We’ve already begun our albums of 2016, from D.D Dumbo to NAO, but now we turn our attention to the business end of things. Here’s our top 10 albums of the year as chosen by The VLM team.
10. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
Pine trees and log cabins in a summer psych-daze come to mind on Whitney’s debut, the true underdog of 2016. The Chicago crooners dance with clichés of wistful love and old-fashun Americana, shaping them in a manner that’s quaint but never kitsch. For lack of better words, it’s just rather lovely.
9. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Everything about Justin Vernon’s third album is built around Psalm 22, a passage which begs: “Why are you so far from saving me?” Strung out on a line between alienation and purpose, divinity isn’t something Vernon cares for, just to have a meaning to it all. The supposed ‘god hole’ in all of us is the cornerstone of struggle in 22, A Million, becoming an obsessive search for a truth outside of convention and structures. Prone to impossible warmth or tectonic bludgeoning, communicated in Biblicisms, numerics and raw fragments of human memory, it’s hard to understand, yet vital.
8. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book is an imposing creation of gospel lyricism at times, and a buffet of golden pop music for other moments. It’s all covered, and not in a half hearted way. This album, although it’s referred to as a mixtape, is a carefully crafted collection of awe inspiring music that leads a revolutionary period in hip hop. Featuring collaborations with Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Future and more, it’s no wonder Chancellor Bennet’s latest record is being hailed as a stand out moment for 2016. If this is just a mixtape for him, what’s his first album going to sound like?!
7. Frank Ocean – Blonde
While it may not have been the best album of the year, it was undoubtedly the most anticipated. Blonde saw Frank Ocean end his 4-year venture into the musical abyss and his return was greeted with widespread hysteria. Producing a follow up to 2012’s Channel Orange was always going to be a near impossible task, however the end result was an album that was as much a work of art as it was a piece of music. The sumptuous ‘Ivy’ and ‘Nikes’ are highlights on a 17-track LP, which boasts Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar amongst a rich list of universally renowned collaborators. Blonde is quite simply the product of an artist who’s been given complete creative freedom and the end result is pretty spectacular.
6. KAYTRANADA – 99.9%
At a glance Louis Kevin Celestin’s could’ve picked a smarter date in the calendar to plant his debut album but the Canadian producer rose to the challenge and with a fortnight of Beyonce, James Blake, Skepta and Radiohead he came out on top. It’s the clever features which catch your attention at first; comeback kid Craig David provides soulful vocals in ‘GOT IT GOOD’, Anderson Paak swaggers in with ‘GLOWED UP’ and bubblegum popstar Aluna Francis snarls behind a chunky bassline in ‘TOGETHER’. At other times, Celestin lets his smooth production and sharp sampling do the talking like in ‘LITE SPOTS’. If this is KAYTRANADA now there’s no knowing what he’ll do when he gets to 100%.
5. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead are a band unlike any other. 2016 marked another new chapter in their ever evolving œuvre. A Moon Shaped Pool offered a collection of old, reworked tunes with a smattering of new. From the brutality of ‘Burn The Witch’ to the delightful subtlety of ‘Glass Eyes’ Radiohead offered up yet another wonderful variety of musicianship. The band are certainly unique and to create a record as diverse and exciting as this 23 years on from their debut is an incredible feat. Roll on Glastonbury and long live Radiohead.
4. Jamie T – Trick
At times Jamie Treays’ fourth installment plays mind games with you. Dusted down after a five year hiatus, T’s latest offering resembles the catchy hooks and throwaway comments you’re sure you’ve heard before in Panic Prevention and Kings and Queens, with the likes of playful ditties ‘Tescoland’ and ‘Robin Hood’. Even the grime-esque vocals on ‘Drone Strike’ are quick witted but delve deeper and Trick isn’t all it seems. T is still hurting by the time he signs off with ‘Self Esteem’ but this time he’s got there unabashedly through twelve triumphant tracks.
3. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Once again, Yeezy season produced a controversial and sonically impressive spectacle. Despite its erratic release date process and several last minute changes, The Life of Pablo (TLOP) delivered in so many aspects. Not typical Kanye by any stretch; he jumps from heavy synths and almost implausibly impressive auto tune to continuous head-banging hip hop beats, as he takes us through his chaotic and fame-ridden 21st century existence in style. In what may not be quite his greatest album to date, it does encapsulates a beautiful amalgamation of all the musical techniques that he brought into hip-hop and allowed others to exploit. His lyricism is direct and not as sophisticated as his earlier collective efforts, but don’t be fooled by Kanye’s blunt manner; he knows how to make you listen. A string of world-class features and help from the industry’s most renowned producers, this is an album that 2016 should be proud of.
2. Anderson Paak – Malibu
In 2016, Anderson Paak swiftly shifted from being the unknown guy who held up Dr.Dre’s new album to the immensely versatile and hugely talented artist that is being spoken about everywhere. Malibu is a diverse, magnificent record which encapsulates all his best creative endeavours; sliding through genres with ease as he crafts what could be described as a new-age R&B masterpiece. Appropriately placed features, boundless energy and beautiful melodies accompany his unique, raspy vocals in an album which is wholly impressive from back to front. It is funky, it is meticulously produced and it is most importantly like nothing you have heard before. Aftermath’s newest star looks set to reach meteoric heights; this album indicative of Paak’s rapid rise to stardom in a year where he did nothing but win.
1. Glass Animals – How To Be A Human Being
Glass Animals’ How To Be A Human Being is one of very few true indie rock gems in 2016. An album full of colourful characters, and glorious groove. Lead single ‘Life Itself’ is a pulsating synth-based banger, much louder and bolder than anything the group had previously released. It set the marker for what was to come. An LP full of heavy production, beefy guitar hooks and hefty synths. Tracks ‘Take A Slice’ and ‘Poplar St.’ display this new direction for the band, with two of the meatiest riffs on the album. ‘Season 2, Episode 3’s synth plops make it sound like a Mario Kart soundtrack on acid, it’s a brilliantly unique tune and certainly an album standout. In a year dominated by grime and hip hop, Glass Animals exotic and individual groove has kept indie rock on the map. A deserved winner of VLM’s album of the year.