#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.