Bjork, Hammersmith Apollo

There is no break up album as painfully honest as Bjork’s Vulnicura. Take away the percussion and it’s all the more devastating. With lines like ‘family was our sacred mission that you abandoned’ delivered on a regular basis, this was going to be no light-hearted Saturday evening. And it isn’t long until cheeks are salty and tears trickling, with full grown men startled by Bjork’s vulnerable vocal. While dominated by Vulnicura, the set was filled with a number of notable classics including Joga, Aurora and Pluto. Throughout the Icelandic innovator donned a glowing alien-like mask and on this night she was never anything but unworldly. On leaving the beautiful surroundings of the Apollo, I simply laughed in disbelief at the quality of what I had just seen. Remarkable.

Arcade Fire, NOS Alive, Lisbon

With our feet baking on the Lisbon tarmac, anticipation could not have been higher for Arcade Fire. The perfect opener came in the form of ‘Ready to Start’, and soon the band were swapping instruments, dancing across the stage and throwing a party like no other. Songs were interspersed with short covers – ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Heroes’ – and Regine delivered the best moment of the evening with an enchanting performance of ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). While it was only July, Wim Butler premeditated 2016’s biggest events by stating ‘it’s time that people of colour and women ruled the world’, before closing the show with the aptly named ‘Wake Up.’

Kendrick Lamar, British Summer Time, Hyde Park

Dragging the microphone stand across the wooden boards, Kendrick looked like a cat dragging home a prize bird at the start of his performance in Hyde Park. Backed by a live band, Kendrick was absolutely flawless and unlike any other rap act I’ve ever seen live. He was affectionate to his followers throughout and when we joined him in a chorus of ‘We gonna be alright’, for a second we believed it.


Frank Ocean – Blonde

A master in PR, Frank Ocean made the release of Blonde one of the biggest events of the year by simply disappearing. Posting despairing images with the words ‘Frank please’ became a thing and many of us wondered what would follow the excellent Channel Orange. What we got was an absolute curveball, a practically beatless album with no immediate singles. Blonde is a celebration of the every day, with lines like ‘keep a place for me, I’ll sleep between y’all, it’s nothing’ taking on an understated significance. We heard about the guy dumped for not adding his girlfriend on Facebook, the gaybar Frank visited with a friend, the nightshifters beginning their day while everyone else sleeps and the young man who simply wants to be Dyl because ‘he doesn’t have to do anything at all, just sits inside his house.’ Blonde may not soundtrack your next party, but it will be with you for every daily ritual, when you step in the shower, when you put your head on the pillow after a hard day’s work and when you sit across the table from a loved one at dinner time. It may take time to realise the importance of these rituals, but you’d certainly miss them if they were gone and by god, we were happy that Blonde finally came.

Julianna Barwick – Will

In one of the most acrimonious years of my lifetime – I don’t need to tell you what happened do I? – I’ve developed an obsession for ambient music. It was a way to distil the images indelibly marked in my mind, three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach, a capsized refugee boat and Nigel Farage’s smug face on June 23rd. Of all the ambient works released this year, Julianna Barwick’s most recent effort achieved this most successfully and transported me to a place of much-needed calm. Her warped vocals were both ghouslish and angelic, the synths shimmering and light and the percussion never overbearing but calm and sophisticated.  The Japanese fold origami cranes in challenging times to achieve hope and healing, Will was my origami crane of 2016.

Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

Kendrick Lamar dominated 2015 and any signal he was going to let up was dismissed with his ‘God is Gangster’ video in the closing days of the year. In March came ‘Untitled Unmastered’, the outtakes from last year’s to Pimp A Butterfly, though it was so much more than that. Kendrick has become somewhat of a spokesman for today’s generation, Black Americans chant ‘Alright’ at Black Lives Matters protests, fans obsess over the meanings of his lyrics on his genius page and Barack Obama rated ‘How much a dollar cost’ as his favourite song of 2015. While the production may be lighter than on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ – even Swizz Beat’s 5-year-old son takes the reins at one point – Kendrick is in blistering form, rapping ‘Genocism and capitalism just made me hate, Correctionals and these private prisons gave me a date, Professional dream killers reason why I’m awake’ on Untitled 05. His crowning moment though is on Untitled 01 when he raps ‘disbelief is our reason for all this’, and in a year where we became even more disaffected, even more apathetic, Untitled Unmastered was our soundtrack.


Maggie Rogers -Alaska

Pharrell Williams got more than he bargained for when he visited the NYU Clive Davis Institute to hold a masterclass with their students. One of the lucky class members was Maggie Rogers, who played ‘Alaska’ to Pharrell – his reaction was priceless. As soon as Maggie’s voice rings out Pharrell’s eyebrows lift, and he begins to shake his head in utter disbelief. When the song closes, his feedback is simply ‘wow, I have no notes for that’ – high praise indeed. This viral video put Maggie Rogers in millions of people’s headphones and I, for one, have not been able to stop playing this song ever since. With lyrics like ‘cut my hair, so I can rock back and forth without thinking of you’, Maggie is certainly onto something. And with this, she released the catchiest and best feel-good song of 2016. The once-banjo player may come from the wilderness, but we can never ever let her return.

Frank Ocean – Self Control

Frank Ocean’s unspoilt voice is at its most pure, when he is accompanied just by the strum of the guitar.  In line with most of Blonde, Self Control is completely spare and leaves you to ponder Frank’s innermost thoughts, particularly when he repeats ‘it’s nothing, it’s nothing,’ and reminds us that ambiguity is often beautiful. For me though, it is a song that emphasises the simplicity of the human condition, the need to be loved and the need to belong symbolised best when he sings ‘keep a place for me, I’ll sleep between y’all’ in an auto-tuned helium voice. Most of all though, Self Control is a poignant reminder that the simple things in life are often the best.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -Distant Sky

Sufjan Stevens’ mother died in 2012 and it inspired him to make the best album of his career, Carrie and Lowell – a breath-taking document of grief and loss that saw nearly everyone at Manchester Apollo breakdown in tears, when I saw him last year. Nick Cave somehow equalled Sufjan’s record, when he memorialised his son in this year’s ‘Skeleton Tree’ – Arthur, Nick’s son, died after falling from a cliff in their hometown of Brighton. ‘Distant Sky’, the album’s most upsetting song, sees the beautiful voice of Else Torpe depict the journey from life to death – ‘let us go now, my darling companion, set out for the distant skies’ – and put Nick and Arthur together for one last cherished moment. The song though ends in utter hopelessness, when Nick’s voice breaks as he sings, ‘They told us our gods would outlive us, they told us our dreams would outlive us, they told us our gods would outlive us, but they lied.’ Utterly heart-breaking.

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.