This year, to save you from an overwhelming wall of names, we’ve refined our list. With just 16 albums this year, we hope you will find at least one album to fall in love with that you missed, plus a few more to nod in agreement on seeing their inclusion.
All of these records could have been number one. The positioning is a little bit arbitrary, as if there’s some sort of definitive order and none of this is utterly subjective. Part of this "Does it really make any difference if it’s number 32 or 53 if it isn’t number one?"-ness was behind our decision to change things up a bit this year. However, we have also shared all of our teams’ top 3s in one handy article, which should hopefully satiate those of you looking for further recommendations and assurances that we didn’t totally forget [insert name of your album of the year]. These lists weren’t totted up, but were more of an advisement to create a representation of what ‘we’, the team behind DiS, love but also that ‘we’ includes the thoughts and feelings of many of you posting on our forums throughout the year. We wouldn’t be here without our community and in attempting to compile this don’t-call-it-definitive list, we always take into account the way the wind is blowing over there.
Anyway, let’s be getting on with it….
Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
A skittering indie-pop record with politics bristling amidst breezy lo-fi compositions. Fans of early Ash or Johnny Foreigner should check out this Neptune Prize (our alternative to the Mercury Prize) winning album. Read the DiS 9/10 review by Paul Brown
15) DANNY BROWN
Widely heralded as the hip-hop album of the year. DiS staff and readers alike tend to agree that it’s also one of the finest albums of 2016. Read the DiS review
14) KATE TEMPEST
Let Them Eat Chaos
In the conclusion to his review of this critically-celebrated opus, Nick Roseblade said: “Let Them Eat Chaos yet again showcases not only Tempest’s ability as a storyteller, but also her vision. If she wanted to, Tempest could easily release an album either full of club bangers, or conscious hip-hop introspection, but instead, she wants to not only challenge the listener, but herself. On Let them Eat Chaos Tempest has cemented herself as a poet/rapper of the highest order, who isn’t happy just make the masses smile, but to challenge and make them think and love too.” Read the review in full
13) SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS
Heartbreaking for many reasons, the final album by School Of Seven Bells hurtles you through a world of euphoric sadness. Oddly, amidst the terminal diagnosis (Cancer, you really are the worst thing ever…) there’s also a life-affirming thrust to this incredible record. Read Aidan Reynolds 9/10 DiS Review. // Must read: Kim Taylor-Bennett’s in-depth chat with Ally.
Surprisingly, this didn’t make every album of the year list, and only got an 8/10 when Guiseppe tried to make sense of it. If the wind was blowing slightly differently, and perhaps if this album was available to stream by our team (this whole Tidal exclusive nonsense, eh?) then maybe it would have ranked higher. Read the full DiS review.
11) JENNY HVAL
Side-stepping soft-dick rock, this Norwegian monologue master managed to send DiS’ Lee Adcock into a rapturous state with her latest masterpiece. Read this 9/10 review, it’s quite something.
Oddly missing on a few other media year-end lists is Suede’s incredible concept album, which much like Beyonce and Frank Ocean (minus the Apple-sponsored hype), also had a visual accompaniment. Read Christopher McBride’s DiS review
A Moon Shaped Pool
It’s a DiS album of the year list. It’s Radiohead. We’re as shocked as you are that they aren’t at number one. Must mean the following 8 records are rather special (spoiler: they are). Read Andrzej Lukowski’s 8/10 Review of A Moon Shaped Pool
8) FRANK OCEAN
In his glowing review of the two Frank Ocean albums which ‘dropped’ earlier this year, Dave Hanratty wrote: "Blonde (or Blond if you wish to do the whole masculine/feminine thing) feels like a confessional, one of naked pain, powerful acceptance, and so much knowing ambiguity that the man behind these often pitch-shifted words once again keeps those rapt at arm’s length even when finally delivering... Blonde is often concerned with the loss of innocence. Its bookends capture the purity of youth and the distinctive aches that come with growing older. The opening bow finds room for cute levity, too - bouncing ‘Carmelo’ off ‘Othello’ and closing on a crude punch line." Read the full 9/10 DiS review
7) ANGEL OLSEN
Angel Olsen has built a certain brand for herself. She is a presence, a steely-eyed stare and stern pout whose lyrics run your heart through the wringer and whose voice haunts your dreams. Her work has typically been a lo-fi affair, and a fair few of her tracks consist of a guitar and whisper. On this foundation, Olsen’s third full-length, MY WOMAN, and in particular leading singles 'Intern' and 'Shut Up Kiss Me', have come as a surprise. The synths of the former and the sheer forcefulness of the latter, and the explicit humour of each, show she’s ready to shift away from the minimalism she’s been associated with and maybe even from the sternness she’s projected. Read Amanda Farah’s review in full here.
Their previous bands Women and Viet Cong have both been championed by DiS, so it perhaps comes as a shock to no-one to see their album as featured in our recommended section in this list. Andrzej our reviews editor wrote: "The weird thing about what I suppose you’d call Preoccupations’ self-titled debut is how unlike Viet Cong it sounds (fun fact: Women’s Public Strain is the only non-self-titled album of Flegel and Wallace’s career). Not suspiciously different: loosely speaking Viet Cong and Preoccupations both play heavy, post-punk-indebted rock. But certainly surprisingly different. Flegel’s vocals are the real shocker: they often sound unrecognisably different to those on Viet Cong and the two Women albums, a deep, tired growl, his old treated yelp only occasionally really emerging on second track 'Monotony'. The thunderous, processed drums of Viet Cong are largely shelved in favour of something dancier, closer to Stephen Morris. The early works of New Order and The Cure loom far larger than they did before." Read Andrzej Lukowski’s full review here.
5) AMBER ARCADES
Following in footsteps of acts like Hookworms and Twilight Sad, this Dom Gourlay championed dutch lady has risen into the hearts of psych and shoegaze lovers throughout 2016. In his 10/10 review of the album, Dom began by saying: "The back story behind Amber Arcades is almost as fascinating the music. It's essentially the solo project of multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Annelotte De Graaf, who by day works as a legal aide for Syrian refugees in her native Utrecht. Prior to that, she sat on United Nations tribunals dedicated to war crimes. Clearly well versed on humanitarian issues, it shouldn't come as a surprise that her debut, Fading Lines, is one of the most quietly unassuming yet inherently beautiful records to grace our speakers in years. But then even the story of Amber Arcades eventually signing to revered UK independent Heavenly is shrouded in more luck than judgment. An occasional flatmate of De Graaf's secured a job with the label and handed them a demo on the off chance someone might listen to it. Which might seem preposterous on the surface, yet would have been an even bigger travesty had these songs not been heard in the first place. Nevertheless, eventually signing in January of this year, we're here now with arguably the finest debut release of 2016." Read Dom’s full 10/10 review here
Drone bombs, surveillance, and global warming are themes which bloom like a nuclear bomb throughout the debut album by ANOHNI (who previously made music under the guise of Antony & The Johnsons). It’s a fierce record that perfectly soundtracks this death spiral of year where fear and loathing reigned supreme. As Marc Burrows wrote in his 10/10 review: "Hopelessness is the sound of a writer letting go of their past, striding past our expectations, and punching us in the soul. It is less a record and more an emotional defibrillator, delivering shocks straight to the heart; it could jolt us to life, but could just as easily short-circuit our bodies and stop us dead. It feels that powerful." Read the 10/10 review here
3) THE 1975
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
With a record title that’s more likely to come from Godspeed or Fiona Apple, The 1975 seemed to know how to get a certain sort of person’s backs up. With their throbbing neon pink signs and massive hit singles, it would be easy to overlook these arena-filling boys from Manchester as some sort of modern-day Scritti Politti or Duran Duran. With Matty’s Morrissey meets Noel Gallagher soundbites, you could be fooled for thinking they’re the Emperor’s new leather trousers. Spend more than 5 minutes with this album however, and you’ll find a self-assured band more interested in confounding and enthralling; the sad-film-soundtrack heart of this record has more in common with Four Tet, Sigur Ros, and early M83. From this instrumental section the record slowly unfurls into the dazzling duo that is ‘Somebody Else’ and ‘Loving Someone’, both of which bring to mind acts like The Knife and When Saints Go Machine, whilst Matty slips in nods to Guy Debord and the collapsing Greek economy. I get that they’re not for everyone, but I could go on and on about this masterpiece, and I’ve not even mentioned the sumptuous production... Read my full review of the album here (not sure why I didn’t give it 10/10… 300 or so listens later, it would definitely be an 11).
2) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
In my review of the accompanying movie, One More Time With Feeling, I wrote that Skeleton Tree is “Nick Cave at his best, with Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen shepherding him through the night.” That was written after just two listens to this brutally melancholy record, but I stand by it. It’s impossible to remove the tragic shadow that this record was written and recorded beneath, but perhaps in the context of this dismal year, it was the record we all needed to wallow within. In almost any other year this would have been our number one, but this isn’t any other year…
1) DAVID BOWIE
An undeniable masterpiece. Published before we all heard the tragic news, Andrzej our reviews editor attempted to sum up Blackstar by writing: "There has been much talk of Blackstar being a jazz record, and it’s not an entirely inaccurate statement, but it’s worth noting that sax, beats, and long songs are not new things for Bowie. What is different are the musicians – a jazz quartet led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin – and the intent. What we have here is atmospheric, eerie, jazz-tinted prog, cradled in the sort of skittering electronic beats that have dropped in and out of his repertoire since Earthling. It sounds like a recipe for total fucking disaster, but in fact it’s wonderful; rock’n’roll has largely been purged, and the resultant musical canvases are melancholic, atmospheric, crepuscular affairs that set Bowie free from the banalities that creep into his pop and unleashes his inner dramatist for the first time in an age – his lyrics and vocals are oblique and otherworldly, freed from the shackles of indie rock." Read Andrzej’s full review.
LPS OF 2016 - RADIO SHOW
Stream our special 2-hour show hosted by DiS’ Editor Sean Adams and DiS podcast co-host Danielle Perry, featuring tracks from the top 5 and a smattering of others.
Drowned in Sound’s Albums of 2016
1) DAVID BOWIE - ★
2) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Skeleton Tree
3) THE 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
4) ANOHNI - Hopelessness
5) AMBER ARCADES - Fading Lines
6) PREOCCUPATIONS - Preoccupations
7) ANGEL OLSEN - My Woman
8) FRANK OCEAN - Blonde
9) RADIOHEAD - A Moon Shaped Pool
10) SUEDE - Night Thoughts
11) JENNY HVAL - Blood Bitch
12) BEYONCE - Lemonade
13) SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS - SVIIB
14) KATE TEMPEST - Let Them Eat Chaos
15) DANNY BROWN - Atrocity Exhibition
16) MARTHA - Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Read: Top 3 Albums of 2016 from each of our team
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Previous DiS album of the year lists