2016 may be the year in history many of us will wish to be scrapped from the books. The year brought some some bizarre twists in political climates, the deaths of too many musical legends, and more memes that we could poke a stick at, however, in the midst of all this uncertainty in the world, one thing is for certain - we had some killer albums. So here we’ve compiled the Rug Lane Top 10 Albums of 2016 - those albums that gave us the warm and fuzzys, the ones that made us cry, the ones we couldn’t help but sing along to and those we just couldn’t take off repeat.
To start with, the album that just fell short of our top ten list...
Honorable Mention: ANHONI- Hopelessness
Anhoni (formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons) has been making music for nearly 20 years and Hopelessness, her latest piece, is no different to the standard heartbreaking, gut wrenching and soul crushing songs we know her for, but in saying that, half this album I got, the other half I just couldn't quite get into. I’ve always been a fan of her work but felt there were some tracks in here that were too far from what I love about her. Hopelessness is a clear sound digression from her earlier works and somewhat experimental with more of an electronic tuning to it. It’s got a powerful personal interpretation of the collapse of the American Dream (“Execution”), Big Brother surveillance (“Watch Me”) and drone climate (“Drone Bomb Me”). Clearly a time of change for her - new alias, new tunes, new era. She has put something out that is edgy and brave as always but I’d be interested in what she has next.
10. Julia Jacklin - Don’t Let The Kids Win
If the Virgin Suicides and Juno had a baby in musical form it would be Julia Jacklin’s debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win. Citing Angel Olsen as a big influence, she’s developed a sound that’s Sharon Van Etten’s poetry meets country pop and has produced a beautifully polished, smooth and wistful album. Somewhat of a ‘quarter life crisis album’, songs like “Coming of Age” with the line “I didn’t see it coming, my coming of age” capture that youth, times of questioning and growing up so prevalent throughout the record. A good intro to her stuff is the song “Small Talk”, with her semi love letter to Zach Braff - as a fatherly figure.
Highlights: "LA DREAM" and "Same Airport, Different Man".
9. The Kills- Ash and ICE
It’s been 4 years since their last album but The Kills, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, joined forces again this year to get back in the saddle per se. Ash & Ice, released in June, is a good ‘comeback’ album for a band that weren’t calling it any sort of comeback. These two are undoubtedly my favourite male/ female duo with their grit and energy and they just ooze this sexiness in their music. They had a break yes, did their own thing for a while (Hince married... and divorced supermodel Kate Moss) but the new album is still straight up and raw just as we’ve come to expect from these guys. It’s a little less edgy with a slightly slower tempo than the earlier works but it still has those punchy lyrics and smooth guitar riffs.
Highlights: "Heart of a Dog" and "That Love"
8. Angel Olsen - My Woman
My Woman, Olson’s fourth solo album, is very much an insight into her thought process as she dissects love and all it means to her to be in love, be hurt, be a woman and be yourself. It’s like you’re in her head as one thing clicks and another piece of life’s puzzle is solved. She has these great one liners and words of wisdom as she tries to figure life out. She is searching for ways to find yourself and what we mean in the grand concept of love. It’s more adventurous than her previous releases and less folky than what she made a name for herself as but it’s a fantastic album well worth picking up and playing on rotation.
Highlights: "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and "Heart Shaped Face"
7. Solange - A Seat at the Table
A Seat At The Table, the third full length album by Solange Knowles couldn’t have come out at a better time. Surfacing just a month before the election, in a year that’s seen more innocent lives lost and the black lives matter movement fighting strong, Solange’s album is the perfect collection of emotional stories detailing struggle, realisation and understanding in today’s culture. In a time when these issues should not be issues anymore and these stories should be past not present, A Seat at The Table details insight into the lives of people of colour, not just her own, but from the lives of other men and women too. It’s an album too about the pain and joy of womanhood and she gives voice to all these emotional stories. The thing’s others take for granted are spelt out for the listener and it’s both stunning and moving. A well deserved spot in the top ten albums of this year.
Highlights: "Don’t Touch My Hair" and "F.U.B.U"
6.Blood Orange- Freetown Sounds
There is no doubt that Blood Orange made an impact on the music scene this year with his sophomore album Freetown Sounds. Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, gave us a real and emotional piece with all the funk and groove to be expected from this guy. Like Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Freetown Sounds explores love, race, colour, freedom and what it all means in 2016 - now more relevant than ever.
Hynes uses spoken word to deliver some hard hitting messages and personal insight into racial and sexual injustice. He shows his vulnerability and the listener can see he is trying to come to terms with what it all means today. Hynes depiction of minorities and highlight on what it’s like to be overlooked and unappreciated are as relevant and topical as ever, “My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way … it’s a clapback,” Hynes told Entertainment Weekly in an interview earlier this year.
Highlights: "Best to You" and "Desiree"
5. James Vincent McMorrow - We Move
When I first heard new JVM stuff earlier this year I’ll admit, I just wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t like his classic, acoustic, moody and atmospheric sounds I’d fallen in love with from Post Tropical and Early in the Morning - these new songs were poppy and upbeat... I was, to an extent, turned off and had consciously decided not to bother with his new album. When it came down to it however, I was hooked after one play.
Perfectly put together, We Move has the love, heartbreak, loss and moving on JVM does so well but with the help of Nineteen85 (the mastermind behind some of Drake’s biggest successes), JVM has veered more into an RnB sphere with synths, tempos and layers. He is still witty, romantic and grandiose but with a sharper edge and more clarity. It’s the album he has been working towards and we think he just nailed it!
Highlights: "Rising Water" and "One Thousand Times"
4. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool,Forget Republicans and Democrats the world is really divided between the Radiohead lovers and the haters, with very few teetering on the edge. You’re either in or you’re out it seems and when Radiohead release an album every few years, critics and fans alike seem to all come out of the woodworks ready to battle over their interpretations of the UK lads latest piece. the ninth studio album by Radiohead was no exception to the online raves, scrutiny, debates and essays as people continued to argue over whether or not they are in fact one of the greatest bands in the world.
Yes the new album was different (critics and fans begin battle ready set go!) and yes less cynical than their other works but there is so much beauty in their enlightenment, the vulnerability and openness. It was an experience sitting, listening, concentrating and learning from it and at the end of the day for us, an album that we couldn’t take it off repeat.
Highlights: "Ful Stop" and "True Love Waits"
3. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam- I Had a Dream You Were Mine
Hamilton Leithauser might have had that dream 1000 times but I’ve had a crush on Hamilton Leithauser voice since I was a 14 year old girl listening to the Walkmen on the OC Mixes. Paired with ex-Vampire Weekend multi instrumentalist/producer Rostam Batmanglij, RostHam (their shortened collaboration name) have created I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, a piece that expands musical genres, decades and pop references to become a surprising highlight in this years releases!
Surprising in the sense I didn’t see it coming, but with the The Walkmen calling out an indefinite hiatus and Rostam’s departure from Vampire Weekend earlier this year, the two were able to come together and combine Leithauser’s distinct indie rock vocals with Rostam’s musical creative juices. The album honours both their own pasts, knowing they had to move on “ I’ve been running, I ran out of room” (Sick as A Dog) but trying to keep some part of the door open “Don’t shut me out”.
The album has those roaring range of vocals reflecting on how they ended up where they are, trying to maintain they are still the same beings they always have been “I’ve used the same voice I always have”. They’ve taken the past, made something new and just so goddamn easy!
Highlights: "Sick as a Dog" and "The Morning Stars"
2. Frank Orange- Blonde
Talk about break the internet - Kim K has nothing on Mr Ocean’s year of internet hype. It of course all started about 3 years ago when the guy seemingly dropped off the face of the planet (or at least the media’s watchful eye). No music, barely a word online - no one really knew what the guy was up to or if he was ever going to surface and release anything again. Frank Ocean’s long long long long long….. awaited sophomore album had audiences on the edge of their seats. There were cryptic messages popping up on tumblr, date stamps, names and whispers circling the fan forums - people were trying to work out what the hell was going on.
It is without a doubt that Frank Ocean will make countless top 10 album lists this year and it really is no wonder why when the guy dropped bombshells in August. Oh boy did it drop or what?! A visual album streamed online (Endless), a glossy magazine (Boys Don’t Cry) and Blonde the self released digital album - Ocean really gave it to us!
Blonde, a critically acclaimed masterpiece was a collection of stories, feelings and memories, about his childhood, family life, and romantic relationships. Each song is told from his various internal interpretations - mostly competing narratives and different points of view participating in the same story. “That was my version of collage or bricolage,” he said in his only interview post release with the New York Times. “How we experience memory sometimes, it’s not linear. We’re not telling the stories to ourselves, we know the story, we’re just seeing it in flashes overlaid.” (New York Times, 2016). He talked about wanting “Blonde” and “Endless” to be more autobiographical than his earlier releases. “I wrote ‘Channel Orange’ in two weeks,” he said. “The end product wasn’t always that gritty, real-life depiction of the real struggle that happened” (New York Times, 2016).
Highlights: "Ivy" and "Nights"
1. Bon Iver- 22, A Million
Oh Justin Vernon, how do you do it? You keep coming back and back with these albums that just get trapped in our brains and we have to play them over and over again and try and work out what messages you (aka our god) are trying to send us.
Bon Iver’s wonderful full length third album, 22, A Million, dropped in September. It was undoubtedly a highlight on many people’s calendars, fans were interested to see what was in the works as it had been 5 years since his last release.
Distance would be a bit of an understatement. 22, A Million is even further away from his melodic and lamenting folk sounds from For Emma Forever Ago as Bon Iver, Bon Iver was. His experimentations with synths, auto-tuning and horns on this album show that drive from Vernon to challenge himself and move away from whatever it was that worked on the previous albums. The album is full of hidden messages and it seems Vernon was searching for his own answers to life's mysteries and ending when writing the album. The lyrics, in true Vernon style, are just as confusing and ambiguous as always, but when listening to the album you still feel like you know what he’s trying to make you feel (even though when reading the lyrics they make little sense at all). There is a theme of uncertainty running through the album which moves to that concept of figuring out how to move forward through disorienting times. We think it was brilliant and difficult and if we could, we would inject it into our bodies to pump it through our veins somehow we would just to be able to soak up every inch it. Simply put: It’s beautiful.