Top 20 Albums 2016: #10-1

#1. Cobalt – Slow Forever


In a year with few great heavy metal releases Cobalt re-appeared from a 7-year absence and delivered what could be considered a masterpiece in any given year. They were a band on the brink of splitting up after their former singer was forced to leave the group, leaving just multi-instrumentalist; Erik Wunder. Fate perhaps had a part in what happened next as Charlie Fell was also kicked out of his band, Lord Mantis, but before you know it he was enlisted as the new member of Cobalt. The chemistry between Wunder with his Tool / Neurosis influenced writing and Fell’s blood churning vocals is captivating. They have made a record that sounds almost radio friendly with a 90s heavy metal style, country, and blues influence and with excellent polished production. What makes it slightly less radio friendly is the presence of Fell’s chilling and savage vocals. The man is an accomplished singer that gives Cobalt a much bigger presence than ever before. Slow Forever is a double album, spanning a whopping 1 hour and 25 minutes. I mean who even makes double albums anymore? I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that 12 eight minute songs would be overkill, but, in reality, the album sounds cohesive and there are no fillers to be heard. Cobalt have managed to create a metal album that sounds timeless, varied and doesn’t fit into any one particular music camp. For this reason, this fantastic album takes the No.1 spot!

#2. Anohni – Hopelessness


Anohni is Antony Hegarty, formerly of Anotony and the Johnsons. This time she has renounced gender, (in a way) and is being referred to a ‘she’ rather than a ‘he’ now. Anyway, this is her first solo project under the new alias of Anohni and it’s a pretty powerful and dramatic listen as she sings about all the problems of the day, such as global warming, war, Obama’s presidency, animal welfare and even the death penalty. Despite these rather demanding themes, it’s still a really pleasant listen. Anohni’s smooth vibrato vocals and imaginative electronic production make this record sound like some kind of weird operatic theater production set in the next century. For anyone that would like to expand their pop pallet, this is a must.

#3. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition


The most daring man in hip-hop returns with his fourth album and this time he’s gone truly dark. Brown has signed to Warp Records for this release, a label which specialises predominately in experimental electronica so you get a sense of the direction the man is wanting to go in. Brown joins label mates such as Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada and in a way, his new style isn’t a million miles from these artists. Atrocity Exhibition is pretty experimental and is really pushing the boundaries of hip-hop. The new album contains elements of techno, punk, disco and grime. His vocals are high-pitched, frantic but on point and every song sounds uniquely different which makes this a real surprising and fresh listen each time.

#4. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow


I was lucky enough to see many great bands perform in Glasgow throughout 2016 and of the dozens of gigs I attended, the most stoned and f#cked up of the lot were these chaps. I would probably also give them the honorable accolade of worst singers too, however, there was something really likable about these shoegazing stoners from Philadelphia. In fact, I recall during the gig they even joked about their terrible live performances and how they often get stick for it. They seemed too screwed up to care and that kind of attitude comes across on the album and the lyrical content which can be pretty dark and gloomy. Take for instance my favourite track. “OCD” (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) with lyrics such as “Here we are again, someone find the cure ’cause you know me and I am not well, I always knew, I’d eventually hurt you.” There is some proper self-loathing stuff on here yet the uplifting, melodic fuzzy guitars make this a complex and incredible listen.

#5. James Blake – The Colour in Anything


In a pretty impressive and fairly short career so far for James Blake and in that time he’s accomplished quite a bit. His last album, “Overgrown,” picked up a Mercury music award in 2013, before that when starting out he was pushing the boundaries of electronic dance music with his clever lyrics, piano moods and dub-step grooves. Now into his third album, it’s impressive to see Blake sticking to a sound that is distinctly his own and gaining praises from music influencers such as Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, (both of whom appear on this record). The opening track, “Radio Silence,” sets the tone nicely for the whole album, as he sings about the breakup of a deep relationship. Standing at 17 tracks long, it seems like a lot of pain and heartbreak to take in, but its deeply compelling and his clever way with delicate piano melodies and electronic beats means the listeners attention is easily kept for h whole album.

#6. Graves at Sea – The Curse That Is


The Curse That Is, 8 tracks and 76 minutes of meaty, heavy, distorted, guitar riffs. Despite the fact this band have been around for over 10 years, they have finally managed to delivered a full length album. Once again, the good old city of Portland has produced another cutting metal band. Its like Ozzy Osborne is going around impregnating all the women in the city, such is the multitude of talent from here! As a fan of sludge metal, this was one of the metal albums I was really looking forward to in 2016 and it TOTALLY delivered. Frontman Nathan Misterek’s vocals are outstanding and alternate between throat scraping rasps and deeper growls. This, paired with the bass heavy, filthy chugging guitars makes for a massive winner. I for one was happy to wait the long agonising wait for this one to finally drop.

#7. NAO – For All We Know


Quite possibly east London based singer NAO has produced one of the coolest records of the year. The album just exhumes confidences, swagger and funk. Despite the fact the album harks back to the past in terms of style, its production is so good that it is unmistakeably fresh and current. Yes, its what everyone has been calling, “Future RnB,” but I think on this occasion NAO has done a stellar job at doing just that and has brought something fresh to this genre. NAO’s high-pitched vocals sit wonderfully on top of wonky baselines and rippling synths and despite the length of the album (18 tracks) there are no weak tracks and on more that one occasion I’ve found myself totally bopping along to the infectious groove.

#8. Frank Ocean – Blonde


Well, this was pretty unexpected from Frank Ocean! In my humble opinion he’s one of the most talented artists on the planet and certainly capable of reaching, “King of Pop” status. Its been 4 years now since the incredible, “channel ORANGE,” was released, an album that projected him to genius status (in my book anyway). With this new found fame came hype from across the globe and lets face it, a tonne of cash. But, instead of buying flash cars and bling, Ocean seemed happy to retreat back and work away on a new album. However, after bust ups with his record label (Def Jam) many thought it would never happen, until this year when a visual album, “Endless,” was released to satisfy the conditions of his contract. This bizarre ambient album was certainly not what fans wanted by thankfully Ocean had, “Blonde,” up his sleeve which was released independently only a day later and to critical acclaim! “Blonde,” is a big change in direction from the last album, there are no epic dancefloor tracks like Pyramids on here, instead, its a sparse, chilled out neo-soul album filled with moody sounds of keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars. Its really is a great late night listen and an album that I just keep getting more fond of.

#9. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP


Schoolboy Q is certainly a hip-hop artist that is maturing with age. Each album has been better than the last, and now Blank Face LP, Q’s fourth album is clearly his best to date. For a long time Schoolboy Q has stood in the shadows of fellow Black Hippy and label mate Kendrick Lamar’s shadow but now is really his time to come to the fore. Blank Face LP is his most ambitious album to date, he has worked with a plethora of stars on this record (Kendrick, Miguel, Anderson Paak and Vince Staples to name but a few) and the album spans an impressive 70 minutes. Despite the huge amount of talent on the album Schoolboy Q is clearly in control and is still the protagonist on this record. Lyrically brilliant and sonically sweet, hip-hop fans will adore this.

#10. Alcest – Kodama


We begin the top 10 with one of my favourite bands of the last decade. In the space of less than ten years, Alcest have released a now whopping 5 albums and at the same time have turned heavy metal music on its head and caused all sorts of arguments with metal enthusiasts. The reason, well, some describe their music as metal and some don’t. Anyone with a love of dreamy shoegaze, blissful, progressive melodies, powerful guitars and haunting vocals should give them a shot. While their last album, “Shelter,” was purely a shoegaze album, the latest effort harks back to their older work, which combines elements of black metal into the mix. This is one of the French bands strongest work to date and found it imaginative and magically uplifting.

Top 20 Albums 2016: #20-11

#11. Kuedo – Slow Knife


If a retro-futuristic sounding album which sounds like the score of some obscure sci-fi film is likely to excite you then read on. Kuedo clearly takes inspiration from great composers like Mike Oldfield, Vangellis and Jean-Michel Jarre but puts his spin on it with different more ‘modern’ style drum patterns and loops, influence from dubstep and trap music. The stand out track is “In Your Sleep,” perhaps because it’s the only one to feature any vocals. These are provided, quite unexpectedly, by Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe, an unlikely pairing but one that works perfectly. Other great tracks include “Floating Forest” a haunting and eery dubstep effort which would not sound totally out of place in a Burial record.

#12. dvsn – Sept. 5th


dsvn are a fairly elusive and media shy RnB act comprised of vocalist Daniel Daley and song writer / producer Nineteen85 from Toronto. After releasing several singles in 2015 they were picked up by fellow countryman Drake and signed to his OVO label. From then on dvsn (pronounced division) have never really looked back. Sept 5th is a slow, moody and slick piece of RnB inspired by the 90s which seems to be right on trend at the moment. Stand out tracks for me are “Try / Effortless,” and “Hallucinations,” which showcase Daley’s mesmerizing vocals and falsettos. The slickest RnB record of the year for me!

#13. Eight Bells – Landless


Its seems like every other great metal band comes from Portland, Oregon at the moment and these 3 chicks are doing their city proud once more. Eight Bells make progressive, moody and melodic doom with uniquely sweet female vocals. In fact, I think their whole sound is pretty original as it cannot really be placed firmly into one particular metal genre. “Landless,” is so breath-taking that I think even non-metal fans would like it. A great piece of work that seems to get better with each listen and a must for anyone dabbling with metal music.

#14. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound


Blood Orange is British-American singer / songwriter Dev Hynes. You may not have heard much of his own work but the guy is prolific and has written written for artists such as Solange Knowles, Sky Ferreira, FKA twigs, Florence and the Machine, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Chemical Brothers and Kylie to name but a few. So, you get the picture, this guy is ridiculously talented. Blood Orange is Hynes’ electronic RnB project which is now into the third album. Sonically, this album has a little bit of everything, inspired by funk, soul, disco and artists like Michael Jackson and Prince. “Freetown Sound,” also features a multitude of guest vocalists from Debbie Harry to Carly Rae Jepsen and even Nelly Furtado which give it almost a mixtape like feel. There are certainly many different ideas and themes going on this record, yet the album is concise, slick and a great listen.

#15. Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit


What do you get when you cross a hardcore punk guitarist with a former teen-pop group member? The answer is Sleigh Bells, who are a very noisy noisepop band. Now into their 4th album their sound has developed somewhat, the massive guitar sounds are still evident on genius tracks like, “It’s Just Us Now,” and “I Just Can’t Stand It,” but there is also some more synthy pop numbers in the mix too. Initially I thought these guys would just be some sort of novelty, one album wonder band, but their longevity is proving and this is their best release since the first with some outstanding head banging riffs that make it the most kick ass pop record of the year.

#16. Abra – Princess


Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dead sucker for 80s pop and with the release of the single, “Cry Baby,” earlier this year my 80s pop cravings were met, big time! Abra is a female, solo project hailing from Atlanta and produces and writes all her music at home. It certainly gives the album a rather rugged, unpolished and bedroom pop type feel. Her style is very much in the RnB camp but with a huge emphasis on drum patterns and big synth which you’d get on many pop tracks of the 80s. “Princess,” only contains 6 tracks and lasts a mere 22 minutes, so it almost feels like a work in progress EP than a full blown album. But I can’t help but feel that Abra is leading up to something bigger and better in the future. Fans of early Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Janet Jackson and FKA Twigs should really dig this.

#17. Astronoid – Air


Astronoid’s “Air” is a bit of an odd one for me. On paper it sounded genius, with bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest being the main influences, in reality I wasn’t quite sure, however, after several listens I found it to be one of the most uplifting and euphoric albums of 2016. Astronoid are a five piece band from Boston, they make rather tricky to describe music without sounding like a bit of a fud. Basically, if you like the idea of dream-pop, black metal and space rock all mixed up together then, this may just float your boat. Tracks are wonderfully melodic, powerful and mesmerising and for me, this is one of the most original albums of the year. So much so in fact that the terms, “dream-thrash” are getting branded about to describe their unique style. Anyway, call it what you want, I’m still a huge fan of this record regardless of what the latest hipsters are calling it.

#18. The Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love


Many, including myself thought it would never happen. After 6 years in hiatus, the Swedish dream pop masters are back with their 4th album. This is their most electronic album to date and their most politically charged too. Tracks like, “Swedish Guns,” pan the gun industry in their home country and “We’ve Got Game,” focusing on racism and oppression, definitely not the images we are used to hearing about from the country. This album just oozes nostalgia with hazy synths, dancehall grooves and trippy beats and it may just be The Radio Dept. most cohesive album to date.

#19. Mr Oizo – All Wet


Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr Oizo; DJ, film maker, film producer extraordinaire and dance music composer is back with his sixth full length album. Many of you will remember Mr Oizo from the massive Levis jeans advert back in 1999 featuring a certain fluffy character, Flat Eric. Well, its been a while since we’ve seen Flat Eric but he’s managed to land himself on the cover of the brand new LP. The latest effort from Oizo is pretty different from his previous, “The Church”, which was basically a full on minimal techno record. Most tracks on “All Wet,” include some sort of collaborations with some of the biggest names in pop and dance music. Guests include Charlie XCX, Peaches, Skrillex and Italian rapper Phra to name but a few. “All Wet,” is a glitchy, funky, electro-pop mashed up piece of frenetic fun. For me, Mr Oizo never disappoints and can always get a party started.

#20. Factory Floor – 25 25


Listening to Factory Floor makes me feel a bit old. Should I still like this type of music? Is it still relevant? Is the reminiscing clouding my judgement? I’m not sure, but I know I’ve really enjoyed listening to 25-25 blaring out of my stereo on more than a few occasions this year. Factory Floor are signed to the legendary James Murphy’s (i.e. LCD Soundsystem) label, DFA Records, who is well known for picking up great electronic artists. It’s the London-based bands second album and its filled with hypnotic, minimal acid house and techno tracks that will have you flashbacking to warehouse rave parties of the 90s. It’s pretty evident that the 90s is making a comeback, whether that’s influenced in fashion, or music and these guys are doing the early dance music of the time a total justice with this latest release.

The 2016 Nearlies

 2016 will perhaps be remembered more for its many famous celebrity deaths rather than a year of quality music. But, as I started to put my list together I found (thankfully) that there were more than enough albums to make up my top 20. In this little section I reveal some of the artists that will be kicking themselves to have just missed out on my lucrative, potentially life changing list.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year was Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”. It’s an interesting new direction for the Indie Folk fella as he turned his back on banjos and the like to plug in his drum machine and synths and look towards the more glitchy electronic pop world for inspiration. While I enjoyed the album, I thought it felt more like an EP. It runs for only around 30 minutes and it’s over before you know it. Perhaps fans of experimental pop-tronica would be better off listening to Nicola Jaar‘s, “Sirens” which I found a more compelling listen.

Mercury Award winning Skepta came close to my Top 20 with his album “Konichiwa”. Skepta is doing great things for the UK rap and Grime scene and for anyone not familiar with this genre, it’s a great little intro. On a similar(ish) note was the third in a trilogy of Dawn Richard albums. “Redemption,” is an uplifting, smartly produced, dancey collection of arty RnB tracks. It’s definitely my favourite in the trilogy and certainly worth a listen. Staying with the upbeat theme, it had been a long 7 years since Canadian Tiga had released an album. I’ve always been a fan of his work and I must say I wasn’t disappointed with, “No Fantasy Required”. On this, Tiga brings back his brand of sleazy electro-house and the album spawned some huge international dancefloors hits like Bugatti and Planet E.

On a heavier note, and to another band that had been out the lime light for a while was Deftones. Their latest album “Gore” was a pleasant surprise. These guys have been making music for close to 30 years and to be honest, I thought their best days were behind them. But, I gotta give it to them, their latest album is one of their finest, with a great sound, layers of smart guitar riffs under Chino Moreno’s distinctive vocals. The second hard rock ‘nearly’ this time comes from Norwegian band Kvelertak who dropped a great little record in 2016. “Nattesferd” blends all elements of hard and heavy music, from classic 80s sounding power metal, to punk to black metal. It’s a catchy and infectious listen this one. Lastly, and perhaps in an ideal world I would have stuck this in my Top 20, is The Body with “No One Deserves Happiness”. This is an experimental album, even for the Portland duo’s standards, infusing electronic, drone, doom and elements of pop into a grueling listen.

Last but not least are three little synth-pop gems. First up is Niki and The Dove‘s second album “Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now”. It’s not a massive change in direction for the Swedes but this whole album sounds more polished, well-rounded and slick. Also, there can be no denying that the Kate Bush-esque vocals are some of the best in pop music. “Moth” by Chairlift. Odd name for a band, but these guys are now on their third album and are making some quality chilled out pop music, with a rather funky undertone. Finally Jessy Lanza dropped her latest album, “Oh No”. It’s co-produce by fellow Canadian Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, a band that I have long admired. His electro-pop influences can be heard on this album, but there are different moods going here from 80s sounding ballads to 90s inspired bangers. A must for fans of Grime, FKA Twigs or sod it, even Madonna!