The Weeknd - Starboy
If you weren’t already a fan of his R&B thumps and twangs introduced in the likes of Can’t Feel my Face or The Hills, surely Starboy converted you into a fan of The Weeknd this year? The album showcases The Weeknd at his finest: his smooth and sturdy, melodic voice, complementing beats that excite and animate, and an overall energy convincing enough to get a kid to DANCE. When grouped together, the seemingly varied range of artists featured including Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar and Daft Punk serve to further perpetuate the overall dynamic vibrancy characteristic of the entire album’s sound. Starboy transcends typical music categories, fusing together the best and brightest from different genres and decades of music to propel The Weeknd to that coveted spotlight as #1.
James Blake - The Colour In Anything
The 76 minutes of The Colour In Anything are minutes filled with diverse, intriguing and altogether majestic music. It is an amalgamation of his earlier dubstep, his piano ballads and his DJing side project 1-800 Dinosaur, producing an eclectic album in which one song sounds not at all like another. A significant step forward from his bedroom-produced previous albums, he invited various contributors including renowned R&B producer Rick Rubin, Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, owing to his ability to transcend any one genre. These elements brought together produced Blake’s best work to date, a sound that is distinctively his own and unmatched by any other artist.
Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
Notable mentions must go to Nicolas Jaar’s Sirens and Kate Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos, however, the loss of so many great musicians this year cannot go unnoticed and so, for me, it is the bleak resonance of Leonard Cohen’s 14th and final studio album that has resonated the most. Evolving from, and amalgamating with, his thoroughly impressive repertoire of music, Cohen’s final piece is steeped with the ruminations that have informed much of his illustrious career. His ever deepened, wisened growl portrays potent Judeo-Christian imagery and his constant questioning of God forms a flawlessly reverent last testament. The sombre reflections and pointed religious probes of It Seemed the Better Way are incredibly powerful and Travelling Light, with its reminiscence of earlier work such as Dance Me to the End of Love, shows Cohen’s reflective pain. It is the title track You Want it Darker that defines the album’s finality. The surging choral melodies soar behind Cohen’s shuddering, deep-set baritone delivery. His lyrics “I’m ready my lord” are so cavernous and bottomless that they would seem sinister if they weren’t filled with such empathy. Both the song and the album are a beautiful summation of Cohen’s lifetime of inquiry and his passing marks the end of a year that has seen the loss of too many great musicians.
David Bowie - Blackstar
The death of David bowie was the first stab to the heart in a year that made heart-stabbings seem normal. And yet the pain of this loss was accompanied by great beauty. Through Blackstar, released 2 days before his death, Bowie used music to confront his life and the death he knew was approaching ("Something happened on the day he died//spirit rose a metre and stepped aside"). This album serves a reminder of the fact that pain does not necessitate loss of beauty, and so it is ever more important that we listen.
Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
Kanye’s 7th album is a beautiful paradox: unrefined and incoherent, yet with a seamless and careful track arrangement which makes listening to it from start to finish a unique, quite indescribable experience. The Life of Pablo isn’t perfect, but maybe that’s the point. Behind the apparent incessant narcissism, it reveals the workings of a paranoid, doubtful, tormented mind, offering a far more insightful comment on our internet-obsessed and self-absorbed society than may initially seem. It’s the confusion; the abrupt, sometimes unsettling, changes in mood of The Life of Pablo that in many ways make it a perfect reflection of 2016 – for Kanye and for the listeners.
Izzy Bizu - A Moment of Madness
Izzy Bizu’s debut album is reminiscent of summer when the season is hard to find, full of optimistic, impulsive, jazz-infused pop. Someone that Loves You, a collaboration with English duo Honne, is smooth and synthy, glassy vocals mixed with a killer tune that feels like honey over a metal spoon. The album fluctuates between meditative, simple tracks such as Trees and Fire, and those more vibrant; Glorious, Talking To You and White Tiger, in fact, the whole album is sun-drenched. Fresh and mellow, A Moment of Madness is a ray of warm cinnamon light in these darker winter months.
Swet Shop Boys - Cashmere
For as shit a year as 2016 was, it was pretty spectacular in terms of musical output, specifically from artists of colour. Not that they haven’t been both the backbone and the frontrunners of the industry for most (if not all) of its existence, but 2016 finally seemed to be a year of glorious, utterly overdue recognition and celebration of their contributions. Beyoncé released Lemonade, Frank gave us Blonde, and Kanye gave and re-gave Pablo more times than we could keep track of. Solange offered us A Seat at the Table, Dev Hynes created Freetown Sound, and Chance brought his Colouring Book. There was Drake’s Views, Rihanna’s ANTI, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, Anderson Paak’s Malibu.... The list is immensely vast and immensely fantastic, and picking a single record to rule them all was unsurprisingly difficult. Weighing lyrical genius, inventiveness, groovability, and general brilliance, I settled on Swet Shop Boys’s debut album, Cashmere. A rap record you can learn from and still bang in the club, Cashmere is aggressively smart, superbly innovative, and totally nuts. It’s fresh and catchy as hell, tackling race issues with unflinching wit and hip hop beats. Cashmere is a reinvention of political rap, and Riz MC and Heems (the Swet Shop Boys) are musical renegades we can truly revel in worshipping.
Palace - So Long Forever
My favourite album of 2016 has to be Palace’s debut, So Long Forever. Having been waiting since the drop of their first EP, Lost in the Night in 2014, and then the 2015 release of Chase the Light, I was literally beside myself when SLF dropped in November of this year, and it didn’t disappoint. I think it holds such a unique sound: making music that is, as the band say themselves, “full of grandeur backed with honesty and integrity”. The album is studded with gems like ‘Break the Silence’ and ‘It’s Over’ and, when played loud (or live) creates an inescapable sound-cavern of dreamy blues. Few good things have come out of 2016, and maybe ‘keeping our heads above the water’ is a mantra we should all hold on to. To me, as far as SLF is concerned, Palace are swimming along better than fine.
Frank Ocean - Blond
My album of 2016 is Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Its the perfect mix of ambient and R&B, making it the ideal list of songs to chill out to. After all that has happened this year, many of the songs on Blonde explore the idea of community and unity - a wonderful reminder that Ocean isn’t simply another singer, but a young man with a bright soul and wise mind.
Tom Misch - Reverie
As the shortest day of the year approaches, my mind wanders to memories of those hazy summer days spent lounging in the garden. Tom Misch’s Reverie E.P captures exactly this. His bluesy rhythms and jazzy beats peppered with elements of hip-hop make for an easy, relaxed listening, ‘dreamy’, as the title itself suggests. Not only is the album an amalgamation of musical genres, it also exhibits the talents of friends and family. Crazy Dream mixes the rhymes of Misch’s contemporary Loyle Carner, whilst sister Laura’s saxophone softly meanders through Follow. I Wish emulates some of his earlier works whilst Watch Me Dance fuses his funky vibes and soulful vocals with a classical opening of strings. Misch is the man of the moment; this July album was undoubtedly the kick-start for what has been an incredibly successful latter half of the year.