Top 10 albums of 2016
So, without further ado...
10) Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
9) Tove Lo - Lady Wood
That attitude is writ large throughout Lady Wood, from the title (fun fact: it's a euphemism for a clitoral erection) to the vagina in the logo. Meanwhile, Tove effs and jeffs her way through the album like a teenager trying to shock her parents, but her heart is in the right place. The confessional tales of lust, loss and desperation are relatable and cathartic - and she anchors everything in a dark, minimalist house production.
She may call herself a True Disaster, but this is a blemished pop gem.
8) Clare Maguire - Stranger Things Have Happened
She's at her best when she peers into the abyss - Channelling Nina Simone on the autobiographical opening track, Faded; and delivering the best lonely hearts advert of all time on Whenever You Want It: "I just wanna have someone who laughs at my shit jokes."
Don't we all, Clare? Don't we all?
7) Michael Kiwanuka - Love and HateNothing But Hope And Passion.
The result is breath-taking: A psych-soul opus backed by opulent strings and a full choir. The opening track unfolds over 10 minutes, while the bluesy Black Man In A White starts like a plantation song before picking up a funky shuffle that never quite settles into a groove - a musical metaphor for Kiwanuka's sense of unease. It took a lot of people by surprise, in the best possible way.
6) Christine & The Queens - Chaleur Humaine
Of course, I wasn't the only person to overlook it: In her native France, Héloïse released the album in 2014, winning a cupboard full of awards and receiving endorsements from Madonna and Elton John. That it took her to re-record some of the lyrics in English merely illustrates, in the year of Brexit, how closeted and unadventurous the UK can be, even in the resolutely liberal world of pop.
5) Nao - For All We Know
4) Shura - Nothing's Real
Where she doesn't lack confidence, though, is in the music. What's It Gonna Be, all staccato guitars and shimmering synths, it sounds like the theme to a 1980s teen film without succumbing to pastiche. Even better is the extended, bravura coda of White Light - the disco equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey's Star Gate sequence.
3) Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life
The stand-outs are many: The Grand Hotel is a baroque ballad that reimagines Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest as a portal to hell; while The Trapper and The Furrier is a scathing polemic about the greed of bankers and pharmaceutical companies that starts a capella and ends with an unrestrained scream. Best of all is Sellers of Flowers - a deep blue ink blot, lamenting the fragility of memory.
An absolute treat.
2) Solange - A Seat At The Table
Musically, she's found her footing, too. Gone is the lightweight R&B of her debut album, in favour of deep, dreamy R&B grooves. You'll recognise the spirits of Minnie Riperton, Marvin Gaye, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Herbie Hancock and Isaac Hayes dropping by to pay their respects - but this is Solange's album, through and through.
1) Beyoncé - Lemonade
Beyoncé's tale of betrayal masked a much bigger discourse on male privilege, white privilege, police violence, female empowerment, rejection, forgiveness, anger, scorn, pain, redemption... The list goes on.
The signs were there when she turned up at the Super Bowl dressed as a Black Panther and made a video in which she sat on top of a police car as it sank into post-Katrina floodwaters. Those are pretty bold statements, especially for an artist of Beyoncé's stature. Can you imagine Elvis or Michael Jackson putting their necks on the line so boldly. No, you cannot.
But here's the thing - the message goes nowhere without fantastic tunes. Luckily, Beyoncé delivered them by the truckful. Hold Up, Sorry, All Night, Freedom, Formation - Beyoncé could have sung, "Yes my name is Iggle Piggle" over those tracks and they'd still be classics. (Note to Beyoncé: Please release this record in 2017).
So there you go... I'm gutted there wasn't space for Chance The Rapper or Childish Gambino, both of whom signposted a way out of rap's current cul-de-sac, or for A Tribe Called Quest's comeback, which did the same thing by sounding exactly like a Tribe Called Quest album from 20 years ago. I thought Ariana Grande might get a look-in, but the album squandered it's promise with a bunch of cookie cutter dance bops that had the filthy hands of major label A&R all over them.
Bat For Lashes' excellent The Bride (about a bride whose fiancé is killed on the way to their wedding) would have had a place if it wasn't so depressing to listen to, in a good way. And Frank Ocean's Blonde loses out for that godawful Facebook interlude. What a crock.
Anyway, let's not end on a sour note. Here's a playlist of the best tracks from those Top 10 albums. If you find something you like, why not buy it and single-handedly save the music industry?