- David Bowie // ★
The album that summed up the saddest moment of the year – only David Bowie could leave us shrouded in mystery right up to (and after) the day of his death. Opening track ‘Blackstar’ morphs tempo and style, something like a modern day ‘Station to Station’. The record in its entirety typifies Bowie’s lifelong mission to move with the times and stay relevant, with producer Tony Visconti quoting rapper Kendrick Lamar as a key influence (perhaps most noticeable on the swaggering ‘Girl Loves Me’). Of all of the records released in 2016 this will probably be the most memorable. However the inclusion of two previously released tracks (‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ and ‘Sue [Or In a Season of Crime]’) prevents it from raking higher in my shortlist.
- Telegram // Operator
The best out and out indie record of the year, Operator is a white knuckle ride of catchy riffs and Lou Reed style lyrics, delivered via the smooth voice of frontman Matt Saunders. The album opens with the wild lightning strike of ‘Rule Number One’ a song that sounds like it was made to soundtrack car chases in 1970s cop shows. Saunders’ entertaining lyrics are perhaps best displayed on ‘Inside/Outside’ a dystopian love story with cats. “They happen to know how to take you on the inside, take you on the outside,” bellows Saunders as crunchy guitars envelop him. Surreal dream-stories are the essence of the album. With tales of modern day Godivas (‘Godiva’s Here’) and missing people (‘Taffy Come Home’), it keeps you enamoured throughout. The band clearly have a lot of influences. However Saunders’ unique vocals and the innovative guitar work of Matt Wood ensure that they always sound like nobody else.
- Sunflower Bean // Human Ceremony
Easily the most original record of the year, Human Ceremony sounds so familiar yet so new at the same time. The album is perfectly balanced and complete, with heavier songs such as ‘Wall Watcher’ perfectly complimenting some of the record’s quieter moments such as ‘Oh, I Just Don’t Know’. The New York sound is definitely present, However frontwoman Julia Cumming’s vocal interplay with guitarist Nick Kivlen (particularly impressive on the frantic ‘I Was Home’) brings something entirely different to the New York party. Special praise has to be reserved for the heartbreaking ‘Easier Said’, with Kivlen’s guitar transporting listeners to the end of a summer’s day as Cumming hesitantly sings “Easier said than done, I heard you right the first time”. While this is a great album, it’s also special because you can already hear the future potential of a band that’s got much more to give.
- Suede // Night Thoughts
After nearly 30 years on the scene you’d have thought Suede would have been relaxing and just trying to please the fans by repackaging their greatest hits. However, that isn’t what Suede do. On Night Thoughts the band return to (nearly) concept album style of Dog Man Star – a rarity in this modern age. The songs take listeners back to the scene of past Suede records, but these are scenes reconstructed by a much older Brett Anderson who is trying to make sense of aging. Songs ‘Like Kids’ and ‘No Tomorrow’ feature two of the best ever riffs from Richard Oakes’ career with the band, while slower tracks such as ‘I Can’t Give Her What She Wants’ and ‘The Fur and The Feathers’ show Anderson’s vocals at their fragile high pitched best (far cry from the croaky voice of 2002’s A New Morning). While they’ve never admitted it, Suede are a band that reward loyalty, with Anderson’s lyrics on ‘When You Are Young’ (“So softly I’ll run, from the sound of your brothers gun”) seeming to reference ‘The Drowners’ from the band’s debut (“Will someone, give me a gun? oOh, well it’s for my brother”). Overall, the album stands as one of the band’s greatest records and is probably the most ambitious album of the year.
- Yak // Alas Salvation
Raw, energetic and loud, Yak’s debut album grabbed 2016 by the throat and threw it back to the underground proto-punk scene of the mid-1970s . In ‘Harbour the Feeling’ the band have crafted a classic, with its unforgettable heavy bass riff thumping underneath frontman Oli Burslem’s commanding vocals. Meanwhile the acoustic driven ‘Roll Another’ gives off the kind of nervous tension created by The Cramps. ‘Smile’, the closest the band come to a croon, builds the tension before shattering it into thrashed guitars and incoherent vocals. With ingenious lyrical turns such as “I’m working every hour that god sends he never shows up” (From Harbour the Feeling) and “I’ve found a country in your heart, that I would like to terrorise” (From ‘Victorious [National Anthem]), the band back up their noise with imaginative substance. This record contains the adrenaline from the band’s live performances and injects it directly through your record needle, giving you a hit you won’t be forgetting in a hurry.