Here we are! My ten favourite full-length releases of 2016. Although I have tried my best to rank this list, the top twenty has continued to fluctuate in position almost daily, so this top ten should probably be taken with a grain of salt. However, I truly believe that these ten records are all incredible and without question among the year’s best.
10- Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
While Channel Orange was a series of short narratives about the lives of individuals, much like flicking through television stations, Blonde feels closer to being a feature film due to it’s intimate, personal nature. On Blonde, Ocean revisits past experiences to create an overwhelmingly nostalgic, emotional and gorgeous record of both minimal and avant-garde R&B and pop. Blonde isn’t as single-focussed as 2012’s Channel Orange, with many of the tracks here acting as sonic interludes that only really work in the context of the record, but feel integral to the album’s overall flow and narrative. This is a record of deep emotion, immaculate production and breathtaking vocal performances that somehow, despite all of the hype that led to it’s release, does not disappoint.
Highlights: Nights, Ivy, Skyline To
09- Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador)
Teens Of Denial, the first studio-recorded Will Toledo project is an almighty triumph full of some of the most tense, energetic and engaging indie rock songs I have heard in years. Toledo uses this record to tell self-deprecating tales of angst with angular, often-sprawling instrumentation used to deliver some of the year’s best rock music. This is an intelligent record that doesn’t try and dumb itself down for its audience, but encourages the listener to reflect upon and engage with the content, making it all the more rewarding.
Highlights: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales, Vincent, Fill In The Blank
08- Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
An established veteran of hip hop, Aesop is as wordy as you could hope, but also at his most accessible due to catchier hooks and some of the best produced and infectious beats he has ever had behind him. The Impossible Kid is somewhat autobiographical, with tracks like Shrunk outlining meetings with a shrink, while Blood Sandwich and Rings tell tales that paint a picture of who Aesop is today. You’re not going to find many rap records with such flexible and rapid rap performances, and with this release, Aesop’s newly found accessibility should hopefully earn him with a new legion of followers.
Highlights: Blood Sandwich, Rings, Shrunk
07- The Avalanches – Wildflower (Modular)
Sixteen years after their classic debut, Since I Left You, Wildflower is an immersive listen full of rich, textured samples that have been layered to create a world of gorgeous neo-psychedelia, hip hop and electronic music. It is hard to wipe the smile off my face while listening to this record, from the hilarity of Biz Markie on ‘The Noisy Eater’ to the gorgeous, joyful production of ‘Subways’, ‘Live A Lifetime Love’ and ‘If I Was A Folkstar’. I have picked up on different intricacies, samples and background noises on each and every listen of Wildflower, making it 2016’s ultimate musical treasure hunt. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until 2032 for the next one…
Highlights: Subways, Because I’m Me, If I Was A Folkstar
06- Koi Child – Koi Child (Pilerats)
The combination of Fremantle bands Kashikoi and Child’s Play, Koi Child delivers a vibrant style of jazz-infused hip hop, with this debut album blowing me out of the water. Kevin Parker’s production provides the record with a hazy, psychedelic atmosphere that is often aided by Shannon Cruz’s vocals being placed deeper in the mix, allowing the band to move with ease between the jazzy, psychedelic moments of ‘Japes’ and ‘Frangipani’ to the more traditional hip hop sounds of ‘Black Panda’. Rapid-fire vocal performances, smooth instrumentals D’Angelo wouldn’t be out of place on and a hazy psychedelic atmosphere makes this record one of the year’s finest and most diverse albums.
Highlights: Black Panda, 1-5-9, Japes
05- D. D. Dumbo – Utopia Defeated (4AD)
Take the blues rhythms of Sub-Saharan Africa, the vocal performances of Jeff Buckley and Sting and the sounds of the Australian indie pop scene and you get somewhere to describing the funky odyssey that is Utopia Defeated. This is a stellar debut album that demands repeated listens as you uncover and immerse yourself in the world created by Dumbo, aka Oliver Hugh Perry. Some of the lyrics here can be rather cryptic, but are incredibly emotive when delivered in such an expressive way, and when matched with the peppy and expertly produced sounds of these instrumentals, makes for one of the year’s most melodic, vibrant and riveting listens.
Highlights: Satan, King Franco Picasso, Brother
04- Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
You have not heard a rap record like this before. Brown’s Hybrid Theory, XXX and Old have all highlighted his off-the-wall personality and cemented his position as one of hip hop’s most creative artists, however, Atrocity Exhibition sees Brown take his extremity and creativity to a whole other level. Brown is at his darkest, most experimental and creative here, with these tracks full of daring flows and progressive instrumentals that no other rapper would dare go near. If 2012’s Old was like the party, Atrocity Exhibition is certainly the spiralling bad trip and hangover, with Brown using this record to outline his struggles with substance use and mental health. Tracks like ‘White Lines’ and ‘Golddust’ evoke a feeling of being under the influence, and it is such wild moments of desperation and creativity that makes Atrocity Exhibition the unique musical experience it is.
Highlights: Really Doe (Feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar & Earl Sweatshirt), Ain’t It Funny, When It Rain
03- David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
Much has been made of the late, great David Bowie’s death and legacy in 2016, however, the quality of music on this final Bowie album should never be understated. Blackstar is Bowie at his most artistic, heartbreaking, achingly beautiful and bold, with or without the context of the record. This is a truly spectacular finale to one of music’s greatest ever discography’s, with the jazzy instrumentation of tracks like ‘Girl Loves Me’ and the dark, brooding art rock of ‘Lazarus’ making for one of the most dynamic, artistic and beuatiful records I have ever heard. The context of the record does make Blackstar an incredibly emotionally demanding listen, however, it is without question a worthy listen regardless of this heartbreaking context. Rest In Peace, David- thank you for the decades of brilliant music and this final, haunting statement.
Highlights: Lazarus, Blackstar, I Can’t Give Everything Away
02- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
While earlier Radiohead albums were acclaimed for their ingenuity and creativity, A Moon Shaped Pool sees the band craft a sincerely beautiful and stunning collection of art rock and ambient pop exploring themes of love, forgiveness and regret. Jonny Greenwood’s lush orchestral arrangements form the backbone of many of the tracks here, with this layered beautifully alongside more traditional acoustic instrumentation and synthetic drum machines beautifully matching Thom Yorke’s equally passionate and delicate vocal performances. ‘Full Stop’ and ‘Burn the Witch’ possess a sense of urgency and immediacy that is perfectly captured through pulsating drums and Yorke’s urgent vocal delivery, while ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘True Love Waits’ showcase the albums variety. A Moon Shaped Pool may be dreary or melancholic on first listen, but it is a delicate record full of beauty that deserves to be regarded in the same manner as many of the band’s earlier, more acclaimed work, as well as one of 2016’s very best.
Highlights: Burn The Witch, True Love Waits, Daydreaming
01- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless)
The Melbournian psych-rock juggernaut of King Gizzard cannot be stopped with Nonagon Infinity, their eighth album in four years, unquestionably being their most addictive and rollicking yet. Nonagon Infinity is an infinite loop, meaning the record starts and finishes with the exact same sequence so it can essentially be played for ever and ever and ever, and when the music is this good, you couldn’t be blamed for wanting it to. This record may not be as avant-garde as a Blackstar, but no record was more enjoyable for me in 2016, making Nonagon infinity my favourite album of the year. The guitars are loud, the vocal performances are frenetic and the energy never wavers. This is the type of psychedelic garage rock that I love, and I cannot wait for what this phenomenal band do next. Nonagon Infinity will open the door to a world of off-the-wall psychedelic madness, and I sincerely hope it opens the door to this band’s already extensive discography for those new to the band.
Highlights: Gamma Knife, People-Vultures, Robot Stop
Thank you for taking the time to read about my favourite albums of 2016, please check out all of these records if you can, because they are all worthy of your time.
Check out some tracks off of my favourite ten records of the year below, and let me know what your favourite album of 2016 was!