2016 has been a year full of twists and turns in the music industry, we have had soaring highs and plunging lows, we have seen comeback kids and new kids on the block (not literally) bless us with releases and as a result it has been a fruitful 12 months of high-quality music. Last year I did one of these year in review posts for hip-hop, mainly due to the massive push the genre had, but seeing as it has now become a major fabric of the industry and is probably the number one genre, I figured I would incorporate all walks of musical life in this year’s one. So kick back, relax, and let us reflect on a crazy year in the musical sphere.
January 2016 started full of expectation and excitement, mainly through the return of pop icon David Bowie and his new album ‘Blackstar’; little did we know that this would be a parting gift from the Starman as he would pass away two days after it’s unveiling after a long battle with cancer, something he kept secret from us all in order to keep us all positive. This meant that the month of January became immensely reflective, looking back at our favourite Bowie tracks or albums, wondering how this man wasn’t immortal. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as we in fact were given some big releases in this month. Anderson .Paak released his debut album ‘Malibu’ which was immensely well received and has since gone on to be nominated for a Grammy and deservedly so. Another huge name release was Rihanna who brought out ‘ANTI’ and many enjoyed it, I did not but who am I to judge a woman of Rihanna’s stature and calibre? Sia also brought out ‘This Is Acting’ in January and has enjoyed a lot of success as a result, becoming a regular in the charts and being granted a top five place in Spotify’s most played artists of 2016 list.
Kanye released ‘Real Friends’ and ‘No More Parties In LA’ in the build up to his latest album and they were stunning, giving us hope that Yeezy would once again deliver with a top draw album. Panic! At The Disco were now a one man band in Brendon Urie but that didn’t stop him releasing a very good project in ‘Death Of A Bachelor’ which is a front-runner to win Best Rock Album at the Grammys. Zayn Malik released his eagerly awaited ssong ‘Pillowtalk’ and it was a huge success, with non-1D fans taking notice of his R&B roots, while Drake continued his fast paced releases by giving us ‘Summer Sixteen’ which did what it said on the tin, it set us up for a Drake dominated summer.
- High point: Anderson .Paak’s debut
- Low point: Bowie’s death
We were finally given Kanye West’s album, after three name changes it was now called ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and it was a wonderful treat to finally be given after such an eager wait. Future also released a new project in ‘EVOL’ less than a year after his widely successful album ‘DS2’ and it contained huge club bangers including a spicy hit with The Weeknd. Sticking with hip-hop, the controversial Macklemore & Ryan Lewis followed up their Grammy award winning debut album with the sophomore release ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ where he explained the controversy of beating Kendrick to the award at the Grammy’s as well as his struggles with fatherhood and his strong beliefs on black oppression. The 1975 gave us their second album and it is easily the weirdest and most self-indulging title you will hear all year (‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware’), cringe. The album actually wasn’t half bad in fairness and it helped them break America, as well as winning the not-so-prestigious Album Of The Year award from NME.
Critic’s Choice winner at the BRITs Jack Garratt released his debut album and proved why he is the literal example of an Ed Sheeran-Disclosure love child with this pulsating electronic love album, one of the highlights of the year in my opinion. There were also releases for Young Thug, BJ The Chicago Kid and Majid Jordan, all of which you could say were underwhelming given the hype surrounding them. A little known Australian group called DMA’s released their debut album ‘Hills End’ in February and initially it was tucked under the carpet and it wasn’t until later in the year people realised how good an album it was. February also became the month where chart music took a turn, with acts like Fifth Harmony and The Chainsmokers becoming headline news, never a nice thing to witness.
Another crashing low hit us in February, with the devastating news that young Warrington group Viola Beach, who had played at the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds in 2015, died in a car crash in Sweden after a gig. The boys were going on to fantastic things and as you will see later, would have been proud of how their album went when it was released. A week after the crash, ‘Swings & Waterslides’ entered the charts at number 11.
- High point: Kanye’s album
- Low point: Viola Beach’s death
Kendrick Lamar stunned us with a new project completely out of the blue, but quickly after seeing the title ‘Untitled Unmastered’ it was apparent to see that this was a B-side project, it was still fantastic though and it is always great hearing new Kendrick songs. Denzel Curry released his debut album ‘Imperial’ which was eagerly anticipated after his breakout hit ‘Ultimate’ which has now become the sound track to the Bottle flip challenge. Young Thug released ‘Slime Season 3’ and it was great, probably my favourite Thugger project to date as he used his typical insanity to create eight trap bangers. XXL Freshman Lil Yachty released his debut mixtape ‘Lil Boat’ and it was one of the best releases of the year in hip-hop thanks to hits like ‘One Night’, he soon became a loveable character with his infectious personality. Kano brought out ‘Made In The Manor’ and made people sit up and notice that maybe it isn’t just about Skepta and Stormzy in the grime genre. Finally, Flatbush Zombies announced themselves in a big way with bouncing album ‘3001: A Laced Odyssey’ which gained them a very big boost in fanbase.
Outside of rap, we had a lot of returning heroes in the month of March, with Iggy Pop teaming up with Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders in his new album ‘Post Pop Despression’ which was very well received indeed. As well as Iggy Pop we had Scottish Britpop outfit Primal Scream return with ‘Chaosmosis’, an album which was a bit of a dud sadly. The Coral rose from the ashes and released a decent album with ‘Distance Inbetween’, but it wasn’t just about the oldies as Zayn Malik brought his long-awaited debut album out ‘Mind Of Mine’ and many people have forgotten it exists, that is all I shall say on the matter.
- High point: Kendrick Lamar’s shock drop
- Low point: Zayn Malik’s huge flop
Another 2016 month, another tragic loss in the industry. This time, American pop icon Prince was taken from us suddenly on April 21st after a swift deterioration of health. Much like the death of Bowie, people were reflecting on the career of Prince and would play his biggest hits as a homage to his legacy. This was the tip of an hugely eventful month, where arguably the two biggest names in music released new albums, Drake and Beyonce. Beyonce’s became headline news as she made it Tidal exclusive and has kept it that way to this day, while Drake’s was accessible to all and it broke records, going platinum in one week and having every single track feature in Billboard’s Hot 100.
Weezer came back with an eponymous album and it was as well thought of as their debut some two decades earlier. Alex Turner joined up with his old pal Miles Kane and as a result, The Last Shadow Puppets were reborn and they released their second album ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ which I really enjoyed, as did many others. Lukas Graham’s debut album came out and went down well after their breakout hit ‘7 Years’ which has been widely award nominated. In terms of singles we were gifted two of the best songs of the year courtesy of Drake (One Dance) and D.R.A.M. (Broccoli) which have only gone on to get better as time goes on.
- High point: Beyonce being Beyonce
- Low point: Prince’s death
In terms of quality, you will do well to find a better month for albums than May, with three of my top 10 albums of the year coming out in this month alone. The first of which to be released was Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ which has been regarded as one of the most important British albums in a decade and has gone on to win the Mercury Prize, not bad for a lad from North London. Two days later Radiohead released ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and it was biblical, my review describes it as more than music and I stand by it, the album is a religious experience and one which I am eternally grateful for. Third up was Chance The Rapper’s third mixtape ‘Coloring Book’ which was better than anyone could have hoped for and it really took some beating this year, with most major news outlets rating it very high in their end of year lists. Big things ahead for Chicago’s new hip-hop prodigal son.
As well as these three, we had Canadian producer KAYTRANADA’s debut album ‘99.9%’ with big features including Anderson .Paak and Craig David and it was fantastic, taking the genre in a new direction and making the future very bright indeed. Flume also did major things for the electronic genre with his debit album ‘Skin’ which was one I enjoyed massively. James Blake released ‘The Colour In Anything’ and it was everything we have come to expect in a James Blake project, a very moody but harmonic anthem and I enjoyed it. Pop releases came from Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor and they were as painful as they sound, with Meghan Trainor being a major contender for the worst album of the year. Speaking of shoddy albums, Catfish & The Bottlemen blesses us with a half-arsed, lazy project that was exactly the same as their debut just worse, glad we have cleared that up.
I couldn’t talk about May without mentioning the triumphant returns we had, with Richard Ashcroft releasing his album ‘These People’ and pleasing plenty of people with his typically solid sounding acoustic tracks. As well as Ashcroft, Manchester heroes The Stone Roses released their first song in over 20 years with ‘All For One’ and although it wasn’t mind-blowing, it was great to hear new sounds coming from them.
- High point: High quality albums (Radiohead, Chance, Skepta)
- Low point: Catfish’s brainless release
June was an up and down month in terms of releases, with plenty of strong projects coming out but also plenty of disappointing ones too. One of my favourite bands The Strokes returned this month with a snippet of what could be to come in the form of the ‘Future Present Past’ EP which contained three new songs and a remix. The songs have grown on me but they are hardly classics and the same can be said for the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album ‘The Getaway’ which had so much promise with the release of lead single ‘Dark Necessities’ but all in all it was an inconsistent piece of work. Taking the prize for the biggest flop of the month was Desiigner, who’s mixtape ‘New English’ was diabolical outside of the singles, it was just so lazy and thrown together.
There were very good releases, however, such as Vic Mensa’s ‘There’s Alot Going On’ EP which came out following the mass police shooting in Chicago and the statement it announced was huge, it was also very good and showed Vic to be an immensely talented artist. Compton rapper YG also shocked us all with his fantastic release ‘Still Brazy’ which was a West Coast delight in the modern day. Jake Bugg’s ‘On My One’ album didn’t do necessarily well with critical acclaim and I don’t understand why, I think it was fantastic. Last but not least big shouts to Paul Simon who is still going strong releasing albums as he did in June.
- High point: YG becoming a serious rapper
- Low point: Desiigner’s embarrassment
We were hip-hop heavy in July, with some of the other big hitters taking a back seat while lesser known artists made a name for themselves with immense projects. No more so than female Chicago rapper Noname, who’s album ‘Telefone’ was one of my favourites of the year with that feel-good vibe oozing out of it, Logic also released a huge mixtape in ‘Bobby Tarantino’ which confirmed his place as the best of the underground rappers. There were some big names who dropped this month too, most notably so are DJ Khaled with ‘Major Key’ and ScHoolboy Q with ‘Blank Face LP’ and of the two, ScHoolboy easily had the better project despite Khaled’s stacked feature list of rap’s biggest names. 21 Savage released ‘Savage Mode’ with Metro Boomin and raised a few eyebrows with his abrasive rap style but plenty of people enjoyed it too. Gucci Mane announced his release from jail with a new album and despite a couple of shining lights, it was fairly underwhelming.
It wasn’t all about rapping in July, legendary punk-rock band Blink-182 released their first album without lead singer Tom DeLonge in ‘California’ and it was…. DREADFUL. On the other hand, Biffy Clyro released ‘Ellipsis’ and that was a return to form for the Scottish rockers. We also heard Viola Beach’s post-humous self-titled album and it was great, an absolute tragedy that these boys were taken so early. Good will prevailed when the album made it to number one in the album charts and the boys were given the send off they deserve. On the singles front, Major Lazer took the cake with his hit ‘Cold Water’ with MO and Justin Bieber.
- High point: Viola Beach’s number 1
- Low point: Blink-182’s travesty of an album
They should rename this month to ‘Frank Ocean month’ because he was all people spoke about in August. The album was taking it’s time and we were wondering if we were ever going to get it, then bang, that crazy weekend. TWO ALBUMS. ‘Endless’ was followed by ‘Blond’ a day later and we were eternally peaceful, Frank was alive and well and was giving us these two pieces of art. ‘Blond’ is album of the year, hands down, by the way. Other things did happen, however, both Vince Staples and Young Thug released projects that were well received and set them up nicely for the future. Rae Sremmurd brought us ‘SremmLife 2’ and thus the anthem of the Mannequin challenge, ‘Black Beatles’, a song which surely even they weren’t expecting to take off like it did. We were also treated to PARTYNEXTDOOR’s new album, but it turned out to be less of a treat and more of a criminal offence.
Blossoms released one of the biggest buzz albums of the year in their eponymous debut and it didn’t disappoint, cementing their place as one of the stand-outs of new-age indie music, while we also saw unexpected returns from Bon Iver and Green Day, both of whom released incredibly sub-par singles and left us all dreading their albums (rightfully so as you will find out). Speaking of dread, Crystal Castles brought a new project out and it takes you to dark places you didn’t think existed, and not in an experimental musical way at all, it is just appalling and the absence of Alice Glass is being felt more than ever for the progressive trance group. If dull pop vibes are your bag, then you’ll love the new Britney Spears and Carly Rae Jepsen projects released this year, I don’t but that doesn’t mean you won’t either. Quick mention of Tory Lanez’s sub-par record too, must do better.
- High point: Frank Ocean being alive
- Low point: Bon Iver and Green Day damaging their reps
September was a very busy month for us music connoisseurs as so many big names released big albums and for the most part they were big hits, particularly the likes of Solange (Beyonce’s sister), Angel Olsen and Usher who all did good jobs on their work. The stand outs of the month, though, were rappers; which will come as no surprise when you hear the albums released this month. Right at the start of the month we had my Houston man Travis Scott releasing his ‘Rodeo’ follow-up, bizarrely titled ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’ and it was brilliant, as expected. It wasn’t ‘Rodeo’ but you can hardly blame him for falling short of one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade, especially if he isn’t falling that far short with it. We then had Isaiah Rashad of Top Dawg Entertainment release his album ‘The Sun’s Tirade’ on the same day and it was just as good, if not better, than Travis’. He took the crown of the best TDE project of the year and that is a huge accomplishment in itself. Mac Miller returned later in the month with ‘The Divine Feminine’ and tried his hand at the new wave of funk rap and it turned out to be a success but all of these were trumped by borderline psychopath Danny Brown in his new album ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and to say it is unorthodox would be the understatement of the century. This album is bonkers, the whole thing is just an unveiling of his inner demons displayed in a crazed serial killer fashion and I love it.
Let’s not forget about the comeback singles of R&B’s king The Weeknd, who teamed with Daft Punk on his track ‘Starboy’ and it shot to number one, he was well and truly back. ‘False Alarm’ was and still is woeful, though. Another chart hero returned this month, none other than Lady Gaga who bounced back with authority in her comeback track ‘Perfect Illusion’ where she is seen strutting her stuff with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker in the music video, cool as anything I have seen all year. Bastille had the difficult task of following up their huge debut album ‘Bad Blood’ and it went exactly how I expected; an inconsistent project which was inept of a set theme or image, a real transition phase for the London boys. We also saw Jamie T continue his comeback with his fourth album ‘Trick’ and it went down a storm, with lots of people enjoying his latest direction and rekindling the love they first found for him. As well as Jamie T, we also saw Nick Cave make a return with his new album ‘Skeleton Tree’ and although I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, the album was immensely well praised. Is that because it is Nick Cave and he can do no wrong in the eyes of NME? I’ll let you decide…
- High point: Hip-hop’s domination thanks to Danny, Mac and Travis
- Low point: Bastille’s flop follow-up
HOLD THE PHONE, STOP THE CLOCKS, PAY ATTENTION. MICHAEL BUBLE RELEASED AN ALBUM THAT HAD NO INVOLVEMENT WITH CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER 2016. That was always going to be the headline of this month which was relatively quiet in all honesty, perhaps because we all needed a detox from last month’s stack of releases. In all seriousness, however, we did have some big name releases this month, most notably so from Lady Gaga, who’s album ‘Joanne’ went completely full circle from her previous albums and was far more stripped back than we would have expected from such an eccentric artist and personality. It was pretty good as well but not my favourite Gaga release. Green Day and Tove Lo had a battle to see who could release the biggest heap of tosh this month as ‘Revolution Radio’ became Green Day’s worst work to date and ‘Lady Wood’ was as pathetic as it sounds from Tove Lo, an artist who I have enjoyed in previous years but no longer. There was also a late runner for the worst album of the year on behalf of Manchester faithfuls The Courteeners, who manage to blow us away in all the wrong ways with ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’, sporting some of the worst and unoriginal sounds of the year, such a shame to see a band like that fall so dramatically.
It is difficult to not get negative about this month when the shoddy releases just kept on coming. Meek Mill’s ‘DC4’ and A$AP Mob’s ‘Cozy Tapes Vol. 1 – Friends’ were a big snooze-fest bar stand out singles coming from them both, which actually contain guest verses that are the highlight of the album, never good. Sum 41 and Kaiser Chiefs made my head explode thanks to mind-numbingly bad releases and Two Door Cinema Club’s comeback album wasn’t much better. Okay, I am giving you the impression that nothing good came from October, but actually there were one or two highlights. Kings Of Leon came back with their seventh album ‘WALLS’ and it was one of my favourites of the year from one of my favourite bands. As well as that we had a good release from XXL Freshman rapper D.R.A.M. which contained ‘Brocolli’ featuring Lil Yachty of course. Leonard Cohen released a surprise album and it soon became apparent as to why he did so.
- High point: Kings Of Leon’s new sound
- Low point: Where do I start?
It’d been quite a while since we lost Prince and there was faith that in terms of musical legends we were safe for the rest of the year; how wrong we would be as Leonard Cohen died in the month of November, less than a month after his final album release, suggesting that he had done what Bowie did and given us a parting gift. Despite the tragedy of this news, we were given a big piece of positivity courtesy of A Tribe Called Quest and their first album in almost 20 years with ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 The Service’. It was like they never left and a fitting tribute to the late member Phife Dawg, providing something he would’ve been very proud of. Their album was somewhat overshadowed, however, by the release of The Weeknd’s album ‘Starboy’ which confirmed all of our suspicions that he could be the modern answer to Michael Jackson, providing soul and attitude over stunning instrumentals. We also had the release of another man who has been related to MJ, and that is Bruno Mars, who brought out ’24k Magic’ out as an album in this month and I enjoyed it, seeing it make my top 50 albums of the year.
Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy every album put out this year, mainly because Metallica brought one out too. Now I find Metallica insufferable at the best of times, but at least their old music produced technically good songs, this is just poor from top to bottom. My favourites in the entire world, The Chainsmokers, released the best album I have ever heard in my entire life and ever will here in my entire life with their ‘Collage’ EP (please recognise this as sarcasm because it is, the EP made me physically ill). Little Mix brought out a new album and you’ll be shocked to hear that it sounds like every other girl band ever, oh wait no you won’t. On a lighter note we had singles from The xx and Run The Jewels which were really really good.
- High point: A Tribe Called Quest’s smash return
- Low point: Leonard Cohen’s passing (The Chainsmokers can count themselves lucky here)
And here we have it, the final month of 2016 and this is right up there with my favourites, mainly due to the fact that some of my favourite artists waited until the burning embers of the year to release their music and it was some of the best we have heard all year. I’ll run you through some of the names now: Childish Gambino’s stunning “Awaken, My Love!” which boasted the most passion and soul since James Brown’s prime, Post Malone’s ‘Stoney’ which was everything we wanted and a lot more as Post sounded like a grittier version of Bieber behind hard beats. J Cole stunned the world with his return and ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ has got better and better each time I hear it, would probably push my top 10 of the year now. The Rolling Stones sounded fresh and 40 years younger on blues cover album ‘Blue & Lonesome’ while Kid Cudi was rejuvinated and beyond his dark days of ‘Speedin Bullet’ with his new album ‘Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’. ‘Run The Jewels 3’ was the best Christmas present any of us could ask for and Peter Doherty waved his poetic wand and sounded like a musical George Orwell in ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’.
I’m still not done, by the way. Gucci Mane changed my opinion on him with his hilarious titled banger album ‘The Return Of East Atlanta Santa’ and Ab-Soul proved he isn’t a weak link amongst the Top Dawg giants with his hard-hitting album ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. Jeremih and Chance The Rapper brought out a joint festive mixtape called ‘Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama’ and it was as heart-warming and classy as it sounds. There were only one or two poor showings in this stacked month and one of them is a single from Yung Lean, ‘Frost God’ is just strange but not experimental at all. That is just about all I can see in terms of negatives for this month, not bad going that and it was clear these artists wanted us all to have the merriest of Christmases.
There we are thinking this musical Christmas is perfect, and then we find out it was George Michael’s Last Christmas on this planet before a peaceful passing at his home. Listening to Wham with your pigs in blankets or listening to Club Tropicana snapping your fingers will never be the same again. A truly devastating passing to end a horror show of a year in terms of musical icons proving they too are human beings.
- High point: Every man and his dog brought out a banging album
- Low point: Yung Lean made me a sad boi and not in a good way 😦 but seriously it’s probably George Michael dying
So there you are, a crazy year full of loss, love and bangers. If 2017 can emulate the headlines and the quality of music created in 2016, I will be a very surprised person. Just for the love of god don’t take any more icons, I’m looking at you Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and most importantly, Rick Astley.