1. Bon Iver - 22, A Million
In a statement published prior to the album’s release, Justin Vernon’s best friend and collaborator Trevor Hagen revealed that the mastermind behind indie folk group Bon Iver had been struggling deeply with anxiety following their previous albums’ successes. 22, A Million is not another album, but a sonic landscape painted with the emotions and epiphanies Vernon battled in the wake of the band’s self-titled project. The opening track’s refrain of, “It might be over soon,” was recorded on a portable sampler during Vernon’s misguided venture to a Mediterranean island, where the artist faced existential demons and eventually began to recover.
Through the hums of white noise and unsettling pitched up vocals, Bon Iver captivate the aura of this dilemma whilst also rejoicing in life’s glories. They demonstrate how although life is short and fleeting, it can still be full of happiness and love - our human existence is fragile with no guaranteed stability.
After a year in which the world saw how any nation can be flawed, miserly and torn by radical change, the hopeful pain of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million stands representative our planet as we search for a future of compassion regardless of the past.
2. David Bowie - Blackstar
Clearly, there’s an overwhelming show of admiration and awe for this album on many end of year lists because… well, you know. But I think I speak for all lovers of music and all Bowie fans out there when I say that this album isn’t here because of context, it’s here because it is the single greatest finale to a career in popular music to date. After five decades of work, Bowie managed to fuse jazz, electro, avant-garde and rock and roll magic to create a haunting masterpiece that will darkly shine, I should imagine, forever.
3. Beyoncé - Lemonade
Beyoncé’s latest album is a ferocious, unapologetic, expertly constructed celebration of her identity as a black American woman. While as white British man I don’t necessarily relate to all the struggles addressed in Lemonade, Beyoncé’s embracing of her blackness in the face of an industry that would see her make herself more palatable to a white audience is universally inspiring. Furthermore, the way Lemonade uses a variety of different genres to represent the emotional intricacies of marital betrayal is arrestingly powerful to listen to. Lemonade is the undisputable evidence that Queen Bey is one of the greatest artists of our time.
4. Frank Ocean - Blonde
There’s a certain cachet of album where individual songs cease to matter. Where track breaks matter less than the moments which make you stop for a minute in the street and stare off into space, lost in something. Blonde is one moment like this after another, so close to each other that it’s almost exhausting. Ocean letting us finally hear his voice three minutes into Nikes. The outro on Self Control. That André 3000 feature. Frank Ocean could have just made Channel ORANGE 2 and we’d all have gone home satisfied. Instead we got Blonde, and what a world to lose yourself in it is.
5. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead’s ninth LP takes fifth place on our list. After disappointing many with 2011’s difficult The King Of Limbs, the seasoned rockers finally returned early this year with a typically cryptic media campaign, fading their website to white and deleting their Twitter feed. Lead single Burn The Witch felt all the more explosive when it eventually came, and the rest of the album was a welcome return to form. Fan favourites such as True Love Waits finally found their place on a studio album, while new songs like Decks Dark positioned themselves with the best of Radiohead’s extensive catalogue. Brilliant.
6. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
In the midst of a fairly tumultuous personal year, Kanye delivered another exquisite album, rich with samples, mixes and a range of vocals. That’s not to say it’s a coherent album, the album draws from different influences, making it highly eclectic and not neatly adhering to the expectations of a rap album. But that’s where it shines, in its diversity the album finds its strengths, with songs like Ultralight Beam, Waves and I Love Kanye, three sonically different songs and yet somehow perfectly Kanye. This album is soulful, exciting and eclectic and easily earned its place in our top 10.
7. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
What could be more deserving of a spot on this list than the finest Hip-hop record of the year? With their latest release, Tribe remind fans of all their former glory as they tower over their peers. Lyrical depth and profundity are complemented by immaculately conceived beats, whilst both show remarkable breadth and variation. Rounded out by a slew of first-class collaborators, We Got It From Here is a brief, shimmering resurgence of the golden age of Hip-hop, and one any self-respecting music lover should certainly be grateful for.
8. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!
If you’re ever wallowing in some “what is this all for?” degree-induced self-doubt, casting an eye over Childish Gambino (nom de plume of Donald Glover)’s list of achievements might not do you any favours. He’s an actor, a writer, a comedian, a musician, and his latest album Awaken, My Love! has seen him swapping rap for some good old soul. Dripping with funk, this album boasts not just Glover’s impressive falsetto, but a fantastic range of sounds and instruments and simply masterful production. Here is a man of many talents and while this album may have only been released this month, its innovation marks it out as one of the strongest of the year.
9. Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denail
For an album about insecurity and boredom, Teens Of Denial sounds amazingly sure of itself, and undeniably fun. Car Seat Headrest (aka Will Toledo)’s 13th full length offering is a near-perfect indie rock gem. An instant classic, without a doubt. The production is fantastic, the lyrics are insightful and dryly witty, Toledo’s voice is vulnerable and yet so warming, and the tunes (oh the tunes!) are just perfect. But it is their effortless, flawless combination that makes this album so damn good. Not for a while has there been an album so vulnerable and so human which makes you feel just so glad to be alive.
10. Skepta - Konnichiwa
Skepta has been around for over a decade, but his debut album Konnichiwa has long been in the making. From shutting a car park down in Shoreditch to sipping bottles of Veuve Cliquot at his album launch in Tokyo; Konnichiwa tells the story of a British rapper whose meteoric rise to international fame over the past two years has been unstoppable. It is the most culturally relevant album this year, spearheading the grime revival and resulting in the Mercury Prize heading to North London. The king of grime humbly summarises his meteoric rise by declaring, “man shut down Wireless, then walked home in the rain.”
11. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
12. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
13. Solange - A Seat At The Table
14. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit
15. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
16. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
17. Kaytranada - 9%
18. The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
20. Angel Olsen - My Woman
21. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
22. The Last Shadow Puppets - Everything You’ve Come To Expect
23. Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
24. James Blake - The Colour In Anything
25. Weezer - Weezer
Listen to the PearShaped Top 25 Albums Of 2016 Playlist below.