ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2016: 30-21

30. School Of Seven Bells – ‘SVIIB’


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After the tragic death of founding member Benjamin Curtis in 2013, the future of School Of Seven Bells looked bleak at best. With just frontwoman Alejandra Deheza left to carry on the legacy, the weight of her ambitions were set in equal measure to her limits. In the end, a fourth and final album was announced, acting as an epitaph to both the band and Curtis' work throughout their established career.

With that knowledge hanging over this album, 'SVIIB' isn't as brooding or depressing as you might think. Instead the record has this euphoric quality about it, aiming to be as uplifting yet levelled as possible. It's lyrical content is of course very emotionally driven, but this sense of consistency helps bring out the true sound of School Of Seven Bells and ultimately creates a release fitting for both them and the listener.

Fans of the group will not notice much difference from the style and content of the album, but this underlying atmosphere that smoothers the whole release is what makes it so beautiful to listen to. A homage to a fallen bandmate, yes, but done so impeccably even the ignorant could find solace in it.

29. PUP – ‘The Dream Is Over’


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While in their early beginnings and onto their self-titled debut album, Toronto punk band PUP were a rather unhinged bunch. Taking their punk ethos to the absolute limit, the group's sound was a mess of thrashing guitars and sub-par production. Now with their follow-up, it is clear they have learned from the mistakes of the past and managed to create something not only audible but extremely fun as well.

With their love of quotable lyrics and gang vocals, 'The Dream Is Over' sees them as a band with a focused direction, making their sound more succinct than ever. With comparisons that could include early Weezer and Pulled Apart By Horses, the album is a riff-tastic blend of catchy guitar hooks and singalong choruses that make this half-hour record such a joy to listen to.

It probably treads the side of pop-punk more this time but with music this good, it seems PUP have found their feet on this new album and have created a truly great release as a result. A must-hear for anyone wanting something louder and faster than your average.

28. HONNE – ‘Warm On A Cold Night’


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When HONNE first exploded onto the scene last year, the response to their sound was a mixture of elation and puzzlement. While it was no question an incredibly engaging sound, many had trouble defining their place on the musically spectrum, eventually opting for new romantic influence backed with modern production. And now the pair have released their debut album 'Warm On A Cold Night', and what an album it is.

Opening with an MC style introduction, the record plays almost like a lounge act in an upmarket nightclub. You begin to picture frontman Andy Clutterbuck pouring his heart out on a stage in front of a captivated, seated crowd who spend each and every song staring up at him in awe. The band's sound is so definitive that when singer Izzy Bizu joins them on the track 'Someone That Loves You', it almost takes you by surprise. Showing that their core dynamic is so focused, any outside contribution seems alien to it.

And while their sound may be an acquired taste, this new album is simply magnificent from start to finish. A cohesive and driven sound throughout is obviously the result of years of trial and error, a long process but one with a fantastic outcome.

27. SWMRS – ‘Drive North’


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Having spent the last few years releasing small EPs and singles, like last year's highly enjoyable 'Miley', California punk rockers SWMRS are back to their full-length writing days with their third studio album 'Drive North'. The band have been one of the few American punk bands to really break through to the mainstream in the last few years, and with anthems like these it is clear to see why.

While pop punk was always the more commercial of the sub-genres, with the rise of bands like Slaves and Royal Blood in the UK, it is clear that there is a change in the tide and 'Drive North' could become one of the next big hitters in the scene. With its mixture of hardcore influences and focused vision of an accessible aesthetic, SWMRS have managed to create a record that is as enjoyable as it is hair-raisingly exciting.

The power and tenacity of this band is a very rare thing to hear. From their catchy hooks to singalong choruses, the band have made it their mission to write an album that is as entertaining to new fans as it is to their core fanbase. A brilliant return from the new torchbearer of modern US punk.

26. John Paul White – ‘Belluah’


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While The Civil Wars break up wasn't the most amicable we have seen in recent years, it certainly exposed the desire both members had when it came to performing solo. The Civil Wars were without question one of the best folk outfits we have ever heard, and because of that, we could be sure that any solo efforts from them would still manage to excite and intrigue.

While this is not the first solo album from John Paul White, it certainly feels like this is where he always wanted to be. Curating an eclectic blend of folk and country to deliver 'Beulah', a record of pure delight and spontaneity. If you were a fan of his former band and can assume where this record goes, think again as this release sees him at the forefront of his own musical revolution. Creating a rich and diverse sound through his more than capable abilities as a solo artist.

It may not have been the easiest of rides for John Paul White to get to this point, but it certainly shows that this is where he was supposed to be. A fully-formed songwriter in his own right who will no doubt be with us for many more years to come.

25. Savages – ‘Adore Life’


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After releasing their debut album 'Silence Yourself' back in 2013, Savages quickly became one of the hottest new names in British music. Their dark yet energetic presence gave them a sound like no-one else at the time and handed them huge hopes for the years ahead. And after a productive couple of years, here we are again with album number two. While this record doesn't have that same raw power as the first, it certainly shows a positive progression in their sound.

Unlike 'Silence Yourself', 'Adore Life' seems to show Savages in a more vulnerable light. Rather than the anarchic soundscapes of distortion and energy, this new record seems to show a band that has become more direct in what it has to say and makes for a far easier listen. And while they still like to give off the odd burst of emotion from time to time, it is always wrapped up in a pretence of direction and intent, making it less chaotic and more of a cohesive release.

They may have lost the shock value of their debut release but that is no bad thing when looking to create an eye-catching follow up. It seems this time they are looking to make a longer lasting impact and have managed to write an album with a more long-standing feel, which works well from start to finish.

24. DJ Shadow – ‘The Mountain Will Fall’


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As one of the most pioneering producers of the last few decades, DJ Shadow has certainly managed to bring experimentalism and commercial success together throughout his career. And while we haven't seen a full album from him since 2011 'The Less You Know, The Better', he has always been a huge part of the underground electronic movement as he returns to deliver his latest full-length 'The Mountain Will Fall'.

His direction has certainly been diverse over the last couple of records, but this time seems like he's finally found his footing on his ideas. Illustrated by the Tarrantino-esque 'Nobody Speak', the producer is less about a genre and more about creating something unique to him. As a result, this album is a clash of the analogue and digital, merging classic sounds and influences with a new-age direction that only someone of his calibre could pull off.

It is definitely a return to form for the turntablist aficionado and sees him take on new ground in the process. The addition of notable guests like Run The Jewels and Nils Frahm certainly adds more, but let's be honest, this is his show.

23. Vaults – ‘Caught In Still Life’


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For all intensive purposes, the Vaults debut album should have come out a long time ago. Since 2014, the band have found themselves as a major talking point in the British music scene. From soundtracking films like 50 Shades Of Grey to, more recently, the John Lewis Christmas advert, the trio have amassed a huge cult following, and now we finally get to hear all of their great work in one place.

Their debut album 'Caught In Still Life' plays like a best-of in their career so far. Filled with many of the singles and tracks that made up their initial EP releases, this new full-length aims to display the breadth and ambition that they have shown up until now. But rather than coming across like a bundled-together record, where any old track is thrown into the mix for padding, 'Caught In Still Life' gives us a snapshot of the band's very cohesive sound until now, as they deliver one brilliantly written track after another.

While it may have seemed like a rushed decision to get this out before Christmas, it was clearly a long time coming for a group that has been leaving us in awe for so long as it is. A surefire stocking-filler for that cool mum in your life.

22. Death Grips – ‘Bottomless Pit’


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The story of Death Grips is one of the most outlandish of any major band we can name at the moment. From allegedly breaking up while continuing to release new material, to sending equipment to their live shows but never turning up to play, Death Grips have always been completely unpredictable. And it is this quality that can best sum up their latest album 'Bottomless Pit'.

Unlike their previous releases, 'Bottomless Pit' is actually pretty concise in its running time. With 13 tracks clocking in at just over 38 minutes, the record instantly feels far more together than their previous works. This has allowed each track to explode in a flurry of furious rage before becoming inevitably becoming tiresome, because lets face it, even the most out of control noise can feel monotonous at times. But it seems they've finally got the balance right with 'Bottomless Pit', showing that they have more to show than their much talked about gimmicks.

It's crazy, bonkers but best of all, brilliant in its own way. Of course Death Grips are an acquired taste but even the most prudish of the musically minded will find something to like about this record. Memorable and diverse throughout, 'Bottomless Pit' is easily the band's best work yet.

21. Yak – ‘Alas Salvation’


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Having been one of the most talked about new acts on the British music scene for the last few years, rock trio Yak finally take the plunge and deliver their much-hyped debut album 'Alas Salvation'. Much like their previous EPs and releases, 'Alas Salvation' takes that razor-sharp wit and fuzzy guitar playing and stretches it across a full 13 track record, something that seems almost too easy for them.

While the direction of their music isn't the most complicated, what they do with it is make it fun and engaging throughout. Their simple riffs and lyrics have this infectious quality, giving them an instantly memorable feel that helps make this album more than just a collection of their work. Each track seems to be lined up in order to progress from the last. It has a flow and a rhythm to it that keeps it not only extremely entertaining but also concise and driven in its musical intentions.

Very rarely does a record come along that feels like every move, song, lyric and beat has been agonised over to make sure its place is surely deserved. It is this attention to detail that makes 'Alas Salvation' such a joy to listen to and something we'll want to come back to again and again.


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