ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2016: 50-41

50. Bear’s Den – ‘Red Earth And Pouring Rain’


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After releasing their enigmatic debut 'Islands' back in the 2014, the then three-piece Bear's Den were part of a surge of mood-driven musicians who were looking to create a more progressive side to the pop music frame. Now down to just two members, the band has returned with a concept album of sorts, 'Red Earth & Pouring Rain'.

While it isn't much of a concept, the band have admitted that they wanted to create an album that sounded great to drive to. With that in mind, you do get a real sense of freedom and exploration in the record. Backed with a simple beat, this new material has a far more cohesive direction than their debut and fits the bill as to what a good album should be; succinct, diverse and, most of all, enjoyable.

While their brooding atmosphere is still an acquired taste to some, it is clear that the group have seen what worked and what didn't from their debut and have returned with a far more purposed sound. A rich and beautiful release that sees them heading in the right direction.

49. Band Of Horses – ‘Why Are You OK’


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Having been extremely prolific during their initial years, Band Of Horses return after a prolonged break from releasing music with their fifth studio album 'Why Are You Ok'. While it never seemed like they needed the break, it has clearly done them some good as this new record shows a far more succinct direction and a release that flows with an exceptional pace.

After starting off with the incredibly slow and long 'Dull Times / The Moon', the record quickly gets going and the rest is a mix of their uplifting folk style and a nod to their own Southern US roots. While it could be called a fusion record of sorts, 'Why Are You Ok' is more of a statement from a band looking to expand their field of inspiration and begin working on an almost reinvention of their given path.

A fantastic return from a band that never really felt like it was putting a foot wrong. The time it took for this album to out clearly shows the detail and attention that went into it, and the result is something extremely positive for the group's future.

48. The 1975 – ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’


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If you never really cared for The 1975's self-titled debut album because you found it a little too young for you, you would have been right. The band set themselves on the teenage pop market and did incredibly well out of it. But in an almost 180 turn around, the band are back with something a little familiar to us older folk. Their absurdly titled 'I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It' takes on the 80s synth pop sound in such an bombastic way, you'd hardly see them as the same outfit.

Right from when they returned with their lead single 'Love Me' did we know this album was going to be something special. The Prince-like feel of it left us wanting to hear more straight away, and luckily the album holds up a treasure trove of 80s nostalgia to get stuck in to. While the new mask does occasionally slip from time to time as they find themselves back in the old swing of things, much of this release seems to be about a rebirth for the group who might be looking to take themselves a little more seriously in the future.

But what this album has most of all is spirit. There is nothing lazy or sub-par in its intentions as frontman Matthew Healy looks set on becoming the full rockstar he wants to be, and sets a mighty precedent for the band in the future. It looks like we may all become 1975 fans very soon.

47. PJ Harvey – ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’


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Following on from her extremely well-received and Mercury Prize winning album 'Let England Shake', PJ Harvey has once again looked to deliver an album that is simply more than a collection of tracks. Recorded as part of an art installation at Somerset House last year, 'The Hope Six Demolition Project' was inspired by her time spent with Seamus Murphy, a war photographer whom she travelled with to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC between 2011 and 2014. As a result, this album's clear provocation is to shine a light on people and places blighted by conflict.

PJ Harvey has always had one foot in the political spectrum but this new release sees her fall completely into the notion, as she becomes a voice to the individuals in those communities. While her lyrical content is clearly what she wants us to focus on in this new release, the quality of production and songwriting is still incredibly engaging. With its distorted riffs and driven pace, Harvey has managed to make an album that is both a pleasure to listen to and challenging to take in.

Fans of PJ Harvey will be glad that she has returned on top form, although it would be easy to guess that some may find her concept release a little too preachy in places. Nevertheless, 'The Hope Six Demolition Project' is the perfect return for such a divisive artist.

46. Mogwai – ‘Atomic’


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Recorded as the soundtrack to the BBC documentary 'Atomic - Living In Dread And Promise', Mogwai have taken their unique musical style to forge a union between themselves and the subject matter. The programme itself tries to create a balance between the pros and cons of living in a nuclear world, where the life and death of everything on this planet hinges on the development of nuclear power. It is this conflict that Mogwai have managed to address brilliantly.

With its pretence, you can already imagine what kind of album this would be. Soundtracks have a habit of losing themselves in translation as they usually are just one half of an audio-visual experience. But 'Atomic' has this ability for you to conjure up your own visuals when listening to it. Its playful yet atmospheric condition gives it an extremely broad sense of itself and makes for an incredibly engaging listen.

While fans of the band will no doubt enjoy just as much, it does feel like a step to the side with regards to their traditional sound. They've seen this as an opportunity to try out new ideas and they land constantly throughout.

45. Jamie T – ‘Trick’


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When Jamie T returned in 2014 after a five-year break to release his third studio album 'Carry On The Grudge', the record was met with a mixed response. Jamie's change in direction and lack of expected swagger felt like he wasn't the same person we had once known. Opting for a more simple sound, the album never really made the impact it should have. But now just two years on, the man is back once again with 'Trick', an album that we can all get behind.

While we can probably accept that the lager-drinking lout he portrayed on his first two records is gone for good, the passion and vigour that was missing from 'Carry On The Grudge' is back with full force on 'Trick'. Opening up with the anthemic 'Tinfoil Boy', the album quickly unveils the cheeky sod we know and love, but with a far more mature twist to it. He once again indulges us in his irreverent side and delivers a truly great return to form this time around.

Fans of the old Jamie T will certainly enjoy this new album more than the last. Back are the big productions, colourful language and white-boy rapping, but with an overarching sense that he is back in his comfort zone yet still managing to push his sound in a new direction.

44. Viola Beach – ‘Viola Beach’


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The death of rising indie group Viola Beach was one of the most tragic stories of last year. While on tour in Sweden, the entire band along with their manager were killed when the car they were in drove off a bridge. Since then, the friends and families of the members have been supporting a release of their work and now we finally get to hear all that they achieved in one self-titled nine-track album.

Prior to this release, the band had only shared three finished singles, and from those alone, you could tell that this lot had mountains of potential. But once you hear this new release, it suddenly becomes clear that Viola Beach could have become the next big name in British music. Bringing back that playful side to the indie genre, they had this carefree approach to their sound, making them not only a warm listen but something you could have gone nuts to at their gigs.

While this will be the only material we get to hear from Viola Beach, it is certainly one incredible legacy. Consistent and engaging throughout, this collection of recordings paints the picture of a truly talented group taken from us far too soon.

43. Daughter – ‘Not To Disappear’


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Having spent the last few years keeping busy since the release of their debut album 'If You Leave' back in 2013, London-based three-piece Daughter return with their much-anticipated sophomore full-length 'Not To Disappear'. In the last 12 months, we have seen them collaborate with Savages on a split release, as well as contribute new material for their label's '4AD Sessions'. Thus easing them in to the process of album writing once again, and they certainly feel much more relaxed this time around.

While 'If You Leave' was certainly about making a statement of introduction, 'Not To Disappear' seems to show a band getting more comfortable in the sound it wants to be identified with. Each track flows gracefully from one to the next, delivering a full body of work that is both captivating and inviting. The brooding atmosphere, created in the production, combined with Elena Tonra's effortless vocals has created a brilliant release that looks to build brilliantly on the reputation they already have.

Definitely a record that needs to be listened twice to really get a grip of it. It becomes so easy to lose yourself in it that you may find your mind slipping away at points, but given its intention, that just adds to the wonderful experience.

42. Låpsley – ‘Long Way Home’


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Having spent much of the last two years releasing a flurry of singles and EPs, singer-songwriter Holly Lapsley Fletcher aka Låpsley kicks off her 2016 with the release of her debut album 'Long Way Home'. And while this new record does contain a few tracks from her previous EPs, it is largely a collection of new work that aims to reflect the growth and maturity we have seen from this artist in the last few months.

Starting off with the anthemic 'Heartless', the album initially looks to break the preconceptions of who Låpsley is as an artist. Having built a name on minimal guitar-and-vocal based songwriting, the production of this new work gives her a much bigger sound than we have seen before and looks to up the ante of her material to date. While it still has its sombre moments, the bulk of this record aims to display the mix between Låpsley's emotional performance and an interesting instrumental backdrop, giving her an extremely rare style.

'Long Way Home' is certainly the album we were all hoping for. While it has nearly all but left behind the sounds of her origins, it has blossomed this new and interesting direction, allowing this full-length to become the initial statement for her career ahead. There is very little chance of seeing the last of her after this as it looks like just the beginning for this upcoming name.

41. Spring King – ‘Tell Me If You Like To’


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Since the last few months of 2015, Spring King have been one of the most talked about new bands on the British music scene. Their infectious riffs and catchy choruses have brought them swathes of attention and praise, so now the time has come to make their first official statement as a group by releasing their highly-anticipated debut album 'Tell Me If You Like To', and as you can imagine, it is pretty good.

Anyone who has heard their songs so far will be pleased to know that all their singles to date have made it onto the release, and its only when you hear them back to back do you get how talented and exciting they actually are. Their early punk influences mix brilliant with a post-indie dynamic that makes them familiar yet unique all at the same time, and their electric pace means that nothing on this record feels like filler. It all has a place and remains diverse throughout.

It is always a relief to know that new bands can still blow us away in this musical climate after hearing so many disappointing debuts in the last few years. But Spring King have come good and we are already anticipating where this band will be heading in the years to come.


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