For far too many awful reasons 2016 has proved to be a fucking evil bastard of a year. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
This year’s best, and indeed most important, albums seem to reflect the terrifying complexity of the world at the moment. It’s certainly the most political and socially conscious collection in recent years (Hopelessness, Lemonade, The Hope Six Demolition Project), as well as the most heartbreaking (Blackstar, A Moon Shaped Pool).
But right now as we’re faced with devastating political ideologies on either side of the Atlantic and as incomprehensibly painful tragedies occur on a daily basis, underneath all the hurt, the rage and the suffering, all of the music here offers hope – either through love or sheer catharsis – hope that we’ll be okay. We have art, we have music, we have family, we have friends, we have each other. We can get through anything.
I know that’s a ridiculous introduction to what is essentially a list of ‘brilliant albums you should listen to right now’ but it would have been more ridiculous not to say it.
Now turn up the volume on one of these motherfuckers and let’s make some changes…
10) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Uh. “Someone” on this site wrote a fairly disparaging review of Radiohead’s ninth studio album. Sure, they made some valid points. It is often too intangible and lacking in spark; ebbing and following without making any demands on your attention. But when this “nameless” reviewer saw the album performed live at Primavera during the summer, he will be the first to admit that he “sort of got the point” and understood the fragile tranquility of it all.
But do you know what dear reader? That “nameless reviewer” was in fact…. me! *gasps are heard from the drawing room where everyone has gathered as Poirot fingers himself*
I should probably rephrase that final sentence in the second draft.
Read our full review: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
9) Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
On his second Post-Walkmen album, Hamilton Leithauser delivers torch-songs doused in melancholy; serenading those whose lives have been tumultuous at best. But Christ he’s never beaten-down. There’s a fire raging in that rib-cage of his, unpredictably swinging open and letting out tremendous caterwauls of emotion, hot enough to add ‘removal of eyebrows’ to the audience’s list of woes.
Happily, Leithauser has brought some friends along for company. Mainly Ex-Vampire Weekend composer & songwriter Rostam Batmanglij, who also collaborated with Leithauser on his equally wonderful debut album Black Hours. Here, Rostam provides a fitting backdrop for Leithauser, delivering laconic pianos, mid-paced drums, and a range of production styles that inflect each track with its own specific character. Ranging from doo-wop to stomping blues-rock, to liquor-soaked recrimination.
Read our full review: Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
8) The Veils – Total Depravity
Total Depravity is a dark, soul-shaking, degenerate, oddly uplifting… utterly unique. It’s in part thanks to the incredibly rich production from Run the Jewels’ El-P that The Veils have taken on all these complexities (there’s also the unmistakable air of Baby Huey’s ‘Hard Times’ that gives the album its swagger and resilience) but Finn Andrews’ lyrics and the band’s focus on mining every last drop of musicality out of every tune means that Total Depravity is career-best stuff.
Read our full review: The Veils – Total Depravity
7) Rihanna – ANTI
I think most people didn’t really rate Rihanna’s newest album, but those people just wanted her to carry on working with Calvin Harris so they shouldn’t be trusted. ANTI is easily the best and most consistent album of Rihanna’s career so far, containing her strongest vocal work and some gorgeous, low-key tracks that stick with you all night long.
6) Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
It’s a testament to Kendrick Lamar’s sheer preternatural talent that an album of mere offcuts from To Pimp a Butterfly is still one of the best albums of 2016. Despite their ‘demo’ status, they form a wonderful cohesive route through Kendrick’s creative process, and sees him make the journey from apocalyptic rage to sumptuous Al Green-like loveliness with the confidence and creativity of a true master.
Read our full review: Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
5) PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
PJ Harvey’s genius is in balancing socially conscious, politically charged material with a phenomenal attention to song-craft. Unbelievably, an album that takes the social cleansing of public housing in Washington DC as its inspiration is also the catchiest goddamn album in this entire list. It’s the same thing Harvey managed with the phenomenal Let England Shake, and just like that album, I’ll find myself still humming the melodies from this for years to come.
4) Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
It’s getting harder to separate ‘public Kanye’ from ‘creative Kanye’ and there has been sooooo much patience-testing behaviour from the fattest mouth in all of celebritydom that you’ll be forgiven for not even bothering giving The Life of Pablo a chance. But you would have missed an astounding and deeply personal piece of art, that’s at times both euphorically captivating and daringly produced.
Read our full review: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
3) Anohni – Hopelessness
Hopelessness is a visceral shockwave that proudly stapleguns its fury at the world to its chest. It’s an album raging against brutality, war-mongering, ignorance and intolerance and yet… and this is the utterly wonderful brilliance of Hopelessness… it’s also one of the most euphorically engaging electronic records ever made.
Read our full review: Anohni – Hopelessness
2) David Bowie – Blackstar
I haven’t really faced talking about Blackstar since Bowie’s death. I began a review the morning before that fucking awful Monday, and I ended up just pouring my feeble, blubbering heart into a eulogy to the wonderful man, much like every other Bowie fan with a platform did that day. Oddly though, listening to Blackstar now is somehow easier than the days before we even knew Bowie’s health was failing. The fact that we now know he was saying goodbye crystallises its themes and deepens its impact, adding gravitas all over the shop. However miraculously it has stopped feeling mournful, now it feels like a celebration. Especially when you get to the utterly lovely ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, which makes me crumble every time.
1) Beyoncé – Lemonade
More thinkpieces were written in the wake of Lemonade’s release than perhaps any other album this decade, and quite rightly so. It’s an extraordinarily complex work that entwines Beyoncé’s personal journey – as she works to deal with her own pain – with majestic paeans to the strength and resilience of a global history of black women in the face of oppression. Ultimately Lemonade is about love, family and forgiveness. It’s also filled end-to-end with absolute fucking smashes.
Read our full review: Beyoncé – Lemonade