Top 16 Albums of 2016

Tim Deluxe - The Radicle [Strictly Rhythm]

After a five year hiatus Tim Deluxe returned in February to deliver his album The Radicle, his third artist album to date. Most will know Tim from his 2002 Latin spiced Ibiza hit ‘It Just Won’t Do’ and from his Garage classic as Double 99 ‘Ripgroove’, a track he made in his teens! 

The Radicle is by far Tim’s best work to date and certainly was worth the wait. The ten track LP released on Strictly Rhythm features eight other talented musicians, including some of the best contemporary jazz musicians around such as Jim Mullen and Rod Youngs among others. Speaking about the album last year Tim said that “Working with musicians really inspired me again. I started having piano lessons once a week with my teacher Cherry and started reconnecting directly with the music via the instrument, rather than going out and clubbing, I was listening to old jazz records. With The Radicle I really had the vision about what I wanted to achieve.”

Mala - Mirrors [Brownswood Recordings]

Mala, a South London producer and co-founder of DMZ, released his second album, Mirrors on Brownswood earlier this year. This album is not just a musical experience but also a cultural journey into the spirituality of Peru. Mala spent a month travelling across Peru understanding and learning the musical traditions of the country. He incorporated a collection of Peruvian instruments into many of the tracks he produced and collaborated with some of the nations most celebrated singers and musicians to create a sound that was true to the heritage of the South American country.

Even though Mala was adamant on using the Peruvian sound as the focal point to the album, it wouldn’t be Mala not to include dubstep within his production. To be able to achieve such control and diversity with the two unique styles of music is no mean feat. The beauty of this endeavour is that you know careful thought and intricate consideration went into every track. Hours must have been spent refining the tempo, flow and construction of the tracks. Which is probably why it took three to four years for the album to be released.

In ‘Perspectives on Mirrors’, a short documentary that reflects on Mala’s time spent in Peru whereby he highlights a point that summarises him as an artist and the album meticulously. He says, “Its about that freedom to express yourself, an opportunity to learn something about a culture and introduce music I make too”. This shows us his versatile approach to music and displays the deep connection he had with the country. Taking into account Mala’s ideology for this project as a whole, this album most certainly deserves to be acknowledged as one of the most conceptually beautiful albums of the year and was undoubtedly a captivating highlight of 2016. 

Prins Emanuel – Arbete / Fritid [Music For Dreams]

I came across Prins Emanuel on one of my journeys into the depths of SoundCloud, I was about to call it quits until I came across ‘Aquarius’ from his latest album Arbete/Fritid. It’s a super sexy album with so much to it. The range in music is amazing, especially if your investing in an album, you want a range of music. While predominantly a Balearic affair and quite down-tempo he serves up krautrock (<3), disco, dub reggae, new age and skewed boogie. It’s a hypnotic record from a really exciting up and coming artist who produces a serious amount of music, a lot more than others it seems. Released on Danish record label Music for Dreams, Prins Emanuel certainly fits the sound of the label. Generally Balearic, think white sandy beaches, the label produces music that all contain a warm glow, perfect for Sunday evenings. Whilst artists like Prins Emanuel have the capacity to up the tempo with a bit of disco. Keep track of both the label and Prins going into the new year!

Orphx – Pitch Black Mirror [Sonic Groove]

With their thirteenth studio album and first in five years, Canadian duo Rich Oddie and Christina Sealey aka Orphx have delivered a proper punch into the industrial techno world that certifies their alias’ twenty-third year legendary status. The album’s inspired by the decay of the industrial city Hamilton, where the two grew up, it’s an evocative expression of the transforming post-industrial landscapes and the artists own response to ‘social turmoil’. There’s elements of Industrial, EBM, Techno and noise which fused together across the whole piece in a gritty, frustrated, and excitingly aggressive aesthetic.  Every track is crafted with rich modular sounds, confirming the duo as masters of heady soundscapes. Abstract drone and noise elements trickle across the course of the album and heavy distorted bass pounds away in a good number of the tracks, whilst steely synths in tracks like ‘Undying’ build on an angsty atmosphere. Favourite track is, ‘Sever The Signal’ with hammering percussion concurring the feeling of dread and the tripped-out vocals of Marie Davidson ushering the purge that finally comes towards the end of the album with meditative cuts like, ‘All Rivers at Once’ and the atmospheric ‘Walk Into The Broken Night’.

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool [XL Recordings]

After a five-year hiatus Radiohead came back with a bang in 2016. The incredible A Moon Shaped Pool reminds us why Radiohead remain one of the biggest bands in music.

Lyrically, A Moon Shaped Pool touches on a number of topics such as anxiety, loneliness, the refugee crisis and in 'Identikit' Thom Yorke’s split with partner Rachel Owen.

The lyrics "Red crosses on wooden doors." "This is a round up", in 'Burn The Witch' Yorke is commenting on the current political climate within Europe - the “blaming of different people… the blaming of Muslims and the negativity” says Kettu - video director of the track.

In ‘The Numbers’ Yorke is tackling climate change, “We are of the earth, to her we return, the future is inside us, It’s not somewhere else”. The songs debuted at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and despite Thom Yorke claiming “If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit.” Well we think its quite good….

Despite the apparent dread expressed in this album it is contrasted incredibly by the beautiful, slick and at times mind boggling musicianship and production. Jonny Greenwood’s brilliantly expressive Orchestral scoring really makes this album. With the help of the London Contemporary Orchestra, the percussive string sounds in 'Burn The Witch' or the large scale string ensemble in 'The Numbers', really push the album to new highs. Of course Greenwood is well versed in scoring for orchestras and has worked on films such as the Academy Award winning There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Inherent Vice’.

Recorded in the south of France at La Fabrique Studios and produced by Nigel Godrich (often dubbed the sixth member of the band). A Moon Shaped Pool is recorded and produced impeccably. This is even more apparent after discovering that the album was recorded on eight and sixteen track recorders. This is obviously a deliberate move away from the way the band recorded The King of Limbs, where Greenwood wrote his own software to record it.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a brilliant Radiohead record. Its tense and moody but also lush and cathartic. A move away from 2011’s more experimental The King Of Limbs, A Moon Shaped Pool revels in immaculate, elegant acoustics while tackling the harsh realities of our society.

Pye Corner Audio - Stasis [Ghost Box]

Stunning excursions into deep techno by synth-aficionado Martin Jenkins on the experimental electronic label Ghost Box. The album is as haunting as it is interesting and takes influence from classic synth soundtracks and library music. It’s best listened to edge to edge and is well worth seeking out.

Tiger & Woods - On The Green Again [Running Back Records]

The follow up to Tiger and Woods 2011 album Through The Green touched down earlier this year and as ever, the Italian duo boast some punchy cuts. On The Green Again is a straight up disco album, and it's groovy as hell. The pair have become known for their slick and covert approach to the underground scene; they produce distinctive upfront bangers to get your feet moving and head spinning with cool vocal samples and squelchy cosmic thuds. Highlights include 'RockMeLoveMe', 'Come And Get My Lovin' ' and 'Phoenix' which illustrate their looping, skippy style to marvellous effect but it's 'The Stopper' that steals the show. At nearly ten minutes long we get teased with a luscious female chord before it's taken away dramatically and replaced with a bass line that feels like it's scraping the very bottom end of your speaker. The giant, rubbery deep-tone makes your hairs stand on end and you cannot help but shake about in delight as another eerie vocal returns and the tune reaches a gloriously infectious climax. Stay tuned in 2017 for more golf related anthems coming your way.

Listen to the full album.

Frank Ocean - Blonde [Boys Don't Cry]

Rarely do follow up LP’s equal that of the debut, especially when that debut happened to be one of the year’s highlights in the music calendar. In Frank Ocean’s case you could argue that it eclipses it. The largely self indulgent project with no stand out singles is a beautiful, sensitive piece of work that instead focuses not on hits and streaming records but on artistic progression. The evolution of hip hop will see 2016 as an important year with seminal albums from Drake, Kanye West and Ocean, though in my mind it is the latter who is actually opening avenues for new listeners whilst also moving the genre forward. From the opening helium induced ‘Nike’ to ‘White Ferrari’ he pours his soul into this gorgeous record. Filled with groove and moments of raw power, ‘Nights’ stands on one side of the Blonde spectrum, where ‘Pink + White’, the gentle, swaying, dreamlike song the other. It’s difficult not to like Ocean’s music, Channel Orange was a watermark in how to make hip hop mainstream, Blonde refines his own unique sound and is a lesson in growth and expansion.

Listen to Blonde

Huerco S - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) [Proibito]

Think ‘ambient music’ – think airport lounges, hotel lifts, your step-dad’s Ford Mondeo: it’s there but it’s not really there. But in For Those Of You Who Have Never Huerco S has delivered a full-length release packed full of moodiness, atmosphere, warmth, and harshness - blurring the lines delightfully smoothly between minimal techno and the ambient music of today. Something that is eminently listenable from start to finish. 

Released on Anthony Naples's Proibito label, that has had another stellar year, ‘ambient’ is very much on the return. In a genre forever associated with age and Brian Eno, the mantle was arguably passed to Aphex Twin, onto Burial, and in Huerco S we now have a young producer at the top of his game, churning out some peoples ‘modern classical music' and playing a big part in this type of music’s resurgence. The man has had a huge year, so much so that he has landed in various other end of year charts for this album which includes hitting #4 spot in the RA album chart, as well as forty-fifth in Pitchfork’s ‘Greatest Ambient Album of All-Time’ feature. Whack it on in the corner. Try it. You might like it.

Solange - A Seat At The Table [Saint Records / Columbia Records]

Following on from her 2012 where Dev Hynes produced her ‘True’ EP, Solange now brings us A Seat At The Table, a mammoth declaration from an artist who has truly found their voice.

This is Solange’s fourth project and after various re-brands and changes of sounds, this album feels incredibly honest and real. The album discusses the current racial climate within the US and touches on themes of rage and empowerment. There are various interludes with interviews from Mathew Knowles, Solange’s father and former manager as well as Tina Knowles, Solange’s mother. These growing up in segregation and empowerment.

Incredible musicality makes this record gleam with an acoustic slickness. With collaborators such as Questlove, Sampha and Q Tip on tracks such a ‘Don’t You Wait’ and ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Solange was in excellent company during the creation of this record. The recording and writing sessions began in Long Island and New Orleans. It then moved to Louisiana, this where Solange and her engineers began structuring the record. Finally, these tracks were taken to Los Angeles, where producer and song writer Raphael Saadiq would further work on them.

With the low slung aggression of ‘Mad’ and the upbeat rhythm of ‘Cranes In The Sky’, A Seat At The Table provides us with the a brilliant range and impeccable emotion. Solange has found her voice and it has come at exactly the right time.

Dorisburg – Irrbloss [Hivern Discs]

If Kevin Parker’s song writing is the new revelation in pop music, then Alexander Berg’s (Dorisburg) has to be it in deep house. That genre so commonly misconstrued to be a negative, in this sense is mouth-wateringly mesmeric. The Swede’s first feature length piece seemingly perfects an already much loved sound. Having been a fan of Berg’s other project Genius Of Time, I was nervously awaiting the release of his first proper solo story. And it is exactly this, a story of riveting pace, fearless range and sumptuous soundscapes. It might not be a record that will be remembered for it’s innovation or progressiveness, rather, it will be remembered for being a record focusing purely on sonic pleasure – it really is an absolutely beautifully crafted LP. ‘Insvept’s awkward piano, skipping around paints an innocent picture and exudes feelings of airlessness, whilst ‘Gloson’, a more industrial, heavy sounding track packs a punch, thrusting the album forward before returning to its overall more gentle and ethereal feel for its climax. True, honest quality is always obvious to spot amongst the musical landscape, Irrbloss stands above even the tallest canopy.

Prince of Denmark – 8 [Forum V]

Without a doubt, one of the most exciting LPs to drop this year has been the 8 LP from über-allusive producer, Prince of Denmark (aka Traumprinz, aka DJ Metatron). It was only a couple of weeks ago, when listening back to his ‘Live At Planet Uterus’ mix, that I got thinking, “when’s POD going to release another album? It’s long overdue”. Weirdly enough, the next day news came out that he’s released a mammoth album on Geigling sub-label, Forum, with over three hours of music on it! For those waiting, expecting, hoping, POD has not disappointed! His past album on Forum, The Bodyset the bar high and he’s matched it perfectly with a deeply intentional opus, expressing all sides of his signature immersive techno, plus excursions into new territory.  Highlights include, ‘Darkspirit Cut’ with its somewhat Levon Vincent-esque, sombre horns and a kick reminiscent of ‘Cut 02’ from The Body; ‘Neoclassicdub’ is pretty much that – a melodic echoey synth and pulsating deep bass captures the classic dub techno sounds of labels Echochord and Chain Reaction;  ‘Miseri’ starts out with a bassline distinctly similar to his ‘All The Things’ track but with a more ferocious kick, then it playfully warps with bouncy keys and a ghostly melody of string-like synths. ‘GS’ is beautifully atmospheric big room techno: mournful, emotive and powerfully hypnotic. If there’s a track on this album that captures his legendary Berghain sets, it’s this. It’s not all stomps though: the blissful ambient track, ‘Pulsierendes Leben’ is perfect evening-music. Despite its length, the album remains really cohesive. True artistry.

Phaeleh - Illusions Of The Tale [Undertow music]

Following on from the success of his debut ambient album Somnus in 2014, Matt Preston aka Phaeleh released his second of this kind in October this year. Illusion Of The Tale is a delicate and soothing odyssey; typically emotive in Phaeleh’s way. The album is ‘intended as a soundtrack to explore the perception of self-importance’. Speaking about the album Matt said, “I want the album to be an escape from everyday lives. I want it to be a soundtrack for people to let go.” 

Recorded all over the world from Bristol cemeteries and Welsh rock pools to getting lost in the Costa Rican rainforest and riding the Hong Kong MTR underground. Matt added these recordings of sounds to the tracks to create ‘a sense of noise or the real world’.

Youandewan - There Is No Right Time [AUS Music]

My pick is potentially quite an obvious one, having picked it for record of the week back in October. The sound design on this LP is immaculate, the tracks are thought provoking and the album tells it’s own story.  There Is No Right Time is for listening to. Let it take you on its moody journey, as introspective as you get it strikes a chord that stays with the listener after the music has dissipated.

Reinier Zonneveld - Megacity Servant [Stil Vor Talent]

Putting sixteen tracks onto any album is a triumph in itself and the quality of music that Reinier Zonneveld achieves in his Megacity Servant album makes this one very special. Megacity Servant, released in September on Stil Vor Talent, offers listeners a techno and tech house free-for-all.  On the one hand there are songs such as 'Plastic People', a mesmerizing piece of production that epitomizes the melodic techno sound; un-surprising from a man who’s influence draws from classical music. 'Abstinence' is equally similar and impressive. On the other hand, 'Things We Might Have Said' offers a more upbeat sound, its impressive vocals helping it to reach #1 in the Beatport Techno and Tech House charts. A very accomplished album from another very talented German.

Bon Iver - 22, A Million [Jagjaguwar]

Since the release of their 2007 break out album For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver have progressed exponentially and with 22, To A Million this is apparent.  

22, To A Million is a clear move towards the experimental and electronic and it suits the band well. Justin Vernon has had a lot of time to make this record and certainly didn’t rush into it after the release of their incredible Bon Iver album. During this break he was involved in Kanye West's Yeezus project, in which a number of electronic producers would be working on any one track. This may have played a role in Justin’s move towards the use of samplers and sequencers such as the Teenage Engineering OP-1.

Despite the progression in sound, as always it's Justin Vernon’s writing that brings this record up to a level where you are completely fine that you had to wait five years for it. The incredibly emotive melody’s with Justin’s insane harmonies combine to make grandiose statement. 

This is a brilliant record from an incredible band.

Chosen by Tobias, Fred, Ben S, Ed R, Max, Oli, Ben C, Marcus, Tom G, Hugo & Jack