The Perfect Tempo
Top 20 Albums of 2016
What a year it has been for music! It’s fair to say we’ve seen some massive releases alongside some absolutely stellar live performances and unfortunately lost quite a few icons in the process, however it’s time to count down our personal favourites from throughout the year, your most likely going to have your own differing opinion on this list and that’s ok! we’re just hoping you may find a hidden gem you might have overlooked or broaden your horizons to a new genre or artist.
Whatever the case may be, we hope you enjoy looking through the list and please add your own suggestions in the comment section below.
20. Gameshow - Two Door Cinema Club
I wrote extensively about Two Door’s third album in our review earlier this year, It’s by far Two Door Cinema Club’s darkest album, focusing about overcoming the differences and conflicts that have built up over the years as a band. the result is would turn out to be an 80’s electric fused pop album which includes infectious jams such as “Ordinary” and “Bad Decisions” that are bound to have you up on your feet, it’s unfortunately let down by too much filler tracks and not enough killer.
19. Walls - Kings Of Leon
We called it a true return to form for the Nashville rockers, it’s a more backs to basics approach for the boys that overall is a much more concise, more directed effort. It even might just remind you of those early Aha Shake days, it definitely deserves recognition with the brilliant singles “Waste A Moment” and “Around The World” flying under the chart radar but unfortunately I haven’t found myself returning to Walls much these past few months hence it’s low position in our rankings, the end result is an album thats good if not slightly forgettable.
18. This Is Acting - Sia
By throwing together all of her songs written for and rejected by other artists (hence the title) Sia has actually created an album full of hits in itself which show just how foolish these massive pop stars where to turn them down, or maybe it just shows how the only voice capable of doing them justice was Sia’s itself. “Alive” is a true to name power ballad which we’ll have you shouting along during the chorus, highly underrated “Move Your Body” is infectious and proves Sia doesn’t need a DJ tagging their name along to make a massive dance hit, “Reaper” is a beautiful song that allows Sia to really stretch out her vocal range and of course we can’t skip mentioning “Cheap Thrills” the dancehall inspired smash hit which dominated radio waves this summer.
17. California - Blink-182
It’s fair to say by the turn of the decade Blink-182 had just became a nostalgia act for twenty-something year old’s, with the band sticking to touring their (It must be said) brilliant back catalogue. So when they announced a new album with Matt Skiba taking over the reins from Tom Delonge it was fair to say expectations were kept low. how ever we were delightfully proved wrong when ‘California’ turned out to be such an anthem filled triumph. it’s firm proof that pop punk is not only alive in 2016 but more popular than ever and we can’t wait to hear the album and singles “Bored To Death” and “She’s Out Of Her Mind” live in the U.K next summer.
16. Viola Beach - Viola Beach
Tragedy struck earlier this year when the young upcoming indie band Viola Beach sadly passed away in a car crash with their manager however with the families in full support their unfinished debut album was released, a collection of songs recorded by the band, it feels surprisingly cohesive and sadly like we said in our review full of so much potential, it’s a fantastic album with some great tracks such as “Boys That Sing” (Which Coldplay beautifully covered during their Glastonbury headline set), the tropical sounding “Go Outside” and the beyond their years maturity that gets shown in the lyrics to the emotional teenage ballad “Call You Up”.
15. Wild World - Bastille
I debated so much on where to place this album, in the end I settled for 15th, that’s purely based on the fact how strong this year has been for new music, any other year this could have been top 5 easily. starting with the positives; the album opens with easily my favourite song to be released this year “Good Grief” it’s as good as pop songs get, it’s multi layered, encourages plenty of audience participation and I find it instantly uplifting, other highlights include the politically charged “The Currents”, R&B infused “Send Them Off!” and the heart wrenching “Fake It”. It must be said the use of film quotes throughout the album is a stroke of pure genius by frontman Dan Smith. Unfortunately for me at a lengthy 19 tracks the album ends up feeling just too long, I could pick 10 tracks that when put together easily make a strong argument for album of the year, it’s just having to go through the rest.
14. Blossoms - Blossoms
Blossoms feel very much like a finished product and what I imagine Viola Beach could have become if they were able to flourish, their debut album is at times indescribable except for maybe the emotion you get whilst listening to it…. pure joy, a mix of genres that is anywhere from indie rock to full on pop, what it is though, is a brilliant example of strong new guitar music being made from the UK again, following in Catfish’s footsteps you’ll be sure to hear the likes of the infectious and nonsensical “Charlemagne”, the slightly edgy “At Most A Kiss” and the poetic “Blown Rose” all being bellowed out across the festival scene next year.
13. “Awaken, My Love!” - Childish Gambino
Wow! is probably the first thought that comes into your head when listening to Childish Gambino’s latest album, it’s already proven to be divisive and is bound to split fans opinions down to the fact those who have come in expecting the brilliant rap music they’ve become accustomed to from Gambino will be severely disappointed to say the least, however what they will hear is one of the finest funk albums released in the past few decades, Donald has taken inspiration from his parent’s record collection in creating a truly psychedelic, funk experience that has to be consumed from start to finish, it see’s his voice hit new high’s with the funky guitars and bass soaring even higher. highlights include the delightfully infectious jam that is “Redbone” (want to be amazed? check out his live TV performance of the track!) and the emotional + inspiring finale that is “Stand Tall”
12. Nothing’s Real - Shura
I had a lot to say about Shura’s debut earlier this year in my review and it still stands, it’s a brilliant album that’s content ends up being extremely relatable, Shura sings of love, awkwardness and heartbreak in a way which is rarely heard on the radio, all the while it’s been backed up by some of the years brightest pop singles such as a strangely upbeat take on unrequited love in “What’s It Gonna Be?” or the Madonna styled title track “Nothing’s Real”, not to mention the most down to earth love song seemingly made for us millennial’s “2shy”. The albums been seemingly overlooked by the casual pop listener which is a real shame but I encourage you to check it out.
11. Untitled Unmastered - Kendrick Lamar
This year has been full of surprise album releases but it’s fair to say this was the most unexpected of the lot, after releasing the absolutely fantastic and critically acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly” just the previous year it was thought we wouldn’t be hearing any new material from Kendrick for a while at least, So we were not expecting an album full of tracks that didn’t make it into his previous work, literally untitled and unmastered, these tracks are stripped back but are just as strong as anything on TPAB. It show’s real skill that you can release an album full of outtakes that can still compete to be the best rap album of the year alongside some fully fledged mass produced epics. It would feel wrong to pick out a single track, this is meant to be consumed as a whole package, it’s short at 34 minutes but oh so sweet.
10. Anti - Rihanna
After releasing multiple albums on a yearly cycle Rihanna decided to switch things up and take a break for a few years to work on 2016’s ANTI, however leaks a messy release for the album resulted in one of her poorest ever rankings in the charts, this however didn’t change the fact that she had released some of her best material yet. Apart from the nonsensical catchy ramblings of “Work” there wasn’t any other apparent singles on the album which from a critics point of view worked wonders, it was for once an album by Rihanna that was meant to be considered as art and not just pop fodder, despite being released all the way back in January I still find myself coming back to it, it’s experimental but one that proves equally as successful just listen to standout “Love On The Brain” with it’s doo-wop style which is unlike anything heard in pop for decades, If your looking for more traditional Rihanna then you can’t go wrong with “Consideration” and “Kiss It Better”, It also has some real cracking ballads on it such as “Higher” and “Never Ending” and what ever the hell “Needed Me” is. It’s a much darker and non traditional approach from Rihanna, It requires multiple listens to really appreciate some of it’s surprising complexities but I assure you by the time it finishes you’ll want to dive right back in.
9. Long Way Home - Lapsley
My highest ranking debut album this year comes in the form of Lapsley’s “Long Way Home”, I must admit that initially I completely overlooked the album on it’s release, sure I’d heard the superb singles such as “Hurt Me” and “Station” but I’d somehow missed the LP (like most people did it seem’s with a chart peak of only #32!) when it came out in the U.K. it was only after I saw her show stealing set at this year’s Coachella did I sit up and rightfully take notice, It’s a very strong showcase for the young songstress talent, full of some truly emotional ballads and fantastic songwriting, “Painter” and “Love Is Blind” instantly spring to mind. One song in particular stands out amongst them all however and that is the excellent “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)”, the original album version is truly spectacular with it’s blend of traditional soul music from the 60’s with a modern edge and is hands down the most underrated song to come out of this 2016, it brims full of energy and your really doing yourself a disservice by not hearing it.
8. Blonde - Frank Ocean
If any album had the most pressure to succeed this year then it had to be Frank Ocean’s very long awaited second album, with no official confirmation that it was even being created just deep rumours spreading across the internet which unbelievably resulted in a video of him building a staircase!? which in itself became the video album “Endless” and finally a couple days later the proper LP “Blonde” was born. It’s fair to say everything from the albums creation to it’s surprise release had been carefully and meticulously organised, which is the same feel you get from the very neat, very stripped back feel of Blonde, it’s very somber but you can help be captivated by Frank’s once again outstanding vocals, I mean just look to ‘Solo’ for all the proof you need, ‘Pink + White’ its by far his best track he’s ever made and the albums highlight but what I love most about it; is the little stories that scatter the LP, just take a proper listen to the humorous and humble skits, I hear my aunt in the words of ‘Be Yourself’ and uncle in ‘Facebook Story’. A great album is one you can relate to and Blonde is exactly that. I’ll leave it to you really delve into the music, but lets just say Bowie and Prince may no longer be with us but turn to Frank to see just how their music will inspire and live on.
7. A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead
Radiohead returned in a big way this year, not only did they perform one of my favourite concert sets of all time when they played the Roundhouse earlier this year but they released one of their best LP’s in years in the shape of ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. It really requires a committed listen and if your looking for big radio singles your in the wrong place and won’t find many except the hard-hitting and brilliant opener that is “Burn The Witch” (Which also has one of 2016’s best music videos), the rest of the album seemingly fades together harmoniously and I find myself coming back to it regularly; whether it be for the hauntingly beauty of “Daydreaming” with it’s gentle piano notes etched deep within my mind or the almost tropical sounds of “Desert Island Disk”. overall it feels like a throwback to early Radiohead resulting in one of their most accessible releases in years especially compared to King Of Limbs and In Rainbows, even if you’ve never considered yourself a fan, you should at least give this a full listen through just once.
6. Everything Is My Family - Crystal Fighters
In what most would consider quite a dark year for music, Crystal Fighters have released an album which hits you like a firework, it’s pure joy, you could argue that Crystal Fighters are quite one-dimensional after their first two albums but I feel that “Everything Is My Family” shows that their iconic hippy indie dance music has much more substance to it, I absolutely raved about this album when I reviewed it and my feelings stay true (check that out here), “Good Girls” is euphoric and the albums killer single whilst I can’t say enough about their touching tribute to late band member Andrea Marongiu on “The Moondog” which from start to finish is bound to leave you in a sense of melancholic bliss.
5. Starboy - The Weeknd
An album that personally has been on constant repeat the whole past month, theres been a few albums this year boasting in excess of 18 tracks such as Bastille and fellow Canadian Drake but “STARBOY” is the only one that manages to thrill throughout, It’s fair to say The Weeknd took us all by surprise when he announced the album which would be arriving only a year after his mainstream crossover LP Beauty Behind The Madness, the result is a suitably hour long epic that’s full of hits such as the titular track featuring the elusive Daft Punk who steal the show with their other contribution “I Feel It Coming” an MJ styled thriller of a song, Michael’s influence is also felt strongly on the likes of “A Lonely Night” and “Love To Lay”. This feels like what The Weeknd has been building up to all along, and I can’t think of anyway he can topple the might of his new persona. (for more check out my review)
4. Coloring Book - Chance The Rapper
2016 was most certainly the year of Chance, over in the US he became practically a household name concluding in creating his own sold-out festival over in his hometown Chicago, whilst overseas he was finally getting the recognition he deserves resulting in 2 thrilling sold out shows at London’s Brixton Academy, oh and let’s not forget his was behind some of Kanye’s Pablo’s best tracks, none of this would have been possible if not for his stunning third mixtape “Coloring Book” which is yet another fantastic free release by the charitable Chance.
Coloring Book shows that it’s possible to make a meaningful and soulful gospel styled album in modern times, just listen to the fantastic ‘Blessings’ alongside it’s identically titled reprise and try not to feel instantly spiritual, Chance comes at you with the holy trinity of soul music (slamming beats, fantastic samples and meaningful honest lyrics) the combination of this has to be “No Problem” an absolute R&B banger, one of many that Coloring Book is full of “Angels” and “All Night” also share the same fist pumping energy. these are placed alongside beautiful, soulful ballads like “Finish Line/Drown” and the true heart of the album “Same Drugs” hands down the ballad of the year.
3. 22, A Million - Bon Iver
Long awaited by many, Bon Iver returned with 22, A Million an experimental album and a sharp departure from their earlier folk, guitar based music, It’s a much larger sound than the band have ever attempted before bringing in synthesisers, harmonisers and even samples into the mix, without sounding completely pretentious the best way to describe listening to this album is like having a spiritual experience.
I feel confident in saying this LP is like nothing i have ever heard, It’s full of nonsensical lyrics (just try and decipher those song titles!) but that all adds to this album’s charm. Justin has managed to craft an album that defies expectations somehow creating a sound in folk and indie rock that we haven’t heard before, the result is truly unique which after decades of music is stunning! You may see similarities in Kanye’s 808’s an album which in it’s time showed an artist take a sharp left turn making something both solemn and exceptional whilst also using similar vocoder techniques.
22, A Million will captivate you over the course of 35 glorious minutes, “33 God” “8 (circle)” and “22 Over Soon” are all perfection but my recommendation is that you press play on that first track and just let it engulf you to truly understand what Justin and friends have created.
2. The Life Of Pablo - Kanye West
“Name one genius that ain’t crazy?” a lyric taken from Feedback and I feel also the best way to start this discussion, I’ve seen Kanye lose himself on stage all the way back in 2013 which resulted in a less than enjoyable end to his concert but like many other fans I still come back to him for the music because when it comes to his releases… their remarkable and The Life Of Pablo is no different.
Chance, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Frank and Kendrick all appear over the course of the album’s ambitious 19 track course (the really long play it seems is a theme throughout this year), It really speaks volumes that one artist can bring together so many huge features that don’t overshadow the album itself, It’s not his best album or even very strong lyrically compared to his old work, in truth it’s messy but that’s what makes it a masterpiece in itself, I feel it truly represents Kanye with where he is mentally at the moment.
Featuring some of the best song’s of his career whether it be “FML” where he candidly sings about his self destructive habits and mental health issues alongside the absolute stellar Weeknd chorus, “Ultralight Beam” which has Chance’s gospel styled production stamped all over it with that killer verse of his, “Father Stretch My Hands Part 1 & 2” that introduced the world to Panda and saw Kid Cudi return to true form or finally how about a throwback to old Kanye on “Real Friends” + “No More Parties in L.A.” the latter featuring a song stealing turn from Kendrick.
The best way to describe this is a compilation of moments, don’t come into Pablo expecting a theme running throughout but more like chapters in a life, each one different but somehow share the same styling, you can tell each track is from the same album but they manage to have a unique feel about themselves, like Kanye himself; with each song you just don’t know what your going to get.
1. Blackstar - David Bowie
There could only be No. 1 this year, a brilliant album before Bowie’s death but since then it’s lyrics and the messages scattered throughout have become heartbreakingly poignant, It shows a true genius to not just face death in the eye but to accept it and create such a moving piece of art around it, few would have predicted his untimely demise just days after the release but it was fair to say after watching the now haunting music video for ‘Lazarus’ it became clear he wasn’t in his best shape.
The sound of the album is very jazzy which is not too much unlike his previous release “The Next Day” however “Blackstar” has a much more darker feel to it, I’d even go as far as to say morbid at times which is unsurprising, It can seem hard to separate his passing from the album but I feel as though it’s meant to be seen as a combination, a unique leaving gift from the Thin White Duke.
It’s a short album with only 7 songs (the title track itself is a sprawling 10 minutes long) but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in how deep you can delve into the meaning of the tracks, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to record final song ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ which even now nearly 12 months on from release breaks my heart to hear, that first line in particular “I know something’s very wrong” is enough to bring a tear to your eye.
The album’s true centrepiece however has to be ‘Lazarus’, One of Bowie’s finest songs it really pulls at your emotions and as you follow him through his acceptance of his fate which peaks in that beautiful saxophone entrance as he declares “I’ll be free!”, Bowie will live on as a musical icon who managed to release groundbreaking music across a variety of genres throughout his multi decade career but for me this might just be his most significant album, and truly the best one of 2016.