20 Frankie Cosmos
After releasing over 40 albums and EPs on Bandcamp, the former Porches bassist has expanded on her early promise with sophomore album Next Thing. A lo-fi indie rock rollercoaster, Cosmos has a distinct talent of cramming her brand of observational and witty suburban poetry into songs that barely outstay two and half minutes. In fact, the album (that consists of 15 songs) only runs for 28 minutes. With a distinct bedroom-DIY sound to tracks like ‘If I Had a Dog’ and ‘Too Dark’ alongside Cosmos’ slacker-esque vocal delivery you may be forgiven for thinking the album appears somewhat simplistic. But it’s the juxtaposition with the off-kilter, meandering lyrics that give Cosmos’ songs on Next Thing their real depth. By far one of the most underrated albums of the year.
19 Michael Kiwanuka
Love & Hate
Soulful and poignant, Kiwanuka’s second album comes across more focused than his first. The lengthy ambient introduction of ‘Cold Little Heart’ introduces an introspective and thoughtful album, as it gives way to Kiwanuka’s rich and beautiful vocal work. It is these vocals which truly carry the record. Highlights of the album include the bass-driven ‘One More Night’, the melodic and emotional titular track ‘Love and Hate’, and the closing track ‘The Final Frame’, which rounds off the record excellently, truly bringing the electric guitar and piano into their own. Love and Hate is a masterclass in modernised soul, and Kiwanuka is surely one to watch.
18 Kendrick Lamar
Don’t be fooled. This murky-green-clad album made up of unfinished demo-quality songs that was surprise released with little-to-no promotion is by no means Kendrick Lamar’s ‘throwaway’ album. Untitled Unmastered is not the refined, detailed soundscape that To Pimp a Butterfly is, or the to-the-point cinematic experience of Good Kid M.A.A.D City, but it certainly showcases Lamar’s talent on a purer, rawer level. Made up mostly of TPAB B-sides and demos, the album holds up well, sporting a tasteful selection of features (Cee-lo Green, Ana Wise), diverse instrumentals and Lamar’s ever-astounding lyrical ability. Untitled Unmastered is more like a “TPAB.5″, and it is an instalment in Lamar’s discography that should never be neglected.
17 Angel Olsen
A vivid and beautiful project from start to finish, My Woman is no doubt Olsen’s true career-defining album. With every release, Olsen has improved and diversified her sound exponentially, and My Woman is no exception. From the raucous ‘Shut Up Kiss me’, to the heart breaking ‘Pops’ and the nocturnal ‘Intern’, there’s something about the album that screams confidence. Knowing what Olsen is now capable of, we can only wait to see where she’ll take her sound next – although, after the success of this album and the extensive tour schedule, it’s likely that a much-deserved hiatus is due for Olsen. Congrats Angel, you’ve earned it.
16 Iggy Pop
This is undeniably an Iggy Pop album; the 68 year-old’s young rebel-like lyrics pouring out in a sea of adolescent frustration, from the voyeurism of ‘Gardenia’, to the foul-mouthed anger of ‘Paraguay’. However, you can’t avoid hearing other influences throughout; David Bowie’s touch reaches out and grabs you from beyond the grave as you delve into the album (the two were friends and colleagues in the 70s). Josh Homme’s guitar work and song-writing influence is there too, with a Queens of the Stone Age grind that runs through the record, rounding off a complex sound that has all the hallmarks of a modern-day classic.
15 Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial
A Seat at the Table
13 Chance the Rapper
Chance started 2016 strong jumping on Kanye West’s kaleidoscopic, ‘Ultralight Beam’. Since then Chance’s Colouring Book has swept to critical acclaim, challenging Yeezy’s position as Chicago’s premier hip icon. Reacting sharply against the disorder and violence of Chicago the record’s fusion of spiritual and hip-hop genres exudes an infectious sense of optimism. ‘No Problem’ gleefully asserts Chance’s independence from the constraints of record executives. While Chance’s vocals on ‘Same Drugs’ are beautifully reflective as he traces both the process of growing up and a relationship slowly drifting apart. Chance thrives in his own blend of gospel infused hip-hop, crafting a refreshingly uplifting record.
Read our review of Coloring Book here.
12 A Tribe Called Quest
We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service
Read our full review of Thank You 4 Your Service here.
11 Christine & the Queens
10 Danny Brown
8 Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
It’s no secret that some of the best albums of this year depend on real personal trauma. Bowie and Cohen wrote albums apprehending their deaths, Nick Cave edited his in the wake of his son’s death, and it’s no coincidence that Anohni’s attack on “the establishment” followed her gender reassignment. But an artist that’s outside this conflation of sympathy and artistic reverence is, as always, Kanye. It’s easy to think of The Life of Pablo as part of his recent depression / paranoia / breakdown, especially in tracks like ‘Real Friends,’ ‘FML’ and ‘Wolves,’ but what makes it exceptional is the landscape of emotions it contains. Kanye’s masterful production isn’t just about the beats; he has a superhuman ability to make nearly one hundred strong-willed industry-leaders create one sensitive and personal album that somehow aligns triumph and melancholia. TLAP is Kanye at his best, and most desperate. He had to bring himself to his limits to make it, but what a masterpiece.
Read our full review of The Life of Pablo here.
7 Bon Iver
22, A Million
A Moon Shaped Pool
Heritage act? No thanks. 23 years after their debut release Radiohead still refuse point blank to concede artistically in any manner whatsoever. ‘Full Stop’ adds to the great Radiohead tradition of powerful bass-driven tracks, whilst ‘Decks Dark’ acts as the legitimate heir to Ok Computer’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ and ‘True Love Waits’ operates as the heartbreaking closer to a staggeringly perfect collection of songs. Pitchfork’s 2000 verdict that Radiohead “must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who” has just received yet another 52 minutes of cold, hard, irrefutable evidence to back it up. All hail to the chiefs.
5 Nick cave and the bad seeds
Produced during a period of intense emotion for Cave, as he struggled with the recent loss of his son, Skeleton Tree is not an album to be taken lightly. Featuring Cave’s trademark allegorical imagery, Skeleton Tree is primarily a work of poetic expression. The distorted and eerie opening track, ‘Jesus Alone’, sets the tone as entreats the listener: “With my voice I am calling you”. From the urgent drumbeats of Anthrocene to the stripped and sorrowful ‘Girl in Amber’, this album is by no means easy listening; dark and foreboding, by the final words – “and it’s alright now” – Skeleton Tree is liable to leave you with an emotional hangover.
Read our full review of Skeleton Tree here.
4 Frank OceAN
The best thing about Blond is that it is actually worth the wait. All that time, the hype, the surprise release: Frank delivered, and what he has given is a near-perfect album. A clear evolution in sound from his previous two releases, Blonde is incredible and atmospheric — you get a sense when listening that this is the album that Frank Ocean has always wanted to make. Gone are the intense instrumentals from Channel Orange, in favour of a release that has Frank’s dynamic vocal range at its forefront. This record climbs inside you and begs for repeat listens.
Read our full review of Blonde here.
HOPELESSNESS evokes a quiet rage at the current geopolitical reality; it’s a call to action despite the passivity of its title. The album delves into significant political and cultural realities particularly pertinent to post-9/11 America – mass surveillance, drone warfare, environmental ruin – while creating a harrowing and glorious new sound. ANOHNI’s unique voice (an androgynous, unearthly and arresting croon) paired with discordant electronic backing creates a startlingly individual album held aloft by thematically dark songs so particular in their word choice that each resonates as beautifully provocative poetry. Her songs are like Trojan horses, carrying difficult topics in a case of electronic beats and ambient sounds. I can only briefly touch on what HOPELESSNESS has to offer, but I could go on for pages – each and every song is worth listening to on this album; each carries its own sense of intimacy and urgency. If I could use just two words to describe ANOHNI’s haunting album, it would be these: stay woke.
Read our full review of HOPELESSNESS here.
2 david bowie
2016 has been a dark year for the music industry. The deaths of Leonard Cohen, Prince, Glenn Frey and so many others provided a bleak and often depressing atmosphere towards this rather terrible solar cycle. Bowie’s was debatably the saddest, but it was undoubtedly the most revolutionary. Blackstar, his final opus and his passing gift to his audience, is a revolutionary piece of art – a eulogy sung from beyond the Styx and written to close out one of the defining careers in 20th Century culture. An ethereal mix of experimental jazz fusion, art rock and avant-garde, this record is a defining statement of what Bowie was capable of achieving, and stands as much as a cultural landmark as a musical one. From the expansive fusiontronic title track, to the self-delivered funeral dirge of ‘Lazarus’, to the shifting, cynical ‘Dollar Days’, Blackstar is a sombre, yet somehow joyous, celebration of one of the finest songwriters history will ever know, and the medium of self-burying through ones art is an endeavour thousands will replicate over the coming decades. The irony is is that we don’t need to wait, because what comes next might have already done so.
Read our full review Blackstar here.
1 Leonard cohen
you want it darker