2016 has been a year to forget for most; legends gone and two gobsmacking results we didn’t expect, but the votes are in for the only thing that matters right now. Here’s the first half of records you need to hear from this year.
20. D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
Utopia Defeated may be filed under alternative, but this is a record with an eclectic range of hardened bass lines, funk grooves and beats good enough for any of your favourite hip-hop artists. Falling at just 38 minutes long, D.D. Dumbo wastes no time in experimenting with the noise around him. Whilst one second you may be listening to a perfectly produced ‘Satan’, by the end all is taken away and we’re left with a simplistic, laid back side to the musician. There’s something special about the entirety of the record, but there’s still a lot of secrets to uncover. It’s an essential listen for anybody wanting to discover the hidden charms of 2016.
19. DIIV – Is The Is Are
In a year where there’s been a lot of the same old same old, DIIV served up one of the last shreds of individuality with their sophomore album, Is The Is Are, an album so beautifully constructed that you find yourself lost in a krautrock-led trance by the end of the second song. It most certainly was a task for the New York four piece to follow up their cohesive and atmospheric debut, Oshin, but the bombardment of dreamy guitar riffs led by thumping drums accompanied by a more mature sound indoctrinates Is The Is Are as an album worthy of more praise than is given.
18. Slaves – Take Control
Slaves made a brash return this year with their second album Take Control, bringing punk back into the modern era once again. It’s everything you would expect it to be; non-stop loudness and vitality from the beginning to the very end. Produced by the Beastie Boys very own Mike D, who also features on the track ‘Consume Or Be Consumed’, it echoes the foundations of the rebellion and defiance that was laid decades ago in the origins of punk. Slaves do what they do best, contrasting humorous, witty lyrics with intense detonations of sound, making an album that is an exhilarating listen and up there with the best of this year.
17. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
The band with one of the worst names of the year have managed to produce one of the best albums of the year. With an impressive catalogue of DIY albums under his belt, Teens of Denial is the first studio recorded album by Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest and co. The songs are often marathon in length, building up over raucous riffs and diverse intelligent lyrics. The result is full immersion into the songs that leave you either chanting along or for a moment of reflection on an LP which takes the band to the next gear.
16. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
So fittingly named after the Joy Division song, Atrocity Exhibition is far and away the most creative hip hop album of this year. Danny Brown has been a known risk-taker for some time – XXX is just as strangely brilliant now as it was on its release five years ago. It would not have been unreasonable to have thought that the 2011 album was the peak of Daniel Sewell’s ability as an artist, but his latest effort surpasses all previous expectations. Joining up with Warp Records, the Detroit rapper has created an LP of insanity. Brown’s instantly recognisable voice and captivating flow are thrown onto fifteen experimental beats which become more rewarding with every listen. Dark, moody, abrasive and realistic, Atrocity Exhibition was a huge step forward into the abyss that we loved to take.
15. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
With a third album that was always going to veer away from his previous work, The Colour in Anything stretched James Blake’s production craft to its outer limits. At times, its boundaries were pushed a little too far racking up an impressive 76 minutes of Moby-esque melancholy with ‘Radio Silence’ setting the tone, but indulge with every breath and pockets of genius crop up unexpectedly between the buffering. Amongst the array of synth tasters, Blake’s at his best when he shows off his wailing falsettos in ‘Love Me In Whatever Way’ and ‘Choose Me’. It takes perseverance but eventually there’s no denying this album’s place in the year’s greatest.
14. Travis Scott – Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
Despite lengthy delays and cancelled concerts that accompanied its release – Birds in the Trap Sing Mcknight should be seen as a resounding success for Travis Scott. His profound ability to translate what is primarily a mixtape genre, trap, into entertaining full length albums is second to none. Birds displays some of the finest production and arguably the most star-studded feature line-up in hip hop this year, all at once. The instrumentals are nothing short of fantastic and every featured artist is utilised cleverly. The LP, however, struggles to stand up to the ambitiousness off Rodeo and was correctly criticised for lyrical laziness. But these flaws were worn on its sleeve, Travis made an album of bangers back to front – a soundtrack for any club or party, which is exactly what he’d set out to do from the beginning.
13. Suede – Night Thoughts
Night Thoughts is Suede’s cinematic masterpiece. The band’s second album in fourteen years is filled with moments of poignant emotion and vulnerability. However, there are enigmatic flashes of Suede’s brit-pop roots in ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Like Kids.’ A lesson in ageing gracefully, frontman Brett Anderson eloquently conveys his fears about fatherhood, yet one of the most beautiful things about the album is its openness to interpretation. When Suede handed Night Thoughts over to director Roger Sargent to turn it into a feature film, they let him do whatever he liked with it. Sargent’s haunting tale of a man drowning contrasts with Anderson’s musings on fatherhood, and the myriad other readings from listeners. Brett and the band are older, and wiser now, and this is what makes Night Thoughts the work of art that it is.
12. Solange – A Seat At The Table
A Seat at the Table is a profound journey through weariness, anger, heartbreak and the empowerment that comes out at the end of this. The emotional complexity of the album makes it feel intensely personal, yet the political undertones are impossible to ignore. ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ and ‘Mad’ brazenly explore the importance of black culture and history. Ultimately, A Seat at the Table is a blend of voices, with appearances from Lil Wayne and Solange’s parents amongst others. Musicially ambitious, the mellow and soulful tracks are dispersed with ‘Interludes’ which feature Solange’s parents handing out advice and anecdotes as well as powerful political calls to arms. Her first album in four years, this is Solange’s most mature and cohesive work to date. It is a thoughtful and stunning portrayal of black womanhood in 2016.
11. NAO – For All We Know
Nao’s For All We Know is a collection of R&B focused music that delves in to the deeper ends of suave production and vocal complexions. Creating a modernistic guide that takes influence from the likes of Kate Bush, the debut album proves to be a framework for future solo singers who aim to break boundaries and mould the music around them. From the hard-hitting single ‘Bad Blood’ to an old school hip-hop inspired ‘Fool To Love’, this is a record that teaches, inspires and shines through an array of R&B albums that were pushed out in the last year.
Check back on the site next week to see the rest of our countdown and find out The VLM’s album of the year 2016.