Looking back at some of the best albums and mixtapes of 2016’s second quarter, from Radiohead’s dreamy ninth album to YG’s paranoid G-funk
It’s been a weird and often sad three months: there have been high profile deaths, unspeakable tragedies, and strange unknowns. More than ever it feels important to celebrate good music, whether that’s through acknowledging those artists pushing boundaries, asking questions, or promoting unity and diversity in their music and in their lives.
We’ve highlighted some of the exciting new albums, mixtapes, and anything else that can be fairly described as a ‘full length’ to have come out in the past three months, whittling it down to just 10 choices – honorable mentions to James Blake and Chance the Rapper for making incredible records that didn’t quite make the cut.
ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS
Anohni returned in 2016 with an album about illegal drone warfare, the NSA, climate change, and the legacy of Barack Obama – lyrically it’s hardly a light listen, but co-producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never provide a lush sonic backdrop for Anohni’s polemic. It’s impossible to describe Anohni as anything but honest with herself across Hopelessness, even when that desperation for change raises its own problems. It’s reassuring to see an artist looking at the bigger picture and using their music to attempt to articulate some of the large scale problems affecting the world today.
BABYFATHER – “BBF” HOSTED BY DJ ESCROW
Babyfather is a new project by experimental musician Dean Blunt. Ostensibly a trio of Blunt, DJ Escrow, and Gassman D, Babyfather acts as an outlet for the East London artist’s more hip hop-leaning rhythms, drawing on dub, grime, and more in the process, and featuring collaborations with Arca and Mica Levi. Like much of Blunt’s work, “BBF” explores notions of black British identity within his usual maze of veiled pop culture references and just-out-of-focus metaphors. There are grime bars, burner phone ringtones, and allusions to the Met’s racist Operation Trident that add up to the bigger picture, as well as an obnoxious soundbite – “This makes me proud to be British” – that’s looped and repeated until the hollowness of the phrase becomes inescapable.
BEYONCÉ – LEMONADE
Beyoncé might be one of the most famous women on the planet but on her sixth album Lemonade she frames her complex – and public – issues of emotional grief in a universal way. Though it was an old-fashioned infidelity storyline that kept Lemonade dominating the news cycle, this shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is Beyonce’s best realised albums to date, both sonically and (as it can’t be separated from its accompanying film) visually.
GAIKA – SECURITY
Gaika has proven himself to be one of the UK’s most exciting new artists through mixtapes like Machine and features on songs by Mykki Blanco and Kelela. On his second mixtape Security, released by Mixpak (home to Popcaan, Palmistry and more), the Brixton-born MC sharpens his focus, creating an ultra-gothic mood that pulls from dancehall, noise, dub, and grime. Security feels like a London record: it’s the sound of a city collapsing on itself, with inhabitants like Gaika alternately sounding desperate, angry, isolated, and filled with dread.
JESSY LANZA – OH NO
The second album from Canadian singer Jessy Lanza is an altogether more sprightly and colourful than the more straight-ahead R&B of her 2013 debut Pull My Hair Back. Drawing inspiration from the bright synth pop of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Haruomi Hosono, a well as breakneck-tempo dance styles like Chicago footwork and Shangaan electro, Lanza pushes herself as a producer and singer while exploring a wider, more complex, and more human range of emotions in her lyrics.
LSDXOXO – FUCK MARRY KILL
The first release on Venus X’s newly-minted GHE20G0TH1K record label comes from New York producer LSDXOXO, a member of the Qween Beat ballroom collective. At its heart Fuck Marry Kill is a club record, but it’s far from a conventional one: from the clattering metal-bashing percussion of “Learning” and underground club anthem “Sugarfalls” to the nightmarish flip of Kanye West’s “Freestyle 4”, everything seems a bit lopsided and ready to fall apart at the seams.
MITSKI – PUBERTY 2
Mitski is a 25-year-old musician based in Brooklyn who writes powerful indie rock songs. On her fourth album Puberty 2, she explores the various insecurities and anxieties that come with being in a city in your mid-20s in 2016, giving the album a surprisingly contemporary feeling that stands out in a genre that often has trouble engaging with the present. Lyrics of perpetual adolescence are set against driving guitars, dream pop harmonies and loose grooves.
PALMISTRY – PAGAN
On his debut album Pagan, Berlin-via-UK singer and producer Palmistry (real name Benjy Keating) creates a stripped-down and skeletal brand of DIY pop music that feels completely his own. Boiling down international dance styles from dancehall and Afrobeats to their bare essence, Keating swaps the bass-heavy, swung rhythms for something far more inward-looking. It’s entirely self-produced by Keating and it sounds lush, but ultimately it’s his voice – a sweet, lispy half-whisper – that makes the album so compelling.
RADIOHEAD – A MOON SHAPED POOL
After releasing their fairly understated eighth album The King of Limbs back in 2011, Radiohead disappeared for a few years to make A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s a major return to form, proving once again that they’re one of the UK’s last great rock bands mostly for going against what a rock band is supposed to be. The band draw from their back catalogue and pick out some of their oldest and best songs to finally record album, liberally deploying string sections and orchestras across the songs but in unconventional and hypnotic ways. Few bands sound this good three decades into their career.
YG – STILL BRAZY
Compton rapper YG’s second studio album Still Brazy updates the sound of G-funk for modern ap audiences. The catalyst for the album was the gunshot wound that YG suffered from in 2015, and he deals with this intense paranoia early on with “Who Shot Me”. Suspicion reigns throughout the record but in many ways it seems to go beyond YG’s own trust issues, almost as if America’s wider psychosis has found itself on the Californian streets.