It’s nearly that time again when the earth completes it’s orbit of the sun and journalists all over the internet (and the odd few who still commit their thoughts to print) feel inexplicably compelled to compile and rank every morsel of culture that has occurred over the last 12 months.
So why should we be any different? Our failure to find an answer to that question means that, without further ado, we can present to you our completely subjective list of the best, most influential, catchy, heart-wrenching, toe-tapping, life-affirming and death-affirming albums of 2016.
In an effort to make it a little more of a streamlined process than the ‘top 100 celebrity colonics’ you’re likely to see rammed down your throat by Channel 5 at some point over the Christmas period, here are – in ascending order – the records that made our ultimately inconsequential grade.
Enjoy! Or disagree wholeheartedly as long as you let us know your alternatives. Debate is good for the soul…
DIIV – Is the Is Are
These Brooklyn indie boys rose like a phoenix from the flames at the beginning of 2016, finally bringing us their glorious follow-up to 2012’s Oshin.
The result is a swooning piece of lo-fi indie-pop, marrying jangly riffs and cute melody with a smattering a mind-bending reverb. It kicked off our year perfectly.
Yak – Alas Salvation
A record to blast away the cobwebs right now… As soon as our ears pricked up to early singles like ‘Smile’ and ‘Hungry Heart’ a couple of years back, it just seemed set in stone Yak would come out with something great in 2016, and so it proved.
Alas Salvation is an enthralling debut straddling the lines between punk, blues and good old-fashioned indie-rock, all topped off with the occasionally unsettling croon of Nick Cave-tinged vocalist Oli Burslem.
Savages – Adore Life
The quartet to continually deliver their promise of uncompromising, unfaltering and undeniably delicious rock and roll with their latest LP. Many were wondering whether Jehnny Beth and Co. could follow up the bluster of 2012’s Silence Yourself but this more melodic and melancholy version of the fury we knew, only added more texture to one of the best band in the country.
Couple that with their insatiable ability to create an incredible live show and you have on your hands a truly legendary affair.
Bon Iver – 22 A Million
Aside from the increasingly hard to decipher song titles Bon Iver showed that he not only has the wit, the emotion and the courage to follow the times and progress his music but he completes this progression with a veracious hold on his own artistry.
22 A Million is a completion of a transformation for Justin Vernon who continues to morph his music into something new at every turn. Moving away from acoustic tweeness and further into synthetic sounds on this LP he loses none of the heart that originally endear him to our hearts.
Goat – Requiem
This year also saw Sweden’s finest exponents of afro-beat psych-rock Goat return with a record that had everyone questioning whether it would be the last from the project. In typically mysterious fashion, we’re still not sure whether it will be.
Speculation aside, however, the collective gave us a third studio album that shied away from some of the heavy grooves found on World Music and Commune, instead laying on a feast of earworm choruses and ethereal pipes and flutes. Less head-banging, more head-fucking this time, but Far Out loved it all the same.
Cate le Bon – Crab Day
She’s one of our favourite singer-songwriters of the past few years and – following her 2015 White Fence collaboration DRINKS – Cate came back with another collection of oddball pop songs that had us hooked from the off in the shape of ‘Wonderful’.
Despite a move to LA, the broadness of her Welsh Valley twang still enamours us. Enlisting help from Far Out favourites like Tim Presley and Sweet Baboo never does any harm either. Now that’s a supergroup.
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Ok, so generally we prefer to save our blog-based accolades for those who are still making a name for themselves, but 2016 has been a fantastic year for stalwarts returning from the shadows with some barnstorming comebacks.
Right up there must be this glorious effort from one of the godfathers of rock. As the title suggests, Post Pop Depression saw Iggy communicate with the listener in a less abrasive and more vulnerable way that we have perhaps not really heard from him since the 70s.
Throw into the mix a star-studded backing band featuring guitar and vocals from Josh Homme (QOTSA) and drums from Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) and the record just had to make our list.
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Iggy may have left the garage-rock behind in 2016, but there are still those from across the pond flying the scuzz-covered flag with pride.
Our favourite eye-waveringly productive Californian Ty Segall dropped his Emotional Mugger LP right at the start of 2016, once again treating us to a bone-shattering banquet of glam-infused rock ‘n’ roll dripping in swagger. Its’ as sublime as we have come to expect from Mr Segall.
King Creosote – Astronaut Meets Appleman
And now for something completely different… Few musicians in the UK have the natural craft and marked authenticity of Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote.
His latest effort follows on from the slightly more motorik approach that came on From Scotland With Love a couple of years back, straying from the stripped-back, folk-based sound that made him his name. Astronaut Meets Appleman is a fusing of genres that must go down as one of his finest pieces of work.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Key
As autumn arrived and the leaves began to drop, so too did the most gut-wrenching record on our list. Along with the much-hyped feature film One More Time With Feeling, Nick Cave released the album that documents the sudden and tragic loss of his son.
As you might expect, the record’s journey is a heady cocktail of sombre reflection and displaced numbness, all making for one hell of an intense listen. Whether it grabs you musically from the off or not, you can’t help but take on some of the pain.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Sometimes bands sit in shiny studios, wasting their mum and dad’s money, twiddling their thumbs with some big time producer, deliberating how many more years they should wait before enlightening the world with their latest ‘masterpiece’. Then there are bands like King Gizzard.
More like a steamroller of hypnotic riffs from some kind of dystopian future, this nine-piece powerhouse deson’t really take breaks or follow schedules. Instead, you are drastically and hastily invited to join them on a psyched-out voyage through the topsy turvy realms of blues-rock. Did we mention they’ve got not one, but four more records ready to throw at us? Brace yourself 2017.
Ultimate Painting – Dusk
Another band of workaholics proving that if you just get off your arse and do it, the recognition (from Far Out at least) will come. What started as a sort of side project for Jack Cooper of Mazes and James Hoare of Veronica Falls has developed into a constantly pressing concern.
The duo has now treated us to three albums in as many years, crafting a brand of blissed-out psych-pop that simply always seems to hit that spot. One of those bands where more of the same is proving no bad thing.
The Wytches – All Your Happy Life
This year our favourite three-piece became a four-piece and brought us a second LP that cements them as supremos of British rock ‘n’ roll.
Their follow-up to Annabel Dream Reader manages to retain the abrasive grunge that catapulted them into our consciousness while adding buckets of texture through the at times soaring melodies of Kristian Bell and refreshing keyboard parts provided by new member Mark Breed. They go from strength to strength.
Charles Bradley – Changes
Amid all the celebrity obituaries, insidious nationalism, x-factor style elections, and chronic ‘deep’ meme sharing that have popularised the dark undercurrent of 2016, sometimes all you need to make it all better is a heavy dose of unadulterated soul.
Cue the Screaming Eagle of the aforementioned musical genre aka Charles Bradley with his finest Daptone effort thus far, Changes. Anchoring a cultured soul record on a cover of a Black Sabbath classic may sound like a car crash on paper, but thanks to a reworking driven by The Menahan Street Band it gave us one of the most triumphant albums of the year.
David Bowie – Blackstar
It’s the record that has probably been the one unequivocal staple of every publication’s end of the year list. But rather than try to act like the ‘too cool for school’ kid sat on their own in the corner, Blackstar is musically (to the highest extent that it can be detached from the obvious sentiment) just too good not to make our compilation.
Everyone must remember the quiver in Johnny Cash’s voice as he covered Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ on his final record, but there is probably no album in history that has so perfectly embodied the milestone of a universe-wide visionary’s death.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Brooklyn’s finest are here, there and everywhere nowadays, with the four-piece harbouring more side projects than most would be able to maintain. But despite all that, they gave us the most complete sounding Parquet Courts album so far this year with Human Performance.
The record has a softer edge to it than the likes of Light Up Gold, but this has been replaced with enough pop sensibility and musical expansion to keep us not just locked in, but obsessed.
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Hip-hop’s finest jazz samplers and most thought-provoking lyricists made a monumental return this year, but also lost a founding member in Phife Dawg in the process.
The new record is their first for nearly two decades, acting as a stark statement that the magic never left them. Not only are they as sharp as ever, but also able to adapt their trademark fluidity to a harder edge, producing dark social commentary alongside Elton John and Willie Wonka samples. Undoubtedly the comeback record of the year.
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
She’s been an undisputed Far Out favourite for some time and her 2016 LP MY WOMAN is easily up there with the best releases we’ve been treated to.
With a band that has now expanded to a six-piece too, the record is one that lays personal lyrics bare against a meaty, grunge-tinged backdrop reminiscent of PJ Harvey at her very best. We were fans before, but from here on in we’re converted. This is an album that feels like the beginning of an artist transcending from fledgeling to iconic. Must have.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
This certainly couldn’t be adjudged as Radiohead’s most immediate record. Swirling strings and an over-wash of ambience mean that non-superfans really need to make the effort. But you’d better believe it’s worth it.
Whether it’s the Hitchcock-style build of ‘Burn the Witch’ or the enchanting synths on the extravagantly-titled ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’, the LP is a sonic expedition with more layers to peel back and get lost in than any other release this year. The ultimate grower.
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
In the disposable times that we live in trying to find new artists with the commitment to forming a real narrative is getting more and more difficult. But in Kate Tempest, the UK has a voice so full of vigour and energy that she almost feels like a spokesperson for the entire creative community rather than simply music.
One part political commentator, one part novelist, one part poet, one part flawless MC, one part journalist and one million parts a genuinely talented and fresh pioneer, she seems to have already invented her very own niche just two albums in.
Let Them Eat Chaos is a Pulp Fiction-style insight into the lives of seven characters and the pressures put on them by an increasingly turbulent British society.
You could say it’s a concept album of sorts. But throw in nail-on-head observations like ‘Europe is Lost’ and an infectious musical backdrop from Speedy Underground’s Dan Carey, and this is probably, quite possibly, almost definitely 2016’s most important record. End of.