Now this has been a tricky article to write to say the least. Despite picking the best albums of 2016 so far pretty quickly, sorting them from ‘worst’ to best as been a task in itself. We’ve seen Chance The Rapper achieve the heights most rappers can only ever dream of, all while continuing his independence, we’ve seen Radiohead finally bless us with that elusive ninth studio album, impressive outings from the likes of James Blake and Domo Genesis, as well as chart-topping projects from musical juggernauts Beyonce, Kanye West and Drake. With all that in mind, here are the Best Albums of 2016 (So Far).
10. Domo Genesis – Genesis
‘The one that isn’t or Tyler, Earl, or Frank, not the tiny skinny one, you know- the fat one, no not Jasper, the other one.’ This is how most would describe
Odd Future’s Domo Genesis, it’s how I’ve had to for the last four years or so anyway. Mainly because ‘Mr-Smoke-A-Lot-Of-Pot’ hasn’t really taken himself that seriously in the past. That is until the release of his technically debut album Genesis. Featuring eloquently fitting production that’s not just been slid his way by Tyler or Left Brain, more meaningful and substantial lyricism, intelligent structure and execution, Genesis continues what No Idols tried and ended up failing to do. It finally feels like Domo Genesis is actually trying now, and taking this rap thing seriously.
9. Heron Oblivion – Heron Oblivion
There have been a lot of Pink Floyd inspired psyche rock albums this year and it was a toss up between this and Black Mountains epic, IV. But Newcomers (though the group consists of many indie heavy weights) clinched it for me with their slightly denser melodies and a more varied and interesting approach as well as managing to infuse folk and jazz into the usually guitars, drums and bass only genre. Highlights include the spacey opener Beneath Fields, and the epic, jazz infused mania of Rama. – By Ed Jones
8. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
James Blake was a bit Frank Ocean-y between The Colour In Anything and his last project. Vanishing off the face of the earth, doing his own thing, with the air of a new album obviously on the cards. But of course these two are far two edgy to give us fans any inkling into their progress. When The Colour In Anything finally dropped a few days after my birthday on the 6th May, the reception was overwhelming. Grand soundscapes draped in electronica and cold lonely overtones, beaming the likes of Bon Iver. The Colour In Anything above anything showed Blake’s progression from Mercury Prize winner to world-renowned Beyonce collaborator.
7. Flume – Skin
Flume burst onto the scene with a world-beating remix of Disclosure’s You & Me, he then followed it up with a collaborative EP with Chet Faker, an impressive debut album, one that featured the huge Holding On. Four years later, Flume finally blesses us with his second full studio album, and it was certainly worth the wait. Featuring genre-crossing electronica draped in glossy percussion, metallic drums and violent contorted synths, Flume enlists an array of hand-picked features from the dreamy vocals of Kai and Tove Lo, to the punchy raps from Vince Staples and Ghostface Killah.
6. David Bowie – Blackstar
If you cast your mind back to January, you’ll remember that I said that Blackstar was probably going to turn out to be one of the best albums of the year. Here we now are in June, and I still stand by those words. Bowie’s final album is laced with poignancy in the wake of his death. Of the seven songs on the album, each is filled with classic Bowie moments and sounds, however now, each song feels more weighted, more depressive than anything he’s done before. Even if he hadn’t tragically died, Blackstar would still be an incredibly brutal listen. Standout songs Lazarus and Girl Loves Me manage to balance all of this, and some of Bowie’s best musical production in years. As exit music, Bowie couldn’t have produced anything better. – By Ed Jones
5. Kano – Made In The Manor
Kano is without doubt the most talented rapper in the UK, and Made In The Manor is the solidification of this. Superb instrumentals the album over give K-A the platform to unleash some of the strongest and most impacting bars of his career, in which he combines punchy venom with deft storytelling. Kano’s fifth studio album is the UK’s answer to Good Kid, Maad City- a masterclass of lyricism, a poetic story, an encapsulation of the struggle, the grind and the graft. Americans, put this whole Skepta fad to one side, and take note.
4. Underworld – Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future
Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is an exceptional album, Underworld’s best since dubnobasswithmyhead. It twists and contorts, fights and resists, glides and dreamily navigates, plucking and probing at a multitude of electronic movements. From the utterly intoxicating If Rah, to the punchy, vocally-charged I Exhale. Carry Me is one of the best evidences of the convergent electro found on Barbara, Barbara, with Hyde’s low-key murmuring reminiscent of Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja, fusing effortlessly with punchier CHVRCHES-like synths.
3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
As with everything Radiohead does, A Moon Shaped Pool is shrouded in an air of mysticism. That being said, the band’s ninth studio album catches them at their most reflective, their most human, which is why it turned out to be such a powerful album. In a career full of paranoid and depressive music, this seems to be their most uplifting. Sure some of the songs are quite depressing, but they’re more poignant than they are straight up depressing, something that was always missing from their previous works- not that I didn’t love that. Standouts from A Moon Shaped Pool are the jittery Ful Stop and the stripped down reflection of True Love Waits. – By Ed Jones
2. Kaytranada – 99.9%
99.9% is a masterpiece of fusion. Through jazz to neo-soul, R&B to hip-hop, the project weaves cuts chops and flows in and out of an abundance of sounds. Take Breakdance Lesson N.1 for example. Featuring funk-fired, Prince-recalling riffs, the song’s housey synths consume the riff and coupled with kicking percussion, the direction is initially confusing, yet utterly absorbing. This is the general flavour of the project, never can you predict where the song is going, but after a few tracks- you completely trust Kaytranda’s judgement. 99.9% is an intoxicating listen from start to finish, and the project has you hooked from the opening chill-ride Track Uno, right up until the Canadian mastermind brings the near-faultless project to a close with the claps and whistles on Bullets.
1. Chance The Rapper – Colouring Book
The best album of 2016 wasn’t even an album, technically a mixtape, Chance The Rapper’s third solo project was a joyous occasion filled with passion, love, and faith. Coloring Book is brimmed with some of Chance’s finest material to date. From the beautifully layered and intricately perfected Summer Friends, to the touching and lyrically-powered Same Drugs, to the utterly mesmerising album stand-out Finish Line/Drown. Chance The Rapper’s Colouring Book is an absolute shoe-in for album of the year, and it would take one hell of a project from Frank Ocean, or maybe Kanye West, to knock it off the top spot.
No, The Life of Pablo and it’s wildly misguided direction isn’t worthy of being on this list, nor is Drake’s hour and a half bore of R&B blankness, and of course Beyonce’s made-up, publicity stunt of an album doesn’t come close to the other projects on this list. The last one you’re probably looking for is Kendrick Lamar’s united, unmastered. While it was certainly a good album, I’ve heard it all before, it’s a mirror image of To Pimp A Butterfly, a carbon copy, and sounds like nothing more than leftovers.