The Best Albums of 2016

2016 has been a bit of a whirlwind year, hasn’t it? Whilst everything else has been a bit rubbish, there hasn’t been an abundance of great music. Here’s my top twenty albums of the past twelve months.

It’s taken me ah-ages to come up with this list, and I’m not going to lie – the order has continuously changed throughout. I’ve tried to be consistent and base the list around albums which I’ve returned to time and time again and those which have left a big impression on me. There’s plenty of albums I’ve not included, and some of them I feel really bad that I weren’t able to include but that’s life, isn’t it. Anyway, without further ado, let’s begin.

20. M.I.A – AIM

M.I.A’s fifth album is supposedly her last, which is a real shame not only because it’s a return to form. Her past couple of albums have been very pick and mix at best, but ‘AIM’ is the most consistent she’s been since 2007’s ‘Kala’. As expected, it’s politically driven, provocative and tackles issues other artists wouldn’t ever consider. Highlights include Borders, Ali R U Ok? and Bird Song. (Spotify)

19. LÅPSLEY – LONG WAY HOME

It’s clear to see that Låpsley has a great career ahead of her, as her debut album is brimming full of talent and potential (She’s also proven herself to be a great performer too). Mixing R&B and ambient tones with powerful vocals makes for an impressive introduction. Highlights include Love Is Blind, Operator and Hurt Me. (Spotify)

18. JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW – WE MOVE

The third album from McMorrow marks a bit of change of direction. Moving away from the folk roots in his previous album, ‘We Move’ heads towards minimalist R&B with help from the likes of Two Inch Punch and Drake collaborator Nineteen85. The album takes on issues such as mental health to create a heartfelt and affecting album. Highlights include Rising Water, I Lie Away Every Night and Evil. (Spotify)

17. SHURA – NOTHING’S REAL

Shura had been teasing her debut album since 2014 and in July, the finished product was finally released. Blending synthesised beats with engaging lyrics, ‘Nothing’s Real’ is a great introduction. The sound manages to feel retro 80s at times yet remains completely fresh throughout. Highlights include Indecision, What’s It Gonna Be and Touch. (Spotify)

16. TEGAN AND SARA – LOVE YOU TO DEATH

Serving as an appropriate counterpart to their previous album ‘Heartthrob’, Tegan and Sara continued their presence into 80’s synth-pop with ‘Love You To Death’. Catchy hooks, resonating lyrics and slick production from Greg Kurstin make for an entirely enjoyable 30 or so minutes into pop brilliance. Highlights include Dying to Know, Faint of Heart and U-Turn. (Spotify)

15. PETITE MELLER – LIL EMPIRE

‘Lil Empire’ is a self-assured and quirky debut album which makes a long-lasting impression. By her own admission, the album is described as “nouveau jazzy pop” but even that doesn’t quite describe the sounds you’ll hear on here which include a collaboration with Pnau, saxophones and flutes. It’s varied, unusual and so, so good. Highlights include The Flute, Baby Love and America. (Spotify)

14. RÓISÍN MURPHY – TAKE HER UP TO MONTO

Anyone who knows me well enough will know I adore Róisín Murphy. I couldn’t get into her last album, ‘Hairless Toys’, as much as I wanted to (bar the amazing ‘Evil Eyes’), and I initially thought the same would happen with this release. However, it’s turned out to be a surprise stand out for me. It’s experimental, as Murphy always is, but it works and showcases just the amount of depth her songwriting and sound has. Highlights include Thoughts Wasted, Whatever and Ten Miles High. (Spotify)

13. NIKI & THE DOVE – EVERYBODY’S HEART IS BROKEN NOW

One that definitely went under the radar, this album is actually pretty damn great. The Swedish duo’s second album is a smorgasbord of pop, reggae, disco, indie and dance but it all manages to come together with Stevie Nicks-esque vocals from Malin Dahlström. As the title implies, heartache and love runs as a common theme throughout but it still somehow manages to make you want to dance. Highlights include So Much It Hurts, Ode to Dance Floor and Lost UB. (Spotify)

12. CLARE MAGUIRE – STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

Clare Maguire’s second album is a retrospective and atmospheric effort that has remained on heavy rotation for me since its release back in May. The album wouldn’t feel out of place if played in a smoky back-alley jazz cafe somewhere, and that’s exactly its charm. It’s organic, passionate and memorable. Highlights include Elizabeth Taylor, Whenever You Want It and Spaceman. (Spotify)

11. BLOOD ORANGE – FREETOWN SOUND

I had never heard a Blood Orange before this and, in all honesty, it was the collaborations and samples which caught my interest (the album features samples from ‘Paris is Burning’ alongside collabs with the likes of Nelly Furtado, Debbie Harry and Carly Rae Jepsen). It’s a powerful commentary on society, race and life itself, which makes for a very special and important album. Highlights include Desirée, E.V.P and Augustine. (Spotify)

10. CHANCE THE RAPPER – COLOURING BOOK

It’s only recently that I’ve found myself in love with this album, and should that happened earlier then it’s likely this may have charted higher. Chance is a performer that captivates your attention immediately. His style of rap grabs you right away and makes you listen to what he has to say. It’s poetic, real and a real insight to the mind of a genius. Highlights include No Problems, Same Drugs and Blessings. (Spotify)

9. SOLANGE – A SEAT AT THE TABLE

I’ve always been a keen listener of Solange (who doesn’t love ‘I Decided’?!), so it’s great to see her finally get the recognition she deserves. ‘A Seat At The Table’ is full of thoughts and commentary which you can tell have been building up for a while, at one pointing singing that she “has a lot to be mad about”, and it all comes together in a rich, sophisticated and smooth collection of songs that don’t shy away from their subject. Highlights include Cranes In The Sky, Don’t Touch My Hair and F.U.B.U. (Spotify)

8. ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS

It’s unlikely you will find anything similar to ‘HOPELESSNESS’ this year. It touches a nerve as it tackles war, politics and the environment, and whilst hard to listen to at times it’s entirely captivating. The passion and intent behind the album shines through completely and makes for one of the best albums of the year. Highlights include 4 Degrees, Drone Bomb Me and I Don’t Love You Anymore. (Spotify)

7. JAMES BLAKE – THE COLOUR IN EVERYTHING

James Blake is something completely else. His music may feel melancholic but it’s not depressing. Whether it’s an auto-tuned acoustic serenade or a blippy electronic beat, he always coats his music in layers, emotions and expressions where I find myself always discovering something new to admire. Highlights include Points, Timeless and I Need A Forest Fire. (Spotify)

6. RIHANNA – ANTI

Whilst she’s released a hefty back catalogue of solid singles, Rihanna hasn’t really managed to hit a home run when it came to an album full of quality material. That changed for me with ‘ANTI’, which was her impressive piece of work. Going against the grain of radio-friendly hits, the album is a collection of sophisticated jams. Highlights include Kiss It Better, Needed You and Love On The Brain. (Spotify)

5. FRANK OCEAN – BLOND

After four years of waiting and perhaps giving up hope in the process, Frank Ocean finally released ‘Blond’ (or ‘Blonde’?) and it felt worthy of the wait. It’s a powerful evolution of an artist and shows just how much of a powerful storyteller he is. It’s important, emotional and so, so good. Highlights include Nikes, Nights and Self Control. (Spotify)

4. KAYTRANADA – 99.9%

I only discovered this album because I heard about the collaborations with Little Dragon and AlunaGeorge and wanted to listen to them. What I also got was a genre-bend of songs, all with a high production value. Dance, house, R&B, Soul and rap are all cooked together to make one of the standout albums of 2016. Highlights include Bullet, Drives Me Crazy and Vivid Dreams. (Spotify)

3. BANKS – THE ALTAR

I think ‘The Altar’ has gone quite underappreciated this year, it’s a stellar sophomore album that is still on heavy rotation for me. It’s dark and dangerous R&B pop, with lyrics that are filled with hidden meanings and metaphors to keep you guessing. Highlights include Trainwreck, This Is Not About Us and Gemini Feed. (Spotify)

2. CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS – CHALEUR HUMAINE

To me, Christine and The Queens are revolutionary. This will go down as one of the most impressive debut albums of recent years. The excitement and originality that shines throughout this album are unreal. Despite the album being sung in French, it’s entirely accessible and also very, very enjoyable. Also, you must see her perform – it’s on a whole other level. Highlights include Tilted, iT and Science Fiction. (Spotify)

1. BEYONCE – LEMONADE

Where do I begin with ‘Lemonade’? It’s an album, it’s a visual piece and it’s also a social commentary. The holy grail of releases in 2016, ‘Lemonade’ showed that Beyonce is an artist that the world needs to take seriously and she has good reason – she’s got a lot to say. Just like her sister at number 9, she’s been leading up to this point. Race, infidelity, empowerment, independence, family, society and politics are all tackled upon here. It’s confident, it’s bold and it’s also a treat to both the ears and the eyes – providing us with some of the best songs and videos of her career. Highlights include Formation, Sorry and Hold Up. (iTunes)

So, there we have it – my best albums of 2016. Hopefully you’ll find something new to discover here! Would you agree/disagree with my list? Let me know in the comments, tweet me abuse for not including your favourite or just let normal service resume.

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