The Music Fix Albums of 2016: Part One

Wow, 2016. What a year. What a strange, unpredictable, and sad year in so many ways. And what a shitty year for music icons. David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Lemmy. Sharon Jones. Leon Russell. Pete Burns. Bobby Vee. The list really does go on. There's never been a year like it. You might also argue there's never been a year with so many good things for music, from the power of the Knowles sisters releases, to the sheer depth and breadth of excellent albums - including final masterpieces from Bowie and Cohen. Obviously not everything can make the final 30. Maybe 50 is next year's target. Or not. Anyhow, come with us and spend some time remembering the best of 2016, and maybe, hopefully, discover a new favourite from this year of many emotions.

We're revealing them a little differently this year, so here are the first ten of our final thirty albums, in alphabetical order. The next ten will follow Thursday 8th December, the final ten on Friday 9th December.

Huge thanks to the team for putting this list together: Holly Newins, Olivia Schaff, Colin Polonowski, Jonathan Tranter, Maisie Newman, Dominic Ross, and Dominic Hemy.

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Against Me - Shape Shift With Me

Against Me! have further risen to the public consciousness with the release of seventh album, Shape Shift With Me. It’s a compelling narrative from the perspective of vocalist Laura Jane Grace, who has become a powerful spokesperson for the trans community. Laying down a passionate vocal against the background of one of 2016’s most adrenaline fuelled records, the fury of her voice on 'Boyfriend' is just as striking as the fleeting approach of 'Crash Landing'. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Against Me! have produced an empowering record with a significant message more than deserving of mainstream attention.
Best track: 'Boyfriend'

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Amber Arcades - Fading Lines

Real-life named human rights lawyer Annelotte De Graaf’s debut album, funded by her former work as a supermarket cashier, is a delight. There’s dream pop references (Real Estate’s Jackson Pollis collaborates on drums), but a range of styles including indie rock guitars, and more interesting links to when music this terrifically catchy topped the charts: the joy of Madonna with a little sadness like Abba. De Graaf’s lyrical style, perhaps informed by her profession, is precise and tight and her vocal range is wide and sure, notes melt in her mouth before hitting the target whether modulated, or crystal clear in a favourite track, 'Apophenia'. Fading Lines is one of the very best debut albums.
Best track: ‘Apophenia’

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Beyonce - Lemonade

While Beyonce has eased into pole position for gaining the most tabloid inches this year, her musical prowess was often overlooked. But, avoid the ‘did he, didn’t he?’ rhetoric which caused the press to go into meltdown, and you'll uncover an album which proves Bey’s credentials as far more comprehensive than just her blistering trademark vocal. Lemonade effortlessly blends genres across twelve tracks - snaking from the blusey swagger of 'Don’t Hurt Yourself', to the dance hall tinged 'Hold Up', culminating in the anthemic feminist call-to-arms of 'Formation'. Accompanied by a stellar featuring cast including the likes of Jack White, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar, alongside a full set of visuals, Beyonce has produced the most convincing album of her career.
Best track: 'Freedom'

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Bon Iver - 22, A Million

The third album from Wisconsin born Justin Vernon is a left field revelation off the back of Bon Iver’s previously more traditional nu-folk outings. With a tracklisting typeface that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Aphex Twin album sleeve, 22, A Million retains the same melancholic melody of earlier releases but expertly subverts the genre with its cut and paste glitch sampling and pitch shifted vocals to create something both stark and beautiful on such tracks as the acapella “715 - CR∑∑KS” and “29 #Strafford APTS”. Like Kid A before it, this manages to distance itself from its audience and draws them close to the campfire at the same time while still being an identifiable Bon Iver album.

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The Burning Hell - Public Library

The Burning Hell’s songwriter Mathias Kom really loves his words, which makes Public Library’s collection of stories motif fitting. Kom’s stories range from others’ sports day violence to his own love-at–first-sight meeting with fellow band member Ariel Sharratt (awww) while never losing their sense of playfulness (including Sharratt’s bouncy clarinet and sax) and inclusiveness – the need to share stories with friends in the great oral tradition – that describes the album’s optimistic nature. Kom also, like the rest of us, really loves his music and the track ‘Men Without Hats’ is an absolute joy as it shares the transformative childhood anticipation of buying our first single. This year Canada lost their great storyteller Leonard Cohen but have others like The Burning Hell keeping this reputation alive. A national treasure.
Best track: ‘Men Without Hats’

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David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie’s twenty-fifth studio album is a fitting swansong from one of music’s titans. Released two days before his death,Blackstar sees Bowie return to Tony Visconti with a deliberate attempt towards an experimental jazz route and, whether intentional or not, only partially succeeds with this goal. It does succeed in sticking with the Bowie tradition of reinventing himself and also manages to organically incorporate all of his previous incarnations from the soul of Young Americans, the electronic of Earthling, and even flourishes of Ziggy, New Romantics, and Berlin-era Bowie without feeling shoehorned in. With the melancholic yet uplifting closing track ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ which, not only revisits the harmonica refrain from ‘A New Career in A New Town’, but serves as a fitting full stop to an exhaustive genre spanning career. An indelibly high water mark from the first great loss of 2016.

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Drive-By Truckers - American Band

In a strange year on both sides of the Atlantic it had to be a band like DBT that really said something about the fucked up world we live in. In the year of Trump, Brexit, Honey G and Ed Balls American Band is startling only in its directness. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have written some ballsy, gut punch songs, skewering the NRA’s history on ‘Ramon Casiano’ and religious evangelists on ‘Kinky Hyprocrite’ on two of the record’s lighter songs, before the light and airy acoustic-ness of ‘Guns Of Umpqua’ hides the horror of gun violence in schools and the recurring riff of ‘Darkened Flags At The Cusp Of Dawn’ barely conceals their anger. Never has a Drive-By Truckers record been so packed with accessible and on the cusp of greatness songs, ‘Ever South’ and its ruminations on what being southern means, the stunning support of Black Lives Matters on ‘What It Means’ (“I mean Barack Obama won / And you can choose where to eat / But you don't see too many white kids / Lying bleeding on the street”) and their beautifully heartbreaking take on the effects of depression, ‘Baggage’ (“It lights our daily struggle till it's hard to separate / You from all the darkness in me”). Quite simply: this is a stunner.
Best track: ‘What It Means’

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Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield

“You never truly grow up until you lose your parents” is an assertion few adults, including parents themselves, choose to appreciate until they experience this natural transition. Emma Pollock’s In Search of Harperfield beautifully reflects on her late parents’ lives to inform this next stage in her life, storying a familial past with the warning this past is forever an imagined, just out of reach, place. Pollock’s gift is that her album’s never, really, about her, instead it allows a framework for us who’ve lost our parents, and those who will one day, to apply to our own situations. And it’s another transition in the former lead singer of The Delgados’s career. And her voice, well, it remains as ever alongside Dusty Springfield’s, Britain’s best.
Best track: ‘Intermission’

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GOAT - Requiem

The third album from Gothenburg’s illusive psych-rockers GOAT arrived to breathe joy into what has been a doom and gloom laden year. Full of positivity and hope, Requiem slightly dials back the fuzz guitar wigouts of their first two albums, focusing instead on a kaleidoscope of instruments and folk music influences from traditional Celtic and European folk to African and Indian world music. It is a unifying sound that wraps you up in a big cozy blanket, give you a cup of tea, and makes the world we find ourselves in seem like a less scary place. Although, if you still want your fuzz guitar psych rock fix then the aptly titled “Goatfuzz” delivers this in droves.

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Gold Panda - Good Luck and Do Your Best

Some of the best stories are between the lines, and some stories have no lines at all. Good Luck and Do Your Best is Gold Panda’s instrumental (and visceral, being a co-project with photographer Laura Lewis) love letter to Japan. The album captures the island nation’s tensions of: pace with ‘In My Car’ dashing along the urban landscape, history of ‘Chiba Night’s Shinshoji temple, and nature as it searches for “the orange light that makes the place glow.” The Chelmsford musician tells the underlying story of enthusiasm, and a little self-doubt, more confidently than ever, resisting the need to show off his technical prowess. A departing local taxi driver instructed Gold Panda “Good luck, and do your best.” He certainly did.
Best track: ‘Your Good Times Are Just Beginning’

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Check back tomorrow for the next ten albums.

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