Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them – Tobias Berchtold’s Best of 2016

This article was written by Tobias Berchtold 

2016 has been a difficult and troubling year for the world, but it has also produced some absolutely outstanding music so I wanted to renew my best of review for the year just passed. (
As much as I wanted to keep it short, there was just way too many amazing projects to whittle it down to a sensible number. Behold, my top 30 of 2016:

  30. The Colour in Anything – James Blake

James Blake’s third album follows on from his previous projects nicely, it is very similar in mood to those two however there are some very subtle but effective tonal changes. He has become known for a minimal and moody aesthetic, underlined by precise and layered production, however with this project Blake has seemingly tried to shift from a minimal approach to a more maximalist one. The production is once again absolutely stellar and the swelling instrumentals throughout lend a beautiful atmosphere to the album. The only real issue I have with the album is that it’s just too long, clocking in at 76 minutes, so it can be a bit tricky to stay engaged the whole way through.

  1. ArtScience – The Robert Glasper Experiment

For years, Robert Glasper has been the gold standard of jazz fused into all sorts of different genres. With his Experiment band, Glasper seems to refuse to be pegged into one genre – even exclaiming it at the start of the album (“So why should I just confine myself to one? We want to explore them all.”) In my opinion it’s the group’s best project yet, in big part due to the fact that they decided to do all the vocals themselves instead of relying on outside artists – by doing this I feel like they succeeded in cementing their own vibe, more so than in their previous attempts.

  1. Konnichiwa – Skepta

Skepta has been amongst the forerunners of the UK grime movement in recent years. It’s been 5 years since his previous album, and the long wait (with many delays) was thoroughly worth it. It’s packed with anti-establishment sentiment, and the lead single That’s Not Me is a good example of the content of the rest of the album. It’s a big middle finger to the press, the police and the government. All around it’s a great trailblazer for the grime genre, a genre that doesn’t usually feature albums but more often than not consists of singles and mixtapes.

  1. Epoch – Tycho

Tycho is back with another excellent downtempo album. All of the songs on the album bear his unmistakable style that he forged with his previous albums Awake and Dive, with very precise and deliberate instrumental melodies. This album is probably his most energetic yet, with some vocal samples added in, which Scott Hansen hadn’t really used much in the past. While it would be difficult to argue that this album is anything new, it’s probably one of my favourite Tycho projects yet – and with it he has cemented himself at the very top of my exam time playlists.

  1. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

It’s been a loooong time since we got a release from Justin Vernon and it really didn’t disappoint. It’s a difficult listen, which in general is nothing new from Bon Iver – but on this album he seems to explore, and play with, the strange and the uncertain. There is a great existential angst to the subject matter of this record, with Vernon resorting to a lot of religious imagery to try to explain his anxiety about the uncertainty of existence and his use of distorted vocals just adds to the theme. Its aesthetic is very high brow and experimental, and it works beautifully well as a reminder that Bon Iver is one of the best contemporary artists around nowadays.

  1. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

“My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way… it’s a clapback.”

I think I kind of want to be Dev Hynes. His activism for black rights is immensely powerful and it is the overarching theme of this album, the racial context of this album imbues it with so much meaning. It was released during the time when there were weekly/daily occurrences of police brutality towards black teens. It’s a celebration of everyone who is told they’re not good enough and the music does the theme justice – I found there were a lot of similarities between this album and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, both in style and substance. In a year like the one we just had, music like this is so incredibly important in conveying a message.

  1. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

Chance’s third mixtape had a lot of expectation placed on it, after the widespread success of the 2013 release of Acid Rap. Since then he has teased an built hype through some excellent features, in fact in my opinion he had the best feature of 2016 (on Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam). The album is filled to the brim with gospel singers and excellent features, but that’s also my biggest issue with the album. The gospel and the features add a great dimension but it hits a point of diminishing returns and I just wish there was a little bit more Chance. There are some spots on the album The best song in my eyes is Same Drugs, which is a beautiful Peter Pan metaphor of two people growing apart. Noticeably on that song there is mainly background gospel and no features.

From what i’ve just said it sounds like I didn’t like this album at all but that’s not the case – it just left me wanting more from Chance because I think he’s one of the most exciting talents in hip hop right now. I can’t wait for his first official album release.

  1. Bottomless Pit – Death Grips

Don’t really know how to describe this one. It’s taken me a good two years to wrap my head around what Death Grips do, and to be honest I think anyone that says they understand their vision is a liar. That being said this project is probably their most cohesive yet, and is what has led me to explore deeper into their discography. Their mix of hip hop with heavy, experimental rock is abrasive and crass but this is probably their most accessible effort yet due to a renewed focus on songcraft instead of shock value.

  1. Lemonade – Beyoncé

Before this album I wasn’t really a Beyoncé fan at all, I thought her songs were disappointing when you took into account her vast amounts of raw talent. This is a complete departure from her usual style of music, and it’s almost as though this album was born out of a desire to make an artistic statement rather than for financial gain which is what always irked me about her music. The overarching theme of marital troubles with Jay-Z (real or not) add a really nice dimension to the album and is very engaging. We see Beyoncé flit between several genres, even including a country song Daddy Lessons which ended up being my favourite on the album. Beyoncé took a lot of risks with this album and for me they all paid off.

  1. Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding is an upright bassist and singer who gained fame by beating Justin Bieber to the 2011 Best New Music Grammy, but she never seemed to crave this kind of attention and a few years later she took some time off from the music industry to reevaluate her position within it. For her return she came through with a really nice funk album that is highlighted with elements of rock music. Straddling the lines between several genres, Spalding seemed to create this album with the freedom that comes from being out of the limelight. If you haven’t heard this album yet I would warmly recommend it, it’s an incredibly rewarding listen.

  1. Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing – Lost Under Heaven

Born out of the ashes of WU LYF (RIP), Ellery Roberts’s new project has much of the same charm that drew me in the first time round. Ellery’s visceral, raw voice is coupled with that of visual artist Ebony Hoorn and he carries a similar message to the one he did with WU LYF. Blaring anti-capitalist, anti-establishment, anti-everything lyrics is Ellery’s speciality and the mixture of this and grandiose instrumentation makes this a really euphoric listen.

  1. Blank Face LP – Schoolboy Q

This is Schoolboy Q’s first album after beating a horrible addiction to lean and he seems to be on track to become a force in hip hop. This album is almost like a TDE poster child as it is absolutely littered with features but not once does it lose its way – Schoolboy Q is always front and centre of each song without getting overshadowed by anyone. Combining raw and emotional portrayals of a past life with a straightforward and down to earth manner make this a very enjoyable listen start to finish. The focus of this album is very clearly on the rapping which put a lot of pressure on Q to hold the attention for a full hour, but he does so seemingly with ease, with regular tone and tempo shifts that really work in his favour.

  1. The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah Rashad’s second album is another stellar output from the TDE label. The Tennessee based rapper’s bars are laced with anxieties regarding maturing and moving past addiction and in doing so he comes across as very human and brutally honest. Fitting with the theme the album ebbs and flows between manic highs and sluggish lows, much like life with addiction does. It is a moving account of facing demons and coming out of the other side better than before.


On her fifth album, ANOHNI teamed up with producers Hudson Mohawk and Oneohtrix Point Never to create an absolutely outstanding protest album. As ever, she sings about difficult political themes and challenges things like pop culture’s obsession with image, drone warfare and even the Arab Spring. She paints a bleak picture of despair and struggle, but coupled with bombastic songs and production from HudMo and OPN this album is truly great, and that seems to fit 2016 perfectly.

  1. 99.9% – KAYTRANADA

Kaytranada first made his name as a Soundcloud producer and dance DJ, and his first commercial effort is a statement that shows he’s going to stick around for a while. Specialising in samples and Madlib-style crate digging, Kaytranada’s production is funky and upbeat and enlisting the help of some high-profile collaborators (like Anderson .Paak) makes this a really refreshing experience. He accredits his style to his Haitian roots, and the percussion-heavy beats with help of drummers like Karriem Riggins back this up. A pleasure to listen to all-round.

  1. Telefone – Noname

I first heard of Noname (fka Noname Gypsy) through features with artists like Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper, and had been looking forward to this album for a while and in no way did it disappoint. This is a rich, satisfying and intimate hip hop album which documents Noname’s experience growing up as an introvert and finally blossoming into adulthood. The album is framed around transformative phone conversations in her life, with upbeat and playful bars underlining this as the best album by a female rapper this year.

  1. MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen

With her previous three albums Angel Olsen has crafted a powerful identity, her name being synonymous with her voice and her storytelling. On this, her fourth attempt, she has pushed both of these to their highest heights yet. This album is a haunting and beautiful recital of sadness, hope and love. There is a mix of sounds and styles, and there is a constant maze of self-discovery present throughout the songs on the album – even the brightest of songs are twinged with ideas of impermanence, that none of the feelings she is feeling can last forever.

  1. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

I’ve personally never been that enamoured with Radiohead, and consistently found that I preferred their more expansive and airy music. In particular I loved Thom Yorke’s solo project with Atoms for Peace, which is why I was so satisfied with this album – it has a very similar tone. The album is a bit of a grower, it’s a midnight sort of listen and it signals a return to a more conventional type of songcraft . There is a palpable sense of loss which is likely born out of Thom Yorke’s separation from his long time partner – but it would be a disservice to call this a breakup album. It’s lofty, vast, and encompasses all of the things I love about Radiohead. I can’t wait to see them headline Glastonbury.

  1. Yes Lawd! – NxWorries

Anderson .Paak’s meteoric rise seems to know no bounds and album only serves to confirm that. Having teamed up with producer Knxwledge this is a beat tape first and foremost, with all of the songs hovering around the 3-minute mark. Paak has seemingly mastered his vocal range and uses it to full effect on this album, all the while maintaining an infectiously upbeat mood. The production by Knxwledge is immaculate, channeling greats like Dilla and Madlib.

Livvin’ is probably the epitome of the feeling of this album, which is basically an exclamation of the triumphs in .Paak’s recent history. Hopefully he can keep going from strength to strength.  

  1. In My Mind – BJ The Chicago Kid

This is a modern update on Chicago soul, and BJ delivers a beautifully tender and soulful approach to the classic genre. Its lyrics are very on the nose about sexual experiences, but the way BJ sings them makes them is absolutely perfect. He excels at his brand of love song, and the only time where this album falls a bit flat is when he strays from this concept. The features he enlists on this album are also excellent, with appearances from Kendrick, Chance and Big KRIT complementing his voice expertly.

  1. Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino

It’s been a great year for Donald Glover – his new show Atlanta landed him a Best Comedy Actor Golden Glob, and he’s been cast as the young Lando Calrissian in the forthcoming Star Wars movie. I’ve loved him as an actor for a while but I have never been particularly enamoured with his rapping. It piqued my interest when I heard that he had ditch rapping for more of a funk sound and this is easily my favourite project of his so far. The production is majestic, Glover’s singing is better than ever and this project is so unique and unexpected that I’m struggling to find things to compare it to. I have to say that Redbone is up there as one of my favourite songs of this year – it is so smooth and serene that I could listen to it on a loop for hours.

  1. Malibu – Anderson .Paak

I mentioned earlier how good a year Anderson .Paak has had, and this is the centrepiece of his many successes. Behind his success there is a difficult story (as explained on the opener The Birds) – his mother was a farmer from South Korea and his father was an Air Force mechanic that was imprisoned for beating the former. Mixed in with the fresh and new sounds of Anderson .Paak are several old heads, including features from Schoolboy Q, Rapsody, The Game and Talib Kweli. This is another important, empowering album with the overarching message being that anyone can achieve anything, regardless of where you’ve started or what colour your skin is.

  1. A Seat at the Table – Solange

Most of the time the significance of an album doesn’t really hit me until the third or fourth listen through, but with this album I realised about halfway through about its importance in the world today. Specifically on Interlude: Tina Taught Me where we hear Solange’s (& Beyoncé’s) mother talk about her pride in her culture and heritage and seems to get very emotional about the fact that that is often not accepted by other cultures. This seamlessly flows into the incedibly powerful Don’t Touch My Hair which epitomises the message that this album tries to convey. It is an incredibly meaningful account of black womanhood in modern America, and is complemented by some beautiful singing and excellent production.

  1. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

The birth of this album was a massive rollercoaster with delays, leaks, revisions and additions hampering it on its way. When it did come out, it ended up being the most perfect description of Kanye you could get. It’s bold, erratic, a bit bonkers and overall a great experience from start to finish. It seems as though this is the artistic vision that Kanye has wanted to put forward for a while now, and his ‘unique’ way of putting it out into the world seems to fit that theory. There is a good mix between the larger-than-life Yeezus Kanye and the introspective and damaged My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye. Some of Kanye’s best songs in my opinion are on this album – Ultralight Beam’s production is some of the best that Kanye has done, along with an incredible Chance the Rapper feature (as mentioned earlier, my favourite feature of the year). Real Friends is another that I am enamored with – Kanye is vulnerable, and laments his failures as a friend and as a person in a real and relatable way.

Since then, Kanye has cancelled shows and tours and has been hospitalised following a manic depressive episode. I hope he can stay stable in the future and that we get to hear more of his vision, because as much shit as he says and does, he really is a fantastic talent.

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”

  1. Run The Jewels 3 – Run The Jewels

A surprise 2016 release that was initially slated for early 2017 but was brought forward and released as “A CHRISTMAS F***ING MIRACLE.” I’m really glad it was released early because it fit the theme of 2016 excellently, RTJ have become known for their defiant and political style and of course this album is no different. The third album in the RTJ series is a culmination of what made the previous two so great. They managed to maintain their sound while subtly developing it – yet this album is the most subtle and polished. Killer Mike is ridiculously good as ever, and El-P’s production is better than it has ever been. It’s a protest album with several riot anthems that may or may not be directed towards the Mango Mussolini that was inaugurated just a few days ago.

  1. untitled unmastered. – Kendrick Lamar

It’s a bit unfair really isn’t it. An album of 8 throwaways that weren’t quite good enough to fit into last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly, is still better than most of the music that has come out in this year. While it is obvious that a lot of the tracks on this EP are unfinished that doesn’t diminish the quality of this product at all. The songs are in a very similar vein to the songs on TPAB, however Kendrick has to be commended because I do agree with the fact that none of these songs would have added much to last year’s album. As a standalone project it is excellent, with catchy hooks and silky instrumentals (as ever) from people like Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. It’s going to be interesting to see what Kendrick can do from here, it seems like everything he touches turns to gold.

  1. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest

18 years in the making, the swan song of the alternative hip hop pioneers was so much more than I thought it could ever be. I have to confess when I heard that there was a new ATCQ album in the works I was a bit sceptical. Halfway through the first song my doubts were blown out of the water – the opener The Space Program sets the tone by making clear that this isn’t a 1994 project that’s 20 years late, but is a refreshingly current attempt. The tragic death of MC Phife Dawg was covered by the fact that the band had recorded all of his vocals at Q-Tip’s studio earlier in the year, and you would never know that he wasn’t there.

This is another album on this is list that is incredibly timely. The songs are again very political, and We The People is the best example of this which clearly references the various unrests of 2016 – “All you black folks you must go/All you Mexicans you must go.” Even if they do get a bit blunt by naming one of the songs The Donald, overall it’s a very nuanced and effective commentary on the state of the world compared to how it was in ATCQ’s heyday.

  1. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

This album genuinely transcends explanation, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. If I were to compare it to something on this list I would say that the closest other thing is Bottomless Pit but even that isn’t really close. The beats are gritty and dark, and Danny’s abrasive, shrill voice over the top of it just works. I’m struggling to explain why it works but it just does, to tremendous effect. It’s a wild ride that documents the ups and downs of drug addiction, some songs are blurry and fuzzy and then there are others that almost sound like Danny is driving himself up into a fit. There isn’t a song on this album that I don’t like, but Ain’t it Funny is the standout track for me. The beat is outrageous and it doesn’t really make sense, the way Danny sings offbeat and just plays with the rhythm is so engaging and fun. There is also Really Doe which in my view is the best posse track of the year (however the Black Hippy THat Part remix runs it close). The track has Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt bouncing off each other perfectly as though it’s all they’ve been doing for years.

I’m not really sure where Danny Brown is going to go next but he’s one of the few artists where I trust his vision, and I really look forward to whatever he can bring out next.

     2. Blackstar – David Bowie

If I ordered this list to take historical significance into account then this would be a no-brainer at the number 1 slot. David Bowie’s last album before he lost his battle with cancer is the most perfect way he could have said goodbye. I thought it was an incredible album soon after it came out, as its songcraft and instrumentation is beautifully dark and sombre. However when Bowie died, the album took on a whole new shape and added countless layers of complexity and imagery. Even though it has transpired that Bowie may not have necessarily known that he was  dying during the recording process, the idea that Bowie immortalised his views about death and mourning shortly before his own passing is so beautiful to me.

Lazarus is the key song on the album, it’s a superbly artistic statement – condensing the entire human narrative of birth, life and death into one single song that was released three days before his untimely death.

Doesn’t get much more Bowie than that.

“Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come”  – Elvis Presley

  1. Blonde – Frank Ocean

The hype around Frank Ocean had reached a boiling point, after the widespread success of his 2012 abum Channel Orange he just disappeared. Shortly after that release he came out on the internet, saying that his first love was a man. After that, he was gone. There was endless speculation and Channel Orange had taken on a sort of cult-like status until Frank posted on his  Tumblr #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY. July 2015 came and went and no sign of Frank, apart from the occasional feature on Odd Future tracks. His only 2016 feature was on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, as an add-on track to Wolves.

More and more speculation built up with photos and teases from people close to Frank, suggesting his third album Boys Don’t Cry would release in July 2016. Alas, no album. Yet early in August a cryptic livestream popped up which showed people woodworking in a whitewashed warehouse and the hype machine hit max.

On 19th August, finally, Frank released a visual album called Endless (which is also fantastic and well worth a listen/watch). But was this the full album? This wasn’t called Boys Don’t Cry? What?

The day later, 20th August, Blonde was released and an accompanying magazine called Boys Don’t Cry was announced.

And it is a masterpiece. I won’t have enough space here to convey just how much I love this album but I’ll give it a go. Compared to the relatively expansive and elaborate production on Channel Orange, Blonde is very minimal and stripped back. There is a very sparse use of percussion on the whole project, but where it does appear it adds a beautiful dimension – purely because of its absence previously. When Frank’s voice breaks through it’s almost as though the relative quietness and peace shines a spotlight on him and his words.

There isn’t a song on this album that I would remove or even change, every single word and note seems to have been placed very deliberately, which may explain the long drawn out release process that this album went through. The album is noticeably devoid of standalone bangers, unlike Channel Orange that had songs like Thinkin Bout You and Pyramids, but even then I think this is endlessly more listenable because of the different layers that you can unpick with every listen. Even Ivy, the song that is closest to being like those two, isn’t as massive or as instantly catchy, but is carried amazingly by only Frank’s voice and two guitar tracks. It’s probably the best example of the themes present on the album – a sort of nostalgic teenage heartbreak seen through reminiscing eyes – ‘I ain’t a kid no more/We’ll never be those kids again.’

This is easily my most played album of this year, and after hearing it for several months my favourite song changed almost after every listen – it flitted from Ivy to Nights to White Ferrari to Self Control to Seigfried. It’s a testament to how well put together the album is that I even enjoy listening to the (often criticised) interludes because they set up the following song really nicely. Be Yourself features a phone conversation from Frank’s mother saying that he shouldn’t rely on drugs or alcohol to be himself, and then in the next song Solo Frank sings about taking tabs of acid to be able to unravel himself and be ‘solo.’ Facebook Story features SebastiAn who talks about a relationship that broke up over his refusal to get involved with Facebook, and it flows into a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Close To You, which is heavily distorted and mechanical sounding – almost as though he’s trying to get close to someone but can’t break through the virtual barrier.

Overall, this album definitely worth the wait. I hope the next project comes a bit sooner but even if it takes another four years I’d be happy if the overall quality stays like this.


My Favourite 15 Albums of 2015

By Tobias Berchtold

Honourable mentions that were good but didn’t quite make my list:

  • Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
  • Miguel – Wildheart
  • Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
  • Algiers – Algiers
  • Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell


15. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

After discovering them through their excellent previous release “Tawk Tomahawk” I was looking forward to this album massively, and it continued much in the same vein as one before it. Combining elements of funk, soul and jazz they succeed in creating a smooth album that is incredibly easy and fun to pick up and listen to all the way through (several times).

Favourite Tracks: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, Breathing Underwater

14. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

The self-titled album by Canadian band Viet Cong is far and away my favourite rock album of the year. They lived up to all of their hype and controversy by delivering a truly excellent post-punk album, complemented by their tight instrumentals and adventurous songcraft. The album sounds chaotic and dark but what stands out to me are the little snippets of delicate instrumentation that added an interesting twist into the usually heavily reverbed songs. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next, albeit likely with a new name as it was deemed that the current one is unnecessarily inflammatory (probably a wise move, as it’s gotten them banned from several venues in the USA).

Favourite Tracks: Continental Shelf, Death, March of Progress

13. Oddisee – The Good Fight

Oddisee seems to churn out a solid release every few years or so, and this one is likely my favourite thus far. The album has really excellent production, with the themes of humility fitting the understated and subtle music very well. Oddisee’s experience as an instrumentalist shines through on every track, and coupled with his eloquent and charismatically witty lyrics it makes this album a pleasure to listen to.

Favourite Tracks: That’s Love, Want Something Done, First Choice

12. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Stretch Music

Christian Scott attempts to blend several different genres together with his style, hence ‘stretching’ the genre of jazz into new and uncharted territories. On this record he involves a lot of African rhythms, alongside other elements of African music and it works to great effect. Four years ago he extended his name by adding aTunde Adjuah, which are supposedly Ghanaian cities of ancestral significance to Christian Scott. It seems that this record is part of his journey to reclaim and rediscover his home culture, whilst infusing it into a modern sound.

The highlight throughout this album is the interplay between the 9 instruments in his band, which combine to create a cohesive jazz ensemble with some interspersed glimpses of Scott’s genre-bending – for example, occasionally, out of the blue, a jagged electric guitar chord will accompany his trumpet, before being joined by sampled African drum beats – this combination makes this a very nice listen.

Favourite Tracks: Sunrise in Beijing, Perspectives, West of the West

11. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown

Also known as King Krule, Archy Marshall seemingly used this joint multimedia project with his brother to transition slowly from songwriter into producer. He utilises samples much more in this release and for me it pays off. I have to confess that I’m a bit of a King Krule fanboy anyway but I feel that his continued experimentation with his music has made him more three-dimensional, and the introspective nature of the lyrics makes for an interesting listen. You follow Archy as he explores themes to do with loneliness and solitude, and he even gets to the point where he seemingly finds pleasure and solace in being alone (which I can thoroughly relate to).

The main criticism that I’ve heard about this album is that the songs seem to kind of blend together, but me this isn’t a major issue as it is accompanied by an art book (bought separately) which suits the music brilliantly. I’ve found myself leafing through the book with the album on in the background on several occasions already and I’ve really enjoyed both sides of this project.

That’s right Mo Hafeez, I’m calling you out. Fight me. 1v1.

Favourite Tracks: Ammi Ammi, Any God of Yours, Swell

10. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa

This one caught me by surprise. I can’t even remember how I stumbled across this but the Congolese band’s album quickly became one that I had on repeat for weeks. In terms of sensation, I’d have to agree with The Guardian’s review that likened it to arriving in an unfamiliar city, bustling and exciting. It creates a sensory overload because there is just so much going on, and in doing this it completely immerses you and makes it a joy to experience.

The album shines all the way through but it started to really interesting at “Malukayi” where it became clear to me that this album isn’t really like anything I’ve heard before, in part due to the many different instruments that are interacting on all of the tracks. Every listen I seem to discover a new layer to each song, which has made it a staple for me this year. The highlight for me is “Kala” as it seemingly explodes into life right at the end of the album, and on my first listen it made me want to listen to the whole thing through again straight away.

Favourite Tracks: Malukayi, Kala, Suzanna

9. Clarence Clarity – NO NOW

I’m not really sure how to describe this album because it’s absolutely bonkers. And I love it. There are so many different inspirations on this album and where most artists would pick and choose which ones to use on separate songs, Clarence Clarity seems to throw them all into every single one.

It’s incredibly sonically dense and an almost maximalist approach to music, yet it still has a strong sense of rhythm and is catchy too. I went into this album not really sure what to expect, and to be honest I’ve still not quite reached a conclusion. Clarence Clarity makes songs that are so outlandish that they seem familiar again, which results in this album having a remarkable amount of replayability which is rare for a project as experimental and unusual as this.

Favourite Tracks: Will to Believe, Bloodbarf, The Gospel Truth

8. Björk – Vulnicura

Break up albums are nothing new, but trust Björk to bring a new and refreshing take to the table. She’s done it again, her ninth (!) studio release is a unique and brave take on coping with emotional pain. It’s not always necessarily an easy listen but once you’ve found your way in she keeps you engaged through her almost poetic lyrics, and oddly intoxicating instrumentals. It feels a bit similar to Vespertine which is my favourite album in Björk’s discography, and that’s why probably why I love this so much.

I found it really hard to put this album down after I finally managed to get my head around it, and it really helped me work through some difficult times this year due to its emotional openness, intimacy and sincere tone on break-ups and loss. The lyrics are intense, haunting, and at points are heartbreaking so I wouldn’t recommend listening to this if you’re having a good day.

Favourite Tracks: Stonemilker, Lionsong, Black Lake

7. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

While they may not be the best individual musicians the world has ever seen, BBNG’s take on jazz gained them a lot of well-deserved hype last year. This latest project saw them team up with Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah to cement their status as the current kings of fusing hip hop with jazz.

Ghostface’s vocals suit the instrumentals well, while still allowing BBNG’s flair to shine through and some well-placed features from people such as Danny Brown and DOOM make this album really stand out. BBNG’s input isn’t nearly as experimental as on previous projects like “BBNG 2” but the addition of Ghostface more than makes up for it. The only real disappointment that I have with this album is the fact that there’s just not enough of it, clocking in at just over half an hour. Short but sweet, as they say.

Favourite Tracks: Sour Soul, Gunshowers, Ray Gun, Street Knowledge

6. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

In some ways this is probably Lupe’s most ambitious project yet, and after the disappointments of his previous few releases he really needed this one to be a success to put him back into the game. And a success it was.

This release is littered with 8-9 minute long songs with enough good bars in each to fill a full length album. Of these, “Mural” is a the best and the song title definitely does it justice – it’s a work of art, and in its almost 9 minutes of runtime there isn’t a second that feels like it could be cut. If I was pushed to give an answer, I’d probably say that it’s my favourite song of this year. Every song on this album is filled with Lupe’s intricate and intelligent lyrics, playing with metaphors to convey his messages about growing up and breaking out of the ghetto (particularly effective on “Deliver”).

Lupe recently announced that he’d be releasing three full length albums in 2016, and if any one of them is even close to being as good as this one then I’ll be a very happy bunny.

Favourite Tracks: Mural, Deliver, Madonna, Prisoners 1&2

5. Jamie xx – In Colour

Bangers. Bangers galore. This is probably the easiest listen on this list. Jamie xx has had a few projects in the past that I have enjoyed (in particular his Gil-Scott Heron mixes) and I’m glad that the hype surrounding this debut record didn’t disappoint. He maintains his trademark sound throughout the album, yet still manages to push the boat out a bit further on some of the songs. “Gosh” in particular is a departure from the usual light beats that Jamie likes to produce and seems slightly more experimental than the rest of the album, and it was a bold call to put it as the opener but one that in my eyes paid off.

“Good Times” was released as a single before the album came out, and it really surprised me because even though I’m usually not a massive Young Thug fan I absolutely love this song. It was a mix of smooth beats with Young Thug’s ridiculous lyrics made it one of my favourite singles of the year. On this album (this song in particular) Jamie uses of a lot of vocal samples, and this is a welcome addition to his sound.

This album really impressed me with its mixture of tried-and-tested Jamie xx type songs featuring xx running mate Romy and some slightly more ambitious risk taking. As much as I love this album I do wish that there were one or two more songs that pushed Jamie out of his comfort zone – another song like “Gosh” or even “Good Times” would have made this album challenge some of those higher on this list for me.

Favourite Tracks: Gosh, Good Times (There’s Gonna Be), Loud Places

4. FKA twigs – M3LL155X

After a strong debut with LP1, twigs continued in a very similar fashion on this five track EP. LP1 was weird and eccentric, and this album builds on that further while adding a slightly darker and creepier tone. The production quality is fantastic throughout, the same as with her previous release, but what really caught my attention with this project was the narrative that she managed to spin across only five songs. The tracks “I’m your doll” and “in time” are powerful statements about the self – they’re almost uncomfortable in the way that they play with your emotions and it almost feels as though she’s talking directly to you amongst the music.

Accompanying this project were self-choreographed and self-directed videos that only further the sense that twigs is getting more and more confident and self-assured, and if this is anything to go by I expect the next full length album to be even better than the first. It feels like this EP was twigs flexing her skills and showing what she’s capable of as a producer and as an all round creative force. Where LP1 was good, I think M3LL155X is excellent.

Then again I’m likely biased due to my absolutely astronomical crush on twigs, but that’s neither here nor there.

Favourite Tracks: in time, i’m your doll, glass and patron

3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah

I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it was released right at the end of 2014 but I only really gave it a go at the start of this year, so I’m going to sneak it in here anyway.

After a 14 year break since his last release Voodoo, D’Angelo returns with a record on which he hasn’t changed his style, but has refined it into something even better. Smooth, soulful R&B tracks are his forté and this album is filled to the brim with exactly that. Combining strong messages dealing with black rights with the type of music that we’ve come to expect from D’Angelo, this release is absolutely spectacular and in my eyes is D’Angelo’s best record to date. The mix of retro with modern twists alongside layers and layers of vocals, guitar, strings and keyboards make this album refreshingly different – it’s like D’Angelo has perfected and transcended R&B.

“Sugah Daddy” in particular caught my attention – the old school offbeat rhythm is ridiculously catchy, and really does sound like the D’Angelo of old. It’s almost as though the previous 14 years of his absence never happened, in the best possible way.

Favourite Tracks: Really Love, Sugah Daddy, Ain’t That Easy, The Charade

2. Kamasi Washington – The Epic

2015 has been a terrific year for Kamasi Washington – he was the sax lead on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and upon release of his solo album he went on his first ever world tour (which I frustratingly couldn’t get tickets for).

The title of the album is likely the best way of describing it. Three hours of jazz fusion magic rolled into one fantastic release. The album is split into three parts, each of which could easily function as its own entity, however putting them all into one makes this truly world class. Each part on its own is more than worthy of a listen but if you’re having a lazy day and haven’t got much planned, whack this on in the background and listen through the whole 3 hours and I promise you won’t regret it.

If you haven’t found your way into jazz and are interested, this is probably your best bet – it’s very accessible alongside being far and away the best jazz release of this year (and in my opinion also of the past few years).

Favourite Tracks: Change of the Guard, Askim, Final Thought, The Rhythm Changes, Isabelle

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

This decision wasn’t even remotely close. If I’m being honest this is probably my favourite album ever. There’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t been said before, it’s an absolute masterpiece. I really thought there was no way Kendrick was going to be able to top “Good Kid M.A.A.D City” but he’s bettered it in every possible way.

The concept is in itself incredible, the poem that is slowly built piece by piece throughout the songs as they pass is a genius idea that I don’t recall ever hearing in an album before. Kendrick must have balls of steel to create that Tupac interview at the end – someone who is generally considered one of the best hip hop artists to have ever lived. Kendrick seems to want to continue his legacy with his insightful commentary on society, particularly in the black community (as the tracks “Hood Politics,” “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry” in particular show). He paints this picture while outlining his personal struggles with fame and the massive expectations placed on him – “u” is so raw and intense that it really feels as though Kendrick is bearing his all through his music and it feels incredibly authentic and heartfelt.

The instrumentation and production is again pretty much perfection, as Kendrick enlisted the help of people like Thundercat and Kamasi Washington (as mentioned earlier) which helps him skip between different styles of hip hop with ease, from the wailing G-Funk synth sounds on “Wesley’s Theory” and “King Kunta” to the more R&B like sound on “These Walls.”

I usually don’t like it when I read a review and they give an album a perfect score, but I have to say that for this album I’m inclined to say that it’s justified. I really can’t think of a single thing Kendrick could have possibly done better with this project.

In my eyes Kendrick is the king of hip hop right now, after creating two albums (this one and GKMC) that could easily be argued to be amongst the best hip hop albums of this decade.

Favourite Tracks: N/A, all of it


Overall, 2015 has been a stellar year for music and 2016 will have to be pretty special to top it. However with a release from David Bowie, (hopefully) one from Kanye, three from Lupe Fiasco, and a Kendrick and J Cole collaboration on the horizon I have high hopes for the coming months.

On top of those I’m still blindly hoping that Jai Paul may arise from the land of the dead, but with his prolonged silence since the leak it’s unfortunately looking increasingly unlikely. Jai Paul will make a comeback. #believe