Thanks for tuning in again. Yesterday I counted down my #20-11 albums of the year. Let’s finish off that countdown and see who ended up at #1.
#10 – Emotion: Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
This is an album of B-Sides and yet she is still able to give some of the best pop tracks of the year. Released on the anniversary of the parent album Emotion: Side B became a refuge for me in a year where pop music hasn’t been as strong.
Usually a collection like this feels a bit disjointed, but this very much feels like an album in its own right. The thread of 1980s electro-pop and dancing as your heard breaks or soars (depending on the song) permeates every moment.
This album ended up being the ultimate gift to her fiercely loyal fan base. With it she has become the Canadian Robyn… and that is not a title that should be given lightly.
Top Tracks: Cry, The One, Higher
#9 – Familia by Sophie Ellis-Bextor
When Sophie Ellis-Bextor released Wanderlust a few years back I was struck by the extreme left turn in her music. Gone were the glorious electro-pop days of Trip The Light Fantastic and here we were down something a lot more nuanced.
With Familia she is still on this road and vocally I don’t think she has ever sounded better. Both this and Wanderlust have allowed us to see her as the artist she is rather than the singer.
Nothing on this album quite hits the heights of “Love Is A Camera”, but as an album this feels more cohesive and consistent. She still lets her electronic side out (after all she is still Sophie Ellis-Bextor), but she couples this with some more Latin influences as well as a whole mess of other touchstones. Despite being a fan for nearly 15 years I don’t think I have ever found her music as interesting as I do now.
Top Tracks: Death of Love, Crystallise, Come With Us
#8 – A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
It took until May before I felt I had heard the first great album of 2016. I have been a real latecomer to the music of Radiohead, but the more I listen to them the more of a fan I find myself becoming.
Since, like with In Rainbows, I was able to listen to A Moon Shaped Pool without any preconceptions from music critics all the discoveries I made about this album felt profoundly my own.
I think it has been agreed that A Moon Shaped Pool is one of the more accessible albums in the Radiohead back catalogue and that may be why I like it so much. It’s dark and dreamy in a way where I think the title of the album feels eerily accurate. For a perfect listen I think you need a few fireflies, but that might just be me.
Top Tracks: Ful Stop, Burn the Witch, Daydreaming
#7 – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Soundtrack by Crazy-Ex Girlfriend Cast
I don’t care if this feels like a cheat or not. Rachel Bloom and everyone else working on the Crazy Ex Girlfriend cast team are some of the most talented people working in television right now and it is just not getting the viewership it deserves.
I was listening and singing along to this soundtrack for about a month before I even started watching the show in September. I was sharing music videos and spreading the word of this amazing show based solely on YouTube playlists.
These songs aren’t just funny (some like ‘What’ll It Be’ and ‘Stupid Bitch’ actually make you want to cry). They are fantastically realised and performed of pastiche. The sources of inspiration have included the dream ballet from Oklahoma, 1980s hair rock, Shakira and the Dreamgirls soundtrack – and we are still part way through Season 2.
It’s on Netflix and the music can be found on YouTube and Spotify. spread the word!
Top Tracks: Feelin’ Kinda Naughty, I’m A Good Person, Greg’s Drinking Song
#6 Before The Dawn by Kate Bush
I cried when I was unable to get tickets to see Kate Bush live. The tickets sold out within 15 minutes and I had to watch as the 5-star reviews rolled in. Still there was consolation in knowing that a live album was going to eventually be released (sadly the DVD was scrapped).
Having a live album on this list isn’t too dissimilar to having a greatest hits, but it’s new arrangements and Kate Bush so sod it. This live album is amazing. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be there, but this will do.
What makes this more than a greatest hits album… is that it isn’t your typical greatest hits. If anything it’s a live realisation of the two concept halves of Hounds of Love and Aerial and that’s what catapulted this right to the top end of my year-end charts.
Top Tracks: Sunset, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), Lily
#5 – My Woman by Angel Olsen
I missed the boat when Angel Olsen released Burn Your Fire For No Witness a few years back. So many people had that in their end of year list and I had not even heard of her. This year, with the release of My Woman I wanted to make sure I was there on the ground floor.
Like with Mitski’s album, this was a grower. The moment I finished the first playthrough I thought My Woman was okay, but I wanted to listen to it again straight away. So on some level I think it really must have struck me.
A few listens later and here it is at number 5 on my list, as well as placing high on many critics lists. Angel Olsen is still someone where I don’t know many people who listen to her, so whilst I am a bit late to the party it’s nice to feel like it’s still a select party.
Top Tracks: Shut Up Kiss Me, Sister, Heart Shaped Face
#4 Fantôme by Utada Hikaru
It has been a very long eight years since her last album, HEART STATION. Ever since I first discovered the wonders of JPop some 10-15 years ago she has been my unquestioned queen of the genre. For her to comeback with an album like this was more than I could have hoped for.
It’s very much a Utada Hikaru album and yet it is a real development from where she was before. Okay so I can’t understand what she is saying, but there is a greater confidence and maturity in what she has delivered. It is not the album made to appease fans after a long time and it’s not a throwback to what she used to be.
This might, in fact. be the best album she has done and I can only applaud her for that. Here’s hoping we get the next album in the near future.
Top Tracks: 桜流し, 道, 二時間だけのバカンス
#3 – case/lang/veirs by case/lang/veirs
A new release from Laura Veirs was always going to feature high on this list. Since coming across July Flame as a reviewer for a university news site I have been keeping a very close eye on her releases.
With this team up with kd lang and the amazing Neko Case there was only one way that this could go wrong: if one dominated the others. Thankfully that did not happen. Each singer has their fair share of leading tracks and then contribute backing vocals or other support on the remaining.
For a while it looked like this would have been my number one album of the year, but then second half of the year proved to be incredibly strong.
Top Tracks: Best Kept Secret, Greens of June, Blue Fires
#2 Blood Bitch by Jenny Hval
I started making this list in November and have slowly watched Blood Bitch climbing up the ranks before popping a squat at number two. This is an album I have had a hard time recommending to people as the moment I say it is a Norwegian avant-grade pop concept album about vampires, menstruation and the moon… well you get the picture.
With the exception of the standout tracks listed below, this is an album where most songs cannot be played in isolation. They all bleed into each other and most tend to only make sense as part of a full playthrough (‘The Plague’ is one of these).
This is very much an album for the colder months, so makes a nice counterpoint to case/lang/veirs which dominated my early summer.
Top Tracks: The Great Undressing, Conceptual Romance, Secret Touch
#1 – 22, A Million by Bon Iver
I don’t think anyone can be more surprised than me to have an album by a man top my list for the second year running (I’ve made these lists for the last 12 years and this is the second time that an album by a woman/women has not topped my list).
With the year that 2016 has been politically it feels like 22, A Million is exactly the sort of album you need to have to calm yourself down. Okay so it’s a glitchy folktronica album with song titles that upset the users of last.fm, but it’s beautifully honest.
You don’t always get what Justin Vernon is singing amongst the samples and the distortions. The thing is that it all just adds to the beautiful atmosphere and has made this album incredibly repeatable whether you are walking the streets of London, playing Skyrim or simply working in the office. Just gorgeous.
Top tracks: 8 (circle), 666 ʇ, 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄