The year is half over and its is high time to take stock of all the brilliant albums induced in 2016, from Beyoncs fizzing pop to Anohnis anguished protest music
Afro Celt Sound System The Source
The groups first album in a decade toned down the electronica of earlier incarnations for a more acoustic, but no less propulsive, approach.
What we said: Its an often giddy mashup: nowhere else will you hear a female African chorus alongside Gaelic rap and jazz bagpipes. Yet the panel also conjures moments of beauty like Mansani Ciss/ Tladh, where harp, kora and lyrical vocals entwine majestically.
What we said : Perhaps thats the most peculiar thing about Hopelessness: when Anohni sings about mass tombs and drone strikes, it doesnt feel like a lecture. It can be strangely empowering. For all its bleakness, Hopelessness leaves you feeling anything but.
David Bowie Blackstar
Bowies swansong astonished critics upon release, and seemed even more poignant when he died shortly afterwards leaving messages of goodbye in his songs.
What we said : Youre struck by the sense of Bowie at his most commanding, twisting a genre to suit his own ends Its a rich, deep and strange album that is like Bowie moving restlessly forward, his eyes fixed ahead: the position in which hes always made his greatest music.
An ambient drone album powered by 40,000 bees, this record transcended its roots as an art project to become something joyous and revelatory.
What we said : One is a transcendental drone symphony between man and bee that is surely one of the years most beguiling offerings.
With this empowered sixth album, Bey turned the spotlight on the flaws in her matrimony with shocking and powerful results.
What we said : On much of Lemonade, Beyonc sounds genuinely imperious. Shes not the only major pop starring willing to experimentation and move at the boundaries of her voice, but unlike endeavours by others, Lemonade feels like it was made by someone very much in control. On Lemonade, Beyonc sounds very much like a woman not to be messed with.
Christine and the Queens Chaleur Humaine
A mainstream star in France, Hlose Letissier demonstrated the Brits how to do it with an album inspired by gender fluidity and avant-garde theatre.
What we said : Chaleur Humaine is a rich and rewarding album that works whichever way you slice it. If you want to take it as an extended musical treatise on faggot identity and non-binary sex orientation, theres plenty here to maintain you occupied. If you just want to treat it as a collecting of beautifully wrought pop music, then it functions fantastically as that, too.
The rapper could claim to be the defining pop artist of the moment with this eclectic often humorous collecting of songs.
What we said : Views isnt a perfect album some judicious pruning of the less impactful ways would make it more easily digestible, and there are certainly moments when you start to wish Drake would cast his gaze a little further afield than his own bellybutton but nothing about it suggests that his position is anything other than unassailable for the foreseeable future.
Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party Old Adam
Stories of witchcraft and disloyalty not to mention a Tom Waits number made up Hields first solo album in several years.
What we said : Hield is a folk scholar as well as a vocalist, and the new set offers an intriguingly varied selection of narrative songs that help us explore rights and wrongs. Classy and entertaining.
James Blake The Colour in Anything
The electronic producers third album was an achieved portrayal of digital nervousnes and millennial malaise wrapped in that gorgeous voice.
What we said : Nowadays, your vocal style is your calling card more than ever and Blakes is not just distinctive, its peerless. Its magical in its evocative powers, and like Arthur Russell, he can summon a sort of joyful sadness that seems to transcend the anthem itself.
Kanye West The Life of Pablo
Sprawling, inconsistent and with the tendency to make its inventor look like a plonker, Kaynes seventh album still had high points that only he could reach.
What we said : When The Life of Pablo is good, its very good indeed. What it isnt is consistent. Perhaps its the sound of a man overreaching himself. Perhaps its the document of a mind coming increasingly unglued: you can find plenty of evidence here to support that interpreting.
Knifeworld Bottled Out of Eden
The prog-tinged psychedelia of Knifeworlds third album was even more adventurous and cheerfully skewed than 2014 s stunning The Unravelling.
What we said : Students of this stuff will spot tints of Gong, Henry Cow, XTC and Shudder to Believe lurking amid the angular rhythmic twistings and elegantly perverse arrangements, but frontman and ex-Cardiac Kavus Torabis greatest skill is his ability to cram incisive but wonderfully alien tunes into every misshapen sonic nook. This is a big, vivid, lysergic joy.
Margo Price Midwest Farmers Daughter
Price poured her life story into this debut album from losing her baby to her attempts to buy back the old household farm.
What we said : Theres an explicit debt to predecessors such as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and its no astound that the album has come out on Jack Whites Third Man records; its an album for whom authenticity is crucial, but its all the better for it.
Megadeths 15 th album was a blistering return to form to the state-of-the-art bombast and refined technicality of past glories.
What we said : Its the feeling of conviction that seals the bargain: MegaDave voices fired-up and furious throughout, spitting venom on acerbic diatribes such as Post American World and Fatal Illusion, and delivering The Monarch vicious hooks like a shrewd veteran with the wind very much back in his sails.
Parquet Courts Human Performance
The Brookyln alt-punks spruced up their sound and embraced melody for this fifth album, yet retained their spiky edge.
What we said: Human Performance wears its pre-punk to post-punk influences proudly. If guitar music is condemned to skulk in the margins for the time being, it might as well do so voicing as spiky and agitated as this.
PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project
Polly Harvey travelled to Afghanistan, Kosovo and the grimmer parts of Washington DC to find inspiration for the follow-up to 2011 s Let England Shake.
What we said : The Hope Six Demolition Project is full of moments where the experimentations unequivocally run, to pretty devastating effect. Even when they dont, its still a hugely enjoyable album, potent-sounding, stuffed with tunes great enough to drown out the occasional lyrical shortcomings.
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
The Oxford bands string-addled ninth album demonstrated theyre a group whose creative forces are in constant motion.
What we said: Radioheads previous endeavors at creating a rousing call to arms have been hobbled by their innate pessimism. Here, however, the stuff about how the future is inside us and people have the power sounds authentically stirring.
Rihannas eighth album could be unsure of itself but it was a rare instance of a mainstream star daring to experiment, and the results sometimes paid off.
What we said: In a risk-averse world, theres something brave about Anti, and at its best, its daring pays off: it remains to be seen whether it represents a momentary veer off-piste or what you might call a complete Ri-Ri-invention.
Packed with singles, Skeptas fourth album personified the thrilling UK grime revival and had one eye on the other side of the Atlantic.
What we said : On the basis of Konnichiwa, any uneasiness Skepta feels about his current artistic position is unfounded: for a man apparently in limbo and for all the complaints about his workload he pertains on Text Me Back he carries himself with real confidence throughout.
Vijay Iyer/ Wadada Leo Smith A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
What we said : In his eighth decade, the pioneering US trumpeter/ composer Wadada Leo Smith is stepping even harder on the gas this intimate dialogue swells from interesting to enthralling as it unfolds.
The 1975 I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
The 1975 s second album could be ridiculously over-ambitious, but there was no denying Matt Healy knew his route around a mainstream pop tune.
What we said : Youre left with an album that imagination itself as a challenging work of art, but turns out to be a collect of fantastic pop anthems full of interesting, smart lyrics, but also peppered with self-conscious lunges for a gravitas it doesnt really need. Whether that stimulates it a success or a failing depends on whose metric you use.
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