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!

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Top 20 Albums 2015: #20-11

#11. Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now

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I’ll be honest with you, I had absolutely no idea who north Londoner Benjamin Clementine was until he was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize. But, that is the great thing about this award, it can propel otherwise under the radar artists to the recognition and success they deserve. Strangely, “At Least For Now,” performed very well across Europe, while it seemed to go unnoticed in the UK. It was top 10 in Italy, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland with the album proving even more successful in France where it hit the no.1 spot. Clementine’s vagabond lifestyle enabled him to write over 500 songs and he picked out some of his best works for this debut. A mixture of spoken work, chamber pop, soul and powerful piano driven ballads, makes this a unique and captivating listen.

 

#12. Myrkur – M

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More black metal, this time from a solitary Danish chick, Amalie Bruun. This is quite the change of direction for the ex-model as her previous albums were not metal, but more shoegaze in style. Myrkur, meaning ‘darkness’ in Icelandic has an angelic voice and can do a great Enya like impression. That is, until she gets mad, then she unleashes a tirade of high pitch screams which pierce through the atmospheric tremolo guitar riffs like a needle. With production from some legendary black metal pioneers like Garm of Ulver and Mayhem it’s no wonder that this record sounds so good. Alluring vocals, beautifully sweet piano riffs, and then crushing guitars, it’s a good one!

 

#13. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness

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A return to form for the Weekend, this album launched him to huge international success with hits like, “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Losers,” and “Earned It,” which appeared on various soundtracks to crappy films like, “Fifty Shade of Grey,” and “Hunger Games”. Perhaps this was due to him taking a more commercial turn working with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Labarinth and Lana Del Rey, but there are still some exceptional tracks on here, which hark back to his dark, moody and bleak days like, “The Hills,” which would fit perfectly into his debut Trilogy album. I’ve always thought Abel Tesfaye, sounded like Michael Jackson and now he’s proving to be a successful as him too. The guy has a great voice, the album is slickly produced but man is it seedy.

#14. Jamie xx – In Colour

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Fans of early rave and 90s dance, dust your off your Discman and get your baggy t-shirts out, as this is a record that pays homage to that era in excellent fashion. From the opening track, “Gosh,” filled with old school jungle samples, retro synths and drum patterns to the the wonky and tripy, “obvs,” you’ll be filled with highs and lows as Jamie Smith, formerly of The XX takes you on this historic journey. “Hold Tight,” is another example of classic early techno / rave which he manages to craft so well. Jamie was quoted saying that he is happy with music as long as it, “makes me feel something,” and that’s pretty much spot on with my understanding of, “In Colour”.

#15. Girlpool – Before The World Was Big

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Girlpool are a young girlie due comprising of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad both of whom are in their late teens. Hailing from LA, their music oozes Americana with flashes of punk. The girls don’t have a drummer or use any percussion but only a guitar and bass. This may sound all bit too lo-fi and simplistic, but their harmonies and melodies are just soo good that this makes it one of the best short albums I’ve ever heard for ages. Fans of The Mouldy Peaches should definitely give this a play as its half an hour of loveliness!

#16. John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

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If you’re a fan of alternative folk electro country then this will be right up your street. Also fans of Gary Numan (as I am) will probably dig this! After the split of his band The Czar, John Grant put out his first solo album in 2010 with the amazing, “Queen of Denmark”. It wasn’t until his second, more electronic album, “Pale Green Ghosts,” did he start getting the recognition he deserved. This is probably his most sensual, cheeky and fun album to date. I mean, just take the lyrics, “You and Hitler ought to get together. You ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters.” Quirky, engaging and eclectic, John Grant delivers the goods again.

#17. The Body & Thou – Released From Love / You, Whom I Have Always Hated

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Skip this review right now if you are not one for humongously heavy, doom noise metal. There are no real words that can describe the power and intensity of this album, its just bloody MASSIVE! I find the wailing vocals of The Body’s Chip King a little difficult at times but there can be no doubting the sheer genius of the huge guitars, drums and bass that these guys combined bring. This is one hell of black, dark and terrifying album that will blow your socks off for the entire 40 minutes. Not for the faint hearted!

#18. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

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Fresh off the back of the fantastic 2014, “Hell Can Wait,” EP I had really high expectations for the Long Beach, CA rapper. Coming to prominence through working with rappers such as Earl Sweatshirt, he decided to finally go it alone after rapper pals and fans urged him to do so. And what a good idea it was as his debut, Summertime ’06 turned out to be one of the best rap albums of the year. Comprising of 20 songs, over 2 CDs its quite a prolific piece of work from such a young man (21). He deals with matter such as drug dealing, racial profiling and his troubled upbringing. Its a dark and bass heavy hip-hop record with some chilling hooks. This guy is gonna go far for sure!

#19. Deluge – Æther

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The only reason I had heard about French band Deluge was because of my deep bromance for Neige of Alcest, who features on this album. I thought, if they are good enough for him, then they will probably be good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed, whilst a lot heavier and faster (and for that matter, nothing like Alcest) Deluge make some pretty complex, progressive atmospheric black metal, with huge riffs and pounding drums. Its not all crazy fast paced stuff however, and tracks like the genius 9 minute, “Klarträumer,” would sound not too out of place on a Cure record (well kinda). Anyway, this is great debut album ofr this new band and I must say I bloomin’ love the art work on the album!

#20. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

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There are a lot of bands out there doing electro pop and in 2015 bands like Years & Year and Chvrches properly got established and reached audiences well beyond the UK. “Another Eternity,” is probably trying to do just that as this is a much brighter, more commercial and accessible album than their 2012 debut, “Shrines”. The Canadian duo still have that familiar sound, with their off tempo, trippy beats mixed in with some really uplifting synth sounds. This is evidently clear on the singles, “Bodyache,” and, “Begin Again”. Also interesting is the flirtation with hip-hop and R & B styles on tracks like, “Flood the Floor,” and “Repetition”. This combination of styles and influences has distinguished Purity Ring from the bog standard synth pop acts kicking around, and for that reason they have sneaked into my top 20!