It’s December 2016 and that means only ONE thing here. It’s time for us to share our ‘Albums of the Year’ list with you. Now in its fifth year running, this list is one of our most popular and sometimes contentious features of the year. It has been a great year for Hip Hop, R&B and Grime music, while Afrobeats music continued its onslaught on the mainstream. It was also the year for music veterans including Radiohead, Common and The Rolling Stones to roll back the years with acclaimed albums.
It has generally been a weird year with Brexit and Donald Trump winning the elections to become the next US president, but more pertinently, its been a very sad year – we lost David Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, Maurice White, Phife Dawg and Billy Paul, among others, in the past 12 months. Rest in peace to them and more, and we pray for strength and comfort for their families.
The first part of our ‘Albums of 2016’ list, curated by Andrew Watson, Davina Oriakhi, Joseph Horne, Libby Beacham, Martina Di Gregorio, Nathan Roach, Raffaele Buono and myself Ayo Adepoju, highlighted the best albums of the year from #50 to #41 and you can check them all out HERE, we continue our countdown from #40 to #31 below.
40. NAO – For All We Know
This petite musician may be short in vertical inches but is stretching miles ahead of many of her colleagues in terms of musical creation and finding individuality in the R&B world. NAO was originally part of a four-female vocal group named The Boxettes, and later found her feet as an individual musician, and we are all the better for it.
Coining the term ‘wonky funk’ is certainly a fitting description for the sway-hard motion that this new subgenre generates. Her sublime singing does not shoot to diva heights but is probably her most likeable component (exploring and perfecting the vocal pitches she currently exercises).
The London-based young crooner proved to be one of the brightest stars in this new wave R&B, delivering in what most of her peers failed: presenting a coherent album working and expanding on the good premises offered by her debut EPs. For All We Know is heartfelt and disorienting, showcasing NAO’s versatility and talent.
39. Snoop Dogg – Coolaid
Snoop Dogg, the veteran American rapper from Long Beach, California, has sold millions and millions of records over the years, starting with 1993’s Doggystyle, and comeback record of sorts, 2000’s Tha Last Meal. Since then, the only thing really to have pricked our ears is “Peaches N Cream”, from last year’s album, Bush, but the long wait for another decent Snoop album is now over with Coolaid.
High points are the likes of “Ten Toes Down”, “Oh Na Na”, “Two Or More” and “What If”. These, generally speaking, deliver upon a more concerted effort to return more to the signature West Coast G-Funk sound. The best example of this is “Oh Na Na”, fresh yet retrospective, as it delves into the more drum orientated old school era of rap.
Even the Gary Numan derivative “My Carz” has large potential in the lyrical department, with “Got Those” providing ample goods in terms of production value. Generally excellent, very good and good songs from a twenty track pool isn’t a bad return at all.
38. Rihanna – ANTI
Despite a terrible promotional campaign, and an exhausting wait, ANTi proved itself to be the definitive consecration of Rihanna as a fully-fledged artist. Left behind were the half-baked projects full of fillers and a couple of certified smash hits, this eighth studio album from our favourite Barbadian is a trip into Riri’s deepest fantasies, alternating sleek alternative R&B numbers (“James Joint”) with urban smashes (“Needed Me”, “Work”) and unexpected psychedelic covers (“Same Ol’ Mistakes”).
37. Broods – Conscious
The second album from the twins Georgia and Caleb Notts is yet another album showing the growth and how much two years can improve the sound of a band. Broods have gone and taken their indie-pop sound to a completely different level, introducing hard beats and synths, creating catchy songs with deep tunes. This album is the perfect example that their debut album Evergreen was just the beginning of something much, much bigger. Broods are learning to work and play with the big bands, and they are holding up their own with no effort.
36. Adekunle Gold – GOLD
Gold is the debut album from Nigerian musician Adekunle Gold and easily one of the best African albums of 2016. Signed to Olamide’s YBNL recording imprint, Adekunle Gold and his debut album are the perfect antithesis to what you would typically expect from the YBNL label. For starters, Adekunle is a R&B singer, with excellent Pop and Soul sensibilities, while Olamide and the rest of his YBNL mainstay are all Hip-Hop artists – the “Pick Up” crooner sticks out like a sore thumb, but for all the right reasons.
His album Gold is an instant classic filled with cleverly written and beautifully vocalled Pop/Soul gems. From the hugely popular “Sade” and “Orente” to new hits “Ariwo Ko”, “Friend Zone” and “Work”. One of the stand out songs on this really strong record is “No Forget”, Adekunle’s collaboration with fast-rising songstress Simi, who incidentally mixed and mastered the album. The production which seemed to match Adekunle Gold’s artistry like a glove was provided primarily by Pheelz, Seyikeys and Oscar, to glorious effect.
35. Soul Basement – What We Leave Behind
Soul Basement, a four piece ensemble project formed in 1997, released What We Leave Behind in November. Featuring on the album is the vocal expertise of Jay Nemor, someone you might think sings like a cross between Barry White and Isaac Hayes. His spoken word moments are akin to the more recently deceased Gil-Scott Heron. Deep, rich and evocative of all you’d hold dear in these sorts of genres.
The album’s a strong one, but particular highlights are “Noise Pollution”, “With You”, “Angel Of Mine” and “Future Reminiscence”. The first of our selection appears to swell for joyous climax; one unexpected, rather than correctly anticipated. Then “With You” has the appearance of double bass; that sound so incredibly rich, textured and evocative of inner city life.
Also, the cathartic “Angel Of Mine” seems rooted in floating, sleepy vibes. An expressive instrument, the saxophone, is understated in “Future Reminiscence”, complementing Nemor’s ponderous lyrics.
34. Drake – Views
Drake is absolutely the biggest rapper at the moment, with his The Boy Meets World tour selling out in a matter of minutes and the release of his single, “One Dance”, reaching number one in the UK, the US, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and many more countries.
With the release of his sixth album, Views, there were high expectations from his fans and they were certainly met. The album reached double platinum in the US, remained in the Billboard 100 for eight consecutive weeks and had half a billion streams. It is truly Drake at his best, pairing his quality vocals with dance vibe tracks and his raps with grittier beats. “Controlla” if you haven’t heard it already, is the track to look out for.
Views is an amalgamation of Drake through the years. It’s diverse and succinct with strokes of perfection. It’s a masterclass of artistry, demonstrating that Drake knows himself better than anyone else. His self-assurance pays off. Not only does it solidify him as the Six god, but it’s a warning to his competitors. It’s clear that Views has been carefully crafted, its whole creation has been deliberate. Views is Drake’s magnum opus.
33. JoJo – Mad Love
JoJo has matured and changed quite drastically from her first album, which came out when she was only 16 year old, and this Mad Love album absolutely proves this change. With tracks such as “Mad Love” and “Music”, JoJo sings her journey from living in a family surrounded by addiction (her mother was an alcoholic) to being unable to sing because of different music contracts to when she finally freed herself. This pop singer has come back with a bang this year, and her upcoming tour will be the cherry on top of the cake.
32. DIIV – Is The Is Are
Jangly guitars, thumping drum snares and echoing, disembodied vocals, DIIV’s sonic landscape is a familiar one, but nonetheless it’s a style that the band have managed to breathe exuberant new life into. It’s easy and becoming cliché to compare the group to other pioneering bands in their field; the nonchalant lyricism of Sonic Youth, the hazy reverb-laden guitar riffs of Cocteau Twins, the affable noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain are all channelled in Is The Is Are.
DIIV, however, have crafted their own distinct flavour, making a record that’s as gripping and unskippable as it is inventive and distinguished from the contemporary post-punk scene. The turbulent personal lives of the band members could have derailed the entire album, and yet proved a catalyst for change as the group sobered up (to an extent) to finish the record.
Given the band’s struggles, the lyrical content therein is unsurprising and best exemplified on the track “Dopamine”. Other album highlights come in the form of the buoyant title track, and the screeching guitars on penultimate track “Dust“. The deceptively simple staccato guitar beat on “Valentine’s” verse is almost designed entirely to be nodded along to at a live show, before the track morphs into something else entirely.
31. Kero Kero Bonito – Bonito Generation
Kero Kero Bonito represent the future of pop music, and their sophomore album Bonito Generation does nothing but confirming this. The record is a glimmer-y, almost delirious collection of perfectly crafted pop songs often crossing the line between cool and kitsch, quintessentially kawaii, and absolutely infectious.
Taking some influence from 90’s dance music, JPop and sometimes Dancehall, Kero Kero Bonito have filled this album with some of the biggest sugary Pop singles you will hear this year. Typically this much sugar would be bad for you, but this London-based band have perfected their mix so well, that you end up wanting more and more from them on this album. And what’s more, there’s actually some depth to these songs – it’s a win win for everyone!
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2016!