Woah! This year I bought 86 albums… so, I’ve had to delete 46 albums I liked enough to buy just to get to the list below. There are NO losers on this list, every one deserves your ears and money!
(Once again, thanks to Robin Newman for spotifying this list)
40. Beacon – Escapements
Floaty, dreamy electronica, verging into synthpop.
39. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Exquisitely languorous beats, sweet, sweet samples. A rare delicacy.
38. Napoleon – Newborn Mind
Yeah, I’m NOT gonna go with the band’s genre and call this “melodiposipassiongroove” but what I will say is that it’s riff-heavy, shouty greatness.
37. Greys – Outer Heaven
Very ’90s yank indie rock, like an angry baby Pavement. I like it!
36. Eefje de Visser – Nachtlicht
Umm, I love this album but since I don’t speak Dutch, I don’t know what Eefje is singing about. Could be “KILL ALL FAT BROWN MEN!” but even if it is, damn, it’s catchy!
35. Blittz, Big Tobz – Case Closed
Another big year for grime and this album keeps up the UK’s stellar standard. Standout track, ‘Nobody,’ transcends genre cliches to deliver a genuinely unsettling, fucked-up love song.
34. Tycho – Epoch
Tycho’s strength has always been the blending of guitar and electronics. That’s in full force here: ‘Local’ just fucking soars…
33. STRFKR – Being No One, Going Nowhere
I dunno if all the desert odyssey back story to this is genuine. What I do know is that this is fundamentally a journey album. It’s a road trip, take it.
32. Ulrich Schnauss – No Further Ahead Than Today
I mean, what can I fucking say? The mastery of synthesis and production… of time and space is, as ever, astounding. ‘Thoughtless Motion’ is Satie with a sequencer.
31. Field Music – Commontime
Any major dude will tell you this is a great pop album. Even if it is a bit stealy, man. I hope they can do it again.
30. Russian Circles – Guidance
Wherein Russian Circles approach such epic, dark heaviness that they start bending light. Occasional breathers like ‘Overboard’ are more than countered by battering rams like ‘Vorel.’
29. Loscil – Monument Buliders
This is a fucking heartbreak of an album. Desolate synths, wailing to the skies, insect legs beating out doomed sequences in military cadences.
28. D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
I put this on in my car and asked passengers to guess when it was from. 1983 – 1987 was the result. Yep. But, DAMN, if you love an amalgam of prime Thomas Dolby, The Blue Nile and Sting, you’re gonna love this.
27. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
In the litany of the lost musicians of 2016, Phife Dawg often gets omitted. The added tragedy is that this album, recorded before his death, is the best fucking album Tribe have done in YEARS.
Political, personal, it is astonishing to see elder statesmen of hip hop not resting but attacking. This is ferocious, righteous and essential.
26. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
Probably the only thing that qualifies as indiepop on my list this year and it’s because, unlike its genre peers, it deals with reality in its lyrics. Whether it’s musing or outright confrontation, this is very welcome.
25. Frisco – System Killer
Solid slice of tracks, loads of guest spots from people you may have heard of (Skepta? Wiley?) lol. I defy you not to dance to this.
BOY BETTTTTTTER KNOWWWWWW
24. The Operators – Blue Wave
I mean, yes, of course this is ’80s. But look beyond that, see the songs and hear the lights and you’ve got a catchy pop album. And, yes, I did notice a cheeky Operators’ track at the end of a ‘Halt And Catch Fire’ ep, you lil minxes…
23. Knocked Loose – Laugh Tracks
Wonderfully heavy, ridiculous tempo changes and breakdowns, lovely shouting. Oh, and PROPER GUITAR RIFFS that make you want to learn guitar and be a rock god. This is one refreshing heavy album.
22. Lone – Levitate
Do you remember dance music that was electronic, that you could dance to? No, not EDM or some other shitty, invented-by-rock-critics genre. HAPPY HARDCORE. JUNGLE. DRUMNBASS. If you want to have a proper rave in your front room, get this album.
21. Masta Ace – The Falling Season
Well, how am I *not* going to have Masta Ace in my best of? It would be impossible. Take just ONE FUCKING TRACK off this album, take ‘Young Black Intelligent.’ From the Souls sample to the tribute Tribe cadences, this one track does more than a thousand boasting albums from modern trap lords. Never mind Torae guesting, or AG or Chuck fucking D… *sigh*
20. Oscar – Cut And Paste
Take the ramshackle lo-fi charm of early Say Hi To Your Mom and couple that with some of the intimate drama of Baths and you have maybe 6/10ths of Oscar. The rest is Oscar Scheller’s gorgeous Newley-esque grumblings and flirting. Obviously, he’s gonna be famous, like proper famous, one day.
19. Skepta – Konnichiwa
….speaking of which, this album is RIDICULOUS. You skip from track to track and every track has killed the club you’ve been in when it’s come on, every track has got people bobbing and singing along.
The sheer power of Skepta, his ability to earworm you to infinity is humongous. This is an album that listens like a best of. And it is!
18. Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered
Blown-out, magnificent nu-gaze with more than a dollop of neo-psych. But unlike a lot of nu-gaze, there’s also a touch of childhood madness here. There’s an edge of something wild and giggly that you wouldn’t want to give anything pointy too.
I like that menace. More please.
17. Quilt – Plaza
…Speaking of times that never really existed, this album rocks into view and instantly evokes every ’60s cliche every non-American, non-Boomer has about those phantasmetaphorical times.
The vocal harmonies echo the best of Head-era Monkees, you know, when they went really fucking mad.
I LOVE that this is an upbeat, poppy album. It could so easily have been ambient psych bobbins, pedal-hoarder pestilence.
I mean, ‘Searching For’ has the same golden sorrow of ‘Door Into Summer.’
Do you know how rarely that lightning strikes? I cannot give higher praise.
16. Bam Spacey – Eden
Again, my Swedish is non-existent so this lot could be singing about stomping babies or punching puppies. I really hope they’re not as this is one of the catchiest synthpop albums I’ve heard in years. It’s beauty lies in its willingness to leave space, space for countermelodies, space for monophonic density to build and also space for space. Well fucking done.
15. Teleman – Brilliant Sanity
I didn’t even know Pete & The Pirates had morphed into this band! As soon as I heard the vocals, though, I was like “WHAT?” and hit that there ole google. And, yep, they’re back but with a leaner, cleaner sound. There’s still the same humour and sadness, as witnessed in opener ‘Dusseldorf,’ which is a glass of water in a desert of TV adverts consisting of infantile acoustic cover versions.
This is woody, gnarly indie in a style only British bands can pull off: simultaneously laconic and passionate. Did I mention that it’s also very, very, very catchy?
14. Paul Haslinger – Halt And Catch Fire
The soundtrack to the BEST TV SHOW OF 2016 that you didn’t watch, you absolute shitters.
Yes, I loved ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Westworld’ but ‘Halt And Catch Fire’ was in a totally higher electron shell.
Paul Haslinger’s soundtrack fits the show perfectly but it’s also a great solo listen. The fact that the pieces were written for radically different feels enhances the scope of the album without it being disjointed.
13. ZAO – The Well-Intentioned Virus
If you’ve been reading this blog for THIRTEEN BLOODY YEARS then you may have spotted Zao in my playlists.
So, I was a little worried when I heard about the new album. No original members – what would it sound like?
WHAT IF THEY’D GONE JAZZ?
Thankfully, ZAO are still about making a fucking racket. It’s impressive that a band with this history, this age can give the young pups a run for their money when it comes to chunky, grunty riffs.
12. TRIM – 1-800 DINOSAUR Presents TRIM
It’s a weird collision; Trim and James Blake. I’m a fan of the former and definitely not a fan of the latter soooo… trepidation set in. That this is at number 12 shows that Trim succeeds despite some occasionally very unsympathetic production.
We all know Trim can do grime in his sleep. His talent is *supernatural.* It’s where he stretches and breathes, where he takes risks that I love him on this record.
I can tell you this: fuck knows what he’ll be doing in five years but it won’t be grime. This is an artist that doesn’t give a fuck in the best possible way.
11. Vektor – Terminal Redux
LOOK AT THAT COVER (PART ONE)! Look at it! It’s a burning spaceship! IT’S A SPACESHIP! ON FIRE!
Then ‘LCD’ (LIQUID CRYSTAL DISEASE!) comes on and frantic 8-bit guitar riffs give way to a heavenly thrash odyssey.
IT IS BEAUTIFUL, MAN!
I love metal like this, I love its unashamed revelry in the geekiness that’s most epitomised by lonely 13yo boys doodling tie fighters on their exercise books. I love its speed, its energy and the way it’s *exactly* like running downhill full pelt at a brick wall.
10. Wild Nothing – Life Of Pause
“You can’t be sad for everyone,” croons Jack Tatum on the third Wild Nothing album. But he’s going to give it a good old college try, bless him.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews of this record that glaringly miss the point, saying that it’s trying to be soul or 1970s or whatnot. That’s all bullshit. What this record is, is ’80s DREAMPOP. If you ever sang along with Prefab Sprout, you will be entirely comfortable with this album.
Similarly, when it does get funky, it doesn’t sound like Chic, it sounds like Japan.
So, in 2016, we have, like the D.D Dumbo album, another great ’80s album. That’s good enough. But then you have a wonderful track like ‘Japanese Alice’ and you become excited at the possibilities of this songwriter. If he can chuck out this singalong loveliness, redolent of prime Bill Pritchard or even The Monochrome Set, where’s he gonna go for the next album?
9. Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus
I hesitate to comment on this as I know fuck-all about contemporary jazz.
What I do know is that keyboardist Kamaal Williams and drummer Yussef Dayes have created a seductive, groove-based record that has enough repetition to draw me in and enough variation to count as jazz. So much so that I want opener ‘Black Focus’ to last at least three minutes longer than its 4.34.
Philistine that I (probably) am, I love this record because a lot of it sounds like acoustic drumnbass, hip hop or breaks to me. And that is strange because I fucking hate it when people play electronic music on acoustic instruments (see every session band ever of bored musos).
The other thing this album is… it’s the best soundtrack to a film that’s never been made that I’ve ever heard. I swear, parts of it capture the muscular deftness of Roy Budd or Lalo Schifrin at their peak. It is superbly evocative, atmospheric music.
8. Moderat – III
I actually got the chance to DJ this out and I went with track two, ‘Running.’ It starts with a staccato choir stab interleaved with floaty vocals and a bassless kick. When the bass does kick in, the whole track rears into clay life, like when you watch a tower block being demolished in reverse. As I was playing it, four people came to ask me what it was. If that’s not pop music, what is?
This album is all about images and micro-moments like that being stretched and pulled as surely as individual phonemes are. We’re listening at multiple tempos, polyrhythms overlapping in 5s and 3s till the inevitable 4/4 heart kicks back into life.
It’s a view of a sunny afternoon through your window as you work. You can see the golden sunshine, it’s orangey red. But when you get outside, it’s gone and you’re in the cold blue.
7. Beneficence – Basement Chemistry
When I say this is a solid hip hop album, I mean it is a unified, cohesive work of art with an aesthetic gamut which does not limit, it expands.
I mean that it’s nineteen tracks, the overwhelming majority of which will get your head nodding in the first thirty seconds, unless you’re fucking dead. The beats are undeniable, the lyrics are existential, the logic is irrefutable.
There are guests; hello Masta Ace, hello Inspectah Deck, hello Chubb fucking Rock. Just hearing those voices freaks me out. That’s solid.
But don’t ever mistake that solidity for clumping, hobbled weight. This album just flies, every production touch dovetailing minutely to bolster the lyrics and vice versa. Just beautiful.
6. Mystery Jets – Curve Of The Earth
If you take a look here, you’ll see some Mystery Jets pics I took when I went to see them ELEVEN FUCKING YEARS AGO.
Jesus, when did everyone get old? ZAO, Mystery Jets, me…
This is my fave MJ album. So far. I loved the others, of course, whether its the Duran pop of ‘Twenty One’ or the reflective moments of ‘Radlands.’ But ‘Curve Of The Earth’ takes all of Mystery Jets so far and distills something that’s the perfect MJ album: it is indie, it is funky, it’s dubby, it’s psych… but, ultimately, it’s a great pop record.
Lyrically, it hit me fucking hard. I had to stop listening a couple of times because it reminded me too much of my Dad’s death in April. ‘Bubblegum’ killed me:
I’m always on the outside looking in
It’s where I’ve always been
But the edge is where all the sparks fly
When the wheel spins
Deep down I know I should leave the past behind
Maybe in time
If only I could learn to let go of the hand that first held mine
In every way I can think of, this is Mystery Jets at their best. Restless, inventive, daring and yet always returning to the emotional power of a superb hook. Without that hook, we drift and become uninterested. Mystery Jets are experts at balancing unfamiliar with familiar, freak-out with hook.
Beautifully written, performed and produced – what else do you want?
5. TEEN – Love Yes
So, when I wanted to be happy this year, when I wanted to sing and dance and leap around a bit, I put this album on.
Because it’s the massed girl vocals, it’s the beats, it’s those basslines that make me just want to invent incredible dance routines. Except I haven’t got the hips to do them cos I’m a boy, bah.
This is the most cheering, upbeat record of 2016. I used it like a drug when I was in very bad places. This record took me by the hand, gave me a hug and then took me dancing. TEEN get what Devo got, they know how to make synths and guitars jig into place like bits of an an engine. A lot of groups try to do that and fail, quite horribly. TEEN make it sound effortless. They have that RIFF POWER.
I really hope this album breaks them to a huge, huge pop audience. They deserve it. They deserve to be all over adverts and films. This album is the happy that indiepop mostly fakes. To be able to drink in the real thing is gorgeous.
4. Basement – Promise Everything
I knew this would be in my top albums from the very first time I heard it, months ago. It’s a strange record in that parts of it are the poppiest and most accessible Basement have ever been but it’s also more un-compromising and potentially more alienating to the casual rock listener.
They’ve opened up clear water between themselves and generic pop punk. This is obvious sonically, where the record echoes grunge and even late Dinosaur Jr. but far more lyrically. There are some top pop punk bands who have never and will never write a decent lyric; every song is the same dodgy shite about how mean girls are. It’s not bad to write about loss but, for fuck’s sake, don’t use someone else’s template.
Basement make their own way. In ‘Hanging Around,’ they capture that frustrating fucking time we all have where we hate someone but love them but want to keep the fuck away from them but want to be with them. It’s the aching duality they express so well, so horribly.
The best track is ‘Promise Everything’ which is 2.37 of total fucking agonybliss. You can’t listen to it quietly. When it comes on in a club, it’s destroying to dance to. It’s an angry scab of a song, something you return to not because it feels any better but because you have to, you can’t leave it alone. It’s a fuck you, a declamatory howl of existence:
Win me with a smile,
burn me with your eyes.
Living just to please.
Turn and make me leave.
When I’m high, I’m high.
When I’m low, I’m low.
Hot or cold, it’s going to show.
until tomorrow comes again.
I won’t ask for love,
I know it’s there just covered up.
When I’m high, I’m high.
When I’m low, I’m low.
Hot or cold, it’s going to show.
Feeling like a child.
Tremble in the night.
I love you but you try,
to kill me every time.
Turn around and end as you begin.
Yes. Fuck, yes.
3. Kvelertak – Nattesferd
LOOK AT THAT COVER (PART TWO)! Look at it! It’s a gnarly viking god troll rock monster thingy! WITH A FUCKING OWL! ON SOME MOUNTAINS!
I grew up with metal. When I was a kid, metal was really in the process of being invented. We went from heavy rock and then distilled it from here. Some of that early heavy rock was Rainbow, some was Judas Priest, some was Maiden.
I believe that Kvelertak are familiar with all those bands.
Moreover, I believe that Kvelertak have been transported to our time from 1980. And that their manifesto is to remind us when METAL WAS FUCKING FUN and made you GRIN and made you PUMP YOUR FUCKING FIST IN THE AIR and WEAR DOUBLE DENIM PROUDLY.
Dude, this album is everything that is redemptive, that is cathartic, that is communal about heavy rock. First, it’s the opener of ‘Dendrofil For Yggdrasil,’ with it’s beautiful Yes-like coda.
And then we have ‘1985.’ 21 seconds in and THAT guitar run makes me just SMILE and and bob my head and, truthfully, cry. I did, the first time I heard it, I cried. I felt this track reach out and punch its way through the cloud of emo Dementors surrounding me, I felt this track grasp me by the hand and say, ‘BRO, IT’LL BE OKAY! NO WORRIES!’ The bastard progeny of Rush and AC/DC, this motherfucker will never let me down. If this track doesn’t get you playing air guitar, YOU ARE NOT HUMAN, YOU HAVE NO SOUL.
Over the course of the album, Kvelertak repeats the trick of mixing proper shouty vocals with the most stupidly catchy guitar riffs so many times you wonder if they can actually *ever* be un-catchy. They hint at many forebears, a bit of Sabbath here, a bit of Focus there or even Spirit. It’s all good; it’s all good rocking shit.
Listen to the middle of ‘Svartmesse’ and you’ll hear a tremulous harmony around two minutes, the faintest notes and it’s this kind of detail that makes ‘Nattesferd’ such a deeply satisfying album. You have the visceral impact of the rock but then you have the layers that may not be evident on first listen but slowly appear.
This is a beautiful record. A gem of endless facets.
2. Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down
Lif, who I first heard as part of The Perceptionists, returns with more stories that are more concerned with actuality than aspiration, with explanation rather than exhortation. I love the documentary tendencies that Lif, at his highest, excels at. And he’s there with this album. Reminds me of that old quote of Chuck D.’s, saying that hip hop is “black people’s CNN.”
There’s no revelling in the down here, rather an honest, no-bullshit vibe like on the super-hooky ‘Everyday We Pray.’ I mean, how could you not connect to this:
It’s been a bad day, got me feeling shook and I’m looking for
My emotions to stop the plots of this crooked war
Furthermore depression nipping at my heels and I can feel
The sentiments that I conceal, I’m wondering if I can deal
My appeal to a higher power was delayed an hour
Rallied up and took a shower, plus I’m hoping not to cower
Ever been so hungry that your eyes feel slumped in?
Fridge full of food but your soul craving something
Much more touch more thoughts through delirium…
That isn’t a song, it’s a fucking screenplay.
Tie all those lyrics into Lif’s majestic, don’t give a fuck flow and you have this rotating hyper-tesseract of meaning that has to be concurrently viewed from a myriad perspectives to render up even a tiny proportion of its encoded message. It’s singularity-dense with meaning, it’s lyrical neutronium.
Honestly, it makes me angry that poets like Lif are ignored when lesser talents get sucked-off by every media outlet extant. I mean, he’s probably not bothered as long as he can make art he loves but it does my nut in. Look at this:
I see codes clear as there’s an ebb and a flow
Extend my arms to cradle knowledge that we never will know
And from my fingertips drips, eclipse
Upon dawn’s lips, nuclear grips on her bronze hips
As she lusts for the dusk the the light becomes cosmic
The beams gleam data? Then prophets switch topics
Stop to just watch it and marvel in awe
If I’m asleep when I hear a beat, it tastes like stars
I’m Pi with these bars, I’m slightly ajar
You want more .one four the decimals of luster and lore
As decibels pour through speaker cones to leave you clones
DNA poem coffers of capillaries & bone
Offer ancillaries and tones that are pliable the sky is too low
That’s why dimensions keep my fires aglow
As the answers float just beyond halcyon
My knowledge drifts as I glimpse at the cliffs of Albion
What the fuck is that? That is beyond pretty much everything on this plane of existence.
1. Gojira – Magma
SO… 2016, eh?
What a fucker of a year.
So many famous people we loved died. Then B R E X I T. Then Trump and his supporters actually sieg-heiling and the President Elect not condemning them for that.
I had all that and my Dad died in April.
I can say that 2016 has been the worst year in my life this far. Many, many times, I’ve felt like walking into traffic or jumping off something. And one of the reasons I haven’t is this album.
That may sound like hyperbole if you’re not a music fan, if music doesn’t hit you like pure heroin, like it does me. But this year was so dark for me, so relentlessly, meaninglessly horrible that I reached out to music to make a connection. I couldn’t burden the few humans I know with the truth, the whole ugly truth of my emotions. But ‘Magma’ was waiting. ‘Magma’ didn’t require me to censor the worst parts of myself.
I’ve loved Gojira for years but on ‘Magma’ they take all their prog skill and focus it like a laser. When they’re simple, it’s with an authority, a gravitas that is undeniable and based on their ridiculous technical prowess. You can feel that weight in the title track which pounds along after the eerie tube harmonics opening. They get pretty close to a heavy Floyd vibe here, massed monk vocals and all.
I love that this record isn’t cartoon heavy; it’s not blast beats and invocations to silly non-existent religious entities. It’s not some Nazi fuckwit gibbering over Pro-Tools. The heaviness is adult, is real, it is comprehensible and that’s how I could connect to it. The pain in this record is where I found solace. The silence is where I found respite.
So I drove round for hours listening to it because I can have it as loud as I want in my car without disturbing neighbours. I could have it loud enough that the kicks shook my guts and that every lead line was like sheet metal being ripped next to my ear. My ears would ring afterwards but, fuck it, I’d damage myself for a hit of that shit.
‘Silvera’ pummelled me and made me feel better. ‘When you change yourself, your change the world,’ they shouted at me. So I reversed this and changed my world, hoping to change myself. Little by little, this stopped being an album, stopped being a collection of songs recorded in a studio and became the sound inside my head. I would be walking in town and hear the double kicks inside me, I came to need to hear them to stop from panicking if I actually had to talk to a human.
Yes, this is epic metal. It’s more machinelike than Mastodon, more melodramatic than Pelican but it shares the same blunt, calloused hands, the same familiarity with pain. When ‘Pain’ actually starts, it’s with a chirp of flute and it could be an old rave track about to kick in, under the eighths. Then the staccato kicks hit along with the toms and you’re gone. After the relatively sedate verse, the chorus is flailing fucking mayhem again, the sense of controlled violence erupting into that moment when you know you’re going to punch the wall just to see if you’ll leave a mark. Just to see if you actually fucking exist to anyone or anything any more.
Thank you, Gojira. Thank you for keeping me alive.