10. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’
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Eighteen years ago, rap outfit A Tribe Called Quest released what was supposed to be their final album. Prior to the 1998 release 'The Love Movement', tensions in the group were getting unbearable and to save their friendship, they decided to call it quits. That was until 2013 when they began to play live together again, appearing at numerous music festival as well as support for Kanye West's then 'Yeezus' tour. So the group began to think about making a return to music, that was until founding member Phife Dawg died earlier this year and put their return in doubt. So now rather than a glorious comeback it started out being, 'We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service' is seen as an epitaph to the great MC.
And while Phife still makes a large contribution to this release, including being credited for naming it, the record has been mainly finished thanks to huge contributions from other major names in the rap scene and beyond. Ultimately, this new album is a nostalgia trip rekindling the core sound of the group. Slow and melodic hip-hop caress a rich production of drums, keys and DJ effects, bringing back all those memories of what hip-hop used to sound like and showing that there is nothing dated about their sound.
The subject matter may be the most contemporary thing about this album. With nods to the struggles of today's youth, Black Lives Matter and even a not-so-subtlely named track 'The Donald' pulling the curtain call on their legacy, this is the return that all Tribe fans would have been waiting for. A brilliant release all round and suitable final record for their fallen comrade.
9. BADBADNOTGOOD – ‘IV’
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While fans will contest that this is actually their fifth studio release, counting last year's collaborative release with Ghostface Killah, BADBADNOTGOOD return to deliver more of their forward-thinking instrumental beats on their latest work 'IV'. Over the last few years, the group have made a name for themselves as the purveyors of diverse and interesting background instrumentals, and while this album is more of the same, they aren't looking squarely at the hip-hop scene for inspiration this time.
While the band at heart are mainly a jazz outfit, this fusion with rappers of all creeds gave them a unique edge over others in their position. But 'IV' sees them move further back to their roots to work with singers and vocalists who can help bring out the groove in their compositions. The result is an incredibly well-produced release that sees them collaborate with a whole range of styles, making this possibly their most eclectic record to date.
Finding a band with this much chemistry is such a rare thing, you are almost blown away by how well they work together. With their reputation still very much intact, BADBADNOTGOOD have given us their crowd-pleaser and what a record it is.
8. Shura – ‘Nothing’s Real’
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It is amazing to think that Shura has only just released her debut album, given that we have been enjoying her music for the best part of two years now. But rather than create a full-length of the latest work, this debut pools together all of her singles to date into one compilation of her career thus far. So most of her fans won't hear much new material but getting it all at once certainly lets you hear exactly how good she has been.
Mixing up the electronic productions with the calmer, more melodic affairs does help give the record a diverse feel, and keeps the pace moving forward as well. You can definitely tell that she has taken her time over this record, as it is filled with tiny idiosyncrasies that only months of listening to something again and again could create. And it this attention to detail that has helped make this into one of the best albums we have heard so far this year.
'Nothing's Real' is just one of those albums that you can't help but fall in love with straight away. It has all the hallmarks of an artist that has been honing her craft for years, and given this is only the first full-length effort, we can certainly expect a lot more from her in the future.
7. Radiohead – ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’
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A lot has happened at camp Radiohead since their last studio album. Their eighth record 'The King Of Limbs' was released back in 2011 and since then, frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich founded Atoms For Peace, guitarist Jonny Greenwood released two collaboration albums for Paul Thomas Anderson films and Yorke even managed time to squeeze out another solo album. So the return of Radiohead never really felt like they had been away at all. But this, their latest studio release, shows exactly what has changed in the band over the last five years.
Since 'In Rainbows', the band have had a distinct change in their presence as a group. Breaking from their original label has given them complete creative control over their music, and as a result, every album since has been a statement in both experimentation and boundary-pushing. Without the internal thought process of writing singles for separate releases, the band have made an album that coherently blends from one track to the next in an almost dreamlike state (see 'Daydreaming').
But the most striking difference between both this album and their last two, is the step away from the electronic presence that had quickly become a huge part of their sound. Looking for a more organic direction this time, 'A Moon Shaped Pool' almost sees them revert back to the 'OK Computer' days, relying mainly on slow-building tracks to develop into a grand display of atmospheric beauty and dread.
It almost sounds like an experience piece, taking everything they have ever done and working all of it together to create this retrospective sound that can only come from these five men. A triumphant return for this unwavering group and certainly one of the best records they have made to date.
6. Frank Ocean – ‘Blond’
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It has been one of the most attention seeking adventures in music we have ever seen over these last few weeks, but finally Frank Ocean has dropped the album we were originally promised at the start of the month. After revealing his "visual album" 'Endless' last week, we knew that the actually album would be something truly special indeed. 'Endless' was one of the best albums we heard all year and 'Blond' is certainly no different.
Starting off in a similar way to 'Endless', 'Blond' slowly draws us into the record with a atmospheric intro and Ocean's crooning yet auto-tuned voice. And much like its predecessor, sends us on an adventure of smouldering beats and experimental production, which have quickly become the hallmarks of Frank Ocean's overall sound. And with guests this time including Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, and Andre 3000, you can see that even on paper, 'Blond' is clearly the superior of the two new records.
It may have been the wait and hype behind it that has made fall further in love with the idea of this new album, but all that noise surrounding the release has definitely been justified as 'Blond' will probably end up in many top 10 album lists by the end of the year as Frank once again cements himself as one of the best new artists of this decade.
5. Glass Animals – ‘How To Be A Human Being’
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Prior to the release of this new album, Glass Animals shared three singles from it, 'Life Itself', 'Youth' and 'Season 2 Episode 3'. Each of which showed a completely different side to the band and managed to highlight the diversity within their own sound. As you can imagine, the finished album 'How To Be A Human Being' stretches this ethos out to the nth degree and gives one of the most original and eclectic records we have heard all year.
Those who have been enjoying those singles on repeat will be glad to know that the album does maintain that same quality from the previews. With a fondness for creativity and experimentation, 'How To Be A Human Being' takes the traditional convention of an indie-pop group and twists it into a collection of individual inspirations that have both similar traits and a varied direction. Quite simply, this is what every band should be doing when looking to create an interesting album.
Not a single duff track among them, this returning release is simply stunning from start to finish. Broadening their own horizons in the process, they have managed to make the different fun and catchy, something seldom seen in today's musical zeitgeist.
4. Warpaint – ‘Head’s Up’
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It hardly feels that long ago that we first got to hear their incredible self-titled sophomore album, but in reality, it has been nearly three years since we last had a release from Warpaint, which goes to show the omnipotent presence they have in the indie scene. With next to no hype behind this return, the swiftly released 'Head's Up' sees the band in a more experimental guise. Something that comes as a great surprise considering their output to date.
Warpaint have always had an edge to them that sets them apart from others in their circle, but the use of electronic drums throughout this album has giving them an almost completely different sound. Much like when Radiohead released 'In Rainbows', we had heard them experiment with a less guitar-based focus, but nothing that resembles the style of 'Head's Up'. But saying that, this new influence definitely suits their preference for the more sombre tones and adds a much more anthemic layer to their songwriting.
It will certainly be a shock to their die-hard fans, especially when they get a taste of the apocalyptic 'By Your Side', but overall, 'Head's Up' is an absolutely fantastic listen. It's playful, bold and interesting throughout, and shows that Warpaint still have plenty of ideas to wow us with.
3. Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love And Hate’
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After winning the BBC Sound poll back in 2012, Michael Kiwanuka was set to be the next big thing in British music. Sadly the public didn't get behind him as much as the critics did and for a while we thought he had resigned himself to the ether. But the brilliant songwriter is back with his second studio album, and this time takes a more progressive and political charged direction.
There are very few artists that can get away with opening an album up with a 10-minute musical odyssey but I guess Kiwanuka can now join those ranks as the opener 'Cold Little Heart' sets the tone for the rest of the release, ultimately making the statement that this artist is not the same as you remember. The idea of a one-man-and-his-guitar seems so far from the sound of this record as Kiwanuka uses a range of new influences to create an album of real substance and depth.
Whether it is the social commentary of 'Black Man In A White World' or the longing felt on 'One More Night', this Danger Mouse-produced release surely trumps his debut release. Competent, authentic and progressive, 'Love & Hate' will go down as one of the best records of 2016.
2. David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’
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Having announced last year that he plans to never tour again, David Bowie certainly doesn't look like he is ready to give up the creative side of his persona just yet. Arriving three years after his much-praised album 'The Next Day', this new release is seen more of a concept record as Bowie plays frontman to Donny McCaslin's New York-based jazz outfit throughout. The combination of Bowie's haunting vocals and the band's tight yet left-of-centre arrangements gives the album a sound like no other.
With its 10-minute long opener and title-track, 'Blackstar' is certainly built to be an album of cohesion. Skipping a track on this record would be like fast-forwarding a film, where you would miss out on the vital building blocks that create this album's brilliant crescendo. It seems to flow with this quintessential elegance that makes it an easy listen and a challenge in equal measure, creating what could already be a contender for album of the year already.
It certainly reflects the position that Bowie left himself on after 'The Last Day' and aims to once again reinvent an artist that seems to endlessly want to change his spots. A fantastic release and no doubt one of the best of his career.
1. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘Skeleton Tree’
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Unlike many of his previous releases, Nick Cave opted to stay away from promoting this new release to the media. Written about his son Arthur, who tragically passed away last year, 'Skeleton Tree' instead was previewed by a feature film dubbed 'One More Time With Feeling', in which he not only performed the album in full but also spoke candidly about his grieving process, and how he turned that grief into a creative output.
Not since we relistened to David Bowie's 'Blackstar' have we heard an album with so much emotional baggage attached. While the album doesn't focus entirely on the tragedy, it is always in the back of your mind throughout the record, thanks to the opening ode 'Jesus Alone'. It is clear that Nick Cave has changed as both a person and as an artist in the last year. His direction seems to be lacking in the visceral venom he was once able to command and has now opted for a more sombre and heart-wrenching demeanour.
While it may be a tough listen in places, it has certainly shown the true poet that Nick Cave has always been. 'Skeleton Tree' may be more of a eulogy in theory, but the way he turns true agony and anguish into something as remarkable as this is a process only he could have done.