The Best of 2016

The Nouse Music Editors break down their favourite albums of the previous year

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

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The long-awaited 22, A Million sees the elusive Bon Iver shift towards the surreal and experimental, a unique masterpiece amid a slurry of repetitive pop. The work of frontman Jason Vernon, its twitchy and solemn tone departs from the acoustic hum of his last two releases, marking a move to a shifting electronic sound. The album shares the otherworldly quality of For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but feels more exploratory, more existential, a deeper level entirely. The numerically styled song titles and deeply distorted vocals serve to increase the sense of solemnity. The confused religious references of ‘666 t’ and ‘33 “GOD”’ hint at a crisis of faith, while ‘00000 Million’ speaks of loss and defeat. Samples of gospel singers and Irish folk artist Fionn Regan provide a distant quality that blends perfectly with Vernon’s heart wrenching lyrics. 22, A Million embraces glitching chaos, rejecting established ideas of song writing in true Bon Iver style. Another in a string of masterful albums. EL

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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Radiohead’s first release since 2011 is a much more accessible album than a lot of their previous work, but this does not take anything away from the quality. In fact, A Moon Shaped Pool is a height not reached by the band since In Rainbows (2007). The album begins with staccato strings and Thom Yorke’s ominous vocals on ‘Burn the Witch’, the album’s lead single, before moving swiftly on to Jonny Greenwood’s gorgeous piano motifs on ‘Daydreaming’. The third track, ‘Deck’s Dark’, demonstrates Yorke’s tremendous song writing ability, ending with an incredible bass-driven groove. After a strong start, A Moon Shaped Pool remains consistent, but certainly has some standout moments. The track ‘Identikit’ has an infectious chorus, with the energy of the song completely shifting when Yorke sings “broken hearts make it rain”. Additionally, despite its simplicity, ‘Present Tense’ is one of most atmospheric tracks on the album. A Moon Shaped Pool is one of the most well composed albums of 2016, each song flowing perfectly into the next. HB

Beyoncé – Lemonade

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2016 may have been a year in which many musical legends were lost, but it was also the year that a new legend emerged. Beyoncé’s hardly been slacking in the past, doling out one enormous R&B or pop tune after another – but it wasn’t until Lemonade that she became truly iconic. Beyoncé conquers unprecedented genres, producing a rollicking, bluesy country jam in ‘Daddy Lessons’ and unleashing a ferocious, rocking onslaught in ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself ’. ‘Formation’ is an unapologetic ode to African-American culture, but ‘Freedom’ packs an even greater punch both melodically and lyrically which leaves the listener breathless with awe. ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Sorry’ have dominated the airwaves in their unsettling, provocative juxtaposition of respectively slinky and bouncy grooves and dark, utterly compelling storytelling. From ‘Becky/Definitely Not Rita Ora with the Good Hair’ to reckless fire hydrant destruction, no album has been able to match the pop-cultural significance of Lemonade this year. If there were ever an album to ‘save’ 2016, it’s this one. AT

Rihanna – Anti

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ANTI, Rihanna’s eighth album, is a raw tribute to the artist’s independence and an outright rejection of manufactured pop. This mixed release presents a strong island girl sure of her own mind, lost in a cloud of smoke, affirming her creative independence. Four years on she’s still the Unapologetic girl, though only ‘Kiss It  Better’ echoes her pop princess roots. Her take down of a corrupt accountant in ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ shows a woman not to be messed with, while the opening of  ‘Work’ presents a proud Barbadian woman. With the many angles of ANTI, Rihanna proves she is more than one-dimensional hit machine. She proudly courts controversy in the album’s visuals, lounging naked in a blood-soaked chest of cash and seducing Drake in an alluring see-through top. Not to mention the unsurprising and numerous references to marijuana use throughout. This album is a challenge,
a statement of her independence as an artist. Rihanna is telling us she is not the girl we thought she was, no matter what girl we saw. EL

Anderson .Paak – Malibu

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Malibu’s most striking feature is its diversity, implementing R&B, hip-hop and neo soul, and it is due to this, that the album still has plenty to offer a year after its release. On the first track, ‘The Bird’, the soulful guitar is met with the distinctive vocal style of .Paak; the uniqueness of his voice makes him instantly recognisable. The smooth instrumentals and fluid vocals are also prevalent features of the album; ‘Heart Don’t Stand a Chance’ is perhaps the best example. .Paak lays down a smooth drumbeat and is met by a soothing arrangement from the Free Nationals. As the album progresses, .Paak breaks out into raps over more traditional hip-hop beats, such as on the ‘The Waters’ and ‘Without You’, and then producing club grooves on tracks such as ‘Am I Wrong’. Additionally, the autobiographical nature of the lyrical content is striking, telling tales of family hardship, and contemplating the consequences of success, claiming that fame killed all of his favourite entertainers on ‘The Season/Carry me’. Hopefully he can avoid the same fate. HB

Bruno Mars – 24k Magic

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Come on – put your pinky rings up to the moon! The album’s title track ‘24K Magic’ is bursting with Bruno’s unmatchable charisma and swagger, and it’s a common theme throughout an album that’s made to be blasted out loud. The raucous, James Brown-esque energy on ‘Perm’ is one of the album’s finest moments. ‘That’s What I Like’ is  imultaneously swooping and smooth mid-tempo with the cheeky, irresistible hook one would expect from Bruno. ‘Chunky’ and ‘Calling All My Lovelies’ may provoke cries of  Problematic!’, but when the groove feels this good, surrender to it, damn it! But there are surprises to be found on 24K Magic. ‘Versace on the Floor’ is a joyous throwback to 90s R&B, showcasing a gorgeous, slightly shredding belting from Bruno – reaffirming his vocal chops to those who foolishly doubted them some time after being told to put their pinky rings up to the moon. This may not be an album that will change the world, but why should it have to be? After the state of last year, some good vibrations are desperately needed. AT

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