by Cai Trefor Contributor | Photos by Press

Gigwise's 51 Best Albums of 2016

A diverse mix of huge stars and lesser-known gems - see who made number one

 

Gigwise 51 best albums 2016 Photo: Press

Can we rewind and start again? 2016 didn't exactly go to plan did it? The tragic passing of the world's greatest musicians tested our resolve, whilst politically there's been dramatic regression.

The words Brexit and Trump littered our headlines - initially due to the absurdity of those outsiders. But sadly, anti-immigration politics rose against the odds and shocked the world.

In place of a growing hatred for the political elite, we needed to find sustenance to keep up morale and the constant source of inspiration and confidence in humanity this year came through music.

With the likes of Radiohead, Bowie, Beyoncé, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds all releasing albums we weren’t short of big hitters. Whilst for the emergance of new music Desert Mountain Tribe, Kaytranada, and Yak showed some serious mettle for their debut albums. There was also an extraordinary achievement in nailing the cross fertilisation of classical and contemporary with Anna Meredith and Badbadnotgood's albums being the best examples of this.

Moreover, 2016 has shown the elasticity of genre and people's creativity wanting to explore unchartered approaches to songwriting, sound art, and instrumental composition. The innate need to create will never be suppressed and whilst we continually fall down a ravine politically, music will always keep on being extraordinary and surprising. Thank you to everyone involved in promoting, writing, releasing these releases below - they really made up for a difficult bad year.

51. Deftones - Gore

"For me, what you get on this record feels more refined in certain ways," frontman Chino Moreno told Gigwise of their huge new record. “I obviously think it's a harder record to get into - I understand that. It's not a first listen. Wow, this is the greatest thing ever, but with each time you find more nuances.” Therein lies the greatness of Gore. While so many metal bands of their stature may be rushing to pack in universal hooks to fill out arenas, Deftones are at their most artful. Gore is a dense tapestry of sound - a journey that meanders through the full emotional spectrum and finds them exploring deep into each and every corner of what they're capable of. It may not be 'direct', but it's certainly 'complete' (Andrew Trendell)

50. Conrad Schnitzler / Schneider TM - ‘CON-STRUCT’

This posthumous collaboration is made up of sounds Schneider TM put together from the archive of the late, great Conrad Schnitzler made. The reason this is such a privilege is that Schnitzler was a member of the psychedelic Tangerine Dream – their abstract form and electronic symphonies conjured up a different world and had a pivotal role in the creation of Krautrock. Having access to the archive of someone as ground-breaking as Schnitzler is a treasure trove and what Schneider’s done with it is quite remarkable. It’s incredibly experimental and most appealing to producers/engineers because if you thought your bass was deep, think again. Some sumptuous tones have been sculpted and will rumble you into another world. (Cai Trefor)

49. Bruno Mars - 24K Magic

What is there to say about Bruno Mars that hasn’t already been said? The guy is the undisputed modern day king of pop. Proving it time and time again, 24K Magic is just another genre-defining album to add to his small but ridiculously popular back catalogue. Using his platform to steer music back into a lane that embraces feel-good music with R&B as its foundation, 24K Magic makes funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop and new jack swing come together under one roof without a single trap drum in earshot. Imagine Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Roger Troutman, and Teddy Riley came together to make an album with the hottest artist on the planet, now you’ve got an idea of how good this album really is. (Will Lavin)

48. Christine and The Queens - Chaleur Humaine

One of the most talked about international acts in 2016, has been singer/songwriter Héloïse Letissier, better known as Christine and the Queens. The French artist is singlehandedly making pop fun again, and her vibrant and colourful stage shows, combining music dance, art, and photography, have been celebrated as some of the most impressive seen on festival stages this year. Her debut album, Chaleur Humaine, was released in the UK in February, and is equally colourful and lively, chock full of melodic synth pop, charming lyrics in both French and English, as well as quirky twists and turns that make you want to listen to the album over and over again. (Alexandra Pollard) 

47. Leon Vynehall - Rojus

With Rojus, 27-year-old Vynehall cemented himself as one of the greatest, most imaginative and inspiring dance music producers of our time. After cutting about in low-key Brighton club circuit close to his native Hastings as a hotly-tipped DJ, who was closely nurtured by the likes of Benga and Joy Orbison, and Julio Bashmore, he eventually rose to their level and seems a likely staple on the world club scene for years to come. The quality of Rojus has been so widely recognised that the DJ has been enlisted to produce top up-and-coming artists as an additional income outside of his day job: Formation and Real Lies are among them. The album’s concept is based on the courtship rituals of birds of paradise that Vynehall was watching on Nat Geo. He saw parallels with that of club goers so sampled some of the birds of paradise into the mix. He says the flow of the album reflects the energy of a night from doors to close and he nails what he set out to do. Vynehall makes a beautiful sonic reflection of people’s varying degrees of happiness and contemplation in this musical voyage. Thoroughly recommended listening. (Cai Trefor)

46. Yak - Alas Salvation

An unorthodox name and a collection of wacky tunes. Yak may not be the name on the tip of everyone's tongues but 2016 has still been a landmark year for the far out trio. Debut album Alas Salvation released last May is overflowing with in-your-face punk rock, combined with a garage infused roughness that gives the unrefined rockers their trademark sound. Album highlight is single 'Harbour The Feeling'. The blend of violent drumming and booming bass causes the amp to teeter on the brink of imploding. The psychedelic whirl of noise is accompanied with a set of fuzzy vocals, a common occurrence throughout the album. If you're looking for a record out of the ordinary Alas Salvation is where it’s at (Alex Macey)

45. Cold Pumas - The Hanging Valley

Brighton's Cold Pumas might not be the most prolific band on the planet having taken four years to follow up 2012's excellent debut 'Persistent Malaise'. However, their ethos has always been about quality rather than quantity and with long awaited second record 'The Hanging Valley' they've delivered the latter in abundance. Experimental to the point of being impossible to pigeonhole into any specific genre, it’s an album that channels the spirit of early Sonic Youth along with the first wave of post punk while unashamedly steeped in krautrock references along the way. More importantly, it highlights Cold Pumas as one of the most unconventionally challenging outfits on the UK scene at this present moment in time while also managing to capture the intensity of the band's mesmerising live show. (Dom Gourlay)

44. The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome

Blue & Lonesome marks The Rolling Stones' first studio album in over a decade, but is most notable because, as a collection of Blues covers, it serves to remind the world just what brought the 60s icons together in the first place. The veteran four-piece sound better than ever, particularly on ‘Hate To See You Go’, which has 73-year-old Mick Jagger in full-swing. This record may on paper be nothing new, but listen and you'll find a band tighter than ever, united through tragic passing of L'Wren Scott, to simply be true to themselves. The Stones have lived as The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll band™ for decades - this finally gives the tag some authenticity. (Alex Taylor)

43. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit

By now you’re in the cult. Fully noided. It doesn’t matter what kind of psycho-glitch-noise these guys mete out anymore – Death Grips’ acolytes are gleeful of the punishment. Still, Bottomless Pit is track-on-track of bass-stacked back-alley fight anthems with utterly masterful lyricism. Almost impossible to read without rap genius, MC Ride’s wordplay is often neutron star dense, and rammed full of myth and unexpected references ranging from ADX (a maximum-security prison) to the amorality of Faust. The record sports crystalized production and synthetic-industrial warp-speed bass and drum lines that punch deep and heavy. These are dance-floor wrecking bangers made to shake clubs to the ground. Death Grips are condensing their sound into cyber-punk that listeners can bite off and chew. And we’re cramming our heads-full. (Yusif Sayigh)

42. The Low Anthem - Eyeland

Crafted in a beautiful and previously abandoned 1920s theatre, where core members Ben Miller and Jeff Prystowsky produced over 30 records for other artists, location played a huge and formative role in the sound of Eyeland. Their fondness for their theatre-turned-studio meant they had no problem letting the creative process take as long as it needed to get something masterful (Eyeland is their career best). They ended up dilly-dallying about so much the label finally blew them out resulting in certain band members getting itchy feet and offing. However, from these emotional situations, emerges some captivating songs.

‘In The Air Hockey Fire’ showcases Miller’s voice at its most evocative. Meanwhile, ‘Dream Killer’ is among the most beautiful piano ballads to have made it this side of the pond since Tobias Jesso Jr’s first demos. There are some brilliant experimental passages here, too. Of those ‘Wzgddrmtnwrdz’ (not a typo) is a standout and features an array of nature sounds taken on a field recorder sitting softly, barely noticeably underneath the usual instruments. Having this intrigue for sound art mixed in with conventional yet beautiful songs is what makes Eyeland so fascinating. (Cai Trefor)

41. Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony

On Human Ceremony, Sunflower Bean, have outshone anything they've ever previously released. The album floats in and out of the varying degrees of psych, jangle pop and krautrock, often shifting from one influence to another within a song. They say you only get one chance to make a good impression in this increasingly competitive music industry, but Sunflower Bean have taken their opportunity with both hands and run with it - charging into the future. Watch out, 2016 is going to be huge for this band. (Cai Trefor)

40. The Duke Spirit - Kin

The excellent Duke Spirit made one of the most overlooked and greatest albums of 2016. Single ‘Blue And Yellow Light’ takes the visceral dark mood of post-punk and conveys an estranged feeling. One that could come after years of touring and losing connection to something you held dear. The duet with grunge legend Mark Lanegan, ‘Wounded Wing’ is bleak and beautiful enough to draw a tear from someone’s with stiffest of upper lips – it's an absolute banger and one of the best songs of 2016. It’s thanks to Brett Anderson of Suede who tipped us to listen to this album that we’ve had the pleasure of beaming it around the Gigwise office all year. (Cai Trefor)

39. Charles Bradley - God Bless America

This retro soul album by 67-year-old Charles Bradley is supreme. His James Brown-esque vocals are the main draw and as he sings about love: whether he be searching for it, being done over by it, or indulging in it. Throughout this record you can’t help but feel like you’re on the journey with him and his delivery makes everything so vivid. Widely hailed as his career best, this album is great and sits neatly along side the greatest funk and soul records of all time. There's nothing '2016' about it, but with classic sounds done to this standard you don't want them to try anything new. (Cai Trefor)

38. Toy - Clear Shot

Toy began writing this album in 2015 and took a esoteric blend and mulititude of inspiration from the Radiophonic Workshop, Comus, the scores of Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Fairports, COUM, Acid House, Incredible String Band, The Langley Schools Project, The Wicker Man soundtrack and even the direction behind Electric Eden, Rob Young’s book about the development of folk music in the U.K. By the time they employed top UK producer David Wrench for the 12 day session they knew exactly what they were after. According to Toy his decisive and tasteful approach in the studio ensured fruitful sessions. To have achieved an album of this brilliance in 12 days is an impressive, and proof that dwelling and editing for weeks on end doesn’t necessarily get better results. It’s less heavy and more synth-led than anything they’ve come out with previously but it’s a direction that has worked lucratively. (Cai Trefor)

37. The Growlers - City Club

The Growlers much anticipated return this September has somewhat given them a new-found fan base. Produced by non-other than The Strokes very own Julian Casablancas, it has provided the band with a slightly different sound, described by singer Brooks as “Less surf, more synth.” With songs to make you get up and dance such as ‘l Get Around’ and ‘Dope on a Rope’, and with lovely melodies throughout the album such as ‘World Unglued’ and with the beautiful lyrics the Growlers do so well. This album has certainly pricked many ears, and rightly so! (Daisy Worthington)

36. Camera - Phantom of Liberty

The foundation of motorik rhythms, fuzz-laden bass, and synths that beam us back into the Commodore 64 computer games of 1984 is something completely out of the ordinary. It feels like a musical voyage through a haunted digital underworld that’s unsettling at first, but when it hooks you in there’s no letting go. The full-throttle beats of Michael Drummer are the most captivating elements and the band are rightly compared to Neu! for being able to hold down that visceral spirit so well. It reaches truly high BPMs to rival a techno rave at times and would be phenomenal live. Definitely one for the more intrepid listener; astounding nevertheless. (Cai Trefor)

35. Beyonce - Lemonade

Lemonade is a brilliant, eclectic, rousing tale of anger and betrayal - and one that it’s unmistakably designed to be consumed as a whole. Laying waste to the notion that today’ s generation lacks an attention span longer than three minutes, Lemonade doesn’t pepper its deep cuts with recognisable, already-released singles - it allows itself to stand alone, and unfurl its intrigue gradually. (Alexandra Pollard)

34. Parquet Courts - Human Performance

Parquet Courts’ third album sees them imitate the Velvet Underground subjected by the hectic modern-day. Once content to make sly remarks, it’s their most critical and sonically ambitious work to date, with a particularly thrilling title track realising psychedelic glory. When the dust has settled, it’ll be evident this fiercely intelligent album is a stroke of genius. (Ben Butler)

33. Okkervil River - Away

Lead singer Will Sheff is such a dedicated songwriter, during the sessions for Away he sought solitude up in the Catskill mountains and regularly perched upon a lookout, occasionally gently tripping on magic psyloglobin in order to unlock the puzzles in his mind that he needed to be able to complete these songs. The album is a journey that deals with grief; mainly the death of his grandfather, and also changes in band members. Underneath the poignant vulnerability in his songs are shades of optimism that make for a nuanced emotional portrait of the man. If you want an album to stick on and move you like a great film whilst also indulge in Super Furry Animals-esqe cuts like ‘The Industry’, then Away is the one. (Cai Trefor)

32. The Coral - The Distance Inbetween

Fourteen years and eight albums into the most middling of discographies, you might expect The Coral to have been largely forgotten. Instead they made themselves relevant for the first time in their career with an absolute cracker of an album.

The Distance Inbetween, bad grammar of its title notwithstanding, is a dark maelstrom of reverb, drone and feedback – forget that jaunty Scouse seaside stuff, it sounds as though the band has been locked in a room listening to nothing but Psychocandy. The likes of ‘Holy Revelation’ and ‘She Runs the River’ is shoegaze swirling around Krautrock rhythms and are the centrepieces of one of 2016’s best, most surprising records. (Dan Lucas)

31. Alex Cameron - Jumping The Shark

The cover features a very 70s looking guy with slicked back hair, pilot glasses, saggy skin and a hearing-aid and stands out from the crowd. Alex Cameron toured the US with Angel Olsen earlier in the year, and previously played in the band Seekae. He has incredible dark, funny, yet poetic lyrics. He narrates his way through stories with a Nick Cave-like baritone, all over an electronic cold wave inspired synth backdrop. The most humourous and twisted line is on ‘Got No Soul’ where he sings, "Who the hell are you to tell me that I can't leave my kid in the car?" Cameron takes on a different persona for each song, most of the songs are about failed and forgotten entertainers or simply losers at life. It’s reminscent of John Maus in places, and that is totally fine, even when Maus returns there’s still space and time for this fine artist. (Fantasia Van Camerijk)

30. Bad Breeding - S/T

Punk rock may have sold its soul years ago but thankfully no one told Bad Breeding. In a year that's seen the impeachable and largely unprecedented rise of right wing extremism on both sides of the Atlantic, this self-titled debut from the Stevenage four-piece arguably ranks as the most necessary release of 2016. Overtly political in sentiment and confrontational in delivery, it's a heady throwback to the grassroots anarcho punk scene of the early 1980s where bands like Crass and Conflict started a movement of their own. With the present mirroring the past, the relevance of bands like Bad Breeding shouldn't be underestimated and they've created the most intelligent protest record of their generation. An uneasy yet essential listen. (Dom Gourlay)

29. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity

From the get-go this album moves at light speed. It’s a pure adrenaline-laced lance of fuzz. On Nonagon Infinity the songs wind up into each other like the inner workings of a demonic prince’s pocket watch, making it nearly impossible to tell when one song ends and the next begins. These frenzied mages of psych charge ahead into the cosmos howling for the changes, the band moves as one mass from section to section. King Gizzard are far more playful with rhythm than the vast majority of their straight 4/4 psych cousins. “Gamma Knife”, for instance, must be the most rocking waltz ever written. The sound is old as the hills and somehow so damn full of youth it could never be truly old. This band will outlive us all. (Yusif Sayigh)

 

28. Wakrat - S/T

In a year that’s seen a steady rise of the far-right, most easily identified by the election of what Frankie Boyle calls a “psychopathic melted action figure of He-Man”, protest music hasn’t been available in huge supply. But then again, writing protest music well is something very few bands can hone. Wakrat are more than qualified. Bassist Tim Commerford is one of the only people interviewed by Gigwise in 2016 that anticipated Trump would win. The track ‘Generation Fucked’ is the immediately the most obvious insght into the hot-blooded disdain running through this powerdul rock trios veins and what they think about the current state of affairs. “I’ve never liked happy music,” he said in the interview. Luckily rage is in his nature and certainly shouldn’t be tamed. (Cai Trefor)

27. Whitney - Light Upon The Lake

Everyone needs an album you can listen to on a hangover and feel slightly rejuvenated in your soul by. One of the year's best at achieving this is this by band of seven best friends led by Julien Ehrlich and her celestial voice.  Formed out of the ashes of two of America’s most stoner friendly indie bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns. Whitney remain appealing to fans of said bands, but are a completely new entity. There’s a softness in touch, a more potent emotional delivery and more traditional influences including soul, country, and Chamber pop to the mix. (Cai Trefor)

26. HiFi Sean - Ft.

As Superb and stunning, as it is exciting and accomplished. The brainchild of former Soup Dragons and High Fidelity man Sean Dickson, 'Ft.' is a collaborative album of deep electronica, and down-with-it dance music. As its title suggests, amidst the delicious production the album features a vast cache of names including Bootsy Collins, Norman Blake, David McAlmont, Soft Cell's Dave Ball and even the late Alan Vega, who committed his last ever recorded work to the project.

Frankly the best album release of this year, and probably next year too. From the sublime Crystal Waters to the ridiculous of Yoko One, and from the nonchalance of the aforementioned Alan Vega to the excitability of Fred B52s Schneider, Sean Dickson has produced a masterpiece. It could even be the Screamadelica of our times. A Best In Year for sure but this record has some mean lifespan ahead of it yet! (AP Childs)

 

25. Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denial

There's an argument that this album is a simple indie rock album, and the ability to write engaging hooks and choruses definitely mean that this is valid, but there's probably more in here. There's heartbreak and isolation in the lyrics and the more you pay attention, the more you can get out of Teens in Style. There are probably more references than you realise on your first ten listens, either to Dido or the 1984 trial referenced in Vincent ("it must be hard to speak a foreign language, intoxicado, intoxicado"), which makes it worth sitting around. The highs on this album (Vincent, Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales, Fill in the Blank, The Ballad of the Costa Concordia) are some of the strongest songs Toledo has released in his extensive back catalogue, which even more established bands would envy. (Matthew Smith)

24. Hooton Tennis Club - Big Box of Chocolates

What have Bootcut Jimmy The Genius, Lauren Laverne, Katy Anne Bellis, Lazers Linda and the statue of the greatest woman ever got in common? They're all pivotal figures on 'Big Box Of Chocolates'. Recorded with Edwyn Collins earlier this year, it's a much cleaner sounding and more focused record than its predecessor and one that revives the notion of the concept album being about storytelling where eccentric characters and romantic places take precedence over elongated musical segments. This generation's 'Village Green Preservation Society' if it were set on the Wirral. (Dom Gourlay)

23. Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum

The ambitious and miraculously executed cinematic soundscape owes a lot to the band's self-production. Continuing the approach of other albums of using the studio as an instrument, they've multi-tracked vocals, and have written soaring melodies that echo the power and majesty of remote places as well as Icelandics, Sigur Ros. Part of the success in developing such ambitious records is their use of Breakglass Studio as it's a treasure cave of great analog equipment. One piece of gear in particular, the Neve Pre 80 Series 58 input console, which is thought to be the mixing desk used on Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, among other great records, has a helping hand in the output. This hardwired marvel is a true blessing to the swirling psychedelic rock that they so brilliantly create. But this sonic gem doesn't stop at being a technical masterpiece: the band have sharpened their arrows compared with past albums and the songs are much more direct and catchy than ever before. (Cai Trefor)

22. Desert Mountain Tribe - Either That or the Moon

DMT are the brainchild of south London singer and guitarist Jonty Balls and German brothers Felix and Philipp Jaun. Together they’ve created an astounding debut album that nods to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club if they were on an even stronger cocktail of amphetamines and psychedelics. For the most part you strap in and let the unrelenting energy wash over you as you’re given a hint of what it might feel like to stand under a tropical storm whilst tripping on peyote. There are moments that act like the part where you pick yourself up and dry yourself off and feel reborn again, like the epic nine minute sonic pilgrimage ‘Interstellar’. Do yourself a favour; if guitar music appeals to you in a big way, then this is good sustenance for your ringing ears. (Cai Trefor)

21. Grumbling Fur - Furfour

This array of kaeidoscopic mixture of electronic and organic instrumentation that sits beneath the perfectly locking pastoral psych vocal harmonies of Grumbling Fur’s only constant members Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker are mesmeric. Having briefly spoken to O’Sullivan at a festival earlier this year, he cooly said: “To us it’s just pop music.” The catchy-ness of the cuts – especially ‘Heavy Days’ justifies said observation. But this isn’t any ordinary pop, it’s one of the most mind-expanding and original sounding records of 2016. It's like Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd for the 21st century. See them live, they’ll blow you away. (Cai Trefor)

 

20. Kevin Morby - Singing Saw

Former Babies and Woods member Kevin Morby continues the outstanding melodicism and fascinating introspective songwriting that he’s become synonymous with ever he made his debut solo album in 2013. But the LA-based songwriter’s third release on Dead Oceans is his best, most ambitious work to date. The gloriously catchy ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ is the first moment of real magic on the album and sounds like one of the finest cuts to come from the Dead Oceans label in years. (Cai Trefor)

 

19. Skepta - Konnichiwa

Konnichiwa is the album Skepta fans hoped he’d make. It’s got everything: street anthems, club bangers, braggadocios lyrical content, tracks that touch upon social issues, and odes to the architects of grime. With an obvious international appeal that Skepta plays on with the album's title, it sets the bar very high for not only grime and hip-hop music but UK music period. Konnichiwa has earned its right to be mentioned in the same sentence as grime classics Boy In Da Corner, Treddin’ On Thin Ice and Home Sweet Home. (Will Lavin)

18. Metallica - Hardwired To Self Destruct

Metallica came back into the spotlight with an album that pleased fans of their 80s shred metal style eschewing the ballads that they’re sometimes prone to. It’s fiercely energetic, stacked with riffs that lock into the brutal drumming. It’s like a journey back to pre-Thatcher Britain with sonic kinship to the crunching industrial sound of the first metal like Judas Priest. If Cliff Burton was around he’d be a fan of this album. Shame it came out so late in the year otherwise you’d be seeing a lot more of this in the lists, it’s a colossal sounding record. (Cai Trefor)

17. The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Don't be fooled by the bubblegum sheen of some of the latest singles, this record is a trojan horse of weird and wonderful sounds. All in all, it's a record that owes itself as much to M83 as it does Madonna, as much to drugs and excess as feather-light touches. All in all, the eclecticism of this band is nothing short of remarkable. In a world of beige pop, we welcome this flourish of colour. Exceeding the national average, excelling in pop and smashing your expectations - accept nothing less from The 1975. (Andrew Trendell)

16. ANOHNI - Hopelessness

"Once I decided I was going to step away from those gossamer interior songs I’ve been used to writing,” Anohni (who previously performed as Antony & The Johnsons) said in a recent interview with Lenny, "and write something that was really direct, it was a tremendous relief.” ‘Direct’ is an understatement - Hopelessness explicitly takes on Obama, climate change sceptics, government surveillance and drone strikes - but it’s also achingly beautiful. In ‘Drone Bomb Me’, sung from the perspective of a young girl whose family have been killed in a drone strike, the girl begs to be taken too. "Blow me from the side of the mountain,” sings Anohni, in her quivering voice, "Blow my head off / Explode my crystal." It’s an album of devastating impact. (Alexandra Pollard)

 

15. Bonnie "Prince" Billie and Bitchin Bajas - Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

This is possibly the most original, “out-there” piece of music on this list. As the title suggests, it’s like fortunate fruits of a deeply meditative – possibly drug induced – jam gone right. It’s so far left of centre, and is as exploratory and as naturally expressive as anything that’s graced our speakers this year. It’s an album to get lost in, like an escape down the rabbit hole. Certainly an interesting, subversive perspective approach to making an album that’s sales proably bombed but it’s much more primal than most of the music you get on the radio and should be known about by a much wider audience. (Cai Trefor)

14. Tim Burgess and Peter Gordon - Same Language, Different Worlds

This meeting of two minds who admire and complement each other’s creativity, is something of rare, imaginative depth. The process started with Tim Burgess sending off melodic pop songs written on an acoustic to the wizardry Gordon, who returned them as something largely distinct from their original forms. Soon Burgess, who has been collaborating with Gordon since meeting him in 2012 in London at a warehouse space, took inspiration from his interpretation of his work and bounced back songs in increasingly experimental form, meaning the album is very much shaped as it went along. It might have taken four years to compete but it’s well worth the wait. (Cai Trefor)

13. Kano - Made in the Manor

In a year where the UK was dominated by grime, in particular the tag team whirlwind of Skepta and Stormzy, Kano’s Made in the Manor snuck in with no major fanfare but quickly solidified itself as 2016’s grime album of the year. Focusing on home and educating listeners throughout the course of the album what’s great about Britain from the standpoint of a Londoner, Kano proves that he hasn’t lost a step with his first album in six years. Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and winning MOBO’s Album of the Year gong, Made in the Manor is the rapper’s debut album Home Sweet Home on steroids.” (Will Lavin)



12. Amber Arcades - Fading Lines

Jeff Barrett, founder of Heavenly Records has an undisputed knack of discovering great artists and the most pleasing album to come from his label this year is Amber Arcades’ from Netherlands. By day, she works in human rights law, but by night, she becomes something altogether otherworldly. An angelic and soft voice, met with a wisdom far beyond her years, soars over a thick haze of pop-noir, electro, Krautrock and a hint of shoegaze, creating a propulsive soundtrack charging boldly onwards into the future. (Cai Trefor)



11. Meilyr Jones - 2013

To call Meilyr Jones' solo debut '2013' unique would be an understatement. Joyfully accessible and musically erudite, flamboyantly pop and inspirationally highbrow - it is a future classic. Its seemingly incongruous patchwork of sounds – from stomping Motown beat to elegant baroque, to mascular avant-garde pop - fit together in a patchwork structure more readily associated with hip hop. However, what makes it truly special and shockingly radical is its emotional openness and beautiful lightness. Its complete lack of cynicism is an affront to the world of cool detachment and violent rage. In short, it's the most punk record of 2016. (Anastacia Connor)

10. The Drones - Feelin' Kinda Free

When I was 16 a friend of mine would get so excited about a new record, he’d sit you down and play it at you. Often singing along with the lyrics, also at you. Well, I’ve been trying not to become that guy since I heard Feelin Kinda Free, the new record released in 2016 by Australian band The Drones.

My mate sent me a skate video a few months ago and they had used the track “Boredom” on it, to great effect. I was struck by the lyric “Don’t fucking tell me that you ain’t got room, you ever really seen a baby boom?”

I bought the album & listened to it on loop. I tried to contain my enthusiasm but failed. I’ve played this record at people everywhere I’ve been this year. Last week I tried to translate the lyrics to “Then They Came for Me“ into Spanish, in real time, as the song played, at my friends in Madrid. I have very patient Spanish friends.

People appear to find solace/hope with the notion that in 2017, counterculture will finally have something to properly kick against. “The golden age of satire was the Regan/Thatcher era”, etc. With Feelin Kinda Free The Drones have set the bar high. (Drew McConnell)

9. Badbadnotgood - IV

Much praise has been dished about this American group with a taste for hip-hop god Madlib and their ability to take the inventiveness of his beats and infuse their expertise as Jazz musicians - and rightly so. As world-class musicians there are some completely astounding passages of music that stop you in your tracks and make you go "woah, that drum passage or that saxophone just blew my mind.” The Kaytranada, Colin Stetson and Future Islands collaborations are particularly stunning. This will be regular go-to for Gigwise far beyond this year. (Cai Trefor)

8. Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression

"Wild animals, they do never wonder why, just do what they God damn do," pine all members of the band in unison on the closer of 'Paraguay'. Amen, and fitting sentiments they are too. This is a record that needed to be made, however nothing is contrived. When you heard the make-up of this band, you could have applied any number of preconceived formulae to what you thought this may have sounded like, and all of them would have been wrong. This is far from QOTSA covering or featuring Iggy. What we've got instead is an entirely new beast, and a vessel for a rock icon to go through one more, perfect reinvention. "I couldn't take no more of whipping fools and keeping score," he grunts - and why should he? If this is the final bout of Iggy Pop, at least he can say "I did it my way." (Andrew Trendell)

7. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

While The King Of Limbs was a fairly skeletal affair from a band who admit that they were 'in transition', A Moon Shaped Pool sees the band land in their assumed destination - blooming around the bare roots that led them here, and breathing new air and life into the haunted claustrophobia of their last record. While there are echoes of all the highlights from across their legacy, album No.9 accentuates them all with an artfully controlled grandeur. For a band who have already come to both defy and define genre at every turn, having torn up the map of where music should lead them, Radiohead now take a turn down a previously untrodden, sumptuous garden path. Not that they have anything left to prove, but A Moon Shaped Pool is proof that they still have so much give. (Andrew Trendell)

6. Kaytranda -  99.9%

Kaytranada (real name Louis Kevin Celestin) received the Polaris Prize for this debut album and fully deserved it is. It goes beyond genre boundaries and is a beautifully warm sounding kaleidescope of sonics that have their roots in jazz, hip hop, and pop. The silky beat-weaver is on his way to becoming one of the most revered producers of the decade and a likely go-to for students looking for something that will liven up living room gatherings when there’s an eclectic bunch about. No matter what styles one leans to, there’s a universal beauty to what Kaytranda does. A short glance at the credits on the album is testimony to his greatness as Anderson. Paak and Craig David wouldn’t have got in the studio for anyone subpar. Certainly the most extraordinary debut album of the year. (Cai Trefor)

5. Peter Doherty - Hamburg Demonstrations

Having just re-opened the Bataclan in emphatic style that brought joy to people who'd suffered so much, it's great to finally see the release of this album. The record's highlight ‘Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven' is a sideways view on the tragic attacks in Paris as it asseses the mentality of those who committed the grievous crimes. Doherty seems struck by how young the murderers were and saw parallels between the young guys involved in terrorism and young lads starting a band: "Come on boys choose your weapons / J-45 or an AK-47." Tied into this are words that seem to look at the superstructures that alienate the individuals financially, and the propoganda that takes advantage of the easily manipulated.

Elsewhere, chilly ‘Oily Boker’ thrillingly teeters on the brink of nightmarish insanity during its wig-out. Doherty’s live shows soar when he goes into that section as he frightningly howls the words “close to the bone” as if he's in some sort of séance. Live, the Puta Madres - his best backing band yet - add swathes of colour to these demonstrations that prove within this record is a collection of Doherty's greatest songs yet - and hints at a solo career going forward that will be cherished as one of the greatest of this century. (Cai Trefor)

 

4. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

The late Leonard Cohen’s legacy as an artist expands over nearly five decades, and the multi Grammy award winning singer’s fourteenth studio album, You Want It Darker, also became his last. Released in October, less than a month before Cohen’s passing, its topics surround death and God, and was recorded by a man who despite his enormous love for life knew his time was coming. Still, his warm and at times pretty dry sense of humour is woven into the songs throughout. The album grabs hold of you, wrenches, shakes and turns you inside out, and makes you laugh through tears knowing that, yes he might not be here anymore, but he graced us with music like this right until the very end. (Alyssa Nilsen)

3. Suede - Night Thoughts

If you need a sign that Britpop was rubbish then this is it. Suede, arguably the best band of that oh-so-painfully 90s movement, put out their best album in 2016. Heresy though it might be to say to Suede and Dog Man Star devotees, with its swirling, choppy blend of guitars and electronica Night Thoughts is Brett Anderson and co’s most ambitious, darkest and most interesting record. This is Suede is self-reflection mode. The titles, ‘I Don’t Know How to Reach You’ and ‘What am I Trying to Tell You’ for example, denote as much. It’s an album that works on multifarious levels, too. The lyrics and the music intertwine thematically to make this work as the concept album the band intended it to be. But then the individual songs are strong enough – the album is laden with hooks – that not only would a good 80% of them work as singles but they would stand up in any Suede hits parade. (Dan Lucas)

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Most of the album’s lyrics were rewritten following the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son in July 2015. Extremely abstract words deal throughout with death, loss and grief, but following the bleakness of the album’s opening there is a sense of ablution – of the triumphant and spiritually healing power of music – that leaves its melodies lingering in your head for an age. (Olly Telling)

1. David Bowie - Blackstar

2016 was the year giants of the entertainment world were taken from us at an alarmingly cruel rate. The endless supply of saddening news raged through 2016, as our childhood heroes of film, music and TV were declared to have passed away.

An early loss was Bowie, and the sadness of his parting still hasn't left many people's hearts. But he used his illness and death as the central theme of his final album release - a feat of a man wholly committed to his art and his message to the very last. Blackstar was our Album Of The Week on 6 January - four days before his death.

If you're reading this then you've no doubt read the endless articles written about Bowie and Blackstar since his death. His iconic character shifting, timeless music and prescient outlook when it comes to sexuality, art, technology and much else. We lost a one of a kind talent in January 2016, but he was kind enough to leave us with one of his best works before leaving.

Don't worry about the saxophones and the free form improvisations or the shrewd influences of Kendrick Lamar and Boards Of Canada. With the benefit of hindsight we're now able to fully comprehend what lies beneath Blackstar. It is an album which encapsulates the foreboding of death - and indeed cancer - in its most real and honest form. The dark despair of much of the album is overwhelmingly sad and disturbing, but greeted with conviction and imagination from the Thin White Duke. Blackstar doesn't fetishize death: from religious texts through to Hollywood movies and everything in between, death is rarely portrayed as all-consuming, as starkly unsettling but bluntly inevitable as Bowie conveys it on Blackstar.

The opening title track is gloomy and unnerving before transcending to a lofty and glorious melody which harks back to his great chord sequences such as Changes and Life On Mars. The rest of the record also jumps back and forward through time both musically and thematically, much as one's thoughts might while resting on the deathbed. It's a self-penned eulogy in which we are given knowing messages and honest confessions about his life - though not too honest as closing number I Can't Give Everything Away makes eloquently clear.

It's quite easy to canonise someone after death, especially an artist with such unique talent and vision as David Bowie. Such canonisation might even lead to a distorted appreciation of his final album. But nearly a year since its release and Bowie's death, Blackstar still exists as a singularity. A brilliant blaze of mortal emotion, canny knowing and artistic flare which simply couldn't be shaken from Bowie's bones, even in his very final days. (Jack Beadle)

 


Cai Trefor

Contributor

Gigwise is a community of music writers and photographers. Sign up now
Comments
Latest news on Gigwise

Artist A-Z #  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z