All journeys have a beginning, middle, and end - and for our Albums Of The Year 2016 poll, this is the end.
Without further ado, check out our favourite records of the year...
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10. Kaytranada - 99.9%
Kaytranada transitions from Soundcloud sensation to bonafide music producer with his long-awaited debut album ’99.9%’. The heavy line-up of guests - Anderson .Paak, Craig David, Vic Mensa, GoldLink, AlunaGeorge - fall into place as mere instruments amongst his unquantised drum patterns, signature synths and funky basslines. Dodging the easy trap of sounding like a compilation album, with 99.9% Kaytranada’s production is undoubtedly the star of the show.
9. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
Encompassing themes as broad as climate change, drone warfare and mass surveillance, the album from ANOHNI (previously known for her work in Antony and the Johnsons) was one of the most moving things we heard all year. At a time when people are asking, 'where’s all the protest music?’, here’s your answer...
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
It’s an album of separation, but also of coming together. It’s a record that focuses on the end of a relationship, while building anew. ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ may not be Radiohead’s most challenging work, but it’s one of their most emotionally fulfilling – packed with gorgeous notes from Thom Yorke, and some of Jonny Greenwood’s most beguiling orchestral passages to date.
7. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it…
The year’s most preposterous title for the year’s most preposterous pop album. Yet The 1975’s lengthy, bold, vivacious statement held true – from epic workouts like ‘The Sound’ to those four lengthy ambient passages, ‘I like it when you sleep…’ confused and confounded at every turn, but it always fascinated. An album that is impossible to soak up in one go, the record has powered an appropriately titanic year from the Macclesfield lads. The sky is the limit.
6. David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie’s late career upswing had been engrossing, yet largely traditional – 2012’s ‘The Next Day’ for example, was largely an art-rock record. Blasting away expectations, the icon recruited the cream of New York jazz for something new. Produced by Tony Visconti, ‘Blackstar’ is a thrilling fusion of musical virtuosity and lyrics that cut closer than we could ever have known. A thrilling final step.
5. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here…
Thank You 4 Your Service Eighteen years after the release of their last studio album, A Tribe Called Quest deliver a final full-length that manages to live perfectly in 2016 - dealing with subject matter that couldn’t have been more timely - without losing the essence that the group forged through the 90’s. The songs across the sixteen track double-disc ‘We got it from here… Thank You For Your service’ sound instantly comforting; familiar and timeless without fetishising nostalgia.
4. Beyonce - Lemonade
Proving yet again that a surprise visual album can shut down the internet, ‘Lemonade’ was a protest album, a confessional, and banger-laden epic all in one. Bey, baseball bat in hand, had the world hooked with lines like “suck on my balls (balls)” and “boy bye” — an angry, powerful work that was all the more resonant with the state of 2016.
3. Skepta - Konnichiwa
From referencing Sidewinder and his notorious clash with Devilman on the Novelist-assisted ‘Lyrics’, right through to penning a tender note to the girl of his dreams on ‘Text Me Back’, Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ demonstrates his abilities as a versatile songwriter that can draw listeners into his world. This is the blueprint for crafting a grime album that crosses borders geographically and culturally, without compromising an ounce of authenticity.
2. Frank Ocean - Blonde
Despite pressure from fans to follow up ‘Channel Orange’ Frank Ocean did things on his own terms, dropping ‘Blonde’ just two days after his visual album ‘Endless’ back in August. Like medicine for our anxious, social media-fuelled generation, ‘Blonde’ is a reminder to break the facade and to be comfortable in your own skin. At times comforting and empowering, at others tender and heartbreaking, it’s a true exploration of love in the modern age.
1. Solange - A Seat At The Table
In a year where Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter and Brexit have dominated headlines, our only solace has come through music and arts. The finest example of this was delivered by Solange Knowles and her surprise album ‘A Seat At The Table’ which dropped in September and provided the comfort blanket that we could drag through the final quarter.
Sonically pulling away from our technology dominated lives, ‘A Seat At The Table’ draws its organic sound from jazz, neo-soul and hip-hop, as Solange relates the female black experience in a way that listeners from any background can empathise with. ‘Cranes In The Sky’ is perhaps the most accurate description of depression applied to record this side of the millennium, and manages to empower in doing so. It’s a track that applies to humanity as a whole and will never go out of fashion.
Despite the soothing sonics, Solange isn’t lured away from speaking her mind and addressing issues that black women have been passively been putting up with for decades. On ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ she calls out those that “compliment” afro hair by asking for a feel, marginalising their identity - whether intentionally or not - in the process. And ‘F.U.B.U’ sees her celebrating black unity, reclaiming the N-Word on the hook and reminding non-blacks that sing along with it at rap shows and R&B concerts “This shit is for us”.
Hip-hop’s self-sufficiency also provides a running theme throughout the album. Master P provides spoken interludes that promote self-worth as he reflects on his decision not to take a million dollars from a white man for his fearlessly independent No Limit Records. While ‘Mad’ sees Lil Wayne sharing some candid stanzas on overcoming frustration as he reflects on his sour label situation at Cash Money and recalls a suicide attempt he made at the age of 12.
‘A Seat At The Table’ is a beautiful form of activism, providing a voice for many unspoken issues that have escaped music that worries about achieving high sales amongst white consumers. Here Solange provides a fearlessly human body of work, that is equally timely and timeless, and we’re sure we’ll be listening to it, learning from it and finding comfort in it for years to come.
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Words: Grant Brydon, Robin Murray, Felicity Martin
Check out Clash Albums Of The Year 2016: 40 - 31.
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