Getintothis begins the countdown of the best albums of 2016, presenting first those just missing out on a spot in the top 50.
Even disregarding the politically troubling events, 2016 has been a difficult year for many.
Beginning with the shock news of the death of Bowie just after the release of Blackstar, the year has been tinged with sadness and a raised awareness of our own sense of mortality as well as that of those artists we hold dear. Death has loomed large over much of the best of year lists taking in Bowie but also Nick Cave‘s grief-heavy Skeleton Tree, Leonard Cohen‘s You Want it Darker and SVIIB from School of Seven Bells.
Death itself can induce a nostalgic sentimentality yet nostalgia is something to guard against. Too much of modern music can feel decisively backward looking. Reunion tours and comeback gigs seem to pull in the crowds while new bands can struggle to gain a foothold in an industry where lucrative record deals are a thing of the past and income from the sale of new albums comes under increasing pressure.
Much has been made in recent weeks of the sales of vinyl records, particularly the news that vinyl sales have now surpassed digital downloads. Many have applauded this statistic, yet as we all know there are “lies, damned lies and statistics“.
The vinyl element is something of a red herring. Although the year-on-year trend reveals that vinyl records now make up an increased proportion of the total amount spent on albums, the real news is that the total overall spend has reduced in 2016 compared to 2015. There is a marked shift in the way people are consuming music. Subscription streaming services now appear the primary medium for listening to new music, and much has already been written about how the economic benefits are stacked in favour of the consumer rather than the creator.
Likewise, we should look at what is driving the increase in vinyl sales. A cursory glance at the official vinyl albums chart shows very little in the way of new or cutting edge music. Currently occupying the top ten are such emerging talents as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse, Nirvana and, bizarrely, The Last Shadow Puppets. There is little here to suggest that the increase in sale of vinyl is little more than a record industry cashing in on nostalgia, focusing on an ageing demographic with higher levels of disposable income convincing them to repurchase music they already own on a revived format they likely abandoned many moons ago with the advent of CDs.
It seems clear that this nostalgia culture is not only damaging the broader record industry but also makes it more difficult for new acts to break through in any sustainable fashion. Efforts focused on repressing, repackaging, reissuing and re-marketing long-established classic albums not only takes money away from supporting new artists but can also allow pernicious views to persist that only old music is worthy, that new bands are not fit to rank alongside their more acclaimed predecessors.
The music industry of itself is more fragmented making it more difficult for ‘scenes’ to emerge that will capture the popular imagination and turn bands into household names. Don’t expect a Blur v Oasis chart showdown anytime soon. Despite this lack of popular awareness, there is a wealth of new music awaiting discovery and 2016 has been one of the best years in recent memory for new albums.
This year has proved that despite all the challenges thrown its way, the humble album as a concept (if not necessarily the concept album) remains alive and kicking. With this in mind we begin our annual countdown of our favourite albums of the year, presenting initially those that have just missed out on a place in our top 50.
As you will see below and in the coming days, 2016 has offered up a dizzying variety of styles ranging from brand new artists keen to push boundaries, challenge and expand minds, to the final statements by veterans of the industry. As ever, Liverpool is well represented, adding credence to our belief that the music scene is as healthy on our shores as it is anywhere in the country.
100. Beyoncé: Lemonade
Pakwood / Columbia
Beyoncé‘s Lemonade is a record made by someone artistically liberated by their status, however the music here is not the sound of liberation, least not until its finale. Instead it loosely tracks the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of grief. Beyoncé is singing the blues here, fuelled mostly by marital strife.
The opening line reads “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath”. The minimal drum machine, subtle strings and vocal arrangements lay an atmosphere that’s both soothing and uneasy. Hell hath no fury like the Jack White featuring Don’t Hurt Yourself. Instrumentally, this blindsided me. It comes on like a lazer-focused hybrid of Massive Attack’s creeping swagger and Led Zeppelin’s bombast, her delivery recalling Janis Joplin’s primal scream.
Throughout the record there are multiple moments where her voice is remarkably raw, especially for a major label artist. In ballad Sandcastles her voice cracks in visceral fashion. In 6 Inch, a song underpinned by a wonderfully employed Isaac Hayes sample warped into something far darker, her repetition of the words “Come Back” at the end sounds wounding, and all the more so being placed in an empowerment anthem. Freedom, with a fantastic Kendrick Lamar feature that spins vivid imagery of police racial profiling, is gigantic. Militaristic drums and organ back a performance more defiant than anything she’s done before.
The album is by no means perfect. Daddy Lessons verges near pastiche of both jazz and country. There are touches that don’t quite sit right: the klaxons in Hold Up, the hook in Sorry, that Formation feels tacked on after the final sounding All Night, but this is an album of remarkable scope, ambitious production and phenomenal passion. May it depose all that is beige in pop. Michael Edward
Getintothis on Beyoncé
99. Mothers: When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Grand Jury Music
Haunted, fractured and fragile folk musings are the order of the day on this striking debut from Athens, Georgia based Mothers. Rich in delicate atmospherics this is high on personal emotions without ever coming across as over-wrought or insincere. It showcases singer Kristine Leschper‘s vocal talents while musically offering more variety than first may appear. A striking debut that fans of the likes of Sharon Van Etten will surely lap up.
Getintothis on Mothers
98. Field Music: Commontime
Commontime is something of a deserved breakthrough from the brothers Brewis. A worthy follow up to the Mercury nominated Plumb, this release finds the band on more confident and assured form than ever before. Familiar stylings are turned up a notch. The funkily danceable rhythms are catchy and intoxicating, none more so than on opener and lead single The Noisy Days Are Over, while the musical complexity always remains the right side of showmanship. Blessed with an effortlessly fluid pop sensibility it is easy to see why the late Prince was a late convert to their talents.
Getintothis on Field Music
97. Yeasayer: Amen & Goodbye
Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors… New York, and more specifically Brooklyn, saw a conveyor belt of boss bands during a heady 2007. In the years that have passed it’s hard to see where these artists fit – sure they produced superlative albums; but they seem very much of a time and place – and musical revisionists maybe quick to dismiss them as hype stars for the Pitchfork Generation.
Not so, for this writer, but it’ll be intriguing to see how things shape up in years to come. Another of those Brooklynites who seemed to be on the cusp of greatness, only to retreat into mid-tier relative obscurity are Yeasayer – a curious band who’ve leapt from progressive neo-world guitar rock into thumping electronic pop and for their last effort obtuse WTF-ness. A band almost too clever for their own good, Yeasayer have gradually excelled in knowing an incredible song before ripping it and making it barely listenable. But this experimental bent appeared to back-fire on the impenetrable Fragrant World – and for their fourth offering they appear intent on clawing back the listener.
The evidence wass clear with opening single I Am Chemistry – a song which employed their grinding, mechanical rhythms but set it to their multi-tracked harmonies and a FUCKING CHOIR. If in doubt, always get a choir.
Indeed, Yeasayer have never been shy to throw the kitchen sink at it, and Amen Goodbye is rife with wild instrumentation and odd orchestration. All folky strings, chattering pianos and off-kilter guitars, Gerson’s Whistleis akin to Canterbury prog channeled through Wayne Coyne‘s mind while Cold Night begins with a Beck-like boogie before rolling into a chamber-pop strum. The peak arrives early doors with Half Asleep – a woozy strut reminiscent of their best moments on All Hour Cymbals – complete with female vocal harmonies and woodwind Eastern pageantry.
But, alas, this is no return to those early career peaks, there’s far too much clutter and incidental segues (four of the 13 amount to little but filler) which vie for attention leaving a record which is ironically overly-formed and could do with strimming back. Ultimately, Amen Goodbye is a reminder of a band worth sticking with – let’s hope others do too, for the next album, could lift them to those lofty peaks of ten years ago. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Yeasayer
96. Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker
Much like David Bowie‘s Blackstar with hindsight is it easy to read Leonard Cohen‘s valedictory statement as a last will and testament, a coming to terms with his impending mortality through the medium of song. Although it is difficult to interpret lines such as “I’m ready, my Lord” in any other way, You Want It Darker explores lyrical territory that has preoccupied Cohen for much of his career.
There is a rich gothic darkness laden with ambiguously poetic references to religion, death, sex and sins of the flesh. Rich, compelling and movingly profound there is an orchestral splendour that coats everything in a beautiful gravitas. The result is that You Want It Darker stands high taking worthy place alongside the revered works of Cohen‘s prime.
Getintothis on Leonard Cohen
95. Spring King: Tell Me If You Like To
The debut long-player from Manchester’s Spring King is a retro-indie fan’s delight. Capturing the frenetic energy of a live performances on record is never an easy task such that some don’t even try. Yet too often debut LPs can feel like a let-down to fans who have radiated to a band on the basis of their live reputation. It is thus a relief that Tell Me If You Like To possesses a rawly coiled spring-like energy of a tightly-honed band, bristling with post-punk tensions and fizzing with garage rock energy. Intense, distorted and squalling, this is a thrilling ride and you can’t help but surf the waves of the band’s youthful enthusiasm.
Getintothis on Spring King
94. Explosions in the Sky: The Wilderness
Temporary Residence Limited
The Wilderness is Explosions in the Sky‘s first full length album since 2011’s mutedly received Take Care, Take Care, Take Care and it is apparent that their absence has resulted in a subtle reinvention of the band’s trademark sounds.
The Wilderness downplays the traditional and well-practised loud/quiet post-rock dynamic motifs for a more introspectively nuanced and at times vulnerable soundstage. While the big crescendoes and emotional releases have not been entirely sacrificed, the fragility and wistful meandering seem more accurate chroniclers of our increasingly anxious and uncertain world.
Getintothis on Explosions in the Sky
93. Peter J Smyth: Black Smoke
Emerging Liverpool record label God Unknown announced themselves to the world with a series of split-seven inch singles championing some of the finest psych acts around. This is a label determined to uncover the dark underbelly of the genre, intent on delving its deepest recesses to shine a light on the heaviest and most mind-altering acts.
It therefore might surprise that one of its first full length releases comprises a man armed with little more powerful than a solo acoustic guitar. Perhaps you’d be less surprised to learn that Peter J. Smyth is otherwise engaged as the frontman of Liverpool’s foremost space-rock travellers Mugstar.
Not content with having already played a part in one of the best releases of the year, Mugstar‘s Magnetic Seasons, Smyth shows he is capable of something more intricate and less bludgeoning. Revealing honest and openly observational lyrics and a finger-picking style this could, on the one hand, fall into the standard singer-songwriter blandness trap.
Yet it doesn’t. Sonically it is more interesting. The guitar lines are delivered with just that little bit of force, an intensity that hints at a tension and a bristling anger. The background rumble of ambient electronic dissonance adds to an ill-at-ease atmosphere. While the recording perfectly captures a sense of intimacy, the ghostly echoes, sense of space and the screech of fingers on the fretboard.
Middle of the road this ain’t. A quiet and understated triumph it most assuredly is. If you like what you hear and physical LPs are your thing then this is a limited to 500 pressing on glorious red vinyl – so don’t hang around. PH
Getintothis on Peter J Smyth
92. Margo Price: MidWest Farmer’s Daughter
Third Man Records
Such is the emotional authenticity of Margo Price‘s MidWest Farmer’s Daughter it feels a direct response to the over-commercialised and sanitised rut that Nashville has got itself in. The seeds of its dysfunction have long been sown and have even been documented in lyric by outsider country artists (see Dale Watson) and it is from this outlaw country tradition that Price borrows most heavily.
Indeed there is evidence of a clear lineage from the independent spirit of the great matriarchs of country music, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lyn right through to Caitlin Rose that permeates Price‘s work. Throughout there are staple country music hooks, both musically and lyrically and that might put some people off. But this is far from clichéd Nashville fare.
It bristles with an autobiographical honesty, telling the story of the rural dispossessed, of hardship and bleak hopelessness. Little wonder then that Price wants “to turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time” and buy back the farm taken from her father when she was two. Since You Put Me Down and Hurtin’ (On the Bottle) tell the story of the descent into alcoholism following the break-up of a relationship. Examining the conflict between well-raised morality and the perceived immorality of alcohol dependency, there is nonetheless evidence of an inextinguishable spirit of defiant positivity that underpins this and the record. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Margo Price
91. Ultimate Painting: Dusk
Trouble In Mind
Sometimes side dishes are more memorable than the main course, the small plates filled with more treats than the belly-busting platter. So is the case with Ultimate Painting, a union of Jack Cooper and James Hoare from Mazes and Veronica Falls. A delightful fusion of the melodic with the motorik in a blissful approximation of the post-Cale Velvet Underground, easily elevates this above each member’s day band.
Dusk does not prove a radical departure from the duo’s first two outings yet it reinforces our favourable impressions, that of mellow, languid and effortlessly crafted melodies that subscribe to the less-is-more school of thought. Yet it also subverts; scrape away the beautiful veneer to find an existential dread and a stultifying sense of loneliness.
Getintothis on Ultimate Painting
90. YG: Still Brazy
Def Jam Recordings
Most artists find their second album a slog, with plenty falling well shy on the promise their debut offered or succumbing to the deadly witchcraft of writers block.
Thankfully Compton’s YG does not suffer from such futile matters on his triumphant sophomore long player Still Brazy, with the rapper having to deal with more pressing issues. Like being shot.
Having survived the shoot out, YG has managed to evolve upon the G-funk laden cuts on his debut My Krazy Life and turn in one of the albums of the year.
Although many would have questioned his decision to part ways with producer DJ Mustard, on Still Brazy YG justifies his choice with a sharpened sound and progressive lyrics that create a sound more true to California’s greats then anything Kendrick Lamar has managed thus far, with G-funk banger Twist My Finger proving an instant West Coast classic.
Filled with opportune paranoia, Still Brazy is awash with dramatic anxiety, that evokes images of the trouble times YG lives in. On the Trump bashing FDT (Fuck Donald Trump), YG is able to unite those who Trumpseemingly loathes, with a force not seen since NWA’s hey day in possibly the first great protest song in this new era. With the secret service becoming involved due to its strong content, it seems to have done its job.
Similarly on Police Get Away Wit Murder, YG doesn’t shirk away, naming victims of police brutality under his lyrical tirade.
Although there is no doubt that Still Brazy covers some dark material, musically it is glowing with summertime synths and glitching beats that glisten throughout. It is further proof that unlike the majority of recent West Coast rappers, YG is not riding on the tailcoats of its legends but creating his own legacy. Craig MacDonald
Getintothis on YG
89. Mmoths: Luneworks
Sprawling electronic ambience coupled with a warm enveloping and richly textured soulful beauty characterise this extraordinary debut album by Dublin-based producer Jack Colleran, otherwise known as Mmoths. Luneworks is an album that works as a collective whole and it feels churlish to single out specific tracks such is the ease in which they seamlessly integrate into something altogether greater.
Yet Para Polaris stands out, strikingly eerie and oppressively suffocating on the one hand, overwhelming in its hazy synth-led beauty on the other. In a way its juxtapositions sum up the whole album: a dextrously harmonious blend of light and shade, of space and oppression.
88. Tycho: Epoch
For more than a decade now Scott Hansen has been releasing some of the most beautifully-crafted instrumental electronica we’ve come across.
The San Fran artist fuses kraut Godfafthers and Eno-like ambience with contemporary dance-floor fillers producing widescreen predominantly breathtakingly uplifting narratives which could soundtrack the break of dawn or late night motorway drives zipping along to nothing but flickers of headlights.
His latest offering Epoch is his third for the superlative Ghostly International (home to the likes of Matthew Dear, Gold Panda and Tobacco) follows on from Awake and 2011’s incredible breakthrough Dive and once again features his trademark cascading synths and warm, break-beats which mix disco and choppy guitar riffs.
What makes Tycho‘s albums so durable is his ear for a hook and accessibility – take Slack four minutes of fret-dancing and propulsive sun-kissed melodica which is the very epitome of Cali-pop. Similarly to much of the record the tracks build gradually before bursting into effervescent radiating colour.
If there’s a criticism, several tracks repeat the motif while the second half of the record lags somewhat – Local appears half-baked while Continuum is a tad inconsequential. However, with the likes of neon thunder of Glider, the strident undulating boogie of Rings and sci-fi menace of Division, there’s ample here to delight fans new and old. Mega. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Tycho
87. Barberos: Barberos
It’s fair to say that Barberos have only gone and pulled it off. The band, so honed and practised in the live arena – their shows are renowned for their pummelling intensity and technical complexities – have managed to transfer aspects of their live sound onto record while also augmenting it with added depth, texture, nuance and subtlety.
Admittedly the record is less full throttle, you don’t necessarily feel like your cheeks are being pressed back to your ears or that you’re being pinned to the wall, but that isn’t necessarily a band thing. Nonetheless the opening statements – two pieces that merge into one – The Return of the Ladius and The Ladius are trademark Barberos.
Synth-led electronica builds with a mounting sense of unease over restrained yet insistent rhythmic beats and cymbals as the tension is gradually ratcheted up. This is interspersed with playfully melodic interludes that pull you back from the precipice before launching you ever forwards again. The Ladius twists and subverts, careering down side alleys before u-turning and continuing the relentless forward progression, accelerating in almost breathless fashion over the rhythmic hammers of synth and drums amid a sea of all-encompassing noise experiments. Quite magnificent.
Hoyl sees the band slow the pace if not their willingness to experiment. Lowering the volume to little more than a haunting rumble it drips with eerie atmospherics over spoken word narration from This Heat‘s Charles Hayward. It is quite unlike anything Barberos have ever done before and amid the low rumbles you can almost hear the nods of approval from one legend of experimental rock to the new pretenders.
The rest of the album sees the band return to familiar, if not safe, territory. It remains a cataclysm of mind-bending rhythm, corrugated synth and furious keyboard. A heady mix of experimental dynamism without ever going fully for the jugular. Perhaps that on reflection is the only real criticism, is it slightly too reserved the production a little too clinical.
But that is to nit-pick Barberos remains a thrilling ride from beginning to end, predictable only in its unpredictability. A joy from one of Liverpool’s best. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Barberos
86. BadBadNotGood: IV
IV by BadBadNotGood offers an exemplary lesson in how to assimilate a variety of styles without ever sounding forced or contrived. What in lesser hands would be a mess of chaotic sonic confusion comes together here as a tribute to exuberant excess, unbridled ambition and excited panache.
This is a marriage of fluid hip-hop rhythms with loose and louche jazz and lounge elements that feels as unpredictable as it is carefully considered and tightly arranged. A not insubstantial skill to pull off, yet when done expertly cannot fail to impress. The guest vocalists work well, such as Future Islands‘ Sam Herring on Time Moves Slow which signals their crooning intent, yet it is the jazzy, freeform and unshackled jams, such as the saxaphone-rich Confessions Pt II that work best here.
Getintothis on BadBadNotGood
85. Minor Victories: Minor Victories
Play It Again Sam / Fat Possum
A collaborative album featuring Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite, Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Mojave 3 and Editors‘ Justin Lockey it is built around driving and edgily-noir percussive propulsion and Braithwaite‘s walls of distinctive sonic noise. Holding it all together is Goswell‘s effecting vocals that ride the crest of the sonic noise without ever becoming suffocated within it. Songs such as A Hundred Ropes positively zip along revealing a striking pop sensibility that takes Mogwai‘s recent forays into explorative synth in a new direction.
Minor Victories will perhaps stand the test of time as a rare example of a collaborative album that succeeds, perhaps on account of the space afforded in its making and mainly because it doesn’t feel like watered down variants of the parent bands. This stands proud on its own merits and is all the better for it. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Minor Victories
84. Glass Animals: How To Be A Human Being
How To Be A Human Being shrugs off any notion of the challenging second album with confident ease. How To Be A Human Being is as joyously uplifting and infectious a pop record you’ll hear all year.
Getintothis on Glass Animals
83. She Drew The Gun: Memories Of The Future
Big expectations from She Drew The Gun‘s Memories Of The Future are conquered almost immediately with some of the most honest, raw songwriting this country has seen in quite some time.
Poem takes immediate aim at the injustices of austerity, “Protect the banks, bring out the tanks if they disagree / While we’re at it let’s invest some more in military / All our friends have shares so why shouldn’t we” Roach empowers. Rhymed and timed to almost John Cooper Clarke level precision, there our thousands of heads nodding away right across the country, be sure of that.
That’s how the inner workings here, well…work. Each melody memorable, from the sumptuously upbeat Chainsto the mellow acoustics of Pebbles. Each lyric, from personal tribulations to cultured socio-political views, sung with the same passion and intensity. You hear every word and Roach‘s motives are never left unknown.
Another high comes in the form of outright banger Pit Pony, a unique change of pace for the record. Again featuring Roach‘s assured, poetically fluent vocal, this time against rhythmic palette oozing drone-like synth loops, and more pop-edged dynamics. If You Could See, first released over a year ago, is still a fuzzy highlight too.
All in all, this is a record that has an effect on its listener from start to finish, that in a sense is the greatest compliment it could receive in its infancy. Couple that with Memories Of The Future boasting some of the finest lyrical work of recent time and it’s not much of a surprise to have seen this record, Louisa Roach and She Drew The Gun having hit whole new heights this year. Jake Marley
Getintothis on She Drew The Gun
82. The KVB: …Of Desire
Such is their mining of past sounds it would be easy to accuse The KVB of being derivative. On this the duo’s second album for Geoff Barrow’s Invada label the key touchstone references are apparent. Joy Division, The Cure and Suicide are easily if lazily recalled. Yet it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter.
…Of Desire is a brutal, looping and relentless record, unyielding in its intensity, that is immediately fuller and more expansive than anything they have hitherto produced. Heavy in reverb and distortion, guitars and synth interweave to suggest disturbingly apocalyptic vistas all set over mind-batteringly motorik rhythms. Yet there is a pop-sensibility here too, at least the sort of dark noir free, from the sugar-coated requirements of modern tastes, that would have passed for pop-music in the not-too-distant past.
Getintothis on The KVB
81. C Duncan: The Midnight Sun
Second albums. The age old issue, how to capitalise or build on what’s gone before, to break new ground and find new inspirations. There must surely be an added stress if your first production was Mercury nominated and took you from the security and obscurity of the bedroom studio to the five star flavoured columns of critics, and the welcoming hearts and minds of new found fans. With this new offering, The Midnight Sun, Christoper Duncan has found inspiration in American Sci-Fi showThe Twilight Zone. The album is named after an episode of the show. It makes perfect sense that Duncan would find so much to inspire there. Full circle, maybe, given the drama and moods conjured by his first outing.
Again, those luscious sweeping layers of strings, and perfect harmonies, the orchestral arrangements of the instrumentation, the eerie atmospheric soundscape which surrounds and envelopes each instrument, those elements we found so beguiling on Architect are thankfully all still in place.
Lyrically stronger perhaps, he’s found comfort in a place where he can discuss such issues as a past relationship, as on Last To Leave, opening with a delicate droning sweep synth line which passes into the background as an insistent bass pulse takes the foreground. The warm, heavenly vocal on Do I Hear offer the melody up, while analogue synths form an interplay around a simple plucked acoustic guitar. With every layer, the atmosphere grows and develops into the whole, and the album feels somehow more whole than its predecessor, but no less beautiful because of that.
An album inspired and inspiring in equal measure. Paul Fitzgerald
Getintothis on C Duncan
80. Virginia Wing: Forward Constant Motion
On standout track Miserable World Alice Merida Richards sings “You’ve got to keep ahead in this miserable world / your time is too scarce to stay in one place“. More than just a throwaway lyric, it seems to define the reinvention of Virginia Wing.
Forward Constant Motion, as the very title suggests is the sound of a band striving pushing itself on to new levels. Startlingly bold and ambitious, Virginia Wing has produced an album far removed in scope and breadth from the moody atmospherics of their 2014 debut Measures of Joy. With the dream pop meets krautrock template having been shredded, this is an anxiety-inducing jitterbug affair of synth-pop and electronica that works as an explosion of noise pulling itself in every which direction in an often bewildering array of rhythm and texture.
It sounds chaotic, it often is. Yet amid the avant-garde experimentalism is the sound of organised chaos. Darkness and light coalesce amid a strident concoction of melancholy and euphoria. At times edgily introspective and formless, such as the looping uncertainty that underpins Permaboss, elsewhere Hammer a Nail is a brilliant fusion of confused clattering with bright synth-led melodic intent.
What pulls it all together is Richards‘ almost aloof vocal delivery, the Trish Keenan-inspired presentation the common thread between this and Measures of Joy. As if exerting a powerful centrifugal force, it holds everything together amid the otherworldly off-kilter sonic experiments. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Virginia Wing
79. Kikagaku Moyo: House in the Tall Grass
House in the Tall Grass by Japanese psych-folk outfit Kikagaku Moyo could be seen as initially disappointing, for this release reins in the band’s experimental and challenging tendencies, replacing it with what could, at face value be perceived as a more straightforward down-the-middle psych rock album.
Yet, like all the best records, it’s slow to reveal its charms. It teases us before unveiling its delicate and fragile beauty that is as enchanting as it is beguiling. With heavy use of sitars – albeit in a subtle, non-clichéd manner – this is a record that is preoccupied with the gentle, exploring the edges of human emotions through delicate slow-building tracks that grow and envelope almost imperceptibly. Laced with an eloquent sadness and wistful longing, it revels in a lush quiet undercharged beauty that reminds that slow and suggestive can be as overwhelming as loud and heavy.
Getintothis on Kikagaku Moyo
78. Merchandise: A Corpse Wired For Sound
When Merchandise signed for 4AD and released After The End it appeared a match made in college rock heaven. Big tunes, punk ethos and a vitality which lived up to the hype.
Push forward two years and much has changed; core members Carson Cox and Dave Vassalotti have been writing from different corners of the globe and the result A Corpse Wired For Sound sounds like it – dark, disparate, echo-laden and drenched in something foreboding. Gone is upbeat swagger of their previous album replaced by a characteristic 4AD traditional gothic-rock approach. And it will force listeners to wrestle and work that bit much harder.
But persist and there’s an ocean to get lost in. Right Back To The Start is a neon late night Berlin throbber while Lonesome Sound is a serrated rocker were the guitars literally sound like chainsaws. And this is indicative of the wider sound, as guitars and electronics are twisted and drenched in messy fuzz, cold washes of distortion and throbbing electronica. You’d imagine Silence of Lambs chap Jamie Gumb would love this shit.
There is but one track which stands alone and harks back to After The End, the penultimate I Will Sleep Here – a hearbreaking, semi-acoustic ballad which rests upon Carson Cox‘s beautiful poetry and a chorus which will grip you tight and leave you gasping for breath. It’s possibly the finest music they’ve written.
What the future holds for Merchandise is unknown, but if they continue to make music like this – no matter which parts of the world they all exist in – we’re all the better for it. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Merchandise
77. Holy Fuck: Congrats
Holy Fuck‘s first new album since 2010’s Latin finds the band in familiar territory. A suitably fried and gnarled head-spin of a record that assaults the senses at every turn. Opening track Chimes Broken sets the stall out early, a sizzling blur of electronic noise over frenetically chaotic drumming that accelerates in an all-out hedonistic race to the finish. It’s a battering ram of a song, a breathless and invigorating ride.
Perhaps wisely Holy Fuck don’t attempt to keep pace. Elsewhere is a more nuanced and explorative journey into the crevices of electronic-led alternative music, delving into the troughs as well as scaling the peaks. Caught Up ends the record almost as it began. Mangled machine-gun beats and twisted electronic pyrotechnics ensure that it all ends in a euphoric rave-up. Congrats will prove a treasure-trove of delights for those who miss the heady New York days of DFA-inspired delights.
Getintothis on Holy Fuck
76. Parlour: Parlour
Formed in 1995 by Tim Furnish, Louisville’s Parlour are an avalanche of clanging, angular riffs at war with rampaging saxophones, abrasive synths and steely percussion. Do we need to say more?
Okay, so they’ve been on kinda hiatus for a while but are back under the wings of perma-awesome label Temporary Residence which should serve as a fitting tribute as to the kind of noise that Parlour make – it’s crunching, disarming, metallic and brutal – there’s not a single moment of their self-titled album which doesn’t stir with disquiet.
Yet for all its visceral intent, Parlour is a hugely fun listen; escapist even. Fempire injects comic-book John Carpenter-esque synths aligning them with wrecking ball riffs while opener New Syntax Preserves sounds like a bomb detonating inside a guitar factory. Nadeemed, meanwhile, comes on like Oceansize playing inside an asylum with the fire alarm going off.
If there’s a criticism the incessant repetition – which is of course a motif used deliberately – can induce migraine symptoms should you not be in the mood for a full-throttle aural attack. Yet, despite most the tracks clocking in around the 7 minute mark, Parlour is a bracing, thriller of a record which jolts and entertains at every ferocious turn. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Parlour
75. RY X: Dawn
Sweepingly orchestral, Dawn is a masterful collection of delicately affecting folk missives draped in an echoing reverberative warmth. RY X, otherwise known as Ry Cumming, is blessed with a magnificent voice that veers from tremulous falsetto to deep tenor. Here it is used to devastatingly emotive effect transforming deeply personal and intimate tales of heartbreak into something overwhelmingly dark and rich. The repeated refrain of “I was only falling in love” from Only is a case in point. It is as though he speaks for us all, a spokesman for the human condition. A wonderful LP.
Getintothis on RY X
74. Fumaça Preta: Impuros Fanáticos
Impuros Fanáticos is the latest chapter in the typically bonkers psychedelic world of Fumaça Preta. And what a world it is. Where too many participants in this scene are content not only to retread old ground but also retread the same old ground as their contemporaries Fumaça Preta dare to be different and look to breathe fresh life into a congested scene.
Embracing their latin heritage, Impuros Fanáticos transports the listener to another world, a world in which an anarchic melting pot of styles has taken hold. Voodoo, Tropicalia, garage-punk, samba, cumbia compete with layers of guitar fuzz, repetitively chanted vocal mantras and punishing rhythms and synth. This is wild and untamed rather than a well-studied copy, sure it’s messy and often incoherent but it is all the more engaging and interesting as a result.
Getintothis on Fumaça Preta
73. Steve Mason: Meet The Humans
Double Six Records
Steve Mason has often been a difficult artist to listen to. Not that he is necessarily challenging in the conventional sense, more that he finds it difficult to disguise his emotions, his songs often providing an outlet from and an insight into a troubled mind. The pleasure of Meet The Humans is in its simple, unaffected joyful happiness. This is a man finally in a good place, seemingly trouble free with any past darkness left in the rearview mirror.
“Alive” seems to symbolise the revived Mason. The lyric “Don’t you want to see me alive, I only want to see me alive“, reminds that mental ill-health remains the single biggest killer of young men while the message coupled with the bouyant vibrancy of the music suggests he has found an inner-tranquility. Meet The Humans is far from Mason‘s best work, yet it has a celebratory feel and basks in the everyday joy in being alive. For this reason alone it is a quiet triumph.
Getintothis on Steve Mason
72. The Invisible: Patience
Following their 2012 album Rispah, a record very much inspired by death and grieving, Patience sees the Invisible somewhat more optimistic and joyful. With an expansive and eclectic sound taking aspects of post-punk, jazz, RnB and electro-pop amongst many other styles, the album is a massively listenable yet experimental take on pop. It’s intricate with a lot of different and unusual ideas coming into play, yet it flows like a classic pop record should. It’s a record you can spend a lot of time with, and still find something new about it to enjoy with each listen.
Getintothis on The Invisible
71. The Comet Is Coming: Channel The Spirits
The Leaf Label
On their debut album Channel The Spirits, London space-jazz trio summon up the ghost of Sun Ra with a heady fusion of swirling kosmische, freeform jazz and afro-beat rhythms. With saxophonist and sometime member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Shabaka Hutchings forming part of the trio there is substance and credibility behind the source of their inspiration. Yet they embrace the avant-garde with infectious enthusiasm, proving that jazz can find a home on the dancefloor as well as in more rarefied jazz club settings.
Getintothis on The Comet Is Coming
70. Oliver Coates: Upstepping
It is fair to say that Oliver Coates is not your run-of-the-mill classical musician. Neither is Upstepping your standard album of cello recitals. Indeed such is the breadth of the ideas at play and the willingness to chop, change and convert the everyday into something new, you’d be forgiven for not, on first listen, hearing a cello at all.
In its essence Upstepping is an album of minimal electronica that offers only the merest hint of its creator’s background in classical music. It is a strikingly experimental album that steals and borrows from the likes of Four Tet while creating something so unusual in both construct and sound that it feels unique and quite unlike anything we’ve heard before.
As if concocted in a melting pot of mind altering alchemy, his cello is twisted, mangled and rearranged in wilful dissections of pitch and timbre. This is against a backdrop of glitchy electronica that at is at times jittery and edgy and elsewhere carries the abandon of house music. If Bambi 2046 presents the sound at its most full-on, a riotous cavalcade of jerk and confusion before descending into heavy doom, Memorial to Hitchens is altogether more regal revealing more of the composers background in the classical world. Elsewhere vocal arrangements are utilised to discombobulating effect.
Despite an at times an unclear direction and a lack of sonic cohesion, the album is a guarded success. Amid the sparseness and the unfamiliarly perplexing array of sounds there are frissons of energy, a vibrancy of momentum and an air of unpredictability that do not fail to command your attention. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Oliver Coates
69. Factory Floor: 25 25
Who’s the best live band in the UK? Tough question. But few can match Factory Floor.
We’ve seen them four times in four very different spaces and three of which were so good they made our end of year top five. They destroyed Nation, decimated the Furnace at Psych Fest and did something so extraordinary at the Kazimier we nearly had an out of body experience.
Problem was, the last time we caught them synth man Dominic Butler had departed meaning engine room drumming leviathan Gabriel Gurnsey switched to electric pads and all the ‘human’ element of their sound was gone. Now there wasn’t much humane sounding originally to their incessant mechanical techno. But the visual ferocity and a certain something was absent last time round. Instead they’d truly become a 100% robotic death disco machine.
Oddly, and rather pleasantly surprising album number two, 25 25 seeks to address that, and if anything it’s a more accessible, slightly easier to digest beast than their ferocious eponymous debut – primarily because Nik Colk Void lends her fractured vocals to a number of the pieces on display.
Take Wave – a thrilling trip gliding among 303 howls, cowbells and what sounds like Prince‘s LinnDrum malfunctioning in the bath tub. Elsewhere, the likes of Dial Me In (the band’s funkiest effort to date), Ya (the sound of Hot Chip remixed by Throbbing Gristle) and the title track’s dancing cheeky blurts and pops are reminiscent of coming up at 2am.
If we’re making it sound too much like pop fun, forget it, this is still lacerating, hard-edged, cement-mixer noise – but at least you know there’s a human heart thumping behind the beats. It’ll make yours do the same. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Factory Floor
68. School of Seven Bells: SVIIB
Death hangs heavily over several records released this year, none more so than on the fourth and final record from School of Seven Bells, SVIIB, the songs of which were written shortly before the death of founder Benjamin Curtis in 2013. Album opener Ablaze ripples with poignant intensity over trademark wall of sound and Alejandra Deheza‘s breathy vocals.
“You saw the stars in me when I had sunk into the black / you never thought to leave“, although written before the death of Curtis context is everything. Despite the tragic circumstances and the emotional sadness that pervades the record, it feels ultimately uplifting. A joyful tribute to our capacity to cope and deal with adversity; to feel sad, to pay tribute, not to forget but to remember, but ultimately to move on. More than a manual on dealing with grief, SVIIB is also a great record and a fitting final chapter for School of Seven Bells.
Getintothis on School of Seven Bells
67. Imarhan: Imarhan
Imarhan are a fierce, blistering sextet who draw on the traditional music of their native North African Tuareg culture – rich percussion and drones of swirling string instruments – with an injection of emphatic desert rock, when in full flow their self-titled debut album is an unstoppable storm of a listen.
There’s plenty of pining, downtempo beauty to Imarhan’s music, such as the longing opener Tarha Tadagh and the hypnotic, hazy spin of Assossamagh, frontman Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane, aka Sadam, boasting a sublime low vocal as at ease with a gentle intimacy as in a detached, evocative drift.
Fantastic as they are in their slower moments, it’s when the band bolt into a faster gear that the record is nothing short of euphoric. A rich vein of groove runs throughout the record, lending the more sombre tracks a vital edge, but when second track Tahabort takes an irresistible, choppy riff and runs with the polyrhythm to a headier pace the record hits searing new heights.
Title track Imarhan is even wilder, the now familiar phenomenal twists of guitar distorted to a blistering desert haze that kicks quickly to a relentless, inexorable powerhouse of a drive. At other times, too, the band will drift effortlessly in to a longer, middle-ground groove
Whatever their guise, Imarhan’s debut is like nothing released this year. Though Tuareg music has long been accessible on these shores thanks to groups like the brilliant Tinariwen, whom Sadam joined on tour when the conflict in northern Mali prevented some members’ travel, Imarhan have an eye for progression, seizing all manner of influence for a truly magnificent melting pot of a record. Patrick Clarke
Getintothis on Imarhan
66. Baltic Fleet: The Dear One
Blow Up Records
The new album from former GIT Award winners Baltic Fleet finds the band in more expansive form, trading the industrial landscapes of Towers for a pennine wilderness. The album takes its name and draws inspiration from a nineteenth century diary and introduces a heavier sound constructed through an array of vintage instruments as the band explore themes of loss, isolation and escapism through familiar musical touchstones. The likes of Neu!, New Order, Tangerine Dream and Daft Punk are strongly recalled.
Getintothis on Baltic Fleet
65. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown isn’t a cartoon character despite his reputation, he’s a human being, and as Atrocity Exhibition shows, an incredibly talented human being.
Brown’s reputation and cartoonish voice, along with his moving into party anthem territory on Old, has painted him to some as a larger than life excess machine, smoking blunt after blunt, yet there has always been a darker undercurrent to his music. His hedonism comes from a deep desire for escapism from his own existential and personal woes. Atrocity Exhibition brings this to the surface and lays it bare. The outrageousness is still present, but lines like “Lick the clit and she do the Macarena” are now bittersweet jabs slipped in between the raw honesty.
Make no mistake this album isn’t for everyone. Danny’s voice might be a hurdle for some, with its high pitched elastic qualities, though he does have two other modes, one deep voiced and smooth, and one in between that comes off rather like André 3000 and the instrumentals are so far from the usual wheelhouse of modern hip hop, or hip hop in general, and Get Hi is a bit of a dud, though in a 15 track album, one dud is hardly anything to complain about.
If you give it the time, Atrocity Exhibition has endless depth and astounding quality. Danny Brown, take a bow. Michael Edward
Getintothis on Danny Brown
64. White Denim: Stiff
In one of the most inappropriately titled albums of the year, Stiff finds Austin’s White Denim in their loosest form yet. A recurring criticism of the band has been that their technical mastery has had the tendency to cast a long shadow over their output and that their musical virtuosity leaves their records as something less than the sum of its parts. Yet here there is a sense of freedom and relaxed spontaneity, perhaps on account of their trimmed down line-up following the departure of guitarist Austin Jenkins.
It feels the work of a re-energised band, reacquainted with the vibrant garage-rock energy of their early material. Later period elements remain, such as the soulful Take It Easy, and there remains a melting pot of sounds of the American south incorporating blues, swing, jazz and funk. Yet this feels more cohesive than D and punchier than Corsicana Lemonade. Downplaying the need to show off, the songs come to the fore, none more so than on the Southern Rock stomp of Holda You (I’m Psycho) or the infectious garage-blues of Mirrored in Reverse.
Getintothis on White Denim
63. Skepta: Konnichiwa
Boy Better Know
There was a point, a few years back, when grime burst out into the musical spectrum before being swiftly brought to a shuddering halt, thanks to the likes of Robbie Williams and co trying their hand at the latest scene to be given a break.
Thankfully that time has long since gone. Questionably, the main player in the second coming of grime is London MC and Drake’s new best mate, Skepta. His Mercury Prize winning fourth album Konnichiwa may possibly be an album that will define a generation.
With Konnichiwa, Skepta not only manages to prove that the appeal of grime is now global, but also that the hype surrounding the release of the album is more than justified. Menacing, ferocious rhymes are spelled out with breath taking effect on tracks like That’s Not Me and Lyrics. He delivers well aimed, direct blows to his rivals throughout, but on Text Me Back, he proves that grime is more than just rude boys running through the streets.
Yes, he could now probably get Kanye, Drake and Pharrell together for a Nandos, but he still maintains a tone of Britain that flows throughout. On Konnichiwa, Skepta stays true to his roots and although he has now taken grime back to the mainstream, you feel that this time it’s for the right reasons. Craig MacDonald
Getintothis on Skepta
62. The Coral: Distance Inbetween
t’s easy to forgot *just* how mighty, and how young, The Coral were when they exploded on to an unsuspecting British public back in 2002.
Brit Award album nominations, Jools Holland performances, festival headlining, world tours, Electric Proms with Noel Gallagher and all the while playing a barnstorming mix of the Coolest Pothead Jams In The World Ever – all in their late teens and early 20s.
By melding a classic compilation of Beefheart, Love, Floyd, Romantic poetry, sea-shanties and bowl hair-cuts, they were a blast from a slightly forgotten past but injected with the gang’s dynamism they positively oozed now.
Fast-forward to 2016, and their timing is impeccable, for while there’s never been a more fertile period for new psychedelic pomp, The Coral steadfastly remain their own singular ship – a careering tidal wave, still out of step with their kaleidoscopic peers, yet sounding utterly fresh – and this new vigour is all over Distance Inbetween – their first album proper in six years. And boy, does it boot.
As evidenced in the thundering Chasing The Tail Of A Dream, the album is muscular, loaded with meaty riffs and easily the band’s weightiest effort yet all the while retaining their characteristic nous for a pop tune and instantly hummable harmonies.
White Bird and Connector kicking things off with two Hail Mary’s; the latter a stampeding organ droner (the album is rife with lazer-gun keyboards set to stun), the former a fuzz-laden axe-chop to the belly while Miss Fortuneemploys Paul Molloy’s searing guitars to full tremouring effect. Fear Machine, meanwhile, could have dropped off any Black Mountain album, such is its colossal leaden delivery.
But amid the bluster, as per, there’s several softer diamonds – as James Skelly once again shows his hand as one of the UK’s finest song-writers; Beyond The Sun a case in point which exudes a melancholic mourning twinned to a strident Caravan-like Nick Power keys motif – it’d be the perfect tune if Neil Diamond were ever to ride singing into a medieval battlefield.
In truth, there’s barely a weak spot on Distance Inbetween, and credit must go to Parr Street Studio‘s Richard Turvey for cataloguing this set of very heavy jams but retaining their effervescence and pop sensibility – too often in the new psychedelic movement band’s output can be reduced to a stew of ideas and mush of inconsequential nothingness. Distance Inbetween is nothing of the sort – it’s a record which sees The Coral at the peak of their powers – something to cherish. Peter Guy
Getintothis on The Coral
61. Frank Ocean: Blonde
Boys Don’t Cry
Ambiguous and enigmatic, Frank Ocean teased about his second album release for the best part of four years, the cryptic clues, workshop live stream and surprise visual album of recent weeks punctuating the juncture of fans beginning to finally lose their shit and Ocean realising he’d tinkered all he could.
Those so vociferously demanding the album on social media may feel let down by Blonde’s lack of standalones – though Ocean has never troubled the singles chart, this is more conceptual than predecessor Channel Orange. When you start to peel away each layer, the hooks are all still there in abundance as well as the hazy windows into Ocean’s psyche, sexuality and musings set to druggy, avant-garde pop, evident instantly from opener and lead single, Nikes.
Along with Kanye West, Ocean is responsible for pushing boundaries within the mainstream, yet where West‘sLife of Pablo failed to vocalise the plethora of ideas in a fully cohesive way, Blonde takes half a step back from the edge allowing the minimalist digital washes, effects, guitar licks and delicate keys to breathe and form a unified, achingly beautiful collage of sounds.
Following a voicemail interlude from his auntie, where she strongly condemns drug use, Ocean goes straight into Solo, a track loaded with acid and weed references in what is an example of the rebellious narrative of this record, starting with the torment of the marketing campaign and continuing in the defiance of preceding personal and genre rules.
You see, Ocean has unique and ambitious ideologies on how to construct a song, who else would useBeyoncé only to provide ethereal, wordless harmonies at the end of the breezy Pink + White, and Kendrick Lamar as a distant, echoing voice in the backdrop of Skyline To. His interruption of mellow grooves with meticulously placed electronic glitches and warps mean it’s easy to place him with the likes of Radiohead, whose guitarist Jonny Greenwood features on Blonde also, in the introvert, visionary and experimentalist bracket.
Lines borrowed from The Beatles’ Here, There and Everywhere on White Ferrari and Elliot Smith’s Fond Farewellon Siegfried are more nods to songs that are meaningful to him than rip-offs. Blonde is a masterclass in how to channel a smorgasbord of influences and tie them into your own style to create something remarkable and classic in its own right. Tom Konstantynowicz
Getintothis on Frank Ocean
60. DD Dumbo: Utopia Defeated
It’s been two long years since Australian Oliver Hugh Perry, aka D.D Dumbo, released his first EP, Tropical Oceans. Fair to say then, that Utopia Defeated, his first full length release, has been pretty highly anticipated. For whatever reason it’s taken Perry this long to put the record out, it’s been well worth the wait, as the result is a painstakingly well crafted pop gem.
The first thing noticeable about Utopia Defeated is Perry’s voice. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Floating perfectly above his unusual instrumentations, the Aussie songwriter shows off his talent for unusual and adventurous melodies, and has hints of Sting and Paul Simon.
Packed with grooves, the odd stomping beat and infectious tunes, Utopia Defeated is an immensely enjoyable listen without having to delve in too deep. With its sweeping soundscapes it works perfectly in the background, but to listen to it in this way seems like a bit of a way. There’s so many layers to the textured, intricate sound, that’s it’s one of those records that gets better with every listen.
The highlight is The Day I First Found God, a track which brings together every one of the styles that make up the rest of the record into a perfect piece of dreamy, atmospheric pop. With its chiming guitars and shuffling drums, it almost has the kind of spacey-Americana feel that the War on Drugs do so well. With so many sounds and ideas packed in together to make up the record, it’s a credit to the production that it still sounds spacious and vast. It’s a sound that you can completely immerse yourself in, and well worth the two year wait. Adam Lowerson
Getintothis on DD Dumbo
59. Anna Meredith: Varmints
Moshi Moshi Records
In a decisive career move Meredith has changed from being a lauded classical composer with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to a creator of some of the most experimental cross-over pop-tronica compositions you’ll hear all year. In many ways however Varmints represents a joyously natural career progression the culmination of a desire to rebel against the strait-laced rarefied snobbery of the classical world community.
Her debut reveals a keen composer’s ear, most evident on the pomp and grandeur of Nautilus, yet marries this with playful electronic pop rhythms that are as fun as they are accessible. Take Something Helpful, for example, which is a moment of genuine pop-catchiness. It is this fusion of the pop, the classical and the experimental that defines the album. On paper no mean feat to pull off, yet Meredith manages it with assuredly natural ease.
Getintothis on Anna Meredith
58. Grumbling Fur: Furfour
Grumbling Fur‘s Furfour is undoubtedly a pop record and is stacked full of pure melodies that resonate and bask in their perfection. Yet the instrumentation remains unnerving, uncertain and hesitant, behind the melodic perfection lies vacillating doubt and unease. Crystal clear and yearning vocals betray a latent melancholic spirit that works dramatically alongside juxtaposing disquietingly sampled vocal loops.
In constructing something fully formed yet as strikingly stark as FurFour you’re increasingly convinced that Grumbling Fur operate in a world of their own, making music that stretches any definition of popular music to the point of absurdity. FurFour works on so many levels that it feels like a piece of modern classical music, such are the perfect intricacies of its composition.
It is a record that reveals its inventive experimentalism with every turn, yet you never feel like calling on the standard touchstone references. A Syd Barrett psych-pop pastiche this is not. Indeed Grumbling Fur are worthy of far higher acclaim.
They have taken a popular art-form and, miraculously, have created something that feels very different without ever pursuing experimental blind alleys. In so doing have created possibly their best record yet; a pop masterclass that subverts so quietly you barely notice. Marvellous. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Grumbling Fur
57. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Teens of Denial is technically the thirteenth album by Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo, a prodigious output for someone of such young years. It is his second release for Matador and the first to be composed of entirely new music, with his label debut being comprised of rerecorded songs from his self-released DIY albums.
Teens of Denial is a strikingly freewheeling ride through alternative Americana gorging on the likes of Pavement and Pixies as freely as The Beach Boys and Talking Heads. The songs reek of a worldly-wise sincerity that encapsulates the angst of growing up in small town America in songs that touch on depression, isolation, and drug use all imbued with an infectious slacker charm. One of the best surprise releases of the year.
Getintothis on Car Seat Headrest
56. Savages: Adore Life
“Don’t try to change” is the refrain barked repeatedly by Jehnny Beth on second song Evil.
Yet it is clear that second album Adore Life finds Savages in more natural even relaxed mood. The songs remain pulled tight with a tension that you feel could snap at any moment. The intensity remains, as do the familiar post-punk touchstones and the sense of indignant anger. Yet there is a more spacious feel to the recording and with it a more pronounced sense of humanity that strips away the coats of pretension that characterised their debut album.
This is more balanced and varied without diluting. It is a record that doesn’t look to rehash the fully-formed formula of their debut but is the sound of a band challenging themselves and their own sound, pushing themselves in new directions.
Getintothis on Savages
55. Julianna Barwick: Will
Julianna Barwick‘s Will builds on the successes of Nepenthe and The Magic Place but, in so doing makes subtle sonic advances. At its core it remains constructed around Barwick‘s voice, all freeform and expansive in its range emphasising its sound and texture rather than a vehicle to convey a lyrical message. If it is usually little more than cliche to suggest that her voice is used as an instrument in its own right, in Barwick‘s case it is undeniable.
The looping and seductive vocal melodies remain present, weaving and soaring in an enchantingly never-ending echo, yet this work offers more than its predecessors. It is based on a broader range of instrumentation than before introducing synth and piano that serve to elevate the overall sonic effect. In addition, the inclusion of more conventional singing adds additional meaning and purpose without undermining the feel of her work.
The overall impression retains the characteristic hazy and delicate ambience lending the whole recording a dreamlike quality. It has that rare almost indefinable quality of being carefully arranged while also meandering in a near aimless fashion. A record that insists on wrapping itself around you and enveloping you, it exists in space it floats and surrounds you filling available gaps with its mellifluous and amorphous echoes.
Undeniably beautiful and utterly enchanting it is as captivating a record that you will hear all year. A work of precise imprecision and a masterful piece of art. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Julianna Barwick
54. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
There’s something a bit creepy about Let’s Eat Grandma. Their name, for starters. But their eerie childlike vocals matched with a quirky psych tinged, folk sound but with hints of electronica, shouldn’t really work. Yet it does. And the result of I, Gemini is one of the most catchy new records of the year. The teenage Norwich duo are instantly likeable and the ideas involved in their debut record hint at a very bright future.
Getintothis on Let’s Eat Grandma
53. Money: Suicide Songs
Psych and synth free Money rely on old fashioned virtues and assert their own identity. Built around sweeping orchestral suites of delightfully emotional arrangements, second album Suicide Songs is the work of a confident band sure in their artistic vision. Bold, grand and ambitious it owes clear debts to the sweeping majesty of Echo and the Bunnymen, the bar room bluster of Shane MacGowan, the intense melancholia of The National as well as the gravelly jazz-rock of Tom Waits.
The skill lies in Jamie Lee‘s ability to navigate such raw emotions through increasingly beautiful and ornate songs. You feel the pain and believe the angst. This is sincere stuff, free from calculated affectation and it is this raw honesty that keeps everything the right side of earnestness. And if you’re in need of a dose of festive cheer, check out A Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year, an unsentimental reboot of Fairytale of New York
Getintothis on Money
52. Nonkeen: The Gamble
The product of reunion of Nils Frahm with his childhood friends, Nonkeen‘s The Gamble is a sparse yet deeply atmospheric album that combines delightful ambience and delicate timbres of decaying tape with understatedly propulsive beats. The overall character of the album is as an enveloping whole, with individual instruments never quite taking over.
For while keys, synths and guitar lines blend in and out of each other, the overriding impression is of a gentle mellowness. The sort of easy understanding you only get with old friends, those with whom you have the space and time to be yourself. That is the case here. Nothing tries too hard, songs aren’t searching restlessly for an ending and there is a naturalness to the compositions as everything is afforded room to breathe.
Don’t confuse mellow for comfortable however. It is an uncertain and thought provoking album providing insight into time, perception and friendship. A quite remarkable recording. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Nonkeen
51. Kanye West: The Life Of Pablo
GOOD Music, Def Jam
Raw and unpredictable throughout, Yeezy‘s most disjointed effort to date finds him go from future pop to classic soul at the drop of a hat. In a year filled with moments, TLOP provides an album of moments that juxtapose to give a clear indication of its creator’s erratic genius at its best.
Getintothis on Kanye West