Best albums of 2016: 50 to 41

This year’s albums of the year round-up kicks off with R&B hot sauce, fuzzy garage rock, smooth jazz and hypnotic 80s-influenced pop. Here we go…

50. Exmagician – Scan the Blue
49. Daughter – Not to Disappear
48. Rihanna – Anti
47. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
46. Katy B – Honey
45. Hinds – Leave Me Alone
44. Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley
43. Kaytranada – 99.9%
42. Boulevards – Groove!
41. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

See my entire albums of 2016 series.

50. Exmagician – Scan the Blue
My view: “Danny Todd and James Smith are Exmagician, two members of the band formerly known as Cashier No 9, who released the stupendous – though mostly overlooked – To the Death of Fun in 2011. The sound is heavier this time: less folk, more rock… Nothing on Scan the Blue achieves the rapturous weightlessness the band has achieved before, but the soft rock songs that exist are still captivating (‘Place Your Bets’, ‘Feet Don’t Fail’). Breaking away from the cinematic strings and the pearly folk of their previous work, Scan the Blue is a reset. Though it doesn’t reach sky-high sensations, it is an album of galvanising flavours.”

49. Daughter – Not to Disappear
My view: “There’s an element of the Savages defiant female energy to Daughter’s second album. Elena Tonra’s stories of bad sex (‘No Care’) with a lover she’d rather replace with a pet than spend another night with (‘Alone / With You’) will be uncomfortable for some, cathartic for others – even with her gentle, languid vocals that bear similarity to Romy Madley Croft of The xx. Sparse guitars, a la London Grammar, and propulsive, mesmeric folk sounds were the bedrock of Daughter’s first album, and that’s no different here, with the grand ‘Fossa’ and ethereal ‘How’ delivering rhythmic highs. Tormented and moody though it is, Tonra makes her bid to escape an affecting one.”

48. Rihanna – Anti
My view: “‘Work’ is a standout track, but it is a stylistic outlier here. The rest of the album is heavily influenced by trap (‘Desperado’) and the music of younger R&B stars, such as SZA, who appears on the dark, psych opener ‘Consideration’. Parts of Anti do feel forced, like the phoned-in folk of ‘Never Ending’ and the bland ‘Love on the Brain’. Still, on the whole, Anti is a strong attempt by the Barbadian pop queen to sidestep into a realm that SZA, Tinashe and Jhené Aiko have had on lockdown.”

47. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
My view: “An album like Yes Lawd! does not come around every year. It’s a collaboration between Anderson Paak and Knxwledge, two tirelessly creative musicians. Whether it’s a sprinkling of Gil Scott-Heron (‘Suede’) or a dab of Ahmad Jamal (‘Wngs’), all of Knxwledge’s productions radiate an energy similar to that of Prince Paul, Madlib and J Dilla. Meanwhile, Paak delivers a bite-sized history of a smooth-talking love machine (‘Best One’, ‘Get Bigger’, ‘Sidepiece’)… With its stacks of rare grooves and sexy soul, Yes Lawd! feels destine to join the ranks of classic collab’ projects that every R&B fan should hear.”

46. Katy B – Honey
My view: “The premise for Honey is straightforward: Katy got together with a who’s who of producers – including Kaytranada (‘Honey’), JD Reid (‘Chase Me’), Four Tet and Floating Points (‘Calm Down’), and Hannah Wants (‘Dreamers’) to name but a few – and magic ensued. Songs range from fast-paced, reggae-inspired pop to brooding electronica. There is a strong sense of Honey being more of a pick ‘n’ mix for the Spotify era than a collection of music you’ll want to listen to from start to finish. Still, the pop hooks and rhythms on Honey make it a solid third effort by the UK’s duchess of dance music.”

45. Hinds – Leave Me Alone
My view: “Hinds (fka Deers) are a girl group enthralled by the garage rock of Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall and the Black Lips. Debut album Leave Me Alone is more fuzz than punk rock originality at times… However, the girls are at their best when their mischievous take on the lives of young adults and their Mac DeMarco-inspired melodies gel with their lo-fi thrashing (‘Easy’) and surf-psych (‘Solar Gap’). Listening to Hinds is akin to hearing a bunch of friends at play – for better and for worse… yet the DIY charm and buoyant optimism of these girls is tough to shake.”

44. Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley
My view: “If it’s safety and reassurance you’re after, then it’s hard to think of a voice safer or more reassuring than Porter’s deep, oaken timbre. He tells eloquent tales of how his heart was stolen by ‘More Than a Woman’, of a kind-hearted king who seeks to befriend and pardon the afflicted ones (‘Take Me to the Alley’), and he has the male response to Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love is a Losing Game’ in ‘Insanity’ – and also manages to knock you sideways with his bellows as he does so. Though this trip to the alley illuminates few unexpected details, there’s still comfort to be found ruminating to its wholesome sounds.”

43. Kaytranada – 99.9%
My view: “Kaytranada’s instrumental beds are lush and psychedelic. It’s all warped soul (‘Track Uno’), dizzying, up-tempo electro (‘Breakdance Lesson N.1’) and jazzy percussion (‘Despite the Weather’) that brings the work of People Under the Stairs’s Thes One, Jnerio Jarel and Tall Black Guy to mind… Listening to 99.9%, it’s clear to see why Kaytranada has been in such demand: his music blends rare grooves with the wild psych that we’ve all fallen for so hard this decade. His debut doesn’t have the polished sheen of albums by, say, Tall Black Guy or Disclosure, but it is nevertheless one of this year’s sharpest electronic releases.”

42. Boulevards – Groove!
My view: “Boulevards isn’t out to rewrite the rulebook with Groove! This is an out-and-out funk album all about getting up on the dance floor (‘Move & Shout’), before getting down in the bedroom (‘Tender’). Central to this vibe are the instrumentals: a selection of charged 70s- and 80s-style funk jams – in the vein of Prince, Rick James and Chic – that will have you stomping and stepping about at high speed (‘Running Back’), and working up plenty of friction as you do so… Groove! borrows plenty, but, track for track, Boulevards’s debut out freaks many modern pop excuses for funk with songs that maintain a consistent vibe throughout much of its length.”

41. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
My view: “The Beach Boys’s surf rock meets Duran Duran’s ‘Reflex’, zapped by a passing UFO: that’s the gaudy flair behind ‘Love Me’. And it’s great. The woozy ‘A Change of Heart’ has a melodic allure similar to Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’. Slow jam ‘If I Believe You’ isn’t as deadly as a Frank Ocean joint, but it’s still prime for dance-floor coupling. With ILIWYS, the band have returned with imaginative psychedelia and dream pop songs that are catchy and tongue-in-cheek, but also wonderfully moreish.”

Share your thoughts in the comments section below or via @aarnlee.

See my entire albums of 2016 series.

Images: collage (clockwise from top left) Blue Note/PR; Rinse/Virgin EMI; Westbury Road/Roc Nation/UMG; Dirty Hit/Polydor. Images and photos belong to respective parties

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