background image

As a year, 2016 was littered with high-profile casualties. For a short period, The Monitors joined them. Like a presidential campaign chairman or one of Aron Ralston’s limbs, we found ourselves hacked just before Christmas. The period, of course, when we tend to publish our ‘best albums of 2016’ list.

After six weeks or so of technical tinkering and server-hopping, The Monitors is back online. And while our best albums of 2016 list is now late (much like many of the musicians who started off 2016 alive and kicking), the records compiled here don’t deserve to be celebrated any less. So press play on the ‘best of 2016’ Spotify playlist below, and scroll down to see just what was, and still is, worth all the fuss…

Adam Betts – Colossal Squid

‘I don’t know what’s in Adam Betts’ hands, but if I had to guess I’d wager a combination of concrete, feathers and nitromethane.’ Kier Wiater Carnihan

Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass

‘As the band play their way through a mixture of old and newer, more textured material, it is notable that Citizen of Glass has armed Obel with an array of welcome counterpoints to the sparser arrangements of her previous records.’ David Jupp

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Babyfather – BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow

‘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.’ Nicholas Burman

Beyoncé – Lemonade

‘Particularly in the relentlessly challenging video album version, but either way, this remains one of the most evocative, personal and powerful records of the year. Experimental and broad, this album is full of verve and honesty and intimacy. Beyoncé’s hype train is enormous and often ridiculous, but as long as she keeps on putting out records as exciting as this one, it really doesn’t matter. Genuinely challenging stuff.’ Alex Allsworth

Bitchin Bajas and Bonnie Prince Billy – Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

‘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…’ KWC

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

‘Finally back after a few quiet years (and an almost break-up) Justin Vernon and co. delve deep into a black hole of electronica, shedding their folk sound for something a little more futuristic, without dropping any of the emotional honesty.’ Alex Platt

Bossk – Audio Noir

‘I saw Bossk support Kowloon Walled City and Minsk a few months back and was blown away by their set. Their debut album Audio Noir translates their live sound onto record perfectly whilst also expanding it to include a wider range of instrumentation to delightful effect. It’s a lush and emotional journey that is as comfortable exploring rich post-rock soundscapes as it is riffing your ruddy balls off.’ Luke O’Dwyer

Christian Fitness – This Taco Is Not Correct

Dani Siciliano – Dani Siciliano

‘Almost slipped under the radar, but Dani’s latest is a perfect little quietness of a record. Beautifully produced haunted electronica with perfectly sultry vocals. Just seeps into you and stays there. Kind of perfect.’ AA

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

David Bowie – Blackstar

‘Even without the legend’s death, this would’ve been here, as it’s one of Bowie’s best albums, even if that’s mostly because of the phenomenal drummer and saxophonist brought on board. In the actual moment, this became less of an album and more a perfectly executed swan song. A message of love and fear and comforting honesty for a genuinely broken fanbase. A meditation on death that seeps with paranoia, but ultimately extends a message of hope that appears to be an intentional, beyond-the-grave reassurance. If all the death and tragedy of the year has been a bit too much, please put this record back on the turntable and hear the fear acted out, and then a calming hand on your shoulder. If you can’t see a literal new star in the firmament, then it’s just because the sky’s too dark to show the black one.’ AA

Diminished Men – Vision in Crime

‘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

DM Stith – Pigeonheart

Earth Moves – The Truth In Our Bodies

‘Debut album following in the shoegaze/black metal (shoe metal, black gaze?) style of Deafheaven. A crushing, powerful, delicate and emotive piece of work from four very talented guys, the album is an emotional outlet, filled with moments of beauty and destruction, like getting punched in the head halfway through a scalp massage.’ Alex Platt

Emotional – Emotional

‘Emotional, aka Sian Dorrer and Adam Parkinson, have been testing their experimental pop concoctions on London audiences for a few years now, and judging by these nine potent compounds this has helped refine their formula to perfection. The Emotional combo of found sounds, cheap synths, drum machines and impeccable melodic hooks recalls the likes of Micachu, Maria Minerva, Dean Blunt, early Grimes and even A Guy Called Gerald, with Dorrer’s voice a consistent silver thread throughout.’ KWC

Ex-Easter Island Head – Twenty-Two Strings

Gaffe of a Lifetime – Gaffe Season 1

‘Gaffe of a Lifetime’s GAFFE SEASON 1 mixtape is one of the most interesting Bandcamp offerings we’ve stumbled across in a while. ‘Fuzz-minded listless apathy and deconstructed American-isms come to fruition’ offers the press release, a proposition that turns out to be much more appealing than might initially appear. Investigation recommended.’ KWC

Hooded Fang – Venus on Edge

Venus On Edge is a hepped-up, out-of-control punk skunk, and the studio that birthed it must’ve been a mess of splintered drumsticks and crushed keyboards by the time Hooded Fang had finished with it. An album that seduces and bullies in equal measure.’ KWC

Jambinai 잠비나이 – A Hermitage

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.’ Jake Smith

Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch

‘Much like her previous releases, Blood Bitch finds Hval making sure any listener has to pay close attention; her compositions are always threatening to fade away without you noticing or give you a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hint at the bigger picture. The effort is paid back in kind, as this Norwegian’s music reveals a heart-warmingly intimate soul flowing through its restrained aesthetic.’ Nicholas Burman

Jessy Lanza – Oh No I Love You

‘Gleefully naive melodies, heartache lyrics, a sense of pure fun; Jessy Lanza was swimming against the tide with her latest release but thank God for that, 2016 would have been a lot less fun without her.’ NB

Jons – At Work on Several Things

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS

‘Smith had to make the hard choice between buying a cow and purchasing a synthesizer before she transferred her skills in neo-classical composition to lush electronica. While I’m into giving our bovine friends a good home, I’m equally happy settling down with the unfurling glow of EARS.’ NB

Karachi Files – Karachi Files

‘2016 has seen the popular mood swing away from ideas of ‘multiculturalism’, or really any other ‘ism’s’ for that matter. It’s easy to burrow down into factions in an opinion-spawned predicament like this but that’s to ignore what a record like the Karachi Files proves, that collaboration(ism?) is key to achievement.’ NB

Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

‘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

Marie Davidson – Adieu au Dancefloor

‘Brittle but heartfelt neocoldwave with, perversely, one eye firmly on the dancefloor. ‘Naive To the Bone’ – what a tune!’ Alex Pearce

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

‘Marissa Nadler’s Strangers is diffuse, tenebrous, aerial. An intangible enigma that is everywhere and nowhere. One is aware, can feel its presence but only as a shiver, a caress. Nadler, who imbues her melancholic but wholly controlled vocal with the weightless delicacy of Julee Cruise, fuses that fantastical otherworldliness of which Kate Bush was the harbinger, with the gothic realism of Henry James. Elegant, soporific, tender, haunting; this is dreamy Americana with a contemporary poetic vision across which Marissa Nadler has drawn an entrancing veil.’ Derval McCloat

Matmos – Ultimate Care II

‘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.’ KWC

Nonkeen – The Gamble

‘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.’ KWC

Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina

OKKULTOKRATI – Raspberry Dawn

‘I loved Okkultokrati’s previous album Night Jerks and was really looking forward to hearing Raspberry Dawn, and I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed in the slightest, it’s an absolutely essential listen. Maintaining what made Okkultokrati so interesting, Raspberry Dawn is also a very different album to the albums it succeeds. A beautiful mix of noise rock, metal and synth addled post-punk, it treads the sneaky line between heavy and catchy beautifully, and is genuinely bloody brilliant. I cannot stress how much I love this album. Keep your eyes peeled for an interview with the band soon!’ LO

Orphx – Pitch Black Mirror

‘Canada’s foremost avantguarde turned industrial techno act slip one out. Veers between between crisp, jumpy industrial (think Truss) and creepy ambient (think Coil’s Hellraiser soundtrack).’ Alex Pearce

Palehorse – Looking Wet In Public

‘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

POLICE FORCE – Formula One

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

‘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

Resina – Resina

‘If there’s been a better solo cello record in 2016/ever, I’d like to hear it.’ KWC

Saba – Bucket List Project

Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing

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.’ KWC

SEX SWING – Sex Swing

‘I almost can’t describe how good Sex Swing are without my innards falling out of my mouth like the infamous scene from Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.’ LO

SHXCXCHCXSH – SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs

‘Feels linked in tone to DJ Richard’s Grind and some of the recent The Carpenter reissues but with a far, far richer sense of isolation and movement. I’m hunting out these guys’ back catalogue as we speak!’ Alex Pearce

Skepta – Konnichiwa

Soccer96 – As Above So Below

‘A band who discerning gig goers are sure to recognise as one of the best live propositions in London, Soccer96 serve up a psychedelic storm of poly-rhythmic percussion and bubbling electronics, with latest single ‘Megadrive Lamborghini’ among the catchiest tracks they’ve released to date.’ KWC

Stillehavet – Stillehavet

The Comet is Coming – Channel The Spirits

Channel The Spirits crystallises TCTC’s mercurial, edge-of-their-pants live performances into one solid, potent dose of electrocuted space-jazz, for which you’ll require a repeat prescription.’ KWC

Trim – 1800-DINOSAUR Presents Trim

Tony Njoku – In Greyscale

‘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.’ KWC

Vanishing Twin – Choose Your Own Adventure

Weyes Blood – Front Row Set To Earth

‘Weyes Blood is not a group. It is Natalie Mering – singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and crosser of a myriad musical genres. In fact, she’s pretty much run the gamut. Front Row Seat To Earth sees Mering upholster richly textured, angelic vocals with exploratory, avant-garde instrumentation raddled with unorthodox electronica.

Mering’s captivating delivery is like glowing, molten lava, flowing through country ‘lite’ folkscapes as open as desert plains into which snapshots of a somewhat alien, electronic jungle are intermittently introduced. Incisor-sharp lyrics pierce through the albums insouciant loveliness, and the overall affect is one of absorbing if uneasy intensity.’ DM

Yves Tumor – Serpent Music

‘A snapshot album, insofar as this Mykki Blanco associate pieced together musical associations and heritages into an ambiguous whole on his debut release. Often a tough listen, sometimes soulful, regularly experimental but never without a sense of purpose, Yves Tumor is a patchwork artist with the best quilt in town.’ NB

Previous in Features

Don't Go Out: DJ Lag and the sound of Durban

Don't Go Out: DJ Lag and the sound of Durban
Our latest column compiling club-friendly sounds that still make sense in your living room. From classic Detroit techno to the Durban sound of DJ Lag...
Read More

Spotlight

The Monitors’ Best Albums of 2017 – So Far…

The Monitors presents forty of the best albums 2017 has thrown up so far, from Matt Martians to Mac DeMarco. Also includes a handy Spotify playlist…

Read More