As we grow closer to the business end of the list, ordering the albums becomes a more difficult task, with many edits and reshuffles taking place minutes before publishing (also causing me to be a day late). Eventually though, I feel that I’ve settled upon an order that best reflects my thoughts on the albums that place from 30 to 21 on my ‘Album of the Year’ list.
Haitian-Canadian producer, Kaytranada, made waves earlier this year when he dropped debut album 99.9%, an eclectic mix of bustling electro set with a distinct alternative hip hop groove and flourishes of abstract funk and neo-soul. As is evident from that description, the record is fairly genre defying, something that is clear from the wide variety of its collaborators, with the record seeing Kaytranada fuse the likes of Craig David, Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak and Little Dragon to thrilling effect. On 99.9% Kaytranada engineers the right balance between quirky leftfield production and traditional rap/pop sensibilities (e.g. ‘Together’, ‘Glowed Up’) to make a record that whilst quirky is still very accessible with wider audiences. A melting pot of sounds and beats, 99.9% is as innovative as its head-turning album artwork, which is no mean feat.
Best Track: ‘GLOWED UP’
Public Access TV are a band I’ve been following closely since the release of their debut single ‘Monaco’ back in January 2014 and their inclusion in the NME Radar column. Flying very much under the radar, this New York four-piece have managed to produce one of the most authentic rock n’ roll albums of the year. With early comparisons to indie rock legends The Strokes, the band captured a niche on Never Enough that sounds remarkably fresh, whilst also clearly tipping its hat to the hazy late 70s rock era. With the longest track clocking in at 3:48, Public Access TV specialise in short, sharp pop songs, with lead-singer John Eatherley’s impeccable ear for melody and knowledge of the genre standing out as one of the album’s greatest strengths. “They say the kids don’t like rock n’ roll any more” Eatherley ironically croons at the beginning of their most recent single ‘End of an Era’, a groovy indie rock track that laments the current state of the genre. They may not be the most gifted nor subtle lyricists, but they sure know their way around the general mechanics of what makes the perfect rock n roll and don’t pull any punches on a thrilling and exciting record.
Top Track: ‘I Don’t Wanna Live in California’
Christine & the Queens first came to my attention after their show-stopping performance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’. Swiftly after lead single ‘Tilted’ became one of my most played songs on Spotify, the perfect pop song that struck the perfect balance between experimentation and familiarity and something that spilled onto her debut album Chaleur Humaine. French artist Héloïse Letissier drew on inspirations from the London drag scene to create an arty, synthpop brainstew of a record which combines her unusual lyrics with abstract beats and infectious pop flicks. A true provocateur who is as electric and eccentric on record as she is in live performance, as he flutters between French and English and even flirts with Kanye West’s ‘Heartless’ on the sparse ‘Paradis Perdus’. Letissier is a true popstar of the 21st century, not afraid to push the boundaries of a rigid pop music scene, with Chaleur Humaine standing out as one of the best debuts of 2016.
Top Track: ‘Tilted’
How do you follow up an album that introduced you to mainstream audiences and won you the Mercury prize? James Blake answered that question with last year’s gargantuan sonic experiment that was The Colour in Anything, a sprawling, progressive electronic record that pushes 76 minutes and features a cameo from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and writing credits from the likes of and samples artists as diverse as Elliot Smith and Frank Ocean. A fragile and somber affair, The Colour in Anything is an album of the digital age as it’s sparse yet complex production compliments the melancholy of the Blake’s frail and haunting falsetto. There’s a subtlety to tracks like ‘Love Me in Whatever Way’ and ‘Radio Silence’ as the growing demonic electronics parallel the feelings Blake himself emits. An emotional and personal album, The Colour in Anything bares all and stays with you long after the phenomenal auto-tuned a cappella finale of ‘Meet You in the Maze’ has uttered it’s last breath.
Top Track: ‘Radio Silence’
Summer 08 seemed to bypass a lot of people after its release this summer. After 2014’s Love Letters didn’t quite hit the same prominent highs as previous efforts (in particular Nights Out and The English Riviera), Joe Mount returns, however this time he’s left the rest of the band at home. On Summer 08 Metronomy have stripped the layers back to such a degree that all that’s left is Mount and his keen ear for pop production, but that’s not a bad thing. This time Mount turns his unique brand of indietronica to gaze upon fame, in particular the ‘summer of 2008’, when he first achieved success following the release of Nights Out. From the snarling lyrics of ‘Back Together’ and ‘Old Skool’ (which also features some expert DJ scratching from Mike D) to the pulsating synth chords of the melancholic anthem that is ‘Hang Me Out to Dry’ (alongside Swedish electropop superstar Robyn), going solo has allowed Mount to truly indulge in pure pop exuberance and with great effect. There’s a dark edge to Summer 08 with album highlight ‘Night Owl’ sounding as if it was an off-cut of the Drive soundtrack, yet Mount still manages to imprint his own personality on the record. It’s clear that Summer 08 is the product of one of Britain’s most innovative creators and a biting musical reflection of Mount’s own success in the form of opulent synthpop.
Top Track: ‘Night Owl’
It’s been a busy year for Donald Glover. Not only has he put out one of the most acclaimed TV comedy-dramas of the year in Atlanta but he has also resurrected his musical incarnation, otherwise known as Childish Gambino after a 3-year absence. “Awaken, My Love!” spells a departure away from the hip-hop leanings of Because the Internet in favour of more dynamic and finely produced sound that dabbles in R&B, soul, funk and even psychedelic rock and sees him sing rather than rap. A vibrant sprawl of a record, Glover transports his listener into space via a mele of sonic exploration drifting from the neo-pschdelia of ‘Me and Your Mama’ and its dramatic choirs to the strutting R&B soul of fellow single ‘Redbone’ which sees Glover boast his best falsetto. The prestine production values are immaculate, with the gospel-jam of ‘Boogieman’ sitting comfortably next to the retro soul of ‘Zombies’. The album is proof that Glover is a modern day renaissance man and an ever evolving artist, with ‘Awaken, My Love!’ standing up as his best work to date.
Top Track: ‘Me and Your Mama’
Nonagon Infinity is truly as insane a record as the name of the band behind it suggests. With each song spilling into the next, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have created a mind-bending 41minute rollercoaster ride of glorious fuzz and garage rock riffs. Originating from Australia, which at the moment seems to be hotbed of alternative rock artistry, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are like the hyperactive, more aggressive younger brother of Tame Imapala. Blasting in with opening track ‘Robot Stop’ King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s relentless tempo hardly falters as the thunderous riffs cascade into the riotous ‘Big Fig Wasp’, making for thrilling a listen. Having tried their hand at space jazz and freak folk, it is this frantic brand of psychedelic-garage metal that suits them best, a sound that they first really broke through with on 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz. Nonagon Infinity is a restless sonic ball of energy that blasts through complex time signatures, emphatic drum solos, frenzied harmonica shrills and endless loops for a ramshackle ride that refuses to give into convention. Absurdist fun.
Top Track: ‘Gamma Knife’
I can’t say I’m a massive listener of country music. Sturgill Simpson however, is the exception. An audacious alternative country record, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth isn’t your average country singer, with the record testing Simpson’s supposed ‘future of Nashville’ title but instead as a thought-provoking and progressive artist in his own right. Something that was exemplified in the album’s first track ‘Welcome to Earth (Pollywog), a song that begins with atmospheric strings (something which recurs across the album) before bursting into a bombastic soul anthem, complete with a full brass section, a statement of things to come. Perhaps the most striking of the album’s nine carefully crafted songs was his cover of grunge titans, Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ from the seminal Nevermind, of which he transforms into a slow-burn country ballad, which actually works! A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was one of the unexpected gems of 2016, full of unforeseen deviations that has made me totally reassess my stance on country music.
Top Track: ‘Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)’
Blood Bitch is one of the strangest records I’ve heard this year, yet one I keep going back to. In all honesty I hadn’t heard of Norwegian avant-garde pioneer Jenny Hval, until I sat down with my fellow music editors at Exeposé to compile our end of year list and Blood Bitch got thrown out. A shifting experimental pop album built around the loosely connected themes of menstruation (‘Untamed Region’), desire (‘The Great Undressing’) and vampires (‘Female Vampire’), Blood Bitch is an enthralling listen, as its delicate harmony echo throwing opening tracks ‘Ritual Awakening’ and ‘Female Vampire’ before the bewildered gasps of the chillingly atmospheric ‘In the Red’. It’s a rather quiet record for its choice of subject matter and provocative lyrics, often working on a bed of ambient synths, which make for an interesting juxtaposition. A unique vision Blood Bitch is a thought-provoking listen which plays out almost like a film score, with Hval creating an album of subtle oddities which takes pleasure in whispering them in your ear.
Top Track: ‘Conceptual Romance’
Another standout debut of 2016 comes in the form of Brooklyn based indie-folk outfit Big Thief’s Masterpiece. Floating very firmly under the radar the lo-fi stylings of Masterpiece fuses indie rock sensibilities with elements of folk, Americana and country. Big Thief have managed to craft an album of bedroom anthems, with Adrianne Lenker’s brutally honest vocals telling tales of love and devastation. Whilst the more classic indie rock numbers such as title track ‘Masterpiece’ with its messy guitar solo and the reverb riffs of ‘Real Love’ impress it’s the introspective softer moments (‘Paul’), which give the greatest insight into the psyche Lenker as she paints pictures of young love with her interesting turns of phrase. There’s a definite charm to Big Thief and their lo-fi indie folk-rock, with certain honesty to their scrapbook style of songwriting. An understated album that deserves greater recognition, particularly for Lenker’s sheer talent as a lyricist.
Top Track: ‘Masterpiece’