His Master's Choice: hmv's Best Albums of 2016
Every year as the days grow shorter and the Christmas lights begin to adorn the streets of our towns and cities, here at hmv towers we have a tradition of rounding up some of the year's best albums, a list of which you can pick up at your local hmv store in the form of a handy booklet called His Master's Choice (see what we did there?)
In it you will find more than 50 albums released this year, some of which may have flown under your radar, but all of which deserve your attention.
Below we've picked 10 of our favourites from 2016 as an introduction, you can find the full list in your local store...
Bon Iver: 22, A Million
Justin Vernon's return from indefinite hiatus this year was as welcome as it was unexpected and Bon Iver's third album takes their music into new territory. The core elements are all still there, but on the beguiling 22, A Million Vernon and co. have taken a much more experimental approach on the production side of things. The familiar soft, layered vocals and fragmented lyrics are all present and correct, but here they are augmented by stuttering beats, vocoders and chopped-up samples. It's a bold step forward from the previous two albums, but one that will leave you totally enraptured.
David Bowie: Blackstar
The timing of David Bowie's most recent and final album could hardly have been more poignant; Blackstar arrived in January just days before the announcement of Bowie's death and its cryptic messages were already being pored over by fans when the tragic news of his passing came. In hindsight it seems obvious that this was intended as his parting gift to the world, and what a gift it is. Filled with oblique lyrical references to his own life and career, Blackstar is filled with genre-bending tracks that fuse elements jazz, krautrock, hip-hop and plenty more besides into a grand opus that seems a fitting way to see out the most exceptional of careers.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Bad Seed Ltd
If there is any album released in 2016 than could conceivably compete with David Bowie's Blackstar in the poignancy stakes, it's probably this. Along with its accompanying film, One More Time With Feeling, what began as a performance-based audio-visual project documenting the creative process took a tragic turn following the death of Cave's son, who died after falling from a cliff near Brighton's seafront during the making of the album. The result is a powerful and stark rumination on themes of death, loss and personal grief and in spite of this incredibly traumatic event – or perhaps because of it – Skeleton Tree is a highly emotive and deeply affecting statement that stands up against the very best of Nick Cave's work.
Field Music: Commontime
For more than a decade now, Sunderland-born brothers David and Peter Brewis have been ploughing their own unique musical furrow, creating a series of critically-acclaimed albums and earning themselves a following that, one suspects, would be much larger by now if their music wasn't so difficult to categorise. With Commontime however they appear to have hit paydirt, with singles 'Disappointing' and 'The Noisy Days Are Over' receiving plenty of airplay and bringing their music to the larger audience they deserve. The latter of these somehow manages to combine lyrics about the mundanity of becoming a parent with a groove so funky that even Prince tweeted his approval, but there's plenty more to enjoy on this album besides the singles and it's a record that really deserves your time. (You can read our interview with Peter Brewis about the album here...)
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos
Poet, playwright and spoken word artist Kate Tempest has long been one of the UK's most under-appreciated talents, but the last couple of years have seen her finally starting to gain the recognition she deserves and her second album only serves to reinforce why the plaudits are justified. Tempest once again teams up with producer Dan Carey for Let Them Eat Chaos, building on the winning formula established on her debut. Based around a lyrical concept of several disparate characters living in the same street, Tempest draws parallels with their experiences from different perspectives and provides a timely illustration of how our similarities outweigh our differences.
Steel Wool Entertainment
Anderson.Paak has been on the scene for a few years now as one half of duo NxWorries and released his debut album Venice in 2014, but it was his guest appearances on Dr. Dre's 2015 album Compton that helped bring him to the attention of a wider audience. His second full-length offering Malibu arrived in January this year and the album is a leap forward from his debut, taking in a range of stylistic influences from the retro soul of 'Put Me Thru' to the funk-infused disco vibes of 'Am I Wrong'. Unlike his debut, Malibu also includes a handful of guest appearances from the likes of Schoolboy Q, Talib Kweli and The Rhapsody.
Haitian-Canadian producer Louis Celestin – better known as Kaytranada – has been on the scene for a while now, producing and remixing tracks for the likes of Portico Quartet, Mobb Deep and Erykah Badu as far back as 2012. He's released various mixtapes and extended plays since then, but this year saw the release of his debut album proper, 99.9%, and it's quite a thing. Blending dance, R&B, hip-hop, trap beats and various other styles into one multi-faceted creature, 99.9% features a range of guests including Anderson.Paak, Little Dragon, BadBadNotGood, Vic Mensa and AlunaGeorge, among many others, Kaytranada's debut is one of the year's most unique records and marks him out as one to watch closely over the next few years.
Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Will Toledo had spent several years as the living embodiment of the DIY approach to making music, self-releasing as many as eight albums - on which he plays all the instruments - through Bandcamp between 2010 and 2013 before record labels started taking notice. Eventually he signed to Matador and released his first 'proper' album Teens of Style in 2015, but with a track record this prolific it's no surprise that he returned this year with its follow-up. Teens of Denial builds on its predecessor with 12 thrillingly lo-fi tracks and establishes Car Seat Headrest as the natural successor to bands like their erstwhile label-mates Pavement. Particular highlights include 'Destroyed by Hippie Powers' and the album's superb opener 'Fill In The Blank'.
If you haven't already come across the Swedish collective known as Goat, let us quickly bring you up to speed. Comprising a fluidly unspecified number of members, Goat remain largely anonymous except for some given pseudonyms and profess to originate from a village commune in Sweden's remote northern territories, a place supposedly ravaged by Christian crusaders and cursed by a witch doctor, giving the place a Wicker Man vibe. It's almost certainly fiction, of course, but whatever you believe about their origin story there's no getting away from the fact that these are fearsome live performers, decked out in masks and tribal dress and whipping audiences into a frenzy. Requiem, their third album, has a bit more of an acoustic vibe to augment the psychedelic world music of their first two records, but it's no less mesmerising.
Angel Olsen: My Woman
Our final pick was selected by the folks at hmv towers as 2016's album of the year and if you haven't been keeping an eye on the career of St. Louis-born songstress Angel Olsen, now's the time to sit up and pay attention. Since her 2011 debut album Strange Cacti, Olsen has been steadily building her own brand of off-kilter, guitar-propelled alt-rock, served up with a distinctly retro voice that makes the whole package seem as if its being beamed into the present day from another time, if not quite another planet. My Woman feels like the moment when Olsen's ideas finally formed a cohesive whole, with particular highlights including the frenetic, fizzing guitar stomp of 'Shut Up Kiss Me' and the glassy, synthesizer-powered ballad 'Intern'. Some tracks grab you immediately, others are steady growers, but all of them are uniquely brilliant in their own way.