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 #31 and you can check them all out HERE, we continue our countdown from #30 to #21 below.
30. Maleek Berry – Last Daze Of Summer EP
Maleek Berry’s debut project Last Daze Of Summer is the only EP to make this ‘Albums of the Year’ list, so you know how excellent this record is! Backed by its lead single “Kontrol” which has garnered over 7 million views on YouTube in the past four months, the Last Daze Of Summer EP is six songs deep and bar “Flexin” (and not by much), every song on this record is damn near perfection.
From the smooth R&B jam “Let Me Know” to the Dancehall-tinged “Nuh Letting Go” to the massive “Eko Miami” featuring Geko, Maleek Berry brings to the fore, his own unique and masterful blend of modern R&B, African pop and Dancehall music, in a way that has not been done before by anybody else – and it is not for want of trying either. For anyone that is paying attention to African music, Maleek Berry’s Last Daze Of Summer is the champion sound.
29. Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite!
Francis And The Lights released debut album Farewell, Starlite! at the end of September. For many, their Bon Iver and Kayne West featuring track, “Friends”, encapsulates the project as a whole. The song was also sampled on Chance The Rapper’s song, “Summer Friends” (from this year’s mixtape, Coloring Book) before it was officially released as a single by Francis And The Lights.
Anyway, that Eighties, deeply satisfying, yet we might not make it tragic, feel isn’t the only track to highlight. The futuristic funk of “I Want You To Shake”, for instance. You can also appreciate how “Comeback” segues into “Can’t Stay Party”, too. There are themes of two becoming one, and comfort in melancholy. “Running Man/Gospel OP1” evokes an electronically infused gospel choir, and the album closer, “Thank You”, is a rousing experience to behold.
Francis And The Lights have really put together something that, not only has big, memorable songs, but something that is well sequenced, so much to the point it comes across as a something with a fluid concept running right through it. Maybe a whisker away from a concept album proper? An album seemingly invoking, in spirit, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and John Lennon can’t be bad, surely.
28. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Tapping from the rhythms and sounds of 80’s Funk and Disco, and 90’s R&B, with influences ranging from Boyz II Men and Jodeci, to James Brown, Zapp & Roger and Cameo, 24k Magic is a star deviation from Bruno Mars‘ second studio album Unorthodox Jukebox released back in 2012, while maintaining the R&B singer’s mainstream appeal and penchant for infectious Pop songs.
Easily Mars’ most cohesive body of work and possibly his most enjoyable record, 24K Magic oozes of nostalgia, is backed by the most memorable hooks, and is filled with dance floor fillers from start to finish. At only 9 songs, there is no room for fillers here, every song has earned its place. With all the craziness that happened this year, Mars and his producers Shampoo Press & Curl created an album to fulfill our escapism needs.
27. DNCE – DNCE
The debut album from DNCE is as poppy and weird as the band itself. After the release of their Swaay EP last year, the band led by Joe Jonas has been setting itself apart from many other pop bands by incorporating rock and 80’s sound, and their album has come out as one of the perfect albums for weekend partying.
DNCE understands what the fans want but also, they are unapologetic about being themselves. If you are looking for a serious, deep album about embracing your feelings then DNCE is not for you. But if you are looking for an album to make you stop worrying about life and that makes you stop thinking, DNCE is exactly what you need. Songs like “Blow Up” and “Doctor You” are the perfect party starters, or at least to get the day going, with a smile on your face.
26. Frank Ocean – Blonde
Four years after his incredible debut, Frank Ocean is back with another, immense masterpiece: Blonde might sound less genuine, more intricate and elaborate than its predecessor channel ORANGE, but nonetheless, Frank proved once again to be one of the most daring artists in contemporary R&B: this sophomore album is an impressionistic painting of sounds, moving from tremble vocoders (“Nikes”) to classic, heartfelt blues (“Self Control”) with an outstanding confidence.
With Blonde, we find Frank Ocean at his most vulnerable and most honest. He’s created a remarkably intimate, masterfully put together piece of work that offers a jigsaw of how his heart loves, has been loved, and has loved. You can relate to the experiences – maybe not all, but some – and if you can’t right now, you know you will be able to eventually. Because these are stories of love. And we all feel them.
25. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
The king of cool Leonard Cohen returned this year, with his thirteenth album, and ultimately his last, with his devastating death shortly following the release of You Want It Darker. The soul songwriter broke boundaries with his music over a number of decades as his dark broody voice growled exquisite lyricism that sent shivers down spines and caused tears to form in the corners of so many eyes.
The opening track of this new album frighteningly depicts a somewhat coming to terms of his death, the last words he speaks nearing the conclusion are “I’m ready my lord”. The heavily religious element that haunts the Jewish monk’s LP is cemented into the silk soft gospel rhythms and does not clearly state an exact title for said God and devil, meaning it is left open to be translated by fans from different faiths. A nine track harmony of a truly beautiful send off to the great man’s career and life.
24. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
New age music can be easily lost when fed through the wrong ears, but these ten particular heavily produced songs that make up Bon Iver’s third studio album 22, A Million spark a vast quantity of initial thoughts. Where did he gain the influence? What does it mean? Where will he go from here? The real question begging for an answer is, how many awards will this win Bon Iver?
Blisteringly bold for an artist who started out on a purely acoustic basis, the amorphous form each song takes, employ an electronic experimentation that has allowed him to completely reconstruct his image and playing field. His goal of reaching a melodic art composition is slowly becoming a reality and with his last shows as ‘Bon Iver’ approaching mid-2017, the curiosity building behind where he will turn next is staggeringly overwhelming.
23. Letlive – If I’m The Devil…
It is relatively obvious the risk the casually venomous entourage Letlive took, dialling back on their musical punk-bled intensity with their latest album release If I’m The Devil in comparison to their back-catalogue. Nevertheless their brand of anti-authoritarian lyricism has not faltered but remained amazingly relevant, aiding them in being branded the next big thing in protest rock.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a lull of soft melodies in instrumental terms however. The electric formation of guitar and drums instantly encapsulates the listener with its jazz progressive rock keeping heads swaying and fists flying for all lives to remain as equal in life as they are before forcefully silenced.
22. Ameer – Peace Beloved
Ameer started the year off in April with “Superstar”. The production, courtesy of Pete Rock, was something out of an Italian American gangster movie, to match the lyrically deep content. Come mid-September, his Peace Beloved album arrived, and with Rock also having a hand in this, it was an enticing package for most hip-hop fans, with or without hearing a preview.
The album kicks off with “Superstar” and, thanks to much hard work, there’s no nosediving from there. Following track, “Revelations ‘A’”, has pounding bass with illuminating flourishes of string, and life realisations courtesy of Ameer’s lyrical revelations. “Taking Chances” then has those high pitched vocal samples akin to many classic hip-hop backdrops.
Then there’s the scratched yelps of “A Million Diamonds” giving the song an old-school vibe. “Ni**as pop bottles, but don’t take care of they moms” is a classic line from “Til My Days Is Over”, while the concluding “Peace Beloved” is a dreamy, spaced out effort with a backdrop that washes over the listener. These selections only scratch the surface of this album – Ameer, with this offering, has provided something intellectual yet aurally pleasing.
21. Shura – Nothing’s Real
After an impatient wait which lasted two years, London-based synthpop diva Shura released her debut album, and ticked every box in doing so: Nothing’s Real is a passionate tale analysing all sorts of emotions that a young adult might go through. From shiny Madonna-esque numbers (“What’s It Gonna Be?”), to introspective ballads about love and heartbreaks (“Kidz’n’Stuff”), Shura delivered a pop gem that is difficult to forget, packed with incredible hooks and passion from every single note.
To pin point flaws in the lyrical quality or sonic bearing, would almost be like criticizing Shura’s own person and story, but we will say this: we cannot vouch for Shura being revolutionary in genre birth or fusion, as these sounds are familiar, but they are refreshingly familiar. Shura has brought back the sounds cherished in the past and made them her own, making us comfortable in her own world of narratives and melodies; it suits her perfectly.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2016!