10. THE LIFE OF PABLO // Kanye West
When we reviewed Kanye West’s latest discography entry, The Life of Pablo, the media circus surrounding him and the new release gave me a negative bias: I wanted to hate it. Despite everything though, the album has become one of the most memorable releases of the year, whether that’s because of the fervent ”patching’ of the album in the months after its release, the controversy some tracks caused, or the bombastic nature of the whole affair which led to further months of the Internet doing what it will to keep Kanye in the conversation. Our review just about summed up the whole experience, taking the chance to reflect some of the madness back on to the album. For sure, The Life of Pablo had a long list of faults, but between the genuinely good tracks and the lunacy of others, it managed to defeat the uphill battle, and we continue to remember it with smirks on our faces.
9. MARTYR LOSER KING // Saul Williams
This was a welcome deviation from the norm. Backed by a rich, eclectic mix of percussion, synthesisers, and samples, the spoken word slant on MartyrLoserKing was a lovely thing to hear. Saul Williams—artist, poet, musician, activist, astronaut—is a commanding presence, giving the whole record a serious kick. The performance is relentless, with an often primal energy. The album’s sole single, “Burundi”, is especially reflective of its heights. Breathless stuff. Although MartyrLoserKing can be a little clunky, the strengths far outweigh the shortcoming. It can be easy to slip into a narrow view of what music can be, and to be reminded of the breadth of possibility is always valuable. The album’s release seemed to slip under the radar a tad, which I thought was a shame. Still, he’s snuck onto our top ten list, which no doubt eclipses all other honours.
8. How to be a human being // Glass animals
I’ve said a lot about this album recently – with “Life Itself” featuring in our top 10 tracks, I was keen to write a last minute review article. How to be a Human Being has been an album on repeat for me throughout the year. Setting out to set scenes and telling stories within them, with little to none of the lyrical content referring to reality according to the band, Glass Animals pull it all off with some distinctive, playful instrumentals underneath. How to be a Human Being is an extremely satisfying listen, and is one of the most addictive albums of 2016. It makes for great indie rock music in a year that hasn’t seen a lot of focus inside the genre.
7. A SEAT AT THE TABLE // Solange
A Seat at the Table is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Solange’s third studio album is one of the most cohesive and focused albums of 2016, thriving on its low-key warmth. It gives a crucial lesson to some of this years big-hitters in how far an album can go when it’s actually approachable. A Seat is thoroughly welcoming, and doesn’t need unnecessary interferences to prove itself. The instrumentals are gorgeous, and Solange’s voice – whilst not the most authoritative – soars in its own gracious way. The guest appearances fit like a cozy, well-knitted glove (Lil Wayne is one of the highlights of the record, remarkably) and the entire experience sounds consequently communal. A Seat at the Table is unlikely to blow listeners away, but that was never the intention. It’s a lovely listen, and there is always a space for that amongst the spectacular.
6. SKELETON TREE // Nick Cave & The bad seeds
No record represents the anguish of 2016 better than Skeleton Tree. Its presence lingers like an ominous cloud, constantly reminding us of the inevitability of despair. The record is lined with unbearable tension, and it refuses to let up until the very end. Its deeply distressing atmosphere is heightened by an immeasurable tragedy, which Nick Cave valiantly confronts in order to find some sort of solace. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who finds such an overwhelming sense of devastation enjoyable, but it is undoubtedly beautiful. Skeleton Tree is not a record you play over and over; it’s a record you listen to in times of need. It can be adequately treated as its own form of mourning for listeners when required. The record is far from flawless, but its imperfections only intensify the struggle. Its one of the most powerful pieces of art to be constructed this year, and will continue to be remembered with a tender fondness.
5. ATOMIC // Mogwai
Given the amount of ””’irony””’ and mess in music this year, Atomic was a soothing presence. It is sincerely, carefully made work, and an immensely satisfying listen. Born of a collaboration with the BBC, Mogwai produced a barnstormer of a project. They tackle themes of nuclear war and power with appropriate sobriety, making for a surprisingly seductive listen. It has weight, power, and nuance—a potent combination at the worst of times. I’ve honestly been surprised by just how much I continue to return in to it. Atomic is unlikely to be spoken about in generations to come, and that’s ok. It commits to a subject and follows through. I appreciated that, and continue to. Solid, authoritative post-rock rules supreme in this record, and in a wishy-washy scatterbrain of a year I actually found that rather brave.
4. UNTITLED UNMASTERED. // Kendrick Lamar
We had a lot to say about Kendrick Lamar last year, dazzling the music world with a brilliant album and appearing across the music spectrum. 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for him either, continuing to feature on a number of albums this year, including his own compilation of unreleased material that didn’t make it on to 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The fact that this release has made it up to 4th place on the list says something both very positive about the output from Kendrick, and something slightly less positive about the overall output of the year. As suggested by the title, each track on Untitled Unmastered is very much at demo stage – in some cases the content is so short that several songs have been blended together. Some of this year’s best hip-hop is likely to feature on this release. We’re clearly not the only one’s to feel this way, as “Levitate”, previously the catchy, ear-worm worthy beginning portion of “Untitled 07”, was released as a more complete single later in the year.
3. Lemonade // Beyonce
For better or worse, 2016 will likely go down as a historic year for music. Far too many of our greatest artists have passed (with a few of them producing final records as parting gifts) whilst other seniors in the industry have released their best material in years. Amongst the drama, it’s important for us to realise that 2016 has also been an immensely fruitful year for the Knowles sisters. Solange’s A Seat at the Table was good, fully deserving of all recognition, but Beyonce’s Lemonade is on an entirely different level. This is one of the most personal and insightful pop records you’ll find not just from 2016, but any year in recent memory. Beyoncé shows us she’s not just a singer – she’s an artist. Everything here is properly crafted; composed and produced with a raging passion. The beats are great, the hooks are catchy, and everything just sounds fantastic. I’ll say it again – Lemonade has everything you could possibly want in a pop album.
2. BLACKSTAR // David Bowie
This one feels like a long time ago. It’s near impossible to separate Blackstar from David Bowie’s death. They seep into the other. With the benefit of a year to think about it, I think that reflects terribly well on the record. It somehow managed to match the enormity of Bowie’s death and, furthermore, feel right. Its blackened, jazzy art rock remains a pleasure to listen to, while Tony Visconti’s production talents continue to leave me awed. And of course there’s Bowie himself. Faced with death and all he could think about was creating. Doing and being. It’s inspiring, and darkly magical in its own way. It’s a flawed record, but the circumstances surrounding its composition and recording makes that rather appropriate. Life isn’t life without imperfection. We make the best of our mortal coil and off we go. Not many people get to go out on their own terms. Trust David Bowie to be one of the few one last time.
1. A MOON SHAPED POOL // Radiohead
2016 has been a funny old year. People around the globe have found themselves in a permanent state of mourning due to the loss of their heroes, whether it is Bowie, Prince, Phife, or Cohen. The list is sadly endless. These premature and painful conclusions have tarnished the year with tragedy, and combined with events that have occurred outside of the music industry, it’s safe to assume that almost all of us are glad to see the back of 2016. Thankfully, flashes of light can be seen behind the darkness. Whilst the past 12 months has sorely lacked an outstanding album for us to collectively fawn over, it has at least given us a healthy number of extremely solid releases to enjoy. Radiohead’s ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, is assuredly the best of the bunch. After a brief lapse in form, the Oxford-born band return with a subtle reminder that, for over the past 20 years, they have been one of the world’s finest. “Burn the Witch”, our first taster of LP9, was a reassuring introduction that showcased the band’s eternal ability to confidently enter new territory, and was indeed a positive sign of things to come. But it was also a red herring: the vast majority of the record is cold, reflective, and extremely sorrowful. In this sense, no record represents 2016 as appropriately as A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s a gorgeous album that safely allows you to indulge the pain and anxiety of which life so generously offers. For some of us, it’s the only way to survive.
Radiohead are really good at making music. This is known. This fundamental truth of the universe was showcased again in A Moon Shaped Pool, which was really good. How many bands are still developing their sound after thirty years and nine albums? Not many. Even fewer are releasing the standout albums of the year. There is plenty to admire about A Moon Shaped Pool—liquid sound, songbird vocals, thoroughly sexy rock grooves, take your pick—but it’s the fact that it’s different that makes it so enamouring. Radiohead have never sounded like this before. Their previous record, The King of Limbs, was released in 2011, and the five years that followed it are deeply imprinted in A Moon Shaped Pool. Jonny Greenwood’s increasingly cinematic tendencies, backed as capably as ever by the rest of the band, perfectly envelope the tender ruminations of Thom Yorke—who manages to sound more vulnerable than ever. Submerged in the past, the record brings a number of old songs long in the making to fruition, and it’s a sombre experience. In their latest reimagining the band offer their latest truth: looking back becomes its own heartache. It is a testament to Radiohead’s talents, and their continued openness to evolution, that A Moon Shaped Pool is—unquestionably, in my mind—the best album 2016 had to offer.
Clearly, we are suckers for a Radiohead release. While it’s hard to dispute that A Moon Shaped Pool does well off the bat by giving fans studio versions of infamous live tracks from the last two decades, Radiohead have provided us with a good mix of old and new, and even with fan favourites like “True Love Waits”, the studio version has put a totally new spin on the atmosphere of the track. Lead singles “Burn the Witch” and “Daydreaming” bring with them some of the most memorable moments on the album and by the end of the tracklist, you’re bound to have heard something that gave you at least a twinge of emotion, with some of the most affecting passages of music this year has had to offer. A Moon Shaped Pool is a very solid release that’s been received with wide critical acclaim, and certainly deserves its position on the Audioxide top 10 albums of 2016.