Albums of the Year 2016
The last 12 months, I think we can all agree, have been pretty harsh in many ways. Not least because we’ve lost music legends one after the other, said goodbye to labels including FortunaPop! but yet we’ve also seen vinyl sales overtake digital downloads for the first time (Good news? Bad news? Probably a bit of both) and once again a slew of amazing music.
The sheer amount of astounding music being put out across all genres, from all around the world, by all kinds of artists has thrilled us once more. And we’ve been as excited by the big releases as we have some smaller DIY and underground drops.
At LTW we challenge boundaries and champion diversity and while it’s been hard to pick just fifty albums we truly show the range of music we’ve listened to and loved in the last 12 months. However we feel this year’s albums of the year list is reflective of the open door policy in coverage and contribution here at Louder Than War.
From a much, much longer list we’ve made a selection of the final 50 albums you should have heard from 2016 – watch out for posts in the coming days on our selections for EP releases and reissues.
Albums of the Year 2016 Top 50
50. Dexys – Let The Record Show (100% / Warner)
The band’s first release since their critically acclaimed One Day I’m Going To Soar is based on their interpretations of Irish songs and fulfils an idea they first had in the mid-80s.
49. Linda Guilala – Psiconautica (Elefant)
Spanish indiepop that has the best of catchy melody, ethereal experimentation and walls of sound. Read a review from Associate Editor Phil Newall here.
48. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones (Don Giovanni)
A challenging record redefining the protest song, Moor Mother describes her sound as ‘slaveship punk’ and this latest release is a high-water mark of her prolific output.
47. Unqualified Nurse Band – Debasement Tapes (Reckless Yes Records)
For a band which only came together at the start of the year this is a remarkable record mixing styles at thrilling pace without getting messy. Read a review from news editor Lee Hammond here.
46. Thought Forms – Songs About Drowning (Invada)
Brave and single-minded this album takes the band from good to amazing. Read a review from LTW contributor Simon Tucker here.
45. Die Antwoord – Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid (Zef)
Powered by pure attitude the latest offering from South African duo Die Antwoord sees them take a more purile approach to subject while retaining the catchy wordplay.
44. Suede – Night Thoughts (Suede Ltd)
A modern gothic romance of love, life and death the seventh album from Suede is arguably their best. Read a review from LTW contributor Ged Babey here.
43. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Saint / Columbia)
A third studio album from Solange and her first Billboard chart number 1. The recording process for A Seat At The Table was intense and Solange says it marks a transitional moment in her life and while it tackles themes of empowerment and despair it also crosses genres from funk, soul to modern RnB.
42. Car Seat Headrest – Teen of Denial (Matador)
A popular pick with LTW contributors this year and a big step forward toward songwriting greatness following last year’s curated Teens of Style brought together the best of his Bandcamp output.
41. Minor Victories – Minor Victories (Fat Possum)
Self-titled debut that is every bit as amazing as you’d expect from a band which contains members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors.
40. The Membranes – Inner Space / Outer Space (Louder Than War)
A full remix album of their acclaimed Dark Matter / Dark Energy album it features reworkings by Therapy?, Mark Lanegan, Youth from Killing Joke and Reverend and The Makers.
39. Deerhoof – The Magic (Polyvinyl)
Recorded in seven days in an abandoned office in New Mexico The Magic is one of Deerhoof’s most accessible and rock-influenced records, while still remaining wildly imaginative and experimental.
38. Evans the Death – Vanilla (Fortuna Pop! / Slumberland Records)
Aggressive, extroverted and raw the third album from the London five-piece saw them fully embrace their experimental side veering between styles and recorded close to live giving a feral vitality to this record.
37. Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
There’s something of the ’60s in the sound of Angel Olsen’s 2016 release but not in the underlying theme; not here is the yearning for losing yourself to love but quite the opposite. Like previous albums Olsen explores her own heart and world, growing lush sonics as she does so.
36. Theatre of Hate – Kinshi
The hotly anticipated first album from Theatre of Hate in more than 30 years was self-released by the band via a PledgeMusic campaign.
35. Hands Off Gretel – Burn the Beauty Queen
Fans of riot grrrl, grunge and distortion need to be getting their ears around the debut from South Yorkshire’s Hands Off Gretel. Eliciting two reviews on LTW you can read one from Sophie Sparham here and another from Ged Babey here.
34. Bon Iver – 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
A masterful record which showcased an expanded sound palette and intensity in style and emotion. Read a review from news editor Lee Hammond here.
33. Shirley Collins – Lodestar (Domino Recording Company)
Her first album release since 1978 – a thirty plus year period in which the folk vocalist hardly sang at all after being diagnosed with Dysphonia. An uncompromising and bold album which belies the singer’s age and her year’s away from music.
32. Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Bella Union)
The seventh album from songwriter Marissa Nadler takes her trademark stripped down style and sets to it stories with an end of days feel. Atmospheric and absorbing.
31. The Tuts – Update Your Brain
Mixing punk, pop and patriarchy-smashing lyrics wrapped in killer hooks The Tuts self-released debut brings all of the catchy melody and some much-needed to-the-point honesty in their lyrics.
30. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
Joining a lineage of menstrala (art created with or depicting menstrual blood) Hval’s sixth album continues to mix both art and pop into spellbinding and boundary-pushing songwriting.
29. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits (Castle Face Records)
The first studio album with a two drummer line up but the band’s eleventh overall, despite the prolific output Thee Oh Sees don’t disappoint, never being anything less than astounding. Read news editor Lee Hammond’s review here.
28. Barry Hyde – Malody (Sirenspire Records)
A document of his mental health experiences the record reflects the highs and lows The Futureheads’ frontman went through with bipolar disorder.
27. Skating Polly – The Big Fit (Chap Stereo Records)
A first UK release for the teenage American duo, but already their fourth long player together. The Big Fit avoids rock n roll cliche while dropping seamlessly into garage rock lineage. Read a review from LTW contributor Ged Babey here.
26. The Ruts DC – Music Must Destroy (Westworld)
Talking about lead single Psychic Attack LTW contributor Ged Babey said this wasn’t a comeback but if it were it would be ‘the greatest comeback since Lazarus’. The album, released in September, was an explosive return to rock.
25. Family Atlantica – Cosmic Unity (Soundway Records)
Winner of this year’s Dead Albratross Music Prize Cosmic Unity by Family Atlantica was described succinctly by their label as “psychedelic highlife, steel- pan Ethio-funk, calypso, biao and scorching equatorial jazz underpinned by deep afro-Atlantic dance rhythms.”
24. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic Records)
The sixth studio album by hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest was released months after member Phife Dawg’s death. It gained rightful critical acclaim and was the band’s second to top the Billboard charts.
23. Grumbling Fur – Furfour (Thrill Jockey)
The fourth album from London psych duo Grumbling Fur dabbles with found sounds and a preoccupation with modern media consumption.
22. GNOD – Mirror
We described the latest release from noise terrorists as deeply experimental while also being a lesson in protracted repetition and brutal noise. Read LTW contributor Ioan’s review here.
21. Brian Eno – The Ship (Warp Records)
We described the latest solo album as storytelling of the finest order, and an album which will be ranked among his best work. Read the review from LTW contributor Simon Tucker here.
20. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (Good Music / Def Jam / Rock-A-Fella Records)
The seventh studio album from Yeezy was also his seventh consecutive number 1 album on the Billboard Charts. It marked a move forward for him as an artist as he tweaked tracks following release and described it as ‘a living breathing changing creative expression.’
19. The Anchoress – Confessions of a Romance Novelist (KScope)
Winner of Best Newcomer at the Prog Awards the debut from The Anchoress was a concept piece, darkly humorous and multi-faceted that reflected a singular creative vision.
18. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini (Transgressive Records)
We’ve been fans of Let’s Eat Grandma for some time here at LTW and the debut album from the Norwich duo was no disappointment. An experimental mix of pop hooks, electronic sounds and surreal takes on life made for a spellbinding listen.
17. Swans – The Glowing Man
A solid 10/10 from Editor in Chief John Robb for the latest from Swans. An album he says, “leaves you exhausted and bathed in sweat when you listen to it and emotionally and physically turned inside out.” Read his review here.
16. Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Fortuna POP!)
We call them quiet heroes of the indiepop scene and with second album Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart Martha gave us wry takes on the awkwardness of everyday life.
15. Beyonce – Lemonade (Parkwood Entertainment)
The sixth studio album (and its accompanying film) from Queen Bey, Lemonade was hailed as imperious, as much a political statement as it was a cross-genre reflection of modern womanhood.
14. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista)
Bringing the curtain down on his career Iggy Pop teamed up with QOTSA’s Josh Homme and harked back to the innovations of 77’s The Idiot with this final (?) release. Read our review from LTW contributor Gus Ironside here.
13. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
This year’s Mercury Award winner and the fourth studio album from grime’s Skepta.
12. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia Records)
Released shortly ahead of his death the Cohen’s fourteenth studio album stands as a final statement from a man, and artist, aware and at ease with his mortality.
11. Factory Floor – 25 25 (DFA)
The second album from Factory Floor came from them as a duo, and was a lean and minimal techno beast.
10. Wire – Nocturnal Koreans (Pink Flag)
Coming in their fortieth anniversary year Wire’s mini album saw a return to form.
In his review LTW contributor Ged Babey said, “There’s a few things I wanted to say about Wire 2016. They seem to have a sense of humour nowadays and are less self-consciously austere. They actually sound like they are enjoying themselves. Well, almost. Some of the lyrics on this album are very witty. Snappy turns of phrase and funny juxtapositioning. Blank verse with straight-faced punchlines. The music goes from floaty ambient to art-punk jog and, to me, it’s a nice functional album to listen to on weary journeys. It’s a varied but relaxing listen, that chills you out and keeps you awake at the same time, if you know what I mean. The crossword clue lyrics keep your brain functioning.”
9. Deux Furieuses – Tracks of Wire
The debut album from punk rock duo Deux Furieuses scored a straight 10/10 from LTW contributor Paul Scott-Bates when it was released in May.
He wrote, “This album has been a long time coming but has been worth waiting every single second. Sometimes an album comes along that just grips you by the throat on the first listen and won’t let go, Tracks Of Wire is one such album. It sets the bar very high in terms of modern day punk and will also make album number two an incredible hard proposition, but for the moment enjoy what is a superb album and one which will be right up there in the end of year lists.”
8. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island Records)
Following her 2011 Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake PJ Harvey’s eleventh album stands as a work of art and political statement.
Reviewing LTW contributor Simon Tucker said, “Less melodic than her previous works, this album is one that is certain to create debate amongst fans and critics alike. Divisive, enthralling, avant-garde, multi-textured and thrilling, Harvey has once again proven that when it comes to her releases we must expect the unexpected and just trust her and her bandmates to create an album that is more than just a listening experience, more than just background noise.
“This is not disposable, this is art served with a dagger of honesty and a beacon for others to travel towards.”
7. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd)
While much of this album was written before the death of Nick Cave’s young son Arthur it is a moment which hangs over the album, and which influenced the raw edge left in production. As a work carved from the trauma of grief it is an exceptional work which you wish had not had reason for being.
Reviewing LTW contributor Simon Tucker said, “Skeleton Tree is a heavy, difficult yet beautiful trip where the silence in between songs weighs as heavy on the listener as the music. It is an artist and his friends working through the toughest of times with bravery, brutal honesty and raw emotion. It is an album that demands you listen from start to finish in a darkened room. Many people will connect with this album and it reveals the human behind the character that is Nick Cave. Emotional, stunning, dense and fractured. Skeleton Tree represents art as healing and artist as mirror.”
6. Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers (Fat Possum Records)
Described as a ‘brilliant, dirty, miserable, provocative, dirge’ of an album this second album from Fat White Family was a popular pick for contributors on their end of year lists.
Reviewing LTW contributor Keith Goldhanger said, “This may provoke those used to hearing songs about lost love, predicting riots and teenage icons into hitting out with a big stick (and we’re hoping we haven’t missed anything hugely criptic and even more potentially controversial that’s hidden in all this) but this isn’t the fuckin Kaiser Chiefs or Kasabian we’re listening to and embracing here. The Fat White Family are a car crash that just keeps on crashing, who give the impression that they don’t give a fuck about anything and tease us with song titles that raise eyebrows but produce tunes that will last for years.”
5. Anohni – Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade)
A dance-orientated album from Anohni which captured ears musically as well as for being a statement of intent. She described it herself as, “an electronica album with some sharp teeth.”
In his review LTW contributor Simon Tucker described it as, “Hopelessness is one of the bleakest and most lyrically challenging albums that has been released in a long while. Politics, climate change, murder, are just a few of the themes that run through the album making it a challenging listen lyrically but due to the production and musical accompaniment, one of the most uplifting and joyous. It’s a very fine balancing act that takes a great amount of skill to pull off but pull it off she does, with aplomb.”
4. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)
As ever with Radiohead the release of this album drew attention whether you fell into the love or hate camp on listening. For LTW contributor and lifelong Radiohead fan Simon Tucker he was firmly in the former and gave it a 10/10 in his review having watched the band first delete their profiles online, then tease the album before finally letting it drop this May.
He said, “There is plenty here for fans of the band that have followed them through their career and whilst many may still hold onto the albums they have made in the past as a sort of benchmark for what all other Radiohead albums should sound like, this is where the road has been leading all along. They have taken many twists and turns throughout their career and with A Moon Shaped Pool the band have arrived at a glorious destination.”
3. Savages – Adore Life (Matador)
Scoring a perfect 10/10 from Editor in Chief John Robb in his review of Savages second album on its release in January. He stated that this was the proof that future still burned with intense and creative energy, that while we should grieve for Bowie – who had died days before – to say that culture had died with him was shortsighted in light of albums such as this.
He said, “This [album] is sex and love as the ultimate human obsession, the core of being the heart and soul of all great art and pop music dealt with a brilliant and poetic honesty by Jehny’s Beth’s lyrics and the matching music that is taut and electric when dealing with the powerful intoxicant of love and lust and sex and life.” He described it as the album we needed right then, and the year’s first masterpiece.
2. Meilyr Jones – 2013 (Moshi Moshi)
A highly anticipated debut from former Radio Luxembourg and Race Horses frontman Meilyr Jones, 2013 didn’t disappoint when it dropped in March.
A firm favourite with many of the contributors to Louder Than War for their end of year lists the album captured elegant songwriting and exquisite orchestration.
In his review news editor Lee Hammond said, “2013 compounds all of its hype, its an album that possesses enthusiasm and excitement but it is tempered with maturity and depth creating this phenomenal sound.”
1. David Bowie – Blackstar (RCA)
Bowie’s death in early January is still being felt as a raw loss across the music and culture world. He was, as Editor in Chief John Robb opined in his obituary, “So cool you can use his second name as shorthand for quixotic, era defining genius and pop perfection.” He described him as the man who fell to Earth and saved a generation from boredom, and paid tribute to the cultural icon saying, “Ziggy eternal. The Egyptian god. The high decibel Pharaoh whose music will live into the afterlife. The songs will last forever. Cancer is the cruelest of diseases but it gave Bowie the space to seal the myth and finish the perfect work of art – his own life. The fighting dancehalls settle into the glowing dust of the past. All we have now is the music but what a gift.”
Blackstar was released in life but only with Bowie’s death did it start to reveal its secrets, becoming a salve for the grief. Even without the context it is one of Bowie’s finest works. As LTW contributor Sean Bw Parker wrote in his review, published ahead of Bowie’s death, “Blackstar is a return to uncompromising form, as intense as 1. Outside with the sprawling edges trimmed off, and at moments resplendent in his full, Vaudevillian, space opera pomp capabilities.”