After nearly ten years of evolving by increments, Wild Beasts offered a rather more radical overhaul for their fifth album Boy King. Their trademark sensual, texture-rich soundscapes remained, but this time they were shackled to even deeper grooves, and built from compressed drum-beats and distorted synths. Thematically dealing with the self-destructive effects of 21st century concepts of masculinity, Boy King continued one of the most impressive careers in indie in the last decade.
Lauren’s shout: Wild Beasts haven’t ever shied from unsubtle writing about rampant sexual desire, but Boy King strips away the subtlety almost completely for an album that celebrates sweaty, red-blooded, hot-tempered passion – and the thrill of its pursuit. The quartet, who first formed at Leeds University, headed to Dallas to work with legendary indie producer John Congleton, who channelled a skintight ’80s rock energy and imbued the Kendal lads with the confidence to run with one-take recordings.
The complex drum patterns and well-read metaphors of previous albums are pared back in favour of electronically-driven groove, computer-generated melodies and punch-bag bass. It’s about humans at their most vivid and curious: from prowling opener ‘Big Cat’, the feminist worship of ‘Alpha Female’, or the vocoder breathlessness of ‘Eat Your Heart Out Adonis’.
At face value, the album sounds like a nightmare for gender equality and consent, but the testosterone-filled air quickly clears to reveal burning admiration for another. If the first half of the album is urgent, swaggering braggadocio, then the second marks a transition to a more reflective headspace. Hayden Thorpe buckles under his insecurity on the gorgeous ‘Celestial Creatures’, before ‘2BU’ sends Tom Fleming’s earnest baritone into a realm of introspection, racing with retro synths.
Boy King captured Wild Beasts at their most off-kilter and fun, revelling in the thrill of the chase and the gluttony of lust. Against the sleaze-oozing arrangements of the other tracks, piano coda ‘Dreamliner’ twinkles mournfully like the final sleepy trudge home after a wild party.
Live At Leeds has pulled a blinder booking them for the 2017 festival! (Lauren James) (LISTEN)
After a flawless appearance on Jools Holland’s ‘Later…’, Héloïse Letissier’s Christine & The Queens swept the UK charts with exotic take on French electronic pop. Already a huge hit in her home country, Chaleur Humaine allowed the band to generate a significant fanbase due to a clutch of hits spearheaded by ‘Tilted’. The simplistic electronic pop sound alongside the visual dance elements allowed ‘Tilted’ to become a significant global hit. Influences of Michael Jackson and European electronica apparent in tracks such as ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘No Harm Is Done’. With themes of gender and identity, it’s easy to see why Chaleur Humaine picked up attention early doors. Not only does Letissier create sophisticated pop, she has something to say, and this is only just the start. (Matthew Langham) (LISTEN)
Anderson.Paak is the smoothest black man in the music industry right now. Paak was a Californian cannabis trimmer/jazz drummer who went on to be homeless, then clean up and proceed to put a stylish dent in the music industry. Malibu, the follow up to his 2014 debut Venice, is about as well produced and tight as it gets, and featured beautiful instrumentals, including a sample from Hiatus Kaiotie’s ‘Molasses’ on the song ‘Without You’, which combined just about everything good about modern music in one song. Anderson.Paaks voice sounds like melting sugar and Malibu made the autumn a lot better for everyone. (Christian Steel) (LISTEN)
Dropping right at the end of November, Starboy was one of the most anticipated albums of 2016, following Abel Tesfaye’s massive Beauty Behind The Madness, which scooped multiple Grammys at the start of the year. Hooking up with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey and even Daft Punk, Tesfaye proved that his success wasn’t a flash in the pan with a more commercial, dancefloor-orientated record as he tentatively pushed the back the boundaries of his sound. Spanning 68 minutes, there was something for everybody in this adventure playground of an album. (EB) (LISTEN)
Taking a frustrating four years to record his sophomore record, British soul troubadour Michael Kiwanuka had no trouble in reminding everybody of his talents with Love & Hate, which became his second Mercury Prize-nominated record in a row. Benefitting from Danger Mouse’s typically sparse and breezy production style that complimented Kiwanuka’s fondness for settling down into a groove and letting a song build gently, the album keyed into increasing social and racial discontent in Western society in addition to his established interest in spirituality. (EB) (LISTEN)
James Osterberg may no longer be the first ‘Iggy’ to appear on Google search, but his enduring relevance in modern music and culture is yet to jeopardise his powerhouse stature. Though the title of his rumoured last ever-recording effort aroused a general feeling of melancholic departure, for perhaps the last time, his long proven ability to dazzle and inspire once again succeeded itself. Post Pop Depression is not only an overlooking viewpoint of the reflective thoughts of a true undisputed legend, but also a triumphant celebration of hybrid talent. Created with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders in his backing band, the record wears Iggy’s gratitude for his late friend David Bowie brightly upon its sleeve and left the diminished world of punk anxiously wondering if this really is goodbye. (OR) (LISTEN)
Kendrick Lamar’s domination of the music industry has been a tactical one. 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city featured some pretty commercial songs, but it gave him the scope and recognition needed to produce his flawless last two albums. untitled unmastered was released in under a year of the seminal album To Pimp A Butterfly; while I find the fact that one man could release two masterpieces in under a year slightly ridiculous, it was cut from the same musical cloth, so its quality is unsurprising.
Featuring layer upon layer of immaculately tight instrumentals spanning a range of genres, Kendrick yet again showed hip-hop to be much more than a drum beat and gangster-infused narcissism. The totally orgasmic transition between untitled tracks blew my mind and this album is a totally cohesive and raw testimony to the surprising potential and power hip-hop harbours. Kendrick is an irrefutable genius, and by not naming the album songs, using a blank cover and refusing to master the album, he has testified that commercial success is no longer, and never again will be, a necessary facet of his music. (CS) (LISTEN)
Proving that music, at its core, is meant to be fun were Norwich-based newcomers Let’s Eat Grandma. Describing their music as “sludge pop”, the prodigiously young teen duo prove themselves as one of the most exciting acts of 2016 with their debut LP I, Gemini; tracks like ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’ and ‘Chocolate Sludge Cake’ are well-developed musically (the duo play over ten instruments) and remain charming due to the simplistic lyrics (the two aforementioned tracks aren’t a complicated metaphor: they are actually just about food). The hypnotic ‘Rapunzel’, a gothic take on the classic fairytale, was one of the best tracks of the year – pianos create an ominous feel before an intricate hook brings spellbinds the listener. One of the very best British debut records of the year. (JT) (LISTEN)
Following the second Mercury Prize win of her career five years ago with Let England Shake, which was a masterpiece even by her own extremely high standards, expectations were sky high for what Polly Jean Harvey would eventually say next. The Hope Six Demolition Project was a strange album that asked more questions than it answered, focussing on modern American exceptionalism rather than the European neo-colonialism of its predecessor, and which often seemed like a mixture of first-person journalism and rock music. An uneven but deeply fascinating work that often felt it should be a multimedia project, this was a very different kind of great PJ Harvey album. (EB) (LISTEN)
In a year of uncertainty and events that have made us question the world, one thing we could be reasonably sure of was that Kanye’s new album was going to be controversial, experimental and full of egotism. Thankfully, unlike Brexit and Trump, the result was as expected. From the futuristic sounds of ‘Feedback’, to the gospel samples on ‘Low Lights’, The Life Of Pablo saw Kanye continue his quest to defy the notion of genre and push far beyond the boundaries of just ‘hip-hop’. In true Kanye fashion, it was followed by a trail of media attention, Twitter feuds and all the uproar about that Taylor Swift lyric.
As we have also come to expect from Kanye, the album provided us with some lyrical gems too, from comparing himself and his wife Kim Kardashian to Mary and Joseph, to the satirical and fabulously tongue-in-cheek ‘I Love Kanye’. Pablo certainly didn’t fall short in the way of guest appearances either, calling on good pals Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean to name but a few, as well as making room for newbies like Chance The Rapper. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Mr. West has produced one of the most talked-about, original and frankly ‘out there’ albums of the year; and you’ve got to give him some credit for that. (Alice Williams) (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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