It is always incredibly difficult to choose those albums which have stood out as favourites across twelve months. Familiar favourites returned and newcomers impressed, producing many highlights such as the Tegan and Sara record ‘Love You To Death’, the unexpected high quality of Britney’s ‘Glory’, whilst Ladyhawke’s third output was delicious.
Yet, here are the seven albums which made a difference in 2016 – that soundtracked, that offered solace and understanding and became good, solid and faithful friends. In no particular order, rank, preference… the best of 2016.
Gwen Stefani – This Is What The Truth Feels Like
There is a wide spectrum of tales, ideas and emotions on display across the eighteen tracks featured on the deluxe set. It is a glossy affair showcasing polished, radio friendly tracks. Minimal beats, reggae/ska-lite sounds and cheerful, sunshine pop melodies are present throughout – ‘Me With You’ is a self worth, empowering anthem whilst ‘Rare’ is heartfelt and sweetly endearing – the simple, raw and stripped back verses give rise to an expanded fuller bodied, rousing chorus cry of “you’re rare and only a stupid girl would let it go”. It is an inventive record that holds much truth and wisdom from the experiences explored.
Highlights: ‘Me Without You’, ‘Rare’, ‘Getting Warmer’, ‘You’re My Favourite’
Dragonette – Royal Blues
‘Royal Blues’ is absolutely brilliant and so, so fantastic. The mix of sounds, styles and ideas on display gel neatly as the band showcase the many guises that they have flirted with across their ten year existence, there are moments of EDM, electro and new wave underpinned with unmistakeable Dragonette pure pop magic – it’s a glorious romp of a ride.
Lyrically, the songs tell tales of heartache, the fear of what is beyond a relationship before coming full circle with the thrill of freedom – these songs speak of the challenges, urges, temptations and desires we all face. Martina’s vocal is entrancing as ever which adds colour and character. They have really captured the essence of life in tracks such as ‘Save My Neck’ (“I gotta get a sharper weapon, I gotta pay more attention, I gotta ready to aim and gotta be my own protection”), and ‘Love Can’t Touch Me Now’ (“I’m like statue now, I’m not afraid”). The album is life givingly essential.
Highlights: All of them are incredible!!!
Dawn Richard – Redemption
The third piece of Dawn’s musical odyssey is fluid and free – it showcases the full depths of Dawn’s rich and diverse musicality – she has woven a astonishingly intricate soundscape across a record that thematically expresses hope, of overcoming and deliverance. Dawn’s creativity knows no bounds – take ‘LA’, in which the seemingly urban noise groove takes an unexpected twist when it concludes with an extended trombone outro to evoke the sounds of New Orleans. As ever, Dawn’s reference points are bold and expressed with vivid details that are rewarding, and the record as a whole is another exquisite beauty in a cannon of work from a prolific and prodigious artiste.
Highlights: ‘Hey Nikki’, ‘The Louvre’, ‘Black Crimes’, ‘Voices’
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Familia
This sixth studio offering from Sophie is a companion piece to ‘Wanderlust’ – it was again crafted with Ed Harcourt and cut live across a ten day period. This is a more immediate, beat driven collection – the songs are full bodied and elegant. The showy bombast of tracks such as ‘Wild Forever’ and ‘Death Of Love’ is offset against the gentler melancholy expressed within the dazzling ‘Crystallise’ and ‘Unrequited’. This is an artistic record, it is relentless in its quest to bury its way into the heart, with its determined grace and effusive beauty.
Highlights: ‘Crystallise’, ‘The Saddest Happiness’, ‘Don’t Shy Away’
KT Tunstall – KIN
KIN in an astounding body of work in which the Californian landscape and surroundings have sonically shaped these songs – they are bold, bright and tantalising with an enormous heart at the core. They are underpinned with a refreshingly personal lyric that is honest and open – they reveal a woman who is in control of her path and confident in her choices. These are songs of hope, change and overcoming, a sort of self-help and they offer all of this with big sing-a-long anthemic, stadium sized choruses and hooks. Songs such as ‘Maybe That’s A Good Thing’ and ‘It Took Me So Long To Get Here, But Here I Am’, ‘Love Is An Ocean’ (“I’m just a drop in the sea, it’s easy to forget but I’m not gonna let that happen to me”) and ‘Everything Has Its Shape’ (“pull it apart and put it back together how you want it”) are littered with genuine sentiment that is powerful, uplifting, thought provoking. This is exceptional magnificence.
Highlights: All of them!
All Saints – Red Flag
This record is supreme – it holds brilliance at every turn, from the songwriting, the production and to the delivery, should there never be another All Saints album, this is a tremendously worthy swan song. Opening track and lead single ‘One Strike’ remains finely majestic – the layered vocals, middle eight and defiant overtones are unmistakably ‘All Saints’. The remainder of the collection explores relationships across many forms whether that be romantic of the heart, of sisterhood and perhaps most significantly the individual, own self. ‘Red Flag’ is a stunning piece of work.
Highlights: ‘One Strike’, ‘Make U Love Me’, ‘Who Hurt Who’
Melanie C – Version Of Me
The seventh offering from Melanie sees something of shift in sound. The angsty rock of earlier material is replaced with an electronic backdrop, lyrically Melanie C offers the more familiar insight and hope undercut with tales that hold those that have wronged to account. The production is an intriguing part of the mix whilst the genre shifting also enables Melanie to express herself in new terrain, take ‘Loving You Better’, the soulful American RnB backdrop affords Melanie the opportunity to explore the lower register and practice vocal restraint to gorgeous effect. In the main, it is a classy and effortless offering.
Highlights: ‘Anymore’, ‘Unravelling’, ‘Loving You Better’