I don’t need to tell you that 2016 has been one hell of a year. I don’t need to list all of the great talent that we’ve lost, nor do I need to list all of the times humanity has failed itself miserably by making decisions that have put other people’s lives at direct risk. I don’t need to tell you that the Earth and its inhabitants have sucked for the past twelve months.
What I do need to tell you about is some of the great albums released in 2016, which you may have missed due to the colossal fail mentioned above averting your gaze.
Yes, sometimes end of year lists take things too far. Elsewhere on the website contributors have accurately criticised lists such as this as futile in the face of the political and ethical crisis we currently face – and that by their very nature they tuck into personal taste, and perhaps offer a bigger bite than is strictly necessary.
They’re indulgent, but I hope they’re also informative. Maybe arrogantly, I hope my opinion counts; and maybe ignorantly, I hope that by the descriptions I give, some of you will find new artists to love. I also hope that in five years’ time when I can’t remember what my albums of 2016 were, I find this list and think, oh yeah. That was a good year for music – apart from all the death and stuff.
10// Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
A late addition to my list once I realised I'd been unconsciously humming lead track “Youth” for a straight week, this will be an obvious inclusion for many compiling Albums of 2016 lists in the UK. How to Be a Human Being has interestingly made less of an impact for Glass Animals than other sort-of-pop indie bands have achieved during the same time, but it’s not for lack of tunes on display. Combined with “Season 2 Episode 3” and opening track “Life Itself”, this full length unloads its gambit before the 15 minute mark hits, and yet it keeps on giving until the end.
9// Lucy Dacus – No Burden
At points beautifully driven and at other times hazy punk rock, Lucy Dacus charmed her way onto the scene in the summer when she released her long awaited debut No Burden. A record of light and shade, carefree songs such as “Troublemaker Doppleganger” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” pave the way for ballads such as “Dream State”, allowing them to strike your heart while the iron is hot. If you’ve yet to hear No Burden, it’s a must for those craving sustenance from the artists they listen to.
8// Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
Higher on my list than How to Be a Human Being, but similar to Glass Animals in many respects: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down have a long history of releasing forward thinking, smart rock albums with a pop edge. A Man Alive cranks things up a notch to include jagged and angular rhythmic patterns that have the listener jerking and jumping all over the place. At the same, written and recorded following the death of front woman Thao Nguyen’s father, there’s an emotional element to the album that contemporary work lacks. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down have always been reliable, but with A Man Alive they prove themselves to be extraordinary.
7// LVL UP – Return to Love
Championed across the blogging world because of their college rock turned DIY garage lo fi, LVL UP signed to Sub Pop this year and immediately peeked our interest with “Spirit Was”, a lead single that embodies the spirit of Return of Love. Their fourth full length release, if you ever wonder what America’s response to the UK's terrible, 00s inspired lad indie is, it’s this – a full spinning kick to the face courtesy of decent taste and a fair whack of Violent Femmes. You yanks are alright, you can stay.
6// Natalie McCool – The Great Unknown
Representing the North and innovative songwriters everywhere; Natalie McCool pulls from multiple corners of talent to create an album that's neither pop, rock or electronica, but is instead somewhere between the three genres. The Great Unknown is razor sharp and full of brain filling hits, guaranteed to repeat on you (in a really good way) for months after you first consume it. There's also an appealing overarching style to The Great Unknown that would put it on the front cover of Vogue, if only the fashion world gave a genuine gubins about decent musicianship. McCool hasn't built a brand so much as served her impeccable self up on a plate: from her sharp-edged hair to the disco stutter of "When You Love Somebody", she oozes quality control and authentic uniqueness.
5// Esben and the Witch – Older Terrors
This is the kind of album that will make your boss slowly back out of your office (note: this is a tried and tested theory). This is the kind of album that will make your cat go paw-point mad and run around the house like a lunatic (note: this is also a tried and tested theory). It's as fantastic as its tracks are long, and there is nothing else like it available in the world, anywhere. Ever.
4// Big Thief – Masterpiece
Our Deputy Editor Matthew Neale coined a description of this album best when he said that it adds "beauty to injury". Masterpiece is a humble, softening Americana blow to the chin when you're at your most low - it will bring tears to your eye while kindly rubbing your back. Best of all, New York's Big Thief finds a catalyst in front woman Adrianne Lenker, who has a vocal like honey that binds the whole process to your soul. It's beautiful heartache put to record and we couldn't live without it.
3// Villagers – Where Have You Been All My Life?
Talking of beautiful heartache, Dublin band Villagers provide just that on Where Have You Been All My Life?, a live album of material taken from their previous three full lengths and recorded at the RAK studios in under a week. It perfectly captures the intensity of their live show without compromising the quality of the record, right down to the last string twang. There's something magical here, and Villagers have caught it for us to keep.
2// Esme Patterson – We Were Wild
Filling a Caitlin Rose shaped hole in our lives, Denver based musician Esme Patterson signed to Xtra Mile Records this year to release her sophomore, We Were Wild, a copy of which we got our grubby hands on in the summer when it was released through her US label, Grand Jury. We’ve followed the one-time jazz musician since her addictively good release Woman to Woman, a concept album of famous songs sung from the point of view of their female protagonist. We Were Wild is far more personal to Patterson and consequently rawer and more beautiful. Combining the singer songwriter’s country vocal with a penchant for writing songs in a storytelling manner similar to Alela Diane, there’s one word that sums up this album perfectly: sumptuous.
1// Field Mouse - Episodic
Deservedly at the top of our list, Field Mouse totally blew me away when they released Episodic through Topshelf Records in August. Essentially their success lies in the hands of firefighting and blending all of the above genres into one: the album has the genuine honesty of Villagers, Patterson and Big Thief; the spirit of LVL UP and Lucy Dacus; and the bite of McCool and Thao. That is to say, it's bloody brilliant. Listen to it.