In perhaps the best-textured electronica record of the year, Gold Panda balanced influences from all over the world (especially Japan, see ‘Chiba Nights’) to create a wonderfully warm experience. Tracks like ‘In My Car’ dazzle with contrasting harmonies and an underlying bass. Whilst ‘Song For A Dead Friend’ combines glitch-pop and drum’n’bass to prove just why Good Luck And Do Your Best is the quintessential example of IDM in 2016. (JT) (LISTEN)
In 2016, it’s felt more than ever like the death of the guitar could be imminent. Submerged by the influx of electronica and synth-pop, guitar music is often drowned out due to its occasionally tiresome qualities. Announcing themselves as the much-needed candidate capable of prolonging one of popular music’s most treasured formats was Canadian post-punk outfit, Preoccupations. Having recently fallen off the back end of controversy involving their name change from Viet Cong, Preoccupations is a reassuring glimpse at the future for guitar fanatics. Their sound is dark, brooding and immensely powerful, and their style is physically stimulating, engaging and most importantly, authentic. Standing out from their peers, Preoccupations is one of the last true bastions of innovative guitar music and will hopefully inspire future artists to continue to breathe life into the genre. (Ollie Rankine) (LISTEN)
If you want to listen to a well-constructed electronic album with wonderful ambition look no further than Varmints, the debut LP from Anna Meredith. Starting off as a classical composer, Meredith’s scope of influences come together to create a genre-bending success. From the seven minutes of the guitar infused ‘The Vapours’ to the frustratingly brilliant constant build of opener ‘Nautilus’, a track which uses a tuba for the bassline, it never fails to excite and challenge. The album draws you in with delightful melodies (see ‘Something Helpful’ and ‘Honeyed Words’) but ignites some of the more unlikely singalong moments of the year in ‘Taken’ and ‘Dowager’ – it really is no surprise Varmints won ‘Scottish Album of the Year’. (JT) (LISTEN)
Having done so much to inform the sounds and themes of hip-hop as it evolved in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, New York legends A Tribe Called Quest delighted the world by dropping their first album in 18 years. However, this was no money-grabbing nostalgia-fest, and was as artistically credible as their finest works from their glory years. Featuring several posthumous clips of Phife Dawg, who had died earlier in 2016, We Got It From Here… was an intelligent, sharply emotional and timely release as the clouds darkened over America in November. (EB) (LISTEN)
Texan post-rock outfit Explosions In The Sky bust themselves out of their recent creative rut with their seventh LP The Wilderness, which was the sound of an established band getting back to first principles and re-building their sound with a renewed sense of purpose. Unlike almost all of their previous records, nothing here even approached the ten-minute mark, with EITS’ recent film-soundtrack work imbuing these passionate instrumentals with new tonal sounds and a sense of heart-stopping urgency. (EB) (LISTEN)
Rock duos in the 21st century are quite the thing: bands like The White Stripes, The Black Keys and Royal Blood have shown that it only takes two to produce fascinating and influential music. How do Honeyblood live up to such reputation? They did so just by being themselves. Babes Never Die is an album that accomplishes greatness but without band members Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers trying too hard. Babes Never Die is written with love and relationships in mind where Tweeddale and Myers, from start to finish, take us through a journey filled to the brim with mindful lyricism, angelic chord progressions, tasteful high notes and, more than anything else; heartfelt originality. Singles ‘Ready For Magic’ and ‘Sea Hearts’ along with ‘Walking At Midnight’ and ‘Hey, Stellar’ alone will want you coming back for a second listen. All of this adds up to equal a gem of 2016. (Harry Beynon) (LISTEN)
American singer-songwriter Angel Olsen improved still further with her third record, which was a compelling mixture of sounds and styles revolving around songs of hope, pain and sadness. My Woman was a much trickier record to pin down that its plainly desolate predecessor Burn Your Fire For No Witness, building elements of dreamy synth-pop into what had previously been a primarily folk-rock template, with the likes of ‘Woman’ and ‘Sister’ becoming cerebral and impressionistic as they swept past their eight-minute marks. As such, she’s now joined the likes of St. Vincent at the top of the tree of the world’s female indie acts. (EB) (LISTEN)
When the ever-elusive GOAT dubbed Requiem their third record as their ‘folk album’, something had to be up; in previous efforts World Music and Commune, the Swedes had produced genre-crossing record which were as loud as they were fun. Upon listening to the LP it becomes abundantly clear that the group had restricted themselves, but the charm of GOAT remained true. From the Can-influenced ‘Alarms’ to the cover of Béla Fleck and Oumou Sangaré’s ‘Djôrôlen’ the record shows just what great melody makers they are. GOAT set out to make a folk record – and they succeeded, but such is their way they, they also made a record just as indebted to krautrock, psychedelia and the music of Western Africa. (JT) (LISTEN)
Metallica’s first record in eight years came at a time when their critical stock was higher than it had been in many years, with Lars Ulrich having been 2016’s Record Store Day ambassador and the group themselves fresh in the memory of their 2014 headline set at Glastonbury.
Harry’s shout: The album that rockers and metalheads have anticipated for so achingly long has finally been released: Metallica’s 10th studio album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. Some say it’s their best work since ‘The Black Album’, others that it’s simply recalling the essence of Death Magnetic but nothing more. It should be emphasised at this point that Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is, in fact, one of Metallica’s best albums to date; consisting of songs that as well as leaving you energized, make you think.
James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are in full songwriting synchronicity for this album which has produced masterpieces like ‘Moth Into Flame’, ‘Halo On Fire’, ‘Here Comes The Revenge’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’. Although Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo have not had been able to indulge us in their ideas, this is more than made up for by their skills in their jaw-dropping guitar and bass playing. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct has shown the rock/metal community that their ‘90s selves should be left in the past, where they belong, because what Metallica has forged in 2016 is something undeniably special. (HB) (LISTEN)
Ironic Welsh post-hardcore Future Of The Left remain one of the UK’s best kept secrets with The Peace & Truce Of Future Of The Left. Doubts over the group were voiced after co-guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Watkins left, but to say that such concerns were unnecessary would be an understatement. Tracks like ‘If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do?’ (perhaps the best song title of the year, a title FOTL would regularly win!) were as punchy and aggressive as ever. Whilst the balancing of rock sub-genres during ‘The Limits Of Battleships’ is a glorious moment on the record. Back in April, I described The Peace & Truce… as the best rock record since Deafheaven’s frantic New Bermuda, and I stand by it. (JT) (LISTEN)
Tags: A Tribe Called Quest, album of the year, Alice Williams, Alicja Rutkowska, Anderson Paak, Angel Olsen, Anna Meredith, Anohni, Bat For Lashes, best albums of 2016, Blood Orange, Blossoms, Bon Iver, Car Seat Headrest, Chance The Rapper, Christian Steel, Christine & The Queens, Crystal Castles, D.D Dumbo, Danny Brown, David Bowie, Death Grips, Ed Biggs, Ellie Wolf, Explosions In The Sky, Flume, Frank Ocean, Future Of The Left, GOAT, Gold Panda, Hannah Binns, Harry Beynon, Honeyblood, Iggy Pop, James Blake, Jamie T, Jesse Casey, John Tindale, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Lambchop, Lauren James, Leonard Cohen, Let's Eat Grandma, Local Natives, Matthew Langham, Metallica, Metronomy, Michael Kiwanuka, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Ollie Rankine, Owen Molde, PJ Harvey, Preoccupations, Radiohead, Savages, Skepta, Slaves, Suede, The Julie Ruin, The Last Shadow Puppets, The Weeknd, TOY, Whitney, Wild Beasts, Woody Delaney
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