The 45 Best Albums of 2016


34. Daya – Sit Still Look Pretty

This falls into the category of “favourite artist I’d never heard of”. Thank you, Spotify, for churning this album up at me one New Music Friday. American singer Daya falls into the same musical bubble as Alessia Cara and Chloe Howl, expect that Daya is the queen of the middle eight. I’m not about to endorse the way she puts “girls” into one group as though she’s better than them (not very 2016 feminist-y of you, Daya), but this is a solid feel good pop masterpiece. It’s just fun. – Libby Mayfield


35. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

I could probably find a dozen ways to explain how brilliant I found this album to be without opening with the fact that it made me cry in the office, but I’m not going for any of those other ways. This album made me cry in the office. Conor Oberst, best known for being the frontman of Bright Eyes, had written one of the most overlooked albums of 2016. Take the storytelling lyrics of Next of Kin; the plot unfolds rapidly, spinning ever downwards. Or take the piano of Gossamer Thin that will implore you to clear your living room to badly ballroom dance to it (tried this once, always seems like a good idea till you try it). Or take the desperation in A Little Uncanny as Oberst sings “They say a party can kill you / Well sometimes I wish it would”. The introspective loneliness is so powerful, it feels less like a window to the soul, and more like a splintered door frame broken down by nightmares. – Libby Mayfield


36. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociaton

Final albums tend to come in two manners; out of the blue or long overdue. Either a band has disbanded and whatever they released last becomes their de facto final statement, or they have the audacity to outstay their welcome long after their talent abandoned ship, leaving less a statement than a shrug. Ever unconventional, The Dillinger Escape Plan, however, decided to end things on their terms, at arguably the height of both their creativity and popularity, announcing ahead of its release that Dissociation would be their final statement. And it is a final statement. In some ways acting as a career retrospective, the band hit all their usual chaotic notes, finding their early brutality present as well as their middle period experimentation alongside their later melody. It’s also a little bit of a bucket list for the band, fully embrace things they’ve only really hinted at before like IDM, fusion, strings, and even sort of balladry (in the bleakest sense of the word). A tour de force of a final album from these mathcore titans. – Morgan Roberts


37. Jeff Rosenstock – Worry

Jeff Rosenstock is one of the most passionate voices in pop punk. This time around, he’s made an album with an incredible flow to it. The tracks segway into one another and it brings a fantastic ‘live’ feel to the music, I always picture myself at a concert every time I hear it. The energy throughout is phenomenal and in the second part of the album, the tracks become more rampant and chaotic. The album gives you goosebumps, and not many other albums feel so in the moment as this one. – Ryan Leith


38. Lady Gaga – Joanne

It’s been a good year for pop, take James Arthur’s emotionally powerful comeback, or Gaga’s Joanne. No, it’s not quite the commercial pop whirlwind that her previous albums have been, but that doesn’t deduct from how special it is. My personal favourite sits with Angel Down (check out the work tape version of the track if you want a real emotional roller coaster). Piano ballad Million Reasons in another timeless beauty, Grigio Girls is the pick-me-up song you never knew you always needed, and John Wayne will make you sing so hard your lungs hurt. Joanne is a more intense version of any Gaga we’ve seen before. – Libby Mayfield


39. Czarface – A Fistful of Peril

Ever since forming a group in 2013, 7L & Esoteric, along with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck have found a niche with their music. They’ve gone from spitting battle raps with heavy comic book references to literally making songs for Marvel Comics, which is how the making of this album got initiated. While it may not live up to last year’s star-studded Every Hero Needs A Villain, this is a fun project in its own right, as 7L’s production really makes you feel as if you’re in a comic-based cartoon, and Esoteric and Inspectah Deck deliver punchline-filled bars they’re known for. If you like comic books/superheroes and hip-hop with witty lyricism, Czarface has been the group to follow for the past three years, and they continue to fill their niche with this new project. – Shaun Yassin

40. Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

I saw Yussef Kamaal at Sunfall over the summer. They were literally the first act I saw upon arrival and despite being flanked by Kamasi Washington, Moodymann, Jamie XX and Goldie, they still managed to be the highlight. Literally no other jazz group is doing what these guys are doing, it’s the best representation of the way the genre is progressing you could possibly ask for. It’s small wonder that in the few months since I saw them, an obsession has developed among practitioners, aficionados and fans alike. – Callum Davies


41. Kimyan Law – Zawadi

It’s been a fairly strong year for bass music, with huge releases from Noisia, Logistics, Calibre and dozens more. Blu Mar Ten also came out with a huge release, but it was their label’s favourite son – Kimyan Law – who ended up with the strongest release of the lot. It’s not often that a drum and bass producer can transmute their craft into a truly deep exploration of their character, but Law does it here, unpacking his African heritage, as well as ideas about hope, loss and his exile from Congo. His background in drumming also helps elevate this piece, and make it a talisman for the way drum and bass has matured into something so much more cerebral and significant that its reputation. – Callum Davies


42. Emeli Sandé – Long Live the Angels

How long is it since Emeli Sandé released her debut album? Too long, that’s how long. From the release of the album’s first single, Hurts, I had a feeling this would be a real gem in this year’s releases. Love Live the Angels can be your companion for your loneliest nights and your spontaneous getaways. Despite the clever production, Lonely is a brutally honest track that expresses melancholy in the mind better than any I’ve ever heard. The line, “to try to explain why some days hurt more than others / Is like asking rain to sing above the thunder” is one of my favourites of this year. In contrast, hear the uplifting power in penultimate Highs & Lows. This album is an emotional rollercoaster. – Libby Mayfield


43. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service

We really needed hip-hop this year. Amidst all the racism, shootings and the general feeling of the world racing backwards, it’s never been more important. Then we lost Phife, and it was so heartbreaking that even thinking about it is making me shake. For all these reasons, Tribe’s swan song is probably the most important album of 2016, it reminded us how far hip-hop has come, where it’s going and why we need it so desperately. The production, lyricism and sampling represents Tribe on absolutely stellar form, and it provides a perfect platform for Phife’s final verses, each more astonishing than the last. He was truly one of the greatest rappers of our time. – Callum Davies


44. Beans On Toast – A Spanner In The Works

The album of 2016 (if you ask me). Like all Beans on Toast albums, A Spanner in the Works hits the balance of personal and political, a mood that can be encompassed with the single An Afternoon in the Sunshine. There’s a quick review of the year with the album’s opening track, 2016, and more personal, story-telling touches follow with songs like Down the Pub and Nanny Mac. Of course, these are all songs that are best experienced live, but the same attitude is captured beautifully in his studio sound. – Libby Mayfield


45. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

I’m not entirely sure what anyone was expecting from new Childish Gambino, but I wasn’t expecting Prince reincarnate (too soon?). “Awaken, My Love!” explores a whole new range of capabilities that Donald Glover’s been hiding. Forget the rap artist you thought you knew, and open your arms to the psychedelic-funk musician you want to listen to to calm you down and lift you up. It’s less of an album, and more of an experience. Libby Mayfield

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