Best albums of 2016: music you need to hear before the new year

Best albums of 2016: music you need to hear before the new year

Blackstar

Bowie, Solange and John Cooper Clarke: the List's music writers pick their favourite albums of the year

Well. 2016, eh? What was that all about? Our music writers have had a lot to get through – professionally and personally – thanks to a year that insisted on picking off hero after hero, not to mention the world of politics going completely batshit. A near-impossible task - choose your favourite album of this year – but we've given it a go, with results ranging from the dear departed to new faces and stalwart oldies. Read on to see what we thought.

David Bowie: Blackstar
Although it still seems impossible to separate the murky but moving off-kilter brilliance of Blackstar from Bowie's shock exit a mere two days after its release, in time his swansong deserves to be appreciated in its own right as another audacious entry in the greatest pop catalogue of our times. Where other artists of his vintage opt to chew on their musical comfort blankets, Bowie pushed his muse right out there, navigating by the lithe rhythm of a little known New York jazz quartet, to create this bleak, beautiful, slightly bonkers beast of a record. (Fiona Shepherd)

Christine and the Queens: Chaleur Humaine
Making her grand entrance into the UK's popular consciousness via a magnetic Graham Norton performance a week before the Brexit vote, and playing a festival-defining set at Glastonbury the day the result was announced, French electro-pop performer Héloïse Letissier arrived as a timely reassurance of defiantly off-kilter Europeanness (no, YOU'RE a pe- oh, never mind). Her album, Chaleur Humaine (aka Human Warmth), likewise exhibited a sense of shared humanity that happily flouted boundaries of gender, sexuality and nationality. Under Letissier's heartfelt vocal and sentiment, the qualities that typically define electronica – a beauty that's icy and distant; machine-like precision – thawed into something human, and warm. (Niki Boyle)

Solange: A Seat at the Table
If Beyonce's Lemonade is a love letter to black women, as it has often been described, Solange's A Seat at the Table is a celebration of black womanhood, a compelling call to arms against backing down, giving in or relinquishing your power. The gospel influences throughout give force to Solange's quietly commanding vocals, allowing the melancholy to ebb and flow. It's an album that honestly and fiercely depicts the processes of coping with grief and anger but with an all-embracing warmth and comfort that binds you in a sense of solidarity. A Seat at the Table is the album that we need in 2016; an affirmation of identity, self-love and ultimately, soul. (Arusa Qureshi)

Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas: Mariner
Some may argue that the whole slow-burn post-metal thing began an appropriately languid descent towards the moribund and irrelevant over a decade ago. But such arguments are rendered void by Cult of Luna's collaboration with former Made Out of Babies/Battle of Mice vocalist and generally terrifying human Julie Christmas. Comprising five long-form tracks of thick, textured drones, soupy atmospheres and inevitable kaiju riffs, this album would be sufficiently immersive and unabashedly dramatic as an instrumental experience. But it's Christmas' unique gossamer-coo-to-bone-liquefying-scream voice – reaching profoundly unsettling new extremes on astounding centrepiece 'The Wreck of SS Needle' – that gives Mariner its bloody fangs. (Matt Evans)

John Cooper Clarke & Hugh Cornwell: This Time It's Personal
In a year where everything has gone to shit, political records are more important than ever. Beyoncé's Lemonade; Anohni's Hopelessness; Alicia Keys' Here all tackled the world's issues head on. In times of strife, though, there's still plenty of space for easier listening. Step up Dr John Cooper Clarke and Hugh Cornwell with This Time It's Personal, an album comprising their favourite songs from days gone by. With the elder statesmen of punk crooning their way through the likes of Conway Twitty, Leiber & Stoller and Ben E King, the album may have been recorded for fun, but its dry charm and gentle nostalgia has accidentally provided a musical antidote to what's been a terrible year. (Kirstyn Smith)

Avenged Sevenfold: The Stage
Out of nowhere, Avenged Sevenfold dropped a surprise new album alongside some virtual reality shenanigans. While they're trying to be a band of 'firsts' now, The Stage, more importantly, is just a blinder of an album. 2013's Hail to the King showed they could write alongside their influences, but here they return to what made them great in albums past, while exploring new territory, science and artificial intelligence for good measure. It's a huge leap up. The last few years have been a journey of paying tribute and finding their feet again - this is the album where they found them. (Heather McDaid)

Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos
Amid this year's platter of political twists and turns, I found myself magnetically drawn to Kate Tempests' second album Let Them Eat Chaos. Tempest creates a chorus of seven lonely, lost Londoners in order to rail against the 'myth of the individual,' combining her knack for storytelling with searing commentary. Taking on anti-immigration sentiment, the refugee crisis and substance abuse with eloquence and anger in equal measure, Let Them Eat Chaos is part manifesto, part poetry, juggling clashing perspectives and philosophies with ease. Kinder, funnier and smarter than anything else released this year, Let Them Eat Chaos is the definite record of 2016. (Sam Bradley)

Moor Mother: Fetish Bones
Of all the great albums informed by #BlackLivesMatter, few are as startling as Moor Mother's Fetish Bones. An Afrofuturist time-machine constructed from jagged shards of hip-hop, noise, punk and jazz, Fetish Bones travels 'throughout the race riots, from 1886 to the present day', telling of the violence done to black bodies. Moor Mother, aka Philadelphian Camae Ayewa, ensures the medium is as radical as her message, as she buries Wu-Tang strings under squalling horns, and stacks warped vocals over punishing industrial grind. A sui generis masterpiece, Fetish Bones is a vital document of these dark times. (Stewart Smith)

David Bowie: Blackstar
There were albums which sounded more righteously of their time (Beyonce's Lemonade), more plugged into the popular mood (The Weeknd's Starboy) and as tinged by beautiful, reflective poignancy amid the tragedy (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Skeleton Tree, Leonard Cohen's You Want it Darker), but no other record crackled with the full weight of 2016 like David Bowie's final album. Released only eight days into the year and two days before Bowie's death, it's musically stunning, from the sinister, funereal title track, to the fraught, nerve-shredding struggle with his own mortality and legacy of 'Lazarus', to the calm, final acceptance of 'I Can't Give Everything Away'. An unreserved and timeless classic, from an artist who made plenty of them. (David Pollock)

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