Top 5 Albums of 2016, #2

5. Animal Collective — Painting With

Animal Collective’s tenth album is absurd, abstract and avant-garde.  It’s not immediately accessible, if anything the music is disorientating and it can take several listens to wrap your head around the soundscape—which is exactly what you would want from a band that has been pushing the envelope since 2003.

The band have stepped away from using lingering reverb and drawn-out drone.  Their songs are tighter and more self-contained.  The vocal production is not warbled like previous albums instead it sounds crisp and bouncy.  This staccato volley of vocals creates an up-tempo energy which is hypnotic and addictive.

Their song ‘Hocus Pocus’ perfectly sums up their style—music which conjures of feelings of delight and joy.  ‘The Burglars’ features the group’s trademark take on freak folk and psychedelia.  ‘Golden Gal’ changes pace, with the most conventional song structure.

It is by no means their best album, Merriweather Post Pavilion set the bar extraordinarily high, but this album hails a welcome return for the boys from Portland.

For anyone who loves: Dirty Projectors, The Flaming Lips and Xiu Xiu

 

4. Kygo — Cloud Nine

Finally, the Norwegian DJ has released his debut album.  Since his remix of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ hit the internet in 2013 buzz has been steadily building.  It has been worth the wait as during that time Kygo has won over a plethora of fans and secured collaborations with an incredible list of singers.

Known for producing tropical house songs which are unabashedly fun and fruity, Kygo’s album is full of light and shade and proves that he is not gimmicky.  He has a knack for arranging songs which showcase the strengths of each singer; from the sweet lingering highs of Tom Odell’s vocals on ‘Fiction’ to the Matt Corby’s bluesy rasp and scat-singing on ‘Serious’.  Then there’s ‘I’m in Love’ which opens with James Vincent McMorrow’s heart-quickening falsetto.

This album is a definite party starter.

For anyone who loves: Lost Frequencies, Peking Duck, Flume and Rhye

 

3. James Vincent McMorrow — We Move

McMorrow’s third album features a lot of synth and searing honesty.  It is a complete departure from McMorrow’s signature sparse arrangements. Though the songs are incredibly layered they are uncluttered, perhaps because he was guided by the expertise of producer Nighteen85.

The constant thrumming of the Fender Jazz bass in ‘Rising Water’ anchors McMorrow’s soaring vocals and gives the album a distinct R&B feel.  The light yet insistent high-hat in ‘I lie Awake Every Night’ sounds like metronome which extenuates the terrifying unease expressed in his lyrics ‘I descend into weakness/ I’d stop the clock.’  The song is about McMorrow’s battle with an eating disorder which at one point resulted in his weight dropping to 32kg.  Then there’s the absolute joyous handclap in ‘Evil’ which also features an amped up electric guitar riff.

While each song stands alone this album should be listened from start to finish to appreciate the interconnectedness of the lyrics and musical arrangements. While We Move is not a concept album it is a complete and considered work.

For anyone who loves: D.D Dumbo, Volcano Choir, Damien Rice and The Tallest Man on Earth

 

2. Glass Animals — How to be a Human Being

From the opening thrill of chimes, bells and the shake of a tambourine, the Glass Animals’ second album is pulsating with percussion and would persuade even the most reluctant person to get to their feet.  Within moments they will be tapping, twisting and jiving to the quirky rhythms.

The album is complex yet not once does it come across as pretentious, it is an exciting bombastic listen.  The band realised during their world tour of Zaba that people respond to big beats, so the Oxford boys went back into the studio they set about figuring out how to make people get ‘feral’ at their live gigs.  The result is an album that features African drumming on ‘Life Itself’ to clapping sticks on ‘Pork Soda’.  There’s space for slow dances during the album including ‘Take a Slice’which lead singer Dave Bayley deliciously describes as ‘sleaze with guitars’—and the sultry ‘Poplar St’.

The album’s title ties so perfectly into the lyrics.  Each song is from a different fictional protagonist who is struggling with some aspect of their life.   The stark admissions of substance abuse can be missed on the first few listens as the lyrics are enveloped in a blissful swirl of sounds.

For anyone who loves: Miike Snow, Mike Patton, alt-J and Yaesayer

 

1. Agnes Obel — Citizens of Glass

The Berlin-based Danish singer-songwriter, Agnes Obel, keeps to the keys with her third album but instead of just playing the piano she has incorporated the spinet, celeste and harpsichord.  She has even mustered up a Trautonium, an electronic instrument invented in 1929.  The synthesizer produces sawtooth waveforms, which create haunting and truly magnificent moments in the song ‘Stretch Your Eyes’.  The notes ramp up before teetering and seemingly fall off into oblivion.

Obel’s experimental slant covers all facets of the album with Citizens of Glass being her first concept album.  She explained in a recent interview that, “The title comes from the German concept of the gläserner bürger, the human or glass citizen.  It’s actually a legal term about the level of privacy the individual has in a state, and in health it’s become a term about how much we know about a person’s body or biology or history – if they’re completely made of glass we know everything.”

The album opens with the seductive ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ and continues to the heart wrenching ballad ‘It’s Happening Again’.  Obel has layered her voice to create a call and respond affect in ‘Stone’, during which she demonstrates her vocal range which soars with sweetly ethereal soprano highs to a beautifully weighted alto depths.

Obel has constructed a beguiling soundscape with a dark melancholic thread running through the album which is suggestive of a requiem. The music Obel has created is lush and achingly beautiful, it continued to command my attention long after the last song has played.

Next year Obel is doing her first tour outside of Europe, here’s hoping she makes her way to our shores with her collection of antique instruments. Though it’s unlikely she’d bring her Trautonium given its penchant for electrocuting people.

For anyone who loves: Nick Cave, Bat for Lashes, Lykke Li or David Lynch

 

 

 

 

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