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My Best Albums of 2016 - Chris Marks

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The way this usually goes is that we all throw our favourite albums in a pile and argue loads about the merits of each others choices, only to be overridden by the editors when we can't decide!

Or at least that's how I see it, because how else do all my choices never make the final list? I mean come on!

But all joking aside, it's been a collossal task to narrow down to a top 10 from 2016's wealth of great albums.

It's a year where genres have been moulded into new forms, stone-called classics have been released and some albums have captured the political and cultural mood of the world.

I could have written a top 200 without too much effort but for me these are the 10 that have made my 2016:

Skepta – Konnichiwa

This is the album that has dragged grime into the mainstream. The UK’s most exciting for several years Konnichiwa showed that the street aggression and urban beats of the genre could be forged into an album that flows perfectly and smashes preconceptions.

It is so much more than the anthems ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’, take the Far East tinged opener ‘Konnichiwa’ or rolling ‘Numbers’ (with the US flava brought by Pharrell Williams) to start digging the depths of this magnificent album.

Grime is now a proper album genre. 

Grawl!x – Aye

Following the whispered statement of intent that was 2015’s Good Grief, James Machin took his Grawl!x persona into new realms on second album Aye!

The first half of the album builds on the ethereal dream-pop of the debut but makes it fuller and more grandiose sounding, which can be filtered back to the band’s (it is a band in the live arena) tour of beautiful churches around the UK. The way Machin’s original Grawl!x songs sounded echoing around these epic spaces has bled into the sound of Aye!

But it is the second half that the album bursts into new life as Machin lets electronics into his dreamy world on gems like the dark techno of ‘Destination’ and the wonderful ‘Gumption’ a collaboration with Derbyshire kindred-spirits Haiku Salut.

Deftones – Gore

Deftones is a band that has never quite fit anywhere – part nu-metal, part ambient, part post rock – but this is what has made them so revered. They can drop metal dancefloor fillers and complex ambient arrangements with ease.

Gore is a stunning achievement, and a culmination of every part of Deftones varied career. At a time when so much of the mainstream of rock and metal follows formulas this is a band that continues to smash all expectations.

Tracks like ‘Doomed User’ are as rifftastic as anything else this year, while ‘Hearts and Wires’ injects ambient electronics into the powerful rock.

David Bowie – Blackstar

This was the 25th and, depressingly, final album from a genius.

No other artist could have departed this world with such a strong, world-beating statement. There will never be another Bowie.

Skating Polly - The Big Fit

With their first UK release (fourth overall) this teenage American duo put a pin down on the Riot Grrrl/grunge timeline in 2016.

Built on simplicity, the main factor of The Big Fit is pure, snotty, guitar noise – big, in your face riffs and rebellious screams. But the album is also run through with melody and pop sensibility.

They also have a knowingness of how they are perceived because of their age. On ‘Pretective Boy’ they state ‘those lyrics do have meaning and I will prove it.”

They call their music ‘Ugly Pop’, and it is, pure pop, just of the more grubby, charity-shop clothed, real-world angst variety. This is what makes Skating Polly one of the most vital new underground US rock bands right now.

Amber Arcades – Fading Lines

Music created by a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter who works by day as a legal aide to Syrian refugees in Utrecht and who used to sit on UN tribunals on war crimes, was always going to be interesting.

And so with Fading Lines, Annelotte De Graaf (aka Amber Arcades) has created a work of unassuming beauty that draws a line between psych, shoegaze and indie-pop effortlessly.

 

 

 

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhbition

Named after a Joy Division song, progressive in approach and fuelled by nihilism, Danny Brown’s first record on Warp records is the US hip hop album of the year.

Atrocity Exhibition is the sound of post-industrial Detroit, a dark, broken place. In both sound and rhymes Brown captures this foreboding environment effortlessly.

Solange – A Seat At The Table

While one Knowles sister gets all the props, the other is quietly making exceptional records that blow her more popular sisters efforts out of the water.

Solange’s almost RnB sounds take in the classic whilst being undoubtedly forward thinking.

Packed with poignant lyrics that are overtly political, representing the race issues faced in the US, A Seat At The Table shows that radio-friendly RnB can also have purpose.

The album’s many interludes pull no punches in getting Solange’s message across.

Tiga – No Fantasy Required

Flying in the face of the current popularity of EDM mindlessness, techno-legend Tiga dropped an album of pure ‘pop songs’.

It is an undoubtedly populist approach to dance music, but one that has heart, soul and intelligence.

No Fantasy Required is built equally from dancefloor bangers and intelligent electro-pop tunes that make it perfect for both the club and home environments.

Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch

Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch is a completely unique offering – a concept album drawing on blood, menstruation and vampires.

Musically it is a metronomic blend of breathless pants, sweeping basslines and surging synths that underpine her haunting vocals beautifully.

As albums go it is the most clearly separate from the male-dominated world of rock and it is a wondrous statement.




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