By Sam Lawson
Well, an eventful year it has been, to say the least. Both personally and globally, the whole world has changed its colours and shape in terms of the musical landscape. I’ve spent the better part of the year dotted around the UK playing shows, doing some life changing stuff including a performance at my favourite UK festival, alongside some of my favourite artists both on the bill and on the stage. With two releases of my own with For The Oracle, i’ve had a relatively hectic 365 days (almost). Everyone, everywhere has been touched by the tragic deaths that have shook the entertainment industry this year. Lemmy’s late 2015 passing was a sad precursor for what was lying in wait. Icons such as Prince and David Bowie singing their swan songs reminded us all that rock and roll isn’t an infinite playground and the renegades that shaped it as a lifestyle, do have an expiry date like all of us.
I like lists. I like making lists, thinking about lists, reading other people’s lists and so on. There’s something very cathartic about it, I find. This list is going to do what it says on the tin and list my personal top 10 albums of the year. Not EP’s, not singles, not music videos but albums. Full length LPs only in this list, 10 isn’t exactly a very welcoming number and feels particularly limiting but I do love a challenge. Let’s get started, shall we?
Oh P.S this is in particular order.
Number 10 – Deftones – ‘Gore’
It’s strange that Deftones are so low on this list, in anticipation of this album I pictured it being somewhere higher, given that they’re on of my favourite bands of all time but this album didn’t come without it’s faults, that said it had some beautifully serene moments throughout that gave me a taste of what it is I like about Deftones whilst re-enforcing something new into their sound.
A new approach to vocals, riff writing and (sadly) production made for a unique sounding album. Every Deftones album sound totally different to the one that came before it, which is nice however it’s easy to stray from the path in the search of constant change.
My personal favourite songs from this record are ‘(L)MIRL’ and ‘Hearts/Wires’, Chino certainly hasn’t lost his ability to write a catchy hook, that’s for sure. I very rarely let production quality affect how I rate an album but the guitar sounds on this album are truly something I’d rather forget about.
Number 9 – Metallica – ‘Hardwired.. The Self Destruct!’
Okay so, terrible album name, terrible artwork, the lead guitar playing is pretty much exactly what I was expecting and I don’t know if I could sing you the chorus of a single song on this record if I was asked. Why is it in my list?
Well, I first discovered Metallica’s extensive catalogue of music around the age of about 12 years old and the full-blown obsession took a while to form, if I remember rightly. Suffice it to say, this album is the first Metallica album to be released since my dedication to this group began. Lulu doesn’t count, by the way.
The production is great, Hetfield’s vocals sound great, the songwriting is adventurous and I know what you’re going to think when you read this but fuck it – Lars’ performance is great too. This album will indefinitely grow on me and in a couple of years time I confident that many of these songs will be engrained into me as addition to the list of classic material that has come before them. Also, this is one that I would have added out of principle just because of how much of a spectacle the release of this record was, Metallica do PR like no other!
Number 8 – Terrace Martin – ‘Velvet Portraits’
My undying love and appreciation for what I call the “Brainfeeder Family” grows larger with this album. There’s this incredible wave of modern jazz artists constantly playing in and around me and the guy in the band, we’re always trading YouTube links of new material from people and groups like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Snarky Puppy, Kendrick Lamar, Hiatus Kaiyote, Taylor McFerrin, Flying Lotus and one of the geniuses behind Kendrick’s hugely successful ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, Terrace Martin.
I was drawn to this album after going through the production credits for ‘TPAB’ and seeing the name crop up a few times on a few of my favourite songs in particular. I was very excited to see cuts like ‘Curly Martin’ and ‘Mortal Man’ making an appearance on the tracklisting. Also, as these artists never fail to do, I was blown away at the featured artist list. I won’t put it here, but it’s worth having a look at.
This record is a clinic is jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, blues and RnB music but there’s something so rock n’ roll about it all too. It feels like you’re in the room with the guys as they practice these immensely complex pieces of music, incisive in their design to remain accessible and danceable tunes. Watch out for what appears to be a Childish Gambino reference in my personal favourite song, ‘Oakland’ featuring the one and only polyphonic overtone goddess that is Layla Hathaway.
Give this a listen if you like your music full of surprises but easy to dance to!
Number 7 – Gojira – ‘Magma’
This album has definitely become a bit of a grey area for metal fans since it’s release. I picked it up on vinyl within the first two weeks of it’s release, I did so before I had fully digested the music lying within the grooves. The two singles that were released during the pre-release PR campaign were good tunes but I definitely prayed that they were the weakest of the track listing. They weren’t. ‘Silvera’ ended up being one of the top 3 song throughout the record, in my opinion. ‘Lowlands’ likely takes the number one spot for me, due to it’s emotionally charged lyrical content and vulnerability, a quality I greatly admire in a vocal performance.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t just include albums in this list simply because the band who put it out are one of my favourites and therefore I feel like I owe them that much, this album does genuinely deserve a place here but not because it’s musically the band’s best work by any stretch of the imagination but it took a leap of faith. Any band willing to take such a risk deserve some props, even if the end result isn’t as flawless as you would hope it to be. I genuinely do enjoy sitting down and listening to this record start to finish, don’t get me wrong, it’s a very disciplined songwriting style that the band have adapted and I commend them for that most certainly.
Though, I wouldn’t recommend this to someone if they asked me where a good place to start would be if they wanted to get into Gojira’s music as I firmly believe that there are infinitely better albums available.
Number 6 – Slice The Cake – ‘Odyssey To The West’
Gareth (vocals) is a good friend of mine and a collaborator with my band, in any other case I would try to avoid including one of my friend’s bands in a list such as this, not because I don’t want to support my friends but because I think that it could come across as biased. However, one listen of this record and I think it would be impossible to assume that I am including it due to favouritism. There is something about this music, particularly the way this music is arranged and organised that is quite startling. Concept albums have always fascinated me and been a large part of my musical journey (yuck) so I am immediately drawn to anything that will tell me a good story. There’s something so impossibly unique about this music, the spoken word elements are what stand out to me primarily, though.
It’s often quite a risk including spoken word/poetry, especially quite lengthy portions of it that act as a narrative when trying to appeal to an audience who have grown to love very heavy riffing throughout pounding aggressive metal songs. My favourite moments throughout probably aren’t the same as the metal elitists scattered throughout the corners of the internet who are also putting this in their lists (that isn’t to imply everyone who loves this album is an elitist, might I add). For me, it’s the poetry throughout that is truly laying the foundations for a pretty transcendent musical experience as well as the track ‘Castle In The Sky II: Pieces Of Ruins’ which picks up from a song on an earlier STC release but is the first and last ballad that this album has to offer. An incredible moving piece of music that truly sticks with you and is impossible to escape for a very long time.
Overall, this is how a story should be told in a musical format. This is without a shadow of a doubt my favourite concept album of 2016 but generally, it’s got some tough competition but still triumphs above a lot of amazing music. I hope the guys are all very conscious of what amazing work they were capable of putting out before their untimely demise pretty much announced on the same day as the album’s release.
Number 5 – The Dillinger Escape Plan – ‘Dissociation’
This is an album that took a couple of listens for me to realise what was happening beneath the chaos that Dillinger are so renowned for. My first full length listen didn’t really hook me, if I’m being honest. The final song on the album (sharing the album’s title) stood out as a particularly beautiful and daring piece of music, however. The lyrical content gave the album quite a lot of replay value and I was urged to listen again. It became evident quite quickly what these lyrics meant to me, it seemed like the band were giving their final wave goodbye in about as much of a blatant way as possible. “I gave you everything you wanted, you were everything to me” stands out as a lyric that could possible have a double entendre, possibly addressing a relationship with someone in Greg’s personal life but I heard it as a damning statement about the time the guys had put into the band and the music industry in general. “Couldn’t stay for you, what a strange way to lose. Finding a way to die alone” is something else that grabbed my attention.
I find with Dillinger that because the music is just so spastic, unhinged and dangerous that the vocals are often the anchor keeping the ship from disappearing into the fog so, unlike with a lot of music I realise myself to be more consciously digesting the poetic meaning behind the music and trying to create a stronger attachment between the sonic elements and the linguistic parts of the puzzle.
To an average music fan who perhaps doesn’t often venture into the more extreme sides of heavy metal/hardcore music, this probably wouldn’t strike them as the incredibly moving and overwhelmingly emotionally vulnerable album that it is but I keep finding myself returning to it on my bad days for some solace. I am very, very excited to be seeing TDEP in January at their last ever UK show also, here’s hoping I actually survive.
Number 4 – Bad Rabbits – ‘American Nightmare’
Arguably, Bad Rabbits are one of the most criminally under-rated bands I’ve ever heard, if I’m being totally honest. Their debut album has some of my favourite songs by the group including ‘We Can Roll’ and ‘Fall In Love’ however I found the band through one of their many cover version of popular songs from a wide spectrum of genres that they uploaded to their YouTube channel in order to help with their publicity, it certainly worked but sadly not enough to get them the global recognition that they absolutely, wholeheartedly deserve.
This album is, from what I can tell, the band attempting to respond to the call that they put out with their debut work, and their reply is intentionally one of sorrow and agony, hence the juxtaposed album titles. This record here is very special, when compared to it’s predecessors especially, as it bridges the gap between the two years they were both released and the state of both the music industry as well as the world in general, specifically the country the band reside in, which again, you probably don’t need to be told, given the titles.
It feels, in places, like a hardcore album. Traces of Black Flag, Fugazi and Minor Threat are all over this thing. The vocals that I came to expect would usually include the high falsetto and incredibly good ear for annunciation and a catchy hook, which still exist but amidst the angry, begrudging story telling which ranges from topics such as the plague of unoriginality in the industry to police brutality against young black Americans, it is clear that the vocal delivery required, for the most part, something a bit more visceral.
A truly wonderful collection of tracks and not to be ignored.
Number 3 – Kendrick Lamar’ – ‘untitled. unmastered.’
Certainly an interesting release, as KDot’s work never fails to be. Not sure how I felt about a release so soon after what is without a shadow of a doubt my favourite album of 2015, hands down, being ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’.
This album has a lot of experimenting on it throughout and despite carrying a totally unfinished demeanor it still maintains the integrity of Kendrick’s work. The lyrical quality is top notch as it always is, these songs are about as dark as the guy’s music is going to get I truly believe. Some of the cuts seem a little unnecessary, one in which we hear a very rough audio recording of an acoustic guitar rendition of an earlier beat, played for about 5 or so minutes straight featuring Kendrick lazily singing over the top.
This record didn’t evoke an awful lot of emotion in me, except for a few one liners here or there however the reason i’ve ranked it so highly is because as a whole, it’s picking up where TPAB leaves off and it’s continuing on the story, a story that I’ve become very attached too. Furthermore, it’s evident that Kendrick refuses to slow down or stop trying new things and if this is the result then, I’m happy with that as one of his fans.
I am thoroughly excited for what comes next.
Number 2 – Snarky Puppy – ‘Culcha Vulcha’
I truly believed this was going to be in the top spot for a very long time, since it’s release. Even when my number one was released, I was still convinced that ‘Culcha Vulcha’ would take the cake but, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. As much as I deeply love instrumental music, this album didn’t quite evoke as much emotion in me as the winner managed to do.
However, that aside, this album is truly stunning. An absolute masterclass in composition and arrangement from the madman that is Michael League and his team of musical hitmen. As always, every note is precise and perfect. The level of thought and conviction that goes into this music is evident from the get go. I have personal favourites of course however, this album is definitely best listened to (as most are) start to finish. It isn’t trying to tell a story or do anything particularly daring, it’s just a solid jazz fusion album. Relative to this list, this album is the bigger, better brother of the album at number eight.
The production is of course, exceptional and in no way sterile or boring. This is endless music, with a new hidden gem to be discovered amidst the varied instrumentation on each cut, potentially my favourite Snarky Puppy album, fighting tooth and claw with ‘We Like It Here’.
Number 1 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘The Getaway’
I know, I know. I’m shocked too. This album upon first impressions didn’t really do that much for me, except for a handful of songs. I often hear albums in full and one or two tracks will jump out at me, I’ll then go through a slightly obsessive phase with those tracks and eventually after enough time, I will be able to hear the appeal of the others song and ultimately, find a similar beauty. That happened here, but it burned much slower than usual.
The first time I heard the guitar intro to ‘Encore’ I was deeply, deeply moved and it resonated with me in a way I hadn’t felt from a piece of music in quite a while. Not necessarily more powerful than anything I had heard this past year, or the year before, but in a way that was entirely unique to what this band in particular do. I have a special bond with the music of RHCP, unlike die hard fans I care not for their more funky tracks or even the first half of their discography and they were the first band I ever saw live, at the age of just seven year old.
John Frusciante-era RHCP will always be in my opinion, the best the band ever sounded. Klinghoffer’s introductory album ‘I’m With You’ did nothing for me, apart from the song ‘Ethiopia’. I wasn’t really expecting this 2016 release to have any overwhelming emotional impact.
Lyrically, Kiedis is doing what Kiedis does and there’s plenty of mentions of the golden state and sexual interactions dressed up in crude metaphor but there is something about what is being said that honestly, feels a bit more mature than usual. His age is showing in a lot of this poetry which is a good thing. ‘The Hunter’ has a very heartfelt chorus, which spoke to me in a very raw fashion.
I don’t necessarily understand the hype around Danger Mouse’s involvement on this record, from what I’m hearing, he seems to have something against odd time signature, which as a songwriter I just find to be totally hilarious. Supposedly it is impossible to dance and have a good time to an odd metered piece of music, though the final song on this album (his least favourite, accordingly) managed to achieve just that.
Flea’s bass performance on this record is, as usually, incredible. I needn’t say any more if I’m honest, it speaks entirely for itself. Chad’s performance is similar to Kiedis’, in that it’s very mature and takes a backseat often throughout the tracks but when it comes out of the shade, it really makes itself known.
However, the most emotionally tactile and vulnerable performances on this record are provided by Josh Klinghoffer, without a shadow of a doubt. To me it sounds like he played this music with the same energy the rest of the band would have had when they wrote ‘Californication’, it isn’t his fault that he is late to the game, of course. He holds this album together, even in the extremely daring cuts he is still the glue. It sounds like through constant collaboration and attention to detail, he has studied John Frusciante’s playing/writing style just enough to sort of replicate it, but not so much as to ruin his own ability to contribute.
I yearned for more of his vocals as I think he has an incredible voice all of his own, however. This album is fantastic and whether it takes a few hours or a few years, it will grow on you too.
There we go! There’s my top ten albums of 2016. Here are some artists who deserve honourable mentions:
A Tribe Called Quest (RIP Phife), Opeth, Childish Gambino, Issues, Periphery, David Bowie (RIP), Animals As Leaders, Katatonia, Killswitch Engage, Plini. Dance Gavin Dance, Architects and Tremonti.