It’s that time of the year, the time for year-end lists, and 2016 has been an absolute treat for the ears. We’ve had major releases from the likes of Beyonce, Kanye West, Radiohead and Drake, landmark releases from Chance The Rapper, Skepta and Anderson Paak, as well as long-awaited new projects from Kaytranada, Bon Iver, David Bowie, and most recently, A Tribe Called Quest. It’s been a task in itself to narrow the music of 2016 into one compact list, with many major releases missing out, but either way, here are the Best Albums of 2016.
10. Skepta – Konnichiwa
There is no doubting the landmark piece of music Konnichiwa is. While we heard its content dragged over the course of a few years (That’s Not Me was officially released back in 2014, Shutdown in 2015, and Man (Gang) in 2016), Skepta and his
breakthrough world-dominating Konnichiwa brought grime to the masses, and propelled what’s been branded ‘UK hip-hop’ stateside. And the world of fans and critics agreed, in turn notching sales of over 100,000, and also picking up the coveted Mercury Prize, beating off competition from the likes of David Bowie and Radiohead.
9. 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 Lazarusand 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
8. 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.
7. Kano – Made In The Manor
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 Made In The Manor 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. In what was desperately needed, Kano also addresses the new-found ‘trend’ nature of grime- ‘Crossing that pond and fishing for hits / We both gain from a little influence / But how comes nobody credits us Brits? / This ain’t no RP cup of tea music / It’s real east end theme music / No, I don’t know the Queen / But that bitch stays in my jean pocket.’ Americans, put this whole Skepta fad to one side, and take note.
6. Frank Ocean – Blonde
It is hard to decipher which album is better. Channel Orange can be put on anytime and anywhere but Blonde requires your full attention, it is personal statement. Channel Orange, you are at a party with Frank, Blonde he’s sat with you, pouring his heart out over an emotional connection he’s never had. Both are drastically different sounds from an ever-so relevant artist at the top of his game. – By Harry Heath
5. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest’s long-awaited return to the studio finally came 18 years after 2011’s The Love Movement, and thankfully it was worth the wait. From the acid-draped, Tame Impala-recalling Enough!!, to the riff-laden, Anderson Paak.-featuring Movin’ Backwards, We Got It From Here points at the sounds of 2016, and collides it with the 90’s Native Tongues bounce. From both a productional and lyrical perspective, A Tribe Called Quest sound as sharp as they ever have, like they’d never been away. A welcomed return, and subsequent send-off, from one of hip-hop’s most essential artists, We Got It From Here..Thank You 4 Your Service is another accomplished release from A Tribe Called Quest.
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. The heartbreaking Nylon Strung mesmerises and hypnotises, I Exhale does the opposite, and has you blindly nodding your head and tapping your feet to Hyde’s relentless barrage of thought processes. An album of ultimate electronic convergence, Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is by far the best electronic album of the year, or two, or maybe five.
3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Another legendary groups of musicians to return to action, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool was finally bestowed upon us back in May. Entering the top 10 in near-every country with a billboard system, A Moon Shaped Pool received an overwhelming reception following the release of teaser singles Burn The Witch and Daydreaming. Radiohead‘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. – by Ed Jones
2. Chance The Rapper – Colouring Book
I think the world forgets that Chance The Rapper is still an unsigned artist, one who doesn’t sell any of his music, and hasn’t even released an album yet, which makes
Coloring Colouring Book an all-the-more-impressive feat. Chano’s third solo mixtape, three years since breakthrough project Acid Rap, is a world away from his past material. God-worshipping gospel, whole-hearted love and passion, joyous production and arrangement, all crafted and perfected with Chance’s always-reliable lyricism and jovial flow. All-out religious experiences How Great and Finish Line, sombre R&B grooves Juke Jam and Smoke Break, and touching highlights Same Drugs and Summer Friends, Chance The Rapper tackles an abundance of hip-hop sounds, releases it for free, in exactly the way he envisioned.
1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Bon Iver’s latest album is a world away from the acoustic mourning found on 2011’s self-titled project. Featuring the now-trademark arrangement of vocals, with twangs of a guitar and pulsations of powerful electronica, Bon Iver’s sound is less straightforward than it’s ever been, more abstract, and more rewarding. From the shimmering opener Over Soon, to the vast acappella-crafted Creeks, to the utterly mesmerising finale 00000 Million, 22, A Million is a challengingly-layered album, one all the more intriguing with each listen.