learn from. It’s no wonder, then, that this release has been nominated for the Best Country Album Grammy Award in 2017, and obviously that’s where all my money is, proud of my choice no matter what the outcome.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 47. Ariana Grande - Dangerous Woman

47. Ariana Grande - Dangerous Woman

Contemporary R&B Dance-Pop
May 20

Surprise! It seems like every year comes with at least one standout radio friendly pop album, and whether you agree with Grande seizing that title or not, there are more reasons working in her favour than any alternative. For me, it’s because Dangerous Woman goes beyond your standard pop complacently designed to be nothing but a catchy profitable output, but rather delivers (and boy, it delivers!) hooks which are intentional and well thought-out, bubblegumless and grown up, with a nostalgic creativeness gluing it all together without abiding to the blueprint. Even if the lengthy run of contributors detract from the illusion of any Ariana leadership, these participants put everything into their work, and it shows, with a perfectly produced product which snatches at your attention without ever daring to steal the spotlight from Grande’s dramatic vocal range. The second half may be considered comparably inferior, and there may be some obvious cringe (the artwork, the lyrics, whatever persona she is trying to channel here, etc), but there is never any fault within the quality of music itself, coming across like the girl is honing in on the sound which best describes what she is. Hot.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 46. The Body - No One Deserves Happiness

46. The Body - No One Deserves Happiness

Drone Metal
March 18

Word from the muck is that the appropriately titled No One Deserves Happiness was The Body’s attempt at creating the ‘grossest pop album ever made’. However, I’m not entirely convinced that they managed to achieve this goal, because... pop? Erm, where the fuck is this ‘pop’ exactly? Instead, we have a hopelessly frightening and excruciating miserable record which would be exclusively considered ‘insufferable’ if it weren’t for the paradoxical female vocals of haunting grace, calmly reminding you that all is not lost, there is beauty in this world still, even if the more predominant inhuman screams of banality offer no such help. It’s the oft-desired agony-meets-elegance conflict, the formula so many bands have tried and failed at before, except this time from the most obscene of orders, contaminated by an excessive amount of horrible feelings which slaughter you slowly as 2016’s most unnerving record. However, the real issue comes with how impressively good it actually is, so unforgettable and unignorable that you feel obliged to listen to it over and over again, and then you want to kill yourself, so be careful of this one actually.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 45. Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid

45. Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid

Abstract East Coast Hip Hop
April 29

Two decades strong in the game and it seems Aesop suddenly woke up and found himself. The abstract weirdness we all loved to hide beneath in the past? Gone, now replaced by a man on a forwards-facing mission, a complete focus on the application of a straight ahead motion, walking with full-forced intention and a whole stack of jagged edges to clear the pathway clean. His recognisably monotone voice spit so many conscious wordings that you could never catch them all, animated by his signature deadpan sense of humour, teenage lingo, and internet references, and yet... he does one thing even better. He makes the beats. Unbelievable yet true, everything you hear here is Aesop himself, ultramodern production, shoving colourful details into every corner, one sound, one pace, one man, as sleek as anything you’d normally pay a million bucks for. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what four years of working on an album is supposed to sound like.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 44. Mitski - Puberty 2

44. Mitski - Puberty 2

Indie Rock
June 17

Puberty: The Sequel, because obviously the first one wasn’t difficult enough. But that's exactly what this album sounds like, a weak and confused crisis, one minimal and sincere glare into Mitski’s most vulnerable thoughts, isolated, lost, desperately searching for a place to belong whilst precariously balancing on the outskirts of a certain meltdown, barely stitched together by reserved punky ethics and nihilistic alienation, which are as lackluster and nervous as anyone would be when they've let their hope go to sleep. Her troubled complexities are intriguing, her tender modesty is refreshing, and her difficult subject matter is carefully concealed beneath a blanket of easy listening, all left on your doorstep within a half-hour timeframe, your problem now. And while I consider the hype-machine to be a little overly-excited for this release as a whole, it definitely suffocates the requirement of any accomplished execution with an unforgettable aura of discomfort, and we can rest uneasily in apprehensive confidence that Puberty 2 is only the wet tip of what Mitski is capable of.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 43. Deakin - Sleep Cycle

43. Deakin - Sleep Cycle

April 6

Half the fun of an Animal Collective solo record is dissecting the sound, trying to determine how much of the overall flavour each member are responsible for. I do it for every Avey Tare record, and I do it for every Panda Bear record, which is what made me all that more excited for Deakin’s debut solo album, as a brand new piece to the Animal puzzle, now exposed to aid us in cracking the code to one of the most interesting bands of the last two decades. Little did we know that Sleep Cycle would be the key in getting us deeper into AC’s core songwriting above any of the others, offering a brief stripped-down glimpse into their perky melodies and unconventional waffling, liberated from their usual oversaturated suffocation of desperate creative artiness, and rather something more genuine and unassuming, coming from a plainer place of sweeter acoustics and unpretentious wankery. And it took me by total surprise, a rare glimpse into the heart without any excessive layering, showcasing Deakin as the (former) most underrated member, as he not only released one of the greatest side projects from the outfit ever made, but also a record much better than the Collective’s messy attempt earlier this year.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 42. Wormrot - Voices

42. Wormrot - Voices

October 14

I mean, it might as well just be one song, but Voices somehow covers 20 tracks within a 26 minute timeframe (the shortest piece running at a whopping 6 seconds long), and it does exactly what you’d assume from their name/genre/song titles/artwork. It attacks you. It attacks you in short outbreaks with all the crusty violence in the world, one quick emotional violation, covering you in spit, and then it’s gone. But as easy as it is to take this on a ‘oh so hardcore/intense/chaotic’ surface level, there is a deeper layer to what Wormrot do, and while it’s no easy dig to find, with perseverance you should eventually uncover the following undeniable fact: their songwriting is actually really fucking powerful, a sharp ear for potent riffage and tiny details which could pass as respectable heavy rock songs if they’d just slowed them down a little bit, for God's sake. But, then again, why the fuck would they want to do that? Because this is basically the type of blasting force I was hoping this year’s Nails album would be, but they never quite, uhm, nailed it, and so now Wormrot are my current favourite Grindcore people, confirmed, Amen. Imagine this shit live though, Jeeesus.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 41. Bat for Lashes - The Bride

41. Bat for Lashes - The Bride

Art Pop
July 1

Telling the ambitious story of a woman whose fiancé dies in a car accident on his way to their wedding, and then following her grief and recovery as she embarks on her honeymoon alone; here is a theme second to none available this year. However, upon first listen, I considered this impressively grand concept to grant the album an unfair advantage, dazzling the listener with its subject matter so that they wouldn’t notice just how fucking boring this album was. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Khan subdued, but this one felt like it had sunk too far back, the pop too minimised, and the entire performance too slow and way too long. And so I renounced it. I disregarded it. But, for some reason, I listened to it again anyway. And then it made me sad. It confided in me. We found each other. So I listened to it again. And then it drifted into me, as powerful as anything she’s ever done before, except this time with as much passive patience as the harrowing story itself would have demanded. It couldn’t have been any other way. Ignore everyone else, and listen. For no other 2016 album grew on and rewarded me as much as The Bride.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 40. Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

40. Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

July 15

Love & Hate is Michael Kiwanuka’s second album, both of which were nominated for the well sought-after Mercury Prize, a feat alone that puts his ear for the classic soul sound in a league above an already remarkable year for the genre. But hardly anyone disagrees that this album was a steady step forwards for the man, his secret weapon (perhaps or perhaps not) coming from the revered hands of one Danger Mouse, whose sympathetic production and melodic almost art-rocky arrangements gave Kiwanuka’s vocals the space they needed to remain calm in their suffering. For while there is a sensual peace to the backing gospel harmonies and the soft darkness this album revolves around, there is no escaping the sadness of a man left defenseless from encounters with love and heartbreak and all the cold melancholy these emotions provoke—as the artwork itself describes better than I can. It’s music that hasn’t given up the fight yet, but is definitely losing, point proven when he was robbed of his Mercury for a second time running, which is tragically apt but still outlandishly unfair as the true underdog winner if life was only like the movies.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 39. Christine and the Queens - Chaleur humaine

39. Christine and the Queens - Chaleur humaine

Nouvelle chanson française Electropop
May 19

In 2014, Héloïse Letissier released her French album Chaleur humaine to joyous response, reaching #2 in France and motivating the bright idea to re-record many of these tracks in the English language, hoping that there were even higher levels of success to be stolen elsewhere. This turned out to be a very clever move indeed, as the international version translated perfectly to the worldwide audience, once again peaking at #2 on the UK charts and pricking global pallets to deem Christine and the Queens as one of the most noteworthy newcomers in the business. And while the reasons are easy to hear, they are not easy to describe, as they indirectly add a light sadness and reassuring courage into a well designed light synthy pop foundation, remaining flexible enough to casually slide between her languages yet never losing sight of the goal, and maintaining a dead serious expression about holding everything together as smooth and as sensual as possible. I imagine the French hipsters to feel as betrayed as fuck, but I think I can speak for everyone else when I say that the rest of the world is very satisfied, thanks!

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 38. Oathbreaker - Rheia

38. Oathbreaker - Rheia

Atmospheric Blackgaze Sludge Metal
September 30

How to write an album like Rheia: start by perfecting the serene melodies of a lullaby chill. Sing them soft, sing them gentle, sound like you may break at any second and then BANG, sucker punch everyone, slamming everything you have as hard as you can into the most savage wall you can find with so much explosive passion that your heart beats blood directly into your mouth. And once enough agony has been served, reset right back to the other side of the emotional scale, maintaining balance, maintaining paradox, perpetually calming yourself down and then beating yourself up non-stop for over an hour. That is Rheia. Essentially one very predictable formula made up from fright tactics where a sudden placid-to-heavy dynamic reveals no middle ground, a one-trick jenny that goes from black to white in no-seconds flat, a calculated technique which, if I'm honest, doesn’t speak volumes for Oathbreaker’s songwriting innovation abilities as a whole. However, thanks to possibly the best female fronted screams I’ve ever heard, this monotony works in our favour, becoming only that more brutal in its excessive running time, and, seriously, smashing into that aforementioned wall of pain? There isn’t much else like that out there, hey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 37. The Drones - Feelin Kinda Free

37. The Drones - Feelin Kinda Free

Art Rock
March 18

The Drones’ 2013 I See Seaweed was such an unexpected punch to my gut that I immediately saw something so much deeper inside of this band, announcing them as possibly the greatest not-particularly-famous outfit the planet had to offer, and I didn’t even care who heard me say it. Three years later, and I listened to Feelin Kinda Free in fear, anxious that my previous overly-confident statement would prove to be untrue, invalidating all my music utterings for the rest of time. So did that happen? Was I wrong? You tell me. Admittedly, their decision to shed the emotional drama and tragic unpredictability doesn’t always work in their favour, and I don’t consider this their best work by a long way, but it’s an admirable and successful progression all the same, one which would only work to prove my earlier statement further rather than undermine it. Those Nick Cave-esque vocals are suffocated in their own pessimism while the messy noises behind them are either rabid with grit or stripped back raw by sinister hands, which is what sets this album apart. It’s less hopeless, more varied and stylised and structured, yet just as difficult, confirming that, yes, I was actually right after all. Again.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 36. Solange - A Seat at the Table

36. Solange - A Seat at the Table

Neo-Soul Alternative R&B
September 30

Solange’s very name is a curse, forever eclipsed by her older sister, and unfortunately this year was evidently no different. However, they are different, and if nothing else, this album proves that Little Knowles is a talent independent of her family ties, as an artist less eager to please than the Queen, never perspiring, never losing her breath, and unperturbed by the inevitable comparisons, even if I find myself reluctantly making them. Now that we've got that rubbish out of the way, the primary reason for A Seat at the Table’s universal celebration was the fearlessly delicate themes of protest, against the historical and modern day oppression of her race, except never losing its cool like so many tend to do. Supported by guest stars and spoken word interludes, the album says a lot and explains itself well over luscious beats and an unobtrusive restrain, no explosions, not here to start a fight or even a debate, but to casually address a current social issue which is immediately relevant and very important in this day and age, leaving you with many things to think about. Which, as a white boy, is difficult for me to fully understand, but I do understand that I don't understand, and I also understand that I adored the ride all the same.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 35. Gojira - Magma

35. Gojira - Magma

Progressive Groove Metal
June 17

When Gojira released their sixth studio album, some fans weren’t happy. This is because so much of what kept this band precious to their hearts was nowhere to be found: it was less deathy, less technically complex, less screamy, less brutally forceful, and overall less... well, Gojira. Due to these immediate seemingly lack of factors, plenty jumped ship after one listen, shunning the apparent more mainstream direction, never bothering to look back as to why this tamer simplification had occurred, missing the point entirely. For Magma is an album of grief, the loss of savagery in direct proportion to the loss of life—more specifically, the death of the Duplantier brothers’ mother, whose sudden untimely parting calmed their trademark sense of urgency and placed a more placid painful focus upon the output. Perhaps a cleaner record was never on your shopping list, but there is a certain organised depth to this album that was never there before, a much tighter effort which is soooo groovy that you don’t even need to be a metalhead to apply. Certainly not my favourite venture from the band, sure, but it still reaffirms their reputation as one of the most underappreciated heavyweights in the trade, easily.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 34. Triángulo de Amor Bizarro - Salve Discordia

34. Triángulo de Amor Bizarro - Salve Discordia

Noise Indie Pop Rock
January 29

Yes, it’s true, despite what you may have heard, I do not speak Spanish. And so, yes, it’s also true that I do not understand a single word featured within the celebration that is Salve Discordia. But what does this matter? For when an album runs circles around the familiar confines of the indie genre whilst covering so much ground inside of the perimetre that it still jumps up and down with its own distinctive blaze, why would something as trivial as language restrict the experience? The two vocalists, one male and one (probably more immediately enjoyable) female courageously share their syllables with a wall of raw instruments, building a confident noise so jangly and thick that it nearly topples over one way into shoegaze... and then nearly topples over the other way into dream pop... but never quite falls, remaining sturdy and consistent in a style that should have been too exhausted to offer anything as exciting as this by now. Which is a shame, especially considering how unreasonably unknown Triángulo de Amor Bizarro are, but I am absolutely honoured to keep them all for myself if needs be, regardless of whether I comprehend what they are saying or not.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 33. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

33. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

Hardcore Experimental Hip Hop
September 30

Atrocity Exhibition is one of those unique examples of where the artwork accurately represents the music beneath. Like some horror comedy on a damaged VHS tape, it does not prioritise its kooky quirkiness over any nightmarish aggression, unhinged and delusional, losing sanity and ready to kill you in the weirdest of ways possible. I guess this is what happens when someone with real talent no longer has any fear for his art, but rather has fear inside of his art itself, still leading the show with the most recognisably nasal voice in the game, but now tortured into some hookless obscurity, testing the long term fans who stuck to his comical history by alienating them into a world of abnormal panic. It’s awkward, troubling, and more urgent than anything he’s done before, whilst refusing to be immediate, and creeping up as not only one of the highest hip-hop releases of the decade, but also one of the furtherest steps sideways. And that’s just the kind of shit I respond to. That strange uncomfortable shit. That bad acid trip shit.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 32. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years

32. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years

Alternative Indie Rock
September 16

It seems with each release, Cymbals Eat Guitars learn a little more flash and, as a consequence, earn a little more respect. 2014’s LOSE was undoubtedly one of that year’s most heartfelt indie contributions, and I was an immediate devotee from then until right now, arms open wide to welcome their fourth studio album Pretty Years into my most comfortable chamber of judgement, ready to decorate their collars with a Thanks For Coming sticker, patting them on their heads, then sending them on their way with love, like so many before. But it didn’t quite happen that way. For while their last record was great, it was this release that truly made me realise the group’s greatness, with a livelier somewhat aggressive approach this round, yet furthering an overall more accessible proposal—still a dedicated guitar band, no doubt, but with a bit of additional sparkly glam and noisy gravel which harked back to rock music’s heyday whilst dodging all of indie’s standard clichés. It’s impressive how such a relatively unknown band can continue delivering quality of this caliber, and so here is me doing my little part: these guys deserve your attention. So give it to them.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 31. The Range - Potential

31. The Range - Potential

Future Garage UK Bass
March 25

In terms of assembly, I consider Potential to be the most modern record in the world right now and hopefully by the end of this review, you will agree with me. Not challenged enough by the standard methods of producing music, The Range forced the limitation on himself to almost exclusively locate his samples from the YouTube video sharing platform. However, he did not go the easy route and select recognisable viral sensations or already established superstars to achieve the deed, but rather opted to scour the depths of the website to unearth unknown amateurs with undiscovered moments of motivation, lost and forgotten even by the users themselves. He then adjusted the urban dance beats around these stolen clips, careful to keep the wonky emotion as one of optimism and encouragement, even going so far as to track down the unaware contributors and sign them up for a share of his publishing deals. Cool hey? The album's direct title sums up this heart-felt generosity perfectly, and such a conscious concept fills me with an unrivalled awe-inspired faith in musical connections, while I pray this record opens up some idea gateway where a flood of artists follow this type of important communal support for the rest of time.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 30. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit

30. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit

Experimental Industrial Abstract Hip Hop
May 6

Bottomless Pit is exactly what you’ve ordered from a Death Grips record, except a full force lethal intravenous dose of it: untamed aggressive noise, raw turbulent chaos, unsociable disorderly violence, but more fixated in this performance, sharpened into a crude prison weapon designed to murder you whilst they strangle themselves just for kicks. Which, of course, is a total return to form in my panicked opinion, the outfit sounding as hungry as ever with an even bigger jaw, finally tearing at the itchy infection Money Store left behind WITH ITS FUCKING TEETH, exhausted by punky carnival beats which are as abrasive as they intelligently polished and then mercilessly assaulted by the roughness of MC Ride, an attack which is so intimidating that I grow genuinely worried about my safety from time to time. I think I say this every year, but fukkit, once again, they are still probably the most interesting and exciting group to come out of the whole decade, and this album hits as one of their greatest works yet. I’ll fuck you in half.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 29. The Dear Hunter - Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional

29. The Dear Hunter - Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional

Progressive Indie Rock
September 9

Maybe it’s just me, but progressive rock fucking sucks. It’s one of those stupid labels that should have never become a genre name with a set definition, because as it is with any definition, they fade and they date, which itself is the very antithesis of what ‘progressive’ means. Thankfully, all is not lost, as some people still understand how to take that representative sound and push it forward like it was always intended to be, and obviously, The Dear Hunter are one of the best spokespeople for this understanding, otherwise why would I be going on about it here? They have the customary epic conceptual storyline (the fifth of a six part series, in fact), and all the smarty musical intellectualism you need, but it does so without ever disappearing up its own ass, using restless style transformations rather than time signature wankery and doodling solos to present its complexities, almost like a shiny Disney big band carnival musical theme or something, idk. As is tradition, it’s way too fucking long, but it’s so engrossing and masterly crafted that I think I prefer it this way, to the point that I truly can’t fathom what it takes to make an album with this much depth. Fuckload of talent for starters, I guess? I guess.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 28. Jamila Woods - HEAVN

28. Jamila Woods - HEAVN

Alternative R&B Neo-Soul
July 11

As a white dude, I’ve always struggled to relate on a deeper level to black empowerment in art. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I firmly support and understand the political activism, and I loathe the 'All Lives Matter' counter-nonsense, but when facing the reality, I have often stumbled with the discomfort of my own personal guilt as if I had done something wrong. Which is what sets HEAVN in such a unique category, as it does not come with any of this shame. Instead, Jamila approaches black female culture without anger or complaint, rather bubbling with a positive pride for her race, building a magical spirit in a nursery rhyme style, refusing to play victim or blame the historical cruelty for any oppression—if I am, indeed, understanding anything whatsoever. I mean, how could I? But what I do understand is how thrilling it is when she steals immediately recognisable one-liners from other artists (listen out for Paula Cole on Lonely, and The Cure on the title track), a technique which fills me with an eager energy, and helps to further prove that R&B has made a huge comeback this year. Mark my words, this is a girl to watch out for, as I believe one of these days she is going to truly find herself and become something huge.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 27. The Hotelier - Goodness

27. The Hotelier - Goodness

Indie Emo Rock
May 27

Firstly (and most importantly) Goodness is not as goodness as (The Hotelier’s 2014 offering) Home, Like Noplace Is There. It’s got a certain safety about it, less poppy, more serious, just as anthemic, but less heartfelt, and while the majority of it is as strong as anything they’ve done before, certain tracks fall into the file I may or may not have labelled ‘filler’. But just like their own specific emotion-evoking brand of music itself, we can at least watch them moving forward in some direction, refusing to lay stagnant by repeating what they’ve already said, and still achieving so much with enough tricks and gallantry to pinprick my tear ducts with positivity and determination. Perhaps The Hotelier will never release a classic album. Perhaps, like so many, each album will be a small step down. But nothing can take away that I consider them to be one of the greatest bands on the planet. They give me the same feeling as The National or Arcade Fire or Sigur Rós did back in the day. The aura of something that really mattered. Something above the genre’s stereotypes. Something in a league all of its own. Something which deserves to be remembered forever.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 26. Esperanza Spalding - Emily's D+Evolution

26. Esperanza Spalding - Emily's D+Evolution

Jazz Fusion Art Pop
March 4

Esperanza Spalding has acquired quite the name for herself, earning her badges as a self-taught multi-instrumentalist jazz vocalist prodigy, eventually going on to be awarded four Grammy Awards in her time, including the one for 2011’s Best New Artist, making her the first jazzo to ever do so. I’m not quite sure what happened after that, perhaps the accolades got to her head or something, but I am always a little bit concerned when someone suddenly realises they have an alter-ego and decides to release their next album through this distracted side of their mind. With that, meet Emily, and while she was unable to completely discard the jazzy butters from her host, she leaned much harder into arty complexities, working unconventional elements almost independently from one another, erratic and unsteady, whilst fornicating so many varied genres together that it works like some cute cartoon lost inside its own madness. This stop/start liveliness never allows you to get too comfortable, but, damn, how respectable is it when someone with high levels of admired proficiency pushes themselves into such weirdly offbeat grounds of alienation? Pretty respectable, I reckon. Plus, as a bonus, it actually sounds really fucking amazing.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 25. Slice the Cake - Odyssey to the West

25. Slice the Cake - Odyssey to the West

Progressive Metal Deathcore
April 1

Not in all my years of paying attention can I think of a band moniker less suited to the project’s music within. For the name ‘Slice the Cake’ is the only humourous aspect of this outfit (except for perhaps the release date itself), as Odyssey to the West stands as the highest contender for a 2016 album which takes itself far too seriously, boasting versatile Slipknot-esque vocals that scream with passion or quietly whisper their spoken words about some pilgrim’s journey, hammered into overly dramatic and excessively epic proggy meanderings which at times go so ferociously apeshit that I literally feel like I’m eating meat. It thrives on its own pretension, but with enough cocky talent and spotless production that they carry the self importance proudly without fatigue, not a note out of place as it runs on forever without apologies. Hell, even its backstory is unfunny, as a falling out between vocalist Gareth Mason and primary songwriter Jack 'Magero' Richardson meant that this album was never intended for release, instead snuck out by Gareth himself without Magero’s permission, which is a bit of an icky dick move by anyone's standards, but, whatever. I’m sure glad he did myself, because, fuck me, this is fucking huge. The biggest. Bigger than itself. Too big, maybe even.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 24. King - We Are KING

24. King - We Are KING

Psychedelic Soul Contemporary R&B
February 5

It’s been an interesting decade for R&B. Near the beginning, we gawked as these artists discharged so rapidly that the whole genre quickly fell apart from the top, splitting their affiliates to either continue with commercial objectives and be dismissed as desperate duplicates, or to get weird with the style, often presenting something interesting but without enough immediate glue to repair the corroded ground. In time, however, the more crafty representatives have refound their footing within their own individual crevices, and King are have done so like no other. Despite their obscurity, they exhibited themselves as authorities with nothing to prove, not depending on fiery radio-friendly bangers or flirtatious cheap shots to earn their dues, but rather relaxing in laid back delicacies and luxurious mid tempo romances to entice the customer. These soft pop grooves avoid forming fully realised compositions, but rather fluff gentle clouds out of thin air, which are sexy without encouraging sex and never quite exposing just how deliberate that approach was. And that spirit is unique to anything else on the menu, as well as the much needed reminder that this genre is not only directly relevant to our times, but also still very necessary.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 23. James Blake - The Colour in Anything

23. James Blake - The Colour in Anything

Alternative R&B Art Pop Future Garage
May 6

The Colour in Anything is colourless. It’s the sound of a man giving up, swamped by the mud of loneliness, distant in the downcast of winter and too tired to ask for help. His depression swallows itself until he is bloated and sluggishly sinking, sidetracked and empty of all concentration, creating a scene so minimal and unobstructed that you can stare directly into his void, for such a long time that you begin to drown yourself. And that is this album’s main failure. It is double the length it should be, far too weighty to endure in one sitting, and even if it is an admirable baby step of growth within its newfound microscopic detailing and personal insights, it could have been so much tighter. It could have been his best record. Instead, it is James Blake's worst. But I guess that’s what misery is, right? It’s not supposed to be an easy ride or a quick solution, but rather a burden only patience can eventually defeat, or it’ll defeat you. And, despite everything, it still keeps Blake firmly in the top three most exciting creative solo forces this decade has to offer, owed to easily some of the best songs he’s ever put to tape, right here.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 22. Deftones - Gore

22. Deftones - Gore

Alternative Rock Metal
April 8

The tragedy with Gore is that it marked the change I have been anticipating for years now, and yet I was disappointed with the results. I love what they tried to do above what they did, appreciating how they chose a brooding darkness over any obvious aggression or gloom this round, engaging like a more dependable Saturday Night Wrist with an all absorbing mood and hazy depth which, truth be told, consumes anything they’ve ever done before in that regard. But even as their most obvious side step exploration since White Pony, their tender intelligence and customary dramatic whooshes cannot disguise how plain and safe the whole light experiment comes across, wearing their age thin with less ideas, less grip, and far less punches than what we have come to require from the band. However, even with my glaring letdown considered, I cannot call this a mistake, not even close, as this band routinely remain relevant without repeating themselves, Gore functioning as yet another brick in one of the most consistent discographies in history, while they still persist in the most exciting league of music the world has to offer. I just fear for how much longer this will stand true (but I said that last time too).

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 21. Paul Jebanasam - Continuum

21. Paul Jebanasam - Continuum

February 5

Three songs. Ranging from 10 - 15 minutes each. Glitchy ambience. Crackling, whooshing, unsettling. Subtle. Nightmarish. Fuzzy unnerving connections on an emotional platform. Many levels running simultaneously. Sounds like a building. So intense without doing much at all. How can a sound be so sparse yet be so much to take in? Anticlimactic as an art. Feels like it’s about to do something but doesn’t follow through. Brain stops. Forget you’re listening to music. Is this even music? I’ve heard most of this album in toilet rolls before. What would people 100 years ago think of this? Would they flip out? Would they even hear it? It makes me ask questions. This should not be so unknown. The closing track is one of the best songs I’ve heard in my life.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 20. Denzel Curry - Imperial

20. Denzel Curry - Imperial

Southern Hip Hop Trap Rap
March 9

As someone who’s been following Denzel’s career since the artist was 18 (which was only three years ago, btw), I've always had an annoying soft spot for his style. The flow was fast and starving, and that’s what I crave, but sometimes the hooks were awkward and the beats seemed to be experimental only for the sake of it, leaving me a touch unfulfilled all in all. That said, I ain't never had no beef with Curry, and when Imperial began to cause some serious underground commotion, I was as excited as any to give it a spin. Excited, but not prepared. For what came out, was the most surprising 'newcomer' hip hop album of 2016. The aggressively speedy flows and ominous backings were still in tact, but the deadweight gimmicks were cut loose, taking a clear aim just as the streets became much darker. However, as impressive as this newfound focus was, the consistency of this record is fucking unheard of, unchallenged as one of the very few releases I’ve ever experienced where not a single song outshines another, the rarest of the rare, and finally proving that trap rap does have some value after all. Denzel, you have now earned my full attention for life, USE IT WISELY PLEASE.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 19. Beyoncé - Lemonade

19. Beyoncé - Lemonade

Contemporary R&B Pop
April 23

While the whole world has been idolising Lemonade as Queen B’s most remarkable achievement, I am not convinced that it holds the spotlight quite as impressively as her 2013 self titled masterpiece, and I have good reasons for this, and here they come. It’s that Lemonade sounds less concise and unified than the former, emulating and relying so desperately on her list of (unpredictable!) guest stars to get the job done. Don’t Hurt Yourself? That’s a Jack White song for sure! 6 Inch? The Weekend’s baby. And Forward?? That’s archetypal Blake, how can you even call that a Beyoncé piece?? But, of course, the audio is only half the attack, as this album's cathartic theme does deserve the acclaim alone: a disgruntled superstar seeking revenge on her husband’s infidelity, brutally airing his dirty betrayal with more fiery attitude and diverse passion than any of her records combined, fighting to get her strength and pride back by cutting her lover’s name up to shreds. But whether factual or a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine how Jay-Z puts up with something like this. Not so much because he has been openly slaughtered in front of literally everyone, but more because his wife has been releasing such immeasurably superior music to him for, like, ever now.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 18. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens

18. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens

Ambient House Art Pop
September 30

General consensus states that Sirens draws a shorter straw in comparison to Nicolas’ Space is Only Noise debut, but I’m not convinced. For (like anything he’s touched) this sophomore flows clearly without rigidness, an uncanny natural ability to produce sounds which work just for him, one smooth programmer with more than enough ideas to hit you whenever the impulse humours him, but reserved enough to know when these moments will be most effective, perfectly content to leave you hanging for any extended period of time, placidly building up the impending blow without hurry. Which is typical Jaar, sure, not a huge evolutionary step in his overall scheme, and perhaps the reason for some small sighs of disappointment. However, what Sirens lacks in progression, it makes up for with its introspection and awareness, a political statement which sides with the youth against the elderly who are voting the world into repetition, mocking their evident inability to learn from history, and some other stuff in Spanish. To compare the man’s unfailing genius is futile, but rather let’s commend this album for its resonance, as it definitely leaves a larger impression on me than anything he's done before, and rises the artist one notch higher in our decade’s greatest.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 17. 「サンセット Network❾❶」[Sunset Network 91]  - Strangers Once Lovers「メモリー」

17. 「サンセット Network❾❶」[Sunset Network 91] - Strangers Once Lovers「メモリー」

January 03

I consider Vaporwave to be the only true new unique genre to come out of the 2010s, casually recruiting an array of cult followers and perpetually threatening to flourish into a much more recognised artform any day now. However, for those who are (only a little) behind, allow me to educate you: Vaporwave is a loose art movement which steals everything from late-80s/early-90s retro culture, harvesting dated samples which are slowed and warped to create euphoric atmospheres, relying on the listener’s nostalgia to cunningly seduce them. But while I’ve followed this style curiously for the last few years, Strangers Once Lovers was the first album to properly gratify my interest. It places me in the seediest motel in all the world, complete with neon signs and paper thin walls. My neighbour has fallen asleep with his television on, to which my room reverberates from the soundtrack of some sleazy late night phonesex commercial, and while I feel like I’m eavesdropping, I can’t distance myself from the perverted reminder of how far away from home I am. And with 10 albums out in two years, Sunset Network 91 prove themselves as the most qualified to deliver such a such a shameful pleasure.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 16. Anderson .Paak - Malibu

16. Anderson .Paak - Malibu

Neo-Soul Alternative R&B
January 15

Looking back at Anderson’s intensely fast rise out of nowhere, it becomes blatantly clear that this is an artist who knows exactly what he is doing. Coming into higher consciousness through his prominent role on Dr. Dre’s 2015 Compton release (six song features), he had us all lined up exactly where he wanted, and before we could even ask “who is...?” he quickly followed with this sophomore sucker punch, Malibu. Shining with life and grooving with sleek, it’s difficult to think of an album more from the times, a summary so current yet educated that it comes across like some black music history lesson, blending soul and R&B with mellow hip hop flows taken straight from Kendrick’s Butterfly textbook. It's polished off with production so precise that active listening presents infinitely detailed rewards, yet passive listening still glides along as a carefree undisrupted ride—perhaps a bit lengthy, but benefiting all perseverance by delivering some of its best knocks towards the very end—an indication of true professional musicianship. Stomach these rarities along with the man’s countless guest slots from the last two years, and agree that if the ever-elusive crown actually existed, Paak would be 2016’s proud owner.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 15. Lemon Demon - Spirit Phone

15. Lemon Demon - Spirit Phone

Indietronica Synthpop
February 29

In more ways than one, Spirit Phone is a cheap shot. Like an adorable child who found the sugar tin, it is an overdose of 8-bit hyperactivity, tirelessly running circles around you, impossible to catch whilst geeking out beneath a foam of hilariously bizarre ideas and robotic campiness. It’s truly an insane performance, and one impossible to endure without some ache in the tummy (especially considering the 59 minutes endurance time, excluding the 13 bonus tracks) and yet this candy onslaught is entirely deliberate. It never once favours its perky quirkiness over careful songwriting, throwing relentlessly retro hooks and fabulously offbeat wit with every song on display, somehow reaching the eventual end with its head held up high and its Nintendoey enthusiasm sickeningly extreme throughout. Such a potent abundance of syrupy desserts should be consumed with utmost caution, but even the most occasional of casual dippings should prick the most peculiar underbelly of the tongue, left naked covered in rotten teeth yet still with the refreshing aftertaste of one of the most uniquely exciting records from the whole decade thus far.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 14. Vektor - Terminal Redux

14. Vektor - Terminal Redux

Technical Thrash Metal
May 6

Fusing progressive thrash chaos with black metal screams is one thing, but what Vektor have truly achieved with Terminal Redux is not an album, but an over-the-top science fiction joyride. Telling the story of a military general astronaut who rises to intergalactic political power due to a mineral that may grant immortality, that clever concept is even better narrated by the insane creativity of the music itself, which figuratively traps the listener in a spiky spacecraft smothered in flames (see artwork), hurtling forwards at breathtakingly high-speeds, all over the place, aware of the inherent danger, yet blasting the countless treacherous obstacles via guitar riffs as its main firepower, dodging these threatening objects with technical expertise and a mathematical accuracy, never settling, remaining fluid, maintaining the pace. And while its flight duration is so lengthy that it does lose a bit of petrol and dips ever so slightly during the mid section, it sustains a respectable amount of steadiness and even refuels to accelerate near the end, erratically passing so many of the most attention grabbing events of 2016, that when you eventually reach safety, you ache in exhaustion, utterly astonished, and eternally grateful to have survived. Again, daddy!

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 13. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

13. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

Electronic Art Pop
September 30

I think Justin Vernon is losing his mind. There is enough evidence of that theory from the song titles alone here. There are warning signs. I think he’s crying for help whilst ensuring we can’t quite hear him. But listen: it’s the sound of a crisis, a meltdown, so vulnerable yet too afraid to let anyone know. Confused, tweaking out, but too pretentious and embarrassed to outright say it. And so it hides. It hides beneath flawed noises, clipping and distorting like it’s from some perfectionist producer’s worst nightmare, fragments of ideas breaking apart as if the sad peacefulness of the previous album has been digitised by a buggy system. To synthesise the sorrow. To shy its injured soul beneath the wreckage so that no one can truly look at it for what it is. And by doing so, Bon Iver has once again created something truly magical. A record unlike anything in existence, a fractured glitchiness of disordered beauty that has a powerful impact so different from every other record I’ve ever heard, that I’m equally spellbound by its affectionate strangeness as I am concerned about Vernon’s mental health. Please talk to someone, friend. I want more albums from you.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 12. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas - Mariner

12. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas - Mariner

Atmospheric Post-Rock Sludge Metal
April 8

Whoever’s idea it was to put this collaborative effort together had some incredible foresight. They probably calculated that the masculinity of your standard Cult of Luna effort could benefit from a feminine injection, balancing out the typical machoness of the genre with an opposition that complements with conflictions. However, what I doubt anybody considered to be possible, was how much Julie Christmas would completely dominate this album. Her heavenly vocals coarse through the dramatic wall of sound only to rupture everything surrounding her with high pitched screams so wickedly violent that even her male counterparts would cower in their presence, conspiring with the heavy riffage with such a gripping force that I spend any periods without her contributions merely waiting for her to return once again. But while she is obviously my most treasured feature, it must be noted that she would never be elevated to such heights without the atmospheric marriage from Cult of Luna themselves (as her solo work is evidence of), and only together as a unit could they have birthed Mariner, an album so perfect it’s enough to make me vomit from bliss or even attack the people around me from bloodthirst. Anything could happen.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 11. Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

11. Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

Experimental UK Conscious Hip Hop
October 7

Let Them Eat Chaos is the upset soundtrack of the now. It forces you to look at the political state of the world, demands you pay attention, and then leaves you alone with your own thoughts, trapped beneath the state of everything, tormented by all the emotional disgust this bleak side of the world deserves. The spoken word poetics unify themes of meaningful tales, challenging your optimism, dragging you through the darkest alleyways of London’s most depressing of problems and dissatisfied of citizens, a visual trip that is about as conscious as you can get from a voice that feels almost too real to bear. Kate Tempest. My bet for the most aware, awake, and articulate talent in the music scene right now, picking away at my scalp, stepping into my brain, and inspiring me, motivating me, making me fucking angry. It’s her second album, it's her second brilliant album, it’s a level up from her debut, and it’s the most relevant record of the year.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 10. Sarah Neufeld - The Ridge

10. Sarah Neufeld - The Ridge

February 26

I first came to cherish Neufeld only a year ago, when she collaborated with my favourite modern saxophonist Colin Stetson, on a brilliantly intense album titled Never Were the Way She Was. Only after that offering did I learn that this lady was, in fact, a touring/studio musician for the indie-heroes Arcade Fire, and my respect escalated accordingly. Which is why when this solo album fell in front of my radar, I was nervously eager to see if her talent was strong enough to hold all of Sarah up by her lonesome. And it was. Obviously. Otherwise why would we be in the top 10 already? Her wordless vocals gently float over the minimal drumming provided by Arcade Fire’s own Jeremy Gara, but these elements naturally take a backseat, careful not to distract from the main focal point, allowing her gorgeously proficient violin skills to do the talking whilst donning a classical attire without losing their artsy flair. The repetitive melodies dazzle with a delivery as sharp as they are daintily feminine, and each listen excites me more than the last, clearing a sheer gem of a release which I evidently adore much higher than most of the critics out there. My opinion is correct, of course.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 09. Agnes Obel - Citizen of Glass

09. Agnes Obel - Citizen of Glass

Chamber Pop
October 21

Like the caress of Mazzy Star set to a more down-to-earth interpretation of Joanna Newsom’s instrumental pluckings, Citizen of Glass sounds like a sedated gift from the heavens. Using a low-key stringy focus to deliver its magic, there is something so authentic to what Agnes Obel is doing here, each and every song treated with the same mature attention as if a personified group of children, lifted by maternal arms, held with care, hushed by affection, but never hidden from the sad weight of our entangled world. And that’s what makes this downtempo record feel more real than so many other artists who try to capture the foundations of beauty and/or misery in some audio output, because this is never one way or the other, but forever a mixture of the two, finding the love in the rain, appreciating time alone, recognising the human in the heartbreak. If you found yourself at rock bottom in 2016, this could very well be the therapy you are looking for; the voice that encourages you to cry, but also shows you that there is always a ladder, whenever you’re ready.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 08. Roly Porter - Third Law

08. Roly Porter - Third Law

Dark Ambient Post-Industrial
January 22

It’s difficult to summarise this record without stumbling into clichés or repeating what others have already said, but what it comes down to is that Third Law is fucking terrifying. With some encouragement from the impeccably apt artwork, one can’t help get visions of a lonely being, lost in the superdarkness of space, suffocating in the intense density of nothing, not only acutely aware that everything is about to die, but that even this is all part of something greater, a full story never disclosed, the true mystery never solved, the absence of which makes the asphyxiation that much scarier. How it achieves said fear with audio alone, I will never know, but it may be encouraged by the abstract noises which drone out in no particular order, decorated by minute details expertly manoeuvring the pacing, then colliding us face-first into colossal disaster-vibrations from worlds falling apart, dominating the whole Universe with such a bold presence that my skin erupts into freezing cold goosebumps for 52 minutes straight. Make no mistake, this is an experience above an album, genuinely one of the most hair-raising I’ve ever heard, and a conclusive peak for a genre which has already had one very impressive decade.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 07. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

07. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

Chamber Folk
October 21

From an 82 year old man who had recently famously stated 'I am ready to die,' Leonard Cohen has had one hell of a musical decade, with three critically revered records, each hypothesised as the legend’s last. But no other of these releases could have deservedly carried that title quite like the eerily suitably titled You Want It Darker, as it is sooooo much darker, aware of its terminal mortality, addressing the circumstances directly, intimately exposing its physical crumbling with a signature dismal humour, and gifting us with one of the best albums of his six decade career in style, three weeks before his final breath. Swansong comparisons to you-know-who be damned, for while his similar method will always be overshadowed by you-know-what, it’s a very difficult and different farewell which holds strong all by itself. It’s not cryptic, arty, or clever. It’s not a statement. It’s just an old man having his final say. It’s just fucking sad.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 06. Tanya Tagaq - Retribution

06. Tanya Tagaq - Retribution

Experimental Inuit Vocal Games Rock
October 21

Like Björk meeting Yoko Ono on a mescaline binge, this vocally-possessed traditional Native American release transcends way out of our world. It’s as if you’ve taken the wrong handful of mushrooms far past your bedtime, miles from civilisation, lost in the spaciousness of nature, then stuck in the middle of some tribal voodoo ritual, left with no choice but to hang on as the scary spirits dance from the fire and consume you, longing for nothing but to transform you into a wild animal. And Tanya bravely leads the ceremony, educating you about the politics of her culture or her concerns about climate change without needing to say a word, the epitome of using the voice as an instrument, before suddenly hitting the midpoint where you find... a rap song? But of course! She wouldn’t want you to fully lose it now, would she? Instead, she brings back your focus into a more contemporary mindset, executed perfectly without sounding out of place, before wafting on into another run of insane ancestral chokes and chants. And finally, when everything concludes with potentially the greatest Nirvana cover I’ve ever heard... I don't relate to anything anymore. I don't relate to myself.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 05. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

05. A Tribe Called Quest - "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service"

Conscious East Coast Jazz Rap
November 11

On paper, the circumstances surrounding “We Got It From Here...” should have set up nothing but disaster. For starters, it was the legendary outfit’s first album since 1998, which could have been misconstrued as a typical reunion cash-in for all the wrong reasons, but even above this trouble was the tragic passing of founding member Phife Dawg several months previous, may he rest in peace, total bleak out. However, the planets had different plans, and aligned in such a way that none of these damning factors dominated the vibe, and instead resulted in Tribe doing what Tribe do without even trying to be what Tribe are. The urban playfulness with silly samples, abrupt changes, and natural chemistry between the members and the old school/new school guest slots was not some stab at modernising shit, but rather a logical step in their career as if they never broke up, and in that way, is completely timeless and unfathomably brilliant. It’s a bit messy and unpolished and flawed, which is what makes its charm that much more perfect, and could even be the best thing they’ve ever done. Undoubtedly in my mind, the hip hop album of the year like it ain't no thing, and in one word: yes.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 04. Frank Ocean - Blonde

04. Frank Ocean - Blonde

Alternative R&B Neo-Soul
August 20

The undisputed #1 hyped album of 2016. The endless wait. The unexplained delays. The pressure of having everything to prove, now tripping up on promises and only further feeding the anticipation machine. But instead of succumbing to his own buildup, Frank pushed us all away with both arms, and breathed. In an abstract daydream, he let himself get lost, surrounded by clutter, piles and piles of mournful textures, but with ample room between them, as he takes your hand and leads you around them, with each listen helping you find new corners you hadn’t noticed before, until you break down into emotionless tears of druggy detachment. Here is a certain fancy type of sadness. A luxurious vulnerability. A boring space of emptiness ached into life. Sensual voices unnecessarily pitch shifted to challenge you. Pointless skits set to distract your loose focus. So many guest credits that you can’t even find all of them (I found Andre 3000 though, Jesus Christ). And production which played God, by making everything, out of nothing. Channel Orange? It may have boasted the more stand out songs, but as a full body of work, Blonde is far superior. Frank Ocean. He actually did it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 03. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

03. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

Art Rock
September 9

On the 14th July 2015, Nick Cave's 15-year-old son Arthur reportedly took acid for the first time, and in a disorientated stumble, accidentally plummeted to his death from a cliff in Brighton. Skeleton Tree is Cave’s first artistic statement since this loss, and understandably, is haunted by the tragedy, sick and traumatised from the painful devastation, and left raw from the grief. And right in the center of this emotional muddle, we find a Cave we have never met before, once a man who openly discussed death and mortality at great lengths for a four-decade career, now suddenly inside of it for the very first time. His poetic mumblings disconnect from everything, working independently from the droning downtempo music and never directly addressing his difficulties, but unable to escape his broken spirit, introverting as honestly as he knows how in hopes of finding some way to deal with this brand new feeling. Which is a mood I’ve never felt; an emotional stage so drenched that it has never been so accurately touched before, reminding us of what’s truly important. Forget music, this is important. For Nick more than anyone else. Arthur’s soul lives in this record now, you can hear it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 02. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

02. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Chamber Art Pop Rock
May 8

I used to be a terminal Radiohead junkie. They were my needle and my oxygen tank, but when the nice-enough-ish King of Limbs glitched onto the scene in 2011, I figured it was time to jump that dipping boat. And I was ok with that. It happens to everyone, right? We all get old and then we can't hack it anymore, is that it? Evidently, no, it's not. It doesn't happen to Radiohead. Exhibit A: A Moon Shaped Pool, not a new sound, but a graceful summary record where solid songs were the priority, each one armed with something special, wallowing in the melodic gloom and apprehensive loneliness only this band know how to deliver with such artistic dignity, finally secure with their age, comfortable in their exposed contemplation, and proving themselves to be the greatest when they don’t try to be anything at all, rather just letting Radiohead be Radiohead. And the world kneeled in instant enlightenment. They could have not made a better record. I’m not sure they have ever made a better record, which should be an impossible accomplishment for the highest regarded band of the last three decades, but here we are. So, once again, for the millionth time, please pay your respects to hands down the most important music group in the world.

The Top 50 Albums of 2016: 01. David Bowie - Blackstar

01. David Bowie - Blackstar

Art Rock
January 8

Imagine deathbedridden Bowie reading the reviews to what only he knew would be his final release. Critics tumbled in its presence, calling it the most inventive of his catalogue, an unthinkable feat for a man who had built a career out of reinvention. The world praised how calm he sounded between the jazzy clutter and unified avant-garde difficulty, dramatically luring the listener into intimacy whilst breaking away from all pop/rock boundaries. He was acting his age, and indulging in his own creepy tastes, which was always what he was best at anyway. I imagine all of these things, followed by his knowing smirk, Bowie whispering inaudibly ‘now watch this’ then dying two days later. And then Blackstar abruptly changed. Oh my God, this was not an album. This was a deliberate message, cryptically informing us of his imminent departure, as he plummeted into space once and for all. Which is why this is not only the greatest release of the year to the point that it would be disrespectful to consider any other, but is also the most important piece of work ever made. The deepest album in history. The perfectly executed full-stop to arguably the most impressive career of all time, aggravating the crater he left behind in all our spirits until we cried in unison for the biggest loss the artworld will ever have the displeasure of witnessing. And no record hurts on the same level.


Now wasn’t that the most predictable end you could have ever possibly imagined?

So I usually end these yearly blogs with a summary which hopefully points out where this year will have sex with the greater scheme of the whole decade, but I would first like to address something which placed 2016 so fucking high up in my heart, above any of those that have come before, and that includes the 60s and 70s. I like (or hate?) to call it ‘The Holy Album Death Trinity’, and it is exactly what you’d expect from that name. Between Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and David Bowie’s albums this year, I have never felt what I have in 2016. Each of them made me cry on more than one occasion, and showed me a side of music that I’d never really contemplated before, and without exaggeration, everything completely changed for me. This rings louder for Bowie and Cohen, as their albums were essentially about their deaths, and what these alone did to me, in the shortest of summaries possible, was made me rethink dedication to art, and even my own approaching mortality, as I am now currently making sneaky plans of how I want my legacy to go. The bar has been raised, gentlemen, and I doubt it will ever be the same again.

Of course, I wanted to mention Prince here, but he didn’t release anything this year (or even anything worthwhile this decade), did he? Sorry. I also considered including Phife, but I didn’t cry in Tribe’s album, because it was too much fun.

Ok, enough of that, and onto the regular genre by genre analysis:

Is there any need to even mention metal anymore? This year was the same as every year, and loads of insane related albums violated our earducts, many of which this list shows (Chthe'ilist, The Body, Wormrot, Oathbreaker, Gojira, Slice the Cake, Deftones, Vektor, Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, etc) and many of which this list doesn’t show (Bloodiest, Obscura, Oranssi Pazuzu, Cobalt, Wormed, Moonsorrow, Astronoid, Be'lakor, Periphery, Alcest, Insomnium, Meshuggah, etcccc), but all of which did their job. As per usual, nothing really groundbreaking happened in particular, but just by being here these albums helped build upon the already solid case that this form music will stand sturdy when the decade is said and done (currently including previous highlights from Cattle Decapitation, Mgła, Deafheaven, Behemoth, Altar of Plagues, Mastodon, Septic Flesh, etc). Which is kind of like it always is, isn't it? Hell, even Metallica released a good album this year! Although, that said, I am specifically partial to how blackgaze is really hanging on, I feel like that’s one side of this noise which could truly prove to be the most unique to the heavy decade, and I am 100% all for it.

Sort of on topic: guitars in general will never die. Rock indie arty folky neo-psychedelia shit are all still ok. So are those posty experimental noisy things the kids love, it’s been alright. Post-hardcore though? Not so much this year as far as I could tell, which sucks because the years before have been littered with them, but anyway, I can’t help you. It is also worth mentioning that while the aforementioned styles still have their place in the books, nothing genuinely innovative has come from this decade anyway in that regard, and it’s probably too late now.

Another genre that doesn’t need any more adoration than it already has (but here is some anyway), is hip hop, as the rappers have had more than their fair share of the limelight this year too (Aesop Rock, Danny Brown, Death Grips, Denzel Curry, Kate Tempest, and A Tribe Called Quest on this list alone). Maybe not as groundbreaking as last year, but more than enough quantity, and as a decade? iiinsane. Think: Kanye, Run the Jewels, A$AP, Lupe, Joey, and of course, Kendrick, who all by himself has completely changed absolutely everything single-handedly as the highlight of the decade for me thus far, his more soul jazzy influence seen throughout this year (Anderson Paak standing as the one who did it best), proving that everyone is still picking up the shattered pieces of their skull that To Pimp a Butterfly left behind. You even hear it in a lot of R&B these days.

OH MY FUCK, SPEAKING OF R&B! If you’ve read any of my end-year conclusions, you’ll be bored by now of my talk about how R&B was the most interesting genre of the decade thanks to Janelle Monáe, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Beyoncé blah blah, but how in 2013 it kinda just fell over and scattered blah blah, a bit lost and unstable blaaah. However, goddamn, talk about comebacks! 2016 rivalled the best of them! Perhaps even the greatest year of R&B this decade?? I mean, it’s not fair to hypothesise that this genre revolves around Beyoncé herself (no matter what most publications this year will tell you), but even if there is some merit there, we must also bow down to King, Blood Orange, Jamila Woods, Nao, and Dawn Richard for what they achieved this year. Even The Weeknd did alright! But then when we say words like ‘Solange’ or ‘Frank Ocean’, the whole thing just explodes and once again reaffirms its position as, yes, the most interesting genre of the whole decade still, unchallenged, cheers.

To be fair, everyone kinda did their part though. Country music improved from its dismal attempt last year, and it even made the list thanks to Brandy Clark, but Miranda Lambert’s bloated mess was real nice, and Drive-By Truckers also got super close. Electronic music’s more ambient side took control from previous years’ IDM, with the likes of Roly Porter, Wacław Zimpel, Tim Hecker, Ian William Craig, Nicolas Jaar, and Eluvium, but there were loads of other cool electro programmable things collecting in smaller numbers elsewhere (including IDM, for sure, Ital Tek nailed it this year) if you knew where to look. As previously mentioned, there was a lot of strong soul descendants in 2016, but when Michael Kiwanuka and St. Paul & The Broken Bones stuck to the core script, they did it best. Pop (and its art derivatives) runs wonderfully as always, and vaporwave is the new shit. I guess only post punk truly withered so painfully obviously this year, but only when comparing it to the last few lists where it was pretty much the ‘rock’ dominator, but oh well. Not the first time in history this has happened.

I couldn’t end this without mentioning grime. I’m not shy to admit that I was never a big fan, but the genre has had a huge year, especially with Kano releasing one of the better records I’ve heard in the style, and Skepta winning the Mercury Prize bleeeerrrgghdfh.

Finally, I do want to briefly touch on the overall theme of black empowerment and releated politics in music this year. So many quality albums tackled this issue head on, and I guess in this Trump Brexit nervousness we all currently live in, it makes sense why this has become so loud. I’m all for it, the inspiration seems unstoppable, which is why I predict a lot more of it next year.

OK THAT'S ENOUGH. Hopefully all this rubbish properly illustrates to you as to why I consider 2016 to be the best year of the decade so far musically. We haven’t got that long to go before we reach the end of the whole thing, so hopefully when we meet again in 2017, I’ll be brave enough to start stating what this decade was truly all about, because I am the man who you need to speak to. But until then, sleep tight little one. Now that this is done, I might actually get some sleep myself.

Have 55 More...

51. St. Paul & The Broken Bones - Sea of Noise
52. Wye Oak - Tween
53. case / lang / veirs - case / lang / veirs
54. Wardruna - Runaljod – Ragnarok
55. Miranda Lambert - The Weight of These Wings
56. Astronoid - Air
57. Róisín Murphy - Take Her Up to Monto
58. Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason
59. Dawn Richard - Redemption
60. Ital Tek - Hollowed
61. Mannequin Pussy - Romantic
62. Paul Simon - Stranger to Stranger
63. Nao - For All We Know
64. TOY - Clear Shot
65. Slothrust - Everyone Else
66. Tim Hecker - Love Streams
67. Andy Stott - Too Many Voices
68. Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat
69. Phantogram - Three
70. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
71. Swans - The Glowing Man
72. PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
73. Honeyblood - Babes Never Die
74. Drive-By Truckers - American Band
75. Periphery - Periphery III: Select Difficulty
76. Swet Shop Boys - Cashmere
77. Lambchop - FLOTUS
78. Thank You Scientist - Stranger Heads Prevail
79. Afro Celt Sound System - The Source
80. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
81. Moonsorrow - Jumalten aika
82. AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend
83. Bloodiest - Bloodiest
84. Guerilla Toss - Eraser Stargazer
85. Eluvium - False Readings On
86. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Ears
87. Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room
88. Elysia Crampton - Demon City
89. Ian William Craig - Centres
90. 65daysofstatic - No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe
91. Be'lakor - Vessels
92. The Jezabels - Synthia
93. Jeff Rosenstock - Worry
94. Wacław Zimpel - Lines
95. D.D Dumbo - Utopia Defeated
96. Alcest - Kodama
97. Obscura - Akróasis
98. Insomnium - Winter's Gate
99. Colin Stetson - Sorrow
100. Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä
102. Poliça - United Crushers
103. Cobalt - Slow Forever
104. Wormed - Krighsu
105. Céu - Tropix

Hall of Fame (2010 - 2016)

And finally I'm sure, here is a little list which is calculated by adding the positions of reoccurring artists and their albums from all of my Top 50 articles (only factoring their top two positions if they appeared more than twice), and then dividing that amount by two. These are the greatest 20 artists of the decade thus far, according to that forumula:

01. Kendrick Lamar (2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city #01; 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly #01)
02. Frank Ocean (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra #27 [not counted]; 2012’s Channel Orange #03; 2016’s Blonde #04)
03. James Blake (2011’s James Blake #01; 2013’s Overgrown #09; 2016’s The Colour in Anything #23 [not counted])
04. Sufjan Stevens (2010's The Age of Adz #07; 2015's Carrie & Lowell #05)
05. Grimes (2012's Visions #02; 2015's Art Angels #14)
06. Joanna Newsom (2010's Have One on Me #15; 2015's Divers #03)
07. The Caretaker (2011’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World #04; 2012’s Patience (after Sebald) #15)
08. Kanye West (2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy #25 [not counted]; 2011’s Watch The Throne (with Jay-Z) #19; 2013’s Yeezus #01)
09. Beyoncé (2013’s Beyoncé #01; 2016’s Lemonade #19)
10. Bon Iver (2011's Bon Iver, Bon Iver #7; 2016's 22, A Million #13)
11. Björk (2011's Biophilia #18; 2015's Vulnicura #2)
12. La Dispute (2011's Wildlife #09; 2014's Rooms of the House #12)
13. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2010’s Grinderman 2 #22 [as part of Grinderman]; 2013’s Push the Sky Away #28 [not counted]; 2016’s Skeleton Tree #3)
14. Deftones (2010’s Diamond Eyes #10; 2012’s Koi No Yokan #16; 2016’s Gore #22 [not counted])
15. St. Vincent (2011’s Strange Mercy #10; 2012’s Love This Giant (with David Byrne) #27 [not counted]; 2014's St. Vincent #17)
16. Run the Jewels (2013's Run the Jewels #18; 2014's Run the Jewels 2 #10)
17. Death Grips (2012’s The Money Store #6; 2015’s Fashion Week #23; 2016’s Bottomless Pit #30 [not counted])
18. Sia (2010's We Are Born #17; 2014's 1000 Forms of Fear #13)
19. The National (2010’s High Violet #06; 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me #25)
20. David Bowie (2013’s The Next Day #31; 2016’s Blackstar #1)

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