iTunes threatened to kill albums and then Spotify came along and once again nearly made the album extinct but it’s fought back. 2016 has albums prove their worth better than in any year since The Guardian declared the album dead.
In 2016, they weren’t just a collection of tracks. There were records that begged to be listened to from start to finish, presenting narratives that couldn’t be devoured properly in chunks. You couldn’t pluck songs in isolation because their bookends were just as important as the song itself.
These are the albums that argued the above point for us.
Illustrations by Bianca Bosso.
SAFIA – Internal
SAFIA’s debut album came with what felt like very real and heavy expectation, following a steady stream of hits from the Canberra electro-instrumental outfit over the past few years. The mainstay and most clearly defining feature of their music has always been Ben Woolner’s inimitable vocals and particularly his incredible use of falsetto – and although some may have expected this to be used more as a centrepiece on the album, there was still plenty to wrap your ears around.
From the sprawling instrumental opener Zion to more radio-friendly hits like Fake It Til The Sunrise, there was plenty of exploration of the SAFIA sound on this album. Although none of the new material really surpassed the already released Embracing Me and Make Them Wheels Roll, SAFIA’s debut was a strong one and really showed off their incredible ability to consolidate an unpredictably diverse range of ideas within an album that works brilliantly as a whole. – Zanda Wilson
Lido – Everything
TMHTF feels like a final blow in an incredible fight where I’m left exhausted. This song needs to be played at absolute peak volume and screamed along to until your neighbours begin banging on your walls. Astrid S ends the album with a surprisingly sweet and hopeful melody alluding to the fact that perhaps our favourite Norwegian is ready to move on. – Meshell Webb
Read her review of all of the tracks here.
Skepta – Konnichiwa
“Skepta does more than enough to show why he is such a prominent name in the genre of grime, and prove himself worthy of the mainstream recognition he is now beginning to have. On face value, it might seem that Skepta has taken more cues from Drake than the latter has from Skepta, but if considered close enough – the opposite may well be true. Suck on that one, fam!” – James Schofield
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Funnily enough, Nothing’s Real is so successful because everything’s real. Nothing’s forced, overthought or sugar-coated. It’s difficult to imagine what more you could ask for from a debut record. She’s expanded on her early sound without abandoning it and effortlessly explored light and shade without detouring far from her comfort zone. Without having ever met Shura, this album makes you feel otherwise. To critique its lyrics or sonic direction would almost be like critiquing Shura’s own personality. And luckily there’s barely a flaw to be seen on Nothing’s Real.
She’s not breaking new ground here but there’s a skill in making comfortable music exciting and that’s exactly what this is – familiar without being safe. – Sam Murphy
Read the full review here.
The Range – Potential
Throughout Potential there are detours into grime and British electronic music, but for the most part Hinton isn’t occupying any particular space of electronic music. He’s not trying to create something for others to follow or attempting to be intricate for the sake of ostracising people who aren’t true musicians. Potential is just an expertly crafted record that comes unfiltered from a creator who is emotional, technical and inquisitive. By using voices plucked from YouTube those he’s taken his own complicated feelings and made them universal. That’s why the record is so easy to connect to and it’s what will keep you coming back to it too. – Sam Murphy
Read the full review here.
Tkay Maidza – TKAY
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Tkay Maidza’s debut album is something I’ve been hanging out for since I first started listening to her back in 2014. Tkay’s ability to create fresh, fun-loving tracks with singsong melodies is only further exhibited in her self-titled, debut album TKAY. It oozes with the young, 21 year-old, artists fiery, confident personality, each song is packed with the same amount of energy the pocket rocket gives at her live shows, creating an album full of dance floor ready hits.
Stand out tracks include; Always Been, Tennies, Monochrome, Drum Sticks No Guns, Follow Me and the absolute banger Simulation, where Tkay unleashes her inner pop queen whilst showcasing just how strong her vocals are. The album as a whole jumps and dives between pop, hip hop and dance hits leading to a collection of songs that never hit a dull moment. It’s the perfect album to chuck on at a party as the eclectic mix of tracks means everyone will find a track to jam too.
The colourful, bouncy production will leave you guessing what Tkay has in store for you next as you jump from track to track, whilst the infectious synths and hard-hitting instrumentals will leave you wanting more. Maidza takes us on a journey from high-school student to superstar crafting an album for the younger generation, full of relatable lyrics that will resonate with anyone making the shift from adolescent to adult. It’s a triumph of a debut album for an artist only just beginning her journey in the spotlight. – Gabrielle Clement
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
“The Present Tense is a journey of pure excitement and joy being suffocated by Thom’s blatant depression dripping throughout the lyrics.”
I wrote that earlier in the year, and since sitting with the rest of the album for 6 more months or so, its come to be the whole album drips the same way, now as the news of Thom Yorke’s wife dying has come, this album takes on an even sadder shape.
Radiohead are the true emotional roller coaster designers, this album manufactured soundscapes and vocals that turn heads from music lover to film buff, when Radiohead drop an album its always more than just aural, its an all 5 senses experience.
Songs like Daydreaming and the resurrected True Love Waits will leave you reconsidering every life choice you ever made. Thought on a lighter note the clip for Burn the Witch will make you want to watch postman pat, so there’s that. – Jack Cain
Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman
Bloody Hell. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WHAT AN ALBUM.
There’s a decent chunk of tracks from this album which still cop at least one listen a week from me. There’s nothing I love more than a big, unashamedly pop ‘moment’, and Dangerous Woman has them in spades. Whether it’s the key change in the last chorus on Greedy, the house influences in Knew Better/Forever Boy or the ‘la la la’s’ throughout Sometimes, Ariana (and friends!) set the benchmark for a big pop diva release in a way that honestly hasn’t been seen this decade, let alone in 2016.
I’m still holding out hope that Be Alright will get an official single release and fulfil all of my vogue-tastic dreams… but I’ll settle with Touch It or Everyday to close out the era if I absolutely must. – Matthew Fiacchi
Ngaiire – Blastoma
Blastoma is the best thing Ngaiire’s done but it’s also the best thing we heard locally this eyar. Even on an international scale this stands up to 2016’s excellent soul releases like Gallant’s Ology and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu. Without following any sonic trends, she’s crafted an album that sounds like its built itself organically, coming straight from the heart. As obvious as that sounds, it’s hard to do when you’re getting opinions from several different angles.
Ngaiire’s an old soul with a futuristic vision and on Blastoma, she’s found a way to marry the two. – Sam Murphy
Read our full review here.
NAO – For All We Know
For All We Know‘s charm isn’t forced, it’s subtle. It’ll take repeat listens for Nao’s allure to fully grip you but there’s something magical about that. She hasn’t made a record that shoves her arrival in your face, rather she’s been smart about crafting a multi-genre sound that feels classic already. “When I drip my perfume on my pillowcase, that’s when you know I was there,” she sings, aptly describing her lasting presence on the record. You may not know it, but For All We Know will linger with you long after she’s sung her last note. Listening is the only way you can consume it, obviously, but once it’s done the textures and flavours will lodge in your memory. That’s the mark of a long-lasting classic. One you’ll return to for years to come. – Sam Murphy
DAWN – Redemption
There’s so much to appreciate from a thematic point-of-view that it’s easy to under appreciate the forward-thinking sound of this project. On Blackheart she consistently pushed the boundaries production-wise but it didn’t carry as much lyrical weight as Redemption. On Redemption she’s managed to bring both and some of the production-choices are spectacular. Album highlight and opener Love Under Lights soars thanks to a pulsating tempo change that makes an already great song greater. Under anyone else’s guidance Lazarus would’ve been a forgettable mid-tempo but with Machinedrum at the helm it becomes a dizzying, busy trip. Each song blends effortlessly into the next, making it easy to get to the end without realising that you’ve just devoured 15 songs.
Redemption isn’t going to take over the charts but it’s probably the best alternative for those who crave the melody of a pop hit but are fed up with the copy/paste aesthetic that the radio beams out. None of these songs are word-heavy, in fact repetition is key on a number of the songs, but DAWN goes for quality not quantity, meaning what she does say hits hard. That combined with the intentionally futuristic sonic-backdrop makes Redemption a record that stands alone in 2016. It analyses the past and the present but only so that it can deduce a euphoric alternative for the future. – Sam Murphy
Tourist – U
There were many incredible debut records this year, but for us one of the picks of the bunch came from Tourist with U. At the it’s core, U is really just classy dance music. In a sense that if you are after a ‘banger’ or a piece of high octane electro-house than you best leave and go elsewhere because what Tourist has captured in U is modern day dance marvel. Packed with emotion, it’s filled with euphoric anthems that command the dance floor. The record is so much more than its hits Run and To Have You Back. With tracks like For Sarah, Waves and title track U it’s no wonder this Grammy award winning producer is now in the upper echelon of electronic music producers. Here’s to hoping William Phillips you can keep this flair, whilst continuing to push the dance music boundaries because hell, electronic dance music needs it right now. – Harrison Kefford
Francis And The Lights – Farewell, Starlite
Our love for one of 2016’s most buzzed about artists continues to grow, and Farewell, Starlite! was and still is a triumph. The best thing about this record is that it offered a fresh perspective from an artist who has been born again, so to speak. The name Francis and the Lights wasn’t on the radar of mainstream music culture, but it sure is now. Through his Bon Iver & Kanye West collab Friends, as well as his work on Chance The Rapper’s Summer Friends, Mr Starlite did an incredible job at making sure he stayed on our radar. Although this record has its bonafide hit in Friends, Farewell, Starlite! is so so so much more with other offerings like That’s Just Life (See Her Out) and My Citys Gone making this record one of the best and most dynamic sounding of 2016. – Harrison Kefford
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank U 4 Ur Service
ATCQ have always challenged the sonic palette. From their debut album’s dizzying displays of multi-textured samples and subliminal lyrics, the group were always the most cohesive members of the Native Tongues movement, whether their fans went along with the journey or not. Beats, Rhymes & Life and The Love Movement were ATCQ’s most misunderstood projects that would, thanks to hindsight, lay the foundations for Neo Soul, indie RnB and the ‘Beat’ scenes that emerged after their break-up in 1998.
It’s therefor wonderful that ATCQ can re-emerge at their most challenging, both stylistically and from a content perspective in 2016 and be so adored for it. Never have they been so political (it’s very anti-Trump); courting an over-cooked disaster with so many chefs in the kitchen and the expectations of what everyone knows would be their final statement thanks to the death of founding member Phife Dawg in March. They have arisen triumphantly and WGIFHTY4YS solidifies the group as one of the most important voices in contemporary Music History. – Huwston
Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada’s Boiler Room set from Montreal at the end of 2013 is one of my favourite videos on YouTube. As the Canadian producer cuts and scratches, there’s fervour of movement that engulfs the rest of the frame: A woman in pastel shirt contorts and dances without abandon for the almost the whole set. A guy with a patchy beard obnoxiously creeps on every woman and gets swatted away every time. A stoner in a Warren Sapp jersey has an existential awakening as he stands at the DJ booth. All the while Kaytranada, decked out in his dorkiest Karieem Riggins t-shirt, remains laser-focused. The room around him becomes an engrossing spectacle of people reacting to his music.
That scene is translated to wax remarkably well on 99.9%. Kaytranda remains a reserved protagonist, supplying the thumping, steady heartbeat that guides the groove of the album whilst the guests fill out the frame. Craig David and Phonte are cool uncles, watching the young bucks Vic Mensa and GoldLink wild out. Aluna Francis and Yukimi Nagano are the fashionable girls everyone’s dying to be friends with as Anderson .Paak saunters through like he owns the place. Syd from the Internet literally owns the place.
It all compiles to make 99.9% the soundtrack for the best house party we’ll never be invited to. For one hour, Kaytranada leaves the gate unlatched, letting us sneak in and stand square in the middle, just as he did in Montreal, watching all the madness unfold around us. – Reece Hooker