My Favourite Records of 2016 by Andrew Darley
This year, more than any other year I found myself uttering “The weeks are flying by” or asking “Where is the year going?”. Weeks blurred into months and at times I felt I couldn’t keep up with 2016’s rapid momentum – let alone the music it brought.
A few months into the year I became somewhat despondent at how I simply could not keep up with the ferocious pace singles, albums and new artists emerged. I felt guilty that I couldn’t give new albums and artists the attention they deserved or weren’t reaching my ears at all, due to work commitments or other projects. So, when it came to compiling my ‘Best Albums of 2016’ list it felt unfair to even approach it in those terms; I still haven’t gotten around to some of records this year that I know I will love once given the time. Instead, this is a list of my favourite albums of the year – records which got me excited, made me smile, gave me comfort, kept me company, challenged, moved and motivated me. In no particular order, these are the artists I feel I got to know a little more, and subsequently, myself too.
I’m wrapping up this year fully aware that albums aren’t bound by time or year of release; they are as important on the day we discover them as the day they were first released. The deluge of music releases can sometimes imply a pressure to listen to everything. It can also make it difficult to fully immerse yourself in the worlds that lie within those albums which their makers have carefully created, simply due to the sheer amount of great work being put out. We don’t need to listen to everything, we just need to make a connection to something. Today’s culture, more than ever, is based on chasing ‘the next thing’, at the expense of savouring what’s already in front of you.
Hannah Georgas – For Evelyn
No other artist stopped me in my tracks as much as Hannah Georgas did. “Tell me that I’m something worth your while” reverberates through the singer-songwriter’s third record as she addresses her anxieties, past experiences and self-perception through perfectly-executed, life-affirming pop. From the urgent synthpop of ‘Evelyn’, the soaring ballad of ‘Walls’ and bittersweet ‘City’, For Evelyn is rich in sound and incredible in its honesty.
Lucius – Good Grief
Lucius’ second album is very much the result of the first; following an extensive tour for their debut, Wildewoman, the songs they wrote for its successor concerned holding it together, navigating relationships, frustration and the bond that comes from sharing problems. Their fascination with duality, which lies at the heart of the band’s music and visuals, reaches a stunning climax on the album’s closing ‘Dusty Trails’, as they find themselves halfway between misery and heaven where they realise there’s plenty of time for everything to work out.
Eluvium False – Recordings On
On False Recordings On, Matthew Cooper reaches a new creative peak in his musical career. He crafts a world, iridescent in texture, made animated synth and organ arrangements, enchanting choral parts and loops that amplified to transcendent proportions.
Garbage – Strange Little Birds
Strange Little Birds is Garbage’s sixth album and is as much about accepting one’s self, as it is of others. Its lyrics contain a sense of change or internal revolution. Its brooding atmosphere and lyrics detail the complexities of growing up, disillusionment with today’s culture and developing an inner resolve. Featuring Manson’s chilling admissions, such as “Sometimes I feel like I’ve vanished in thin air”, this album is one of their more concentrated and less fussed-over visions which finds the band at their heaviest sounding on record, both musically and thematically.
Britney Spears – Glory
Britney returned this year with her strongest album since 2007’s Blackout. After 2013’s Britney Jean, executive produced by Will.i.am, was clouded by generic chart dance pop and devoid of any recognisable personality, the album left me completely cold. On Glory, the singer appears to be back at the helm with a new writing team, producers and a desire to try new sounds and vocal styles. The billowing opener ‘Invitation’ recaptures her magnetic energy and offers a mellowed sound, while the overall record is imbedded with songs that are diverse, fun and contain a renewed fire. A bonus song, ‘Coupure Électrique’, sung entirely in French, translates to ‘blackout’ – giving a knowing wink that she too knows this is her best work since her 2007 zenith. The artist is once again, gloriously, present.
School of Seven Bells – SVIIB
School of Seven Bells’ final album is their most opulent record despite the shadow which was cast over its creation. Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis began writing their fourth album in 2012, continued to create during Curtis’ cancer diagnosis and treatment while Deheza finished the album after he passed away. Alejandra wrote its lyrics about their enduring creative and romantic relationship. Celebratory in its vision, SVIIB is a musical emblem of how two people’s lives intertwined.
Exploded View – Exploded View
In preparation for a tour in Mexico, singer-songwriter Anika formed a band to bring her music to a live setting. What she didn’t anticipate was that her intended live band would become an entirely new band: Exploded View. Their debut album contains a restless energy as the singer channels her personal anxieties and fears that she has harboured. Their penetrating arrangements and Anika’s distinguished vocals made for a debut that is as genre-defying as it is bewitching.
Matt Robertson – In Echolean
Inspired by the idea of surveillance, how people are constantly monitored in society and have become apathetic towards it, Matt Robertson’s interpretation is uncompromising. It’s nine songs move seamlessly into one another as the album blossoms from potent electronics and ominous string arrangements into more contemporary classical compositions.
Róisín Murphy – Take Her Up To Monto
Take Her Up To Monto is the bold and imaginative sibling album to Róisín Murphy’s Hairless Toys album released in 2015. Both were concocted by Murphy and her touring musical director, Eddie Stevens; while the ease of their alchemy was explicit from the idiosyncratic character of Hairless Toys, their second effort brings their writing to different and playful extremes.
Lady Gaga – Joanne
For her first pop record since ARTPOP in 2013, Lady Gaga took the years since to find a new perspective. The result is a record focused on letting her songs breathe rather than creating an over-arching concept. She has expanded her palette of electronic pop and dance beats to one which incorporates guitar arrangements and country influences. Rooted in the death of her aunt Joanne, whom the record is named after, its songs are noticeably more explicit in examining her personal relationships with family, friends and partners. It’s an album where she has allowed herself to be her most vulnerable self and the hat fits just right.