To Die By Your Side

My Favourite Albums of 2016

December 29th, 2016

So here we are then. The end of December. Another year under our belts. Another 12 months of new music listened to. Which means it’s time to compile and post the obligatory end of year list. And as ever, I’m going to repeat what I’ve said every year since I’ve been doing this. Which is that I make no claims for these being the best, most artistic, boundary pushing, genre busting records of the year. These are merely the albums released in 2016 that I’ve enjoyed listening to the most. The records that have moved me in some way, that have meant something to me, that I have found myself returning to again and again. And as ever, they are presented in alphabetical order because music isn’t a competition and I’d probably spend far too long agonising over the order, only to change my mind the very next day.

So here they are then. The 12 albums that have soundtracked my 2016. If you haven’t heard any of them, you really should check them out as they will fill your ears with nothing but great music.

David Bowie – Blackstar (buy here)
Bowie’s death cast a long shadow over both this album and the year as a whole. I read the words ‘RIP David Bowie’ while sat on the train to work, moments after my first listen to Blackstar had ended. I’m glad I got to enjoy it at least once without the dark shadow that has since hung over it. But in that moment, everything about this release began to take on a whole new meaning. Every aspect of Blackstar is sure to be analysed and scrutinised for years to come. That Bowie was able to produce such a stunning and lasting piece of work in his final few months is a remarkable and fitting testament to his talent.

Honeyblood – Babes Never Die (buy here)
Honeyblood sound like the alt-rock bands of the early to mid 90s. I love that sound. Hence I love this album. Not quite as immediate as their debut, Babes Never Die is a record that benefits from repeated listens as the hooks and melodies wrap themselves around you.
Honeyblood – Sea Hearts (Live Session Version)

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions – Until The Hunter (buy here)
Gorgeous, dreamy, soft and captivating, Until The Hunter is everything you know and love about Hope Sandoval. The duet with Kurt Vile is the centrepiece, delivering one of the most laid-back and wonderful songs of the year. And while it could easily overshadow the rest of a lesser album, the other ten songs are thankfully just as beautiful and strong.

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (buy here)
If the reports are true and this is to be Iggy’s last studio album, it’s one hell of a way to say goodbye. The easy narrative is to say that when he collaborates with other artists, Iggy ups his game and as cliched as that may seem, there’s no denying that Post Pop Depression is the best thing he’s released for a long time. Lyrically, he hasn’t sounded this angry, defiant and vital in years. Musically, it’s up there with his peak solo output of the 70s.
Iggy Pop – Sunday (Live Session Version)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (buy here)
Sometimes you can’t escape the context of an album’s release. Would Skeleton Tree have sounded quite so devastatingly powerful without the tragedy that surrounded its recording? We’ll never truly know as you can’t help read depths and project meaning on to the lyrics and tone that may or may not have been intentional. Musically, the album continues the textured soundscapes of Push The Sky Away; the band masterfully creating a sound that’s reverent and respectful, propping up Nick Cave’s weary half sung monologues.

Pixies – Head Carrier (buy here)
I don’t care what anyone else says, this is a great album. No, it doesn’t sound how Pixies sounded at their peak but hey, newsflash, it isn’t 1989 anymore and you can’t expect a band in their 50s to sound as wild, wired and unhinged as they did in their youth. Besides, people would only moan if they tried to recreate it. So screw you, this a great album.

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (buy here)
You certainly can’t accuse Polly Jean of standing still. Once again she stretches her musical muscles, this time adding saxophones and sharp pulsating brass sounds to her repertoire. On first few listens, The Hope Six Demolition Project felt like it was lacking in actual enjoyable tunes but one day it just clicked and now it’s up there with my favourites of hers. Watching her Glastonbury performance on TV was eye opening, the songs really coming alive on stage, filled with drama and tension. Let England Shake may have won all the plaudits a few years ago but personally I think this is a stronger collection of songs.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (buy here)
From the paranoid horror of Burn The Witch’s stabbing strings, to the beautiful twinkling pianos of True Love Waits, Radiohead once again deliver an album of heartbreak, uncertainty and introspection. With Jonny Greenwood’s orchestration adding a new layer to their sound, Radiohead continue to be as haunting, touching and magnificent as ever. An album to enjoy over and over again.
Radiohead – The Numbers (Live Jonny & Thom Session Version)

Savages – Adore Life (buy here)
An album about love that sounds nothing like a love album? You had me at hello. This intense post-punk tour de force wears its heart firmly on its fist.
Savages – Adore (Live Session Version)

Suede – Night Thoughts (buy here)
Not quite the equal to Dog Man Star that early reviews suggested, Night Thoughts nonetheless continues Suede’s remarkable resurgence as a band to be reckoned with. A more than worthy follow up to Bloodsports, this album felt grander and bolder. Though having fewer individual standout tracks than its predecessor, Night Thoughts hangs together better as an album. Its bold attempt at a concept deserves to be listened to all the way through. Something I’ve done many times this year.
Suede – The Fur And The Feathers (Live Acoustic Session Version)

Warpaint – Heads Up (buy here)
Lead single New Song suggested that Warpaint’s third album was about to bring the party to 2016. Turns out they threw us a bit of a red herring as the rest of the album didn’t quite match up to the the funky pop tone of that track. Not that the rest was a disappointment. Far from it. While the rest of Heads Up was closer to their more familiar downtempo grooves, the band sounds more focused than ever before.
Warpaint – New Song (Live Session Version)

Wilco – Schmilco (buy here)
When this was released, one review said something about how this album meant that Sky Blue Sky was no longer Wilco’s worst album. Well I liked Sky Blue Sky and I like this too. Deceptively subtle, Schmilco’s gentle acoustic layers unravel with each listen revealing more and more nuances that lesser musicians simply wouldn’t be able to pull off.
Wilco – Someone To Lose (Live Session Version)

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