Part 1 of the countdown of 2016 albums I liked also noted a few individual tracks and live albums. Before I run down the top 15 there’s a couple of notable mentions that didn’t quite qualify by my arbitrary parameters.
Avital Raz reissued her settings of James Joyce to her indian inspired music now that the copyright issues expired. In my mind it’s not a 2016 album but it is very much worth your attention .
As always there are a few things I missed earlier in the year that I’m belatedly catching up on but don’t know well enough to rank here. Anohni’s new work seems richer than before and more to my liking but I’ve only properly heard a couple of tracks. The same applies to Iggy Pop, whilst the singles by Pixies sound good but not as immediate as they once did. Oliver Coates, Gaye Su Akyol, Modern Studies, NZCA Lines all intrigue me enough to investigate further. And I very belatedly learned that Thalia Zedek has a new band called E that sound fugazi-esque. Proof if it were needed that there’s plenty of amazing and diverse music around the world if we look for it.
So that’s the near misses. Here’s the hits.
15. Minor Victories – s/t Shoegaze anyone? Members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors combine to powerful effect. Waves of guitars and Rachel Goswell ‘s vocals sometimes blend sometimes sit above each other but consistently excellent.
14. serpent with feet – blisters another EP but one with enough ideas for a dozen lesser albums. Josiah Wise sings personal and fraught lyrics in a bold falsetto dripping with operatic and soulful melodrama whilst producer The Haxan Cloak experiments and explores soundscapes beneath. The result is provocative and beautiful.
13. Meilyr Jones – 2013 a glib first impression has Jones pegged as a Welsh Jarvis but whilst there is a shared self-deprecating faux awkwardness to both of their personas Jones adds a rock classicism. Personal lyrics incorporate allusions to other artists, blurring the boundaries of art and artist.
12. David Bowie – Blackstar as with Leonard Cohen it’s impossible to separate this from Bowie’s death. I wasn’t the biggest of Bowie fans but from first hearing the advance tracks it was obvious this was great. Despite the carefully selected collaborators hindsight makes it an unusually personal Bowie album.
11. 65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky a double album of songs (as much as 65dos do songs) and more abstract pieces from the video game No Man’s Sky . Looped drums, prepared guitars, warmed electronics layer together. I’m beginning to realise that this is an album that gets more subtle with increased volume.
10. Kojey Radical – 23 Winters This is art. Rap poetry visual art telling positive realistic revolutionary lessons. A 23 year old passing on his Ghanaian father’s wisdom with contemporary language, unusual rhythms and afro dub feel. The sense of conversation here is what grabs me.
9. Be – One It’s impossible to describe this Wolfgang Buttress without somehow diluting how remarkable it is. Guitars by Jason Pierce and others, Amiina’s strings & mellotron improvisation over the amplified live feed from beehives. Droning but ever changing rhythms produce an intense meditative 4 part symphony unlike anything else you will hear.
8. Solange – A Seat At the Table her big sister maybe got more attention with Lemonade (which I liked) but this works better as an album. In fact comparisons are a little unfair, the sisters are trying different things and both achieve their aims. Solange brings classic soul to 2016 and immediate relevant politics to the mix with great tunes and a great voice.
7. 75 Dollar Bill – Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock does what it says. Complex percussion on minimal kit, African tuned Marquee Moon guitar freakouts lasting almost 15 minutes. One to dance to or sit and soak up.
6. The Comet Is Coming – Channel the Spirits serial collaborator Shabaka Hutchings brings lung busting tenor sax to a space funk party with drums that channel Tony Allen and motorik grooves in turn and wild electronics. If Fela ever jammed with Kraftwerk and Can …maybe?
5. Beth Orton – Kidsticks more electronics (and guitars ) as Orton experiments more than her recent folkier work suggests. There’s that gorgeous voice of course but she weaves it around tunes that echo her older work but take those echoes into strange new places. Dub and dance and pop and folk in one.
4. Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina a Mauritanian vocal tour de force demanding better health care for women over psychedelic guitars opens this album. Seymali updates griot traditional forms on the kora-like ardine whilst her husband’s guitar is modified to replicate Saharan sounds and swirling rock influences .
3. Anna Meredith – Varmints OK any artist that gets people dancing to a tuba led piece deserves credit. Meredith brings classical arrangements and dance energy together with bombast and subtleties. The instrumental tracks continually throw in surprises like the electro hillbilly breakdown in ‘Vapours.’ The prog pop vocal pieces I was initially puzzled by grew on me.
2. Ólafur Arnalds – Island Songs occasionally some piece of music has an impact such that you recall exactly where you heard it first. I’d heard and enjoyed some of Arnalds pieces already but one Saturday morning lying in my tent at a festival listening to Mary Anne Hobbs’ show I heard ‘Öldurót’ and this album’s ranking was assured. A series of piano led and sometimes symphonic pieces inspired by islands around Iceland that are absolutely gorgeous and deeply evocative.
1. Shield Patterns – Mirror Breathing a well after midnight record if ever I heard one. Pretty much straight in at number one from first listen. The most delicate, intricate yet ethereal, and crafted album of the year is paradoxically one of the most organic, free sounding too. Warm electronics and deft fx seem to drift yet follow a rigorous pattern. That might be enough but then there’s Claire Brentnall’s deceptively guileless soaring vocals, like a less corporeal Kate Bush. Richard Knox manages the neat trick too of filling these songs with sounds and leaving breathing space simultaneously. Turn out the lights and lose yourself in this album.