2016 has been awful in so many ways, but hopefully we can all agree there has been a huge amount of incredible new music, and for that we can be thankful. Here are a few of my picks... I tried to do some words about them but I don't have the good words like all the word pros out there, so apologies if I use the same adjectives over and over or do a bad grammar.
Best album that might just be be random leftovers he had lying around
Kendrick Lamar — Untitled Unmastered
My #1: untitled 06 06.30.2014
Are these scraps from Kendrick Lamar’s studio room as the titles imply, or is this in fact an elaborately planned short LP/long EP? Either way, the man is clearly a genius and I can't wait to hear what he does next.
Best album for creative productivity (your experience may vary)
Mono/Poly — Cryptic
My #1: Raw Power Moves
Mono/poly was mean to Alex one time, but damn it he just keeps putting out the best music, so I’m going to keep giving him my money while hoping he’s become a bit more chill in recent years. I’ve listened to it a lot while I’m working and I find it speeds me up and makes me do better stuff, but this may just be me. Give it a go though, eh?
2016’s most prolific-yet-still-high-quality artist award
Anderson Paak for
Anderson Paak — Malibu
NXWorries — Yes Lawd
My #1: Am I wrong (from Malibu)
Is Anderson Paak 2016’s most prolific artist? As well as these two great full lengths (one as NXWorries with Knxlwledge) he’s guested on pretty much everyone who’s anyone’s albums too. His distinctive vocals are a delight and both of the above albums sing of summer/warm climates to me in a way that I'm finding helpful right now in particular.
The Beyonce special award for being a better Beyonce than we could ever even have dreamed or deserved
Beyonce — Lemonade
My #1: Formation
What is even left to say about Lemonade that hasn’t already been said (and by those far better qualified to comment than me.) Lemonade the album and the film is a masterpiece, perhaps one of 2016’s greatest creative achievements. (Shouts out to the HUGE team of people behind it as well, of course, particularly film director Kahlil Joseph)
Best album live performance that Alex made me leave because they were bored
James Blake — the Colour in everything
My #1: Always
Alex doesn’t like James Blake. I do. We’re going to have to agree to disagree here. (In fairness, we were at the incredible North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam, he was doing quite a boring show, and I was being dragged away to watch something else equally fabulous and possibly to eat a pizza, so I’m not complaining too much)
But this album is great. You should give it a go. And the cover art is by Quentin Blake which is wonderful.
Album that makes me simultaneously most and least optimistic about humanity
Saul Williams — MartyrLoserKing
My #1: Ashes
Saul Williams is a genius. He creates stunning work. And yet despite him and countless other geniuses like him, everything still feels pretty messed up right now. He does quite a good job of reminding me of that while also simultaneously increasing my faith that somehow art will save us all. Which is pretty impressive.
Album that I might actually have listened to the most this year
Kaytranada — 99.9%
My #1: Drive me Crazy
Kaytranada has just created a masterpiece of re-listenable electronica that I have come back to again and again. Still fresh and bright and new and with a whole host of amazing guests (inc aforementioned ridiculously prolific Anderson Paak)
Album that I’d probably have listened to most if it came out earlier in the year.
Fudge — Lady Parts
My #1: In my shoes
Out of nowhere, new Prefuse 73, with BONUS of some guy I’ve never heard of, Michael Christmas, who seems pretty great. I mean, Prefuse 73 does what he does and while on the one hand I’d claim he’s fairly consistent, he definitely has some albums that are better than others, and this is definitely one of his best. Lovely rich, sample heavy, multi-textured hip hop.
Album that I still struggle to get right the way through in one sitting but which is clearly a masterpiece
Clipping — Splendour and Misery
My #1: Air em’ out
Fucking hell, clipping. Two noise artists and an incredible MC (Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame, if you’re into that kind of thing) making difficult, brutal, brilliant rap music. It’s pretty dreamy. Incredible, even. I can’t really speak highly enough of this. (Their EP from earlier in the year ‘Wriggle’ is also brilliant, and quite different). As a friend of mine said: "I didn't realise there were records like this."
Jazz album for people who don’t think they like jazz
Badbadnotgood — IV
My #1: Hyssop Of Love
One of my most chill music moments this entire year was sleepily watching Alex play Civ VI with this album playing, and occasional voiceover interludes from Sean Bean. It’s so lush. Even if you think you don’t like jazz, you might be into this, unless you’re so stubborn that you could never admit you’re enjoying jazz.
Award for artist who I’ve seen live maybe too many times (5) this year but he’s just too good, okay
Daedelus — Labyrinths
My #1: Special Re:quest
Look, if Daedelus puts out an album it’s going to be on my end of year list, but this is a particularly great one.
You all know by now I’m a fan. The man has been turning out consistently good (but crucially, spectacularly varied) albums for over 15 years now. This album is probably him straying closest to my own personal predilections, and crucially, to his unfailingly incredible live shows — huge variety, a morass of beats and bass, complex layered electronics and a whole host of amazing guests including Busdriver, Teebs and Seven Davis Jr.
Album that actually feels most relevant to 2016
M.I.A. — AIM
My #1: Fly Pirate
I’ve been an admirer of M.I.A for years now, and have enjoyed quite a few of her singles, but this is the first whole album of hers that I’ve really loved. It’s timely and consistent and it feels like she’s just going to keep hitting her stride more as the years go on.
Album that I spent a few days assuming was a hoax because it’s just TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
A Tribe Called Quest — We got it from here… Thank you 4 your service
My #1: Solid Wall of Sound
What a ridiculous treat. Who ever thought they'd do another album?! And it’s incredible, when it could very easily not have been.
Best album title
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition
My #1: Ain't it funny
I don’t know why, but this is probably my favourite album title from this year. It’s a brilliant thing as well. Intense and heavy (much like Clipping, it's a lot to get through in one sitting) and I just love his incredibly distinctive voice.
Albums that I’m sad are not on my best of the year list but are probably still worth a go
Kanye West — The Life of Pablo
My #1: Real Friends
Oh Kanye, I tried so hard to love this. But I think I just preferred the version that Japanese producer Toyomu made after being unable to hear it in his home country due to Kanye’s rigorous streaming limits, and recreated using the listed samples and lyrics on Rapgenius (spoiler — it’s a masterpiece) It’s okay though, I still love you Kanye.
Dj Shadow — The Mountain will fall
My #1: Bergschrund
It’s okay I guess….? Another one I got very excited about but for some reason I’ve really struggled to love it as much as I feel like I ought to… Maybe I should try harder.
Gold Panda — Good Luck and Do Your Best
My #1: In My Car
I really want to like Gold Panda more than I actually do. In My Car was great but the rest of the album didn’t hold my attention.
Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool
My #1: Ful Stop
I guess maybe I’m just not as excited about Radiohead as I once was. It’s clearly a brilliant album and you should probably listen to it.
Anohni — Hopelessness
My #1: Drone Bomb Me
Anohni has got some incredible producers on this album, and is talking about some incredibly important things that few others are, and yet the whole thing is a struggle to listen to, because her lyrics are, to my mind, incredibly trite and cringey. Sorry Anohni. I still think you're great.
Avalanches — Wildflower
My #1: The Wozard of Iz
Okay okay we all got very excited about this, but it's just a bit so-so, isn't it? And the lead single Frankie Sinatra might actually be my least favourite song of 2016. My #1 track above is pretty much the only worthwhile thing on there, and that's entirely thanks to Danny Brown.
Deantoni Parks — Technoself
My #1: Methodist
Got all excited about putting this on the list but it turns out it came out last year! Oh well. Recommended for lovers of noisy noisy electronic noise loops and drums.
I've also made a playlist containing loads and loads of my favourite individual tracks from this year. You should give it a listen here.