Dodie - Intertwined (honourable EP mention no.1)
I've been watching dodie (aka doddleoddle) for several years, seeing her grow in confidence and popularity on youtube. Last month she finally released her first EP, and it leaves you with the exact same feeling that her videos do - it's like she's talking (or in this case singing) right in front of you, face to face. In the most powerful songs, 'Sick of Losing Soulmates' and 'When' she explores topics of mental health and modern romance with remarkable eloquence and honesty, and tops it off with gorgeous harmonies and resonant backing vocals, taking a step away from her usual minimal style. It's incredible and inspiring to see how far she's progressed; I feel as proud of her as I would of any one of my 'real life' friends. Her sense of humour and mischief also still makes an appearance in fan favourite 'I Have A Hole In My Tooth.' No matter which song you picked, it could 100% be in the background of an indie rom-com, akin to Alex Turner's sublime soundtrack for Richard Ayoade's Submarine. Short and most definitely sweet, this is a warm hug and mug of tea in musical form.
Hayley Kiyoko - Citrine (honourable EP mention no.2)
In 2016 I let go of my inhibitions and admitted to myself that it was OK to like pop music, and Hayley Kiyoko is probably the best example of that. I first discovered her through her iconic music video for 'Girls Like Girls' and fell completely in love. The song was definitely not a one-hit wonder; Citrine is a sugary, poppy delight with back-to-back singable hits. (Also still releasing incredibly enjoyable music videos for her new releases, by the way) She's doing wonders for the visibility and positive representation of both young women of colour and bisexuality/sapphic relationships; I wish people would stop being bitter about how much they hate Halsey and go listen to Hayley Kiyoko instead. She may have started off as a Disney star, but she's becoming one of the most exciting young female pop artists there is.
Lady Gaga - Joanne
After the failings of her last full-length effort ARTPOP, it became clear that Lady Gaga needed to make some changes, and that she did in Joanne. But the most refreshing thing about this record is that it's clear all these changes were made of her own free will. This is the most personal Gaga has ever been in her music, and for a woman (in)famous for making outrageous 'statements' that is even more impressive. The record may not be her most cohesive or her most catchy, but it gives the most insight into a person who has, until now, only been seen as a soulless conduit for contemporary social issues and 'culture'. Not every song is a hit, but there's so much range of musical style on Joanne that there's bound to be a song you'll enjoy. You might find the transition between the dance-floor beats of 'Perfect Illusion' and the pensive piano chords of 'Million Reasons' jarring, but in this album, it's clear that Lady Gaga is finally an artist who is exploring and owning her originality, rather than playing and manufacturing it.
Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!
It's official, Donald Glover can do anything. He sneaked in right at the end of a shitty year with the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2013's because the internet and decided to change genres completely. The result is is a sensual, spiritual, funky, soul-filled explosion, wholly unexpected and yet totally Gambino. He still effortlessly combines the old and the new; influences from legends like Clapton, Hendrix and Prince are clear, but injected with a modern twist complete with distortion, artistic auto-tune and excellent production value. True, you still might not know what he's on about when he sings about a peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid, but who cares? Not many people can make singing about the boogie-man sexy, but this man can.
David Bowie - Blackstar
'When a man sees his black star, he knows his time has come...' these lyrics come from an Elvis Presley song, and could have been one of Bowie's inspirations for this album, released just days before his death. There have been countless fan theories and 'explanations' surrounding this album, its release, its cover art and its 'meaning'. You can't blame them; it's been a way to keep him alive. I've never been more than a casual fan of David Bowie, but the day he died, I lay on the couch and cried for hours. I couldn't understand what was wrong with me - I think maybe it was disbelief, that a man who had not seemed like a man at all, was in fact devastatingly mortal just like the rest of us. Although I've not got involved in the discussions about the big puzzle that is Blackstar, I believe that's maybe what he was trying to communicate in this album - his humanity and mortality. It doesn't have the accessibility of pop hits like 'Heroes' or 'Fame'; it's murky and moody and thoughtful, and real. You probably won't want to sing along to this album. Instead, you'll hear the words 'look up here, I'm in heaven' and you'll probably cry a bit. But not all music needs to make you feel good. It just needs to make you feel.
Jamie T - Trick
Jamie T, the marmite of the UK indie kids' music tastes. Thankfully, I love marmite. I'll be the first to admit that I was doubtful when I heard the first single 'Tinfoil Boy' which sounded like it could have been written by a bunch of drunk neds on the last train home, but thankfully the rest of this album is an absolute treat. Although there's less rambling about his wild night outs in London town, Jamie returns to the excitement and gutsy sound that was largely missing from 2014's Carry On The Grudge, and instead opts to tell the tales of various historical misfits such as Joan of Arc, Solomon Eagle and Robin Hood. It's definitely his most ambitious record to date, combining a host of musical styles into a dozen songs. Songs like 'Tescoland' and 'Sign of the Times' will undoubtedly become staples on Jamie's setlists for his incredible live shows (you'll come out battered and bruised, but it's worth it). He's back to his old brilliance and I hope he never stops.
Frank Ocean - Blonde
If you'd told 16 year old Kirsty that her favourite album of 2016 was Frank Ocean's Blonde, she'd probably laugh in your face. In fact, she'd probably say, 'Who's that???' Yeah, I'll admit it - I only started listening to him last year. At this point I was really excited because I heard he had a new album coming out. Then it got pushed back. And pushed back. And I basically lost hope that it was ever going to get released. Then magically a feature length video-album was uploaded - I started an Apple Music membership for this man. Soon after, Blonde was released. I cleared my schedule and did nothing but listen to it from start to finish. It was a fantastic decision. This is an album designed to be listened to in full; each song fades into the next effortlessly, and if it doesn't, there's an interlude to lull you over. The album is incredibly intimate - the fact that his own mother's vocals are more prominent obvious than that of Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar (both of which I didn't realise actually featured on the album until I was reading up about individual tracks) displays this pretty well. In a world where police brutality, wrongful incarceration and demonisation of black people is all too common, Frank Ocean showing his emotional fragility is a radical act. His vocals are stronger than ever, showcased on songs like 'Self Control' and my personal favourite 'Seigfried.' I'm so glad I've become more open minded in terms of my musical tastes in order to enjoy triumphs such as this.
Until next time,