ABC - The Lexicon Of Love II (Virgin EMI)
In an era of nostalgia, sometimes you have to look back in order to move forwards - opulent and delightful in keeping with the spirit of the original.
Alasdair Roberts and James Green - Plaint of Lapwing (Clay Pipe Music)
A rewarding collaborative folk project that serves as an intriguing addendum to Roberts' consistently excellent catalogue.
**Alexis Taylor - Piano (Moshi Moshi)**
Taylor's songwriting skills in the clearest possible relief.
Allen Toussaint - American Tunes (Nonesuch)
Final statement from an American master.
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Otis Was A Polar Bear (The Royal Potato Family)
Inspired by the arrival of her first child, this excellent album gathers together some of my favourite musicians currently at work in the US - violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell), bassist Todd Sickafoose (Anais Mitchell), clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford. It's every bit as good as you'd expect it to be.
American Football - American Football (Wichita)
For me, one of the year's most unexpected albums. Is this really 'emo'? It feels a good deal more intricate and cerebral than most of what I associated with that word. I may need to rethink some prejudices!
Anderson .Paak - Malibu (Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club)
Expansive, multi-faceted psychedelic hip hop soul.
**Andre Canniere - The Darkening Blue (Whirlwind)**
A beautiful, deeply rewarding album finding strong musical settings for Rilke poetry. Canniere's rich, emotive compositions work well with Brigitte Beraha's sublime vocals and the improvisation enhances the strength of feeling throughout.
Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM)
Brilliantly fluid music successfully escaping the trappings of metric pulse. Cyrille explores a John Coltrane piece as a snare drum narrative, and elsewhere his band members perform in dedication to him, punctuating collaborative improvisations that are rich in insight and imagination. Probably the best album of 2016 to feature Bill Frisell too.
Andy Stott - Too Many Voices (Modern Love)
More compelling, detached, mechanistic and disorientating murk from Stott.
Angel Olsen - My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
Swooning, passionate songwriting; songs of longing and resistance.
Animal Collective - Painting With (Domino)
As ever, straddling the boundary between sugary lysergic genius and wildly irritating - and this time mostly back on the right side of the line!
Anna Meredith - Varmints (Moshi Moshi)
Parping and fizzing contemporary composition.
**Anohni - Hopelessness** (Rough Trade)
It's felt for some time that the artist formerly known as Anthony Hegarty needed a new context for that extraordinary voice. This is it. Coupled with characteristic striking honesty, particularly in terms of fears for social justice and the environment, this new electronic world is intense and overwhelming.
Aphex Twin - Cheetah (Warp)
Modest but still impressive extended EP.
Autechre - Elseq 1-5 (Warp)
Just in case you didn't have enough Autechre in your life - here's a lifetime's worth in one surprise release...
Avalanches - Wildflower (XL)
The jaunty joviality of Frankie Sinatra thankfully proved misleading - the rest of Wildflower is an absorbing and inventive sound collage.
Aziza - Aziza (Dare 2)
Ostensibly a new band, but the core of Dave Holland, Chris Potter and Eric Harland have worked together over many years. The addition of Lionel Loueke, a gloriously versatile guitarist from Benin (and then later Ivory Coast and France) who was worked with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancoc, is an inspired choice for this groove heavy music.
Badbadnotgood - IV (Innovative Leisure)
Beyond Snarky Puppy and Kamasi Washington, there are others pursuing similarly open-minded, free flowing paths through a contemporary jazz landscape.
Basia Bulat - Good Advice (Secret City)
A highlight of the live music year was hearing quirky singer-songwriter Basia Bulat cover Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love at Village Underground. With production from Jim James, this is a delightful evolution for Bulat, with rich accompaniment and a fully realised sound.
Ben Wendel - What We Bring (Motema)
The saxophonist and co-leader of Kneebody makes one of his strongest statements to date. The album's dedications (John Coltrane, Austin Peralta, Ahmad Jamal, Wye Oak) bring home the range of Wendel's influences and the music is both informed and intuitive, intricate and immediate.
Beyonce - Lemonade (RCA)
Where art and commerce meet.
Bill Frisell - When You Wish Upon A Star (Okeh)
Empathetic readings of film soundtrack work from the great guitarist - a relatively minor work, but still full of beauty and insight.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry - Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad (Cooking Vinyl)
This is the sort of meeting of minds that works so well, it's hard to believe it hasn't happened before. With an obvious precursor in Bragg's work with Wilco on the Woody Guthrie songbook, this is a dusty, soulful delight.
**Bitchin' Bajas and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties (Domino)**
A fantastically surprising and unexpected collaboration, but one that results in something truly inspired. This semi-improvised work, incorporating text from fortune cookies ('may life throw you a pleasant curve') and the Bajas' hypnotic droning, is mysterious and otherworldly, in contrast with the earthier nature of Will Oldham's other work.
Bon Iver - 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
There's no doubt that this is an overthought and over processed work - but, particularly when Vernon lays off the obfuscating effects and tricks, it still contains moments of clarity and beauty. Also, Colin Stetson's saxophones are great throughout, helping to make the music sound distinctly odd at times.
Brad Mehldau - Blues and Ballads (Nonesuch)
Mehltau eschews originals for this release in favour of two selections from the Great American Songbook, Buddy Johnson's Since I Fell For You, two Paul McCartney tunes, a selection from Charlie Parker and a piece from Jon Brion. It's an odd mix of the very well known and the slightly esoteric, but the playing finds intriguing connections between the work and brings it all to glorious life.
Brian Eno - The Ship (Warp)
A ghostly ambient work unusually incorporating Eno's voice and one of his best works in some time.
Cass McCombs - Mangy Love (ANTI)
Cass McCombs' most consistent album by some distance - eschewing some of his customary looseness and waywardness in favour of a slick, rhythmically crisp band sound and strong production values.
Childish Gambino - "Awaken, My Love!" (Caroline International)
Donald Glover has had a remarkable year, with his excellent TV anti-comedy Atlanta and this brilliant left-turn of an album, veering into psychedelic soul territory.
Chris Abrahams - Fluid To The Influence (Room40/Forced Exposure)
Cold but fascinating and minimal solo work from The Necks pianist.
Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band - The Rarity Of Experience Pts 1 and 2 (No Quarter)
The guitarist continues his incandescent channeling of the improvisatory values shared by the likes of Richard Thompson and Television.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel (Megaforce)
Line-up changes have not unsettled this adaptable band (lead by the Black Crowes singer and greatly enhanced by the guitar contributions of Neal Casal) but have merely entrenched their ability to embrace spontaneity and exposition.
Christian Fennesz and Jim O' Rourke - It's Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry (Editions Mego)
Ongoing collaboration continues to produce intoxicating, shimmering delights.
Christine and the Queens - Chaleur Humaine (Because)
It's a rare delight when the mainstream embraces something this thrillingly weird - a visually and sonically enticing combination of infectious pop hooks, high concept and performance art.
Cian Nugent - Night Fiction (Woodsist)
This is Nugent's third album, but the first time where he has refocused around his voice, explicitly writing songs rather than instrumental pieces. He does this with impressive confidence, and without losing the freewheeling spirit of his instrumental work.
Circuit Des Yeux - Jackie Lynn (Thrill Jockey)
Jackie Lynn is an alter ego for Circuit Des Yeux's Hayley Fohr and the album is now tending to be credited to Lynn as an artist too.
**Claire M Singer - Solas (Touch)**
Claire M Singer is a composer, organist, cellist and music director at the Union Chapel in North London and this is her first album, a set of recordings spanning 14 years of her work.
Common - Black America Again (Def Jam/Universal)
Common's 11th album is righteous, angry and politically engaged, one of his more confrontational and attacking works.
Dani Siciliano - Dani Siciliano (Circus Company)
Nuanced and sophisticated pop music; sometimes introspective, always thoughtful.
Daniel Bachman - Daniel Bachman (Three Lobed)
Daniel Bachman continues to mine a fertile seam in solo guitar work, particularly on 'Brightleaf Blues', two tracks of the same name bookending this collection with drones, scrapes and other abrasions. His work here, deftly manipulating blues and folk traditions, is sometimes reminiscent of Bill Orcutt or Derek Bailey.
**Daniel Lanois - Goodbye To Language (ANTI)**
Both a majestic celebration of the pedal steel guitar (with collaborator Rocca De Luca on lap steel) and a deeply surprising manipulation of a traditional instrument into a source of ambient sound.
Dawn Richard - Redemption (Local Action/Our Dawn Entertainment)
After the disaster of the attempted Danity Kane reunion, Dawn Richard refocuses on her more fulfilling solo career - here is another instalment of arresting retrofuturist, vocoderised pop soul.
**De La Soul - And The Anonymous Nobody (AOI)**
Even now, people still seem keener to memorialise De La Soul for their one over-arching success (1989's 3 Feet High and Rising) rather than take note of the exceptional music they are still making. This is one of their finest albums, increasing the emphasis on live instrumentation and groove, whilst retaining the distinctive, imaginative wordplay.
Deerhoof - The Magic (Upset The Rhythm)
This almost feels like a regression for Deerhoof, albeit an intriguing one, towards a rawer, more abrasive sound.
Demdike Stare - Wonderland (Modern Love)
In spite of its title, this seems coarser, harsher and more percussive from Demdike Stare. It's rough surfaces are challenging but effective, and when light is allowed through the cracks, it's euphoric.
Dexys - Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul
The covers album 'My Beauty' should have been.
Dinosaur Jr. - Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)
Terrifyingly, the reformed Dinosaur Jr. have now been in operation for longer than the band's original incarnation. This fourth album of the reunion era is one of their sharpest and most powerful.
Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now (Motema)
Saxophonist with Maria Schneider and David Bowie (Blackstar) unleashes a dexterous, virtuosic solo album filled with energy and taut grooves, including fitting tributes to Bowie.
Drive By Truckers - American Band (ATO)
The umpteenth album from the umpteenth line-up, still startlingly effective channeling of southern rock tropes.
Ectoplasm Girls - New Feeling Come (iDEAL Recordings)
Music that, appropriately enough, sounds like traces of ghosts.
Elliott Galvin Trio - Punch (Edition)
Imaginative, quirky deconstruction of piano trio tropes.
Elysia Crampton - Elysia Crampton Presents Demon City (Break World)
Vivid, brilliantly realised set of electronic collage collaborations with the likes of Rabit, Lexxi and Chino Amobi.
**Elza Soares - A Mulher Do Fin do Mundo (Mais Um Discos)**
I think this would have made the top 50 had it crossed my radar a little earlier. Brazilian legend teams up with some of Sao Paolo's finest experimental musicians for a novel and enthralling samba-noise hybrid.
Erik Friedlander - Rings (SkipStone)
The cello is one of the most versatile of acoustic instruments and Erik Friedlander remains one of the most versatile of its top practitioners. On Rings, he explores cycles, minimalism and repetition with sensitivity as well as intelligence.
Esperanza Spalding - Emily's D+Evolution (Concord Music)
Esperanza Spalding may have long ago abandoned the musical characteristics of jazz, but she has retained a conceptual approach, a structural complexity (her often linear song-based compositions are elaborate and flighty) and an impressive dynamic range. Sung through the vehicle of a new alter-ego, Emily, who represents a spirit fighting for high minded values, Emily's D+Evolution is a turbulent and exciting listen. High risk musical gymnastics abound.
Fatima Al Qadiri - Brute (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri's compellingly cold, sometimes clinical electronica has a disturbing, perhaps even portentous undertow to it. Brute intends to celebrate the right to protest, although the vaguely ominous nature of much of the music suggests the protest is directed at something faceless and unknowable.
Field Music - Commontime (Memphis Industries)
More angular, quirky and compelling alterna-pop from the dependable Brewis brothers. Commontime is more tightly focused than its recent predecessors, but no less enjoyable for this.
Fini Bearman - Burn The Boat (Two Rivers)
Having previously served up a lush reimagining of Porgy and Bess, resourceful vocalist Fini Bearman turns her attention to her own considerable skills as a singer-songwriter. The music is melodically adventurous, while the arrangements bravely incorporate effects and electronics alongside the controlled expression of acoustic jazz players. Operating in a similar hinterland to Becca Stevens, this is richly imagined song craft.
Freakwater - Scheherazade (Bloodshot)
Highly welcome return from these treasured outliers of alternative country.
Gaika - Security (Mixpak)
Gaika - Spaghetto (Warp)
Mixtape and extended EP from lone sonic adventurer and poetic and provocative chronicler of London living.
Gerard Presencer - Groove Travels (Edition)
The acclaimed trumpeter and educator joins forces with the Danish Radio Big Band for an expansive, vivid and memorable set. Presencer's bright, clear sound is a joy.
Glenn Jones - Fleeting (Thrill Jockey)
Fahey, Basho and Kottke influenced solo guitar (and banjo) from a master of his craft.
Goat - Requiem (Rocket Recordings)
More slow burning ritualistic psychedelic wonders from the masked and anonymous group.
Gregory Porter - Take Me To The Alley (Decca Record France)
Porter won't win any prizes for innovation, but it's not hard to see why his cool and assured vocal phrasing makes him such a big hit with audiences, especially when delivering story-songs of this quality. His strongest set since Water.
Harris Eisenstadt - Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed)
With writing kept to a minimum and plenty of unpredictable open improvising, working with Tony Malaby has clearly galvanised Eisenstadt. This is an abstracted, gloriously textured set.
Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions - Until The Hunter (Tendril Tales)
Sandoval's ethereal, almost passive vocal style is an individual delight - it's a shame these albums are so infrequent.
**Horse Lords - Interventions (Northern Spy)**
Working with an ostensibly conventional rock line-up but veering into jarring weirdness through use of odd time signatures, metric modulations and microtonal intervals, Horse Lords have made one of the year's strangest and most mischievous albums.
**Huerco S - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (Probito)**
The Kansas City producer makes a brilliantly immersive album of beatless ambient electronica.
**Huw V Williams - Hon (Chaos Collective)**
Double bassist and composer, and part of the Chaos Collective alongside Laura Jurd and others, Huw V Williams is already an assured composer and arranger. This album is both quirky and punchy.
Imarhan - Imarhan (City Slang)
Another Tuareg band, Imarhan translates as 'the ones I care about'. The music here feels softer and more vulnerable than peers Tinariwen or Tamikrest, but it's also lightly insidious too.
**Ingrid and Christine Jensen - Infinitude (Whirlwind)**
An album of deceptive calm and luminous beauty, the Canadian sisters bring a natural and unforced blend to their frontline here, as well as clear, articulate improvising and a graceful, agile ensemble sound.
**Itasca - Open To Chance (Paradise of Bachelors)**
Delicate, subtle songs with graceful finger picking and nuanced ensemble brush strokes. In the same mould as The Weather Station.
Jacob Collier - In My Room (Membran)
YouTube boy wonder and Quincy Jones protege makes good with dazzling demonstration of his individual grasp of vocal harmony and multi-instrumentalist skills.
Jasper Høiby - Fellow Creatures (Edition)
Solo album from the Phronesis mainman. In some ways, I enjoyed this more than this year's Phronesis record for its more tangential, less familiar explorations and broader canvas arrangements.
Jason Rebello - Held (Edition)
Partly due to his own considerable success (both as a bandleader and working with Sting and others), Jason Rebello has recorded relatively infrequently by jazz standards. This return to more personal writing and improvising in a solo context feels relaxed and intuitive.
Jeff Parker - The New Breed (International Anthem)
Tortoise guitarist explores more personal concerns on this cerebral, rigorous but nonetheless exciting set.
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
Probably Hval's most distinctive and provocative solo work to date.
Jessica Sligter - A Sense Of Growth (Hubro)
It's hard to see why Jessica Sligter isn't acknowledged or discussed more - she is an individual, eccentric and imaginative singer.
Jessy Lanza - Oh No (Hyperdub)
Once again working with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, Lanza's follow up to Pull My Hair Back is less ostensibly minimal and seductive. Instead, it is a more kaleidoscopic work, embracing club energy, post-celebration anxiety and playful irony.
Jim James - Eternally Even (ATO/Capitol)
Jim James often seems to obfuscate his key strengths with production trickery these days, but Eternally Even finds a good balance between the resources of the studio and James' skills as a more traditional writer.
John Martin - The Hidden Notes - Spirit Of Adventure (F-IRE)
Experimenting with multiphonics, John Martin has made a very contemporary, very informed album celebrating the possibilities of the saxophone and in collective improvisation.
Jonathan Silk - Fragment (Stoney Lane)
Confident and assured big band work from Birmingham-based drummer and composer.
Josef Leimberg - Astral Progressions (World Galaxy/Astral Pup)
Astral/spiritual jazz fusion throwback.
Josephine Foster - No More Lamps In The Morning (Fire America)
Concise and focused set for the expressive, theatrical American folk singer.
Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald - Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald Present Borderland: Transport (Tresor)
Released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Berlin's Club Tresor, this second collaboration between two electronic pioneers is foreboding and fascinating.
**Julianna Barwick - Will (Dead Oceans)**
Julianna Barwick's layered, rapturous constructions continue to enthrall and enchant, this time with some unexpected (and mostly successful) developments in additional instrumentation and texture.
Junior Boys - Big Black Coat (City Slang)
It's hard to believe that it's been five years since the last Junior Boys record. Whilst the preoccupations don't seem to change substantially between albums, they do evolve in subtle ways - melodic and enthralling electro pop.
**Ka - Honor Killed The Samurai (Iron Works)**
Still one of the most radical and interesting rap artists currently at work.
**Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor (Fat Possum)**
Weird and wonderful - like Erykah Badu jamming with The Flaming Lips.
Kaia Kater - Nine Pin (Maevens Music)
Recorded in one day, this wonderful collection of modern day folk songs is immediate and intuitive.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani - FRKWYS Vol 13: Sunergy (RVNG International)
Another excellent collaboration in the FRKWYS series between an established ambient electronic pioneer and a potential innovator.
Karl Blau - Introducing... (Bella Union)
A reminder that albums of covers and interpretations can be every bit as revitalising and refreshing as all-original works.
Kate Bush - Before The Dawn (Fish People)
It's slightly irritating, particularly given the theatrical nature of the show, that this has been an audio-only release rather than the promised DVD/Blu Ray. Perhaps that has been junked, perhaps it is coming later (there has been no clear statement on future plans). Still, Before The Dawn as an audio document serves to remind just how brilliant the opening seven song mini-set was, when the incredible band were really allowed to exhibit their skills and the crowd energy was high. The suites inevitably fare less well in this context, although the nuances of the playing in the Aerial set are also notable.
Kate Carr - I Had Myself A Nuclear Spring (Rivertones)
Enthralling field recordings of the river, by a nuclear power station at Nogent-sur-Seine.
Kate Jackson - British Road Movies (Hoo Ha)
Long awaited solo album from main songwriting presence in The Long Blondes. Lush, atmospheric production.
**Kate Williams - Four Plus Three (KWJazz)**
Typically assured and expressive jazz compositions and arrangements from pianist Kate Williams, this time very successfully incorporating strings.
Katie Gately - Color (Tri Angle)
Overwhelming and disorientating electronic sound and vocal collage - in a similar space to Holly Herndon perhaps.
**Kevin Morby - Singing Saw (Dead Oceans)**
A big step forward for Morby - superb songs, brilliantly executed and arranged.
Kikagayu Moyo - House In The Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain)
Wild Japanese psychedelic rock.
King - We Are King (King Creative)
Pop R&B at its best.
Klara Lewis - Too (Editions Mego)
An excellent second album of digitally manipulated found sounds and field recordings, including a couple of collaborations with Simon Fisher Turner.
**Kononon No. 1 - Konono No. 1 Meets Batida (Crammed Discs)**
Great meeting of minds between Kinshasa's legendary Konono No. 1 and Portugal's Batida. What is perhaps most interesting about this collaboration is the way in which these fundamental elements have been carefully intertwined with a range of electronics. The interaction between what often feels like club music pulse and the phrasing of the likembes results in fascinating and compelling cross rhythms. The opening track Niele Kalusimbiko surreptitiously subsumes the drums within an insistent four to the floor house pulse, amplifying the music’s trance-like effect. Bom Dia incorporates regimented handclaps as well as a drum machine. On Kinsumba, Konono’s voices are even chopped and re-arranged, as if to gently rouse the listener from a trance.
**Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room (Sony)**
It's hard to see why Mvula remains slightly underrated - perhaps it's simply the curse of BBC new year polls. The Dreaming Room is a lush, sensuous work, superbly arranged with highly musical understanding.
Loretta Lynn - Full Circle (Sony)
It begins with a new version of the first song that Lynn ever wrote. Lynn is still in remarkably strong voice. Full Circle indeed.
Loscil - Monument Builders (Kranky)
Excellent eleventh album of absorbing ambient music from Scott Morgan.
**Lucinda Williams - Ghosts Of Highway 20 (Highway 20)**
Lucinda Williams has been astoundingly prolific recently - this is her second double album in as many years. With material drawn from the same sessions, but tied together with a strong thematic focus, it represents an interesting alternative to Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone - more haunting, stark and atmospheric, less soulful and groovy. Taken together, this may represent her best work.
Lydia Loveless - Real (Bloodshot)
A more polished piece of work from the usually raw Loveless, although no less excoriating and honest lyrically.
Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man)
Fantastic Jack White produced country soul narratives.
Marisa Anderson - Into The Light (Chaos Kitchen)
Great guitar music to get lost in from Anderson, apparently written as 'the soundtrack to an imaginary sic-fi-western film'.
Marissa Nadler - Strangers (Bella Union)
I keep meaning to spend more time with Marissa Nadler's enchanting music.
Mark Korven - The Witch OST (Milan)
One of the year's most striking and effective film soundtracks, this chilling piece of contemporary composition deserves to be heard in its own right.
**Mary Halvorsen Octet - Away With You (Red Distribution)**
Ingenious and mercurial contemporary jazz from intriguing mid-sized ensemble.
Matmos - Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
Matmos' latest conceptual sonic conceit was to craft this album (one single piece) from the sounds of their washing machine. Domesticity has rarely sounded so weird.
**Matt Kivel - Fires On The Plain (Driftless Recordings)**
Matt Kivel - Janus (Driftless Recordings)
An impressive two albums from Kivel this year. If the more tightly focused Janus suggests songwriting potential, the sprawling and superb Fires On The Plain suggests Kivel is better when permitted the space for self indulgence.
Matt Ridley - Metta (Whirlwind)
Strong collection of contemporary jazz composition from one of the London scene's leading bass players.
Max Romeo - Horror Zone (Nu-Roots)
An impressive late work from the roots reggae veteran, very much in intense and serious mode here.
Maxwell - blackSUMMERS'night (RCA)
Yes the capitalisation is important as it distinguishes this as a sequel to Maxwell's 2009 album BLACKsummers'night. The long wait has been worth it, as this is a rich and fulfilling work, particularly in terms of the production and arrangements.
Melt Yourself Down - Last Evenings On Earth (The Leaf Label)
Pete Warheham's group take a harsher, more forceful turn here, incorporating skittish electronic drums and more vocals. It's a groovy, invigorating hybrid sound.
**Mica Levi and Oliver Coates - Remain Calm (Slip)**
A dream collaboration between two of our major, most open-minded artists.
**Michael Chillingworth - Scratch and Sift (Two Rivers)**
Chillingworth has long been one of the London jazz scene's most respected composers and improvisers. This album at last captures these high level skills on disc. The music is clear, intricate, thoughtful and exciting.
Mitski - Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
A brilliantly personal and intense album.
Moor Mother - Fetish Bones (Don Giovanni)
I came by this too late (via The Wire magazine EOY list) for it to make the Top 50 but on first listen its radical sound collage feels powerful and necessary, and something I need to engage with more before 2017 gets fully under way.
Namby Pamby Boy - Namby Pamby Boy (Babel)
Maverick, engaging contemporary jazz from Europe.
**Nathan Bowles - Whole and Cloven (Paradise Of Bachelors)**
Bowles is a major lynchpin in that fascinating American scene at the moment - where the experimental and traditional collide in fascinating ways (he is a member of Steve Gunn's touring band and also has roles in Pelt and Black Twig Pickers). This is beautiful, frequently moving folk music.
Neil Young and The Promise of The Real - Earth (Warner)
Neil Young - Peace Trail (Warner)
Two releases from Neil this year, and it's easy to see that Peace Trail's 'Can't Stop Working' is a pretty accurate summation of his approach, even this late in his career. His relentless pace is admirable, even if it usually causes him to eschew self editing. The tour with Promise Of The Real has been brilliant - seeing Neil revisit solid gold classics from his back catalogue that have not been played in decades. Earth captures some of this, albeit with a focus on the ecological concerns. Peace Trail is one of his strangest records, an acoustic trio record occasionally knocked off-kilter by the kind of treated vocals Young first explored on Trans (is he trolling us here - just letting the legions of James Blake-inspired young artists know that he got there first?) Perhaps strangest (and certainly best) of all here is Jim Keltner's disruptive, creative drumming - a rarity for an artist so used to the pull of the backbeat. Lyrically, Young's work remains hit and miss though, especially when he engages with social and political issues, however well intentioned.
**Nicolas Jaar - Sirens (Other People)**
Second major, brilliantly realised work from the Chilean-American producer and electronic composer.
Noname - Telefone (Self released)
This should have received much more attention - brilliantly constructed and absorbing neo soul.
Oddarang - Agatha (Edition)
Post-rock, post-classical and post-jazz. What is it? Who cares. It has atmosphere, grace and hypnotic beauty.
Okkyung Lee and Christian Marclay - Amalgam (Northern Spy)
An inspired improvised set from two masters at Cafe Oto thankfully captured for posterity.
Pangaea - In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)
Impulsive, propulsive electronica.
Paul Burch - Meridian Rising (Plowboy Records)
Long conceptual album of story songs from a master of traditional country music.
Pet Shop Boys - Super (x2 Recordings)
Another very strong album demonstrating there is still plenty of vitality in this long running, still mischievous pop act.
Phronesis - Parallax (Edition)
More thrilling, kinetic contemporary trio jazz.
Pye Corner Audio - Stasis (Ghost Box)
A supposed sequel to Martin Jenkins' previous Pye Corner Audio album with Ghost Box, 2012's Sleep Games. Refracted, haunted and hallucinogenic electronica.
Radian - On Dark Silent Off (Thrill Jockey)
More kinetic, vigorous fifth album from the Austrian band.
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble - I Want That Sound (Innova)
Mighty, revitalising new take on New Orleans jazz vibes.
Rhyton - Redshift (Thrill Jockey)
Great New York trio exploring improvisation in an ostensibly rock context.
Robert Ellis - Robert Ellis
Another very strong record with as much of an emphasis on production and the resources of the studio as on the (admittedly excellent) songwriting. Ellis is a singer-songwriter steeped in country music traditions but also one who refuses to let the conventions of his form edge in to nostalgia.
Rokia Traore - Ne So (Nonesuch)
An intimate set from Traore - still physical music but often now in a more light and agile way.
Roly Porter - Third Law (Tri Angle)
Bold, unsettling and visceral electronica from the former Vex'd member.
Roy Montgomery - R M H Q: Headquarters (Grapefruit)
Shamefully, this beautiful reverie of a 4 disc set is my introduction to Roy Montgomery. I clearly now need to investigate the rest of his work, including The Pin Group. R M H Q is fluid, slithery, slow moving and intoxicating guitar music.
Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop - Love Letter For Fire (Sub Pop)
Great collaboration between two voices that blend effortlessly and two songwriters who love language, rhythm and phrasing.
Sarah Davachi - Vergers (Important)
Serene and meditative ambient electronica.
Sarathy Korwar - Day To Day (Ninja Tune)
Inspired fusion of traditional Sidi Indian music with jazz and electronics.
**Saul Williams - MartyrLoserKing** (Fader Label)
Fiercely intelligent and politically engaged poetry-as-rap from Williams and a return to prominence in production for Justin Warfield too.
Scott Hirsch - Blue Rider Songs (Scissor Tail)
First solo album from Hiss Golden Messenger musician - gently rolling songs suggestive of the road.
Sloth Racket - Triptych (Luminous)
Brilliant, gestural improvisation (think Tim Berne, Fred Frith etc) from Cath Roberts, Sam Andrae and Anton and Johnny Hunter.
Snowpoet - Snowpoet (Two Rivers)
Lush, sophisticated songs from Chris Hyson and Lauren Kinsella. Also features the improvising talents of some of the UK's best musicians - Josh Arcoleo, Matt Robinson, Nicholas Costley-White amd Dave Hamblett.
Spain - Carolina (Glitterhouse)
Welcome return for Josh Haden's languid, understated songcraft.
Steve Lehman - Selebeyone (Pi Recordings)
An excellent side-step from the saxophonist and composer specialising in spectral music. Selebeyone finds Lehman in collaborative mode, working with vocalists Gaston Bandimic and HPrizm (of Antipop Consortium) on a thrilling rap/jazz/world hybrid.
**Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines (Matador)**
The increasingly incandescent Gunn plays brilliantly as usual here, but the real delight is in the ongoing evolution of his songwriting. This is a rolling and tumbling gem.
Steve Hauschildt - Strands (Kranky)
Fourth album for Kranky from the Emeralds man is predictably mesmerising.
Steven James Adams - Old Magick (Fortuna Pop!)
Steven Adams' post-Broken Family Band continues to become less exuberant but more nuanced.
Strobes - Brokespeak (Blood and Biscuits)
Off-kilter, angular, asymmetrical instrumental music from Dan Nicholls', Joshua Blackmore and Matt Calvert - like reworked electronica. Obvious overlap with the likes of Three Trapped Tigers.
Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth (Atlantic)
Simpson's status (both critically and self proclaimed) as some sort of saviour of country music is surely overstated, but there's still delight to be found in his broad brush strokes and the unusual range of colours in his arrangements.
Suede - Night Thoughts (Warner Music UK)
It's odd how this incarnation of Suede already seems to have been casually forgotten - especially as opulent records such as this surprise and delight.
Sun Kil Moon/Jesu - Sun Kil Moon/Jesu (Caldo Verde)
It's difficult to know what to make of the needlessly confrontational, frequently objectionable Mark Kozelek these days - but even in his most abrasive musical contexts, he is still capable of winning beauty.
Supersilent - 13 (Smalltown Supersound)
More of the unpredictable same from the rigorous improvisers.
Surgeon - From Farthest Unknown Objects (Dynamic Tension)
Finds an intriguing common ground between Anthony Child's prior explorations in both techno and ambient fields.
Susso - Keira (Soundway)
Huw Bennett's elegant construction is made from recordings made on a visit to Gambia.
Suzanne Vega - Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers (Amanuensis/Cooking Vinyl)
Vega's examination of the life of writer Carson McCullers is engaging and appropriately articulate.
The Bad Plus - It's Hard (Okeh)
Covers only album from the impressively enduring jazz power trio. Typically playful and inventive. As ever, their choice of modern standards is judicious, not least Prince's The Beautiful Ones.
The Bernard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum (Outside Music)
There remains something slightly irritating about The Besnard Lakes' outward affectations, not least the awful album titles - but their melodic take on progressive indie rock also has its manifest delights too.
The Body - No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)
Magnificent and robust noise/metal/electronic hybrid.
The Comet Is Coming - Channel The Spirits (The Leaf Label)
Jazz as dance music, dance music as jazz.
The Dead Tongues - Montana (self released)
Solo project from Ryan Gustafson, occasional touring member of Hiss Golden Messenger. Simple but effective songs steeped in country, Dylan etc.
The Field - The Follower (Kompakt)
It feels as if Axel Willner's music as The Field has been becoming progressively darker and more thickly textured.
The Gloaming - 2 (Real World)
Second studio album from the nuanced and powerful Irish-American group.
The Handsome Family - Unseen (Loose)
You know what you are getting from a Handsome Family album - absorbing prose-poems, a stark musical aesthetic and vivid imagery. Unseen of course delivers on all counts.
The I Don't Cares - Wild Stab (Dry Wood Music)
Brilliant set of crisp, punchy songs from a collaboration between Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield. How on earth was this allowed to almost slip under the radar?
The Invisible - Patience (Ninja Tune)
Well constructed and memorable third album, even if it does feel a little minor in relation to Rispah.
The Monkees - Good Times (Rhino)
A record that is surely better than it had any right to be, aided by empathetic production from Adam Schlesinger and a good range of songwriters (including Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard).
The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome (Virgin EMI)
The Stones return to their blues roots but do so with an almost comical looseness.
The Skiffle Players - Skifflin' (Spiritual Pajamas)
Not in fact a Skiffle revival, but more a low-pressure, enjoyably hazy detour for Cass McCombs.
**The Still - The Still (Series Aphonos)**
Probably my favourite of Chris Abrahams' works outside The Necks this year, a reliably patient, spacious musical exploration, but one which still finds space for subtle grooves.
Three Trapped Tigers - Silent Earthling (Century Media)
Blasting, excoriating second album from the adventurous noise-rock-composition group.
Tim Garland - One (Edition)
Deepening musical relationships between Garland his current band pay dividends on this assured set.
Tony Joe White - Rain Crow (Yep Roc)
Punchy, committed work from the legendary southern country soul singer-songwriter whose still deepening voice resonates brilliantly.
Tori Freestone Trio - El Barranco (Whirlwind)
Great sax-bass-drums trio that seems partially liberated in its expression by the lack of a harmony instrument.
Tortoise - The Catastrophist (Thrill Jockey)
It's a bit too easy to take a band like Tortoise for granted. We need to stop doing that.
United Vibrations - The Myth of The Golden Ration (Ubiquity Recordings)
Here is a band that should be more widely known, making excellent, provocative crossover music.
Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing (Caroline Records)
Typically healing stuff from Van, albeit a little more restrained and comfortable than his very best work.
White Denim - Stiff (Downtown Records)
The garage rock group tighten up a little bit, seemingly focusing more on the sound and the songcraft than on the vibe or the exposition.
Whitney - Light Upon The Lake (Secretly Canadian)
Warm, direct American indie rock with obvious appeal.
**Wilco - Schmilco (dBPM)**
One of Wilco's most insidious works, this mercilessly concise flipside to last year's Star Wars offers mostly rustic, delicate acoustic flavours that slowly reveal inner depths. Jeff Tweedy is so skilled in understatement.
Willie Lane - A Pine Tree Shilling's Worth Of Willie Lane (via Bandcamp)
Great solo guitar music - warped and manipulated.
Xylouris White - Black Peak (Bella Union)
The collaboration between George Xylouris and Jim White continues to yield thrilling, unpredictable and expressive results.
Yello - Toy (Universal)
Swiss pioneers return with playful, entertaining thirteenth album.
Young Magic - Still Life (Carpark)
Vivid, unusual and imaginative pop music from New York experimental duo.
**Yves Tumor - Serpent Music (Pan)**
A dreamy, absorbing musical take on anxiety and loss.
Zomby - Ultra (Hyperdub)
Less sprawling and less fragmented than its two immediate predecessors, Ultra is Zomby at his most focused and clear.