#12 Solange – A Seat at the Table
Beyonce’s younger sister came into her own in 2016 with the fantastic A Seat at the Table, a varied and very confident album that pulled from a number of R&B styles. The tunes on this album were of such a high quality that any one of them could have been its lead single, from the slinky ‘Cranes in the Sky’ to the electronica-tinged ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ or the melancholy funk of ‘Where Do We Go From Here’. Solange’s singing was fantastic throughout, and the instrumentation backing her up was always full of ideas. The interview-interludes laced throughout the album also gave it a nice sense of structure, with Master P and Solange’s parents both weighing in on issues of race, gender, music, money, and self-empowerment. All this combined for a powerful and provocative suite of songs that ranked among the years best.
#11 Swans – The Glowing Man
Following up the monolithic To Be Kind, my favourite album of 2014, experimental rock band Swans returned in 2016 with The Glowing Man. The album was the final part in a trilogy of enormous double albums that saw the band pushing rock music to the limits of raw power and volume, and was a fitting sign off. Although The Glowing Man wasn’t quite as consistent as the two albums that preceded it, the highlights of this record rank among the bands best work. There was the terrifying slow chug of album opener ‘Cloud of Forgetting’, and the haunting ‘When Will I Return?’, which featured frontman Michael Gira’s wife Jennifer recounting an experience of sexual abuse over mournful strings and guitars.
Then there was the albums crown jewel, the epic, 21-minute long ‘Frankie M’ – Gira’s ode to a friend either dead or dying of a heroin overdose. Overtaking the Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ as the best song ever written about the drug, ‘Frankie M’ is what I imagine the experience of heroin withdrawal and rush would sound like translated into sound. Beginning with ten minutes of pained, dissonant noise ebbing in and out on waves of rolling drums, it builds and builds into an unbearable cacophony of addiction, then explodes at the ten minute mark into an enormous, cathartic rush: the sound of heroin flooding into the bloodstream. The climax of this song is utterly, utterly huge and was possibly the most awe-inspiring musical moment of 2016.
Anyone who appreciates heavy rock music and is willing to approach this album with an open mind and a bit of patience will be floored by it: The Glowing Man is another excellent album from one of the most boundary-pushing rock bands on the planet.