Okay, the best album of 2016 was… the one you liked the most. And you don't need a critic to tell you what that was. It might have been David Bowie's exceptional blackstar or The Wiggles' latest opus. You have your own taste, but we thought we might point you to some fine music which came out this year but maybe slid under your radar.
We think the 5 albums here (with suggestions for other investigations) are those you'll still be listening to in years to come, like blackstar.
The one-time Britpop scenesters confirmed their 2013 return to form on Bloodsports with this confident reflection on adulthood, yet retained their classic Bowie-like melodrama and cloying claustrophobia. The ambiguous sexuality of their first incarnation has dissipated but what is here is utterly compelling. Get the CD/DVD version to appreciate the full breadth of this one.
Want more people sounding like their classic selves? Try Bonnie Raitt's Dig In Deep, Elton John's Wonderful Crazy Night and Van Morrison's Keep Me Singing,
San Francisco still has a mainline into its psychedelic past if this outfit is any measure. Drummer/singer Meg Baird from Philadelphia's folk-rock Espers joins these SF locals for soaring Jefferson Airplane-cum-Hendrix rock, with nods to Crazy Horse and the widescreen sound of fellow SF band Wooden Shjips. Wah-wah to the stars at times. Tune in, turn on . . .
Want more stoner rock? Try Chris Robinson Brotherhood's Any Way You Love We Know How You Feel and Vodun's Possession.
Opening with a leisurely guitar part beamed in from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, this album then connects with Motown gospel handclap pop, Gil Scott-Heron's black politics, Marvin Gaye's soul-searching with strings and some very personal reflections. Where Gaye aimed for the big picture, London-born Kiwanuka keeps things much closer to himself and his own pains, yet over the full album he manages to touch some universal sentiments.
Want more like this? Check out Billie Ray Martin's The Soul Tapes and Sturgill Simpson's Southern country-soul on A Sailor's Guide to Earth.
Pacific Heights; The Stillness
Pacific Heights is Wellington producer-songwriter Devin Abrams formerly of Shapeshifter who here dials the beats right down for some falsetto pop-soul with electronica (and Louis Baker guesting on the outstanding Buried by the Burden). Ambient soundscapes, subtle beats, ethereal effects and dream inducing neo-soul. Very impressive.
Want more soul/electronica? Then try and hunt down two other fine Kiwi albums, Andrew Keoghan's Every Orchid Offering and Electric Wire Hustle's The 11th Sky
Lawrence Arabia; Absolute Truth
The grown-up album from the Kiwi singer-songwriter. Written after the birth of his first child and in the rare time snatched for creativity made him focus on blessings, questions and economic music and lyrics. The elegance and poise is still there, but the songs often seem more simple and pared back, even if the lyrics explore deep territory. Pop with brains, and one that sneaks up over time.
Want other real slow-grow keepers? Try Angel Olsen's My Woman and Ultimate Painting's Dusk.