The 10 Best Albums Of 2016

It’s almost common knowledge by now that music has been exceptional in 2016, even if everything else hasn’t. It’s been inspiring to see so much good music come out of uncertain and frightening times. There’s been a couple of major shifts in the industry too. Streaming continues its rise, artist exclusives continue to drop on platforms like Tidal and Spotify, and we hear the same stories about rock music dying and the music industry not having any money on an almost daily basis. Saying that, when the industry can’t drag itself into the 21st century, there’s a push for alternate ways of distributing and consuming music. Bandcamp and Soundcloud continue to offer alternatives, with some of the best music of the year being born on both. It’s unclear what the music industry will do to come to terms with this new divide, but it’s very clear that the quality of music refuses to drop.

fkntNext Thing – Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing improved in almost every way upon its predecessor, Zentropy. It still clocks in at a punky 28 minutes and contains songs that barely break the minute mark, but that’s all in the charm. Frankie Cosmos albums are like collages, little snapshots of a much broader picture, that when it gets pieced together is a colourful combination of pure ectasy and uncertainty. To hear songs like ‘Embody’, where Greta Kline talks about the ‘grace and lightness’ in her friends, and the happiness of seeing her friends being friends, and hear no skepticism, or sarcasm, is refreshing and for a second, makes me think the world might be an ok place. It’s unashamedly sentimental, and the fact that I have to specify sentimentality as being shameful is pretty dreadful. There’s sad moments on Next Thing, but I find the most rewarding moments are when Kline feels strong and content by surrounding herself with people she loves.

whuHeads Up – Warpaint

Without a doubt Warpaint’s greatest moment yet. They’ve moved away from their more guitar-oriented sound, pared back to their strong bass and drums section and then built on top from there. What you get is a dance-inflected pop-rock album that casts off any sleepiness from their last album for a more immediate version. ‘New Song’ is possibly their best pop song yet and ‘So Good’ and ‘The Stall’ delve into hip-hop in a much better capacity than they attempted on Warpaint. Heads Up sounds like the title; less heads-down swaying, and more heads-up dancing.

aomwMY WOMAN- Angel Olsen

Perfecting a sound, Angel Olsen traced over Burn Your Fire For No Witness in much bolder lines, filling in the folky elements with bluesy ballads and powerful pop like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, one of the best singles this year. There had been crescendos from Angel Olsen before (see ‘Windows’), but when ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’ come along, bearing fangs with classic rock soloing and Olsen declaring ‘I dare you to understand what makes me a woman’ with that voice, it’s goosebump-inducing. A bit like Warpaint, this album was like the one Olsen had been leading up to, to reach a peak in sound. But then again, why limit this album to her peak? She’s got much more to give.

radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

There’s still much more to understand about A Moon Shaped Pool, and there’s constant fan interpretations of what Radiohead have offered this year and that’s Radiohead’s big trick. All they have to do is release an album, and there will be talk over the tiniest details. Is it about Thom Yorke’s breakup from his partner? Is it about the rise in nationalism (somewhat confirmed)? It’s probably about climate change too. Maybe there’s no grand arc. But the key to any mystery-shrouded band is giving the illusion that there might be. A Moon Shaped Pool is an unusual album, Radiohead take their time to look back for once in their career, and accept their influence. By doing that, this isn’t their ‘electronic’ album, or their ‘political’ album, but a collection of everything they’ve toyed with. This was their breath out.

ncstSkeleton Tree – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

If there was an album that perfectly captured 2016, it was Skeleton Tree. Nick Cave working through grief by song is nothing new to the Bad Seeds, but this time it was real. Cave spills his guts when he had no reason to, and there’s plenty of credit to be given for an artist that brings the pain of reality into the public sphere. He touches on the real and the surreal, car crashes and the rings of saturn, electrical storms on the bathroom floor and hyenas singing hymns. This was Nick Cave the poet on fine form. You could almost separate the music from the lyrics, but the subtle twitches and groans of the Bad Seeds are the ideal accompaniment to the album.

Leave-Me-Alone-575x575Leave Me Alone – Hinds

This album made a lot more sense in Summer. When I played it at the beginning of January, it seemed wrong to hear songs about dancing in the streets, going to the beach and a general sunniness that covered these songs from the Madrid band. Refreshingly different, born from equal parts love and sadness. Hinds are needed for indie music, not attached to any British or American ideas of coolness or what’s trendy, instead making music that they’d play at house parties for their friends. Close your eyes listening to this, and you can imagine being on a beach in Spain late at night, possibly a bit drunk.

pse200720112007-2011 – P.S. Eliot

I adore P.S. Eliot, so 50 of their songs being boxed together, complete with demos and barely audible recordings was like early Christmas. The album brings together everything the pre-Waxahatchee/Swearin’ bands, bursting with youthfulness, a DIY spirit and perfect rock songs. Personally, I’m more attached to the first album, Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds, which gets plenty of demo treatment, so hearing early versions of ‘Incoherent Love Songs’ minus the harmonica, or ‘Hail Mary’ is useful for connecting the dots between P.S. Eliot and Katie Crutchfield’s first album as Waxahatchee. I hope P.S. Eliot go down in history as one of those short-lived punk bands that everybody loves, and this is a pretty great place if you want to hear it all.

d5a30e2eHuman Performance – Parquet Courts

Great follow-up from Parquet Courts. They’ve shifted gears at exactly the right time, using their Parkay Quarts mini-LPs Content Nausea and Monastic Living as a template for a more americana-tinged sound. When Sunbathing Animal came out I was worried that the band had slipped into a comfort zone, so Human Performance is reassuring to hear that Parquet Courts can experiment on their main releases as well as their mini projects. I’m a huge fan of the more mid-paced songs like ‘Captive Of The Sun’ and ‘Berlin Got Blurry’.

gahtbahbHow To Be A Human Being – Glass Animals

Glass Animals have a Vampire-Weekend-from-the-UK thing going on. A group of preppy students playing around with non-Western styles and making a pop dent at the same time. Dave Bayley is a hugely underrated lyricist, slotting in some truly weird imagery about cocaine on ‘Cane Shuga’ and drinking pork soda. There’s also a concept running throughout the album, where every character on the artwork is represented in a song. So what you get is a set of character studies about being a human being. High concept, but it doesn’t get lost in the story. ‘Life Itself’ and ‘Youth’ are some of the best singles this year.

todTeens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

This seems like a big success for Will Toledo. It’s fairytale-like: Guy makes a couple of albums on Bandcamp, gets noticed by label, releases a hugely successful album and ends up on plenty of best-of-the-year lists. If that’s not punk then I don’t know what is. It’s been a long time coming for Toledo, and he didn’t simply repeat his lo-fi sound on a larger scale, he brought in a full band and made his mini-epics into actual epics like ‘The Ballad Of Costa Concordia’. I hope he doesn’t get tagged with the ‘depressing indie music’ stamp of death, because there’s a lot of humour in Teens Of Denial, it just comes with a lot of confusion and self-depreciation too.

Everything So Far – 2016’s Best Albums (So Far)

radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

Well, it was bound to happen, really. The best thing Radiohead could have done to meet the huge hype was to not do what was expected, or what was not expected. Think of it as a semi-sequel to Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows, effortlessly combining the acoustic and electronic elements that they’ve polarised so often and making songs that don’t directly say anything, but are subtle both lyrically and instrumentally. Saying less and making less noise might look like a cop-out, but they do so much with that new space. The roles of the Greenwood brothers are amplified, from Colin’s bass input on ‘Identikit’ and ‘Decks Dark’ to Jonny’s work on film soundtracks being translated to ‘Burn The Witch’ and ‘The Numbers’.

Listen To: Daydreaming

SAVAGES_ADORE_LIFE_Cover_grandeAdore Life – Savages

In response to the tight and tense music that their debut album showed off, Savages got louder and covered a topic that not many would associate with moody post-punk – Love. But the way Jehnny Beth sang about it; it was like a horror film with the murderer always around the corner ready to pounce. It was monolithic and feared, and even when it was accepted, it was on her own terms. A unique perspective only matched by the jackhammer bass and drums of Ayşe Hassan and Fay Milton.

Listen To: Adore

a3933351475_10Rot Forever – Sioux Falls

One of the most enjoyable debuts to come out so far this year, Sioux Falls went overboard on their 72-minute first impression. It had more than a whiff of Modest Mouse, but frontman Isaac Eiger specifically mentions making Modest Mouse mixtapes in highlight ‘In Case It Gets Lost’. It’s clumsy, chaotic rock music that spills over usual time limits and restrictions into making an album that matches Eiger’s lyrics. Plus, the drumming is great.

Listen To: In Case It Gets Lost

a0138284876_10Human Ceremony – Sunflower Bean

‘Easier Said’ is Sunflower Bean’s best song, yet it’s unlike any other. On ‘2013’, ‘I Was Home’ and ‘Creation Myth’ they blend hard rock with psychedelic music, but on ‘Easier Said’ it’s a pretty little pop song with Julia Cumming, bassist, leading the vocals instead of the band’s other vocalist, Nick Kivlen. It was probably a coincidence that Human Ceremony and Leave Me Alone by Hinds arrived around the same time, but both of those albums were genuinely surprising for debuts by bands that had been pegged into a certain sound. Apparently Sunflower Bean are good live as well, and they refuse to stop touring, so give them a go.

Listen To: Easier Said

mothers-when-walk-long-distance-new-albumWhen You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired – Mothers

Mothers continue the flow of folk/singer-songwriters around right now, from Angel Olsen, Eskimeaux and Frankie Cosmos. It originated as a solo project from Kristine Leschper, but the full band backing gives ‘It Hurts Until It Doesn’t’ and ‘Hold Your Own Hand’ a life beyond quiet folk. Leschper’s voice is the centrepoint; an emotive and sharp performance that aims for the heart like any good folk music.

Listen To: Too Small For Eyes

todTeens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

Here’s an underdog story waiting to happen. Will Toledo makes loads of Bandcamp albums and gets a record deal with Matador, puts out a compilation of his best tracks so far and then, on his first Matador album of original material, makes one of the best albums of the year (not without some copyright issues along the way). It might sound a bit like the resurrection of peak-Stephen Malkmus, but Toledo’s relentless self-referencing, concepts and dry humour are just what indie-rock needs to sound important.

Listen To: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

d5a30e2eHuman Performance – Parquet Courts

You could be worried about Parquet Courts easing into their cynical comfort zone, but Human Performance took some of the pressure off lead vocalist Andrew Savage and gave more time to the other band members. The extended jams mostly went out the window, and in came the Velvet Underground and country-tinged indie-rock, something that Parquet Courts always hinted at but never fully captured. They’re finally where they should be.

Listen To: Berlin Got Blurry

beyonce-new-album-lemonade-download-free-stream-640x640Lemonade – Beyoncé

No doubt an album that will be on many peoples’ year-end list already, Beyoncé topped her self-titled fourth album by heaping on more of that artistry and auteurism that Rihanna and Zayn Malik have hopped on. Beyoncé didn’t forget to leave out the big songs with ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Sorry’, but it’s the narrative that many came for. It became clear that Lemonade was about a break-up, whether that was a story or reality is yet to be known, but it made for a compelling arc. You could follow the story whilst listening to the best pop music right now. It’s the reason that mainstream and underground and becoming increasingly blurred.

Listen To: All Night

Leave-Me-Alone-575x575Leave Me Alone – Hinds

A record that should have been released in summer instead arrived in chilly January to start the year off strong. We were worried that Hinds were one-trick-ponies but when ‘Solar Gap’, ‘And I Will Send Your Flowers Back’ and ‘Warts’ came along with the hits it proved us wrong. It’s music to put on with the sun shining and not worrying if that verse was a bit awkward or they can sing pitch-perfect. Perhaps it’s the isolation from the self-appointed indie-rock headquarters of the UK or US, but Spain is looking pretty special right now with Mourn and Hinds spearheading some great rock music.

Listen To: Garden

Album Review – Teens of Denial / Car Seat Headrest

todThough Teens of Style was Will Toledo’s Matador debut and point of exposure, for many (ourselves included), Teens of Denial is where he’s really made a push to go beyond his origins as a cult Bandcamp artist. It’s much longer, much better produced, more thoughtfully put together and more cohesive than its predecessor and gathers in trendy indie-rock touchstones (The Cars, Wire, Pavement, Dinosaur. Jr). There’s softly-spoken acoustic ballads, dirty punk, extended jams and everything that you’d want from an indie-rock album in 2016. And ‘2016’ is important too; Will Toledo references Wikipedia, Air Jordans and his bandcamp page. I can see how the lyrics could be irritating, with constant self-referencing and breaking the fourth wall relentlessly, but way too often a line will come out of no-where that stops you entirely in your tracks. ‘Something is ringing / Death is playing his xylophone ribs for me’ or on ‘The Ballad of Costa Concordia’ where he masterfully compares himself to the Costa Concordia cruise ship which sank in 2012. Toledo also injects some much-needed humour back into rock music with lines like ‘Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms / I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit / In a stupid looking jacket’ and self-assessing his last album in half-mumbled spoken word. It’s refreshing, funny and is starkly different from serious rock music that can’t crack a joke.

‘Drugs With Friends’ might sound like a rock’n’roll call-to-arms for drug use from the title, or even a sarcastic satire by Car Seat Headrest (these will become familiar), but it’s a bit of both. It doesn’t explicitly say ‘drugs are good’ or ‘drugs are bad’ but it’s a moment where Toledo appreciates his friends, even though he says ‘Afraid of the cops when I was outside, afraid of my friends when I was inside’. Then his dad shows up. These are essentially teenage songs for a twenty-something looking back in hindsight. He’s not miserable, he’s not blissful when he looks back, but he’s numb to it all. That’s the circulating emotion that Toledo speaks about on Teens of Denial, when he sings ‘this isn’t sex, I don’t think, it’s just extreme empathy’ or ‘Get a job, eat an apple, it’ll eat itself out’. The ‘Denial’ part of the album title is important – it’s about only missing something (i.e. being a teenager), until it’s gone, even though most teenagers will assure you that its pretty crappy. That cycle goes on; when you’re thirty, you wish you were twenty, and so on. Crippling nostalgia and how nobody’s comfortable in their age. We fidget, and we’re unhappy.

‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ could easily make it onto any rock fan’s radio. It’s also something of a sequel to ‘Drugs With Friends’, in that it takes place during the drive (or walk) home after the party. It’s got a slacker-rock roll to it, sort of Pavement-ish, but the anthemic chorus is anything but loose. Toledo sings ‘We are not a proud race / We’re not a race at all’, which could easily be the human race, but maybe he thinks teenagers are so different from the rest of humanity they could be considered their own race. Where do the killer whales come in? It’s almost like a train of thought, from the line ‘It doesn’t have to be like this / killer whales’, but the killer whales are probably the drunk drivers. The ‘drunk driving’ is reckless living at high speeds, but ‘the voice in your head / giving you shit again’ is actually the logical side of Toledo telling himself to slow down and accept what is happening. Behind all this is a perfect pop-rock song.

The song which is the most interesting just looking at timings is ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’, which rolls in at ten minutes. Given Car Seat Headrests’ recent cover of ‘Paranoid Android’, you’d half expect some kind of prog rock epic, and there are significant changes in the track, from slow, brooding rock, to punk to garage rock. The track never feels ten minutes long, with enough change-ups to warrant such a long song. You have to respect a track that manages to incorporate Dido’s ‘White Flag’ into the verse. It’s about putting stuff together and if it doesn’t work, trying to combine something else. That’s punk, essentially. Teens of Denial was an exciting album to listen to, showing an artist rising through the ranks from Bandcamp to Matador, and this doesn’t even seem like a peak. The humour is what elevated it though; putting Toledo on the map as a great songwriter who can keep a listener gripped and waiting for his next line.

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Funnel Recommends: Destroyed By Hippie Powers / Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales / The Ballad of the Costa Concordia