Here, Just For Culture writers Fraser Bonar, Jonathan Falconer and Stuart Kenny pick their favourite five records each from the past 12 months and tell you briefly why they made their list.
5. Daughter – Not To Disappear
This record came out right at the start of 2016 but it took me about half a year to listen to it. I thought this album explored really interesting themes and dealt with quite serious topics at times really well. Musically it’s fantastic and though it’s a bleak record, it’s incredibly listenable time and time again.
4. Gold Panda – Good Luck and Do Your Best
This was one of the records I was looking forward to most in 2016 and it didn’t disappoint. It’s immersive, soft but attention-grabbing and catchy as hell. It reminds me of Caribou’s at times (a high compliment indeed!) in terms of warmth and style. There wasn’t a lot that stood out for me album-wise in this genre this year but Gold Panda’s latest is fantastic.
3. Kanye West – Life of Pablo
Say what you want about Kanye but every album he releases is innovative, diverse and hugely progressive. Life of Pablo is no different. It goes through so many different styles and tones from ‘Ultralight Beam’ to ‘Famous’ to ‘FML’ to ‘Wolves’. The samples are perfect and the production magnificent - shoutout there to Hudson Mohawke.
2. Chance the Rapper – Colouring Book
Chance’s verse on ‘Ultralight Beam’ is arguably the best verse on Life of Pablo, and Colouring Book is one of the best mixtapes in memory. The gospel influence means a lot of stripped back, raw instrumental work, but there’s also some outstanding, adventurous electronic production. Chance’s bars are a smart snapchat of life. ‘Same Drugs’ isn’t even a rap song and it’s one of the best on the record.
1. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
I think there are few better lyricists than Kate Tempest. She’s one of the best poets in the world and one of the best storytellers in music. I’ve listened to this album start to finish more than any other this year – the social commentary is thought-provoking, unique and unpretentious, the soundtrack as strong as ‘Everybody Down’ and the experimental aspects pay off to the point of addiction.
Honourable mentions: Warpaint, A Tribe Called Quest, Glass Animals, Childish Gambino, M83, James Blake
5. White Lies – Friends
Musically, this may not be the best album of the year. It may not even be the best album from White Lies. But it is the album which has most made me want to sing, dance, and smile. What more can you ask for, really?
4. Sia – This is Acting
I’m a huge fan of booming lead female vocals and these don’t come much better than wig-wearing Aussie, Sia. This album is more rhythm based than her older work, but she continues to show that she rules when it comes to modern soul-pop.
3. Beyoncé – Lemonade
Dark, captivating, and bizarre in places. This is the first time I have ever really loved a Beyonce album. Lemonade is a concept album done right: a concept that holds together, some intoxicating rhythms, and some of the best (if a little controversial) videos shot in years.
2. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
From the haunting ‘Burn the Witch’ (check out its truly creepy video), through the aptly named ‘Daydreaming’, to the despair of ‘True Love Waits’, this is one hell of a beautiful album. Each track will kick you in the feels in true Radiohead style. Exquisitely bleak.
1. David Bowie – Black Star
This deserves to be at the top of any list. Not a collection of the best songs of the year, but a goodbye from a man who many of us loved deeply. Find me an album with more thought and care behind it, and I will give you my ears.
5. Aphex Twin - Cheetah E.P.
Elusive whiz-kid Richard D. James returns with an E.P. of bouncy, luxurious electronica. Centred around a few pieces previously dumped on then deleted from his Soundcloud, Cheetah strips away some of the jittering, spasmodic rhythms of previous work, instead focussing on bright groove and rich timbre.
4. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit
The Californian industrial hip-hop trio release possibly their most/least accessible album to date. This contrast between solid songcraft and hook-smithery, and some of their most abrasive, glitching, ephemeral, gritty production yet makes manifest an experience somewhat similar to having a beach-party in the shadow of an encroaching nuclear mushroom-cloud.
3. Shirley Collins - Lodestar
The 81-year-old folk-legend has regained her voice after suffering from ‘dysphonia’ since the 70s. Her first album in 38 years is a simple, ominous collection of songs of violence, mischief, and the supernatural. Production from former collaborators of Coil imbue the tracks with an atmosphere that never drowns out the simplicity and honesty of Collins’ vocals.
2. Anohni - Hopelessness
The songwriter teams up with producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke to deliver a stunning album of unashamedly political songs set to devastating art-damaged pop. From drone-bomb to torture, the contrast between the lyrics and the music creates a jarring, yet enjoyable experience.
1. David Bowie - Blackstar
The late musician’s final statement was never going to be anything short of astonishing. seven tracks of frantic, twitching, shrieking jazz-tronica exist in a liminal space between genres, reflecting Bowie’s ultimate androgyny; that which exists between life and death.
Honourable mentions: A Tribe Called Quest, Scott Walker, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Leonard Cohen, Brian Eno, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Blood Orange, Childish Gambino, Massive Attack