Welcome to the first of two roundups of favourite albums of 2016 as nominated by our readers. What a year it has been – one of tragedy, farce, injustice, grief, and, alongside the death of so many, and of so much, if there’s anything positive at all to say about all of this year, it certainly marks an end of complacency. So can music reflect, rock, or rage against events, change them, or simply offer an escape into tranquility? The answer, of course, is all of the above.
So this isn’t a countdown to leading to the so-called best album, or anything as subjective or as flawed as that, but each one offers something different, and overall the list turns out to touch both the mainstream and more obscure. The order is not significant but simply listed in alphabetical order by title, and most sample tracks are chosen at random. Feel free to point out different ones. Here are the first 25 of our annual list. The rest will follow next week.
Think something is missing and want to suggest it? Then please let us know via the contact page here and you could go into next week’s list.
22, A Million – Bon Iver
The beautiful, ethereal third album from Justin Vernon has unique moments of oddness, stillness, electronica, vocal harmony and multitude of instruments, not to mention track names that turn numerical abstraction into the wonderfully aesthetic.
Adore Life – Savages
Stormy, intense, astonishing live, channelling Siouxsie and so much more that is thoroughly new, Savages fiercely continue on the up and their work couldn’t be more suited to the ravages of 2016.
A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead
The indie icons, while others may get indulgent in their ivory towers, still show a capacity to surprise and capture the zeitgeist. Their scratchy, darkly humorous Burn the Witch opener seems presciently disturbing in these dark times of rising xenophobia.
Atomic – Mogwai
A beautiful piece of work, marrying subtle orchestration and deft electronica, building and decaying much like the subject matter.
Away - Okkervil River
Full of guest appearances, this is unlike any other album by Okkervil River, but partly for that reason, one that frontman Will Sheff has described as his favourite. It is laced with melancholy, loss and wistful love, but then that’s what makes it great.
Blackstar - David Bowie
HIs surprise release and news of death January was a knell that seemed to chime and portend many of 2016’s events, Bowie’s farewell could not be more fitting, and his genius continues to reverberate.
Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
Criminally overlooked by many in spite of major label backing, Le Bon has created her own fascinating and decidedly eccentric musical world. Indefinable, she's also superbly entertaining live.
Ellipsis – Biffy Clyro
OK let’s rock! Some critics have now become a bit sniffy and snotty about the Scottish heavy riffers, but they remain immensely popular, if a little bit stadium, and can still slip in surprises, including a country song and a bar-room piano number.
Flotus – Lambchop
A welcome return from Kurt Wagner and co, still mixing innovation, alt-country and wistful intimacy, but this time with some offbeat electronica.
Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
Still one of the year’s most interesting creations, written and produced by Devonté Hynes, with contributions from Nelly Furtado, Carly Rae Jepsen, BEA1991, Debbie Harry and a host of others. It pushes the boundaries of genre mixing in the same way as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah.
Foreverland – Divine Comedy
The world always seems a better place with Neil Hannon and co in it, and the theatrically poptastic 11th studio album is upbeat, wry, sad, humorous and beautifully crafted as ever. What’s not to love?
Front Row Seat To Earth – Weyes Blood
Vinyl Tap contributor llamalpaca has been on a one-man crusade about Natalie Mering for some time. Her follow-up to the stately The Innocents projects that fabulous voice onto a looser pop folk sound with an alluring dollop of psychedelia.
Guilty Of Love – Unloved
David Holmes' collaboration with Keefus Ciancia and Jade Vincent is a heady combination of Noir soundtrack and 60s girl group and features a favourite single of the year, When A Woman Is Around.
Hopelessness – Anohni
Another album that seems to capture the spirit of 2016, engaging in environmental and political themes, and the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty has a voice that’s always worth hearing and delivers feeling beyond words
Lemonade - Beyoncé
She is utterly overhyped in many quarters and to an almost embarrassing degree by certain press publications. Still, what’s most interesting about this album is the strikingl film that accompanies it. It's still a huge, commercial release, but the work doesn’t hold back when confronting the issues of a husband’s infidelity, alongside black and female oppression, and it certainly isn’t frivolous.
Mangy Love - Cass McCombs
Another under-appreciated gem from McCombs a pared down funky sound with a winning mixture of cutting and wry lyrics.
Mud – Whiskey Myers
The Texan country rockers this year rolled out a belter that certainly slipped under many a radar. Check out Lightning Bugs and Rain. In a bluesy way will lift any blues.
Mudcrutch 2 – Mudcrutch
Difficult second album syndrome (the clue is in the title)? Not for Mudcrutch. The reformed veteran southern rockers, featuring a certain Mr Tom Petty, return with work that goes down like a finely aged bourbon. And you might recognise the actor in this video.
Painting of a Panic Attack – Frightened Rabbit
The much-underrated and subtle indie Glasgow-based band certainly specialise in melancholy, but their fifth also lifts to new musical heights, even when drinking in subjects such alcoholism.
Pop or Not – Whyte Horses
This sun-drenched sound of early 70s California or earlier actually comes from rainy and ironic Manchester. One of the surprises of the year, it gets more beautiful with every listen.
Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop
Iggy’s collaboration with Josh Homme and co is no cosy, smug supergroup work, but one of distinct rawness, power and honesty, especially for a man who lost his longtime friend David Bowie. Break Into Your Heart is the obvious track of choice, but there are classics throughout. Let’s have a dash of Sunday:
Teens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
Supremely tight, crisp indie from the excellently named American band who hail from Virginia, packed with excellent lyrics that have an intimacy alongside music that can match the likes of The Strokes.
Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Following the tragic death of his son, Cave understandably avoided all interviews and the only way was to deal with it was through the medium he knows best. The result is painful, chilling, and grief-filled, but compulsive for anyone who admires the man and his work.
We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
Back with a first album in 18 years and sadly coming out after another death – of Fife Dawg who features throghout, Q-Tip and co have created something as entertaining, political and refreshing as any of that early 90s innovation.
Viola Beach - Viola Beach
This list would not be complete without paying some sort of tribute to the four lads from Warrington and their manager who died in a car crash on a motorway bridge in Sweden in February 2016. If only the year stood up to the upbeat, refreshing style of their music.