The 10 Best Albums of 2016

You might like your top 10. But it’s not as good as ours! Our top 10 is, in fact, the best top 10 on the whole internet: authoritative, objective, decisive. Scientific, too; you can see that because numbers are involved. Or maybe it’s all down to what I personally preferred to listen to this year? And not even that, either; someone like (spoiler-alert) Jenny Hval is highly uneasy listening, but still deserves to be included here. No, I don’t believe in the illusion a Best Albums of the Year list offers. But I’m interested what other people thought were the best records all the same, so if someone’s wants to know what I think, here are mine.

Starting with five ‘honourable mentions’ of great releases that just didn’t make the cut (in no particular order): Mitski‘s Puberty 2Martha‘s Blisters in the Pit of My HeartLet’s Eat Grandma‘s I, GeminiHinds‘ Leave Me Alone and Rainbow Reservoir‘s Coco Sleeps Around EP.

And now for the main event:


10. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

A window into the world of Greta Kline. She’s perceptive and observant of what happens around her, but somehow that only confirms the way Next Thing is introspective, like a diary turning the world outside in. Personal memory: this album accompanied Kim and me through Iran, the line “If I could kiss ya / Where would I kiss ya” all the more meaningful when even a kiss on the cheek was risky. Read our review »


9. Okkervil River – Away

The poetic death of Okkervil River, the band, and the (re)surrection of Will Sheff. Or maybe his metaphysical reincarnation as Okkervil River. Away is closer to the folk-jazz of the 60s (think Astral Weeks) than to the band’s recent 80s-inspired output, which results in meandering, pensive long tracks, mainly about Sheff’s grandfather and personal hero who has passed away. Okkervil River is a band I always forget and rediscover, but this time I won’t let go. Read our review »


8. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch

The obligatory ‘difficult’ album in the list… or is it? Blood Bitch was praised all round, but somehow dropped for the end of the year coverage. And I understand that, sure: even though this is Jenny Hval’s most catchy album to date, it’s still shrouded in ancient mystery. But for those who have listened, there’s a lot to discover. Hval is political, knowledgeable, but also funny and exciting. This is, after all, “a record about vampires”! Read our review »


7. The Goon Sax – Up To Anything

Oh, the woes of being a teenager – I’ve only just escaped those years but already reliving them (they never really go away) through The Goon Sax’s open-hearted collection of high-school drama sketches. But no, that is too dismissive; there really is something universal that these youngsters capture. Therefore, I have no fear that whatever The Goon Sax does next, the passing of time won’t taint their knack for a good tune. Read our review »


6. Skating Polly – The Big Fit

Another pair of teenagers; this is a bit of a trend and a good one, too, it’s high time for a new indie canon. Skating Polly is leading the pack with their raw energy and willingness to search, experiment and discover. With every lyric, Peyton and Kelli try out the whole rangs of ways it can be sung, shrieked or shouted, like they’re swishing around the words in their mouth to see which parts of the tongue makes the flavour come out best. My mother gave me Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Portishead, so it’s not surprising that she’s a fan too. Read our review »


5. Deerful – Staying Still EP

Okay, this is not an album but an EP, but that’s a mere technicality. As soon as I heard the first tones of ‘Some Nights’ I was taken straight back to the moment I discovered The Magnetic Fields’ ‘100,000 Fireflies’. I still find the two songs strikingly similar, down to the lyrics even. There’s a personal connection too: in October I sat down with Emma Winston aka Deerful for an interview that lasted twice as long as I expected, in which I came to know the person behind the music a bit. In January, Emma’s playing at a gig in Oxford we’re organising – feel free to come – and with a full album set for release in 2017 you can be sure to see a whole lot more of Deerful at Beautiful Freaks. Read our review »


4. Flowers – Everybody’s Dying to Meet You

Maybe it’s exaggeration, but secretly I see Flowers as heirs to Belle & Sebastian. Not necessarily because of any lyrical or musical similarity. It’s just that both sing about the sadness of life and seem resolved to turn it into something good. Everybody’s Dying to Meet You is louder and darker than its predecessor, but shows the same impossible strength, defiance in the face of hardship. Their cathartic gig at the Sebrigth Arms in London was one the best I’ve been to this year, confirming that where most indie pop bands offer simple pleasures, Flowers aims for the heart. They are the band I listen to when I feel sad about friends feeling sad, and they never let me down. Read our review »


3. The Tuts – Update Your Brain

The Tuts! If anything comes close to Beatlemania, it’s the sheer enthusiasm they inspire. You don’t have to take my word for it; just look at their Facebook page, or Everett True’s blog – it’s what they do. No surprise, either. They’ve got the tunes of course, they’ve got the best tunes since Talulah Gosh, but their music is thoroughly political too, from the personal (‘Dump Your Boyfriend’) to the government (‘Give Us Something Worth Voting For’), and with a critical stance towards the music industry. Indeed, The Tuts are truly DIY, because no man or manager can stop them. Add up the fact that for a change they’re an indie band with members of colour, and it becomes clear that The Tuts is a blueprint for the future of pop. If only the revolution could come sooner. Read our review »


2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

I recently wrote a long defence of Car Seat Headrest for This Is Not a Drill, so what more can I say? Perhaps that, more than with any other band in this list, I like Car Seat Headrest for the songs, the simple pleasure of hearing a well-constructed song with a catchy melody and a surprising twist. Teens of Denial is full of those: from the round-and-round ‘Drugs With Friends’ to the ridiculous concoction ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’, and from the anger of ‘Fill In the Blank’ to the desparation of ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’. Perhaps because of this focus on songs rather than the ‘idea’ of Car Seat Headrest as a band, I loved and continue to love Teens of Denial despite its many flaws (it’s 20 minutes too long, for one). Read our review »


1. Porridge Radio – Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers

There is, still, after many months, hardly anything I can say about Porridge Radio. The music still leaves me speechless. It still terrifies me. It always has – even when I didn’t know it yet. I feel dread at even the thought of having to write another paragraph about Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers, even though properly speaking I’ve never really addressed the album. I’m merely fighting its shadows, describing its echoes, following its footprints. But I’m a natural detective, when it comes to music, and I know this trail is worth following, whatever dark alley or abyss it may lead to. And I know that there is not just anger and fear on Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers, but energy and lust for life, too. Still, sometimes when listening to Porridge Radio I wish Dana wouldn’t shout at me so much. Other times I’m happy she does it though. And again I’m back to square one, not knowing anything, only feeling the push and pull getting hold of me. Read our review »

That’s it! Overall, I’d say 2016 was an outstanding year for music, especially considering that many of those bands are just new on the scene, a good sign for the future. (And you’ll notice I’ve ‘forgotten’ about all the old-timers: Radiohead, Bowie, Cohen, Cave. Yes, those were good too, but it’s not their time). In the next few days there will be a couple of retrospectives from the other Beautiful Freaks contributors, as well as the traditional Beautiful 2016 playlist, so stay tuned for that!

-- Caspar Jacobs, December 14, 2016