Oh My My was looking like a dead cert for this list well before it was finally released in October. Lead single Wherever I Go goes OFF like nothing the group had released before and follow up promo singles Kids and Future Looks Good only improved upon that massive potential. Oh My My is far from the year’s best ‘listen’, but track for track I found it difficult to find anything I didn’t like here. That’s 16 tracks of Coldplay meets Take That meets David Guetta meets ‘Every song ever written by Ryan Tedder’. Tracks like Heaven, Choke and Better are the sort of #1 hit records that the OneRepublic frontman has been churning out for years and collecting so many great songs together here is enough to satisfy me. Oh My My sounds like a greatest hits record.
Is there an album title that sums up 2016 more than the debut solo release from Anohni? This is an album that opens with a song titled Drone Bomb Me and only gets even more and more cheery from there. For such an impassioned protest album it’s instantly accessible, full of soulful emotion and stabbing electronica. The obvious comparison is Bjork, but thanks to Anohni’s previously described ‘chamber pop’ voice there’s a uniqueness to every sound. The title track’s despondent lyrics sit alongside storming synths and crashing drum machine, a chant of ‘How did I become a Virus?’ has never sounded so beautiful. The album is full of glorious moments like this, clashing with droning grind of tracks like Obama, which sits in the centre of Hopelessness as the most damning protest moment of the album. The attention to detail here is staggering, the musicianship of Anohni in her vocal performance and the surrounding music is incredible. It may be the year’s most daunting album, but Hopelessness is a must listen.
Uplifting and imaginative, The Dreaming Room is constantly surprising. It would be so easy for an artist like Laura Mvula to stick to middle of the road singer songwriter fare, but her second album is a daring and original glimpse into her life. An album that features a recording of a phone conversation with her Nan where she updates her on how the album is getting on also features the Nile Rodgers featuring disco funk of Overcome. Even the odd detour into more straightforward sounds, such as the triumphant closer Phenomenal Woman is stacked with depth of sound and influences from music across the world. People looks to UK grime, while Kiss My Feet is steeped in electronic synth next to live strings. It’s not a storyteller’s album, it’s the emotion seen in these abstract and often metaphorical songs that stays with you, Mvula’s entrancing performance hooking me from my first listen.
If Tegan Quinn, Sara Quinn and Greg Kurstin could keep releasing albums as good as this I would be very happy. After 2013’s electrifying Heartthrob I never expected that lightning would strike twice for the Canadian twins, but Love You To Death comes close. Boyfriend is the only song about wishing your partner would come out of the closet that you’ll hear anywhere near Top 40 radio, while Hang On To The Night closes the album on a glorious high. The confidence on display across these 10 tracks is catching, this isn’t just a dabble into pop music from the once Indie darlings, the earworm hook of Dying To Know proves that in spades. I’m already regretting not bending the rules of my singles list to include U-Turn which is undoubtedly the best song of their career. It may lack some of the soul of Heartthrob, but for pure pop magic Love You To Death is tremendous.
A French pansexual woman named after some London drag queens ending up with one of the UK’s biggest albums of 2016? Probably the biggest surprise of the year, Charleur Humaine was originally released in its original form in France in 2014. With most songs re-recorded with original English lyrics it makes this a unique way of launching an international artist in the UK. It’s an intriguing album, opener iT kicking things off with Christine declaring ‘I’m a man now’ over a pulsating drum sample with echoes of ‘She lies, she lies’ in the distance. There’s an honesty in every lyric here, even on songs that have been completely overhauled rather than translated’. Talk of gender and identity, as well as the fluidity of everything touched on Charleur Humaine is so refreshing to hear. It’s the sort of record that would be described as ‘daring’ when all Christine and the Queens is doing is being honest and totally herself. There’s a theatricality to tracks like Narcissus is Back and standout ballad Night 52 and the whole thing makes perfect sense in a live setting. In 2016 seeing an artist like Christine and the Queens succeed without compromise was amazing to witness.
In a year full of overlong albums designed to capitalise on the introduction of streaming to the chart The Weight of These Wings stands as a double disc release that makes every second count. Miranda Lambert has been at the top of country music for years, winning awards, selling out arenas across the globe and managing to retain a radio audience with old school country music. The Weight of These Wings feels like the peak of that long career, an album that is brutally honest and happily sits outside the mainstream in a genre where relevance is everything. Every song here oozes soul. Getaway Driver is a beautifully touching tribute to a friend that flirts with the same themes that saw Girl Crush become a hit last year, ‘She treats my heart like a stolen car, all the while she had the key’ hits me right in the gut. Keeper of the Flame is the biggest stadium anthem of her career thus far, while Vice is a powerful punch of rock. In fact The Weight of These Wings feels like the sort of career defining release that artists were releasing back in the 70s, a double disc set of classic songs that showcase the true talent of one of the music industries best artists. The best Miranda Lambert album yet.
I’ve been dreading writing about Lemonade. Everyone else has written so many eloquent long form pieces on the cultural impact of what can only be known as the biggest ‘moment’ in music in 2016. For me, Lemonade is simply the most ‘Beyoncé’ album ever released. For years we’ve heard the likes of Ring The Alarm, Irreplaceable, If I Were A Boy even back to Say My Name fill the airwaves pegging Beyoncé in the ‘woman scorned’ role that she delivered so well. All of those hits failed to give us context though, did you ever honestly believe it was from Beyoncé’s own experiences that she was performing from? On Lemonade she gave us context. Calling out her husband’s infidelity up front makes every moment on Lemonade hit so much harder. ‘Who the fuck do you think I am, you ain’t married to no average bitch boy’ is probably my all time favourite Beyoncé lyric BECAUSE of the context. The whole of Don’t Hurt Yourself builds and builds into a screaming rock performance; you believe everything. Every single one of these songs has moments like this, ‘What’s worse, being jealous or crazy…I’d rather be crazy’, ‘Nine times out of ten I’m in my feelings, but ten times out of nine I’m only human’. Lemonade IS the best Beyoncé album and there will never be anything like it again.
Chance The Rapper doesn’t even consider Coloring Book an ‘album’, even if he did accidentally release the best Hip Hop album of 2016. This is his College Dropout, in fact it may even be more impactful in the current Rap landscape. Chance is taking you to church, whether you are a believer or not and he’s the pastor, gospel singer and the guy on the second row bowing down to his heroes at the front. ‘Wear your halo like a hat, that’s like the latest fashion’ Saba raps on standout Angels. It’s so good to hear Chance so obviously in love with performing and making music, every moment of Coloring Book is full of feel good vibes. His lyrics hit hard, but the beat still pops. ‘I don’t make songs for free, I make em’ for freedom’ feels totally appropriate for a Mixtape that’s became the first album to chart and be nominated for a Grammy purely on streaming services. It’s a forward thinking record that never takes itself too seriously. In a year where Kanye was all over the place, Drake was aiming for the top of the charts and everyone else was trying to be him Chance the Rapper stands out. An unapologetic album aimed at Heaven and the clubs, it’s the most promising ‘debut’ rap album since The College Dropout.
I was THIS close to swapping the final two albums on this list in the last few days. Hero is the most unexpected delight of 2016. The appeal is obvious, outstanding country pop songs performed with a classic soul edge by someone who seemed to appear from nowhere. How It’s Done is pure class, ‘Ain’t like this is foreign territory for you ‘cause it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been patiently waiting for the right time for a long time’ it’s just bliss to hear for the first time. My Church and 80s Mercedes sound like classic anthems from very different decades, while Rich swings with a reggae vibes. Even Second Wind that appeared on Kelly Clarkson’s last album has new life thanks to Maren’s soaring vocal. No other album in 2016 makes me feel as good as Hero does. Every single track is the sort of standout that you’d expect on anyone else’s album, but Maren Morris manages to deliver 11 in a row. Hero is an outstanding album and to my ears the best country album I’ve heard since I jumped into the genre back in 2012.
I’ve been doing these lists for 6 years now and so far I’ve managed to avoid placing the same artist at #1 on both my Singles and Albums lists (Though 2010 did come close with a Robyn/Kanye top 2 clean sweep). 2016 is different though and the unlikely return of Bon Iver was undeniably my highlight of the year. After Friends took over most of my summer I saw the announcement that we were getting a new Bon Iver album at the end of September. September was a terrible month. Without sharing my personal situation on here like I do all over Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t in a good place physically. I was in recovery at home when 22, A Million was released and while that’s not why it finds itself at #1 on this list, my first listen was pretty much all I needed to know that life wasn’t all bad; one of the best albums of the decade had just been released. I can’t ever remember an act manage to move so far away from their previous work and simultaneously sum up everything that makes them brilliant in an album. It’s a baffling set of songs, all titled more and more ridiculous things like 22 (OVER S∞∞N) and ____45_____ and yet is more accessible than anything Justin Vernon has ever been involved in. 33 “GOD” is a wall of choral sound that crashes and punches, but there’s real soul in every lyric. 29 #Strafford APTS is a simple folk song that’s like a follow up to Skinny Love, but even this devolves into crackling mic feedback and distant blasts of jazz. Often first time listeners will wonder if their copy is dodgy, everything has this push and pull between simplicity and avant garde. Introspective albums rarely end up as cryptic as 22, A Million, but for Justin Version this is about as heart on sleeve as he gets. 8 (Circle) is achingly simple, a vocal stripped of any adjustments that manages to be the most surprising moment of an album full of incredible ones. Musically, Bon Iver have managed to achieve everything I would want from an album, for the second time in a row. 22, A Million is an album I never expected to happen, that arrived at exactly the time I needed it to.