albums of the year so far part 2

With the first 6 months (and a bit) of 2016 behind us, the VH Music team got together to pick out some of the highlights of the year so far…

VH Albums of 2016 (So Far): Part II

BasBas – Too High To Riot
There’s a hazy wisdom in the way Bas raps, something that hasn’t come from mentor J Cole, or anyone else, for that matter. Splicing moral dilemmas (‘too high to riottttt’) with his everyday existence (‘got an eye on her thighs and an eye on horizons’) Bas has blossomed into a young rapper sage of sorts, throwing up myriad questions as he goes – not because it sounds good – because he is genuinely searching for answers. Underrated is clichéd, but when you’re better than your co-sign…? Come for the album standouts Dopamine & Housewives; stay for a look into the mind of one seriously talented artist. (Cayle Hotene – Contributor)

Anderson-Park-MalibuAnderson .Paak – Malibu
I often forget Malibu was released back in January, because damn if it isn’t a perfect summer album. A seductively smooth blend of R&B, neo soul and hip hop – with its gorgeously lush instrumentals, brilliant song writing and well placed collaborations giving Malibu an immediate resonance while still feeling as chill as a day at the beach. Malibu is a celebratory opus that is bursting at the seams with Anderson .Paak’s infectious, introspective joy. Neo soul has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, and it is albums like this that lead the way. (Keiron O’Connor – Contributor)

Christine and the QueensChristine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
Héloïse Letissier has been a staple in the French charts for years. Now, under her stage persona Christine and the Queens, she’s brought her personal, pansexual pop to the English-speaking market. The opening track, ‘iT’, channels Michael Jackson, ‘No Harm is Done’ dips into trap, while her collaboration with Perfume Genius brings the volume down to consider shame and vulnerability. In the C&TQ live show Letissier holds up a bouquet of flowers, picking out Beyoncé and Rihanna before concluding that she too is part of that bouquet. Maybe, but these songs have a pulse that’s been absent from the British pop charts for too long. Now we have a new benchmark. (Dan Owen – Contributor)

letliveLetlive. – If I’m The Devil
In the current political and civil unrest soul punk band Letlive. deliver the album we need. A polished and more dramatic tone for their fourth album If I’m The Devil may appear quieter, less in your face with much less of Butler’s guttural screams but this record is a masterclass in changing your musical direction without losing your political morals.  The scrappy ‘A Week Ago’ and chaotic ‘Another Offensive Song’ still have that raw punk spirit but this album relies on grooves but all the manic energy is put into the articulate commentary of the socio-political mess that is America. (Amelia Harvey – Contributor)

Alev LenzAlev Lenz – Two-Headed Girl
Two-Headed Girl is an album that literally has two heads; one bitter, one sweet, flipping between the two with rhythmic precision. Beautifully arranged instrumentals are accompanied by a vocal performance that can only be described as hypnotic. However, (almost) everything on Two-Headed Girl is built on a solid percussive foundation, made up of some of the most intricate and mesmerising percussion work you’ll hear on a pop record. Plus, lead single ‘Airport’ may just be the most infectious slice of rhythmic pop you’ve never heard. (Daniel Withey – Music Editor)

Swans

Swans – The Glowing Man
This year, we saw the final release of the final chapter of ‘New Swans’, the re-incarnation of the legendary Noise Rock band that emerged back in 2010. The Glowing Man is truly music without limits. At two hours long and boasting three twenty-minute long ‘epics’, the Glowing Man is a gargantuan body of work. Departing from the tight, poised approach of To be Kind, Swans illustrate an astonishing sense of song craft, creating a delicate balance between mantra like hypnotic grooves, experimentalism and their trademark sonic assault. The album’s title track as well as Cloud of Unknowing and Frankie M exemplify Swan’s stunning songwriting ambition; each tracks a journey into the depths of every musical extremity imaginable, in a way few have achieved before. (Toby Fountain – Contributor)

RaindearRaindear – Embers
Embers is an intriguing mix of influences that reach far beyond Rebecca Bergcrantz’s native Sweden. Dark-wave, synth-pop and a cool eastern vibe accompany a vocal performance that moves from big and soulful to haunting and (a little bit) weird. That ‘weirdness’ only stems from the fact that Raindear is out there on her own at the moment – I struggle to name anyone else who can match her unique vocal approach. That said, Embers is still an incredibly accessible pop record, and despite some quite existential lyrical themes, there’s a quirkiness here, reminiscent of the days when The Knife were fun and didn’t take themselves so seriously. (Daniel Withey – Music Editor)

DeftonesDeftones – Gore
After 20 years and 8 albums, Deftones continue to re-define what it means to be a metal band. From their origins which morphed into the Nu-angst trappings of a long since evaporated millennial music genre, right up until the release of their latest album Gore, the band sit comfortably at the summit of credibility and intelligence. Experimenting, and pushing the form of a genre which often gets stuck in an Escher-like loop. Gore is the logical next step from 2012’s Koi No Yokan, expanding on that atmosphere and contrast between Chino Moreno’s soulful, pained and beautiful vocal delivery and the crunching, metal tone of Steven Carpenter’s guitar work. (Daniel Withey – Music Editor)

parquet courtsParquet Courts – Human Performance
Few albums kick off with a song in which a voice cuts in after the first verse and says “instrumental break”, rather than an actual instrumental occurring. Parquet Courts rarely adheres to typical music-making protocol, though, which is probably why the New York City band have released so much music since forming in 2010. Album number five, Human Performance, includes stellar tracks like ‘Dust’, and ‘One Man No City’, moments which should ensure the records place in ‘best of…’ lists at the end of the year (that’s if Courts doesn’t drop another release by then). (Payt Davis – Contributor)

ScHoolboy QScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Q doesn’t come off as chill and easily charmed as he did on 2014’s Oxymoron, something apparent from the start. On opening track ‘Torch’, the South Central Los Angeles rapper rhymes a string of words not synonymous with peaceful MC relations. However, the collaborations with Kanye West, Vince Staples and E-40 work just as well as on previous project. As an artist often known for his ties to Kendrick Lamar, Blank Face shows Q is very much starting to warrant some attention of his own. (Payt Davis – Contributor)

Tiny Moving Parts

Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
Being in your twenties is a time for exploration and learning how you work in the world, and most times this is an anxiety packed period of time. Tiny moving parts has captured something special in their record ‘Celebrate’. It’s an album that perfectly exemplifies self-examination and learning that sometimes everything is okay and you need to get out of your own head. Take a breath and celebrate the positives around you. (Tim Stockwell – Contributor)

fein little homes artwork miniFEiN – Little Homes
It’s no easy task trying to slip social commentary into pop-tinged rock songs without sounding preachy or, worse, like U2. That’s what makes this album so worth listening to. It manages to do everything a band could hope for in a debut or, indeed, any album: it has subtle social commentary, a distinguished sound and countless moments of sheer pop-rock pleasure.
When was the last time you heard searing guitars sit well with synths and digitalised drums? And when did you last see a pop-rock band with high technical prowess? FEiN are something else, and this is just the start. (Thomas Roden – Music Editor)

The Julie RuinThe Julie Ruin – Hit Reset
Hit Reset – the latest album from riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna. The contagious, energetic feel of tracks ‘Mr. So and So’ and ‘I’m Done’ certainly contribute to the record’s positive points, incorporating effortless punk vibes despite the transition into electronic pop and indie surf-rock. Hit Reset is ultimately more impressive than its predecessor (2013’s Run Fast), offering an unapologetic depiction of Hanna’s innermost thoughts with what might be her most personal lyrics to date, particularly within emotional album closer ‘Calverton’. (Kelly Ronaldson – Contributor)

BleachedBleached – Welcome the Worms
Bleached came charging out of the gates with their sophomoric release Welcome the Worms in April of this year, armed with a cleaner more self-assured outlook on their craft. The guitars chug along in a loud, ritualistic yet upbeat fashion and the melodies are extremely catchy, really taking your mind off of the angst in some of the lyrics. They’ve found a way to keep that SoCal sound while blending a more radio-friendly production with tunes like ‘Trying to Lose Myself Again’ and ‘Wednesday Night Melody’. (Tyler Fudge – Contributor)

man made tv broke my brain artworkMan Made – TV Broke My Brain
It’s never going to be easy to form your own indie-rock band and stand out in your own right when your father is none other than the godfather of indie guitar, Johnny Marr. However, that didn’t stop Man Made from giving it a damn fine go on their debut album, with Nile Marr showing the apple doesn’t fall far from the gifted tree. It’s a consistently powerful release, from anthemic indie stomper ‘Bring Some’ to the post-punk title track. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s high-calibre indie-rock that sets the apart from the competition… and their predecessors. (Thomas Roden – Music Editor)

Stranger_to_Stranger_coverPaul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
The number thirteen has proved lucky for the ever-prolific Paul Simon, as his thirteenth studio album (and his first in over five years), Stranger to Stranger, made its way to the top of the UK charts, as well as earning him his highest ever Billboard placing. Of course, when purchasing a Simon record, one knows what to expect; catchy hooks and an infectious joie de vivre set to a toe-tapping cavalcade of tribal rhythms. Stranger to Stranger is no different. Indeed, it meets you with the familiarity of an old friend, comfortably reassuring you that they are not going anywhere. It’s nothing new, nothing overly original, but hey, why fix something that ain’t broke? (Grae Westgate – TV Editor)

Dead WavesDead Waves – Living Inside
Gone are the post-hardcore, melodic-pop moments of the band’s previous efforts, replaced instead with a pallet of noise more akin to the experimental work of Sonic Youth than the Pixies-esq rock ‘n’ roll approach of the past. It’s a sound summed up best on two tracks in particular; ‘Asteroid Akouseme’ with its attack of guitar feedback, erratic, speed-fill drums and inaudible yet haunting vocal work, and ‘Laundromat Goddess & The Armchair Gods’, a journey through post-punk to noise-nightmare via Fugazi and Nick Cave. Living Inside is a nervous and erratic animal, pushing against the boundaries of traditional song structure. (Daniel Withey – Music Editor)

In case you missed it, The VH Albums of 2016 (So Far): Part I.