2016 has been below average. That’s probably quite generous, to be honest its been pretty shite. Brexit, Trump and the passing of so many heroes; David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Mohammed Ali, Leonard Cohen, George Michael … to name but a few. This year can’t end quickly enough.
Through all this, 2016 has still produced some stellar records. In fact, there’s probably been more incredible music as a result. So, without further ado, here’s the obligatory list of my favourite albums of the year. Hope you agree with my choices.
10) Viola Beach Viola Beach (Fuller Beans) 29/07/2016
Tragically, all 4 members of Viola Beach, along with their manager Craig Tarry, died in a car crash in Södertälje, Sweden, on 13 February 2016. They were a band on the verge of breaking, their brand of indie-pop cut from the same ilk as Blossoms or The 1975.
Their music deserved to be heard by the world and what is more harrowing is, this album is magnificent. Its everything a good pop record should be; catchy, lively and relatable. And despite Viola Beach only having recorded the 9 songs on the album, it flows really well.
Viola Beach hasn’t just made this list out of sentiment.
Listen to “Boys That Sing” here
9) Christine & The Queens Chaleur Humaine (Because Music) 26/02/2016
Finally released in the UK this February, two years after the original French version was released, Christine & The Queens’ debut was worth the wait. She’s a star in the making. Led by “Tilted”, a contender for track of the year that broke on to the Radio One playlist, it’s a delicate pop record that is only going to grow in popularity as time goes on.
Christine, born Héloïse Letissier, has created a persona for herself that allows her to be creative. This is certainly not the last you will hear from her.
Listen to “Tilted” here
8) Savages Adore Life (Matador) 22/01/2016
Savages are one of those bands whose entire existence is based upon not representing the current trend. A dark, brooding rock band in an era where high energy house, rap and RnB rule.
Their second album, Adore Life, is crammed full of emotion, displaying the feelings that are impossible to fully represent in the charts. Opening track “The Answer” begins with the refrain, “If you don’t love me, don’t love anybody.” From there on you’re right in at the deep end. It’s passionate and at times difficult to listen to, as any record so indebted to feeling at your lowest should be.
Its a tour de force that hits 2016 like a fist where all the fingers are wearing a ring.
Listen to “Adore” here
7) Kate Tempest Let Them Eat Chaos (Big Dada) 07/10/2016
If Savages is at times difficult to listen to, Let Them Eat Chaos is positively painful to listen to; and it’s designed to be. Kate Tempest wants to make you sit up and listen – half measures don’t do this. Her second album, similar to her debut Everybody Down, is a collection of poems turned into a biting rap album, in collaboration with producer Dan Carey.
I won’t put any spoilers in here, as it’s a story, but from the moment Kate rasps: “Is that smile that comes across her [The Earth] face? / Or is it a glimmer of dread?” You’ll be transfixed. Deep in Kate’s vision of the lives of the only seven people awake on a single street, paused in time at 4:18am.
Its one of few albums today that you can’t listen to whilst multitasking, and it really deserves all your attention.
Listen to “Europe Is Lost” here
6) Partybaby The Golden Age Of Bullshit (Warner Bros) 02/09/2016
Partybaby aren’t happy with the state of the world either, but they fight fire with fire. “It’s the overload of information that’s got me so low these days” sings frontman Jamie Reed on “Overload (Intro)” before unleashing the rip-roaring “Your Old Man.” It kick starts half an hour of rip-roaring punk, reminiscent of FIDLAR or Weezer. Conjuring up emotions of throwing red cups in the air and taking pills until the sun rises.
The message is clear, if times seem shit, let’s party like there’s no tomorrow.
Listen to “I Don’t Wanna Wait” here
5) Daughter Not To Disappear (4AD) 15/01/2016
Daughter made fame in 2013 when their delicate track “Youth” became the soundtrack to almost every documentary’s low point. Returning early this year, their sophomore record is just as tender, poignant and brutally honest.
Frontwoman Elena Tonra opens herself up in her lyrics throughout the record. The most harrowing examples come from “Alone / With You”: “Me and I are not friends / She is only an acquaintance” and “To Belong”: “Don’t you think we’ll be better off / Without temptation to regress, to fake tenderness / Waiting to see someone we won’t know for long / In cities we’ll only leave.” Its easy to miss how much she is opening up, as the hauntingly beautiful melodies sweep over you, but this is what makes the record so captivating. It has so many layers for you to unpick that you can listen to it over and over again.
Listen to “No Care” here
4) Yak Alas Salvation (Octopus Electrical) 13/05/2016
“That rock’n’roll, it just won’t go away … it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge, and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever.” Alex Turner’s sermon at the 2014 Brit Awards, as divisive as it was, seems the most fitting way to describe the significance of Yak’s Alas Salvation. With each year come critics predicting the end of guitar music. Yak not only silenced them, they smashed the wind out of their lungs.
Beyond that mission statement, what Yak have given to the world is a completely bonkers album, channelling The White Stripes (see the insane “Curtain Twitcher” for the most obvious comparison) with the energy of the Stones, to create a record so raw that you can hardly resist throwing yourself around to it. It awakens something inside of you with a raucous snarl.
As with any great album, there are no filler tracks on Alas Salvation, just riff after riff after riff, but opener “Victorious (National Anthem)” and the title track stand out. Both clocking in at under two minutes, they epitomise the unadulterated “Yak As Fuck” attitude. Buy into it now before the critics get their breath back.
This review was also featured in Rare FM’s Under City Lights magazine.
Listen to “Alas Salvation” here
3) Chance The Rapper Coloring Book (Self Released Mixtape) 13/05/2016
Chance has a habit of describing the effect of his best mixtape yet in his lyrics:
“Got the industry in disbelief, they be asking for beef \This what it sound like when God split an atom with me \ I even have Steve giving out apples for free.”
You shouldn’t be able to make the rap album of the year without a record label or, that’s the common viewpoint at least. Artists don’t have the platform, connections or infra-structure to make a real impact on their own. Yet here stands Chance with a middle finger aimed at the industry.
“I’m pre-currency post-language, anti-label.”
“I don’t make songs for free I make ’em for freedom.”
Chance has stayed true to himself and written a career-defining album, and has the likes of Kanye, Beiber, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne all in tow. He’s rightfully been rewarded with seven Grammy nominations. Here’s to hoping he’s inspired the next generation of artists to have the same unwavering belief in themselves and their art.
Listen to “Blessings” here
2) David Bowie Blackstar (RCA) 08/01/2016
I’m going to be honest with you here, I find it very hard to listen to Blackstar. I remember listening to it before David Bowie passed and thinking “This is incredible! How does he keep re-inventing himself so cleverly? I feel privileged to finally be able to appreciate a new era-Bowie in the era it was released.” What I failed to realise at the time, and what is so overwhelmingly obvious with hindsight, is that Bowie’s final studio album was his parting gift to us. It is laced with references to suffering death and the beyond. He is the Blackstar that the world tragically lost this year. The genius of the man is such that even from the grave he can communicate with us through his music. He was never going to leave this planet quietly.
Its a hauntingly beautiful record and deserving to be so high on this list for more than just sentiment. “Lazarus” is such a stark and raw insight into Bowie’s suffering and the title track is a 10 minute piece of pure brilliance; very rarely do tracks that long hold your undivided attention for their entirety.
David Bowie is the best. The best ever. Blackstar was his final words – they will forever be cherished.
Listen to “Blackstar” here
1) Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial (Matador) 20/05/2016
As I wrote back in July, when I wrote a spotlight on Car Seat Headrest, Teens Of Denial is really as good as indie rock and roll has sounded since Pavement where in their prime. I’ve gone into a bit more detail about the album in that article, but it’s not just the quality of the record that keeps this album at the top of my list, it’s what it represents. As a self-confessed indie kid, it demonstrates that the music I love will continue to thrive in this day and age. As the industry and people’s tastes develop, there will always be a place for the genre I love. The strains of life will always be succinctly expressed and shared over lo-fi guitar lines that etch themselves into your brain. It will always soundtrack my life.
It gives me hope for 2017. Corny, I know, but thats the reason this album has topped Bowie this year. Its all about the future.
Listen to “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” here
So there you have it. 2016 may have been a pretty shitty year, but despite all that we’ve still had some pretty magnificent albums to help us through the post apocalyptic feel.