The 45 Best Albums of 2016


12. Royce 5’9″ – Layers

Royce 5’9”s sixth solo album might be his most personal one yet, as we see him get more autobiographical than he’s ever been over his near twenty-year career. Most coverage of this album has focused on the lead single “Tabernacle,” which is one of the deepest songs to come out this year, but there’s plenty more going on after track one. The album shows the many layers of Royce’s personality, as he goes from empathetic to aggressive, and from confident to honest. The sharp rhymes and comedic timing he’s known for is still here, but he takes it to more unorthodox places, sometimes sounding like he’s in a Broadway musical (he does cite Hamilton as an inspiration on the song “Hard”). The experimentation pays off, as fans get to see a new side of Royce that allows him to continue to be one of the most entertaining personalities in rap music. – Shaun Yassin


13. Matt Karmil – IDLE033/++++

Is it cheating to pick two albums by the same artist as one entry on a best of year list? Probably definitely, but when the two albums seem to work as two sides of one whole even when not initially intended (IDLE033 was not supposed to be a full-length release but a batch of songs for Idle Hands label boss Chris Farrell to choose from for a single release), is it really? Either way, here we are with producer Matt Karmil’s first release of the year, IDLE033, sitting next to his second, ++++, as they really should. The first thirteen track offering delivering a spectacular set or murky, electronic beats that veer into almost moody trip-hop, even straight up instrumental hip-hop beats, and spacey ambience whilst maintaining Karmil’s house leanings subtly at its core. ++++ on the other hand flips its predecessor’s atmospherics for hypnotic loops, techno beats, glitch elements, found sound samples, and pulsing rhythms. Both albums seem to search for inner peace, but one finds it in tranquillity and space while the other finds it in repetition and confinement. Albeit inner peace ready for the club. – Morgan Roberts


14. Bear Hands – You’ll Pay For This

I will always maintain that Bear Hands should be much bigger than they are. Without doubt, they’re able to capture the essence of whatever they try to, whether that’s an upbeat and original party track or a somber reflection. Although their two previous albums were fantastic in their own right, You’ll Pay For This is their finest hour and an album that’s never far from my playlist – they seem to be able to create something for every mood. More of the same experimental goodness from a band that are owed a huge break. – Jimmy Donnellan


15. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

One the most underrated rappers around, Aesop Rock has one of the broadest vocabularies in hip hop, and in an era of mumble rap, he’s always refreshing to hear. This album has some excellent conceptual tracks about growing up and losing passion and motivation, his relationship with his brothers, and errrrr, his cat. The beats aren’t booming like they were on Skelethon, but this is definitely is his most accessible album to date. One of hip hop’s finest albums of the year, don’t sleep on it. – Ryan Leith


16. Theo Croker – Escape Velocity

Anyone who cut their teeth playing with Donald Byrd was always on for great things, but Theo Croker has somehow still managed to rise above and beyond all expectations. Escape Velocity is so much more than a jazz album, it’s an exploration of African American music from top to bottom, blending jazz with soul, funk and hip-hop, all through the prism of Croker’s incredible trumpet playing. Of course, he’s far from alone, and drummer Kassa Overall and bassist Eric Wheeler in particular are immensely fascinating to examine. – Callum Davies


17. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

Bottomless Pit, is an album that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t really exist given its creators’ prior implosions and promises of disbandment. However, in spite of themselves Death Grips just keep coming back and proving their worth each time; seemingly as incapable of letting go as their fans are. Following on from their epic fourth, apparent final, and double, album The Powers That B only a year on shouldn’t feel this easy, but apparently it is. Bottomless Pit also stands apart in Death Grips back catalogue in that it seems to look back on itself. For the first time the band seem to be taking stock of where they’ve been instead of just relentlessly rolling onwards, and the result is an album that touches upon the ‘melody’ and ‘accessible’ song structures of The Money Store, the raw abrasiveness of Ex-Military, the experimentalism of Niggas on the Moon, and the almost actual punk rock live band feel of Jenny Death. – Morgan Roberts


18. Astronautalis – Cut the Body Loose

Astronautalis had no easy task in following up the seminal This Is Our Science, yet here he is producing something even better. Cut the Body Loose doesn’t have the same sharp edges as Science, which makes it a gentler listen, but don’t go thinking for a second that this is him sanitising himself for mainstream appeal. Going from the bombastic to the subtly angry, Astronautalis’ rhymes remain as tight and believable as ever, maintaining his credibility as one of the most underrated rappers working today. – Jimmy Donnellan


19. Andy Shauf – The Party

It feels a bit odd to put this album as a favourite, because Andy Shauf’s previous album, The Bearer of Bad News was by far my favourite album of 2015. It feels like the Canadian singer/songwriter can do no wrong, with his mastery over approximately a million instruments shining endlessly. Shauf’s way of crafting a narrative to tell the most beautiful story is something I feel I’ll never tire of. As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to want to move to Canada, eh? – Libby Mayfield


20. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Where did these guys come from? Lazy comparison to The Strokes did them no harm in reaching a wide audience, but it says something about a band when one of their albums is infinitely more captivating than any anything Julian Casablancas and friends ever put out. There’s no weak spots throughout Teens of Denial and there’s bound to be something within this mix of indie delights to please even the most lapsed of rock fans. – Jimmy Donnellan


21. Fatherson – Open Book

Open Book is the second album from the Scottish rockers and, my word, it’s as much of a corker as their debut was. Take the cryptic innocence of Lost Little Boys as a perfect example. Wondrous Heart will fill you with the desire to dance around in snow and glitter (or is that just me?). In fact, every song will remind you why these guys ned to be better known. – Libby Mayfield


22. Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat

Black Terry Cat is the best pop album that no one heard this year. Does that make it not a pop album? Certainly not. Any album that contains the song ‘Mexican Chef’, which is easily the catchiest and most infectious song of the year, is without a doubt a pop album, even if literally no one had heard it because the album had been criminally shelved. I’m getting hyperbolic, but this second album from Xenia Rubinos is a sublime melting pot of contemporary music, ranging from hip hop, R&B, punk, funk, art-rock, indie, soul, and whatever else you got, which is exactly what the best pop music is; basically everything. Aside from genre-splicing, serious grooves, bare bones but bombastic instrumentation, and a strikingly powerful vocal performance from Rubinos, Black Terry Cat is also a hotbed of cultural awareness and social commentary in its lyrics, dealing with race relations, womanhood, and the combined struggle still of being a woman of colour in society. Empowering pop. – Morgan Roberts


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