The 50 Best Albums of 2016

The 50 Best Albums of 2016

The 50 best albums of 2016

The year on vinyl.

As Nina Simone so famously said, “how can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” This year, it was the music that could not help but react to the circumstances of its creation that moved us most. If ever there were 12 months that made good on the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”, it was 2016.

For us, the goal posts are set by the format, although no record on this list is defined by its appearance on vinyl. Having already dealt with reissues, 7”s and 12”s, what remains is a collection of albums that we hope represent 2016 in all its chaotic, angry, tender and uncompromising creativity.

But as another wise musician once said, “competitions are for horses not artists,” so selecting and ordering a list of the fifty most important albums of the year has felt as counter-intuitive as ever.

In doing so, we’ve sought to acknowledge the year’s well-travelled big hitters without stating the obvious, making space for artists and records that deserve more attention.

And without overstating it, we’ve also made space for a single VF release that we feel helped shape 2016 at a moment where art and music have never been more closely entwined.

A round-up as much about discovery as affirmation, own some (or all) of these records and we believe you’ve got the makings of a pretty strong collection.

50. Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker


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With 2016 being a year that hangs heavy with loss, Leonard Cohen’s passing, whilst somewhat more expected given his openness on his accelerating decline, mirrored David Bowie’s in leaving a final recorded statement that was befitting of one of the most important discographies in modern song-writing. With his son Adam Cohen’s well-tailored and sparse production elevating Cohen in a back-to-basics song craft that lets its lyricism shine, the senescence within You Want It Darker comes across as vintage Cohen and no mere self-indulgent reflection on mortality. With the vinyl finally being released this week, this one’s not to be missed.

49. The Body

No One Deserves Happiness

(Thrill Jockey)

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From Tortoise’s first record in six years to Matmos’ washing machine album, Thrill Jockey had a strong 2016. In particular, we were shaken to the bones by the doom of No One Deserves Happiness by Portland metal outfit The Body. Continually eluding style, the tracks dance antagonistically between heavy riff noise, chamber pop, ‘80s-inspired grooves and machine-gun percussion. Chip King and Lee Buford set out to make “the grossest pop album of all time” and that sentiment certainly resonates.

48. Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald Present Borderland



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Juan & Moritz continued to fly the flag for German-American friendship this year with the latest offering from their collaborative Borderland project. Using techno as their lingua franca, the imperious duo came together to deliver seven electrifying excursions into the beating heart of the machine world, stripping away layers of pulsating synthesis, restrained rhythm and immersive texture as they go. Perfectly paced, the album flows as one, evolving into a perfect example of tension and release from two masters of the craft.

47. Tee Mango

Imperfections Vol.1

(Millionhands Black)

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One of the rare occasions when the worlds of fashion and music come together flawlessly, Imperfections Vol. 1 saw t-shirt magnate and Millionhands founder Tee Mango continue the sterling work of his highly coveted 12” series with a double LP of smoky sample based house music. Working in the MPC tradition of KDJ, Theo, Trus’me and Garth Be, Mangan covers boogie, disco, broken beat and jazzy house without losing sight of the tunes. An astutely executed, enjoyable and uncomplicated house record.

46. Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered.

(Aftermath Entertainment)

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Whilst the concept of a B-sides or outtakes compilation is hardly novel — Nirvana’s Incesticide, The Smiths’s Louder Than Bombs, etc – Lamar’s appendix to To Pimp A Butterly orbits on another level. As important as the original script, only Kendrick could leave such intentional and aesthetically powerful sketches on the cutting room floor. And where Kanye’s Life Of Pablo was endlessly tinkered with on the public noticeboard, Kendrick quietly bundled these extras and surprise-released in March without mastering, artwork or even song titles. The only disappointing thing about it was Kendrick’s signature on the vinyl.

45. Huerco S

For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)


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Staying well ahead of the curve with a string of hazy, THC-laced warehouse cuts and cavernous machine workouts, Brian Leeds was already the darling of the techno cognoscenti by the time his Colonial Patterns LP dropped to universal acclaim on Software in 2013. Even so, few would have predicted the game changing quality of this stunning sophomore offering on Antony Naples’ Proibito imprint. Retaining the disorienting blur and abstract rhythm of his club creations, the NYC producer ditched the drums and booming bottom end, leaving space for a richly textured ambient soundscape to breathe, evolve and expand our consciousness. It’s been a vintage year for ambient music, but no-one else made a record as strangely moving as Huerco S.

44. Sad City

Shapes In Formation

(Meda Fury / Emotional Response)

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Gary Caruth’s full-length debut Shapes In Formation was one of the year’s growers, a record that, like its most potent track ‘Steady Jam’ eschews ostentatious statements in favour of spacious, wriggling narratives, evolving on their own terms with little generic constraint. Operating in this borderless world Caruth’s deft ability to chop and splice angular samples into airborne ambient and drone movements gives the record a weightlessness and freedom not available to most.

43. Wilson Tanner


(Growing Bin)

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Hamburg’s Growing Bin enjoyed another vintage year in 2016, entering the 12” market for the first time with some sticky jazz funk from Krakatau (as seen in our 12″ roundup) alongside a trio of cool and calming LPs, including this serene masterpiece from Australia dream team Wilson Tanner. A collaborative project from Andras Fox and Eleventeen Eston, 69 was recorded over a carefree summer in Tanner’s native Perth, where the duo enjoyed good food and good company under endless blue skies. Naturally the music began to flow, and al fresco jam sessions soon took shape as an ambient masterpiece. Warm, organic and soothing, 69 finds lithe clarinet gliding over gentle piano, the occasional percussive click the only reminder that time still passes in this languorous landscape. Intimate and uplifting, this gorgeous collaboration is as bright and brilliant as its sunny sleeve.

42. DD Dumbo

Utopia Defeated


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DD Dumbo is all the work of one Oliver Hugh Perry. He plays everything, produces everything, writes everything and is a very talented man indeed. Recorded close to home in Castlemaine, Utopia Defeated has something of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra about it, carrying a punch in both song-writing and execution. Yeah he sounds like a certain other singer I could mention but I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Something of a surprise from the 4AD stable, there’s a splatter version out there too.

41. Ragnar Kjartansson

The Visitors

(The Vinyl Factory)

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The soundtrack to Icelandic troubadour Ragnar Kjartansson’s enchanting The Visitors installation – first shown at The Vinyl Factory in 2015 and then at Barbican in 2016 – was released in a 5-panel gatefold edition this year, referencing the work’s multi-screen format. Whimsical without being trite, the soundtrack invites you into the warmth and faded grandeur of Ragnar’s Rokeby chateau, where Ragnar and his Bel-Air Glamour drop-outs are performing their “feminine nihilistic gospel song.” The sweet, sad liquor of nostalgia courses through a work that’s as moving on record as in person. Ragnar was one of the stars of 2016.

40. Steven Julien



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Since 2009, Funkineven has been keeping us entertained with a steady slew of deranged funk and distorted drum traxx on 12” for Eglo as well as his own Apron Records. This year, the West-London producer has emerged with his debut full-length and the first release under his name, resulting in a deeply personal expression of the diverse musical strands which make up the man. Taking heaven and hell as his inspiration, Julien packs the first half of the LP with celestial sonics, uplifting house and dexterous jazz fusion before plunging us into the claustrophobic techno of the more sinister second half. Conceptual without being obtuse and deep without losing sight of the dance floor, Fallen is a giant leap forward for the London producer.

39. Badbadnotgood


(Innovative Leisure)

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Album five from Canadian tearaways Badbadnotgood was a confounding thing. While their brash, frat-jazz sound has filtered through to a much larger audience from the fringes of a nascent jazz-meets-hip hop scene via collaborations with Earl Sweatshirt, Ghostface Killah and a well-placed appearance on Bonobo’s Late Night Tales, IV sounds for the first time like an album crafted with more forethought than a count-in and wig-out jam session. The compositions are subtler, blending instrumental hip-hop and krautish groove, while the heart-rending balladeering of Sam Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’ elevates IV into a coming of age record of sorts (despite the best efforts of the cover photography.)

38. Roly Porter

Third Law

(Tri Angle)

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Is Roly Porter referring to the third law of thermodynamics here? The law concerns absolute zero, a state with minimum possible energy, much like the album’s many rolling blackouts that precede seismic shudders, spaceship jolts and crunches of shrapnel and shattering debris. Cinematic is an often over-used adjective for this kind of electronic music but listening to Third Law is akin to the sensory awe inspired by a great science fiction book or film.

37. Nicolas Jaar


(Other People)

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With strong roots in dance music and experimentation Nicolas Jaar has always drawn from a wide palette to build up his elaborate pieces, and with Sirens he has created a record that can take New York post-punk and Chilean cumbia in the same embrace. With a his debut LP being released back in 2011 there’s a feeling that the pathways and ideas suggested there and amongst his 12” singles have had the time to mature on Sirens and take on these distinctive forms that deftly blend genres with the political and personal. Within this heady mix Sirens veers away from the didactic, revelling in its detours and revealing itself in layers and repeated listens as that scratch card sleeve suggests.

36. Georgia

All Kind Music

(Palto Flats)

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You don’t need to buy into the “ECM-era Don Cherry global jazz meets contemporary electronic avant-garde” tag line to know you’re in for a treat with Georgia’s third album. The work of New York duo Brian Close and Justin Tripp, All Kind Music is built on a sort of deconstructed improvisation, where fragments are assembled in the studio to create remarkable mosaics. On ‘Petwo, Reality Souf Broker’ this manifests as a half-remembered synthetic dream, memory skewed by Eastern opiates, while ‘Aloha’ sparks with squib-like intensity like some kind of spluttering steam-punk computer re-boot. By the time we get to ‘Slow Dance’ though territory feels more familiar, a track that could have been off RVNG Intl.’s 2015 Savant reissue (the label’s Matt Werth offers the sampled bassline here), while ‘Time Feel’ could even be mistaken for an off-kilter Mood Hut 12”. An engrossing record that reveals and rearranges itself with every listen.

35. Anna Meredith


(Moshi Moshi)

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Anna Meredith followed up a brace of EPs released on The Vinyl Factory with a treat of a full-length debut earlier this year. The maximalist fanfare of ‘Nautilus’ first heard on Black Prince Fury sets the tone for a bold, striking sound, that although grounded in classical and minimalist composition and instrumentation has been released from those stuffy corridors and instead bounds free like some mythical beast gorging itself on the sweet airs of freedom. Defying the kind of categorisation that would end up throwing James Blake, Steve Reich, speed metal, Vangelis, marching bands, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Oneohtrix Point Never into the same unfathomable pot, it suffices to say that Varmints is a singular listening experience, one moment an exhilarating video game soundtrack, another rapt in the deft and reflective string arrangements, finding space to slot in a couple of stomping pop songs along the way.

34. KING


(We Are King)

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In what feels like an age since RnB trio KING first caught out attention on an Erykah Badu mix, the LA-vocal trio have spent the intervening five years honing the close harmonies and complex arrangements that made The Story EP so impressive, so utterly ahead of the curve, way back in 2011. Thankfully, ‘The Story’, ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Hey’ are reprised on We Are KING in extended form and remain among the album’s strongest moments. Prince-approved future soul music that mutates familiar ‘80s RnB tropes with the kind of jazz harmonies that will make Sade and electric Herbie fans weak at the knees. A verdant, utopian album, available on vinyl direct from the band.

33. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani


(RVNG Intl.)

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The 13th edition of the FRKWYS intergenerational collaboration series was one of its finest yet, and a meeting of minds that revels in its concept as Suzanne Ciani, who pioneered the Buchla modular system from its development onwards in the early ’70s, paired up with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – one of the finest practitioners to have adopted a Buchla in recent years. A serendipitous meeting in their coastal hometown of Bolinas, California, the common ground between the two made for a stunning reflection on the ocean that surrounds them- a coastal reverie that channels and articulates its nuances through the synthesizers. One of the year’s finest electronic releases, and with the recent passing of Don Buchla this one was further testament to the wondrous instruments he created.

32. Rihanna


(Virgin EMI)

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Whether you love it, hate it, guilty pleasure it; let’s face it: Rihanna wrote the year’s catchiest pop track with the Drake-featuring ‘Work’. Although not a big statement album, ANTI is littered with pop bangers that make us wanna drink champagne and smoke weed with RiRi till the early morn. ‘Consideration’ (feat. SZA) is probably the most alluring album opener, um ever, and tracks like ‘Kiss It Better’ and ‘Desperado’ we could listen to over and over again. Originally a Tidal music exclusive, we were pleased to see ANTI come to vinyl (following the inevitable run of bootlegs), as well as a massive career-spanning 15xLP box set.

31. Carla Dal Forno

You Know What It’s Like

(Blackest Ever Black)

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With the appearance of Carla Dal Forno’s debut 7” single back in May many ears rightfully pricked up to its hazy atmosphere and alluring vocal hooks and You Know What It’s Like showed it certainly wasn’t a one-off. Her’s was a sound-world that indeed went deeper. With both this long player and her music videos Dal Forno manages to work sounds and imagery into the minds of listeners with a subtlety that is all too rare, partially obscuring sounds and conflicted elements that then come through on repeat listens, weaving notions of pop into experimentation and creating an uncanny intimacy that makes you feel like you’re intruding on a private song. Undoubtedly one of the most distinctive debuts we’ve heard this year.

30. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids

We Be All Africans


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An astral jazz original whose band The Pyramids emerged in the same breath as Sun Ra and pioneered a form of motherland-inspired Afro-futurism that can be traced through George Clinton to Kamasi Washington. Saxophonist Idris Ackamoor propelled the band to self-release three albums in the ‘70s, before demand from spiritual jazz enthusiasts thirty years later brought them back together again for Otherworldy and a string of memorably theatrical live shows. Under the auspices of Max Weissenfeldt, the Pyramids came to Berlin to record at the analogue Philophon studio, capturing Ackamoor at his most expressive, whether on the ritual chant of the title track or the spaced-out synth jazz of ‘Epiphany’. What We Be All Africans lacks in the radical punch of the band’s outings forty-plus years ago, it makes up for in pure vital joy, revelling in the relative serenity of having nothing left to prove. Essential for anyone who considers themselves a disciple Sun Ra, Archie Shepp or Mulatu Astatke.