So here we are, the final Albums of 2016... So Far. It's been a wild ride that lasted less than a week. But worry not, they'll be back again in December to bring you up to date on 2016 as a whole. That'll probably be interesting as well. For now though, let Tom Geraghty give you his favourites thus far.
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West – 14th February
Never before has a Kanye West album, or perhaps even any mainstream album, lacked cohesion to the scale of the woefully named The Life of Pablo. The production never sits still and finishes an idea – much like Lord Yeezy the First himself. A restless album overflowing with so many concepts that they spill from one song to the other with next to no logic, you may be wondering why I even put The Life of Pablo on this list. The answer is simple: it sounds fucking incredible. Kanye’s executive CEO-style of production is a tried and tested method (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy ring any bells?) that once again lends itself to Kanye’s ADHD-laced vision. Ultralight Beam is a gospel influenced, Chance the Rapper-featuring opener that is simply spellbinding and some of both artists’ best works to date. The lyrics are some of Yeezy’s worst yet, but there are enough moments of production brilliance to at least try and overlook lines about Kanye West’s penis and bleached assholes. Famous, a Rihanna boasting feature, simply has some fucking good production: Sister Nancy’s subliminal reggae tune Bam Bam is turned into a cathartic explosion of joy in one of the many album highlights. I could give hundreds of examples of little moments that make everything worthwhile: the twisted bars on Feedback, glitching saw-synth lines on Highlights, Hudson Mohawke’s production on the phenomenal Waves and the surprisingly simple and unapologetic Real Friends that works as the closest thing to a throwback to earlier work. Even the bastardised studio version of Wolves sounds like a natural industrial album closer. Kanye’s ever changing album now includes the gorgeous Saint Pablo that features the familiar London crooning of Young Turk jewel Sampha. I could do this for days. Ignore the bullshit marketing, the apparent decline of Kanye’s mind and fake feud with she-devil manipulator Taylor Swift: there are enough creative interesting moments on this album to make all the smoke around it irrelevant.
Basar – Africaine 808 – 19th February
Ever since the Berlin duo of Dirk Leyers and DJ Nomad exploded onto the underground circuit as Africaine 808 with anthem Tummy, Tummy it’s been clear that exploration into world music does not mean the music has to be less fun, and Basar is certainly an extension of that ethos. Trying to pinpoint any one genre on their impressive debut album seems futile: Language of The Bass is a UK funky track with heritage in soundsystem culture (as the name would suggest), whilst other tracks such as The Lord is a Woman are almost straight up gospel, with every genre from jazz to global electronica in between. They even incorporate a didgeridoo (although unfortunately the ill-timed Rolf Harris/Latin hybrid Yes We Can is easily the weakest track on the album). Regardless of this expansive take, the album never seems to lose its way, aided by their trusty 808 drum machine that acts as a third member to the duo, as well as the only narrative of the album. Basslines, tom drums, shining synth lines and non-stop high hats, Basar is a celebratory dance album that shines a light on numerous cultures throughout the world and never lets you forget it. Fun and infectious, Basar is a must listen and a great initiation into the ever-expanding world of African funk and edits.
Hella Personal Film Festival – Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – 25th March
It’s hard for me to not love Open Mike Eagle – a self-styled ‘art rapper’ who tears through pop culture references with a political edge and even has his own podcast dedicated to Adventure Time. In Hella Personal Film Festival, Open Mike Eagle’s witty talk-rapping gets a glorious accompaniment and benefits from Paul White’s immaculate production. It feels so natural it’s hard to believe this is their first collaboration. Nothing is off topic in Open Mike Eagle’s lyricism: racism, personal insecurity, technology trepidation, yet it still comes across conversational. 70’s guitar and soul collages permeate the album, and White’s sample-led production lends itself to this conversational rap, preventing it becoming tiring or uninspiring. Rather it is a wearied yet engaging nonchalance to the public and private tribulations of modern day life.
The Wilderness – Explosions In The Sky – 1st April
The Wilderness is a barren and sparse album. Trading in the trademark guitar warmth of earlier works for a greater reliance on electronic elements and a pattern of shorter songs (for the first time in their studio album history no song extends beyond the 8 minute mark), fans could be forgiven for trepidation awaiting the album. The result is the biggest sonic and thematic change for the band in recent memory, although by no means a negative one. The Wilderness has an integral sense of desolation and uneasiness: Logic of a Dream varies from starry guitar builds to reverb heavy tribal drums before stabilising structurally, creating an eclectic bipolar song that both terrifies and calms. The harsh driving drums of Disintegration Anxiety are more reminiscent of the band’s cacophonic sophomore album Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever. Invoking visions of the great wasteland that is space itself, The Wilderness demonstrates Explosions’ antithesis to recent soundtrack work, and sees the band explore an emptier, more unforgiving side of post-rock; one that delves into the emptiness and makes a home within it.
Hopelessness – Anohni – 6th May
Hopelessness is an important album. Essentially a protest album, Hopelessness sees Anohni take a step back and observe the floundering state of the world, one that appears to disintegrate into further depravity and chaos every day. Lyrically, the content is as bleak as can be: child molesters, execution, terrorism, and general pain run course through the album, yet it never buckles under the excessive strain of lyrics addressing such unflinching feelings of hopelessness. The reason for this unwavering defiance lies in the assisted co-production of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never that lends a glittery synth-led electro-pop accompaniment to the prophetic doomsday being foretold. A lot has been made of Anohni being the transgender former lead of Mercury Award-winning Anthony and the Johnsons, but this is, in fact, irrelevant. Regardless of the gender or past of Anohni, Hopelessness speaks on a platform of its own and should be considered regardless of all else. At times, the heavy lyrical evaluation of the current climate of the world feels disjointed and overly-confrontational – as though the listener is being held accountable for all evil – yet the experimental and triumphant production from two masters helps to pull the album back when it seems that Anohni can’t cope. For an album that draws from such bleak and foreboding observations of the world, Hopelessness manages to prevent you from feeling deflated.
Bottomless Pit – Death Grips – 6th May
Is this Death Grips 2.0? The band has broken up claiming ‘they are at their best’, cancelled shows in favour of avant-garde art pieces, released the second half of double album The Powers that B, re-united, toured, and even released brand new album Bottomless Pit in the last year or so. Oh, and they’ve released two instrumental EP’s. If this is Death Grips 2.0, as the last track on Jenny Death implies, does this mean a return to creative songwriting and a step away from the media games that define them? Bottomless Pit appears to signify so. A relatively normal (in so much as Death Grips can be ‘normal’) rollout and promotion of the album was surprising, but perhaps not as surprising as the sheer decency and cohesiveness of the album itself. The Powers That B was marred by first album Niggas on the Moon but more than redeemed by the exceptional Jenny Death, and Bottomless Pit appears to follow in the footsteps of the latter. As explosive and vicious as anything you would expect from trio, Ride, Burnett and Hill, it’s fairly safe to say if you don’t fuck with Death Grips then you won’t fuck with this album. Bottomless Pit is abrasive, unrepentant, and straight up noisy, but it also consists of some of the greatest variety from an album since The Money Store. It’s Death Grips’ most accessible, driven, and eclectic album in years. The electronic elements spell cataclysmic events, Hill batters the shit out of the drums whilst Ride’s lyrical skill is what you would expect: ‘come test me fucks / get sliced.’ A soundtrack to annihilation has never felt more accomplished.
Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball – 13th May
At an energetic – if short- 27 minutes, it could be easy to mistake Modern Baseball’s latest LP for an EP. The short format of songs lends itself to the emotional ferocity and confessional lyricism shared between dual singers, Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, which address issues such as the passing of loved ones and mental issues respectively. It’s hard to imagine a band that has been through as much as Modern Baseball – Lukens was diagnosed with manic depression and was omitted to rehab following substance abuse – and this is reflected in Luken’s songwriting. The pop-punk one-two punch of Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind and What If hints more than a little at Brandon Flowers circa Sam’s Town yet the tone could not be more different. Dealing with the usual emo go-to of lost love, mental health, and death, this time with a weariness gathered from experience. The album furiously shifts from one song to the next, exploring the expanse of 4th wave emo and pop-punk formulas, whilst staying firmly rooted in an evolved maturity. Exceptional album closer Just Another Face is a further introspective evaluation and one with all the power necessary to provide Lukens’ (and perhaps the listeners’) own catharsis. As emotionally confronting and bare as can be and with no signs of slowing down, Holy Ghost is a ferocious and defiant album that promises more of the same to come from Modern Baseball.
Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest – 20th May
Teens of Denial is the ultimate slacker indie-rock album. A concept album of sorts centred around the highs and lows of teenage life, Teens of Denial is almost universally relatable. Lyrics about drinking too much and doing drugs aren’t exactly glamorized, but rather laid bare and denounced in lines such as ‘Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms / I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit / in a stupid looking jacket’. Toledo’s lo-fi bedroom rock is a frank, introspective look at teenage mistakes and ambitions that shares the duplicitous accolade of utilising both humour and honesty to create memorable songs. What sets Teens of Denial apart from prior Car Seat Headrest albums is perhaps Toledo’s big break in signing to Matador: the recording of the album in a studio creates more dynamic instrumentals, and with the addition of a band, Toledo is allowed to explore more avenues in creating a vision once shackled by the technical confides of a bedroom. The refrains never tire and the song structure is as experimental as possible without alienating. The result is an ultimately quotable and memorable album that packs as many ideas into wandering song structures in 70 minutes as possible.
Wildflower – The Avalanches – 8th July
The significance of the sixteen year wait for the album has hardly been understated; in fact, it appears to be the most cited fact associated with The Avalanches’ follow up to the wildly successful Since I Left You. Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely not. But what could? Wildflower isn’t a particularly brilliant album – its 22 song track listing feels a little unsubstantial and overly sparse – but it is an exceptionally fun album. The long detours into psychedelia overstay their welcome and the majority of the rap verses seem particularly unnecessary (as much as I love MF Doom, his molasses-like flow simply doesn’t work on lead track Frankie Sinatra) but nevertheless, the album is still commendable regardless of the hype. The carnivalesque baroque style present in Frankie Sinatra is baffling, even more so when peppered with Danny Brown’s percussion like bars, and sets the bizarre Lewis Carroll-like tone for the remainder of the album. The album initiates an energetic start with basslines as the driving force and keeping it funky until Going Home. Subways, a Justice-like entrance into The Avalanches catalogue practically lends itself to a sunny day, as does the majority of the album. Yes, some of the choices are confusing and illogical (I will never understand the Plastic Beach/MM Food crossover/pastiche/parody? that is The Noisy Eater) and sometimes gratuitous but when an album sounds as joyously glorious as Wildflower does, it’s fairly easy to forgive some of those misgivings.
Disappointment Island – TTNG – 8th July
The band formally known as ‘This Town Needs Guns’ – a tongue in cheek reference to the low gun crime in their hometown of Oxford – return with their second album as a power trio and their third studio LP. Disappointment Island isn’t nearly as good as debut Animals but a marked improvement on the reasonably lacklustre 188.8.131.52.0. Featuring some ridiculously intricate guitar work (as per) from Tim Collis that results in some of the most luscious and melancholic riffs to date, Disappointment Island is at its best when it jams around with complicated time signatures in a schizophrenic manner that builds towards fuzzy crescendos. Even my doubts about (not-so) new vocalist Henry Tremain are almost quelled – he sounds infinitely better with a sense of urgency and coarseness not necessarily found in the falsetto harmonies that start the album. Disappointment Island isn’t quite the frenetic TTNG that I fell in love with – it can still feel a little restrained at times – but the twinkly guitars and dejected lyrical content serve to create some of their most aesthetically pleasing and bittersweet work yet.
Disparate/ Flip Side – Champion & Four Tet – 26th February
A fruitful collaboration between often overlooked UK funky producer Champion and Four Tet, the latest release on Hebden’s Text label consists of two shuffling, bassline-heavy tunes that Champion’s role in shouldn’t be underestimated. The wispy, tribal Disparate is peppered with angelic, airy vocal samples from Debelah Morgan’s I Love You, whilst Flip Side utilises a wonky reliance of UKF to create a lurching, two-step instrumental. Although the vocals can feel mildly superfluous on Flip Side it never detracts too heavily from the instrumental, and serves as another excellent, if unlikely, collaboration from the duo.
Single: Flip Side
Landcruisin’ – A.K. Paul. – 24th March
It requires a lot of patience to be a fan of either A.K. Paul or his brother, Jai Paul. This patience has been tested, and the thirst for new music from either of the brothers resulted in the premature leak of Jai Paul’s album – an event that caused only further setbacks. What is so exciting about A.K. Paul’s debut single is more to do with what it represents: the creation of ‘Paul Institute’ and almost a guarantee that more creative output from the two is incoming. Landcruisin’, the first single to be released by Paul Institute, is a future-pop outing, invoking funky synths to create a polished, glitchy R&B sound. It automatically assures a Paul production presence and, more importantly, has allowed for the inception of a steady output from the brothers.
Long Live Happy Birthday EP – The World Is a Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – 25th March
One of the many bands deemed responsible for ‘emo-revival’ almost ten years after regard for the genre appeared to fade, The World is a Beautiful Place… have an output so consistent it could be deemed the benchmark for the genre. The World is a Beautiful Place… return with a two track EP that sees a heavier, more destructive exploration and reliance of post-rock elements in Katamari Duquette and the more typical Even More Forever easily slots itself into the band’s back catalogue.
I Am A Nightmare/ Leaked Demos/ 3 Demos, Reworked – Brand New – 17th May
Okay, so choosing three releases is definitely cheating – but hear me out. With the forecasted demise of Brand New through new tour merch (2000-2018? How cryptic…), and polarising rants at live shows it certainly seems like Brand New are clearing out their proverbial closet and laying some ghosts of the past to rest. This has resulted in the official release of the much-loved and often overlooked Demos that served as a precursor to The Devil and God…, as well as reworking three of those demos for official release. In doing so, it certainly seems clear that Brand New are winding down- but not without a probable final album. New single I am a Nightmare is a sonic echo of debut album Your Favourite Weapon, and although nowhere near as adventurous or experimental as more recent Brand New songs, it is undeniably a catchy throwback to where it all began. With these releases, Brand New finally acknowledge and pay homage to their fractured past and ultimately tie up some loose ends in the beginning of the end of Brand New.
XLB – Pearson Sound – 25th May
Percussion specialist Pearson Sound returns with a one off dance-floor treat. Mixing trademark rhythmic precision with an ever-alternating acidic lead that permeates throughout the track akin to tiny droplets of water, Pearson Sound builds on his harsh and decadent style of dance minimalism that is irrefutably his own, and lets it culminate in a shuffle-y bass-laden dance-floor explosion.
Operator (DJ Koze’s Extended Disco Edit)- Låpsley – 16th July
(I couldn’t not include this single as well I’m sorry but it’s such a fucking nice song to end everything with.)
It’s DJ Koze doing what he does best. It would be criminal not to end a sunset set on this disco mix. Now go out and dance until the morning comes.
Images: Temporary Residence Limited; Astralwerks; Run For Cover Records; Golf Channel Recordings; GOOD Music; Rough Trade Records; Harvest Records; Matador Records; Sargent House; Mello Music Group; Topshelf Records; Pearson Sound; Paul Institute; Procrastinate!; Text Records; XL Recordings