While 2016 may be written off as a shocker for many personal and public reasons, it cannot be denied that the world’s art community is more capable of turning out greatness than ever. With so many standout records, it was a fiendish task to narrow down this final ten. Honourable mentions must be made to Danny Brown and Frank Ocean for their superb modern hip hop releases ’Atrocity Exhibition’ and ‘Blonde’ respectively, Iggy Pop for reinventing himself one last time on ‘Post Pop Depression’, Chairlift for their earworm-laden ‘Moth’, Kanye West for continuing to tinker with his White album-eqsue ‘The Life Of Pablo’ for weeks after its release, and Jenny Hval for her frighteningly atmospheric conceptual pop album ‘Blood Bitch’.
'CALCULATIONS' - AUSMUTEANTS
10. ‘BAND OF THE FUTURE’ - AUSMUTEANTS
Fourteen surges of blistering synth punk clocking in at under twenty-five minutes sends a pretty clear message. Ausmuteants have never been the type of band who fuck around and they stay on mission with this one, taking themselves just seriously enough to make something that sticks without taking their tongues too far from their cheeks. Dodging Devo comparisons abound, the local quartet lash out against everyone and everything within spitting distance on their fourth LP, making for an insanely listenable assault on mediocre pretension that successfully marries pace with razor sharp wit.
'PEOPLE-VULTURES' - KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
9. ‘NONAGON INFINITY’ - KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
‘Nonagon Infinity’ opens the door onto itself for a rollicking set of motorik garage rock jams that flow in a seamless circle when placed on repeat. Having released eight full length records since bursting onto the scene a few years ago, The Gizz are not slowing down with this one, keeping themselves fresh by imposing creative challenges on each release. Whether keeping themselves to acoustic instruments, focusing on a single riff or the looper theme of ‘Nonagon’, the band are infectiously energetic. These songs are deliciously heavy guitar and drum-driven spankers peppered with flashes of theatrical organ and harmonica to punctuate one composition from the next. They’ve promised five LPs in 2017, which is so bonkers that it just might be true. The first is called ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ and its expected to drop in Feb.
'LAVENDER' - BADBADNOTGOOD (FEAT. KAYTRANADA)
8. ‘IV’ - BADBADNOTGOOD
Canadian contemporary jazz outfit BABADNOTGOOD’s latest is loaded with playful saxes and a genre-hopping sensibility that sees it slide through hip hop, electronica and classic R&B with delightful ease. The band are really having fun here, displaying an energy infectiously translated into their recent run of live shows, producing music that is sexy, danceable and entirely within their own terms. ‘IV’ is pleasurably hard to predict thanks to some spirited guest spots, slick production and the cool-as-ice creativity of the project’s nexus.
'BAD HABITS' - THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS
7. ‘EVERYTHING YOU’VE COME TO EXPECT’ - THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS
Eight years on from the duo’s debut, Miles Kane and Alex Turner have evolved from cocky young upstarts into slick, swaggering rockstars. There’s a smug confidence underpinning this new record and it carries itself with great smoothness as it slips from one lusty proclamation to the next between bursts of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann-style strings. What Turner and Kane may lack in bite here they make up for with a determined attitude of seduction. We get a few rockers with ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Aviation’ alongside plenty of ballads both sleazy and sentimental. Turner shines on slower moments like ‘The Dream Synopsis’, ‘Sweet Dreams, TN’ and ‘Miracle Aligner’ while Kane seems to relish the role of rabble rouser.
'DO THE JERK' - LOST ANIMAL
6. ‘YOU YANG’ - LOST ANIMAL
Cult Melbourne act Lost Animal return with a long-awaited followup to 2012’s cherished ‘Ex Tropical’ and the time has clearly been well spent. ‘You Yang’ is the ideal kind of sophomore record that is able to carry through the right parts of its predecessor without feeling like a simple retread. Jarrod Quarrell’s bitingly potent drawl oozes all over the eclectic mix of dub and post-punk vibes while Shags Chamberlain goes to town on the lead melodic bass lines. Quarrell wafts through degrees of snarling observation and joyous triumph across the tightly tracked nine songs that continue to reward with each repeated listen. A local future classic and one to be proud of.
'SISTER' - ANGEL OLSEN
5. ‘MY WOMAN’ - ANGEL OLSEN
‘MY WOMAN’ is a stunning example of the two-sided record. On side A, Angel gifts us with her best set of pop songs to date with punchy rockers like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Never Be Mine’, before transitioning with the gorgeous ‘Heart Shaped Face’ into a spacious side B of lengthier cuts on which she really spreads her wings. ‘Sister’ is one of the finest songs of this or any year; instantly arresting and consistently compelling for just under eight minutes. It’s a showstopper and the centrepiece of a record from the best and brightest in American songwriting. And flip heck can this band rock too.
'TAMAN SHUD' - THE DRONES
4. ‘FEELIN KINDA FREE’ - THE DRONES
“The best songs are like bad dreams,” sneers Gareth Liddiard to begin one of the most bracing albums of the year. ‘Feelin Kinda Free’ is bold, caustic and consistently combative. Seven albums strong and The Drones close in for the kill quickly on this one. Screeching guitars that often don’t sound like guitars hiss and spit all over these songs, punctuating Liddiard’s tirade of criticism with wild bursts of noise. Vocally he takes aim everywhere but focuses the majority of his firepower on the home front, most succinctly evidenced in the shuffling standout ‘Taman Shud’. The tight eight track set takes us on a nightmarish tour of politics, the pangs of despised love and boredom, while managing to snare our minds and bodies with deceptively moveable results. The Drones are an underground Australian institution and they’re at their finest on this one.
'DAYDREAMING' - RADIOHEAD
3. ‘A MOON SHAPED POOL’ - RADIOHEAD
Radiohead are back after an almost unbearable absence with a beautifully haunting and personal work of great weight and tenderness. That could even be said of just the final track alone. ‘True Love Waits’ has threatened to appear on a studio record since the mid 90s, and having now finally arrived in definitive form it is absolute soul scorcher. ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is deafening in just how quiet it can be while about its work. Radiohead have always been a restlessly dynamic act but they have never been as gentle and approachable as they are here. Even when the LP turns itself up on the twitchy ‘Ful Stop’ and skittering ‘Identikit’ the band sound intimate and present. This is a creaking, human release that confirms the band’s continued trajectory towards creative territory that is ripe for mining, even when they are only travelling inwards.
'JESUS ALONE' - NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
2. ‘SKELETON TREE’ - NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
This was always going to be a harrowing listen. Although the bulk of the material was apparently written before the tragic death of his son, the recording of ‘Skeleton Tree’ is haunted by the grim spectre of death in such a forbidding way that St Nick’s prior output sounds positively cheerful in comparison. That said, grief is not overplayed here. Nick approaches his themes with both tired wisdom and intense gravitas while his band, chiefly directed by sonic wizard Warren Ellis, devise stunningly bleak soundscapes that shimmer and burn. The first line of stunning album opener ‘Jesus Alone’ hits you in the guts and simply refuses to let up for the next forty minutes. By the time ‘Distant Sky’ comes around, we are struck again by another voice from soprano Else Torp who chimes in to rescue us from Nick’s staggering realisation that the Gods and dreams we were told “would outlive us” can instead die before our eyes. Grim stuff. Essential.
'LAZARUS' - DAVID BOWIE
1. ‘BLACKSTAR’ - DAVID BOWIE
It’s remarkable that 2016 was only eight days old when it gave us the year’s finest album, and indeed everything about this record is remarkable. Released on his birthday, ‘Blackstar' was immediately hailed as Bowie’s finest effort since 1983. Two days later, after his death, it reached mythic status. ‘Blackstar’ sees Bowie hunkering down for the last time in New York with a local jazz group serving house band duties and performing the twisting jazz-fusion come rock-electronica that knits the album together. The ten-minute title track opener is brilliant and breathtaking, moving through distinct phases with jerking drums, blaring saxophones and ghostly refrains. Previous standalone releases ’Tis A Pity…’ and ‘Sue’ find new homes and arrangements around album centre piece ‘Lazarus’, which laments the death of its creator with haunting instrumental wails and sinuous bass lines. Bowie addresses his waning mortality in trademark grace and style with a most fitting bookend to one the greatest catalogues in music.
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