Although 2016 was an unprecedentedly awful year for everything else, musically speaking it was actually pretty damn good. We got a lot of truly great releases from a whole host of artists over the past twelve months, and after spending a little bit of time puzzling over the list of new stuff that I listened to, I have – just about – managed to narrow it down to the ten that I enjoyed the most.
10. The Avalanches – Wildflower
In the summer of this year, after some 16 years in the making, The Avalanches finally released a follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You. I’d never really paid much attention to the group before (this album was actually my first experience listening to them) but when I saw that lead single Frankie Sinatra had guest verses from Danny Brown and MF DOOM, it was clear that these guys were for real. At the repeated insistence of a friend I gave the album a shot, and I’m glad I did: Wildflower is 59 and a half minutes of understated brilliance, blending their signature “plunderphonic” sampling with live instrumentation and some great hip hop features to wonderfully spacey effect.
3 picks: Frankie Sinatra, If I Was A Folkstar, Colours
9. Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness
The past year and a half has seen a major shift in my musical sensibilities, but one band for whom I will always feel very strong affection knocked it out of the park once again this year. The two singles that dropped prior to release hinted at a much more uptempo sound, but although the bulk of The Wilderness is more of what we’ve come to expect it’s absolutely no worse off for it. The best post-rock band out there right now more than matched my lofty expectations, their signature blend of sweepingly grandiose rhythms, contemplative quiet spots, and frantic crashes of noise ensuring this album was a winner. I was lucky enough to see some of these songs performed live, and it was easily the most technically impressive show I went to this year.
3 picks: If you’re going to listen to Explosions, it’s better to just play the whole album. So do that.
8. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
For last week’s post I wrote about the ways that Donald Glover’s stylistic approach has evolved over the course of his career, and nowhere is this more evident than studio album number three. The complete 180 took a lot of fans (myself included) by surprise, but he certainly pulls it off: the funk on this record grooves so hard that even George Clinton himself was impressed. Donald has always been one of my favourite artists and it was great to see him try something new here. It wasn’t perfect by any means (no two ways about it, California is a fucking awful track) but sonically speaking it’s definitely his most interesting work to date.
3 picks: Riot, Redbone, Stand Tall
7. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
Top Dawg Entertainment are killing it of late, and one of the best of a great bunch is the first studio album from Isaiah Rashad. Although after listening to both pretty thoroughly, I feel that his previous offering – 2014’s Cilvia Demo – is the better project of the two, The Sun’s Tirade is nonetheless a really strong record. Zay’s signature flow is present and correct, and when paired with some genuinely excellent production the end result is a solid all-round album. The quality is consistently pretty good, with a couple of standout tracks and a solid feature list (including one of my personal favourites of the year from Kendrick Lamar on Wat’s Wrong) helping to offset the fact that it runs a little long at 62 minutes.
3 picks: 4r Da Squaw, Wat’s Wrong, Tity and Dolla
6. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Narrowly missing out on a place in the top half is an album that, in terms of pure track-by-track quality, is probably one of the best of the year. After 18 years of silence, one of the most esteemed names in the game blessed us with one last hurrah. As is pretty unsurprising, they delivered in every respect: We got it from Here… is classic ATCQ through and through, showing that although the guys may have aged their sound is still as fresh as it was back in the early 90s. What’s really special about this album, I feel, is getting to hear one of the biggest names in the old guard do their thing alongside newer faces like Kendrick (who really was everywhere this year) and Anderson .Paak. Phife Dawg was sadly one of many casualties of this absolute bastard of year, and this album is a fitting final testament to the impact that his creativity has had on the genre as a whole. RIP Phife.
3 picks: Whateva Will Be, Movin Backwards, The Donald
I’ve got to concede that end of year lists are kind of trite and a definite piece of low-hanging fruit in terms of blog topics, but what can you do? Part two will be up next week, and after that I should have finally managed to put enough time into Planet Coaster to write something insightful about it. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you enjoyed (or, indeed, didn’t enjoy) any of these albums, and I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful festive period!