Anyone looking for a comprehensive count down of 2016’s best albums might be best looking elsewhere, as this list is FAR from exhaustive.
It’s that time of year when I realise how few albums I’ve bought that everyone else has. A flick through the end of year Best Album lists suggests I’ve never been less cool. I flirted with buying the Bon Iver album, despite it insisting upon using song titles like 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ and ____45_____ I’m so uncool that I want song titles I can use in conversation. I’m sure it’s my loss, as he featured on the falsetto dreamy alt.R&B of Friends with Francis and the Lights and it was wistful perfection.
2016 had surprisingly few tessential purchases. Metronomy, AKA Joseph Mount, continues to flirt with being a good band, but his songs somehow never quite justify their existence. It’s like he can write songs, but not great ones. Even the Robyn featuring Hang Me Out To Dry fails to truly grip. It’s a song of two halves that sound like they’ve never met. Nice cover though.
I might yet buy Kanye West‘s Life of Pablo, if he ever finishes it, although I suspect it’ll be nothing on his 808s and Heartbreak.
Bear’s Den : Red Earth and Pouring Rain
This was one essential purchase in 2016. It’s their 2nd album, and the new New Gold Dream. It’s the album every Simple Minds fan has wished for since 1983. An album of such sincerity and lush soundscapes that the mid -80s would have swallowed it whole; mullet and all. But as the electronics pick up in the coda of Broken Parable, your neck hairs have joined them. It’s sublime, and the only album I’ve ever admitted to loving which thanks banjo manufacturers, as opposed to Roland keyboards, in the acknowledgements. It’s widescreen rock for clutching your shirt front to as you bellow out half-heard lyrics like no one’s watching.
Previous albums finds them mooching around in the rain trying to be Mumford and Sons, thankfully this album stops all that nonsense and slaps a heavy dose of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer over proceedings, adding a pop sheen and the sort of ambition U2 buried at the Joshua tree
M83 : Junk
M83’s Junk album looks and sounds like it might have been recorded by a pack of smacked-out Furby dolls. And this is not a bad thing. It’s the sound of a man dreaming of Rubiks Cubes and Starship singles that were never actually made. It’s utterly bonkers, baffling and rewarding. He might have thrown cool out with the baby, but it’s basically the soundtrack to Netflix Stranger Things, as though the saxophone never went out of fashion. No punches are being pulled, as it’s the sound of the kitchen sink arriving at a studio and never leaving. The opening track plays with discordance, but from then on it’s the celebratory sound of a man in a room full of balloons. There’s little doubt that Moon crystal is pastiche of Hill Street Blues theme tune too far, and perhaps For the kids a one decline into lounge too far, but its imagination and fondness for 80s synth pop is palatable.
Pet Shop Boys : Super
I’m a little biased, but from the imperial poetry of the Dictator Decides, reminiscent of 1988’s majestic I’m not Scared, to the heavenly italo-disco synths of Undertow and whispered abandon of Burn, to the wistful breakbeat of Into thin air, Pet Shop Boys have done it again. If you prefer their more reflective string epics this may not be so essential, but this 2nd album with Stuart Price has a joie de vivre of its own. Other than the misstep of techno barn-dance opener Happiness, it’s a rare thing: a pop album that grows with each listen.
Steve Mason : Meet the Humans
The drawback of releasing albums early in the year is the risk of being forgotten in end of year lists. It feels like this utterly marvellous album has been out for so long that Mason has probably forgotten about it himself. This is the ex- Beta Band singer’s 3rd solo album and has an almost baroque intimacy. It’s a blend of folk, indie and smatterings of hip hop/dance beats, and is so stuffed with melodies at unlikely places that you find yourself grinning without noticing. He’s a criminally well-kept secret in music, which in this case is not a euphemism for acquired taste. It is actually criminal. There’s an aching beauty to all his songs that deserves to be heard. It’s a modern album that is already classic.
1975 : I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Some albums are not as clever as they think they are. This is one of them. However, it is still very good. It’s shamelessly smooth FM pop. It’s a double album, that would make a perfect ten song album. It sounds like Mister Mister and the Cutting Crew had as much influence as the Beatles. It’s all kind of unlikely, yet works. I’m showing my age, but Somebody Else mines the slick wistful perfection of Double’s Captain of her heart. There are two too many interludes of noodling, but it is the sole album here that appears on other end of 2016 lists.
Song of the year goes to the tender Alchemist by the underrated Just Jack. A kind of more romantic The Streets. Pop is generally more interested in the start of relationships than the end, or the awkward bit in the middle where the house looks like it’s transporting landfill. But this takes on the bitter sweetness of parenting; of letting them explore the world, while you cross your fingers. He lives in Brighton and despite hearing the moral superiority of tofu in the background, it’s a sumptuous tune (with a twang of Level 42 slap bass) in paean to his daughter . ‘Let’s not make the same mistakes our fathers made,’ he declares, as niggling beats spin a dance spell fit for the sundown terraces of Ibiza without ever leaving his living room.
HonoThe Life Assistance Agency was also published in 2016 and involves gratuitous references to Bruce Springsteen and other musical artists. It can be purchased here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance