The end of a year is always a reflective time, and none more so than for journalists. Lists are a great way to sum up the best and worst aspects of a year, but does one really care about another person’s favourite moment/film/new artist of 2016? Why is their opinion of any interest? And who are they to judge what is the best and worst? At T’Hud, we wanted to celebrate what has been an incredible year of music, so we give you our writers’ favourite albums of 2016.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Released at the dawn of 2016, Bowie’s 25th – and final – record, was the first that I really paid attention to this year. I was immediately struck by the sheer extent of its experimentation, taking obvious influence from hip-hop and jazz, and more obscure moments of industrial and electronica. 50 years into his career, Bowie would have been forgiven for releasing a safe, retrospective rehash of his previous works, like many of his contemporaries, but instead he released one of the most emotionally crushing releases of the year. Despite sadly passing away from liver cancer not 48 hours after the release, and the clear ‘goodbye’ that this record was to become, Blackstar’s themes don’t linger too often on his looming death, choosing instead to be a celebration of the quirkiness with which he lived, and the true portrait of a genius coming to terms with the fleeting nature of his life. Absolutely gripping from start to finish.
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Global superstar Beyoncé Knowles Carter earlier this year released what can only be described as one of the most talked about albums of 2016. Just like her self-titled visual album of 2013, ‘Lemonade’ dropped out of nowhere in April, sparking a significant buzz from her aptly named fans, The BeyHive. The message of the album is clear; Beyoncé has realised that her husband is cheating on her. Lyrics of infidelity, hurt, revenge and fury make up the foundations of ‘Lemonade’, but even with the many accusations that are thrown about, “Such a shame you let this good love go to waste,” it still makes you question whether Jay-Z would really play away. Bursting with duets from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and James Blake, ‘Lemonade’ is an album that pushes the boundaries in every possible aspect, and is arguably her best collection to date.
Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Ride
When Llandudno-based indie rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen tore onto the music scene in 2014, their debut album ‘The Balcony’ proved hard to contend with. Nevertheless, 2016 saw the return of their landfill indie rock style and a boasting of arena-ready anthems. Their second album, ‘The Ride’, is a modicum of original expertise, proving an alcohol-soaked, cigarette smoke-infused, artistic leap forward. A dirty smear of guitar, with frontman Van McCann’s strained vocal, fuse to make an impact on whoever chooses to listen. No longer the band that plays in the carpark of Kasabian gigs and not needing to leave an EP on car bonnets, Catfish and the Bottlemen always seem to be one step ahead, with the majority of songs for ‘The Ride’ written before the debut ones had even been mixed. ‘The Ride’ brags a load of one-word song titles and tracks that don’t mess about. Rattling through Oasis-esque touches like ‘Oxygen’ through to innovative anthems like ‘Outside’, the almost 40-minute long album captures real life and romantic predicaments. Enter Catfish and the Bottlemen – the phenomenon whose old-school style is somehow making miracles.
Pixies – Head Carrier
While they may not be a household name to some, alternative rock band Pixies are noted as a huge inspiration to bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, to name but a few. With new bassist Paz Lenchantin officially sworn into the band, they returned to the music scene in September 2016 with latest effort, ‘Head Carrier’. Highlights of the album are ‘Might as Well Be Gone’ and ‘Classic Masher’, with catchy pop choruses tenfold. Frontman Frank Black’s vocal delivery is as unmistakable as ever, and although rock albums were not generally at the forefront of this year’s top album of 2016 list, Pixies continue to prove their longevity, and prove undying loyalty to their eclectic fan base by delivering yet another blinding album, accompanied by a string of rare UK performances back in November.
Kings of Leon – WALLS
We only had to wait three years to see the return of American rock band, Kings of Leon, and what a return it was. This year saw the release of the band’s seventh studio album, titled ‘WALLS’. It’d be impossible to listen to the album and not recognise that it’s from Kings of Leon, with front man Caleb Followill’s vocals being as distinctive as ever and with songs like ‘Find me and Reverend’ taking on the typical style of music they have come to play over the years. Just listening to the album, you can picture arenas packed out with crowds singing along to the choruses and joining Followill in “woah-ohs” during ‘Waste a Moment’ (a song that can only be described as this year’s ‘Sex on Fire’). The album ends on a mellow note with ‘WALLS’ bringing down the tempo and drawing attention to Followill’s talents in songwriting, a song pleasantly different to the rest of the album. The record has got just enough of what you’d expect from a Kings of Leon album to keep old fans happy and just enough experimenting with new sounds and song styles to intrigue a new audience. A great album to return with!
Lady Gaga – Joanne
A million miles away from 2013’s OTT ‘Artpop’ album, Lady Gaga’s newest endeavor ‘Joanne’ is a stand out album of 2016. Delving into a more mature country/folk type genre, Gaga seems to have taken her music to a much more personal level. With issues such as love, serious relationships and even racism tackled in her music, it feels much sincerer than the poppy plastic electronica we’re used to hearing from Mother Monster. Although first single ‘Perfect Illusion’ struggled to chart, the album is full of subtle cameos from the likes of Mark Ronson (who co-wrote much of the album), Florence Welch and Beck. It might not have sky high rocket sales, but Gaga is finding herself here, and for that reason alone makes this such a great album.
D.D. Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
Perhaps not a contender for album of the year, but definitely one that deserves more attention, ‘Utopia Defeated’ is a record abstract in both its lyrics and music. Oliver Hugh Perry explores ideas of devil worship and UFOs, drawing parallels between strange beings of the sky and modern society in the first single ‘Satan’. Perry is clearly an observant talented artist, weaving his bluesy voice around ethereal rhythms and plucky guitars, adding enough dashes of the unconventional to make for an extremely interesting yet wholly familiar album. The result is a perfectly listenable record that still manages to be ambitious. The young Australian is worth watching in the future.
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
‘I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It’ was The 1975’s second studio album, released in February this year. The Wilmslow band drew praise from all around, in particular from the NME who regarded them as ‘the worst band’ from 2014, yet awarded them with the number 1 spot in their 2016 album of the year list. The album has all sorts of vibes, from dance tunes such as ‘The Sound’ and ‘She’s American’, to more laid back and chilled vibes from ‘A Change of Heart’ and ‘Lostmyhead’. It’s been a successful year for The 1975, starting off the year by going straight to number one in the album charts and ending it with a huge sold out UK arena tour.
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Oberst, who self-admittedly is not this generations Bob Dylan: “Well I could have been a famous singer, if I had someone else’s voice”, is however, fiercely honest and with archives of emotive lyricism. Following the split from the band Bright Eyes (arguably his most successful years), Oberst has released multiple studio solo records of a comparable style, culminating here with his seventh, ‘Ruminations’. The album name, ‘Ruminations’, meaning to think deeply is exactly that: monologues, experiences and trailing thoughts evoked by Oberst in the snowy winter of Nebraska, as he recovered from mental exhaustion. The ten tracks on the album will not be the soundtrack to your glossy student memories: nostalgic, kinetic and euphoric, but rather intense, honest and raw. The album will take you on a journey with a man who has reached his prime in coupling authentic, passionate ramblings with average, country/indie music. Enjoy.
The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come to Expect
‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ has been my soundtrack since it was released in April of this year, making me feel like the smoky LA lounge lizard that I’m definitely not. EYCTE is one of those albums where you keep finding a new favourite track or just have a different go-to song depending on your mood. ‘Bad Habits’ is ideal if you’re feeling lively and want Miles Kane screaming in your ears. Or if you feel like something more subdued and smooth (even more so on the re-worked EP version), there’s ‘The Dream Synopsis’ with Alex Turner’s silky vocals walking you through his surreal dreams of Sheffield, Los Angeles and an un-named girl. This is an album without filler but some tracks are just marginally less brilliant than others.
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Passionate, pure and intense, ‘Freetown Sound’ possesses a range of heavily synthesised drum beats, stunning sax and a twist of classical instrumentals, all of which establish Devonte Hynes’ unique R&B Style. The highly anticipated follow-up to 2013 album ‘Cupid Deluxe’ features 17 songs inspired by struggles with identity and challenges societal issues of cultural appropriation and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Titled after his father’s hometown of Sierra Leone, Hynes announced the album with the message: “This is an album for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way, the underappreciated.” Featuring collaborations with Carly Rae Jepsen, Debbie Harry, and Nelly Furtado, the opening track ‘By Ourselves’ debuts poet Ashley Haze as she recites her poem ‘For Colored Girls’. Following the album was a wave of visually mesmerizing videos, his most recent being ‘I Know’ featuring ballet dancer Maria Kochetkova.
Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
Pop Princess, Ariana Grande released her third album ‘Dangerous Woman’ earlier this year, selling over a million copies worldwide. The album is perfection and every song on the album is an enjoyable listen. The first single from this album, ‘Dangerous Woman’, is a song that awakens the feminist in us all; a simple but powerful song that you can easily dance to. Everything about this album is wonderful and every single that was released was truly amazing. Just listening to this album, we can see why Ariana Grande is known as the Pop Princess!
Sia – This Is Acting
Being a longstanding pop queen, Sia’s new deluxe album ‘This is Acting’ did nothing but exceed expectations and provided a roller coaster of an emotional journey across all 19 tracks. Sia has once again proven that she is a creative force to be reckoned with. Featuring soring highs and husky lows, this album demonstrates the best of her vocal range and is a must buy of 2016.