2016 yeah-ah! Remember, the year when everyone died and also the year everyone discovered mortality? Losing David Bowie, Alan Vega, Prince, George Martin, Leonard Cohen or George Michael was very sad indeed as a few of them were really young but probably also has it meant a part of our youth was vanishing. I remember not being something new as such sad news in the past already occured with artists such as John Lennon, Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Lou Reed or George Harrison. Listening to their music on a regular basis is probably the best way to keeping the flame alive. Death is a weird topic in Western civilizations as we keep on doing as if it were nonexistent although this is the only sure thing…I advise for those interested by this very festive topic to read the first pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard memoirs’ “A Death in the Family”.
On top of being the year everyone died, it has been also the year everyone published records. For some reasons, I had more time than usual to listen to (almost) all records that went out this year if one considers my reviewing perimeter is confined within the pop/rock/soul/hip hop/metal/r’n’b perimeter. I am humble enough to recognize there is somewhere an amazing jazz or blues record I am not aware of but this is also probably true for a great record made by an Italian, Malian or Brazilian band. There are so many musicians in the world and so many ways to discover them with streaming platforms or the resurgence of records’ stores that this is getting frustrating sometimes.
So after death and frustration, let’s bring the good news! This was a really fantastic year in terms of records and new music and it has been more difficult than ever to keep a shortlist. A few usual favourites of this blog are not amongst the chosen few either because they are just out of this Top 15 or because their records was below expectations despite being good. In other words, it has been a great year for hip-hop and r’n’b genres and De La Soul, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, Solange or Franck Ocean 2016 records are also super-recommended. Same for a few indie rock favourites such as Shearwater, Bob Mould, Mark Kozelek, Wilco, Okkervil River, Teenage Fanclub or Pixies. As usual, I tried to stay as close to the end of the year as possible…but probably not enough as a new Run The Jewels album has just been available two days ago and a new Nine Inch Nails EP yesterday!
Anyway, always difficult to make choices but I guess that is the beauty of such lists. I had enough time this year to put on a ranking amongst my selection so here we go in reversed order. For those who did not get it, it means #1 is my record of the year!
#15 Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis The main reason this record is here is probably that I live in the UK and that this band is really massive here. Biffy Clyro is a Scottish band made out of the twin brothers Ben and James Johnston on drums and bass and of Simon Neil on guitar and voice. On top of being known for playing bare-chested and being full of tattoos, their music has been evolving throughout the years from grunge metal to a kind of Scottish Foo Fighters. Not the most subtle music ever but it is soooooo good to shout out loud these anthems. Best stadium-rock record of the year!
#14 Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony Sunflower Bean is a young trio from Brooklyn and 2016 saw the release of their debut album. This record is a grower has one says and this band has a perfect sense of melody mixed with an exciting in-your-face attitude. If Liz Frazer from Cocteau Twins and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana had made a record together, it would be quite close to Sunflower Bean’s sound.
#13 Kanye West – The Life of Pablo This record has been probably too long and complex to make in a year that was a bit tough for Kanye West. After second thoughts, all years are tough, different and weird for Kanye… The reason why this record is not higher in terms of ranking is indeed probably due to the fact it requests many more hours of thorough listening to get over it. The reason why Kanye West is once again in our best of the year is named “Ultralight Beam”. This is the song opening the record and is one hell of a tune.
#12 Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate Michael Kiwanuka is a young British singer songwriter from Ugandan origins. After a very promising debut album in 2012 and great shows in a soul/folk tradition, he eventually faced a few difficult years looking for his real musical talent and trying to be at peace with his cultural background. After being closed to leave the music industry, he came back stronger and not afraid to show at the same time new ambitions but also happy to embrace any kind of music he likes. The results are really astonishing as one goes from one track sounding like Pink Floyd to another more related to black protest song a la Curtis Mayfield.
#11 Xiu Xiu – plays the Music of Twin Peaks Of course, we Twin Peaks fans are all very much excited to discover in 2017 what Season 3 will be, directed by David Lynch himself…but that is not the reason this album is here. Xiu Xiu is a Californian band lead by Jamie Stewart and their music has always been complex to say the least. Here they succeeded to keep their weirdness to reshape covers from the series and the movie “Fire Walk With Me” whilst respecting the beautiful sense of melodies these songs hold. One of the most fascinating, frightening and powerful records one could find in 2016.
#10 Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway “The worst band in the world”, “a cartoonish band”, “their best material is behind us” and so on… These are the articles one could find in reviews about the latest album by RHCP. This is totally untrue and shows how this is difficult sometimes for bands and their work to be really listened to. Thanks to the extraordinary production of DJ Danger Mouse, this is their best record for a long time and a few songs are really on par with their most famous ones (“Dark Necessities” for instance). This is also the first album in which Josh Klinghoffer succeeds in being himself and shows his guitar creativity without one having to remember his amazing predecessor John Frusciante.
#9 Meilyr Jones – 2013 This LP is the highest ranked debut album in our list and comes from a young Welsh singer. My best description of his music would be to mention Neil Hannon and his band The Divine Comedy if they still had the flame and kept on doing exciting records… The first track of this album called “How to recognize a work of art” is the best example of what a single should be nowadays. To put it differently, if you do not want to sing out loud or clap your hands, you are probably already dead (and I should have added you in my introduction). Click for concert’s review.
#8 Beyoncé – Lemonade A record from a major maturing artist, mixing all kind of music and sounds, not afraid to grab political topics such as the role of the black woman in Africa, being very much at the peak of visual and sound production, having prestigious guests such as James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White or The Weeknd? Indeed and even better than it looks like.
#7 Benjamin Biolay – Palermo Hollywood Would Benjamin Biolay be more famous out of French-speaking countries if he were to sing in English, like Christine and the Queens did this year with a new English edition of her album? Probably not and not sure I would like it to happen… I was a bit afraid to read that he recorded this LP in Argentina as this is not always a good idea to mix different styles. No risk here as this record is as Argentinian as The Wings’ “Band on the Run” was Nigerian when they went to Lagos to record it. Beautiful as always and as usual a very thin line between production and emotion.
#6 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool Quite a bit unexpected I must say as although I found the recent experiences of their members always rewarding, I had more or less abandoned hope in listening again to a traditional great Radiohead album. I was entirely wrong as this album is probably one of their best, mixing urgency, poetic themes and more importantly super exciting music. Good also to hear more than usual the great sounds of the underestimated Colin Greenwood on bass. Take the time to discover this new album and you will be immensely rewarded.
#5 Kevin Morby – Singing Saw Sometimes a good singer makes a new record and one can feel he has stepped up and is now part of the greats. It happened in recent years with bands or artists such as The War On Drugs or Kurt Vile for instance. Kevin Morby’s first albums were really good but this one has an extra je-ne-sais-quoi, mixing super exciting guitar music with great lyrics. If Bob Dylan were in his 20’s today and had started directly with electric music, he would not sound that different from Kevin Morby. Click for concert’s review.
#4 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree Nick Cave has been a sort of old companion as I have been buying his records and listening to his music for thirty years now. Unless having a heart of stone, one could only share the indescribable pain he and his spouse had last year when they lost a son. Despite a few songs already written and produced before this tragic event, this album is all about this loss. It may be of course quite harsh sometimes to listen to but one must recognize this is a fascinating record and one of his best works. With lots of very long songs and more drones and loops than usual, it might surprise those familiar with a Nick Cave sound but the effort is really recommended.
#3 Field Music – Commontime This is another fantastic record from this band of brothers from Newcastle and probably a blessing and a curse for them as one gets used easily with quality stuff. I have already wrote a few posts on this band, in particular throughout my review of the end of the road festival. Let’s be more specific here: Field Music are the best unknown band of our times and every record is an incredibly exciting piece of music, mixing british pop sound, Prince and Steely Dan. Now get this record!
#2 Iggy Pop– Post Pop Depression To put this record under the name of Iggy Pop only is quite an injustice as he himself recognizes that this is the work of a real band with Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) on drums and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on bass. But the real architect of this album is the great Josh Homme, leader of Queens of the Stone Age and main man on guitar and vibes here. Legend is that he received a text from Iggy asking “I think we should make a record together”. After a couple of days of uncertainty and pride, Josh replied also by text “I think that would be beautiful”. And beautiful and exciting and moving and funny and…name it it is! They all gathered secretly in the Rancho de la Luna studio in the Joshua Tree, California area and polished these fantastic nine songs. The best Iggy Pop record since “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” 1976/77 Bowie era. Iggy pop made it quite clear that it would be his last traditional rock album and tour. If such were to be the case, one of the most beautiful human beings on earth has left us with a record to cherish. No better way also to end up a record (career?) with the wise lyrics taken from “Paraguay”, the last song on the album: “You take your motherfucking laptop/And just shove it into your goddamn foul mouth/And down your shit heel gizzard/You fucking phony two faced three timing piece of turd/And I hope you shit it out/With all the words in it”.
#1 David Bowie– Blackstar I swear I did not want to put this album as my album of the year as it looked a bit obvious… Blackstar has been the first record I bought this year as I got it on the 8th of January at the excellent New York Rebel, Rebel record store. This is also in NY that I got the sad news of the morning of the 11th of January and I do recognize that the way the late great man organised this record as a farewell piece of art might be over controlled. But I am pretty sure this record would still be ranked as such if David Bowie was still alive. First the music is super fresh through it and I have never heard so-called jazz musicians be used in such a “non-jazz” way on a “non-rock” record. Donny McCaslin on saxophone is particularly amazing. But the real stars of Blackstar are the songs and the melodies. Has there been a better song this year than “Lazarus” with its moving lyrics, free jazz style and The Cure influences? I know this is difficult to listen to this record out of context but to me it stands as an immense piece of exciting music. RECORD OF THE YEAR!
Here we go then for 2016. Probably not my most original list ever but these records were those that brought me the most emotion and excitement this year and as a reminder this is the criteria for this list rather than any cultural or trendy meaning. Please react if you feel like it and whip me harshly for any significant record I may have missed in this Top 15!
Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10. David Bowie and Franck Ocean everywhere!
- Mojo (music mag): 1.David Bowie Blackstar 2. Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate 3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 4. Lambchop FLOTUS 5. Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker 6. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 7. Franck Ocean Blonde 8. Paul Simon Stranger to Stanger 9. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 10. Heron Oblivion Heron Oblivion
- Uncut (music mag): 1.David Bowie Blackstar 2. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool 3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 4. Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker 5. Ryley Walker Golden Sings that have been Sung 6. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 7. Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth 8. Anohni Hopelessness 9. Teenage Fanclub Here 10. Beyoncé Lemonade
- NME (formerly great, now free weekly junk): 1. The 1975 I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it 2. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 3. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 4. Skepta Konnichiwa 5. Kaytranada 99.9% 6. David Bowie Blackstar 7. DIIV Is the is are 8. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 9. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 10. Franck Ocean Blonde
- Rough Trade (London, Nottingham and Brooklyn stores): 1. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 2. Anderson .Paak Malibu 3. Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter 4. Mark Pritchard Under the Sun 5. Charles Bradley Changes 6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Thee Oh Sees A Weird Exit 8. Angel Olsen My Woman 9. Powell Sport 10. Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
- Fopp (UK stores): 1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 2. David Bowie Blackstar 3. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 4. Mogwai Atomic 5. Bat for Lashes The Bride 6. Brian Eno The Ship 7. Field Music Commontime 8. King Creosote Astronaut meets Appleman 9. Lambchop FLOTUS 10. Skepta Konnichiwa
- Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. Jamila Woods HEAVN 4. Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate 5. Anderson .Paak Malibu 6. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 7. Drive-By Truckers American Band 8. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 9. Solange A Seat at the Table 10. David Bowie Blackstar
- Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. Savages Adore Life 2. TEEN Love Yes 3. La Femme Mysteres 4. Sneaks Gymnastics 5. The Gotobeds Blood//Sugar//Secs//Traffic 6. Honeyblood Babes never die 7. Jenny Hval Blood Bitch 8. Drive-By Truckers American Band 9. The Handsome Family Unseen 10. Beach Slang A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
- Pitchfork (music website): 1. Solange A Seat at the Table 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. Beyoncé Lemonade 4. David Bowie Blackstar 5. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 6. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 7. A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 8. Anohni Hopelessness 9. Angel Olsen My Woman 10. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
- Paste (music website): 1. David Bowie Blackstar 2. Beyoncé Lemonade 3. Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial 4. A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 5. Mitski Puberty 2 6. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool 7. Angel Olsen My Woman 8. Lucy Dacus No Burden 9.Bon Iver 22, A Million 10. Franck Ocean Blonde
- Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. David Bowie Blackstar 2.La Femme Mystere 3. Franck Ocean Blonde 4. The Lemon Twigs Do Hollywood 5. PNL Dans la légende 6. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 7. Leonard Cohen You want it Darker 8. Drake Views 9. Alex Cameron Jumping the Shark 10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
- Time Out (London free weekly) : 1. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 2. David Bowie Blackstar 3. Solange A Seat at the Table 4. Skepta Konnichiwa 5. Kaytranada 99.9% 6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 8. Franck Ocean Blonde 9. Beyoncé Lemonade 10. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
- The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. Beyoncé Lemonade 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. David Bowie Blackstar 4. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 5. Solange A Seat at the Table 6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Rihanna Anti 8. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 9. Skepta Konnichiwa 10. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
- Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Dinosaur Jr. Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not 2. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas Mariner 3. Perturbator The Uncanny Valley 4. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 5. Preoccupations Preoccupations 6. Nothing Tired Of Tomorrow 7. David Bowie Blackstar 8. Neurosis Fires Within Fires 9. Savages Adore Life 10. Oranssi Pazuzu Värähtelijä