The 20 Best Albums of 2016…So Far

Having tipped the midway point of 2016, we asked our team to look back on what’s been a strong six months of new music releases already. Across the genres, there’ve been some stellar local and international albums dropping and drawing some heated conversation across fandoms.

Whether it was in The Drones‘ release of arguably their best album since their early days, Beyoncé‘s ‘break the internet’ moment with Lemonade, or Camp Cope‘s call to arms with their self-titled record, there’s been so many great albums we’ve been able to sink our teeth into. Now, staring down the barrel of no doubt, another hectic six months of new releases, we rank 20 of the best yet…

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20. RY X | DAWN

Ry X’s long awaited debut album Dawn finally dropped in May and was an instant win. Drawing the listener in with so many lush textures and intricate levels of production, Dawn proved to be more than what singles “Berlin” and “Only” initially indicated.

“Howling” and “Shortline” remain album standouts – demonstrating fragility and vulnerability in his performance that consistently grow stronger as the album continues on.

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19. BAND OF HORSES | WHY ARE YOU OK

The fifth studio release from the South Carolina-based indie rockers came only in June but was quick to standout as one of their best releases in some time. Linking up with Grandaddy‘s Jason Lytle on production, Band of Horses drew in some of the favourite friends and musicians on some well-positioned cameos that highlighted their always well-crafted knack for songwriting.

“There’s a fine balance at work on the latest Band of Horses record, Why Are You OK. No better is this showcased than on the opening track, “Dull Times / The Moon”, starting off slowly in that beautifully understated way that Ben Bridwell and the band do so well, before exploding into what is likely the closest thing to ‘rock and roll’ that you’ll ever hear from the band, bursting with intensity. It’s a balance they play with throughout the whole record, which has slowly grown on me into one of their finest works. But it’s the cameo from J. Mascis on “In a Drawer” that may be the stand out moment on the album.” – Larry Heath

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18. THE JEZABELS | SYNTHIA

February saw The Jezabels release their third album, Synthia, and featured very few weak points. It stood out as being the band’s boldest step forward musically, since their break out album Prisoner and was a definite return to form for the band. While their sophomore record The Brink may have received a lukewarm response, Synthia shone brightly in the shadow cast by the news of Heather Shannon‘s battle with ovarian cancer, only made public when the band was forced to cancel their tour dates.

This album reintroduced The Jezabels to many fans no doubt and drew as many newcomers to their ambitious and grand approach to indie rock and easily became a fast favourite.

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17. LUCA BRASI | IF THIS IS ALL WE’RE GOING TO BE

Luca Brasi’s April release, If This Is All We’re Going To Be, showed us that one of the busiest touring punk bands in the country were capable of striking up fiery live shows while crafting their best album yet at the same time.

The album is fast-paced, energetic and packs and emotional punch; in an Australian music climate where bands like Violent Soho and The Smith Street Band are accumulating cult-like followings of kids wanting rock out and just have an emotional release through the music, Luca Brasi brought If This Is All We’re Going to Be to the fold brilliantly, and it’s been embraced as such.

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16. PUP | THE DREAM IS OVER

PUP’s latest album, The Dream Is Over, came to us in May and displayed everything a punk rock fan wants from their favourite band; killer riffs, memorable songwriting and a relentless approach to their craft.

“A rollicking punk rock record with the catchiest riffs and clever songs. It’s brutal, it’s sweet, it gets stuck in your head for days. PUP could be mistaken for just another obnoxious punk band, but their delivery and storytelling prove that PUP are a band of a superior league.” – Lauren Connelly

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15. KOI CHILD | SELF-TITLED

March saw Koi Child drop their self-titled debut album and really, it had all the components for success behind it. A talented group of individuals with an innovative knack for songwriting and composition, joining up with one of the scene’s most in-demand musicians as producer? Win.

“What a ridiculously great combination of soul, hip-hop and interesting production values. Made up of jazz group Kashikoi and hip-hop trio Child’s Play, this record was produced and mixed by none other than Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, which is really noticeable in the incredible drum sounds and layered synths. Production aside, this record is simply a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians creating a body of work that pushes the boundaries of genres. It’s one of those records that is best when listened to start to finish.” – Aidan Hogg

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14. FLUME | SKIN

Flume’s much-anticipated and long-awaited sophomore album Skin dropped four years after his smash debut in May. Unsurprisingly, Skin went straight to Number One in Australia, while also peaking on the US Billboard 200 chart at Number Eight. Flume’s second album saw the producer continue to form powerful collaborations and spin radio hits out of them – particularly with Kai and Tove Lo on “Never Be Like You” and “Say It”.

As album continues to unravel though, we saw more of Harley Streten’s musicality and diversifying influences; collaborating with Vince Staples and Kučka on “Smoke & Retribution” and Little Dragon on “Take a Chance” remain two favourites of ours.

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13. SAVAGES | ADORE LIFE

Adore Life was released back in January, marking the second studio release from London’s Savages. Released to widespread acclaim, the noise rockers really stamped their mark and proved that any chaos, boldness or sheer hunger for music that was embraced with reckless abandon on their debut album Silence Yourself, definitely had not gone away. Savages hit their rhythm quick into Adore Life and took us on a stunning and striking journey.

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12. ANOHNI | HOPELESSNESS

Anohni’s debut solo album Hopelessness dropped in May and instantly stood apart from any other piece of music the US-based musician had released. Emotional, evocative and captivating, Hopelessness came crashing through into the public arena as a definite stand out album of the year.

“A politically charged protest album from an extremely talented vocalist/songwriter. The album did not pull any punches on subject matter (drone bombings/capital punishment/climate change) and was superbly produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never.” – Dan Turner

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11. JAMES BLAKE | THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING

It had been three years since we all frothed over James Blake’s Overgrown record and so when social media reported that the new Blake album, The Colour in Anything, would be premiering online in May with little pre-release promotion in the lead up, we understandably, went nuts trying to line up time zone differences to figure out when it would be available to stream/buy.

“James Blake had been dropping singles on his BBC radio show since the start of the year, all leading up to the surprise release of his 17 track third record. It’s exactly what I hoped for from James Blake; songs set around piano and his incredible voice, backed with minimalist beats and his signature huge synth sounds. It’s got some bonus Bon Iver too, which I definitely can’t complain about.” – Aidan Hogg

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10. THE DRONES | FEELIN’ KINDA FREE

Feelin’ Kinda Free came out punching hard, three years after The Drones’ I See Seaweed record had time to resonate with fans. Widely regarded as being some of the band’s best material, Feelin’ Kinda Free didn’t hold back at all in terms of imagery, message and visceral delivery.

“Bonkers and brilliant, the Drones’ latest LP gives Australian culture the shot of cynicism and bile it desperately needs.” – Ingmar Duldig

“Politically fearless and viciously aggressive, the sort of record that if you were to put it on at a dinner party it’d be thrown out quicker than Andrew Bolt at a Greens convention. All the things you hope from a new Drones album.” – Michael Lean

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9. CHANCE THE RAPPER | COLORING BOOK

Chano’s third official mixtape release came in the form of Coloring Book, released in May and became the first album to chart on the Billboard 200 solely off the back of online streams (fun fact!). A glorious fusion of hip hop and gospel, Chance the Rapper further explored the musical themes and composition techniques already setting him apart from other rappers, and brought on the likes of KaytranadaKanye WestYoung Thug and more for the ride.

“Communicating joy in music is a tricky affair. Too often it can come off as brash and condescending, earning the standard reaction of ‘what’s he so smug about?’. This problem is multiplied twofold when faith gets thrown in. The Coloring Book communicates in pure joy, grounded in Chance’s faith and spirituality and it is an absolute thrill to listen to.

Gospel singalongs (“How Great”, “Blessings”) sit perfectly alongside summer cookout party tracks (“No Problem”, “All Night”). While Chance finds himself musing on his newfound fame, rejecting the record labels and crime in Chicago with breathless flow and a vivid sense of humor. In a year packed full of big name rap albums, Coloring Book stands out above the rest.” – Michael Lean

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8. KENDRICK LAMAR | untitled unmastered.

A collection of unreleased demos from one Kendrick Lamar was released in March that further demonstrated the Compton rapper’s diverse range of musical influence and interests – it was clear that untitled unmastered was going to be a point of conversation for fans and industry alike.

Following on from the game changing To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, untitled unmastered took a slightly different route, it didn’t try to recreate its predecessor and instead stood as its own entity entirely. Experimenting with free jazz, soul, the avant-garde and funk on the compilation record gave fans an insight into this hectic creative world Kendrick currently moves in and it was a brilliant display.

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7. DAVID BOWIE | BLACKSTAR

The 25th and final studio album by the iconic David Bowie is one that continued to unravel and reveal more about the artist’s final creative process after Bowie passed away. A parting gift for fans and a perfect (though devastating) swan song for one of popular music’s most captivating and chameleonic artists, Blackstar is a collection of astounding music.

“A sad, but fittingly forward looking farewell.” – Ingmar Duldig

“We have lost so many heroes this year already and David Bowie’s passing was momentous. His final album was a work of staggering genius considering how ill he was and one of his finest pieces of work.” – Dan Turner

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6. DAUGHTER | NOT TO DISAPPEAR

The sophomore album by British indie-folk group Daughter saw them head in some new territories in experimenting with new sounds and not returning to the foundations of their debut to reinvent the wheel.

“Daughter returned in January with an album so complete that it made their debut (which was full of mass tuneage) look much inferior. Not To Disappear was a massive step up for the band, as they experimented with a more in-depth sound, while continuing to highlight the strength of frontwoman Elena‘s vocals. Key tracks include “No Care”, “How” & “Fossa”.” – Dylan Marshall

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5. BEYONCÉ | LEMONADE

Lemonade by Beyoncé is her most confronting and ambitious release to date – six albums in, and the R&B artist still found ways of riling up her extensive and loyal fanbase, the wider industry and anyone with a passing care for her existence in contemporary music. Encompassing a variety of genres and a visual album that furthered the songs’ themes and messages, Lemonade saw Beyoncé hook up with a variety of musicians on this one including Kendrick Lamar, Jack WhiteJames Blake and The Weeknd.

While the album revolved around the idea of a cheating partner and a resolution of broken relationships, Beyoncé also made a point of putting social and political statements on bold display too. Fiery, urgent and cathartic, Lemonade was tailor-made to garner global attention for a variety of reasons.

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4. CAMP COPE | SELF-TITLED

April saw Melbourne trio Camp Cope release what will probably stand out as one of the top Australian releases of 2016, with a self-titled album that has struck a chord right into the fabric of Australian rock culture.

“Camp Cope’s debut is a collection of honest and emotive stories that are delivered with strong conviction by the powerful Georgia Maq. Drummer Sarah Thompson‘s restrained and tidy timekeeping lends perfectly to Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich‘s intricate bass lines that cleverly weave their way around Maq’s guitar chords. Perfectly crafted and executed with toughness, standouts include the crescendoing “Flesh and Electricity”, and girls to the front anthem “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams”.

For me, it’s an instant classic and at a time when the subject of female empowerment and equality among women (particularly in the music scene) is thrust into the spotlight, there couldn’t be a better time for a band like Camp Cope to be given a louder voice.” – Lauren Connelly

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3. NGAIIRE | BLASTOMA

Sydney’s Ngaiire has continued to impress long after the release of Lamentations but in her 2016 album Blastoma, the vocalist has well and truly established her presence and she’s done it with creative flair and sonic beauty that we haven’t seen by an artist like herself in some time.

“Ngaiire’s infinitely intriguing sonic experiments have resulted in a style that’s hard to capture, but one that has been fully realised on this beautiful album. The textures come from all over the place and are glued together with Ngaiire’s graceful tone, that flips between reckless and tender as it flies on and off beat. She’s pulling on so many styles of music that the album could have easily fallen flat, but the focus, assured patterns in both production and vocals is a testament to her undeniable talent.” – Chris Singh

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2. KANYE WEST | THE LIFE OF PABLO

The ever divisive Kanye West came out with The Life of Pablo back in February, his seventh album. Following on from the heights Yeezus reached, The Life of Pablo drew attention from all different areas with fans and the industry ready to pick it apart.

“Kanye changes the course of hip hop (and yeah, even just popular music in general) on every release and this is by no means an exception. The Life of Pablo has shot right up to his top three albums to date – easily – with such an energetic, soulful blend of gospel sounds with more hard-hitting hip hop. It’s College Dropout meets Yeezus meets My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; soulful, ambitious, and grand.

Say what you want about Kanye West, but if you look past him being a ‘rapper’ and focus on his primary talent – composition, production, texture, tone, style – then there’s no way you can not see the genius behind this project. Listen – like actually listen – to “Ultralight Beam” and “Real Friends” and tell me that isn’t someone who is – at least – incredibly original. You can’t.” – Chris Singh

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1. RADIOHEAD | A MOON SHAPED POOL

Radiohead’s ninth studio record,  A Moon Shaped Pool, was released in May and again, was an album that received little promotion in the lead up. The week prior to its release saw the reveal of singles “Burn the Witch” and “Daydreaming”, both enough to stoke the rumour mill fires, but when the band embarked on a world tour during the same month, everything else came quickly after.

A Moon Shaped Pool may go down as one of Radiohead’s darkest albums, but also its most triumphant. There is phenomenal production throughout the album, which opens with the breathtaking “Burn the Witch”, and ending with long time fan favourite “True Love Waits”. Though tracks like “Daydreaming” hark back to some of the more minimalist production we found in their last record, The King of Limbs, throughout the album there are moments that truly soar – with the group using a string section and choral arrangement for the album’s most powerful moments. It seems that the unused “Spectre” theme track, alongside their work with the London Contemporary Orchestra in recent years really rubbed off on them here. And as a fan of their work for a long time, it adds a lot to the album. “The Numbers” is a personal stand out and (humblebrag coming) the record’s best live number.” – Larry Heath