A summary of the year in music, we asked some of our contributors what their favourite albums of 2016 were – ranging from the eclectic cynicism of BBF to the light-hearted but emotionally driven A Beautiful Game, here are their responses:
BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow – Babyfather (cover image):
Dean Blunt rides a tense wire between detachment and outpouring of emotion, conveyed through his massively engaging but equally repellent instrumental style: digi-dub meets hip-hop, trap, grime. The most challenging LP of 2016, BBF is as political as it is unbothered, exploring British culture through microcosm. Blunt is refined by a cast of the most exciting producers the world has to offer right now, as he transmits like pirate radio, punctuating beats with shout-outs and noise. Endearing but jarring as ever, Blunt continues to elude proper criticism, giving no hints…it almost feels ridiculous writing about him.
Puberty 2 – Mitski
Following three albums of accomplished song writing and stylistic experimentation, Mitski’s most recent offering is her first genuine masterpiece. The bombastic, classic rock pastiche of “Your Best American Girl”, a story of love across racial divide told using the conventions of white masculinity’s favourite musical genre, exemplifies her attitude of tender, emotionally engaging protest. Mitski writes of emotional and romantic turmoil with an extraordinary sleight of hand; her lyrical turns are as simple as they are devastating, her fuzzy, distorted guitar imbues the record with constant, low-level anxiety. No portrait of a quarter-life crisis has ever hit this close to home.
[Clare Patterson -@clarepttrsn]
HOKA – Nahko and Medicine for the People
Somehow, describing HOKA as a strange blend of folk, reggae and rap doesn’t convince the masses of its superiority to all other 2016 releases. So, why is it the best album of that train wreck of a year? Nahko’s lyrics are poetic to the point that they could probably be scrawled across moody landscapes on hipster blogs, but this doesn’t make them any less raw and sincere. Honestly, I’ve never come across an album – or artist – that is completely suitable for both getting ready for a night out and an election-induced breakdown, so that must count for something. Also: trumpet solos.
Mariner – Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas
This album can be seen as a side-step rather than a step forward for some but for both artists it did one very important thing: it got them out touring again. Mariner’s success prompted Cult of Luna to reverse their decision to keep touring to a minimum and instead begin touring Europe, one of their shows which I was lucky enough to attend, earning them and Julie Christmas some well-earned publicity. Keeping their unique industrial sound from Vertikal, their focus on space exploration inspired a new realm of music and discovery that is unforgettable.
Rihanna’s ANTI was the soundtrack to my 2016. There’s a song for every occasion from the catchy “Work” and “BBHMM” to the sensual “Sex With Me” to the utterly vulnerable “Close To You” and “As Real As You and Me”. ANTI stays true to the pop icon’s sexy and drug filled image while showing a more mature and experimental side. The variety of the LP is refreshing and really displays Rihanna’s full vocal ability. The bluesy “Love on the Brain” is as unexpected and brilliant as her cover of “Same Ol’ Mistakes”. The whole album is definitely worth a listen.
The Altar – Banks
Despite only coming out in September, ‘The Altar’ by Banks was one of the best albums of this year. Some tracks in The Altar like ‘To The Hilt’ remind us listeners of Banks’ first album with their slower tempo and emotional lyrics, but the overall feel is completely different. The singer manages to bring pop elements to her sound while maintaining her signature experimental style. The Altar is what a more mature Banks sounds like, finally reaching her full potential as a songwriter and as an artist.
Kin – KT Tunstall
From being vulnerable and authentic, to looking back in retrospect, to embracing the uncertainty of the future and even just imagining a random trip to outer space, KT sings flawlessly about it all. Add a seductive duet with James Bay and a divine acoustic cover of a Fleetwood Mac classic and you’ve got her fifth album – it’s refreshingly cheesy, uplifting, mellow and upbeat all in one go, and to single out highlights wouldn’t do it justice. Not all fans will appreciate its pop direction, but she’s still a weirdo who never fails to put a smile on my face!
All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us – Architects
Guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle died two months after All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us was released, giving its feeling of a beating heart struggling against manmade evils all the more poignant. The decay of our modern world is front and centre as Architects reject capitalism, animal cruelty, and the ruling elite. As modern rock stagnates, this is an album determined to push the British metal scene past its self-imposed barriers marching into the realm of post-metalcore, owing as much to Cult of Luna and Neurosis than Parkway Drive and Bury Tomorrow. All Our Gods… is unlike any modern metal record, and Searle created his magnum opus before his death.
[Scott Wilson –@heartoffire]
The Beautiful Game – Vulfpeck
I’m not going to pretend that it is the best work they’ve come out with or that it is hugely innovative but what it certifiably is, is more of what they do best, contemporary funk that doesn’t take itself too seriously nor expects anyone else to. It is fun, a bit silly and engaging, something that sums up their wildly entertaining social media presence. It could be argued that The Beautiful Game doesn’t feature some of the wittier lyrics present in their other work, no one can deny that I couldn’t think of a better album to wake up to in 2017.
[Aoife Maguire -@aoifeymaguire]