ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2016: 20-11

20. Soft Hair – ‘Soft Hair’


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It is quite possible that this is the most unlikely collaboration we have seen so far this year. Bringing together the avant-garde, left-of-field tastes of Connan Mockasin and the forward-thinking, electronic approach of former Late Of The Pier frontman Sam Dust, now known as LA Priest, may not sound like the most well-fitted of partnerships. But just like any project that involves musicians from different backgrounds, these two have managed to find a sound that is both fitting and exciting.

You can tell from the very start of this record that this isn't going to be the most easily digestible of releases, and in a way that's a good thing, because if you aren't enjoying the first 30 seconds, there is little chance you will find much to like about the rest of the release. The best way to sum up this album is by understanding that these two are trying to make a danceable, disco-esque record, but filtered through a decade-long interest in Moog synthesisers.

The result is something brilliantly original and fun throughout. 'Soft Hair' manages to be both exciting and memorable at the same time, giving it not only an engaging quality but something you will find yourself coming back to again and again.

19. Wild Beasts – ‘Boy King’


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Following their well-received 2014 album 'Present Tense', an album widely regarded as their best to date, Wild Beasts return with their fifth studio album 'Boy King'. And while this record does share some similarities with their older work, it is clear from the off that this band are looking to make a lot more noise with this release.

During the build up to this full-length, we were treated to four singles from this eleven track album, and what stood out most about them was their focus on a more electronic sound. The band had always dabbled in an electro influence but its presence on this new material is prevalent. Giving it an almost 80s-inspired Moog-loving sound, 'Boy King' seems to want to push the boundaries of a contemporary rock outfit and show that instrumentation needn't define the genre of the group.

The result is a cohesive mix of focused rhythms and a broad style that flows through each and every track. The album is so well written, it shows that even bands well into their career can still make challenging choices to their core style and come out with something fresh and impressive in equal measure.

18. Jagwar Ma – ‘Every Now And Then’


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When Jagwar Ma released their much-loved debut album 'Howlin' back in 2013, it was riding a wave of buzz from other psych-dance outfits all over the world, from Hercules And Love Affair to Azari & III. But with that scene fading fast, Jagwar Ma have looked for a newer direction for their latest release 'Every Now And Then', and it sounds like something most people in the UK will remember from a while back.

Since Jagwar Ma ended up becoming more popular in Britain than their home-country of Australia, it seems that this new record pays a great deal of homage to the indie-rave crossover of the early 90s. A great deal of tracks have that overarching feel of Stone Roses or Happy Mondays about them, except with a far more beefed up electronic element. The result is a stunning harmony of past and present influences that ends up becoming something completely new entirely.

And what's even better is that it follows their debut brilliantly, matching the sounds of the time into something that will get you on your feet and dancing about the place. Playful and enjoyable throughout, 'Every Now And Then' is certainly bringing the joy back into their psychedelic style.

17. BANKS – ‘The Alter’


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After BANKS first introduced herself as the pinnacle name in the future pop movement with her debut record 'Goddess' back in 2014, she has barely had a quiet moment. Her omnipotent presence since then has been down to a string of constant tour dates and, since the early summer, promotion for this new album. Prior to this release, the frontwoman had put out four singles from the new full-length, giving us a great impression of what to expect on here long before we heard the whole thing. Something that intrigued us as much as anything else.

While there is little progression between the sound of this album and 'Goddess', what 'The Altar' does have is a more refined style. While her debut was impressive throughout, it lacked a fixed direction and focus, teething problems that have been fully flushed out of this new release. 'The Altar' is a masterstroke in modern production and her voice seems to have grown tenfold in strength since we last heard her, showing that this new record is more than just a follow-up; it is an ascension.

'The Altar' is a forward-thinking evolution to the BANKS sound, something that many artists attempt but fail to see through. This record shows that the songstress is firmly on the right path and has cemented herself as one of this decade's most essential listens.

16. Kate Tempest – ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’


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When Kate Tempest released her debut solo album 'Everybody Down' back in 2014, it made a considerable impact on the poetry scene in the UK. Previously unheard and under-appreciated artists such as George The Poet were suddenly becoming a huge attraction for an emerging new cult fanbase, something that has seen the poetry community go from strength to strength ever since. Now Tempest returns with her second full-length 'Let Them Eat Chaos', a record that aims to fully fuse poetry and music.

Kate Tempest has always had a more hip-hop flow to her verses than a traditional beat poet would have, and it is this style of reading than has been able to fully bring out the life in her music. Before all the attention was on her words and their content, but this time we see a far more eclectic collection of musical productions aiming to back up her prose. With a mix of electronic and acoustic compositions, 'Let Them Eat Chaos' looks to make the music as much a part of the poetry as the words themselves.

It's hard to deny the brilliance of Kate Tempest at times. While she mainly looks to tell stories of others in her work, we do occasionally get to hear her own values and opinions on this release. She has looked to become more engaging this time around and it certainly has more than its fair share of hair-raising moments.

15. James Blake – ‘The Colour In Anything’


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After winning the Mercury Prize in 2013 with his spectualar sophomore album 'Overgrown', James Blake became more of a personality than a producer. Taking over a monthly residency on BBC Radio 1, he quickly became known as the artist that would drop surprises on you, whether it be from his own catalogue or others. So as another surprise, James Blake has now released his third studio album 'The Colour In Anything' (which is even a surprise in itself as he'd been calling it 'Radio Silence' for the months prior).

But while all the unexpected gems are a nice gimmick, the album itself is far from a publicity stunt. Much like his previous works, 'The Colour In Anything' looks to create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape of experimental directions and lucid intentions. Although some of this material has been previewed in the last few weeks, hearing it all together allows you to really feel this record as it breathes from one track to the next, creating a cohesive yet subdued release that would be seen as rebellious if it wasn't so calming.

James Blake is one of those artists that can be seen as both different and the same as many others. Like a Schrodinger's producer, Blake is both a creative muse that seeks new inspirations while ultimately sounding almost identical from album to album. Either way, this surprise was certainly happily received.

14. Childish Gambino – ‘Awaken, My Love’


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When Childish Gambino dropped his last album 'Because The Internet' at the end of 2013, it quickly became one of our favourite albums of that year. And here we are once again, all ready to wrap up the end of 2016 and suddenly Donald Glover reemerges to drop a last minute bombshell. Yet despite everything he has released up until now, 'Awaken, My Love!' doesn't really see the frontman do any rapping. Instead we are treated to a George Clinton-style funk-odyssey, with Glover showing off his pipes for once.

And while this drastic change in genre would not normally go down well with any other names I can think of on the hip-hop scene, for some reason, Gambino seems to make it work to his advantage. Always seen as sort-of a black sheep character in the industry, 'Awaken, My Love!' seems to have really exposed his naturally creative side. Don't get me wrong, he isn't much of a singer, but combined with the incredible production and song-writing throughout, this new record seems to trigger the tone of this year so far as he looks to push himself into very uncomfortable territory.

It seems like I'm hating on this new album, but actually this is something truly special from the actor-come-musician. Imagine if Kendrick Lamar chose to sing on 'To Kill A Butterfly' instead and you'll get a sense of what this record is. A brilliant homage to the foundations of black music and culture that is as inviting as it is engaging.

13. Kaytranada – ’99.9%’


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For the last few years now, Canadian producer Kaytranada has been one of the most instantly recognisable artists in electronic music. His preference of a slower tempo and more attention to flow has made his work something that not only stands out, but also makes him a unique player in the scene. So it was only natural for him to release an album and build up his already well-established repertoire with new material.

With an incredible list of collaborators including Craig David, AlunaGeorge, Anderson .Paak and many others, '99.9%' is one of the most instantly enjoyable records we have heard all year. Introducing the album with its brilliant opener 'Track Uno', the LP becomes this unending rhythm of delicious basslines and infectious groove that is almost impossible not to enjoy. With some subtle references to the era of 80s groove, '99.9%' delivers one punch after another.

At a time when electronic music producers are beginning to think less and less about releasing full-length records, Kaytranada sets the standard of what can be done with this format. Engaging and cohesive throughout, this is certainly an album that you'll want to hear again once its over.

12. Poliça – ‘United Crushers’


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Following up a huge, critically acclaimed album is no easy feat, but imagine trying to follow up two. Since the release of their debut album 'Give You The Ghost' in 2012 and their quickly released sophomore album 'Shulamith' the year after, Poliça have been heavily associated with a forward thinking approach to music. Their politically charged electro-pop has been the cornerstone for artists like Lorde and Chvrches to evolve from, but what have they managed to create this time around?

What is most noticeably different about this new release is the incredibly depressing intro. The first track 'Summer Please' sets a morbid tone, anchored very well by Channy Leaneagh's distorted vocals. But it isn't long before we get into the core of this album and the true Poliça sound rears its head once again. The majority of 'United Crushers' is a brilliantly woven tapestry of multi-layered production and instantly identifiable songwriting that creates a wonderfully bliss world of high-calibre musicianship that is rarely seen from artists outside of the mainstream.

In all, it seems that Poliça have done it again. While it would be cruel to compare this new work with their back catalogue, it certainly stands side by side in both quality and depth. A fantastic return from a group that doesn't show the slightest sign of slowing yet.

11. Solange – ‘A Seat At The Table’


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Despite being a fully fledged musical act in her own right, Solange has spent the best part of the last decade in her sister Beyonce's shadow. Returning to deliver her first album in eight years, 'A Seat At The Table' is one of the most eclectic and diverse records we have heard so far this year. Despite its truly epic length and list of collaborators, Solange is looking to make her own mark on the music scene and shake off those ever present comparisons.

What seems to be the main difference between this and all other RnB albums at the moment, is that Solange isn't looking to simply tread water by following the trends of today. Her blend of gospel influences and a juxtaposed organic/electronic production makes this a truly unique and spiritual release. While there are clear similarities with her and Beyonce's vocal style, it is her focus as a more modest artist that allows her to indulge in more simple rhythms that aren't intended to cause a stir.

The result is an extremely melodic and laid-back release that aims to bring Rhythm And Blues back into those literal terms. 'A Seat At The Table' is an extremely well constructed album that makes the point that you needed cause a racket in order to turn heads.


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