20 BEST ALBUMS OF 2016
20 albums which filled up concert venues, personal play lists and music news. Or deserve to.
Not a top 20, in order of release.
David Bowie, Suede, Tindersticks, Megadeth, Motorpsycho, Rotting Christ, Mike & The Melvins, Kaada/Patton, Staraya Derevnya, Hatebreed, NAILS, Swans, Gojira, Magnetic North compilation (vert:x, Dead Sea Apes, Blown Out, Earthling Society), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crobot, The Lucid Dream, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Leonard Cohen, Metallica
David Bowie – Blackstar
Released: 8 January 2016 (on Bowie’s 69th birthday) on ISO, RCA, Columbia, and Sony
A piece of art at all levels. And it’s difficult to stripe meaning off the album: Bowie was facing death. He could have used the time left to make peace with himself, god or people around, just like any other mortal. Instead, keeping his illness away from press and collaborators, he submerged in a lucid, deliberate act of catharsis. Dynamic and intense, nihilistic but carrying great weight, exquisitely performed and produced, Blackstar is the ultimate artistic endeavor, up to Bowie’s standards of pushing limits, even beyond death.
Favorite track: Lazarus
Suede – Night Thoughts
Released on 22 January 2016 on Suede Ltd
Night Thoughts may not be revolutionary for Suede’s sound, but it brings depth to the consolidation previously done with Bloodsports. Brett Anderson is still loyal to Britpop look and feel and to his sense of drama, creating a melancholic rock, full of soul, with string arrangements and stunning live performances. Drama becomes cinematic when it comes along in a movie as dark as the music, directed by the NME music photographer Roger Sargent, with a plot revolving around a family drama of losing a child. An album with great song after great song, deserving the received critical acclaim.
Favorite track: Outsiders
Tindersticks – The Waiting Room
Released on 22 January 2016 on City Slang label
The Waiting Room keeps the audience at the border between melancholy and hope. Without being too sentimental though, Tindersticks creates a distinctive nostalgic mood with songs that seem to be addressed more to a curious subject than to a hopeless one. Notable duets on the album: Hey Lucinda – recorded with the late Lhasa De Sela, and We Are Dreamers, with Jehnny Beth of Savages. The 11 tracks served as inspiration for filmmakers friends, so the deluxe album edition comes with a collaborative film.
Favorite track: We Are Dreamers
Megadeth – Dystopia
Released on 22 January 2016 on Tradecraft/Universal
The release of Megadeth’s fifteen album was delayed by one year, due to various health problem of close relatives of Mustaine and Ellefson but also to the departure of drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick. Dystopia was written and recorded with the new members, Angra’s guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God’s drummer Chris Adler. The album marks a return to a more trash-oriented style as Mustaine kept his promise of delivering a more aggressive sound than what he tried to do on Super Collider.
Favorite track: Lying in State
Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters& Here Be Monsters Vol.2
Released on 12 February 2016 on Stickman Records
The latest masterpiece of the Norwegian trio Motorpsycho comes in fact in two volumes, a full album and a 12’’. In 2014, the band was commissioned to perform live for the centennial jubilee of the Norwegian Technical Museum. The songs were later on brought into studio. The result was Here Be Monsters, with six original songs and one cover, a bit lighter than latest Motorpsycho’s releases but exquisite and elegant even if addresses themes like psychological distress. Here Be Monsters Vol. 2 is a pure psychedelic trip, in Pink Floyd’s style fueled by Motorpsycho’s genius.
Favorite track: Here be monsters pt. 1 (of Here be Monsters vol.2)
Rotting Christ – Rituals
Released on 12 February 2016 on Season of Mist
The Tolis brothers’ black magic is still there and has never been stronger. Rituals is a compelling album that makes you wonder what came first in ancient rites: the ceremony or the practice? The album concept and execution go hand in hand. Rituals reveals a mysterious theme built around unorthodox celebrations, delivered by precise drumming and demonic guitar-riffing accompanied by various vocal techniques coming from many guests’ contributions. From the opening intense vocal chant on In Nomini Dei Nostri until the spell-casting growls on Lok’tar Ogar, Rituals is a cinematic journey through dark territories. Ready for the trip?
Favorite track: Elthe Kyrie
Mike & The Melvins – Three Men and a Baby
Released on 1 April 2016 on Sub Pop
Three Men and a Baby is a gem that stayed hidden for 17 years. It was meant to come out in 1999 when it was recorded but, for various reasons, Mike Kunka and the Melvins never finished the mix. Sudgly, experimental, heavy and amusing, Three Men and a Baby is a great audition plenty of bass and guitar fusions, a true product of shared passion for weird noise rock. Would it have made a significant impact in late 90s? No one knows. Never mind though, it sounds solid and fresh.
Favorite track: Bummer Conversation
Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult
Released on 1 April 2016 on Ipecac Recordings
Kaada/Patton is an avant-orchestral collaboration between the Norwegian composer and producer John Erik Kaada and Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantômas frontman Mike Patton. It also features Norway’s Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. The two artists had already teamed up before and Bacteria Cult is definitely a product of their bond over the same passion for film music. And weirdness. The album builds cinematic soundscapes with different technologies, as stated by Kaada: ‘We wanted to try new things. Fully utilizing new technologies, combined with a large orchestra, while putting more attention towards melody and structure.’
Favorite track: Imodium
Staraya Derevnya – Kadita Sessions
Self-released on 15 April 2016
A charming piece of experimental art, mixing noise with folk and the use of objects to make music, in Hebrew, Russian and Dutch languages. The task to write about it could be as difficult as narrating theatre. Just like a play has to be watched, rather than being read, Kadita Sessions has to be listened to rather than read about. Moreover, the multitude of objects listed as instrumentation (from toys to brushes) invites to a live performance. An beautiful, highly original and expressive record.
Favorite track: Mem
Hatebreed – The Concrete Confessional
Released on 13 May 2016 on Nuclear Blast
Hatebreed have never been about reinventing themselves. Therefore, The Concrete Confessional is another solid, focused and compact release in true Hatebreed’s signature.
Jasta puts a lot of anger into lyrics and, overall, the album depicts boldly the frustrations society is facing today. But it’s their seventh studio album and it doesn’t disappoint.
Favorite track: Dissonance
NAILS – You Will Never Be One of Us
Released on 17 June on Nuclear Blast Records
With a more evident hybrid sound of hardcore, trash and grindcore, You Will Never Be One of Us is more polished than the previous two releases, but it only proves that the creative process is taken very seriously in extreme music. NAILS have plenty of raw power to express, and spontaneous outbursts and impulsive emotions would not necessary deliver the message. They keep their style with short tracks, fast-paced structures and brutal vocals, and, without a shred of doubt, deliver in less than half and hour what other bands may not achieve in full albums. A spectacular powerviolence album.
Favorite track: Violence is Forever
Swans – The Glowing Man
Released: 17 June 2016 on Young God and Mute
Swans reunion was not just conventional; it came with studio albums, live compilation and plenty of touring. It was much better than anyone expected. The Glowing Man is a nearly two-hour masterpiece, with plenty of songs written in an improvisational manner, starting slowly and growing into aggressive and haunting discordant harmonies, in a unique Gira’s style. Together with the album release, Michael Gira announced also the end of the Swans as we know it since the reunion in 2010. He will continue to make music under the same name, but it will be more of a solo experience with new collaborators and less touring.
Favorite track: When Will I Return
Gojira – Magma
Released on 17 June 2016 on Roadrunner Records
Gojira’s Magma finally came out after 4 years since L’Enfant Sauvage, being among the most anticipated metal albums of 2016. The well acclaimed avant-metal band always had an inclination towards progressive riffs and melody but these are more expressive than ever on Magma. It is their most accessible release so far, less heavy than anything on their back catalogue but not necessarily less mellow. The album made it somehow to the 2017 Grammy awards under the Best Rock Album.
Favorite track: Silvera
Various Artists – Magnetic North
Released on 15 August on Drone Rock Records
Featuring tracks by vert:x from Chester, Dead Sea Apes from Manchester, Blown Out from Newcastle and Earthling Society from Fleetwood, Magnetic North brings together the finest psychedelic sound of bands from the North of England.
The compilation is a mandatory listen for anyone eager to discover exceptional music coming straight out the psychedelic scene. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Favorite track: vert:x – drill
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Released on 9 September 2016 on Bad Seed Ltd
Even though death, desperate misery and lugubrious narrations are Nick Cave’s specialties, it’s not easy to get into the latest Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album. Skeleton Tree seems darker than everything he has produced so far. And although he has strongly advised against linking this album to the death of one of his teenagers twins, the opening lyrics takes you right on that. The album is a visceral trip through frightening landscapes revealing devastating meanings created with a mix of spoken-word, mourning singing and soothing whispering. The final piece attempts to bring some inner peace but recalls that everything comes with a price. Nothing is for free.
Favorite track: Magneto
Crobot – Welcome to Fat City
Released 23 September 2016 on Nuclear Blast
Crobot describe their music as ‘Dirty. Groove. Rock.’ and it’s quite accurate. Reminiscent of Soundgarden, Queens of The Stone Age, and Monster Magnet, they pay original tribute to every loud hard rock blues band of the 70s. They have bluesy rhythms, fuzzy guitars, funky bass, groovy vocals. And an outstanding live presence. Welcome to Fat City is a true delight. A classic hard rock masterpiece, with ballad-like passages followed right after by pure blazing rock’n’roll.
Favorite track: Play It Cool
The Lucid Dream – Compulsion Songs
Released on 23 September 2016 on Holy Are You Recordings
The Lucid Dream hasn’t come out of nowhere. The band members are friends and play together since high-school, they released their first album five years ago and they are the only band who played all three editions of Liverpool Psych Fest. Regardless of their association with the new psychedelic scene, The Lucid Dream pursue a more experimental approach to their sound without being afraid to incorporate elements of garage rock, punk or reggae-derivations in their songs. Quite uncompromising, Compulsion Songs is full of lovely musical ideas.
Favorite track: Bad Texan
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
Released on October 14, 2016 on Party Smasher
Bands usually don’t plan their break-up, especially not while they are still creative and successful. Unfortunately, The Dillinger Escape Plan decided to end their 20 year career, with a new album as endpoint. Dissociation proves that throughout their career the band never settled for less than they could give; but, at the same time, the excellent vocal performance, instrumental proficiency, speed, aggression and insane unpredictability also proves that there is still a lot of band potential which is never going to be released.
Favorite track: Manufacturing Discontent
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Released on 21 October 2016 on Columbia Records
You Want It Darker is Leonard Cohen’s artistic testament. Released right before his death, it may be similar in this respect with Bowie’s Blackstar. But it differs greatly in feeling and came as no surprise.
Cohen did it his way, revealing his inner struggle with death though a deeply poetic vision on life, love and death and seeking comfort in spirituality.
Favorite track: It Seemed the Better Way
Metallica – Hardwired … to Self-Destruct
Released on 18 November 2016 on Blackened Recordings
A Metallica release cannot be ignored; they are the most successful metal band on the planet. First album in 8 years, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct follows in the footsteps of Death Magnetic, being a great proper album but without the ground-braking sparkle that has been expected from Metallica since 1991. Although they don’t play outside their comfort zone, the record is melodically violent, thrilling and has an outstanding production.
Favorite track: Hardwired