Continuing the countdown of the best albums of 2016, Getintothis presents a suitably diverse selection of ten albums to leave us on the brink of our top 20.
We can sense the expectation, the building anticipation. We know how eager you are to see what’s in our top 20. However that pleasure is for tomorrow. Instead here is the next best, number 30 down to 21 in our annual albums of the year countdown.
As ever there’s lots to gorge on. We’ve one of the leading lights of a new-wave of British soul, American hip-hop, British space-rock, post-rock soundtracks and widescreen European kosmische. And that’s just for starters.
It doesn’t get any easier whittling down the list into an often arbitrary order based around only a loose set of criteria. Indeed such is the variety on offer, comparisons between LPs are often tenuous at best. We’ve tried to rationalise our list around what we have enjoyed listening to this year – and what we think you will enjoy also. That has to be it.
There is no other way to meaningfully rank those listed below and the task gets more difficult with each passing year. Indeed for much of our list you could throw the titles up in the air, see which way they fall and present a cogent case for that being the desired order.
30. Chance The Rapper: Colouring Book
With Colouring Book, Chance creates a spiritual vibrancy that set him apart from the rest. It’s easy to see why Yeezy was so inspired by it, with The Life of Pablo heavily picking away at Colouring Book.
Where once Chance was consumed with the deep Chicago booms as demonstrated on Acid Rap, here he has opened his arms to gospel and the warming tones of Southern rap to create a sublime record. In a scene so easy to conform to the norm, he is a chameleon of musical styles.
Getintothis on Chance The Rapper
29. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
Bad Seed Ltd
Much has been made of the circumstances surrounding Nick Cave’s 16th studio album, coming after the tragic death of his son Arthur. But Skeleton Tree is not a requiem, it is at once an articulate, restrained choke of grief, a determined response and a defiant stance. It is also proof, if any were needed, that its creator is a driven man. Inaction, it seems, was not an option.
Skeleton Tree takes the form of the most harrowing album of recent times. This is not an easy album to take in, it is not something that one could listen to casually. It engages the listener, stirs their emotions and places them in the epicentre of a world of confused pain.
In many ways, Skeleton Tree is the perfect record for 2016, a decade that has been characterised by seemingly endless tragedy, by death and loss, both of friends and of heroes (the personal and impersonal). 2016 deserves a record like this as its soundtrack, an elegy for the year’s fallen.
To find art in the midst of despair is a rare gift indeed, but it is one that Cave manages with dignity and poise. Skeleton Tree is a simply stunning album. Banjo
Getintothis on Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
28. Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate
Michael Kiwanuka‘s Love & Hate is a sprawling yet profoundly affecting and personal voyage of love, loss and heartbreak. Shrouded in an orchestral warmth and spattered with 70s soulful vibes, Kiwanuka‘s voice is allowed to shine and drips with emotional resonance and a weathered worldly-wise honesty and authenticity. Where lyrical themes dwell on melancholia the passing of time and the turmoil of the breakdown of relationships, it never feels too downhearted or maudlin.
The beauty of the arrangements hint at the resolute nature of the human spirit. Kiwanuka, it appears, does not want to wallow in upset, but rather use the experience of it positively to shape his future direction. As well as the personal, broader themes are tackled such as racial identity on Black Man in a White World which is nonetheless loaded with the personal experience of growing up in a largely white area of London.
Getintothis on Michael Kiwanuka
27. Xam Duo: Xam Duo
A recent trip to Sheffield produced one of the most exhilarating night time drives in Getintothis‘ lifetime.
Bear in mind we’ve wazzed through the Atlas Mountains, the San Antonio freeway and the French Alps all around 3am in various states of disarray (as a mere passenger dear reader, we’re not *that* reckless) and the choice of stereo sonic accompaniment has always been equally wild.
Yet, this recent motorik excursion saw us battling with ferocious winds at around 3.45am driving through a several hundred foot drop as the chasmic and geographical wonder of the Snake Pass surrounded our view. It was pitch black. But you could still see the colossal shadows of the mountains, endless curtain-like treelines and the vast drop below to nothing.
Low lights, save for our car’s full beam, lit the road ahead as we cruised our way home after a fantastic evening of revelry and as we hit the motorway, escaping the Tolkien-like backdrop the second suite of I Extend My Arms kicked in in exhilarating, triumphantly cool fashion. It felt like we’d shot out into the next frontier; like a jet breaking through nature’s barriers. A rush – beat that Kowalski.
The track is the 23-minute centre-piece of the self-titled debut album by Xam Duo (consisting Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall) – a sprawling undulating epic that’ll have krautrock fans chewing their pillow with delight as it injects them with warm gushes of hyper-kinetic electronic endorphins.
There’s a further 18 minuter named Rene – presumably after a famous waiter – which is equally incredible.
Released on the perma-delicious Sonic Cathedral, Xam Duo have created a cocktail of ambience, space-jazz, brass jams and future-kraut that once served up, is impossible to put down. A head-spinning masterclass. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Xam Duo
26. Mogwai: Atomic
Mogwai‘s recent emphasis on producing soundtracks has had a rejuvenating effect on their career. From Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait through to Les Revenants, the medium has proved inspirational challenging the band to push themselves to ever greater heights.
Like Mogwai‘s other acclaimed soundtracks, Atomic has the capacity to stand alone and be viewed as a work in its own right. It does not need the film for it to succeed. Yet it is impossible to listen to Atomic without visualising the concept, one of a nuclear apocalypse and mutually assured destruction.
However Mogwai largely avoid the obvious representations. In the main this is a subtle, restrained and artfully reflective piece that symbolises the magnitude of its subject matter through its sheer majestic beauty. It dwells on the dystopian effects rather than the act itself, using drones and vintage synths to profoundly dramatic effect without ever feeling bound by any narrow post-rock restrictions. Atomic is right up there with the very best that Mogwai have produced.
Getintothis on Mogwai
25. Anderson .Paak: Malibu
Steel Wool Records
Right at the beginning of the year we were given a everlasting gob stopper of a treat in the form of Anderson .Paak’s Malibu. We’ve been sucking on it ever since. Aged just 30, .Paak’s back catalogue is extensive and his stellar production skills has seen him teaming up with the likes of Dr. Dre. It was on Dre’s 2015 album Compton that .Paak came to light.
.Paak couldn’t be more different than Dre in style however. Where one is known for his thuggish ways, the other is sensitive, sexual and socially conscious. From the outset, in The Bird, .Paak is nostalgic, addressing a troubled childhood “my sister used to sing to Whitney, my mama caught that gamblin bug, we came up in a lonely castle , my poppa was behind them bars”. This theme of nostalgia and dysfunction is continued on tracks The Season/Carry Me and the album’s final track The Dreamer.
The other theme .Paak explores is a sexual one. Like trailblazers before him (notably Prince and D’Angelo) he uses RnB as a platform to explore feminine sexuality as equal to its masculine counterpart. Rather than dominating or using females in the sense that Dre does .Paak recognises their agency and the power that stems from this. Songs like Heart Don’t Stand A Chance, Silicon Valley and the infamous Water Fall (Interluuube) are a lesson in intimacy between consenting individuals rather than .Paak getting his nut. Stylish, intelligent, eclectic and most of all made for dancing this album more than deserve its place as one of the best records of the year. Janaya Pickett
Getintothis on Anderson .Paak
24. Solange: A Seat at the Table
Saint / Columbia Records
Yes, baby sister to the biggest popstar of the twenty-first century, Solange Knowles, quietly released her third album A Seat at the Table back in September. To be frank, we’ve never listened to any of the other Solange LPs, but the sheer amount of recognition this one was getting so soon after its release made us wonder. We know Solange as the more ‘natural’ or afro-centric of the two Knowles sisters, but we’ve always assumed this to be a marketing strategy to differentiate herself from her squeaky clean sibling. More style over substance, we thought.
But, after being quite heavily addicted to A Seat at the Table since that first listen, we can now say that if it is all style – it is impeccable. Solange has released a racially charged album like no other, in the way that there’s hardly any aggression to the sound. The lyrics are undoubtedly angry, but they’re delivered with much sweetness. It’s been described as neo-soul, modern or psychedelic soul. There’s some gospel, a smattering of funk, strings, horns, modern electronica, 80s sounding synth and a generous helping of hip hop beats. It is a truly delicious album.
Knowles’s vocals are delicate and authentic, fluttering from track to track with ease. She confidently plays with melody in a way that showcases her training without showing off. Taking several years to complete, Solange has admitted that A Seat at the Table is representative of a difficult period in her life. At aged 30, this is her coming-of-age album or ‘Saturn’s return’. On it we hear not the baby sister of Beyoncé attempting to get in on the fame, but a black female artist in her own right with something important to say.
Whatever the motive behind it, this is political statement: an elixir for a diasporic black community in crisis. Janaya Pickett
Getintothis on Solange
23. Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation: Mirage
Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation‘s Mirage is one of those records that locks on to a singular groove throughout and does not allow itself to deviate from it. Indeed, much of their songs don’t stray too far from the formula and are more often variations on a theme rather than any great reinvention. Not that we’re complaining as the effect is nothing short of hypnotically transfixing.
With a near omnipresent motorik beat, pulsating bass-lines and distorted droning walls of shoe-gaze guitars their sound is full and enveloping. Yet the real star is Josefin Ohrn, and her voice is a perfect match, adding a beautiful serenity to the squalling Looking For You. There is something strongly redolent of the likes of Broadcast and Jane Weaver about the whole affair, as Mirage proves that last year’s superlative Horse Dance was no flash in the pan.
Getintothis on Josefin Ohrn
22. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
Magnetic Seasons is sound of those perennial old reliables Mugstar expanding, experimenting and pushing forward their sounds to the new horizons. Fore-runners of the turn-of-the-millennium psych revival in many ways, Mugstar were one of the first of a new wave of spaced-out trendsetters able to take their seat at the back of the bandwagon long before it became standing room only and perilously over-crowded.
Just when you feared that Mugstar might be overtaken by more experimental young upstarts they have returned seemingly emboldened after a collaboration with Damo Suzuki to produce a record of staggeringly gargantuan proportions; a heady concoction of space-rock stylings, swirling kosmische and propulsive motorik. It’s confidently ambitious fare, its 70-or-so minutes spread over a mere nine tracks.
Yet Magnetic Seasons is more restrained and nuanced than their reputation would have you believe and it’s when the foot relaxes on the gas that the album finds its best moments. Deftly exploring the spaces and using keyboard and synth to expose dramatically widened vistas, as on the magnificent Flemish Weaves, this is the work of a band very much at the top of their game.
Getintothis on Mugstar
21. LUH: Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
Ellery James Roberts‘ band WU LYF felt like the real deal. A colossal debut album, an equally impressive live set up (their Kazimier show highlighted such potential) and a cultivated mystique which drew as many sneers as supporters meant – whether you liked them or not – they warranted your attention. So it was surprising when they self-combusted in the centre of their own hype machine in November 2012.
Roberts returns alongside his girlfriend and co-vocalist Ebony Hoorn on LUH (Lost Under Heaven, duh!) and it’s remarkable how he’s honed some of WU LYF‘s central ideas – MASSIVE hooks, CATACLYSMIC percussive beats and BLOCKBUSTING choruses and aligned it with his characteristic roar – if you’ve yet to hear it consider a wolf gargling razors after downing a bottle of bourbon with a nasty throat infection (it’s not for everyone). The result is stadium size bombastic brilliance.
LUH may not be a complete reinvention for Roberts but it is a near revelation. Peter Guy
Getintothis on LUH