Once again, Suede showed us why they are one of the most important bands in the recent history of British music, not least because they were one of the very first artists to attract the phrase ‘Britpop’. Night Thoughts, their seventh studio album, is exciting, operatic, and probably their best album in 20 years; certainly since the chart-topping success of Coming Up in 1996. Pitched halfway between the shiny commerce of that record and its grandiose, gothic predecessor Dog Man Star from 1994, and made in tandem with a feature-length film by director Roger Sargent, it depicted the thoughts of a drowning man as he reminisced on the tragic events in his life that brought him to his suicide attempt.
Typically cheery stuff, but the effect on Night Thoughts was majestic, with songs such as ‘When You Are Young’, ‘Pale Snow’ and ‘Learning To Be’ provide necessary build-up and character to other songs such as ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’ and ‘Like Kids’ and this beautiful cohesion is further uplifted by Brett Anderson’s glamourous vocal work. Like on most of Suede’s catalogue highlights, the bass and guitar parts are layered and glued together in unparalleled harmony, and the songs neatly toed the line between high art and pure entertainment. Nearly a quarter of a century since their inception, Suede’s creative well is still flowing over. (HB) (LISTEN)
One of the most hyped-up guitar bands of the last two years, English indie kids Blossoms long ago signalled their intention to take their time crafting their debut, satisfying their fans with a string of EPs and singles dating back to early 2014. At long last, the modestly-titled Blossoms arrived, and it was worth the wait. Like Wolf Alice, who similarly chose to work hard at their debut My Love Is Cool last year, it was an artistic and commercial triumph.
Owen’s shout: Blossoms’ self-titled debut album saw 2016 become a dream-like year. The Stockport quintet supported their Manchester idols The Stone Roses at the Etihad, as well as other mammoth gigs at the likes of Heaton Park with Courteeners. The rewards are still coming thick and fast as they’ve announced a headline gig at Castlefield Bowl for 2017. It is unsurprising that Blossoms have skyrocketed in such a way after the debut album was so full of promise with anthemic sing-alongs like their hit song ‘Charlemagne’.
They have found the balance between radio-friendly pop to appeal to a wide range of listeners but also the credibility of a rock band. Something to put Blossoms’ achievement into perspective is that they were the only guitar band to feature BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll. It is not just their way round a catchy chorus that made them so accessible for music lovers but their demeanour too; a group of care-free schoolmates who started practicing in their garage is one of many things that makes the band so likeable, and it propelled the album to glory and the top of the UK charts. (OM) (LISTEN)
“Man I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it” reflects Chancellor Bennett on his newest mixtape, and it was hard not to agree with him. The last three years have seen the prodigal Chicagoan catapult into the highest echelon of hip-hop’s stars, an ascent continued with Coloring Book, yet another excellent record that showcased his unique flows and likeable personality. Like most cutting edge hip-hop, it was a fusion of rap, gospel, soul and jazz. Best of all, it left you feeling that Chance has yet to release his true masterpiece. Exciting times ahead. (EB) (LISTEN)
Recording under the name of Car Seat Headrest, Virginia-based songwriter Will Toledo presented his 13th album (at the age of just 24!) as a full band project for the first time. Full of the DIY aesthetics that have made great indie records since time immemorial, Teens Of Denial brought Toledo to a nationwide audience, with television and festival appearances garnering him great acclaim.
Ollie’s shout: Now that bedroom artist Will Toledo has finally brought his one-man project to the unlimited possibilities of a recording studio, it really feels as if slacker rock is on the brink of unearthing a master in the making. Despite it taking more than a dozen home-recorded efforts for Toledo to find his comfort zone, his first, shall we say, proper studio debut has landed him artist at the focal point of lyrically forlorn, distortion heavy genius. The interaction between his washed-out vocal and razor sharp guitar riffs work together flawlessly in ragged, synchronised harmony. Though his presence hasn’t quite yet reached the ranks of slacker counterparts Mac DeMarco or Courtney Barnett, Toledo’s potential is obvious, while giving pot smokers everywhere something fresh to bang their heads to. (OR) (LISTEN)
The Kent duo’s second album has been a very well-received follow up from their imposing debut Are You Satisfied? Punk is well and truly alive if the reception of Take Control is anything to go by – the frantic guitar of Laurie Vincent and now-iconic stand-up drumming of Isaac Holmes is a spectacle in itself. Their infamous, undying energy is just as apparent in Take Control as it was in their debut and every gig they’ve done in between as they grow from strength to strength with their legion of followers behind them – only this time, the songs and variety were there to match their intensity. (OM) (LISTEN)
Joe Mount’s Metronomy continued their fine trajectory with their fifth full-length record, scoring yet another UK Top 20 album and racking up plenty of radio airplay. Stripping away most of the musical elements of previous records made as a full band to focus on Mount as an artist in his own right, this was the most personal album he has made since his minimalist DIY debut Pip Paine…
Alice’s shout: After 2014’s dreamy Love Letters, Metronomy were welcomed back with open arms this year when they announced their return with Summer 08. The summer in question provides much of the album’s themes, reflecting on the heady days following the success of their breakout record Nights Out. It takes a critical and sneering look at the pretentiousness and materialism of their indie-electro peers back then, revealing a more angsty and cynical side to the usually humble Joe Mount.
Musically, their distinctive jagged basslines and synths remain, but with a more retro feel this time, especially when the funky bass of ’16 Beat’ kicks in (an ode to Mount’s drum machine, no less). Despite their success, Metronomy have never been ones for big-name collaborations, but calling in Robyn for ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ resulted in one of the most gloomy yet genius works of pop brilliance this year. Despite its old-school vibes, Summer 08 was a fresh, fun and quintessentially eccentric fifth album, which showed us that Metronomy still have a good few summers left in them yet. (AW) (LISTEN)
Sadly, like much of the pre-release press surrounding it had suggested, You Want It Darker did indeed turn out to be Leonard Cohen’s epitaph. A sparse, solemn affair ruminating on all the usual themes – love and loneliness, spirituality and society – it showed that his eye for analysing the human condition was as sharp as ever. Three weeks after its release, 2016 claimed yet another musical legend, with the news that Cohen had passed away in his sleep in early November. However, at least he gave the world one last wry sideways glance, a suitably understated and magisterial farewell to one of the pop era’s finest ever songwriters. (EB) (LISTEN)
A side-project back by popular demand, Alex Turner finally found the time to put Arctic Monkeys to one side for a bit and hook up with best-bud Miles Kane for a second Last Shadow Puppets album, eight years after the much-loved first.
Hannah’s shout: Rock’s favourite bromance at last returned, nearly a decade on from the success of their widely acclaimed 2008 album The Age Of The Understatement, which showcased Miles Kane as an indie-rock playboy and Alex Turner’s ability to ditch the indie-disco tracks for dramatic, string-laden chamber-pop ballads. Yet their latest release Everything You’ve Come To Expect is everything but what fans expect; it was a more relaxed and experimental album, taking its roots from soul music and providing songs of sheer seduction.
Turner’s sparkling use of language continued to offer a refreshing human vulnerability that we’re not used to seeing in rock stars, as he ditched the hooks and trademark lyrical gimmicks for lighter, more humorous moments of self-reflection. Everything You’ve Come To Expect showcased the boys at their most endearing selves, with each song turning into slow burning seduction, delighting listeners by offering them something that they did not quite expect. (Hannah Binns) (LISTEN)
D.D Dumbo entered the Australian music scene with a record that resonated well beyond the borders of his home country. Utopia Defeated proved Oliver Hugh Perry to be an immensely talented musician and producer, who is not afraid to guide the audience through a wide spectrum of his influences. It took Perry two years to complete his debut full-length album, with the results being nothing but pleasantly surprising. The only thing now is to hope that Perry will approach his next record with the same amount of confidence and imagination. (AR) (LISTEN)
Matthew’s shout: Adore Life picked up the second consecutive Mercury Prize nomination for London quartet Savages. The album followed on from similar soundscapes to their 2013 debut Silence Yourself, drawing on a range of influences from post-punk stalwarts including Gang Of Four through to krautrock and contemporaries such as Suede. But Adore Life had a noticeably lighter edge in comparison to their crisp, monochrome debut, a more carefully balanced album which shares the heavier tracks (‘T.I.W.Y.G’, ‘The Answer’) with the moody, introspective numbers (‘Evil’, ‘Slowing Down The World’). This album was clearly one which wanted to avoid a re-hash of a formula and it won critical praise for its progression and originality. (ML) (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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