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Search The Line of Best Fit

The Best Fit Fifty Essential Albums of 2016

14 December 2016, 08:00

In 2016 it seemed like the western world caught up with its own mortality.

If you loved music then that realisation became extra profound as lynchpins of modern pop culture seemed to fall, one by one, kicking off an endless domino effect. It's the end of the age of legends and the start of something much darker and suspect.

Of course in all the misery there's light: two of the year's most affecting records came from two of the year's greatest losses, reaffirming for many just how powerful an album can be - in one case as a physical object as much as a collection of songs. Music endures, songs endure and albums endure. it's just that simple.

Here are the fifty records that made 2016 a beautiful, sad, profound and memorable year for us.

Leave Me Alone by Hinds

Hinds are not too concerned with being perfect on their debut and Leave Me Alone is a ramshackle celebration of the beauty in chaos and the imperfect.

Their music has always been a reflection of this, from their bubbly two-track EP Demo right through to this, their debut album Leave Me Alone. This magical youthful energy they exude in everything they do is exactly why Hinds have gone from strength to strength over the past few years.

It’s an album loaded with jangly guitars and that infectious duel between Ana Perrote and Carlotta Cosials’ vocals; one that captures their ethos of “let’s just have the best time possible and worry about everything else later” perfectly. It’s flawed, but its flaws are what makes it so beguiling.


Telling the Trees by RM Hubbert

Each track on Telling The Trees is an exploration of a new creative relationship. Eleven different audio artists form ideas, take chances and augment the backbone of a record which at its core, is RM Hubbert all over.

Telling The Trees is entrenched in Hubbert's West Coast Scotland surroundings - the beauty and serenity but also the weather beaten isolation. His guitar sings as if he were the flamenco player on board a Spanish Armada vessel, shipwrecked on the Isle of Arran, never to be rescued, acclimatising to his new surroundings. Flashes of electronic generated ambience decorate the periphery of the mostly organic record - like light pollution encroaching on the countryside, similar to the Glasgow city lights from under which Hubbert first came to our attention.

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Preoccupations by Preoccupations

They do say you only get one chance to make a first impression but here, on Preoccupations' second album (and first under their new name) they’ve somehow rubbished the rules of one of the oldest proverbs around. Ripping up the rule book comes effortlessly to the Calgary punks.

Preoccupations is not just a record of harsh bangs and explosive moments. It is equally a subtly nuanced album, with considered composition just as important a part of the process. The record ebbs and flows from one movement to the next with thoughtful progression. The record’s pedigree owes a debut to Factory Records, Wire, The Cure, The Fall and all things British. As far back as Interpol’s debut album, over 15 years ago, the continent has been doing a far better job of innovating post punk than us.

Preoccupations' greatest asset is in its breadth of ability; spontaneous, yet considered; off-kilter, but instinctive; eccentric, although well composed. The truth is, it is both cultured Tibetan Singing Bowls and DIY damp finger on wine glass and all the richer for it.

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MY WOMAN by Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen has never conformed to stereotype, and on her third album she emphatically debunks by the notion that she’s merely an acoustic folk singer. The astonishing MY WOMAN expands on the band-orientated feel of 2014's Burn Your Fire for No Witness, which itself was a giant leap from her sparser debut, 2012's Half Way Home.

The complex heart of Olsen is be found in her songs, where she writes about matters of the heart as articulately and sensitively as any living songwriter. As much as MY WOMAN is an exploration of femininity, it’s also poignantly universal, where she explores the nature of love with an uncannily keen eye. The record is Olsen at the top of her game - heartfelt, insightful and musically adventurous.


99.9% by Kaytranada

Montreal resident Kaytranada (aka Louis Kevin Celestin) has established himself as one of Canada’s hottest beat-makers. On his debut album 99.9%, Celestin steps out from behind the production suite and fully into the limelight in his own right.

The title alludes to his perfectionism and constant reworking of his art, a process that saw countless tracks fail to make the cut (including a reported twenty tracks with Bad Bad Not Good and a further three with Little Dragon). While the artist himself may not feel the record is 100% right, Kaytranada’s debut showcases he's ability to fuse, mutate and bring together his formative influences and create an uplifting and joyful feeling record that transcends simple genre boundaries.

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A Good Night in the Ghetto by Kamaiyah

24-year-old Californian rapper Kamaiyah Jamesha Johnson knows, like the rest of us do, that being broke sucks and this fuels the the insanely addictive ‘90s-inspired hip-hop of her debut mixtape.

A Good Night in the Ghetto is an outstanding listen for so many reasons. It’s smart, it’s catchy and it even manages to successfully reclaim the word ‘hoochie’. But, most importantly, it’s honest and emotional - it’s a mixtape that uses positive energy in order to bring attention to difficult subjects, like a parent giving their child a chocolate bar before taking them to get a flu jab. Above the mixtape’s desire to get a decent paypacket, she knows that friends and family are what matter most, and that’s something money can’t buy.

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Blackstar by David Bowie

"I’m not a pop star," David Bowie whimsically sings during the title track on his 25th - and last ever - studio album. Indeed, Bowie had been defying easy classification and modern convention for his entire five-decade long career – brazenly casting aside styles and trends that he brought into fashion long before they had a chance to define him or hold his ever-evolving music back.

Bowie’s surprising late-period revival was been done on entirely his own terms - a fact that became more profound with his dignified passing. Death’s dour whisper echoes through the dark corners of the Blackstar's seven expansive tracks. But rather than being weighed down by the inevitable long goodnight that awaits us all, Bowie actually sounded energized and feisty throughout – cursing about Mondays and whores, all the while looking for your ass.

He always maintained an expert balance between heady intellectualism and histrionic nonsense, both on stage and in the studio, and Blackstar is a fitful combination of the two. The ominous, hymn-like title track serves as a paean to the fine line between survival and extinction, and reminds us all how a solitary light amidst the darkness can provide hope for those who are lost.

As with David Bowie’s entire career, he once again given us enough to keep us wanting more, while reminding us of all the inspired gifts that came before. The sad reality that there really is no more is still a hard one to stomach.

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Black Lights by Samaris

In many way, Black Lights is the same Samaris we’ve come to know and love, but in many others it’s a revolutionary twist of their formula. It was written and recorded separately over the course of a year with the band split across three different countries – Þórður Kári Steinþórsson jumped into Berlin's techno scene, Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir studied “a specialised Sonology course” in The Hague, while Jófríður Ákadóttir was exploring Irish music and culture. It's a fragmented approach for sure – but Black Lights is not a sprawling mess suffering an identity crisis. It's the band's most sonically cohesive collection of songs.

The tracks often slip and blur into one another, slipping in hypnagogic ways like oil across water, working as a singular movement with subtle shifts and gradual changes. Black Lights is tense, sometimes claustrophobic, and overtly clinical. It is sticky. It's sweaty and oddly sensual in places. It's constructed for intimacy and introspection. “Gradient Sky” is a beautiful moment of clarity that cuts through the thick textures and misty atmospheres, but by and large, Samaris have steered away from the expansive sounds of before in favour of something much more personal and grounded.

Black Lights is an album that takes great strides forwards, showcasing a mature side that's capable of direct emotion and unexpected experiment. It is different from what we've heard before, but even with a gestation period characterised by distance and separation, this feels like the most rounded work they've presented so far.

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Adore Life by Savages

Post-punk rarely comes across as an embrace as well as an open call to arms - but the ten taut songs on Adore Life are equally determined to snap us out of our revelry. Savages have presented us with a communal challenge disguised as a rock album, while also drawing a clear line in the societal sand. Open yourself up to life and to love, come along with them and don’t look back – for the world is a far better place when it’s filled with passion such as this.

It's far more seductive in both its convictions and its potency than 2013’s Silence Yourself. The intimate lure of connection lingers fitfully beneath the churning pulse of these dynamic tracks, which shake you awake as well as whisper in your ear. "Is it human to adore life?" questions singer Jehnny Beth on the record’s sprawling emotional centerpiece, "Adore." By the end of the record, Savages have left little doubt that love is indeed the answer, and that they are unquestionably the best rock band in the world at the moment.

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Hopelessness by ANOHNI

ANOHNI's Hopelessness is a protest album for the drone dystopia. It serves as both a heartfelt apology for the brutally oppressive actions of our warmongering world leaders, and a prayer that we collectively find a way to heal wounds from the ravages of contemporary life before it’s too late to save us all.

It’s a grief-stricken record, but far from a defeated one. For there is hope and salvation to be found in the world as well as these songs – regardless of the despairing album title – we just have to work a lot harder for it than we have in the past. And rather than restricting access to those same dreams and aspirations in those less fortunate or unfamiliar to us, Anohni illuminates the need to embrace the causes of others in order to more fully identify with ourselves. Throughout Hopelessness, she reveals multiple layers to the stories within her songs, and that the deeper you dig beyond the headlines and easily digestible sound bites, the more pain and deception you are likely to find.

Hopelessness essentially represents the fight to find your own unique place in a world that has grown ugly, and a sincere desire for us all to wake up and take action to ensure it doesn’t get any uglier than it already is.

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