Here it is: NME‘s 50 best albums of 2016. This rundown of 50 brilliant 2016 albums just goes to show that while most stuff that happened in 2016 was just plain terrible, the music was consistently great.
50. Bon Iver – 22 A Million
Justin Vernon’s third album under the Bon Iver name might have taken a bit of warming up to, but when you listened to it more than a handful of times, this initially distant record became as warm and emotional as a newborn baby. With his straight-up singer-songwriter days well and truly behind him, ’22, A Million’ saw Vernon experimenting like never before, weaving in glitchy electronics, extreme vocodered vocals and Stevie Nicks samples into an all-American patchwork of sweet sounds. It was Americana still, but not as we previously knew it. A gorgeous, gorgeous thing.
49. Public Access TV – Never Enough
“They say the kids don’t like rock’n’roll any more,” noted Public Access TV frontman John Eatherly on ‘End of an Era’, towards the mid-point of their debut. Partially true, maybe, but it was a self-effacing observation: the vigorous optimism of ‘Never Enough’ had to be seen as a shot in the arm for indie. The New York quartet – high-school drop outs all – were near-impossible to resist as they smashed out killer chorus after killer chorus with roguish charm.
48. Show Me The Body – Body War
The rightful heirs to The Beastie Boys’ crown, New York trio Show Me The Body’s debut album was a furious fusion of hardcore punk, ragged rap and – believe it or not – experimental jazz. At just half an hour long, ‘Body War’ was a record that never outstayed its welcome – it just battered you with intensity and left you wanting more. Taking pointers from Death Grips, the album was far from easy listening, but if you wanted to hear the sound of New York – the grubby alleyways of Queens rather than the polished pavements of Manhattan – then this was a veritable sonic Googlemaps.
47. Wild Beasts – Boy King
Talking up his band’s saucy fifth album, bassist Tom Fleming told NME: “This one’s all fuck songs.” Wild Beasts are randy devils indeed, and have long been wooing us into the bedroom with their slinky, sexy brand of soft rock, crooning and twiddling away leaving us dizzy, tousled and just slightly disoriented – but this was on a new level. If Phil Collins hadn’t made a comeback, this would be the baby-making sound of 2016. Key (filthy) lyrics included: “I like it messy / Don’t you make it neat” and “She won’t come lightly / Beautiful agony.” Sorry, we’re just off for a series of cold showers.
46. Savages- Adore Life
While debut ‘Silence Yourself’ was the sound of a band charging to the front line to demand your attention, ‘Adore Life’ was a band who had already earned it – less abrasive and austere than their debut, but no less punk. This was less a record of anger and bile, more one of artfully controlled defiance and grace. No longer hiding behind noise, Savages were celebrating love, life, loss and what it is to be human. In a year dominated by uncertainty, fear and rage, Savages clenched to call for one simple, just cause: “Love is the answer.”
45. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
Grunge pop on the grandest scale, Will Toledo’s first properly recorded album – following 11 DIY bedroom albums of melancholic indie rock since 2010 – built layers of urgency and indulgence onto the raw bones of last year’s re-recorded compilation ‘Teens Of Style’. Featuring monster-length songs channelling the sounds of Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Guided By Voices through the prism of a dedicated ingester of social narcotics, ‘Teens Of Denial’ was a heady reboot of college Americana and one titanic trip.
44. The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood
Hailing from the New York town of Hicksville – no, really – brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario took their inspiration from classic rock bands such as The Beatles and Queen. The pair had clearly been doing their homework, as ‘Haroomata’ could have been written by Syd Barrett and ‘Those Days Is Comin’ Soon’ sounded like the Fab Four as their most freewheeling and experimental. In October the brothers D’Addario revealed to NME that their next project might well be a concept album, yet this one already felt like a meticulously crafted narrative about two young bucks with the world’s best record collection.
43. Anohni – Hopelessness
Experimental electronic musicians Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke acted as producers on ‘Hopelessness’, helping to create the backdrops for Anohni’s towering, unflinching, and – crucially – uncringey protest music. In her first album as Anohni, the former Anthony & The Johnsons singer railed against modern military strategy (‘Drone Bomb Me’), climate change (‘4 Degrees’) and the punishing of whistleblowers (‘Obama’). But on the spectral, melancholy title track Anohni created something of a paradox: “I see the hopelessness,” she sang, all the while suggesting with her no-holds-barred scrutiny and transcendent music that there may be hope for us after all.
42. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
Some people, it seems, are condemned to be cult artists, beloved to the few, unknown to the many. So it is with Whitney, led by former members of cult heroes Smith Westerns, and this album of ‘70s MOR-inspired country-pop. ‘Light Upon The Lake’ was a concept album conceived as if it were the recordings of a lost singer-songwriter, and its lush, evocative sound is for anyone who has a secret penchant for Neil Diamond. They sing his songs in baseball stadiums; Whitney, you suspect, may have to make do with a smaller audience.
41. Solange – A Seat At The Table
Beyonce’s little sister proved her voice to be just as vital as her superstar sibling’s on this spectacular neo-soul and R&B masterpiece. Solange’s third album was radical both in sound and vision, a proud and powerful celebration of black lives in America during a particularly fraught time for race relations in the country. It was a strong declaration of femalehood too, with jazz, funk, and sweet, sweet piano all woven into the heady, but never overplayed mix. Yet another forward step in Solange’s constant evolution, ‘A Seat At The Table’ was perhaps one of the most important political releases of the year.
40. Rihanna – Anti
“Let me cover your shit in glitter/I could make it gold,” went ‘Anti”s SZA-featuring opener ‘Consideration’. Despite being one of the biggest popstars on the planet, with her 8th album, Rihanna proved that she wasn’t afraid of being a little weird, a little odd, a little grubby. Sure, there were bangers – ‘Work’ and ‘Kiss It Better’ for starters – but this was also a chance for her to let her freak flag fly, with low-key, spacious R&B, and moody, psychedelic funk.
39. Green Day – Revolution Radio
Hollywood star turned right-wing poster boy Ronald Regan was in the White House when Green Day formed in 1986. George Bush Senior then betrayed his people over taxes when Green Day dropped ‘Kerplunk’ in 1991 and 2004’s ‘American Idiot’ was the perfect zeitgeist-defining soundtrack to the ‘information age of hysteria’ when Bush Jr was pummelling the Middle East. While less explicitly political than ‘American Idiot’, ‘Revolution Radio’ instead used the energy and bite of punk to rush through the fractures in real life; a terrifying, post-truth society under the Trump Empire. Green Day – we need them now more than ever.
38. Slaves – Take Control
Kent punks Slaves won fans with a 2015 debut that mixed barbaric riffs with surreal humour. Their Mike D-produced follow-up dialed down the laughs and widened the musical palette, drawing from new wave (‘Steer Clear’, featuring Baxter Dury), hip-hop (‘Consume Or Be Consumed’, featuring Mike D) and thrash (‘Spit It Out’). It showed a deepening dissatisfaction with life in modern Britain, an anti-authoritarian call for personal control running through its tracks, but kept its sense of fun, too.
37. Soft Hair – Soft Hair
The meeting of minds between Late of the Pier frontman Sam Eastgate and the inimitable Kiwi psych oddball Connan Mockasin was bound to produce something weirdly wonderful and this squelchy, swampy debut doesn’t disappoint. Eastgate’s baritone met Mockasin’s feline falsetto, funky guitar lines and percussive rattles for an irresistibly strange result: from the funky album opener ‘Relaxed Lizard’ to the slow-building, squeaky noodling of ‘Lying Has To Stop’ and the dense melancholy of ‘In Love’. The cover – a twist on Adam & Eve – was oddly appropriate, too.
36. Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere
Proving political records could be fun as fuck, Swet Shop Boys – aka rappers Heems and Riz MC – interwove banging South Asian samples with witty rhymes about racism, drone strikes and cultural diaspora. Heems was formerly in comic rap group Das Racist and Riz is an actor who starred in Chris Morris’ black comedy Four Lions, so it was unsurprising that these songs were entertaining and politically charged. Best of all was the striking album opener ‘T5’, about getting hassled at customs simply for being Asian, and which featured the killer boast: “I run this city like my name’s Sadiq.”
35. Glass Animals – How To Be A Human Being
Following up the hushed, humid rainforest vibes of their debut ‘Zaba’, the Oxford indie quartet pulled out all the stops to create this album about the characters they’d met on the road, shedding none of their eye for detail. Opener ‘Life Itself’ was their first out-and-out banger, but the big tunes continued to come. ‘Season 2 Episode 3’, about a sofa-bound slacker, nodded to videogame sound effects; ‘Mama’s Gun’ brought mind-numbed, murderous intent out with a Carpenters sample; ‘Pork Soda’, perhaps the best of the lot, gave us the line “Pineapples are in my head / Got nobody ‘cos I’m braindead”. Inspired.
34. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini
Multi-instrumentalists Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton look and sound like creepy twins. They’re not, but that wasn’t the weirdest thing about the Norwich-based teens’ debut, a maelstrom of bewitching creativity that they described as ‘experimental sludge pop’. There was far more to their freaky first album than that suggested, though: ‘I, Gemini’ was like the soundtrack to a lost set of Grimm Brothers fairytales – and actually, it included a song called ‘Rapunzel’. Spoken-word segments, dozens of melodies, beats and instruments bled into each other on these songs – it was Marmite stuff, for sure, but it was also completely fascinating.
33. Margo Price – Midwest Farmers Daughter
Liver of the kind of hardscrabble life worthy of a Loretta Lynn lyric, Tennessee’s Margo Price channeled it into an album in thrall to the sound and feel of old-school Nashville, but done so brilliantly it fell far short of being pastiche. Central to the album was the sublime ‘Hands Of Time’, detailing her dreams of buying back her dad’s farm. If she keeps putting out albums like this, agriculture’s gain would be our loss.
32. Kings Of Leon – Walls
LA noir at its finest as the Followill clan returned to form with an album steeped in the neon gloss and decadent darkness of the City Of Angels. First single ‘Waste A Moment’ was a Short Cuts montage of Hollywood low-lifes and dreamers; ‘Over’ followed a pap-hounded celebrity to his mansion suicide spot; ‘Muchacho’ remembered a deceased friend and associate with a filmic mariachi tenderness. It had a cinematographer’s focus too; pulling back on their old melodic shit-kicking boots, ‘WALLS’ proved the Kings’ most vibrant record since ‘Only By The Night’. Oscars all round.
31. Bastille – Wild World
Like The 1975, Bastille make clever pop music with big ambition. And like The 1975, this year they delivered a second album that improved on the debut in every way. Not so much a concept album as a concept campaign, with marketing via a sinister WWCOMMS corporation, the album dealt with the big things: life, death and politics. Never a band you could accuse of subtlety, Bastille here dialed everything up to 11: ‘Send Them Off’ – a very 2016 song about tolerance – stomped in with Imperial Death March-like trumpets. Meanwhile, tricks learned from their infrequent mixtapes here saw songs sewn together with samples and quotes. For a band who sold 10m copies of their debut, this was an exercise in not fucking it all up.
30. Nao – For All We Know
This London talent trades in crisp, cool soul music and is leading a genre revival epitomised by Låpsley and Mabel McVey Smith. Debut album ‘For All We Know’ was an icily produced, buoyant and fun take on the 2016 sound, moving from the sexy slowjam ‘Get To Know Ya’ to the unashamedly romantic ‘Adore You’. This year she told NME: “Maybe it’s not an album that sells loads and loads in its first week, but it could be a word of mouth thing. And then people start to hear it and over time it grows and it finds its home.”
29. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
Tempest’s long-form rap poem in seven parts, released as both her second album and book of verse, concerned seven damaged, shut-away neighbours in a London street forced to interact by a great storm that had driven them from their flats. It cut straight to the malignant cancer at the heart of modern urban life; the selfish isolation and alienation that drives us apart and distracts us all from the calamitous fate of humanity. “I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more,” Tempest rapped; we woke up and loved her more.
28. Goat – Requiem
Self-confessed Swedish psych oddballs Goat embraced 1970s British folk and film on their third album, adding the pagan virgin-burning pop vibes of ‘The Wicker Man’ to their lush sound. From the cult-ish panpipes to the hypnotic rhythms and Afro-funk inspiration that peppered that album, ‘Requiem’ was a deliciously full release – the kind of thing you want to sink deep inside, whilst planning your next sacrifice or tie-dying some robes for your fellow sisterwives. More genuinely psychedelic than a trip to Burning Man with a chemically-altered Tame Impala.
27. Giggs – Landlord
South London UK rap veteran Giggs has spent a decade refining his own brand of hard-boiled hip-hop, characterised by lush beats and barked ad-libs. Fifth album ‘The Landlord’ saw him savour success even as he necessarily maintained the outsider role that made him popular: grime’s man-of-the-hour Stormzy featured, as did lesser-known Tottenham rapper CASisDead. Album highlight ‘Lock Doh’ was so tropical and summery it could be a massive radio hit, were it not for the defensive, emotionally withdrawn lyrics: the work of a complex figure who revels on the fringes of the mainstream.
26. Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis
“We have achieved so much more than you possibly thought we could,” growled Simon Neil on ‘Ellipsis’ opener ‘Wolves Of Winter’ – a brutal middle finger to any naysayers who may have written them off when they were mere skinny, hairless weirdos in toilet venues. Now, they’re buff, bearded weirdos in arenas and stadiums. While their status as national treasures and forever festival headliners was cemented on the assured and bold ‘Ellipsis’, their wicked misfit nature remained intact. Fame does not phase them – they remain animals. ‘Mon the fuckin’ Biff.
25. Blossoms – Blossoms
The Stockport five-piece’s meteoric rise in 2016 proved that while indie may be having a rest, it’s far from dead. The snake-hipped, synthy bombast of this self-titled debut saw it reach the top of the UK albums chart in its first week. It was a radio-friendly package full of brilliant influences, from New Order to Noel Gallagher – and they brought all the tunes too. From the “Hello, hello” of ‘Charlemagne’ all the way through to the psychedelic blues of closer ‘Deep Grass’ it was constantly pushing its own boundaries – best exemplified by ‘Onto Her Bed’, a mid-album piano ballad that dissolved into a ghostly mist.
24. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Though writing and recording for the Bad Seeds’ 16th album was underway before Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur fell to his death from a cliff near their Brighton home, the tragedy understandably came to shroud the record in an impenetrable, desolate darkness. Stark, broken and electronically experimental, ‘Skeleton Tree’ found Cave pouring out his grief over splintered soundscapes, a devastatingly close-to-home exploration of themes of loss, love and mortality that have characterised Cave’s work but here felt more potent than ever.
23. Michael Kiwanuka – Love And Hate
Four years ago, Michael Kiwanuka released his debut album ‘Home Again’, a gentle, soulful affair that painted him as an old-before-his-time sensitive vintage soulboy. In 2016’s Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Love & Hate’, he created something a whole lot more ambitious. Opener ‘Cold Little Heart’ was a hefty 10 minutes of sweeping strings and grandiose choral chanting, while ‘Black Man In A White World’ took Kiwanuka’s knack for a weighty lyric and crafted one of 2016’s most politically poignant songs. It all added up to a rich, and often powerful, listen.
22. Radiohead – A Moon-shaped-pool
For their Mercury-nominated ninth album Radiohead did the unexpected and finally released songs they’d been teasing for ages: you could find the lyrics for ‘Burn The Witch’ in 2003’s ‘Hail To The Thief’ liner notes, while ‘True Love Waits’, which had been knocking around their live performances since 1995. Thom Yorke’s recent electronica work and Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral nous came together seamlessly on ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, mixing moments of transcendent serenity (‘Daydreaming’) with political ire (‘Burn The Witch’) and banging motorik noise (‘Ful Stop’). As the accompanying shows went on to prove, Radiohead were more relaxed and human than we’d ever seen them before.
21. Anderson. Paak – Malibu
It’s been difficult not to sit up and take notice of Anderson .Paak this year. Having stolen the show on Dre’s 2015 comeback ‘Compton’, these past 12 months have seen the West Coast singer/rapper work with everyone from Kaytranada and Chance The Rapper to A Tribe Called Quest and Macklemore. He’s even found time for a collaborative mixtape with producer Knxwledge. But his 2016 highlight came back in January with his second studio LP, ‘Malibu’, a 16-track neo-soul epic filled to the brim with new ideas, homages to old school R&B and, most importantly of all, back-to-back bangers. Irresistible earworm ‘The Bird’ is a must-hear.
20. Lady Gaga – Joanne
Following the conceptual excesses of 2013’s ‘Artpop’, Lady Gaga’s fourth album neither looked nor sounded much like a Lady Gaga album at all. Instead, for all its starry cast of A-list collaborators, ’Joanne’ felt more like the first Stefani Germanotta album: a more personal, stripped-back, soft-rock turn that revealed much about the woman behind the meat couture and Mother Monster persona. Gaga’s diva impulses were given free reign on tracks like ‘Perfect Illusion’ and ‘Come to Mama’, but it was ‘Joanne’’s quieter, more introspective moments that hit hardest and lingered longest.
19. White Lung – Paradise
Fronted by the inimitable Mish Way – think riot grrrl era Courtney Love meets classy cultural commentator Joan Didion – cult LA/Vancouver punk act White Lung’s fourth album might have been their most mainstream yet, but it was still as brutal as a Saturday night out in a suburban Wetherspoons. Sure, there were power ballad leaning love songs, but there were also tracks about serial killers, homegrown nightmares Fred and Rosemary West included. It also featured one of the most evocative lyrics of the year, in the yelped “I will give birth in trailerrrr,” that punctuated the corrosive ‘Kiss Me When I Bleed’.
18. Tegan And Sara – Love You To Death
Tegan and Sara Quin’s metamorphosis from indie-schmindie darlings to sugarcoated synth-pop queens began by collaborating with super-producer Greg Kurstin on 2013’s ‘Heartthrob’, but it was their eighth LP that really sealed the deal. ‘Love You To Death’ was an exercise in smart, savvy, adult-oriented pop that doesn’t compromise the Canadian siblings’ roots or LGBTQ identity: the brilliant ‘BWU’ smartly addresses the subject of gay marriage, while ‘Boyfriend’ declares that “I don’t want to be your secret anymore.” Suffice to say, Tegan and Sara are nobody’s secret anymore.
17. Drake – Views
At a whopping 20 tracks long, Drake wasn’t holding back with his fourth full length. Essentially it was yet another album about how goddamn tough it is being Drake, but – in classic Drake style – done via the medium of total ruddy bangers. There was ‘One Dance’, the song of the summer, the Rihanna-featuring casual dancehall of ‘Too Good’, outrageously vibey ‘Controlla’, oh and ‘Hotline Bling’ as a sneaky bonus track. Sure, there was plenty of moaning in the mix, but Canada’s King of Complaining came up with the party goods.
16. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Teeth-grinding highs, gruesome comedowns, desperate decadence: the fifth album from Detroit rapper Danny Brown was not only 2016’s most entertaining hip-hop release, it was also the most disturbing. On the surface it was business as usual, with Brown delivering profane, dexterous rhymes over eccentric beats that’d flummox the flows of most rappers. But repeated listens revealed the widening cracks in his lunatic-goofball persona, until it was clear you were listening to a man enduring a nervous breakdown.
15. Kano – Made In The Manor
It starts with a bang. After six years out of the game, Kano announced his return to grime with the explosive heavy metal riffs of ‘Hail’. Having suitably reintroduced himself, he proceeded to unveil a record which lived up to the name: It really is a record of a time and place. ‘Made In The Manor’ works as both a social history of London’s East End, taking in block parties in the sunshine and the musical influence of D Double E, and also as a deeply personal record, as when Kano describes his estranged half-sister on ‘Lil Sis’. A master at work.
14. Jamie T – Trick
After a five-year hiatus Jamie T returned from the wilderness in 2014 with the exceptional ‘Carry On The Grudge’. Imagine our surprise, then, when two years later he put out another album, and one that was even better than the last. Seamlessly fusing together Jamie’s punk, rap and pop influences ‘Trick’ was as charismatic as its creator. Storytelling songs like the aggy ‘Solomon Eagle’ sat snugly alongside emotive balladry (‘Sign Of The Times’) and ludicrously odd singalongs (‘Drone Strike’) as well as shameless tributes to The Clash (‘Tescoland’). A decade into his career, Jamie proved himself to be as exciting as ever.
13. Angel Olsen – My Woman
Missouri-born Angel Olsen shook off the shackles of the trad winsome singer-songwriter tag with her devastating third album. The former backing singer for folk mainstay Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy showed herself to be more than strummed guitars and countrified emoting. Here she thrashed her way through the guttural power pop of ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, before getting to grips with psychedelic glam-rock, epic Fleetwood Mac style outpourings, ‘60s girl group sass and cosmic soul, all laced with her stunning, totally unique vocal.
12. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony
2016 was a bit of a banner year for Big Apple-based rock ’n’ roll, with Parquet Courts, Public Access TV, DIIV, The Britanys and even The Strokes themselves all turning heads with new releases. Yet it was Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean who caused the biggest stir with this perfectly-crafted debut that blended swirling psychedelia, sledgehammer riffs and shoegazing dream-pop with a skill and self-assurance far beyond their years. ‘Human Ceremony’ was the perfect, indisputable antidote to those who would prematurely write rock ‘n’ roll’s obituary.
11. Beyonce – Lemonade
The work of a woman scorned, or a lavish promotional campaign? When the tunes are this good, who cares? Beyonce proved herself a force to be reckoned with on her sixth LP – her second visual album following 2013’s ‘Beyonce’. A breathtakingly broad work, it featured her first country song, contributions from Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and Father John Misty and a giant push for the Black Lives Matter protest movement. ‘Lemonade’ pitched Beyonce as superwoman, cultural commentator, political firebrand and total badass, and succeeded on all fronts.
10. Frank Ocean – Blonde
The most anticipated album of the year, the follow-up to Ocean’s landmark ‘Channel Orange’, came like a bolt from the blue. It was subtler than its predecessor, but no less powerful. Teaming up with Jamie xx on standout track ‘Ivy’ – with its gorgeous “//I thought that I was dreaming/When you said you loved me//” refrain – he effortlessly set the downbeat disco tone. Beyonce dropped by on the breezy ‘Pink + White’, as did Kendrick Lamar on ‘Skyline To’, but both artists’ presence was barely perceptible. In fact, the guest who made the most impact was the mother of one of Frank’s pals, who espoused maternal advice in the ‘Be Yourself’ skit.
9. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Chicago’s Chance The Rapper kicked off the year with an impressive guest spot on Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’, but he was only getting started. In May he self-released his third mixtape, a soaring gospel inflected hip-hop album that gave spirituality and partying equal credence. If you wanted the former, then the two ‘Blessings’ tracks offered sweet soul salvation, but if it was the latter you were after, then the bouncing ‘All Night’ and Justin Bieber-featuring ‘Juke Jam’ were superlative dancefloor fillers. If you wanted to experience the whole gamut of emotion, then ballads ‘Same Drugs’ and ‘Summer Friends’ were the perfect soundtrack for a bittersweet little cry.
8. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
In a year in which so many legends left us, the continued presence of the majestic Iggy Pop was a blessing. Especially when he took it upon himself to release one of the most fully realised albums of his half a century long career. Joining forces with Queens of The Stone Ages’ Josh Homme and Dean Fertita as well as Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, the leathered-up backing band let Iggy soar, melding their sassy garage rock to the godfather of punk’s gnarly poetry. It was funny, it was sexy and it was totally f**ing cool – just like Iggy.
7. Diiv – Is The Is Are
Between the abandoned recording sessions, frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s arrest for heroin possession, the drug-related departure of their drummer, and the revelation of their bassist’s 4chan posting history, DIIV’s second LP had a legitimately torturous gestation. At one point, Smith was even calling the album his “one shot at immortality” and “by far the most important thing I’ll ever do,” and while it wasn’t //quite// as dramatic as all that, ‘Is the Is Are’ certainly ended up being far better than it had any right to. This was the sound of a hugely-promising young band course-correcting away from implosion; here’s hoping DIIV can stay the course.
6. David Bowie – Blackstar
‘Blackstar’ brought the curtain down on a remarkable life and career with one last dazzling feat of theatricality. You can debate where David Bowie’s 27th and final album ultimately sits in the grand scheme of his discography, but you can’t deny the emotional resonance of its songs, nor fail to admire the intricate planning that went into its making. From the occult references in its lyrics, to the hidden artwork on its LP sleeve, to the heartbreaking video for ‘Lazarus’, ‘Blackstar’ was an album of secrets, clues and riddles, and a fitting last transmission from the now-ascended master.
5. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Canadian producer Louis Kevin Celestin magical hip-hop and house infused debut touched on everything from J Dilla to old school disco. It also featured the best thing Craig David had done since ‘Born To Do It’ in the shape of the ultra-smooth ‘Got It Good’. Elsewhere, Syd from The Internet draped her airy vocals over glitch pop banger ‘You’re The One’ while Anderson Paak melted himself onto the horizontal R&B of ‘Glowed Up’. Despite his fondness for collabs, Kaytranada also gave himself plenty of room to shine solo, repurposing Brazilian singer Gal Costa’s Tropicalia treat ‘Pontos De Luz’ by adding some beefier beats and pushing it firmly into 2016. A delight.
4. Skepta – Konnichiwa
The well deserved winner of the Mercury Prize, Skepta’s fourth album was a landmark release in the story of grime. UK scene players old and new were featured, from Wiley to Novelist via Chip and Jme, but Skepta was the true star of show, heading up his uncompromising vision with a healthy dose of wit. A trio of flawless tunes, ‘Man’, ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’, stood proud in the middle of the record, that was both a call to arms and a statement of intent. In 2016 grime was at its most powerful and potent, and Skepta was at the head of it all.
3. Christine And The Queens – Chaleur Humaine
Already a star in her native France, 2016 was the year Héloïse Letissier went global, thanks to the electro-pop grace of ‘Chaleur Humaine’ and a live charisma which dazzled a stunned Glastonbury crowd. Her debut was sophisticated and sensitive, packed full of cool pansexual-pop with a heart as big as its hooks. It took on the big topics of 2016 – queer identity and gender politics – with grace and class; the follow-up will “redefine what it means to be sexy,” she told NME.
2. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
Kanye’s epic 20-track seventh album continued to show off his killer ear for a sample – from reggae great Sister Nancy on ‘Famous’ to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell on ’30 Hours’ – and proved his major league magnetism, bringing in guest appearances from Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000 and Chance The Rapper. It also kept Kanye in the headlines thanks to controversial lyrics about Taylor Swift and his constant tinkering, as he spent the year tweaking and re-releasing the record. Odd, sure. But also oh so very Kanye.
1. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
Any album with a title this unwieldy inevitably opens itself up to ridicule, but it turns out that The 1975 thrive on the ridiculous. At 74 minutes long, with 17 tracks spanning everything from pop to post-rock and all points in between, the Manchester group’s second album was a fascinating reflection of their frontman Matt Healy’s outsized, often contrarian, personality: egomaniacal but introverted, populist but unapologetically pretentious, insecure but hungry for attention. “The world needs this album,” Healy told NME, and the world’s response to it – topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic – proved him right.