From Frank Ocean to Beyonce, 2016 has seen a number of big artists dropping albums.
Here we look at some of the biggest records of the year.
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Harvey’s haunting vocals and gospel choir deliver a compelling sequel to 2011′s Let England Shake which shifts its conflict-scarred soundscapes to a wider global perspective.
After becoming the first person to land a second Mercury Prize, the rock drama queen travelled to Washington DC, Kosovo and Afghanistan for her ninth studio album, which is packed with political poetry and theatrical poise.
The songstress journeyed across the three continents with filmmaker Seamus Murphy, and the pair initially produced visual and poetry book The Hollow of The Hand before Harvey turned herself towards The Hope Six Demolition Project. When recording, the observer became the observed as she spent four weeks with her band and production team behind a one-way-mirrored glass at Somerset House in London, with fans paying for the opportunity to view the sessions.
Standout tracks include The Community Of Hope, in which amid accusations of social cleansing, Polly Jean tells the story of Washington DC’s Ward 7, which explicitly targets the US housing regeneration project, HOPE VI.
The final track Dollar, Dollar offers a haunting climax which spends more than five minutes reflecting on an encounter between Harvey and a child beggar. With lyrics “I can’t look through or past, A face saying dollar dollar”, Harvey lays herself bare with no words able to escape her mouth.
Review by Joe Nerssessian
Beyonce – Lemonade
Beyonce resumed her role as the ultimate empowering artist with surprise visual album Lemonade. The record conjures more violence than perhaps we have seen before and – in letting everything out – viciousness creeps in at times, particularly in the shrieking, gravelly Don’t Hurt Yourself featuring Jack White.
Best track: Freedom, featuring Kendrick Lamar, anthemically stomps and kicks, the beat slapping like feet on concrete, snares applauding as it pummels and probes your brain.
Anohni – Hopelessness
One of the most powerful, chilling and remarkable albums of 2016. Hopelessness became more relative as the year went on as fear and despair camped themselves in the minds of communities, countries and continents.
Anohni’s debut as a soloist after her previous exploits with Antony And The Johnsons scrutinised President Obama’s drone policies, unravelled mass surveillance and examined the looming doom that is global warming.
Best tracks: Drone Bomb Me and 4 Degrees.
Review by Joe Nerssessian
Christine And The Queens – Chaleur Humaine
The debut album from the French synthpop singer, songwriter and performance artist earned bags of attention from the music industry. After the English version was released in the UK in February it went on to peak at number two on the albums chart.
Its provocative and subtle range features clever lyrics, notably on Titled and No Harm Is Done, on topics ranging from the embracing of awkwardness to sexual orientation, and the release marked the “perfect antidote to pop conservatism”.
Best track: Tilted.
Review by Josie Clarke.
Noname – Telefone
The 25-year-old Chicago native created an album filled with soothing, upbeat melodies, largely made up of xylophones, pianos and wind instruments – and while these were often at odds with the lyrical content of the project, somehow that elevated it further.
The 10-track, deeply personal album hears Noname reliving heartbreak and the loss of friends, with Casket Pretty capturing the anxiety living in Chicago can bring. Despite that, she still manages to sound hopeful throughout the record.
Noname followed through on the promise her features for the likes of Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins and Saba showed, and cemented her reputation as someone truly with a gift for writing in the process. There’s simply no-one else that sounds like her.
Best track: Diddy Bop.
Review by Kameron Virk
Kano – Made In The Manor
Skepta’s Konnichiwa rightly received a lot of plaudits in 2016, but that album’s success meant that an album sonically levels above was largely glossed over by the mainstream.
Kano’s Made In The Manor found the east London artist sounding properly at home on a record for the first time since 2005′s Home Sweet Home, with its consistent sound a solid base for a matured Kano reminiscing over childhood, offering an olive branch to former friends, and back at his best.
Undoubtedly a classic, Made In The Manor would have been well worthy of the Mercury.
Best tracks: Wheels Up, Little Sis, Drinking In The West End.
Review by Kameron Virk
Solange – A Seat At The Table
Solange Knowles, the artist formerly known as Beyonce’s sister, has produced the outstanding album of 2016; aural elegance, sumptuous soul and all-round beguiling brilliance are in excessive supply from start to finish.
The 21-track album takes the listener on an intimate journey through Solange’s experiences of black culture, incorporating periodic interludes in which her parents touch on their encounters with racism and which forces you to confront harsh realities, in what is ironically the most harmonious of settings.
Solange’s achingly languorous voice is complemented with guest spots ranging from Lil Wayne to Sampha, who each add their own delicious flavour to this Michelin-star meal of an album.
Best tracks: Don’t Touch My Hair, Cranes In The Sky.
Review by Tom Brada
David Bowie – Blackstar
Sonically, Blackstar may not be Bowie’s best, but in terms of pure depth of feeling – for both the artist and the listener – it is surely unchallenged in his repertoire. Once his death laid bare the obvious context of the album, it immediately became clear that Bowie had created a masterpiece of reflection on mortality – a chilling but ultimately perfect final act in a life that has always seen him one step above the rest.
Best tracks: Highlights include Blackstar, a wonderfully insane piece that meanders between glam and eerie post-punk, and Lazarus, which stands as a heartbreaking goodbye to one of Britain’s most loved musicians.
Review by Stephen Jones
Rokia Traore – Ne So
Traore’s sixth studio album is a career high and a good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with one of the greatest current ambassadors of African music.
The songs were apparently inspired by the civil war in her homeland of Mali and the Mediterranean refugee crisis, but the feel of the album is far from apocalyptic, with groovy bass lines and ethereal melodies setting up a hypnotic vibe.
Traore’s remarkable voice – ranging from pure-toned soprano to throaty growl to tremulous whisper – floats over sinuous guitar lines, shimmering ngoni (an African stringed instrument) and stripped-back drums.
Much of the album – produced by John Parish, known for his work with PJ Harvey – is in Traore’s native Bambara, but there are a few tracks in French and English, including a breathtaking version of Billie Holiday’s anti-racist anthem Strange Fruit.
Standout tracks: Tu Voles, O Niele, Strange Fruit.
Review by Andrew Woodcock
Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
It’s rare for a band this prolific to carry on producing records of such unbridled joy, but Car Seat Headrest know their beat and play it to perfection. From start to finish, the Seattle four-piece jumble up the alt-rock of Dinosaur Jr with the bittersweet pop melodies of Weezer – all with a knowing nod and wink.
Best tracks: (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends – a brilliant Hunter S Thompson-esque tale about a teen’s desperate (and ultimately failed) attempts to gain spirituality through drug-taking.
There can’t be a better lyric this year than: “Filled with loathing and religious fervour/I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour/And tried not to piss my pants/And then I saw Jesus.”
Review by Stephen Jones
Cheetah EP – Aphex Twin
If an infinite number of monkeys had access to an infinite quantity of musical instruments, computer equipment and hallucinogenics, they could not, in the vastness of time, produce anything quite like Cheetah EP, the 2016 offering from Cornish sonic enigma Aphex Twin.
Dismissed predictably enough as “music for robots”, Richard D James continues to stand way out on his own as the genre’s defining sound-maker – whatever that genre really is.
Cheetah’s tapestry weaves the soothing with the obscure and the unexpected, its heartbeat percussion bringing the listener in on the EP’s opener before exploding in the first of several fits moments later.
Brief, bizarre but beautiful. Not a single lyric spoken or melody fit for the shower. But who really cares?
Standout track: CIRKLON 1.
Review by Ryan Hooper
Frank Ocean – Blonde
After exploding on to the scene in 2012 with his debut studio album, Channel Orange, Ocean returned eventually with a psychedelic 17-track journey through his elaborate mind.
He uses the album to explore musical realms where he has never before ventured, with his ethereal vocals boosted by a stellar cast of featured artists from Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000 to Queen B -Beyonce – each of whom lend their intensity and class to an album which simultaneously charms and challenges the listener.
Best track: White Ferrari.
Review by Joe Pickover
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
The award for the year’s most pretentious, mealy-mouthed album title should not mask that this is a masterclass in sex music.
Musical magpies The 1975 summon the spirit of Fame-era Bowie for Love Me, ape Jacko’s searing, disco-infused vocals for party (drug) anthem UGH!, and channel their inner Adele for ballad Somebody Else.
But this is not merely a 75-minute pastiche of everyone from the Cocteau Twins to Beyonce to Prince.
Flipping effortlessly between styles, genres, highs and lows, the four-piece somehow manage to bring their penetrating audio-visual live extravaganza into one magnificently original LP. And their trajectory is rigidly vertical.
Best track: UGH!
Review by Ryan Hooper