Musicandotherthingz Best Album of 2016

Our final and biggest category had a wide spread of votes for all the albums featured on it and this is testament to the closely matched level of excellence from all of our nominees on the long list. This meant a lot of them came close to reaching the top of the voting pile with Childish Gambino’s late addition, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Blood Orange Paul Simon and Frank Ocean all getting close, but not as close as our top three who feature in descending order. 

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (11.11% of the vote)

As Q-Tip suggested, this will be the groups final album and was only recorded because of their anger and dismay at the world around them. Their sixth album was started in secret just after the Paris attacks and completed in November this year at the peak of this dismay. With a long list of collaborations and excellent, diverse production, they were able to produce an album as relevant as ever and a defiant shout of unity amongst a nation and a world that’s tearing itself apart. If that is their final album, it’s an album that will be rated as one of their best. 

2. Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine (18.00%)

Since she’s featured so highly in almost every category she was placed in, you are probably very familiar with all the superlatives attributed to her. She is a magnificent performer, lyricist, vocalist and producer and throughout her debut album, there are no points of weakness. Each song is its own beacon to a particular set of thoughts, set to slick and ambitiously minimalist music or gracefully arranged pieces. The album is bursting with emotion and eccentricity in equal measure and this is perhaps key, for these two traits are often so divorced from each other, yet she winds them together with style and confidence. 

1. David Bowie – Blackstar (22.22%) 

Bowie left a terrifying and wondrous parting gift to the world with Blackstar. It was an album made up of complex fusions, melodies and rhythms as if the creation of a mad scientist of which Bowie must serve as the closest musical equivalent. What’s more intriguing about the album, and this is something not widely picked up on, but it’s his most personal album. Amidst the great characters and stylistic personas of that thread through Bowie’s career, his final album showed him to be just as vulnerable, scared and curious as the rest of us. Amongst all of the seemingly invincible and otherworldly alter-egos, Bowie playing the role of a mere human is perhaps the most powerful character of all. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Single of 2016

There’s been a almost too many rhythmic and hook-laden tracks in 2016 and they cover quite a wide range of genres from the Joyous Electro-Pop of Röyksopp to the reinvigorated, late era Punk Rockers Green Day. The classsic Eighties Pop thrills and undeniably infectious vocals from Tegan and Sara were a popular choice amongst voters as was dark Pop of The Weeknd with Daft Punk. They just missed out on getting into our top three however, which features very familiar and new acts below. 

3. Chance The Rapper – Angels (11.63% of the vote)

This year has been a strong year for Rap and Hip Hop music and nowhere is this more evident than with the success of Chance The Rapper. ‘Angels’ is a song bursting with joy and optimism about his home of Chicago. It is full of soaring brass, steady beats and enthused lyrics with a cool and easy contribution from Saba. 

2. Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar – No More Parties in L.A (21.00%) 

What made this single so popular was hearing someone as egocentric as Kanye getting fed up of the general excess of the party scene around him in Los Angeles which is mighty refreshing, but also a little comedic when his own personal excess is never far from mention. Kendrick Lamar adds context to Kanye’s message as he raps about the culture shock of coming from nothing and being thrusted into a distant and excessive high class society. There is slick use of sampling throughout and this ties the heavy verses together seamlessly.

1. Christine and the Queens – Tilted (30.23%)

‘Tilted’ is about not finding balance in your life, feeling out of place or feeling uneasy with yourself, even dealing with depression. It hardly seems like the appropriate lyrics for a Pop song, but sits this uncomfortable subject matter comfortably into this stylish and refined Pop song. As you’ll find with Christine, she can make so much from so little and she does that again here, with only nudging synths and gentle beats. Not only did she make a great Pop song with these lyrics and small amounts of music, but she made an oddly rhythmic song that has become of one the most popular dance tracks of the year and undoubtedly the most unique. 

Owen Riddle

Musicandotherthingz Best British Act of 2016

For British music, there has been a strong resurgence of legendary artists with Bowie, Radiohead and PJ Harvey all featuring in our list of nominees. Wild Beasts and Bat For Lashes further established themselves with solid albums and both came close to the top three along with Radiohead and their wistful and poignant album. They’re in the long list below and out top three follows them. 

3. The Coral (9.76% of the vote) 

The long standing Merseyside group returned with an accomplished reinvention for their seventh studio album Distance Inbetween. James and Ian Skelly kept it close to home, recording in Liverpool and put together their own brand of British psychedelia, with roots in the classic British psychedelic pioneers of the Sixties. They decided to keep their music close and tight around the traditional instrumentation, focusing their manipulated and wiry sounds instead of gradually fading them out in vast acres of space. They rightly received a great deal of credit for this.

2. Blood Orange (17.00%) 

Dev Hynes is already established as a talented and in demand producer so when he takes centre stage, you can expect some exciting and vibrant music and that’s exactly what he delivered as Blood Orange this year. The album Freetown Sound was a celebration of his own Sierra Leone heritage and a close look at the difference views of heritage between Black Britons and African Americans. Whilst understandably, there has been a lot of anger fuelled music in response to the dangers and controversy faced by African Americans, Hynes often took a more emotional and personal look at the events from his own point of view. From this, he channeled the tragedy of the situation with eloquent vocals, soft production and a fusion of Pop, Soul, Hip Hop and Funk. A masterful work which was astoundingly underrated.

1. David Bowie (54.00%)

Again, it is only fitting that Bowie towers over everyone else with a fifty year legacy as a cultural icon and a symbol of British creativity around the world. Blackstar was beautiful, terrifying and poignant and was a strong response to his comeback album The Next Day which wasn’t universally understood. He created dark, ethereal tones and fused conflicting instrumentation as he’s always done. He often generated alternative, complex melodies and hooks that were so obscure, it took a second or third listen to understand. When you did, the rewards were endless. His ominous lyrics reflected the music and the timing of the release, just days before his passing was eerily just like Bowie; an unpredictable superstar. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Act of 2016

This year we’ve added a popular vote to determine your best act of the year. The list of nominees was compiled from the popular reaction each act received from articles they’ve been featured on. We had a great response from you all so thank you for getting involved! 

David Bowie’s legendary impact both in his death, but also with a wonderfully evocative album in Blackstar. Beyoncé would have featured more widely across the other categories had she made her music more widely available. She had a landmark year with a bold album in Lemonade and bold performances. Christine and the Queens swept on to the scene on the back of huge commercial and critical success in France with thought provoking lyrics and functional music. With well performing singles and a large fan base, The Weeknd fared well in the vote, seeking greater depth in his sound. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Songwriting of 2016

There’s been a lot of content for songwriters to ponder over this year and amongst shocking deaths of icons, social exclusion, war and political upheaval, they’re pretty much all covered by the songwriters in our long list. Mitski and Christine and the Queens delved deep into gender issues and identity whilst Pinegrove offered up an almost quaint and close personal narrative. All came close, but did not crack our top three. 

3. Paul Simon – Wristband (12.20%)

There aren’t many people better at providing a social commentary of America than Paul Simon. He’s been identifying and observing it with every last crumb of detail for over fifty years and it’s only fitting that in 2016 of all years, he was spot on again and producing some of his best work for well over two decades. Here, he takes the small event of him being locked out of his own gig, because he didn’t have a wristband as was required and equates this to American society. A society in which no one has a wristband and no one can get through the door. His words becoming more ominous given how the election played out just a few months later. It was also reassuring to have a legend like Paul Simon firing on all cylinders when so many of his contemporaries were lost. 

2. David Bowie – Lazarus (22.00%) 

There is little else to say other than ‘David Bowie – Lazarus’. It is typical of Bowie to go out in such a way as he almost flaunts and projects all of his fears and reflections of his coming death and the life that he had lived. Again, only Bowie could make death appear to be like a release from the shackles of limited time on earth. This is a strong concept in general, but made even more terrifying and astounding is that less than three days after his final album was released, he had passed. Even in death, Bowie did it in his own unique and bold fashion. 

1. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013 (24.39%)

It shows the measure of Kendrick’s songwriting ability to win this category for the second year in a row and not only that, but do so with an album of throwaway tracks from last years album To Pimp A Butterfly. In a way, he is almost a modern Paul Simon in that his commentary of America is so distinct if not a little more direct in his case. Untitled 03 is a prime example of this as he takes stereotypical advice from all the different peoples that make up everyday American society. In doing so he highlights the diversity, but also the hypocrisy of all of them and how they are at least the same in that sense; each motivated by selfish goals. It almost acts as a commentary of humanity itself which sounds like an ambitious task, but Kendrick just rolled out that task with ease and it still didn’t even make the cut for his album in 2015. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Vocalist of 2016

Since Florence Welch won this category last year, there has been a superb variety of skilled vocalists over the following twelve months who have commanded their songs and their music in a familiar and creative ways. Thom Yorke with his tuneful howl, the defiant and unsettling melody of Jehnny Beth and Angel Olsen’s lax whispers to her deep bellows received a lot of praise through the voting. They all remain in the long list that follows though and the close contest that is the chosen top three is as below.

3. Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate (16.28% of the vote)

The flowing chords and melodies that open this track are perfectly aligned with Michael’s vocals; so effortlessly intermingled and a powerful instrument in their own right. He delivers a lot of disciplined power without much task. Despite the smooth and rich quality to his vocals, which are difficult not to fixate upon, there is a rough edged peak in his sound evokes an earnest and emotive quality to his vocals. Arguably the best British vocalist around at the moment. 

2. Christine and the Queens – Here (18.60%)

Heloise Letissier again demonstrates her versatility with ‘Here’. It is another track with a minimalist arrangement, but also with a relatively modest production; so it is here that her vocals lead the way and dominate the track. In general she has a highly charged energy behind her vocal performance and here she saves it for dramatic flair as she goes from a hushed tone to perfect pop melody and sullen backing vocals. Beyond this, she is also to switch from English to French as if it was perfectly natural which is quite a rarity with modern music. She’s not quite the Queen here though…

1. Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair (20.93%)

Yes, we know. She has a fairly famous sister and a strong Vocalist to boot, but Solange has used 2016 to make her own mark whilst her sister was grabbing the headlines. Her vocals flow through the subtle arrangement with this track, remaining soft edged and intricate. She doesn’t need to raise her voice at all as she channels her lyrics with ease with this delicate tone on its own. The year she maximised upon her talent.

Owen Riddle

Musicandotherthingz Best Newcomer of 2016

For out Newcomers it’s been an exciting year. Some created viral moments, others received established backing and some of them finally got an album out. The exciting new rapping talents of Noname, the imaginative production of Bullion and the virtual one man band that is Jack Garratt all received strong support from out voters but they’re appearing in the following long list with the others. The top three are below and it got very close.

3. Maggie Rogers (17.78% of the vote) 

Millions of people have now seen the moment where an unsure and modest NYU music student plays her track to Pharrell Williams who was teaching a masterclass to the students there. After giving a lot of constructive criticism and technical feedback to the students, up comes Maggie. She explains her story and her struggles in that time and they play her track. The rest is history. Seeing the amazement strike Pharrell and seeing that turn into bewilderment at what he’s hearing whilst she sits, eyes to the floor, blissfully unaware is brilliant to watch and a testament to her talent. She’s heavily influenced by folk music and folk melodies, but she’s enthused these with a dance beat and nudging, delicate production. There is a direct link between the sound she’s creating and the narrative in her lyrics, that together paint a very vivid picture. A breath of fresh air.

2. Sundara Karma (23.33%) 

The Reading Indie rock quartet only just missed out on top spot in what was a rather tense vote. They are not too dissimilar from our winners in many Indie ways, but they ply their sound with a hint of glam rock finesse and attitude. They’ve just released their debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect and it will surely be picked up by teenagers across the country. These will be filling the venues and festivals the band play to and hopefully they’ll be able to go on a creative streak to match their festival and sing-a-long qualities. 

1. Blossoms (24.00%)

We’ve seen this before haven’t we? A bunch of ambitious lads from a Northern town who want to go on an conquer the world. If they follow the right path, then anything is possible for Blossoms. They differ from Sundara Karma in how they try varying degrees of popular rock music and take Pop elements to it as well. With the guiding hand of James Skelly as their producer, they’ve managed to put out brilliant singles and tracks destined for commercial success. They’ve got the hooks and the pop lyrics and with that it’s up to them where they take it from there. 

Owen Riddle

Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

The time has come. After what feels like a million years of Bruno drought, listening to ‘Treasure’ on repeat and praying for new music, the Great Bruno Mars Depression is over. He’s back. Bruno Mars, the World Record holder for Smallest Human Being to Ever Grace Our Planet (probably, not 100% sure but, like, if it’s anyone it’s him) has #blessed us with 33 minutes and 28 seconds of pure liquid gold in the form of new album ‘24K Magic’. And, let me tell you, it’s GOOD. Possibly the best thing to come out of Bruno Mars’ existence since that photo of him looking like an actual gremlin stood next to Taylor Swift, even.The album opens with title track ‘24K Magic’. A banger. Arguably the most bangingest banger to have ever banged. We have reached peak banger. Nothing will ever bang this hard again. Music is cancelled forever because Bruno Mars has won. Never before did I imagine the phrase “PUT YOUR PINKY FINGER TO THE MOOON” could mean so much to me, but here I am, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, smiling through the tears and throwing my little finger up to the heavens as a symbol of pure exultation. #Blessed.

There’s lots of other great tracks in there too. Not, like 24K Magic level good (obviously, because nothing is or ever will be ever again), but still very good. Namely ‘Perm’, which is essentially three and a half minutes of Bruno being That Guy on a night out who keeps trying to buy you blue WKDs on the two-for-a-fiver deal at Yates and grinding on you when he thinks you won’t notice, but over a banging instrumental so I guess it’s kind of forgivable, maybe? ‘That’s What I Like’ and penultimate track ‘Finesse’ are also worth mentioning- smooth, seductive, groovy, but also still banging- a balance that I strive to achieve in all areas of my life.

Obviously there’s the token slow songs on there, with ‘Calling All My Lovelies’, essentially a year 7 MSN break-up in song form and ‘Too Good to Say Goodbye’, accurately summing up how I feel about this album ending, bringing the album to a close. They’re OK. I guess Bruno was understandably tired from pumping out banger after banger by this point. I still throw my pinky finger to the moon to these, but in a reserved and respectful manner. It’s what Bruno would have wanted.

Seriously though, this album bangs. Hard. More than words can accurately express. If you do anything today, listen to this album, dance around your room to it, and throw Bruno a pinky finger salute while you do so.

 Bruno Mars – 24K Magic = 8/10 

Katie Hayes

Single Review – Ryan Adams – Do You Still Love Me?

Ryan Adams has made it clear what the inspiration behind his sixteenth studio album was; his divorce. Now the album title of Prisoner is more pointed and the release date on the next release date after Valentines Day becomes a feature of what will seemingly be an emotionally charged album. If that wasn’t proof enough, then the lead single ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ hammers the message home. The oscillating organs that open the track are the foundation for punching riffs and Ryan’s rough-edged vocals. Musically, the song has a late 1980’s stadium rock feel to it, almost like his near namesake Bryan Adams. The dramatics are taken to another level with a tearing guitar solo from which the power of the track extends. Ryan Adams has never been one to experiment with new sounds, but here he really delivers the style better than anyone else and with a deep lyrical content. Should make for an interesting album at least.

Owen Riddle 

Single Review – The Orwells – Double Feature

The Chicago quintet The Orwells are to release their third studio album Terrible Human Beings on February 17th and though there will be a lot of hipster hype in their exclusive press circles, especially at this time of year when new releases dry up, it’s safe to assume they won’t deliver on that hype. It would be worth giving them a shot, but if the current single releases have taught us anything, it’s that they’re still a band of impersonators or an American Catfish and the Bottlemen. ‘Double Feature’ echoes this still with their current sound featuring Kings of Leon and The Strokes with some Grunge dressing. Not only this, but the transition between these familiar parts is awkward to boot. The lyrics offer us more ‘hot chicks’, fast cars and high school drama that is tiresome and may only find appeal amongst teenagers from Bath wanting to escape their British middle class nightmare and escape into this all American parody. 

Owen Riddle