2016 was an eventful year to say the least; fortunately, there were some great albums to soundtrack the whole thing. Here, Jungle’s Music Editor Philip Goodfellow picks his top five albums of the year…
5. Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future – Underworld
The fact Underworld are into their fourth decade as a musical entity is impressive enough. For them to still be creating albums as good as this is frankly absurd. Now slightly taken for granted, Underworld nevertheless sound as fresh and vital as they ever have and Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future gives every indication that there’s plenty more to come from Messrs Hyde and Smith.
4. Blond – Frank Ocean
I didn’t like Channel Orange. That’s right, I said it. Granted, it had it’s moments, but for me it felt too gimmicky, too episodic, too showy to be considered the great album so many deemed it to be. However, it took the release of another album for me to fully realise exactly what it was I disliked so much about Channel Orange. That album is Blond. Stripped back, focussed and infinitely more coherent than his previous effort, Frank Ocean’s latest is a genuinely great album that draws on hidden depths to Ocean’s talents, making it possible for previous doubters to get to grips with what all the fuss is about.
3. Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding
The word understated has previously been attached to jazz singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding and her music, but there’s little understated about this album. Having taken a hiatus for a couple of years, Spalding returned with an alter ego of sorts – the Emily of the album’s title – who appears to have brought a new fearlessness to Spalding’s already enviable sonic arsenal. It’s unsurprising to find the name Wayne Shorter amongst Spalding’s influences; the two share a musical audacity that is becoming increasingly rare, coupled with an instinctual ability for craft that makes for truly inspired output.
2. Cashmere – Swet Shop Boys
An escalation in racial tensions has seen swathes of black artists quite rightly using their music to express their feelings and concerns about the situation. Less heard – at least within music – is the experience of Asians who, particularly those who are Muslim, have seen their very existence become highly politicised. Enter Swet Shop Boys, comprised of British-Pakistani rapper Riz MC (aka Riz Ahmed, perhaps best known for his acting career) and US-Indian rapper Heems. Cashmere’s combination of wit, conviction and personal experience – Riz MC offers an insight into his fairly unique position of being an internationally renowned celebrity who is also a British Muslim and the dichotomy of treatments that can bring with it (track Zayn Malik gives a nod to someone in similar shoes), whilst Heems ponders the disproportionate number of times a Southern Asian male is required to remove his shoes, be it to enter a place of worship or be allowed to board a plane. Cashmere was an experiment of sorts, made by two rappers who have previously existed as artists in their own right, but it’s one that has paid off handsomely and will hopefully result in further collaborative material from the pair.
1. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
If there was one album that 2016 needed, it was this one. Following the sad demise of founding member Phife Dawg back in March, the group’s future looked understandably uncertain, which perhaps made the emergence of this absolute sledgehammer of an album towards the end of the year all the more surprising. Full of the verve and brilliance that A Tribe Called Quest have always been known for but shot through with an almost supernatural sense of relevance – despite having been recorded largely prior to Phife Dawg’s death – the album was released just days after Donald Trump was confirmed as US President Elect and broaches a number of the key topics dragged into the spotlight by the no holds barred race to the White House; Mr. Trump even gets his own dedicated ode in the shape of closing track The Donald. The album also features an impressive array of drafted in talent, including Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Anderson Park, Andre 3000, Jack White, Elton John and long time Tribe collaborator Busta Rhymes, but these artists aren’t just here to pay their respects; each one is used extremely well, with Kids featuring Andre 3000 proving to be one of the album’s highlights. It could well be that this is the end of the road for A Tribe Called Quest; if that’s the case, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a fairly spectacular sign off.
Music Editor Philip Goodfellow