5. Rhianne – Anti
Now that Gaga has become a white-bread, Bon Jovi tribute act and Swifty continues to irritate with her parade of PR stunts and no new music, it’s left to Rhianna to prove how it’s done and dominate as pop’s most supreme global pop-star.
‘Work’ is a glorious thing. Anti‘s first single, it was skeletal, springy and spacey and seemed to lack any discernible hook. Its chorus was difficult to decode and seemed initially to be various slurred attempts at pronouncing its title. But gradually its weirdness worked its way into the world’s consciousness and is one of her most enduring singles. ‘Work’ turned out to be one of Anti‘s more accessible songs and the singers eighth album made sense of its general bold oddness and occasional ugliness in a way that rendered it Rhianna’s most heartfelt, cohesive and frequently stunning album yet.
4. Roisin Murphy – Take Her Up to Monto
Monto is a nickname given to the one-time red light district in Dublin and quite what the relevance to this area and Murphy’s brazenly out-there collection of songs, left over from last year’s Hairless Toys sessions, is unclear. Where that album was curvier and had a deceptively gentle demeanour, Take Her Up To Monto is by far a more angular collection which in turn still, thankfully, indulges Roisin’s flirty and humorous tics.
‘Thoughts Wasted’ is her magnum opus, a by-turns sung electro pop, spoken-woke orchestral stream of consciousness which has a surreality that punctuates the majority of her work whilst being touchingly relatable. Roisin Murphy always acts as though she is a far bigger star than she actually is, one day lets hope that this genuine visionary gets the stage she deserves.
3. Mitski – Puberty 2
Mitski’s courageous and brutal fourth album is exceptional on many levels and is also the most fully realised and expansive record that she has put her name to. With a focus on intimacy and personal conflict, Puberty 2 is dark and shocking in its frank attitude but rarely is it depressing or inaccessible due partly to Mitski’s adept sense of humour and also the pop-leaning meticulousness of its absorbing and inventive production. The album is in turn made up of minor and major compositions, brilliant songs that spark up and burn themselves out in 90 seconds and others, like the sarcastic and devastating ‘Your Best American Girl’, that take their time and inhabit a more defined space. Mitski is feminist, punk and not too fucked about being your role model and Puberty 2 is her own searing ode to these confusing times.
2. Beyonce – Lemonade
The first half of Beyoncé’s ludicrously impactful Lemonade is the best pop album you will ever hear, this year or any other preceding it over the last 4 decades or so. The energy, exuberance and quality of the songs, performance and sonic choices are unparalleled within the genre – certainly in 2016. The second half turns a corner, thematically and in musical mood, which renders it less riveting maybe but, by turn, gorgeous and uplifting nonetheless.
Where 2013’s exceptional Beyoncé admittedly had some indulgent sprawl, Lemonade is tight, concise and an exception to the menace of the overly-long and cynical releases offered up by her contemporaries, The Weeknd and Drake this year (18 and 20 songs respectively).
The conceit may be hokey and potentially bogus but the music, so often these days overshadowed by an artist’s brand, is magical and everlasting and Beyoncé continues to be intoxicatingly otherworldly because of it.
1. Anohni – Hopelessness
Tough call, but the reason this isn’t Mitski’s Puberty 2 or Beyonce’s Lemonade is because neither artist captures the intensity, diversity and ingenuity of heartache heard on Anohni’s Hopelessness. That isn’t to say that this is a hard slog, as Anonhi’s first album as a trans artist and without the Johnsons features her most accessible and exciting material to date. Touted initially as a dance record, Hopelessness undoubtably uses densely modern and electronic RnB styles with steely production by Hudson Mohawke and OPN, but sensibly resists the urge to cast Anohni as some fallen disco diva.
Domestic violence, Barack Obama, surveillance culture, climate change and religion are some of the album’s many variations of its title’s state of mind; a contemporary protest album that stands, somewhat shockingly, all alone. Beautiful, haunting, catchy and progressive; Anohni has old school pop star values and she’s never been more radiant.
The 8 best runners up of 2016…
Sad13 – Slugger
Includes the sexual-consent anthem of the year amongst other electro, indie-pop,goodies.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Visceral stings, pin-sharp soundscapes and, of course, crushing paranoia.
Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit
If the unexpectedly thrilling half of this album were matched by its lacklustre remainder then this would be one of the year’s best.
Carly Rae Jepson – Emption Side B
Not an album but if there were and EP Top 5 then this 80s extravaganza and continuation of last year’s essential
would be in it.
Pet Shop Boys – Super
Second in a trilogy of albums produced by electro-pop god Stuart Price, bangers galore.
Agnes Obel Citizen of Glass
The Danish singer hits a consistent high note with her delectable and, on occasion, surprisingly muscular orchestral chamber folk-pop.
Lady hawks – Wild Things
Solid collection of well written songs on the ridiculously underrated Aussie artist’s best album to date.
Exploded View – Exploded View
Dub-wise art pop with deadpan vocals that frequently distorts itself around its all-to-relevant dystopian themes.