Though 2016 is long, long gone, there are a large number of albums which still resonate strongly with me from last year that I couldn’t not write about, even if I am unforgivably late. Like my most disappointing albums of 2016 list, I’ve had to cut my ‘Album of the Year’ list into two parts because I’ve had so much to say about them!
Please note: there are a lot of albums which I still haven’t heard or ranked from 2016, either out of negligence or, well there really is no other excuse – if there’s an album you love that hasn’t made this list, there’s a chance I haven’t listened to it as of writing this article. Then again, there’s a higher chance that these albums succeeded it, in my opinion.
As ever, feel free to leave a comment below if you want to share your thoughts on these albums or whether you think they don’t belong here. But without further ado, here are my top albums from 2016:
#10 – Childish Gambino – ‘Awaken, My Love!’ (Soul / Funk)
‘Awaken, My Love!’ is a feel-good album that’s oozing with groove; the moment ‘Me and Your Mama’ explodes rumbling drums and saxes, it’s immediately apparent that actor and comedian Donald Glover’s latest album is going to be fantastic. Whilst his previous albums, Camp and Because the Internet, were rap-orientated and less refined, Childish Gambino’s latest album shows Donald at his most mature.
Maybe a little bit too heavy-handed on the Funkadelic influence, the funk and soul elements of ‘Awaken, My Love!’´ are no less genuine and heartfelt; from the Zappa-esque ‘Boogieman’ (think ‘Zomby Woof’) to the delicate ‘Baby Boy’, the entire album is nothing but a joy.
Glover’s weird vocal deliveries are what makes the album stick out; the breathy ‘Have Some Love’, the popping ‘California’ and the echo-riddled ‘Terrified’ and ‘Riot’ make the album as refreshing as it is funky. Transitions between verses and choruses also come out from left field, where song progressions are often unpredictable and are satisfying when they surprise us; closer ‘Stand Tall’ especially flaunts this, where the song meanders for 5 minutes before kicking into high gear.
Ultimately, the album is slick and addictively enjoyable – I’d love to see Childish Gambino continue down this newfound soul path.
#9 – The Dear Hunter – Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional (Progressive Rock)
It’s fantastic to see such an album of high quality succeed an album of equal said quality in such a short time span; Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional follows on from The Dear Hunter’s 2015 album, Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise, in both concept and excellence, but with a darker and more exuberant tone.
Whilst less ‘poppy’ than the previous album, singles ‘Gloria’, ‘Light’ and ‘The Revival’, along with a lot of the album, are still memorable but thrive in their progression rather than catchy choruses. The highlight of the album is the swing jazz that The Dear Hunter often touches upon in its Broadway theatrics – ‘Mr Usher (On His Way to Town)’ and ‘The Revival’ especially bringing back that Roaring 20’s aesthetic and are easily my favourites on the album. A couple of tracks that don’t rub well with me ‘Melpomene’ and ‘Blood’, though at over 70 minutes it’s still incredibly impressive that the band create songs that, for the most part, put a lot of modern prog bands to shame.
Even after the fifth act in their conceptual album series, The Dear Hunter are stronger than ever both musically narratively. You see this, Dream Theater? This is how you do concept albums right.
#8 – Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail (Progressive Rock / Jazz Fusion)
You may already know about my love for this album, and as such, you may not be surprised to see it here – Thank You Scientist’s Stranger Heads Prevail is an utter delight to listen to, with its accessible fusion of jazz and prog rock, and a dash of post-hardcore for that little extra kick.
The vocals steal the show in Stranger Heads Prevail, with Salvatore Marrano’s voice ranging from being powerful and intense in ‘The Somnambulist’ to utterly sensual in ‘Mr Invisible’; the ‘do-wop’ harmonies in ‘The Amateur Arsonist’s Handbook’ and ‘Caverns’ are especially heart-warming, too. Marrano’s singing is rivalled only by the fantastic saxophone solos scattered throughout the album, but most notably in ‘Caverns’ and ‘Rube Goldberg Variations’.
Though the intro and outro are lost on me, Stranger Heads Prevail is a fantastic album that shows that prog can be equally technical and accessible, whilst not taking itself all too seriously.
To read more on what Symphony and I have to say about Stranger Heads Prevail, check out our Roundabout!
#7 – Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Hip-hop)
In a world dominated by drugs, sex, and gang-warfare, hip-hop is a genre often associated with these ‘hardcore’ topics and negative social stigma. Aesop Rock’s latest album, The Impossible Kid, is refreshing in the genre, in that its song topics are relatively humble and domestic, but whose deliveries are fantastically sharp and witty.
The album’s songs’ issues cover a range from visiting therapists (‘Shrunk’) to abandoned passions (‘Rings’), and even to Aesop’s cat (‘Kirby’) because, why not? The simplicity of some song’s topics twinned with verbose delivery is impressive and often humorous; the blasé ‘Lotta Years’ conveys Aesop’s self-consciousness about aging, but the simplicity of the songs context and lyrics against his revelation is quite amusing. Though saying that, ‘Blood Sandwich’s recollection of his brothers’ childhoods and the heavy subject of mortality in ‘Water Tower’ show Aesop’s tender side in The Impossible Kid. Every song is as entertaining and strong as the last in terms of engaging life stories and instrumentation, and makes for a wickedly solid album.
The Impossible Kid is a self-introspective record that’s entertaining, insightful and avoids being grossly self-indulgent like many hip-hop artists’ music suffers; Aesop Rock presents an album about his life and struggles to amuse, not to elicit sympathy or jealousy. If nothing else, The Impossible Kid is an album so lyrically polished that it’s hard not to be impressed.
#6– Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Post Metal)
If Lou Reed & Metallica have taught us anything, it’s that musical collaborations are not always a good idea; and if Mariner has shown us anything, it’s how they are done right.
Cult of Luna’s collaboration with Julie Christmas is one the genre desperately needed. Whilst the band have remained as consistent as ever up until 2013’s Vertikal, the addition of harsh female vocals in post metal is something seldom seen; and something refreshing that we need to see a lot more of. Christmas takes the limelight with her intense vocals, from the insane shrieking in ‘Chevron’ to the anthemic outro in ‘A Greater Call’; I had the immense pleasure of seeing one of the few live performances of Mariner, and Christmas is even more wild in the flesh – she was borderline terrifying.
Mariner’s highlight is undoubtedly closing track ‘Cygnus’, where rolling drums and buzzing synth lines conjure up the feeling of intrepid space voyages Cult of Luna envision in this album; the ending is so cataclysmic that it’s breath-taking. The album as a whole is a worthy addition to Cult of Luna’s discography, and I, along with many other people, hope that the success of Mariner leads Cult of Luna to cross paths with Julie Christmas again in future projects, if not for her permanence within the band.
Stay tuned for the concluding Part II, where I’ll be sharing my Top 5 Albums of 2016!