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Emerging demagogues, domestic political chaos, all our musical heroes politely queuing up to die, and the continued existence of Piers Morgan… Right now the world seems like a stricken, simmering mess, and if one more cheeky streetside coffeeshop chalkboard tries to tell me otherwise, I’m going to boot it into oncoming traffic.

Or, more likely, stick on my headphones and get lost in one of the 25 albums we’ve compiled for you here – the best records, in our opinion, to have been released in the last six months. Sure, they might not all constitute soothing balms upon your weary mind – the ones containing tracks called ‘Terrifying Japanese Coldplay Documentary’ and ‘All Coltrane Solos At Once’ probably won’t be turning up on any chill-out playlists for instance, nor the one constructed entirely out of a washing machine’s spin cycle – but whether seeking escapism or a sharpening of the mind, there are consummate creations here to suit all desires.

Or if albums aren’t your thing, and the modern age has sanded down your attention span to the shallowest of nubs, head straight to the Spotify playlist below. It contains tracks from almost everything in our best albums of 2016 list alongside a glut of equally superb tracks released this year (and we’ll be adding to it thoughout the rest of the year), so you may shuffle and skip to your heart’s content. If nothing else it’ll fill your time before the next music legend dies or you finish reading the Chilcot Report (whichever comes sooner)…

 

 

 

And now, without further ado, the 25 best albums of 2016 so far…

 

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Anenon – Petrol (Friends of Friends)

 

“The L.A. producer’s latest is inspired by the necessity of and obsession with cars in his hometown – unsurprising then that more than once during Petrol you feel like a deer caught in headlights…” Nicholas Burman (read full review here)

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Babyfather – BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (Hyperdub)

 

Is it a joke? Am I really meant to sit through the white noise? And who the fuck is DJ Escrow? Like a lot of his work, Dean Blunt’s latest project makes me feel more inquisitive than enlightened. The effort to bring the project to life via predictably cryptic interviews and a high-concept live show betrays his focus (and – I suspect – his want to be accepted as an artist). Aside from speculation and context, the likes of ‘Greezebloc’ and ‘Platinum Cookies’ have excitingly simple bass growls, with a swagger that brings to mind dub at its most fist-thumping. NB (read live review here)

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Bitchin Bajas and Bonnie Prince Billy – Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties (Drag City)

 

I’ve never really been able to get into either of these artists before, but somehow Bitchin Bajas and Bonnie Prince Billy together manage to tickle my ears in a way they never managed apart. Clearly they’re the perfect foil for each other. Bitchin Bajas provide a fluid, repetitive, improvisatory sound-bed that Will Oldham seems only too grateful to sink into, his vocals becoming almost mantra-like as each track drifts along. As warm and brightening as a sunbeam, we are indeed fortunate to be dealt these little ditties. Kier Wiater Carnihan

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David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)

 

“And so this record straddles the gap between illness and death. It marks the passing of a man so many loved. And it’s a fitting epitaph. It’s also a knowing wink. Maybe an elaborate practical joke. A last enigma to tear at. The final shape of the constantly reinvented pop star art hero isn’t a body at all, alive or dead. He’s a blackstar.” Alex Allsworth (read full review here)

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Deerhoof – The Magic (Polyvinyl)

 

“One of Deerhoof’s great attributes is their ability to assimilate whatever music styles take their fancy and make it sound like them, kind of like an alt-rock Borg. The well-spring of creativity is positively gushing and good times are being had. And luckily we have not only been invited to the party but we’re being made very welcome…” Jake Smith (read full review here)

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Diminished Men – Vision in Crime (Abduction)

 

“The latest Diminished Men album, Vision In Crime, would surely go down as one of the best film soundtracks of all time, if it wasn’t for one thing – there’s no film to go along with it. Which is a damn shame, as the band’s mixture of jazzy percussion, noirish atmospheres and simmering, cock-eyed guitar struts would be sure to elevate even a tacky Guy Ritchie knock-off to cult status.” KWC (listen to Diminished Men’s exclusive ‘Silver Halides Mix’ here)

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FEMME – Debutante (Tape)

 

We’ve supported FEMME’s career through several sterling singles campaigns, so it was a pleasure to not only see her finally release her debut album but discover that she’d kept so many tunes back for it. While ‘Gold’ and ‘Fever Boy’ are still my personal favourites, the likes of ‘Romeo’, ‘Dumb Blonde’ and ‘Locoluvva’ provided glittering rewards for those who’ve been following the pink-haired pop maverick since the beginning. KWC (watch a video interview with FEMME here)

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Fumaça Preta – Impuros Fanáticos (Soundway)

 

Like a twisty, arrogant snake hypnotised by its own beautiful patterning, Impuros Fanáticos wriggles and writhes into various attractive and flowing shapes, seductively coiling around itself for the entranced listener’s pleasure. Funky in all the good ways, heavy in the others. What’s not to like? Luke O’Dwyer

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Hooded Fang – Venus On Edge (Daps Records)

 

“A Hermitage has a feeling of initiation rite or shamanic journey. There’s an element of endurance and ordeal that is rewarded with moments of quiet contemplation and orchestral beauty… Just when you think you’re getting a handle on things the music will suddenly take an unexpected twist. No predictable structures or narrative arcs here, just the occasional wail of feedback alerting a big drop back into the noise maelstrom… Stand firm against the stormy weather and enjoy the ride. Endurance rewarded.” JS (read full review here)

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Jessy Lanza – On No (Hyperdub)

 

Although signed to Hyperdub and usually associated with the most current of musical trends, Oh No actually found Lanza digging into New Wave disco as much as footwork. In the process of fusing these elements she’s made one of the most genuinely strange, off-kilter and human pop records in recent memory. NB

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS (Western Vinyl)

 

I was lucky enough to see Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith perform a workshop at Rewire Festival earlier this year, where she demonstrated her composition techniques using a Buchla Music Easel synth and various other bits of gear. To be honest, I still don’t have a bloody clue how any of it works, but when it produces such spellbinding music as featured on EARS, who the hell cares where it comes from? KWC

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Karachi Files – Karachi Files (Noland)

 

The Pakistan-based Forever South collective collaborated with Berlin artists (including brotherly Teichmann duo and Humanlevel artist rRoxymore, amongst others) in their home city of Karachi for two weeks in 2015. Come 2016 and we got to hear the results: a sprawling experience that utilises left-field electronica’s experimental side with often overlooked timbres from Pakistan’s musical heritage. A project designed “as a means of transcending borders”, this utopian outlook couldn’t have come at a more dystopian (or necessary) time. NB
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Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered (Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope)

 

Having already enhanced the best track on The Life Of Pablo, Kendrick Lamar followed up with a record that was everything Kanye West’s laborious release wasn’t. Consisting of a lean eight tracks and free of titles, mastering and overblown hype, it continued in same vein as To Pimp a Butterfly, with its dexterous, jazzy righteousness occasionally surpassing even that record’s heights. KWC

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Klein – ONLY (Howling Owl)
 

DIY production, absolutely no thought given to the casual listener, baffling song structures; everything which is technically wrong with ONLY is also what makes it great. Klein’s fusion of industrial edges, R&B vocals and spiritual minimalism makes her one of those artists it will actually be interesting to keep an eye on (as opposed to BBC Sound Of artists who totally aren’t), as she nips at the heels of Holly Herdon and Dean Blunt et al. Check the ‘Marks Of Worship’ video if nothing else. NB

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Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)

 

As with all Matmos albums, the concept is great: an album that follows one cycle of the pair’s Ultimate Care II washing machine, constructed entirely out of sounds generated by or manipulated from the machine itself. And, as with all Matmos albums, they approached this challenge with the sort of artistic wit and ingenuity that results in music that evolves way beyond its genesis. Seeing them perform this in London, on the same actual washing machine flown in especially for Matmos’ European tour (and you complain about not being able to take your guitar as hand luggage), made for a live experience that’s unlikely to be surpassed this year. KWC (read an interview with Matmos here)

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Memotone – Chime Hours (Black Acre)

 

Chime Hours spars with the listener, punctuating the deep, inky production with sudden bursts of noise and activity. ‘Your Eyes My Teeth’ is a polished yet tense piece of gothic electro, as shadowy as the first Emika and ERAAS albums but with even creepier vocals, mutilated by several effects. It’s a bit like when someone puts so much effort into their Halloween costume that you double-take to make sure they haven’t actually got a knife embedded in their temple.” KWC (read full review here)

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Necro Deathmort – The Capsule (Rocket Recordings)

 

“With The Capsule, Necro Deathmort have created a record that confidently permits the listener to fall between the cracks of each synthetic stab and get lost in a void of nothingness… Like a feverishly half-seen cathedral, the tracks on The Capsule aren’t structured or solid, they are mercury and shifting, constantly evoking moods and moments.” LO (read full review here)
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nonkeen – the gamble (R&S)

 

One of the most beautifully produced albums I’ve heard this year, which isn’t surprising when you know Nils Frahm mixed and mastered it (and also forms a third of the nonkeen trio alongside Frederic Gmeiner and Sepp Singwald). the gamble is largely formed of re-purposed recordings the childhood friends made back in the ’90s, which perhaps explained its deliciously dusty textures and faint air of nostalgia. Sadly I doubt digging up the tapes I recorded in friends’ bedrooms a couple of decades ago would conjure quite the same effect, but it might just inspire me to find out… KWC

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Palehorse – Looking Wet in Public (Holy Roar)

 

The London-based, dual bass mega-lords return with their fifth, and sadly final, album. Looking Wet in Public is their most consistently paced and blisteringly excellent record. Savage, funny and bleak, it’s Palehorse at their very best, making it all the more heartbreaking that they are calling it a day. LO – full review coming soon!

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Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)

 

“It’s a perfect little Sunday evening laze of a record, really. For all the doom-laden proclamations and the unsettling backmasking, it’s Radiohead letting you take a break. It’s the KitKat of Radiohead records.” AA (read full review here)

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Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing (Fader Label)

 

“Martyr Loser King is the first Saul Williams album for five years, and probably his most consistent and considered to date. From the moment he lays the groundwork with the tense, brooding opening of, er, ‘Groundwork’, you feel like you’re in safe but determined hands. Whereas previous albums have occasionally felt a little rickety or unbalanced, you’re immediately reassured that Martyr Loser King won’t collapse under any weight of expectation.” KWC (read full review here)

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Teleman – Brilliant Sanity (Moshi Moshi)

 

“Stick almost any of these songs in an indie disco and I’d get dancing to it. I know the image of an indie disco now sounds like a bunch of floppy-fringed students moping about in the dark, avoiding eye contact and wearing corduroy over coats, which to be fair it was, but this album has enough stomping razzmatazz to coax even the most frownsome sulky git to the dancefloor. By that I mean me.” LO (read full review here)

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The Comet Is Coming – Channel The Spirits (Leaf)

 

Whether playing solo or in one of the seemingly endless ensembles he performs with, the presence of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is a pretty secure guarantee that you’re about to hear something good. That was certainly the case when I first saw The Comet Is Coming, his band with keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Maxwell Hallett, at Raw Power 2014, where they stood out even amongst that festival’s impressive bill. Channel The Spirits crystallises that mercurial, edge-of-their-pants performance into one solid, potent dose of electrocuted space-jazz, for which you’ll require a repeat prescription. KWC

***

 

Tony Njoku – In Greyscale (self-released)

 

The title of Tony Njoku’s debut might suggest something drab or dismal, but fortunately the album itself is anything but. Give In Greyscale a shake and all sorts of sublime synths, poignant piano phrases and classical references come tumbling out, tied together by Njoku’s dramatic melodies (occasionally bringing to mind ANOHNI, whose own HOPELESSNESS album narrowly missed out on this list). If I have a gig-going ambition for the second half of 2016, it’s to finally see Njoku perform this stuff live. KWC

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