Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Remy's Music & Film's Top 20 International Albums 2016

Album of the Year 2016

Info: Another year has rolled around yet again, at the beginning of 2016 I consciously made an effort to listen to a lot more releases than I had in 2015, when I posted a Top 10 International Albums of the Year, hence this list has doubled in size. Thankfully there was no shortage of great new releases and I'm still working my through becoming more familiar with quite a few albums that came out in 2016. I hope you find something new below that you'll enjoy as much as I have, and I've also included another Spotify playlist at the end for convenience. So here's my 20 best International Album releases of 2016 on Remy's Music & Film, enjoy!

20. Maple Syrup - Vacation

Genre: Instrumental Hip-Hop
From: Perm, Russia
Key tracks: It's the whole of all it's parts!

A really great listen from start to finish, across its 17 tracks which last just over 40 minutes, Maple Syrup's Vacation takes you on just that, a trip away from all your troubles, a destination to chill out at and relax with an early 90's hip-hop tinge.

19. Douglas Dare - Aforger

Genre: Singer-Songwriter / Electronic
From: Bridport, England
Key Tracks: Oh Father, New York, Thinking of Him

Initial thoughts on Douglas Dare's Aforger were a mix between a more downtempo Perfume Genius and the electronic minimalism of Ghost Culture. As with many initial feelings, these can quickly fade after repeated listens whilst still dwelling in the background. One or two tracks didn't grab me personally, but of the majority that did, I very much enjoyed them, and I'm still not finished with it yet.

18. Goat - Requiem

Genre: Heavy Psych
From: Gothenburg, Sweden (currently)
Key Tracks: Union of Mind and Soul, Temple Rhythms, All-Seeing Eye

A lot of bands have gone down the road of putting a modern twist on late 60's and early 70's psych-rock over the last three years, but what makes Christian Johansson stand apart is the amalgamation of multiple genres inside the psych sound. It's like a journey through world music, from the Indian sounds of 'Try My Robe', to the bossa nova of 'Temple Rhythms', and the multiple nods to African music, it's altogether a most rewarding listen.

17. Big Gigantic - Brighter Future

Genre: Dubstep
From: Colorodo, United States
Key Tracks: The Little Things, Got The Love, Brighter Future

A bit of a guilty pleasure, but one that is far outstripped by the energetic and unadulterated enjoyment that lies within, as George Michael once titled one of his albums, 'Listen Without Prejudice'! Enjoy.

16. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Genre: Alt-Country
From: Nashville, United States
Key Tracks: Keep It Between The Lines, Sea Stories, In Bloom

Yee-haw! From puzzlement to embrace, it didn't take me long to get into Sturgill's firebrand style of contemporary honky-tonk sounds. Yes, I love the cover of 'In Bloom', and how he inescapably sounds like Elvis, but it's all of the fun that surrounds that more sombre mood that does it for me.

15. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

Genre: Hip-Hop, Rap
From: New York, United States
Key Tracks: Dis Generation, Enough, Conrad Tokyo

Truth be told, A Tribe Called Quest have only ever released great albums, and while We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service might have missed out on some of the authenticity of 90's albums The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, that can be attributed to the passage of time. Their fifth and (perhaps) final album has plenty of high-end quality across its 16 tracks, and I loved pretty much all of it.

14. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens

Genre: Ambient Pop, Deep House
From: New York, United States
Key Tracks: Killing Time, Wildflowers, No

Magic. I absolutely love Nicolas Jaar, and everything he makes seems wrought from the sound of another time and dimension. Last year in a hotel room in Helsinki I finally got around to listening to his Nymphs EP's, headphones on, laying back, and totally escaped, so when Sirens came out I craved a repeat, and opening track 'Killing Light' blew that feeling wide open once again. This album would be a little higher in the list but for the still good, but slight lapse in the middle on 'The Governor' and 'Leaves', in my opinion, still though, magic.

13. Bat for Lashes - The Bride

Genre: Dream Pop
From: London, U.K.
Key Tracks: I Do, Sunday Love, Never Forgive The Angels, If I Knew

First off I haven't spent as much time with The Bride as I should have this year, I bought it as soon as it was released, and enjoyed it, but felt it sounded a bit like an extension of Two Suns, one of my favourite albums of the last ten years (containing one of my favourite tracks ever, 'Daniel'). So impatiently I left it briefly, but that ended up being lengthy, on return I see and hear a lot more. The classic and sparse sound of opener 'I Do' and Khan's Joni moment on 'If I Knew'. I'll look back and feel I should have placed the album higher, but this is where I am right now.

12. Tycho - Epoch

Genre: Downtempo, Indietronica
From: San Francisco, United States
Key Tracks: Glider, Receiver, Field

Any year Scott Hansen releases an album is a good year for me, Epoch was very eagerly awaited in these quarters, and it had all the warmth and familiarity a Tycho fan could wish for. But at times that was maybe a slight problem, the tracks I was most drawn to (aside from opener 'Glider'), were the ones that sounded notably different to 2014's epic LP Awake, and there just wasn't enough of them, still, a great album if you are a fan as I am and the best of both worlds.

11. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

Genre: Psychedelic Soul, Funk, Hip Hop
From: California, United States
Key Tracks: Boogieman, Zombies, Redbone, The Night Me And Your Mama Met

There were so many parts of 2013's Because The Internet I loved, tracks I listened to endlessly, initially as a result of reviewing it for another website at the time, but moreso because I felt it was bone fide hip-pop! Despite that, I did not see this coming, a very late release for 2016, and I'm only at the very early stages of getting to grips with Donald Glover's third album. No doubt this would make my Top 5, I can tell already, but it's a bit too late and I'd only be guessing. The early signs are very positive for me though, there is a huge amount of reinvention happening here and it's all good, oh, and someone's been listening to Funkadelic.

10. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch

Genre: Art-Pop, Indie-Folk
From: Oslo, Norway
Key Tracks: Female Vampire, In The Red, Conceptual Romance, Lorna

Hval has the unnerving ability to calm and disturb in equal measure, and on Blood Bitch, her fifth studio album, she excels like never before. The disjointedness of the tracks feels intentional, and that comes from the fact that it works. It's like Hitchcock's modus operandi, ratcheting up the tension with the unseen, until it's too late, both beautiful and horrifying in equal measure, but instantly an album of the year with absolute ease.

9. Charles Bradley - Changes

Genre: Soul, Funk
From: Florida, United States
Key Tracks: God Bless America, Ain't Gonna Give It Up, Changes, Ain't It A Sin

Remarkably Bradley only released his debut album at the age of 63 five years ago, with Changes now his third since 2011's incredible No Time For Dreaming. Drawing on all the greatness of the 60's and 70's soul era, his music and vocals are indiscernible from that time, and he has brought that heyday roaring back into the 21st century with aplomb. Amongst the straight-forward social commentary on his songs, the overall vibe is happiness and hope, and it all sounds like velvet.

8. Anderson.Paak - Malibu 

Genre: Alternative Rn'B, Funk
From: California, United States
Key Tracks: The Bird, Heart Don't Stand A Chance, The Waters, The Season / Carry Me, Put Me Thru, Come Down

I remember the morning I first listened to Malibu, and the mellow mellow guitar riff opened first track 'The Bird' and I was like, ah, soulful. I'd just about been let on the bus by the scowling Dublin Bus driver, what a privilege, stand behind the white line, already soaked, and this song made everything better. I was hooked on this album for 3 months from that point on, it became one of three go to 'journey to work' albums for 2016, (the other two are to follow below). Records like this restore faith in modern music immeasurably.

7. David Bowie - ★ [Blackstar]

Genre: Experimental Rock
From: London, U.K.
Key Tracks: ★, Lazarus, Dollar Days

In hindsight, despite his well-known ongoing illness, Bowie was more ready for his death than we were, Blackstar was not an album for his fans or loved ones, it was one long poem to Death, but a comfortable piece of prose from the King of Glam, an acceptance and a wry 'Hello' to the otherside. Almost as if Bowie was curious as to what was on the other side of the black mirror. It is what it is, and it was fitting that his final album was one more masterpiece, not held up by music critics due to emotion, but due to the content and quality of what was his best album in over 30 years.

6. Black Marble - It's Immaterial

Genre: Post-Punk, Synthpop
From: New York, United States
Key Tracks: Iron Lung, A Million Billion Stars, Frisk, Collene

As a big fan of The XX, I couldn't help but feel the more I listened to It's Immaterial, that I was enjoying an album where every track was good, whereas I always felt with the former's debut that everything was front-loaded at the start of the LP. There are also shades of early Interpol, in it's instrumental moments, Joy Division, and very importantly to me personally, a strong echo of 80's French post-punk. There are so many good tracks on this album and it's overall aesthetic is extremely pleasing, still on the rider today.

5. C Duncan - The Midnight Sun

Genre: Electro-pop
From: Glasgow, Scotland
Key Tracks: Nothing More, Like You Do, Other Side, Wanted To Want It Too, Window

An unrelenting opening to an album in terms of the impact of the songs, 5 of the first 6 sweeping you off your feet. It's a mesmeric collection, it feels and sounds familiar but regularly when you pause listening to C Duncan's The Midnight Sun you feel like everything is a brand new experience, a first time feeling. The first two tracks 'Nothing More' and 'Like You Do' in particular were show-stoppers for me.

4. Angel Olsen - My Woman

Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Indie Rock
From: Chicago, United States
Key Tracks: Intern, Shut Up & Kiss Me, Give It Up, Sister, Pops

What a mix, laid on a plate rock, expansive roaming musings which are more fulfilling than a 3 minute hit, indulgence and patience, everything is present on Angel Olsen's My Woman, but the most rewarding thing about her album is that it presents itself as easily accessible, which it is, but it takes quite some time to fully appreciate, and the reward is an album that will never grow old. 

3. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound

Genre: Alternative Rn'B, Synth Funk
From: London, U.K.
Key Tracks: Augustine, Chance, Best To You, E.V,P., Hands Up, I Know

Riding high in my No.1 spot for almost three months, I thought Devonté Hynes was a shoe-in for my album of the year, and apparently he's stopped writing music since he read this, such is life. Joking aside, Freetown Sound is an album of epic proportions, a once in a decade release, there really are too many songs to mention in the key tracks, and that's what counts at this point for me personally. 

2. Crystal Castles - Amnesty

Genre: Synthpop, Electropop
From: Toronto, Canada
Key Tracks: Femen, Char, Enth, Sadist, Frail, Concrete, Kept

An absolute extravaganza of electronic music, Crystal Castles much heralded (and rightly so) 2008 self-titled debut is a world apart from Amnesty, with no disrespect to their back catalogue. This is an album where you get confused and fail to remember what your favourite track is whilst listening to it. It has been a main staple of my listening in 2016, still is, won't be leaving my transport music device any time soon. 'Enth', 'Frail' and 'Concrete' are modern electronic classics.


Genre: Instrumental Hip-Hop, Jazz Fusion
From: Toronto, Canada
Key Tracks: Pffffftt!

And so, by pure coincidence, the top two albums of 2016 for me, both come from Toronto, Canada. 

BADBADNOTGOOD are a difficult act to describe, clear late 80's / early 90's hip-hop beats pervade their latest album IV, but there's also a strong grounding in the alternative jazz which the likes of John Coltrane initially, and later his wife, Alice, pushed way beyond the strictures of the genre, an affront that was met with no resistance. 

The video above was recorded during the IV album sessions, but never made the album itself, BBNG's 'Green Onions' moment, maybe.

Either way, it is not only my album of 2016, for me it is a permanent musical imprint. IV goes far beyond your annual celebrated LP, it is a collection of tracks created by extremely gifted musicians in their absolute creative prime, and an ingenuity which is simply outstanding.

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