The Ten Best Albums of 2016 You (Probably) Didn’t Hear
December 21st 2016
Most end-of-year album polls hue pretty closely together. In 2016, it’s a mix between the ubiquitous pop gobstoppers from the mononymous Knowles family (Solange and Beyoncé), and the mortality-imbued meditations from The Male Establishment (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave). But there are plenty more awesome albums that flew under the radar these past 12 months.
Before we stick a fork in 2016, here are ten albums that deserve a second look (or more likely first, if you missed them this year). Who knows, they might usurp a few of your favourites…
EAGULLS “Ullages” (Partisan/Popfrenzy)
My hands-down favourite album of 2016 came as a complete surprise – the Leeds post-punkers’ debut 2014 album had been an angry struggle of Joy Division pastiches. But they amped up the poetic melodrama (and their songwriting chops) for this album titled after an anagram of their own band name, taking cues from the windswept sookiness of Disintegration-era The Cure as much as the sonic cathedrals of Simple Minds and Cocteau Twins. Massive singalongs “Velvet” and “My Life In Rewind” (a widescreen stadium anthem which I’ll bet The Horrors wish they’d written) showed that following the death of Glenn Frey this year, there’s only one Eagulls you need.
LA FEMME “Mystère” (Disque Pointu)
From the rich French psych pool that seems to throw up a head-scratchingly heavenly album every year (see Turzi in 2015 and Moodoïd in 2014), the second full-lengther from the Biarritz collective was a bonkers race through reverberant surf-rock, baroque pop, rickety krautrock, serene space-disco, swinging yé-yé and then some. This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach meant there was a surprise around every corner.
THE MOLES “Tonight’s Music” (Fire)
It only took a casual 22 years for Boston-based ex-pat Richard Davies to release a new album under The Moles moniker, but it was worth the wait. A warm-hearted 75-minute grab-bag of ramshackle chamber-pop and loosey-goosey lo-fi jangle, it demonstrated you can take the boy out of Sydney but never vice versa – it boasted an ode to The Celibate Rifles frontman in punk blast “Damien Lovelock”, and managed to namecheck and rhyme “Lansdowne” with “Newtown” on the chugging “K.B.O.”. Australian of the year!
CAVERN OF ANTI-MATTER “Void Beats/Invocation Trex” (Duophonic)
The first “proper” album from ex-Stereolab mainman Tim Gane’s Berlin-based trio was rich in motorik krautrock and burbling synth noise. But like Stereolab (and kindred spirits Can), its locked grooves were balanced with genuine pop thrills, and guest spots by Bradford Cox (Deerhunter) and Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3) were an enhancement and not a distraction.
VIRGINIA WING “Forward Constant Motion” (Fire)
The sadly-missed spirit of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan felt summoned by this UK boy/girl duo, who abandoned their earlier band leanings (and line-up) to serve up dreamily detached synth-pop and avant electronica on their second album. “Grapefruit” ping-ponged with the joie de vivre of Saint Etienne, while “Baton” dove into the exploratory echo-chamber of Delia Derbyshire.
SUUNS “Hold/Still” (Secretly Canadian)
Wanna know why you should keep your ears peeled to FBi? Jack Shit played queasy epic “Careful” off this album one Saturday arvo, and I had to run into the studio to find out what it was. I had written off the Montréal art-rockers after a couple of so-so albums, but they teamed up with busiest/best producer of the year John Congleton (Wild Beasts, Explosions In The Sky) to ramp up the creepy electronics and skittish oscillations on their third full-lengther, and emerged sounding like a haunted cross between Black Cab and Clinic.
BOYS FOREVER “Boys Forever” (Amour Foo)
From out of the ashes of London C86 devotees Veronica Falls we’ve now been gifted two terrific offshoots – Ultimate Painting has seen frontman James Hoare turn to pastoral psych, while this year former drummer Patrick Doyle served up his Boys Forever solo project of bristling garage-pop. Recorded in LA, its sunny melodies evoked The Pastels and Bleeding Knees Club, but its turning-30 morbid lyrics dealing with drinking and depression would have made Morrissey proud.
ESSAIE PAS “Demain est une autre nuit” (DFA)
While we wait for new LCD Soundsystem material, James Murphy’s DFA label keeps on giving, and in 2016 signed up this well-connected French-Canadian duo. With an album title that translates to “Tomorrow Is Another Night”, they served up a nocturnal set of minimal synth-disco and deadpan no wave that owed a debt to labelmates Factory Floor, but also stretched further back to icy innovators like Chris & Cosey and Cabaret Voltaire.
HERON OBLIVION “Heron Oblivion” (Sub Pop)
A San Francisco supergroup of sorts featuring members of Espers, Six Organs of Admittance and Comets On Fire, who came together for a Sub Pop-released unholy racket of blistering scuzz jams and communal psych-folk. The biggest joy was to hear drummer Meg Baird (who was here solo for Sydney Festival in January) setting her heavenly Sandy Denny-style vocals against the roar of guitar feedback on monsters like “Your Hollows”.
YUNG “A Youthful Dream” (Fat Possum)
A less-intense prospect than fellow Danish dudes Iceage, Yung’s debut full-lengther pulled back on their earlier post-punk leanings for jangly garage-rock rasps that sat somewhere between Orange Juice and The Strokes. “Morning View” was downright lovely, and stylish frontman Mikkel demonstrated he can rock a turtleneck and the occasional Harry High Pants, and still look cool.