The Music Fix Albums of 2016

Wow, 2016. What a year. What a strange, unpredictable, and sad year in so many ways. And what a shitty year for music icons. David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Lemmy. Sharon Jones. Leon Russell. Pete Burns. Bobby Vee. The list really does go on. There's never been a year like it. You might also argue there's never been a year with so many good things for music, from the power of the Knowles sisters releases, to the sheer depth and breadth of excellent albums - including final masterpieces from Bowie and Cohen. Obviously not everything can make a list. Maybe 50 is next year's target. Or not. Anyhow, come with us and spend some time remembering the best of 2016, and maybe, hopefully, discover a new favourite from this year of many emotions.

Huge thanks to the team for putting this list together: Holly Newins, Olivia Schaff, Colin Polonowski, Jonathan Tranter, Maisie Newman, Dominic Ross, and Dominic Hemy.

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Against Me - Shape Shift With Me

Against Me! have further risen to the public consciousness with the release of seventh album, Shape Shift With Me. It’s a compelling narrative from the perspective of vocalist Laura Jane Grace, who has become a powerful spokesperson for the trans community. Laying down a passionate vocal against the background of one of 2016’s most adrenaline fuelled records, the fury of her voice on 'Boyfriend' is just as striking as the fleeting approach of 'Crash Landing'. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Against Me! have produced an empowering record with a significant message more than deserving of mainstream attention.
Best track: 'Boyfriend'

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Amber Arcades - Fading Lines

Real-life named human rights lawyer Annelotte De Graaf’s debut album, funded by her former work as a supermarket cashier, is a delight. There’s dream pop references (Real Estate’s Jackson Pollis collaborates on drums), but a range of styles including indie rock guitars, and more interesting links to when music this terrifically catchy topped the charts: the joy of Madonna with a little sadness like Abba. De Graaf’s lyrical style, perhaps informed by her profession, is precise and tight and her vocal range is wide and sure, notes melt in her mouth before hitting the target whether modulated, or crystal clear in a favourite track, 'Apophenia'. Fading Lines is one of the very best debut albums.
Best track: ‘Apophenia’

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Beyonce - Lemonade

While Beyonce has eased into pole position for gaining the most tabloid inches this year, her musical prowess was often overlooked. But, avoid the ‘did he, didn’t he?’ rhetoric which caused the press to go into meltdown, and you'll uncover an album which proves Bey’s credentials as far more comprehensive than just her blistering trademark vocal. Lemonade effortlessly blends genres across twelve tracks - snaking from the blusey swagger of 'Don’t Hurt Yourself', to the dance hall tinged 'Hold Up', culminating in the anthemic feminist call-to-arms of 'Formation'. Accompanied by a stellar featuring cast including the likes of Jack White, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar, alongside a full set of visuals, Beyonce has produced the most convincing album of her career.
Best track: 'Freedom'

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Bon Iver - 22, A Million

The third album from Wisconsin born Justin Vernon is a left field revelation off the back of Bon Iver’s previously more traditional nu-folk outings. With a tracklisting typeface that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Aphex Twin album sleeve, 22, A Million retains the same melancholic melody of earlier releases but expertly subverts the genre with its cut and paste glitch sampling and pitch shifted vocals to create something both stark and beautiful on such tracks as the acapella “715 - CR∑∑KS” and “29 #Strafford APTS”. Like Kid A before it, this manages to distance itself from its audience and draws them close to the campfire at the same time while still being an identifiable Bon Iver album.
Best track: '22 (over soon)'

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The Burning Hell - Public Library

The Burning Hell’s songwriter Mathias Kom really loves his words, which makes Public Library’s collection of stories motif fitting. Kom’s stories range from others’ sports day violence to his own love-at–first-sight meeting with fellow band member Ariel Sharratt (awww) while never losing their sense of playfulness (including Sharratt’s bouncy clarinet and sax) and inclusiveness – the need to share stories with friends in the great oral tradition – that describes the album’s optimistic nature. Kom also, like the rest of us, really loves his music and the track ‘Men Without Hats’ is an absolute joy as it shares the transformative childhood anticipation of buying our first single. This year Canada lost their great storyteller Leonard Cohen but have others like The Burning Hell keeping this reputation alive. A national treasure.
Best track: ‘Men Without Hats’

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David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie’s twenty-fifth studio album is a fitting swansong from one of music’s titans. Released two days before his death,Blackstar sees Bowie return to Tony Visconti with a deliberate attempt towards an experimental jazz route and, whether intentional or not, only partially succeeds with this goal. It does succeed in sticking with the Bowie tradition of reinventing himself and also manages to organically incorporate all of his previous incarnations from the soul of Young Americans, the electronic of Earthling, and even flourishes of Ziggy, New Romantics, and Berlin-era Bowie without feeling shoehorned in. With the melancholic yet uplifting closing track ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ which, not only revisits the harmonica refrain from ‘A New Career in A New Town’, but serves as a fitting full stop to an exhaustive genre spanning career. An indelibly high water mark from the first great loss of 2016.
Best track: 'I Can't Give Everything Away'

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Drive-By Truckers - American Band

In a strange year on both sides of the Atlantic it had to be a band like DBT that really said something about the fucked up world we live in. In the year of Trump, Brexit, Honey G and Ed Balls American Band is startling only in its directness. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have written some ballsy, gut punch songs, skewering the NRA’s history on ‘Ramon Casiano’ and religious evangelists on ‘Kinky Hyprocrite’ on two of the record’s lighter songs, before the light and airy acoustic-ness of ‘Guns Of Umpqua’ hides the horror of gun violence in schools and the recurring riff of ‘Darkened Flags At The Cusp Of Dawn’ barely conceals their anger. Never has a Drive-By Truckers record been so packed with accessible and on the cusp of greatness songs, ‘Ever South’ and its ruminations on what being southern means, the stunning support of Black Lives Matters on ‘What It Means’ (“I mean Barack Obama won / And you can choose where to eat / But you don't see too many white kids / Lying bleeding on the street”) and their beautifully heartbreaking take on the effects of depression, ‘Baggage’ (“It lights our daily struggle till it's hard to separate / You from all the darkness in me”). Quite simply: this is a stunner.
Best track: ‘What It Means’

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Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield

“You never truly grow up until you lose your parents” is an assertion few adults, including parents themselves, choose to appreciate until they experience this natural transition. Emma Pollock’s In Search of Harperfield beautifully reflects on her late parents’ lives to inform this next stage in her life, storying a familial past with the warning this past is forever an imagined, just out of reach, place. Pollock’s gift is that her album’s never, really, about her, instead it allows a framework for us who’ve lost our parents, and those who will one day, to apply to our own situations. And it’s another transition in the former lead singer of The Delgados’s career. And her voice, well, it remains as ever alongside Dusty Springfield’s, Britain’s best.
Best track: ‘Intermission’

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GOAT - Requiem

The third album from Gothenburg’s illusive psych-rockers GOAT arrived to breathe joy into what has been a doom and gloom laden year. Full of positivity and hope, Requiem slightly dials back the fuzz guitar wigouts of their first two albums, focusing instead on a kaleidoscope of instruments and folk music influences from traditional Celtic and European folk to African and Indian world music. It is a unifying sound that wraps you up in a big cozy blanket, give you a cup of tea, and makes the world we find ourselves in seem like a less scary place. Although, if you still want your fuzz guitar psych rock fix then the aptly titled “Goatfuzz” delivers this in droves.
Best track: 'Trouble In The Streets'

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Gold Panda - Good Luck and Do Your Best

Some of the best stories are between the lines, and some stories have no lines at all. Good Luck and Do Your Best is Gold Panda’s instrumental (and visceral, being a co-project with photographer Laura Lewis) love letter to Japan. The album captures the island nation’s tensions of: pace with ‘In My Car’ dashing along the urban landscape, history of ‘Chiba Night’s Shinshoji temple, and nature as it searches for “the orange light that makes the place glow.” The Chelmsford musician tells the underlying story of enthusiasm, and a little self-doubt, more confidently than ever, resisting the need to show off his technical prowess. A departing local taxi driver instructed Gold Panda “Good luck, and do your best.” He certainly did.
Best track: ‘Your Good Times Are Just Beginning’

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Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

Wow, where did this come from? The bloke from The Walkmen and a bloke from Vampire Weekend, who’da thunk they’d make one of the most interesting rock albums of 2016? Well they have. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is dominated by Leithauser’s sledgehammer voice on first listen, from the dominating ‘A 1000 Times’ on he’s front and centre. On repeat listens though the subtle but stunning input from Rostam - i.e. the rest of it - shines through brightly. The chirpy, cheeky melody of ‘ Sick As A Dog’ is all about the music with Leithauser’s vocals supporting, ‘In A Black Out’ is great doo wap and the banjo led ‘Peaceful Morning’ could be heard around a campfire. It’s a pairing that just works. Never has Leithauser sounded so confident and malleable, and each song is a self contained wonder. Oh, and the standout? ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’ a crazy mix of styles that Rostam and Leithauser pull off with aplomb.
Best track: ‘A 1000 Times’

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Harakiri For The SkyIII: Trauma

Ragging on black metal can be a habit in Dark Hemyspheres, but so much of it is very poorly executed and becomes hugely infuriating; in turn though, it makes bands such as Harakiri For The Sky all the more exciting. With III: Trauma the duo has built on their excellent sophomore album to create a record bursting with pain and torment. This piles on the claustrophobia and isolation relentlessly over eight tracks that are more expansive, yet also more refined and sharper than before. A heavy and bruising effort, the quieter moments sink further into despair, emphasising the cathartic release of the wailing and thrashing. As the excuses and patience for lo-fi unimaginative wannabes decreases, it is albums like this that helps keep the faith in the most ungodly of genres.
Best track: ‘Funeral Dreams’

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Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression

In amongst a number of swan songs from music greats in 2016, this is (potentially) another for the list. Iggy Pop has been quoted as saying that Post Pop Depression could be his last studio album and, like Bowie’s Blackstar, manages to forge new ground while drawing on previous efforts like The Idiot. Post Pop Depression is jam packed with the sarcastic bile and vitriol you expect from Iggy, with fuzzy bass, angular guitar and synth work resulting in a heavy, writhing, mid tempo groove that is dark and sleazy in equal measure. With support from 2016’s best backing band comprising of Josh Homme, Dean Fertita, and Matt Helders, if this is Iggy’s final farewell then it is a fitting one. A final defiant middle finger.
Best track: 'American valhalla'

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The Joy Formidable - Hitch

Welsh trio The Joy Formidable haven’t had the easiest of times lately, documented in their third offering Hitch. Documenting the break up of singer Rhiannon Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd, you can imagine their time spent in the recording studio should have been a little awkward at times. However, it seems you can date your colleagues - they’ve come out the other side with a stellar collection of indie anthems built for the live circuit. 'The Last Thing On My Mind' is a future classic, and with lyrics including "I wouldn't say that this is the end / We might get away with a happy ending after all".
Best track: 'The Last Thing On My Mind'

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Lily & Madeleine - Keep It Together

Two out of three ain’t bad, apparently. And when you’re 19 year old Lily and 21 year old Madeleine, two albums in three TMF album of the year lists is pretty decent going. Following 2014’s Fumes should have been tough, it was a clear improvement on their debut from a year earlier. But the sisters made it seem too damn simple; Keep It Together is more complex musically, and adds a new dynamic to their quite wonderful harmonising. Right from the wonderfully woozy ‘Not Gonna’ and it’s opening line “Cuts along your thighs” this is deeper lyrically and sonically. Whether it’s the dreamlike ‘Chicago’ or piano driven wonder of ‘Hourglass’ with its catchy “Hoooo ooooh this is my hourglass” chorus this is mature song making. Even more implausibly the sisters write all this themselves. Where they turn next is something to get us slavering with excitement.
Best track: ‘Westfield’

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Lolo - In Loving Memory Of When I Gave A Shit

Massively underrated and underheard on her 2010 debut under her actual name, Lauren Pritchard, adopted Londoner / New Yorker Lolo went away to figure things out. That she returned with such a remarkably raw and powerful ten tracks is astonishing. Trading on her soulful smoky voice Lolo goes straight for the gut with opener ‘Heard It From A Friend’ (“Yeah I heard it from a friend who / Heard it from a friend / So when you gonna tell me you fucked me over”) and continues the un-romance theme through ‘Not Gonna Let You Walk Away’, dripping with reverb, venom, and the best vocals of 2016. But its real pain is when Prichard tackles depression and its effect; ‘Shine’ reaffirms life from a dark place, the honesty in ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Lie’, and ‘Dandelion’. This is an album about staying true to yourself, not hiding, and talking about the things that are hard. All wrapped up in accessible soulful pop and rock. Remarkable.
Best track: ‘Not Gonna Let You Walk Away’

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Lotus ThiefGramarye

It should come as little surprise that a sprinkling of the "otherworldly" in my music is a good thing in our book, and few can season better than Lotus Thief. Dark and psychedelic, Gramayre takes us on a journey through ancient and forbidden texts in their own inimitable way. Shrouded in mystery and reverb to compliment the ethereal female vocals, this is a stellar melding of celestial atmospherics to crafty, memorable songwriting. Crunching riffs and fretboard fireworks sweep the listener along, an alluring current dotted with pools of calm, blissful serenity. It culminates in an elated climax of swirling guitars, hazy synths and uplifted voices that is both exhausting and euphoric.
Best track: ‘The Book Of The Dead’

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Margo Price - Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price's album on Jack White's Nashville label is honey voiced pissed off country to make Loretta Lynn smile. For many of us who don’t only follow country music, this is the first album from the genre to – furiously – yank at the heartstrings since Caitlin Rose’s Own Side Now in 2010. What makes Price’s work special is her combination of relative youth with a full life, having too soon gone through the ordeals she sings about, including the tragic loss of a child leading to understandable over drinking. “Authentic” is one of music writers’ most meaningless words, devalued by its use on artists nowhere near Price’s candour. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a, meaningfully, authentic work with no other choice than to break your heart, but with the good natured tender care to try and put it back together again. Listen to the track ‘Hands of Time’, one of many to verify you have a heart worth putting back together. Nothing will make you cry as much this year.
Best track: 'Hands of Time'

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Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate

London born singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka released his much anticipated second album Love and Hate a good four years after his impressive debut. Was it worth it? Oh definitely. Encompassing folk, soul and jazz, these ten tracks explore the themes of alienation, loneliness and the quest of finding one’s place in this troubled world. The rich arrangements blanket the songs in a sumptuous warmth keeping the melancholia at bay. As Kiwanuka sings in the funked up blues of ‘Black Man In A White World': “I'm in love but I'm still sad / I've found peace but I'm not glad.” Beautiful.
Best track: 'Cold Little Heart'

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Mystery Jets - Curve of the Earth

Mystery Jets didn't waste any time in securing their place on this year's list, they released their fifth album, Curve of the Earth, just a couple of weeks into 2016. With it being four years since their last instalment, the band have had plenty of time to evolve, this change catalysed by the replacement of bassist Kai Fish with young Jack Flanagan. The Londoners have never settled on one sound but this record ventures far from the indie and pop elements we've seen before - they've branded it a 'space-rock' record, a very fitting label considering the planet-focused lyrics and celestial sound. The anthemic choruses capture the listeners and allow the group room to experiment with the ethereal instrumental. Lead singer Blaine Harrison's entrancing vocals are a match for his delicate piano skills that feature prominently across the album. On upbeat track 'Bubblegum' bouncy synths lift the tempo, whilst dainty strings feature on the poignant 'Taken by the Tide'. Curve of the Earth is consistent, comprehensive and compelling.
Best track: 'Taken by the Tide'

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Natalie McCool - The Great Unknown

We had a feeling when Natalie McCool unveiled her debut that she was on course to creating something truly special; that was a cracking album but The Great Unknown is even more. Dark pop with a barbed edge - it’s an album made up of career best tracks that any artist would be proud of but it's the anthemic 'Fortress' that marks the moment that makes this a true album of the year contender; it's a rare thing and the message of connection, protection and hope rings out strong. We’d be spoilt with one track as good as this but then we’ve got other equally as stunning tracks such as ‘Cardiac Arrest’, ‘Magnet’ and ‘You & I’; each of which bring something unique and exciting to one of the year’s most important self-released albums. The Great Unknown is an accomplishment of which McCool can be truly proud.
Best track: ‘Fortress’

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Norma Jean Martine - Only In My Mind

It might take Only In My Mind a handful of listens to break into your mind, but the New Yorker-turned-Londoner’s debut clearly has something that clicks from the very first play through. Only In My Mind is a layered and beautiful thing that sees Norma Jean Martine throws in surprise after surprise. The rock tinged ‘Animals’ is one of the standouts but isn’t atypical of an album that refuses to be defined and each tune affords Martine the chance to evolve her sound through another genre from lightweight pop to surprisingly layered soul. At times it’s tough to remember Only In My Mind is a debut, why? Simply put: it’s one of the strongest we’ve heard.
Best track: ‘Only In My Mind’

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Pascal Pinon - Sundur

Icelandic sisters Ásthildur and Jófríður Ákadóttir, calling themselves Pascal Pinon, brought their quirky and gloriously eccentric album Sundur to us, and if we needed any more proof that Iceland is the coolest place on the planet than here it is. Sung in the sister's child-like voices, these songs weave their way into your consciousness, like dreams that flicker away just as you wake. Acoustic guitars, keyboards and accordion accompany the dark fairy-tale tunes. Haunting and wonderful, you’ll want to re-visit this magical realm again and again.
Best track: ‘Skammdegi’

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Sam Coomes - Bugger Me

The music industry’s often after the next bright young thing, but the next bright old(-ish) things have much to offer too, as the self-admitted “less famous half of Quasi” Sam Coomes releases his first solo album after 23 years. And it’s a lot of fun, like if The Flaming Lips didn’t take themselves so seriously, or if Brian Wilson spent his days uploading chiptune remixes to Soundcloud. There’s a mass of production, with wonky electronics and howling radios, but it’s never over the top: pay attention and there are running narratives that may reference comic book characters and alien invasions. A joyful release of pent up creative energy. Fifty years old is the new twenty, well done Sam.
Best track: ‘Shined It On Lobotomy Eggs’

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Sia - This Is Acting

Sia may be camera shy, but there’s nothing bashful about the Aussie musician’s seventh - yes seventh - studio album. It’s hard to believe her debut, OnlySee, is twenty years old next year. An accomplished songwriter, it’s only been the last few widely released LPs that have turned her into a megastar in her own right, and This Is Acting is the perfect album to showcase her unique and powerful vocal talents. This might be her most mainstream and pop-heavy release to date, but it’s also one that pushes the envelop in many directions and while it might not seem so at first its multifaceted nature is a reflection on Sia Furler’s shy-yet-confident personality.
Best track: ‘Cheap Thrills’

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Skepta - Konnichiwa

Konnichiwa is unavoidably one of the most important albums of the year. As the winner of this year's Mercury Prize it's become a symbol of grime's resurgence, on an ever bigger scale than 13 years ago when grime godfather Dizzee Rascal won the same prize. The album is long overdue with its most iconic tracks 'That's Not Me' and 'Shutdown' - songs that saw levels of success unprecedented in the genre - being a couple of years old by the time of Konnichiwa's release. The record was preceded by a huge amount of hype and pressure as it was set to be a testament to the true popularity of grime, and neither fans nor critics were disappointed. Skepta creates an interesting contrast between the harsher, more rap-focused tracks and the more melodic songs with attention on hooks. The latter, namely 'Ladies Hit Squad' and 'Numbers', use features to create something different from the grime norm; big names Pharrell Williams, Wiley and A$AP Nastall feature. Skepta's earned his place on the list with an album responsible for spearheading a musical revolution.
Best track: 'Man'

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Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth

2016 has been eventful for America’s favourite country outlaw. Not content with taking the Nashville establishment to task he’s also released a genre defying, career defining concept album. After two country-to-the-core records, Simpson steps outside his safety zone with the horn driven, Muscle Shoals sounding, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Across the nine tracks, loosely tied around the idea of sailors writing home, the Kentucky singer plays with his theme and his sounds. From the rolling waves and warning bell of opener ‘Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)’ through the raucous advisory anthem ‘Keep It Between The Lines’ and Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ repurposed with a wicked country twang, to the beautiful ode to missing loved ones ‘Oh Sarah’ this is world beating stuff.
Best track: ‘Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)’

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Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death

Another act on our list that have been around for a lot longer than you might think, Tegan and Sara are on album number eight. Still bubbling under the surface of the mainstream despite the slowburn change of direction culminating in the perfect adult pop of Love You To Death. The duo have had a remarkable journey from the acoustic folk stylings of their 1999 debut Under Feet Like Ours. But the past is most definitely the past, their current output is at the highest levels of lyrical clarity, the clever gender obfuscation of lead single ‘Boyfriend’ being one of the obvious examples (“I let you take advantage cause it felt so good / I blame myself for thinking we both understood”), but the whole package is impressive; the autotuned vocals, the pop of the production, the nightclub pizzaz of the beats. The crushing sadness of ‘100x’ shows the twins can do slow, almost ballad-esque, tunes too. How they balance the showiness of it all with the intimacy of the words is what ultimately makes it soar.
Best track: ‘100x’

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Teleman - Brilliant Sanity

With their second album London based Teleman mean business and leave the gate firing on all cylinders. Revisiting the Krautrock vibe of their debut Breakfast, Brilliant Sanity is an expansive sounding album that is as angular as it is funky and, at times, anthemic. It’s a smorgasbord of influences: imagine a Roxy Music and Super Furry Animals supergroup covering early Arcade Fire in a german bierkeller while Talking Heads listen in, and you have Brilliant Sanity. With the strong opener ‘Dusseldorf’, the anthemic ‘Glory Hallelujah’, and the bouncy ‘Superglue’, this is one of the most enjoyable releases from 2016 and marks Teleman as ones to watch in 2017.
Best track: 'Glory Hallelujah'

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Yak - Alas Salvation

Yak are noisy, brash and brazenly arrogant in a way new artists rarely dare, but they hold just the right amount of composure to turn it into something brilliant. Their debut, Alas Salvation, presents itself with chaotic, scribbled artwork that lets you know what you're in for. They show great skill in balancing noisy punk with guitar rock. The track list bravely omits a couple of their popular singles - most surprisingly 'No', from an EP released under Jack White's Third Man Records. However the record doesn't suffer, the electrifying sound, evocative of an anarchic White Stripes, keeps your head banging for the full 40 minutes. Amongst the stand out hits, 'Smile' and the turbulent 'Harbour the Feeling', you can find treats like the unapologetic minute-long title track. The trio have made their mark on the year with one of the most promising and defiant albums of any new act.
Best track: 'Harbour the Feeling'

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