After a week’s countdown from 100, Getintothis finally reveal their top ten albums of 2016 – but what will take the coveted Album of the Year accolade?
And here we have it, after a week of tantalising and teasing reveals we can finally reveal our top ten albums of the year. Many may will be surprised at some of the omissions. Much heralded LPs by artists with the reach and stature of David Bowie, Nick Cave and Radiohead have featured, but lower down the list than many might have expected.
As we discussed in our last Albums Club feature, this is at the core of the purpose of the list. While we do contend that the below albums are indisputably our favourite ten of the year, it also reflects our purpose. To champion new and emerging musical talents across a broad array of styles. Talents that challenge, take risks and look to produce music that is bold, ambitious and original.
We believe our list reflects our brief as well as providing due and merited acknowledgment to established performers. We also hope that as part of this we have opened your ears to stand-out albums that might otherwise have passed you by.
In many ways the ranking is a necessary but unfortunate construct – each album in our top 100 list is an exceptional artistic statement in its own right – if they weren’t we wouldn’t have included them. That so, enjoy the ten below but also give your time to some of those featuring lower down.
10. Three Trapped Tigers: Silent Earthling
Mesmerising from beginning to end, this is an astonishing record. It exudes an intricate and technical complexity that it wears with an assured lightness of touch. Despite the immense musicianship on display this isn’t a showy record, it dextrously avoids any hubristic pitfalls ensuring the focus remains on the songs allowing its prodigious creators to bask unassumingly in the shadows.
Ostensibly a noise rock outfit, Three Trapped Tigers sound lives up to its name. Much like a prowling caged beast there is a built-up tension around mightily ferocious drumming, double-jointed riffing and brightly enveloping synth and keyboards. Immediately and relentlessly gripping the opening side is awe-inspiring as almighty riffs twist and turn with glee through a myriad of time signatures. The title track sets things off perfectly as guitar and synth, at turns bright at others deep and resonant, interact with each other seamlessly.
Kraken raises the bar several notches. Deep and pounding with lots of delay, the twin assault of guitar and drums suggest the ferocity of a Lightning Bolt while the contrast of bright synth and keys keep everything in check, making for a harmonious contrast.
Often compared to Battles, Three Trapped Tigers adeptly transcend the noise-rock genre and demonstrate more strings to their bow than your average math-rock trio. Pushing back the boundaries with more delicate pieces as the album progresses, the ferocity subsides and dense synth-led electronica takes over.
Engrams is a perfect example of their art. Dextrous synths twist and turn with direction-altering adroitness as sonic layers are added, climaxing in an almost intoxicating ambience. It’s a tour de force. We could go on. Rainbow Road is a swirling whirlwind of noise that suggests a gargantuan confrontation between chaos and order yet, somehow, Three Trapped Tigers remain perfectly in control.
Three Trapped Tigers make big prowling noise and nimble electronica coalesce in absolute majesty. Undeniably talented, they might just be one of the best bands out there right now. Paul Higham
Getintothis on Three Trapped Tigers
9. Christine & The Queens: Chaleur Humaine
Christine and the Queens, the recording name of French musician Héloïse Letissier, is a huge mainstream star in her native France. With a stream of top 40 hits and high profile industry awards behind them, Christine and the Queens are a big deal.
With records like Chaleur Humaine, an English translation of a French language album of the same name, it surely won’t be long before that’s the case over here too. It’s an astonishing piece of work in whichever way you decide to take it, whether as a deeply honest and explorative album about gender, identity and sexual orientation by a pan-sexual woman, or just as a collection of great, intelligent pop songs, you can’t help but wanting to keep listening and look deeper.
Tracks such as No Harm Is Done, her collaboration with rapper Tunji Ige, is a brooding and smothered in RnB influences, with sharp electronics dancing over stammering beats, while album opener iT showcases Letissier’s stunning vocals
It’s a brilliant album, and what it lacks in obvious UK chart hit material it makes up for with charm, intelligence and inventive melodies. It is genuinely refreshing and forward thinking pop and deserves to be heard by ears from far further than the French borders. Take note, Britain. Adam Lowerson
Getintothis on Christine & The Queens
8. Ulrika Spacek: The Album Paranoia
The Album Paranoia must surely rank as one of the best debut albums of the year. A heady moulding of various styles, this a record that is at times hazy and blissfully laid-back such as on Porcelain with its breezily melodic guitar line that locks on to a head-filling groove and is laced with a just-right amount of fuzz and distortion. She’s a Cult meanwhile is a tightly coiled spring of tension loaded for release, full of choppy, distortion-heavy guitars and edgy krautrock rhythms.
The sparse intro to Circa 1954 reveals a group keenly aware of how to trade in layered textures and broody atmospherics, holding enough back rather than trying to force the issue. While on Strawberry Glue Ulrika Spacek stray into Deerhunter territory, or at least into territory formerly occupied by Deerhunter. A taut and tense union of understated motorik and jittery guitar encased within a bittersweet melancholia. Its very ambiguity is addictive, the vocals are beautiful and dreamy while the music alludes to an underlying anxiety.
We could go on for the album continues its embrace of motorik, psychedelia, shoegaze, which fit in happily alongside noise rock and avant-garde leanings. All without ever coming across as confused or uncertain. With the band variously located between Berlin and London, you sense an exploratory freedom. An amalgamation of various elements of currently fashionable scenes without ever truly sounding like a part of any of them.
The Album Paranoia is as distinctive as it is measured, as restrained as it is elegant. A sure-footedly assured voyage of a record in which everything has its place; there are no extraneous elements and barely a moment is wasted. This is a woozily distorted ride and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Getintothis on Ulrika Spacek
7. The Early Years: II
Not all Psych is good Psych. In fact there’s a fair bit of flimsy half-baked Psych out there – and some are calling for a Psych cull in what’s an already saturated market. But then again, there is, actually a lot of good Psych too.
Like gluttons we’re feasting on a bounty of Psychedelic platters. And yet no matter how much we fill our overloaded bellies with gratuitous levels of swollen Psych suppers there’s no end to this conveyor belt of Psych.
Just as well for The Early Years then, who rather than waiting for a gap in the market, have returned 10 years after their debut with an album rife with prime, tender Psych. What differentiates this from other Psych is that it’s really, really, really good Psych. The Best of Psych.
This is T-bone Psych. Natural History Museum Psych. Usain Psych. Gold Frankinpsych and Myrrh. 1000% Psych. Peter Guy
Getintothis on The Early Years
6. Ulver: ATGCLVLSSCAP
House of Mythology
Ulver‘s ATGCLVLSSCAP – a whopping 80 minute leviathan of grooves, ambience and rhythmic thunder largely improvised during an 11-date European tour and later sculpted into the finished piece by Daniel O’Sullivan.
There’s barely a coherent strand running through the Norwegian collective’s twelfth studio album which they poignantly describe as “a hallucinatory travelogue“. Yet, the collated whole is nothing short of astonishing as you’re immersed into an abyss-like chasm of progressive instrumentalism and, crucially, an array of actual songs which tie the whole demented saga together.
All bases are covered; Om Hanumate Namah fuses voodoo blues, spectral echo-laden whispers and kraut textures, Glammer Hammer twins anvil-heavy guitar crashes amid electrical dissonance, Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen) is glorious Euro stadium rock while Desert Dawn is an operatic symphony of Goblin-inspired synths.
The musical scope is quite remarkable and the album reaches its zenith during the near 10-minute Cromagnosis which charts metallic tribal grooves which build to an undulating tremor only for a demonic latin percussive rumble to interrupt proceedings and stampede into a tidal wave of barbaric riffs. It’s monumentally huge.
In a so-daft-it’s-fantastic moment, penultimate track, Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap) adds ’80s ballad complete with spoken word, gothic pianos and chest-beating vocal to the mix which would be all too much were it not so fucking brilliant. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Ulver
5. How To Dress Well: Care
Tom Krell‘s transformation into Michael Jackson pop is complete. While he showed distinct glimpses on 2014’s What Is This Heart, push forward two years and he’s utterly in the throws of raptures to MJ vocal ticks and chrome-plated slick-beat pop. You can almost hear the white socks being pulled on.
Care is a far cry from his introductory statement in 2010 with the gloomy, understated electro murk of the superlative Love Remains; instead his new album positively oozes Dangerous-era dance-floor shimmies – it’s illuminating and strident with big melancholic wonder.
Like Justin Timberlake, Krell is embracing MJ‘s directness while fusing his lyrics with self-doubt and tales of the night. The Ruins is like a gritty cousin of Dirty Diana, I Was Terrible a bubble-gum machine-gun which could light up multi-coloured disco floorboards, and the tremoring piano duel with sky-shattering Slash-via-Beat-It guitar solo arrives via the majestic killer Lost You / Lost Youth. They’ll Take Everything You Have, meanwhile, could be a 2016 update for Man In The Mirror.
Make no mistake though, this is far from pastiche, How To Dress Well albums are too strong for that and there’s enough tricks of musicality to keep long-time fans interested. Take Made A Lifetime with its treated funk synth line married to a cool vocal drip it’s as refreshing as cloudy lemonade on a summer’s afternoon.
Forget Corey Feldman‘s wild (and brilliantly honest) US TV performance, Krell is indie-electronica’s chameleon absolutely stealing The King Of Pop‘s throne. Peter Guy
Getintothis on How To Dress Well
4. The Magnetic North: Prospect of Skelmersdale
Full Time Hobby
Let’s face it; 2016 has been a bit of crappy year to say the least.
The loss of Bowie and Prince, an election in the UK that left people reeling, the drawbridges of isolationalism being pulled up post that referendum vote and the next President of the US is someone who is both a buffoon and dangerously unhinged (a lethal combination, but one which Trump has managed to pull off.) It’s all very grim and we seem to be heading back to 1979 as fast as possible
Yet within all this grimness, there are still faint rays of hope.
There’s always music to give us hope.
And in 2016, it came in the unlikely shape of a concept album about Skelmersdale.
At first blush, and if you were going to jump to trite and simplistic conclusions, then a record about a the birth of a “new town” in the late 1960’s, and in particular, one about Skem itself, wouldn’t necessarily fill you with unalloyed joy.
But this album by The Magnetic North does and continues to do so in spades the more you listen to it.
The Magnetic North–Erland Cooper (Erland & the Carnival), guitar wizard Simon Tong (ex of The Verve) and Hannah Peel (composer and arranger) – steered clear from all the clichés about Skem and in writing about the town where Tong moved to at a young age and grew up in, have produced a record that deals with dreams, hope and visions of a better world.
By assiduously researching not only Tong’s childhood but also going to Skem and speaking with people who where there at the birth of the new town, immersing themselves in the place, The Magnetic North came up with a suite of songs that will live in your memory for a very long time.
There’s a constant thread throughout the album that things should be better and can be better and will be better. Its memories of half-remembered past, of Tong’s childhood and of a world that seems half-lost in mist, but is still out there, somewhere.
It’s difficult to isolate just one or two tracks for deserve special mention as the whole thing hangs together so well, but Sandy Lane, Signs and especially Little Jerusalem, where Peel’s crystal clear and diamond sharp voice, evokes both a weariness of the present and hope for the future and melts the iciest of hearts.
Prospect of Skelmersdale is a follow-up to what was intended to be a one-off album about Elrand Cooper’s birthplace (Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North) and with the tantalising prospect of a new Magnetic North album dealing with Hannah Peel’s childhood in the works, we at Getintothis can look forward to 2017 turning out a lot better than 2016. Rick Leach
There is always hope.
Getintothis on The Magnetic North
3. Kaytranada: 99.9%
In any year, David Bowie’s Blackstar would rightly be the best album released, such is its wonder and built in futurism. An album to pore over in 25 years time. But for me, the best album I have heard all year is 99.9% by Kaytranada. K is 24 years old, from Montreal, and a four year overnight sensation. I first became aware of him via his remix of Janet Jackson’s If, which fair blew me away at the time, his manipulation of the remix format different and refreshing. Now, following a swathe of production and remix credits, we reach his debut album offering.
It invokes the free thinking, spiritual high of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising. Putting that sunshine high in modern context, and channeling some of the most wondrous pop-soul I’ve heard in modern times. It features collaborations with Vic Mensa, BADBADNOTGOOD and the newly resurgent Craig David – but don’t let that put you off. There’s a seam of very dark, claustrophobic r’n’b that can thankfully make you feel uncomfortable about the music you are listening to. With 99.9% Kaytrananda has dispensed with all of that, opened the curtain and let the sunshine in.
It’s difficult to convey its wonder in such a short space. Just open yourself to the massive expanse of audio this kid has created. Amazeballs. Bernie Connor
Getintothis on Kaytranada
2. Bon Iver: 22, A Million
There’s been a copious amount of bullshit written about Bon Iver‘s third album. ‘Departure’, ‘difficult’ and ‘disappointing’ have all been associated with 22, A Million – but we’d suggest it is actually his most direct – and also continuing the natural path Justin Vernon has been exploring for some years.
His debut For Emma, Forever Ago may have been aligned to that of a traditional folk album but his work since then has been layered with electronic expansion and the introduction of vocoder and treated effects have been apparent since his stop gap EP Blood Bank back in 2009.
The fact is, 22, A Million reaffirms what Justin Vernon is about – an uncertain, anxious and often troubled mind creating quite visionary, beautiful music which has that rare gift to sound widescreen and multi-faceted yet so intimate you’d swear he’s penned these tracks just for you.
This time around, the vocal production shares much of the studio trickery he’s been drafted in while working with Kanye – it’s a suite of personas and vocal operatics all gliding in and out of focus; atop of one another and using a variety of tones – the effect can be disarming but it’s engrossing and the result is his most realised album yet.
Especially given the depth of song-writing; at just 34 minutes 22, A Million may seem slight – but there’s more ideas packed into these wondrous works than many artists pack into a career.
Where Vernon goes next is perhaps the only worrying aspect of 22, A Million, for the self-doubt and uncertainty is awash on his third album – but once again it posits him as one of contemporary music’s finest talents – and he joins that ultra-rare clutch of song-writers who’ve laid down three gold standard albums on the trot. He’s one in a million. And more. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Bon Iver
1. Whitney: Light Upon The Lake
It’s a common contemplation in contemporary pop culture to moan about the relentlessness at which we quite literally consume real life. Are we living life or merely being eaten up by the machinations of our very existence? I dunno. It certainly seemed easier when adventures involving Panda Shandy and dicking about down the back field were genuine childhood escapism options.
Whitney, a Chicago outfit shaped around singing drummer Julian Ehrlich and former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek, seem to hark back to world where time didn’t just leisurely pass you by, but near stood still; a time when looking out the train window meant taking in the passing fields not thinking what administrative computer chores you had to attend to upon arriving home. Here is a band who seem transported from gentler times, they capture a changing of Spring to Summer, breezy and fresh with a mournful whiff of wistfulness. They’re cool and almost carefree.
What makes No Woman such a wonderful debut collection is not just its seeming simplicity and considered brevity but a sequence of magnificent musical motifs; the sweeping strings of Golden Days, the bottleneck bluesy stomp of Dave’s Song, Red Moon‘s 90 seconds of tootling trumpet and the title track’s burst of brass which decorates the album like early morning sunshine.
“I left drinking on the city train, to spend some time on the road,” sings Ehrlich on the album’s opener – this is an album to dream the days away, think of simpler times and escape. And it sounds simply divine. Peter Guy
Getintothis on Whitney