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Best Music Releases of 2016 – Staff Picks

Cone Magazine best music releases of 2016

Original email to the CONE team:

Well what a year. We’ve gone through what has probably been one of the most iconic years of a generation. A TV host with the rationality of a goat is now running one of the most powerful countries in the world, Britain’s official ‘worst prime minister on record’ takes us out of Europe bringing in isolationism, and North Korea tested Hydrogen bombs.
But what a year for new music!
The sound of 2016 has been reflective of these perils. Some of the greatest creativity to ever be produced has bred out of somber, trauma and desperation. Orwell’s 1984 followed WW2. Beatlemania that laid at the heart of the Vietnam and Cold War period, and punk rock amidst the heart of the fall of the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall. The ramifications of 2016 will undoubtedly breed similar expression of pain and anger through creativity for years to come.
So as a forward thinking, liberal collective of writers, that represent the voice of a underserved and undermined generation – I would like us to come together and present the best album releases of 2016 in our own words…


Ed Scissor & Lamplighter – Tell Them It’s Winter

With his off-beat, vague-yet-beautiful bars, Ed Scissor has always walked the path between spoken word and traditional hip-hop. On ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’, the MC is in full-blown psychedelic/scientific metaphor mode; the tangible narratives of tracks like ‘Spastic Max’ and ‘The Prospector’ feel like distant memories. Lamplighter’s reflective, jazzy and depth-laden production prevents Scissor’s syllable-crammed bars from becoming (dare I say it?!) gimmicky on this full-length – instead the pair have created something rather stunning. The artists’ mutual respect for each other can really be felt on ‘Tell Them It’s Winter’; although the pair have collaborated on several tracks, this is their first joint full-length release, and the album doesn’t feel like it belongs just to the spitter (who used it to officially shorten his alias from Edward Scissortounge), in fact a lot of the tracks are led by their beautiful production. Definitely one of the most rewarding listens of 2016! – Sapphire Plant


Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead’s newest LP has an eclectic sound; comprised of a mixture of tracks that have existed for years and newer material, it sounds like a journey through different stages of the band’s artistic progression. ‘Burn the Witch’ for example, is a million creative miles away from ‘Identikit’. The album is as challenging as any Radiohead release; however the gentle-yet-detached pensiveness of ‘Daydreaming’ stirs something unsettling spiritual in the listener. This track is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful of 2016. And of course, the whole album takes on a more sorrowful meaning following the very recent death of Tom Yorke’s long-time partner Rachel Owen, since the pair’s split in 2015 is said to have been a huge inspiration for the album. Throughout ‘Daydreaming’, Yorke can be heard murmuring ‘half my life’ in reverse; homage to the 23 years he spent with Owen. Beautiful and haunting. – Sapphire Plant

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Pete Tong – Classic House

Pete Tong has teamed up with the Heritage Orchestra and Jules Buckley on this remarkable LP, which transforms some of the most iconic big-room Ibiza house tracks of the last couple of decades into epic classical masterpieces. The album follows Tong’s breathtaking BBC Ibiza Proms in 2015. There is something remarkable about hearing sophisticated, organic versions of some of the most moving and influential house tracks from Ibiza’s heyday, as if these musical masterpieces are finally being shown the respect they deserve by transcending to the orchestral stage. My favorite rendition on the album has to be the Hetitage Orchastra’s version of Robert Miles’ Children, just because it is so emotional and epic. However, the whole LP has taken what were already very intense tunes, and given them levels of melodrama that I’d never have believed achievable! Definitely one of my favorites from 2016! – Sapphire Plant

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Bayonne – Primitives

Sonic euphoria greets you on this debut effort by Austin-based solo musician Roger Sellers. On paper, what we are given may not differ from the modern tendency to cross-pollinate genre: hand-crafted loops, coupled with Collins-inspired drumming and angelic vocals. But it’s the sentiment that shines through, boasting a radiating positivity at a time when so much is broken. – Mike Robertson


Ulrika Spacek – The Album Paranoia

A debut effort that stands so confidently and fearlessly. This London-based noise-rock quintet craft light and dark shades throughout: from the gentle swaying of ‘Strawberry Glue’ and ‘Airportism’, to the grinding, infectious drones of ‘Nk’ and ‘Beta Male’, the interplay between guitars allows for versatility between tracks. Intricate sonic landscapes are tied together with soft-spoken, delicate vocals that almost seem like they could crack under the noise that surrounds it. Clear citing to Television, Pavement, and Sonic Youth can all be heard, yet the sound is distinctly their own. – Mike Robertson


Matmos – Ultimate Care II

Innovation by the way of live and electronic experimentalism comes to a head on Ultimate Care II. It teases us with questions about the meaning of objects, and how their uncontrollability in the right hands can lead to unprecedented musicality. The balance between its normal operation and its manipulation allows for a heavier expansion of texture and style, as the natural swooshes, hisses and churns of the washing machine provide the framework for more disjointed exploration that only Matmos could be at the helm of. – Mike Robertson


Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Remastered

Seemingly out of the blue and not even a year after ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, Kendrick Lamar released an album consisting of untitled tracks and correspondingly named it ‘Untitled Remastered’. The record is a fusion of jazz, soul and funk, and acts as an experimental masterpiece showcasing the weird (in places) and wonderful talent of Kendrick Lamar. Here, the rappers’ wit, personality and lyrical ability is ever present, in which Kendrick speaks about race, religion and the politics of rap music. In ‘Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013’ we see a memorable track, with the lyrics “A piece of mine’s / That’s what the white man wanted when I rhyme / Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99 / If I go platinum from rapping / I do the company just fine” showing who Lamar perceives as the real chump. One would not be surprised to hear any of these untitled tracks featuring on his previous work, which just shows the prowess and quality of this ‘album’. – Matthew Barlow

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Solange – A Seat at the Table

Although her sister Beyoncé may hold the headlines, Solange Knowles is definitely the more captivating of the two, a claim backed up by her third album ‘A Seat at the Table’. Speaking on issues such as race, culture and black experience, the album gives the listener an insight into the identity of Knowles, in which there are apparent troubles and pleasures of being a black woman. The record smoothly conveys the singers’ sense of self-discovery by incorporating RnB, Soul and Funk with Knowles’ powerful vocals reverberating throughout. ‘Cranes in the Sky’ is a personal favourite – a dreamy and beautiful track in which Solange copes with drinking, love and moving around would to get “away, away, away, away, away” from it all. ‘A Seat at the Table’ is a breathtaking and spiritually significant album in which Solange voices her honesty in a sweeping and mesmerizing manner.– Matthew Barlow


Anderson .Paak – Malibu

Following the Californians’ first album ‘Venice’ Anderson .Paaks’ ‘Malibu’ encompasses a perfect blend of soulful vocals and rapping with heartfelt production prevalent throughout. .Paaks’ tough upbringing translates over the course of the album; at the age of 7, his father was arrested, shortly followed by his mother years later. The opening track ‘The Bird’ deeply resonates, with the lyrics “My sister used to sing to Whitney / My mumma caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle” particularly shining. All of us have a record that we listen to when getting away from it all, and this album is exactly that. As the cover depicts, Malibu is a breath of fresh air – a refreshing, light-hearted and seamless journey into a sun-kissed paradise. – Matthew Barlow
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Max Graef and Glen Astro – The Yard Work Simulator

Berlin-based DJ dynamite Max Graef and his sidekick Glen Astro released this sizzle of album late May. It was the perfect prequel to that the simmering summer heat. With a delectable recipe of eclectic warped tunes; sun-kissed rare grooves, wonky jazz-inflected house/shuffle cuts, Graef and Astro throw kicks/snares and samples over warm soulful melodies. Traces of Madlib and J-Dilla reveal themselves in their unique production, this EP characterises a sample ridden energy that many identify in Madlib and Doom’s work. I reviewed their night at the Dance Tunnel earlier this year. Click to here to be reminded of the vibes. – Leah Abraham

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Solange Knowles- A seat at the Table

“But this hair is mine”

Solange Knowles – ASATT 2016 has been the year of opening up spaces for minority narratives, as much as allowing for bigoted ones to spread, fast and thick. Solange Knowles’s exuberant ASATT springs to mind. The beautifully confessional album harks back to the Houston-born creative roots. Solange paints a rich, immersive narrative of the Afro-American identity. It’s testament to trials and tribulations of existence. Maturing, belonging and acceptance, empowerment and healing. Blends of Dusty Soul, Funk, Jazz, ethereal R&B and magnificent vocals are woven effortlessly to make up this acclaimed body of work. ASATT radiates with light and declares her brilliance. We bow down– Leah Abraham

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Tenderlonious- On Flute

On December (17th), down at Camden’s Jazz cafe, South’s side’s 22A collective smoothed things out with their bag of jazz/hip-hop tricks. The 4 piece brass outfit Ruby Rushton seduced ears with their groove laden overflow of instrumental compilations. Conceptualised by Frontman and quick fire composer/producer/flautist with the magic fingers. Tenderlonious’ most recent solo release On Flute offer us a medley of electronic and acoustic hybrid experiments, clustered with diverse rhythms and worldly sounds. Mirroring that idiosyncratic patchwork production characterising artist’s Mo Kolours and Al Dobson Jr, who also slide under the 22A label. This albums a growing gem, of inventive musicality. And damn those flute trills….

Leah Abraham

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Don’t DJ — Authentic Exoticism

Düsseldorf’s Florian Meyer a.k.a. Don’t DJ released this conceptual record as a way to “map the relations between identity and power”. The enchanting marimbas and soft percussion act as a delicate route to melody production set against the western forms of structured dance pattern. But the end result is a charming four tracker that invites you into its little paradise. Pete Malla


Szun Waves – At Sacred Walls

Forming somewhat of a supergroup, Luke Abbott, PVT’s Laurence Pike and Jack Wyllie of Portico produced At Sacred Walls, Recorded at James Holden’s studio of the same name. This meditative assortment of free jazz and loose rhythms delivers a spiritual embodminet that can be likened to a contemporary Sun Ra.


Demdike Stare – Wonderland

Just as the year was drawing to a close came this groiundbreaker of a release. Being their first album release since 2012, the pair had time to craft a somewhat newer, fresher and diverse breadth of sound, that spans from dancehall, to UK Bass on Wonderland. A personal favourite being the carnivalesque grandeur of ‘Animal Style’ Peter Malla



Here is to a great 2017 from all at CONE /\


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