30 Nicolas Jaar
Chilean-American composer Nicolas Jaar’s second official (third, unofficially) offering to the masses is, once again, an electronic monster, with an affinity for reeds. Distorted saxophones elope with blipped drumming and fluffed bass to generate a sound that feels both immediately familiar and completely alien. Sampled vocals make contact with factory percussion, all layered upon instantly recognisable tones, courtesy of a long line of keyboards. Jungle rhythms give way to bastardised Mahavishnu Orchestra flecked jazz melodies, whilst 80s synths and effects-laden screams proceed to render you witness to the birth of every hybrid entity Jaar can think of, each one more complex and refined to the last. And by the end of it all, it feels like nothing else, and yet everything all at once. It’s an overload of sensory data that calms the nerves. It’s bizarre, it’s terrifying, it’s contradictory, and it’s utterly fascinating.
While Savages’ debut, ‘Silence Yourself’, took its post-punk cues from the abrasive, gothic gloom of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adore Life leans more toward the stadium-sized bombast of Echo and the Bunnymen – all pounding guitars and grand-scale sentiment. “If you don’t love me, don’t love anybody” goes the cry over viscous guitar sludge in lead single ‘The Answer’, whilst ‘T.I.W.Y.G”s bass-driven hardcore punk blast drips contempt – “this is what you get when you mess with love” sneers vocalist Jehnny Beth. It’s not all blood and thunder though – the brooding, restrained ‘Adore’ displays welcome vulnerability amongst the debris.
28 Blood Orange
2016 has been a particularly shocking and turbulent year, from the deaths of many icons, Brexit and the triumph of Trump giving rise to the alt-right, and significantly to an enormous death toll from police shootings and terrorist attacks. Freetown Sound, Blood Orange’s third full-length album, released this summer, pertinently tackled issues of racism, identity and sexism. While overtly political, Hynes draws on many genres, paradoxically creating an aesthetic entirely his own. The album samples voice clips (“Don’t shoot!” in ‘Hands up’ as a response police shootings, particularly that of Treyvon Martin in 2012), and spoken word poetry (“Feminism” in ‘By Ourselves’) as an outcry against not only racial injustice, but human injustice. Throughout Freetown, Hynes speaks to those crushed under the weight of systemic oppression, and his carefully crafted words are simultaneously searing and soothing. Highlights include minimalistic dance-floor banger ‘Best To You’ and ‘E.V.P’.
27 Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
I had a dream that you were mine
The joyous star-studded remnants from The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend, Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam have teamed up to deliver one of the best albums of the year. Rostam’s ambient, dreamy production stays true to Modern Vampires, while vocally Leithauser flies worlds away, delivering a raspy and emotionally-drained record true to a Leonard Cohen more in tune with falsettos and indie rock than the seismic activity that comes from a career of cigarettes and bagels. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine could be neatly inserted into the musical backlogs of any of the last three decades of music. It could be a second coming of Lou Reed or the subdued swansong of The Strokes. But one thing’s for sure, that it’s really quite fantastic.
2016 has seen Skepta ‘Shutdown’ the UK music scene in style, grabbing the Mercury prize for Konnichiwa. Skepta confronts real contemporary social issues barking assertively aggressive wordplay over tight, pulsating beats. The perfectly political ‘Crime Riddim’ savages the indignity of police stop and search orders. A refreshingly unfamiliar intimacy emanates from ‘Text Me Back’ voicing the tension between artistry and family. As a truly independent artist Skepta has crafted a modern masterpiece, achieving critical acclaim and traversing the mainstream without surrendering the rawness and relevancy that makes grime great.
Read our full review of Skepta’s Konnichiwa here.
25 Childish Gambino
“awaken, mY LOVE!”
Childish Gambino has his finger in all the media pie-holes. Actor, writer, rapper, singer, and comedian, he couldn’t be more of a creative if he tried. His latest album, Awaken, My Love! is soulful at heart, funky with a first listen, and eccentric. Somehow his erratic method of compiling gospel choirs with electric guitar solos, a Prince-esque falsetto, and a cowbell just works, fitting together exactly how you’d anticipated it to. With wah-wah nods to sounds like Steely Dan and the Isley Brothers, Donald Glover dazzles us once again, proving he’s so much more than a rapper. But we knew that anyway.
24 Parquet courts
“Dust is everywhere…Sweep!” Politically nervous young men assemble a bunch of tunes which are as catchy and fun as they are ultimately intelligent and rewarding, with a healthy, playful sense of adventure underpinning the entire effort. Human Performance serves not only as a way for Parquet Courts to show off their preternatural understanding of pre- and post-punk historiography but also for the band to refine and redefine their sound whilst still very much sticking to the contours of the DIY scene in which they have laid their roots.
Read our full review of Parquet Courts’ Human Performance here.
23 James blake
the colour in anything
22 Death grips
It is abrasive and challenging but, somehow, it has hooks. Death Grips have provided another listening experience that only they seem to be able to produce — it unnerves and astounds. Tracks like Spikes and Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighbourhood stand out as testaments to the true song-writing strength of Death Grips; Bottomless Pit has solidified their position as the most interesting act in music. Zach Hill provides the backbone for the sonic experimentation of Andy Morin, with MC Ride giving some of his strongest vocal performances on record to date. Bottomless Pit delivers on every level; if you’re not acquainted with the musical tour-de-force that is Death Grips, then it’s time to dive in.
Read our full review of Death Grips’ Bottomless Pit here.
21 King Gizzard and the lizard wizard
It’s easy to describe high-tempo garage rock as “crazy”, but Nonagon Infinity is the ultimate embodiment of this word. Not only is it furiously paced and ablaze with effervescent fuzz, its musical elements are blurred and not exclusive to any one song; parts are borrowed, carried over, make ring-modulated cameos – there is no progression, only an infinite loop of madness as the final track tumbles headlong back into the first. Gizzard’s signature lo-fi vibe is prevalent and things sound scratchy and buzzy. Killer rock album in this day and age? Look no further.
Read our full review of Nonagon Infinity here.