While 2016 was generous enough to bring us mass migration, mop topped demagogues and as many celebrity deaths as you can shake a stick at – it actually found some time off to deliver us some pretty amazing records as well.
Between emotional quasi-posthumous releases from the likes of David Bowie (Blackstar) and Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest) and genre-evolving jazz records from Yussef Kamaal and Badbadnotgood, 2016 was undoubtedly a year in which many cemented their musical legacy, while many newcomers broke ground online in a way their predecessors never could. A tonic for shaky times, sit back and enjoy all 10 of our Melodic Distraction team’s favourite LPs from 2016.
Phil Stroud – Phil Stroud (Good Company Records)
Chosen by Jaxon Eastabrook
From Perth legends, Good Company Records (not being biased… promise) and weighing in at just an over an hour, this cracking self-titled LP from Phil Stroud is a journey through the art of percussion. The album features various other talented Perth muso’s including Jack Doepel, Benjamin Witt and Mei Swan Lim, and is comprised of charming natural slow burners amongst powerful tribal dancefloor rhythms.
Backed by the likes of Skream on BandCamp, it spells the next release from the promising Good Company boys to be well received in the international underground music sphere. The UK scene can be heavy at times, and for me this album has been the perfect distraction. I can chuck it on, drift away and reminisce about the sunny motherland.
The full album is available for digital purchase on BandCamp, with the record shipping around December 12th.
MNDSGN – Body Wash (Stones Throw)
Chosen by Markio
Ringgo Ancheta’s second album consolidates the artist’s ability to extract the past to soundtrack the future. The LA-based producer/beat maker signed to Stones Throw, a record label that needs no introduction signing the likes of J Dilla, Madlib, Dam-Funk and Myron & E, digs into the legendary SOLAR Records for his inspiration as well as on Kashif’s work, a pioneer of urban music. The album vaguely follows a unique tale dreamed up by Mndsgn. In the narrative, a homeless man meets a mysterious woman who gives him refuge. She instructs him to bathe with a strange body wash. As he soaks and sinks deeper in a thick foam of this unknown solution, the man finds himself transported to an alternative dimension.
The single “Cosmic Perspective” introduces the rest of the album in which he avoids traditional hip-hop beats for more woozy soul and funk sounds all tied with a good dose of psychedelia. It bounces between styles and genres performing a large variety of influences.
Steven Julien – Fallen (Apron Records)
Chosen by Rory Connaughton
Without a doubt my favourite album of 2016 is Fallen by Funkineven. The choice to use his full name, Steven Julien, signified not only the class of this album but also his evolution in becoming a more cultured artist. His versatility is no secret, having produced bags of Fatima tracks on Eglo Records, whilst still pushing his hallmark heavy acid-inflected beats like Roland’s Jam and wielding that type of jazz fusion that made Brainfeeder so illustrious. The double-cover LP is a production masterclass spilling with raw post-future rollers like Jedi and Kingdom, backed with those reebok-scuffing drums so prevalent in house music right now. It could easily be the soundtrack to the end of the world in a sega video game, kicking off with dancefloor quaker XL and Chantel, which are packed with enough flashy synths and warm jazzy undertones to transport you to Yoshi Falls. From cover to cover it’s complete listening for escapists, what a way to mark your first studio album.
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic Records)
Chosen by James McElhone
Out of the many enthralling albums that have shaped 2016, this one stands out to me the most. 18 years without an album certainly struck fear in the hearts of a lot of ATCQ fans but they leapt into the modern music scene whilst keeping true to their original, unique style. With the recent death of the legend Phife Dawg, it was a refreshing and surreal moment to hear him as alive as ever, likewise with the return of past member Jarobi White and obviously the many other incredible contributors (Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Jack White, Elton John etc.) help to craft an album which will be firmly cemented in music history.
Tycho – Epoch
Chosen by Aiden Brady
Tychos’s ambient electro sound is a treat to listen to. It’s been on repeat while I’ve been studying, with a perfect balance of quick pace and relaxing late night mood. Perhaps best known for his sunrise Burning Man set, he expertly crafts his own atmosphere using live and digital sounds alike. Several of the tracks have a steady tempo forged with carrying drums, sturdy basslines and broad, emotive melodies, such as ‘Glider’ ‘Epoch’ and ‘Local.’ Others, such as “Receiver”, are much broader and slower tracks that sound best suited to stargazing. Tycho successfully carves out soundscapes which are both emotive and exciting.
A Band Called Flash – A Band Called Flash
Chosen by Toby Taylor
2016 has seen some big names release new albums- Kanye, Skepta, Beyonce, Radiohead, Kendrick, David Bowie, Frank Ocean, James Blake and Autechre to name just a few. Even if you were to restrict yourself to just the world of dance music, 2016 has seen some stunning releases. Highlights include A Made Up Sound’s self titled compilation, Jeremy Underground’s soul and jazz extravaganza, Jeremy Underground Presents Beauty and Omar-S’s The Best. In spite of all this, my album of the year has to go to A Band Called Flash’s: A Band Called Flash. Produced by house legend Ron Trent, it’s a delightful throwback to the 80’s post disco sound. ‘’Phantom’’ is undoubtedly the standout, as gliding synths, a slapping bassline, and smooth vocals combine to create a wonderfully uplifting track that is a joy to behold. Trent’s influence is most obvious on ‘’Starfall’, which also sees the return of keyboardist Andrew Zhang, who had collaborated with the band on arguably the best track of their 2015 album Mother Confessor, “Sliph”. ‘’E.L.L.A’’ bears all the hallmarks of a traditional funk classic, with its deliciously funky bassline the standout, whilst the more experimental “Volans” has an almost proto-house feel. It was always going to be difficult to surpass their fantastic debut album, but A Band Called Flash does that and far much more.
Various Artists – Digital Zandoli (Heavenly Sweetness)
Chosen by Tom Lye
This year I’ve been listening to less and less albums in full, especially from individual artists who approach a full lenth release with a distinct narrative and process in mind. I know that I’ve been missing out so I will be getting round to it at some point! Rather, I’ve been putting albums on that are effective as a background accompaniment to any work I need doing. Therefore, instead of picking out a new release album, I’ve gone after the best compilation album that I feel has come out this year, Digital Zandoli, out on Heavenly Sweetness.
Selected by Niko Skliris and the crate diggers at Digger’s Digest, Digital Zandoli is a 12 track compilation of zouk and synthetic funk tracks from the West Indies. From funky calypso disco on Dévenn to the sub-aquatic trip that is Indiano, this album is full of delights. The highlight for me is Vacance Union by Ramon Pyrme Jean Claude Cornely, a jittery funk track with an equisite saxaphone riding around a squelchy bassline, but each track is killer on this sought after comp.
Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus (Brownswood)
Chosen by Joshua Aitman
One of the most pioneering contemporary jazz albums of the year, Black Focus combines the inexplicable rhythmic talents of Yussef Dayes along with keyboard intricacies of Kamaal Williams, also known for his productions on Rhythm Section under the alias; Henry Wu. The duo, combined with their band, are shaping up to be one of the scene’s youngest and most prolific jazz groups. The band’s live set barely covers their album – opting instead to simply use it as a guideline for their improvisational collaboration, creating entirely new, exciting melodic turns and sections from one show to another. We can only hope that it is only a matter of time until these aficionados of contemporary jazz embark on their next outing.
Whether it be the moody jazz approaches to Black Focus, the funk injected fast paced boogie of Lowrider, the mind boggling drum patterns in Strings of Light or the acidic scales WingTai Drums, this album is without a doubt my top LP of the year.
Frank Ocean – Blond
Chosen by Chris Cannell
Arriving too late to take up the position of summer anthem was Frank Ocean’s Blonde. The false release dates, woodworking live streams, visual albums and enormous magazines stirred up a considerable frenzy in the run up to its release. Thus, I feared that the album wouldn’t live up to the hype, but once it arrived, my doubts were quickly alleviated. It is certainly one of those albums that has to be listened to as a whole and thus I haven’t included any individual songs in my top tracks (this goes for much of the other albums in my selection as well). Listening to the LP, it flows from track to track, and the dissonance of styles have a perfectly symbiotic relationship. The slow, almost ballad like sounds of “Nikes” contrast directly with the intricate rapping of Solo, yet the two songs retain the similar musical tenderness present throughout the album. While choosing my top five was somewhat challenging, it certainly wasn’t difficult selecting my top album of 2016.
NxWorries – Yes Lawd! (Stones Throw Records)
Chosen by James Zaremba
Yes Lawd! is the second release from California’s boutique record label, Stones Throw, to make our list. After dropping two singles around the back-end of 2015, fans of Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge had been waiting eagerly by the time of the duo’s October release. Vividly, I can recall reading a review before my initial listen that simply described this album as: “sounding like sex.” Sultry Brazilian boogie samples on “Link Up” and Anderson .Paak’s excessive lyrical extravagance on tracks the likes of “Suede” and “Lyk Dis” render this 19 track LP a masterpiece in aesthetic over depth. Often lacking in serious sustenance, .Paak and Knxwledge’s combined sound invites listeners into their indulgent, sample heavy world of partying, sex and debauchery. A certain nod to the Stones Throw architects, Madlib and J Dilla – Knxwledge’s talent on the MPC is rightly earning him a spot on most emcee’s shopping list: Combined, these two were never likely to fail…Yes Lawd!