WAX MUSIC’S 50 BEST RECORDS OF 2016

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2016.

This should be more of a celebration than we planned, we’re sorry to be melancholy about it, but this year has been a bit shit really. The world regressed back one hundred years to a narcissistic state where all manner of fascism, sexism and racism is deemed acceptable. Voices of true hope and imagination left us and to be honest not a great deal of good happened to make up for any of that. We’ve not really got a lot to be proud of ourselves as people for, and maybe we should of thought about that. So for all the overwhelming negativity that currently encompasses anyone who really has a heart – we can take respite in the fact that what we truly love here – music – has thankfully not had a bad year. In fact, it’s been an exceptionally moving one.

Below, you will find the fifty releases that gratefully informed the writers of Wax Music’s year. There was no reason to have limits on what was included, so within this list you will find not just LPs, but EPs, compilations and live records too – format has no matter here.

Finally, we’d like to pay a sincere tribute to one of, if not the, most influential artists of our time. David Robert Jones, thank you for everything you have and still are giving us, we were never ever worthy.

Ross Jones – Editor


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50. Ulrika Spacek – ‘The Album Paranoia

An intense and otherworldly record, ‘The Album Paranoia‘ is an arresting body of work – formed by its uncanny atmosphere and quality in texture. From euphoric waves of noise to layers of unnatural calm, Ulrika Spacek create an utterly enchanting realm that’s very much influenced by the idea of the ethereal. – Ross Jones


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49. Mitski – ‘Puberty 2

Not many could deny not feeling a complete state of existential unknowing at some stage through their mid-20s, even less can interpret such experiences with such illustrative articulateness as Mitski Miyawaki. On her fourth album, Mitski paints the most powerful of self-portraits as she learns who she is and who she wants to be. – RJ


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48. The Hunches – ‘The Hunches

A fire of excitement in the early noughties, The Hunches were a blaze of energy before burning out far too early. This self-titled collection unearthed some rare demos of a group at their most primal and important. Their hooks were caustic, Hart Gledhill was the principal of savagery and they made music that fucking rocked. – RJ


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47. Tim Hecker – ‘Love Streams

A consistently experimental and progressive musician, Tim Hecker found another element to tinker with on ‘Love Streams’ – the emotion and life in a human voice. In sculpting something so uncompromisingly dynamic, Hecker produced an affecting work of animation in atonality and avidity in living form. – RJ


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46. DIIV – ‘Is The Is Are

Yes, Cole Smith kept us waiting a while for a follow-up to ‘Oshin‘, but obviously time allows for contemplation and growth, as proven sonically and thematically on the grandeur of ‘Is The Is Are‘. Undeniably a masquerade of poetic practise, ‘Is The Is Are‘ is elusory in manner and thats where so much of their charm lies. – RJ


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45. Jack Oblivian and The Sheiks – ‘The Lone Ranger of Love

Memphis’ golden son that they didn’t even know they have – Jack Oblivian presented his seventh solo record with a barrel of vintage warmth and gun-slinging resolve. As much a glorious soundtrack to blitheness as a yearning pean to precious times – here Jack and The Shieks are a rollicking yet considered joy. – RJ


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44. Shabaka & The Ancestors – ‘The Wisdom of Elders

In 2015, Shabaka Hutchings went on a mission of discovery to South Africa, upon his return he delivered ‘The Wisdom of Elders‘ – a spiritually rich adventure in utterly encompassing free form jazz. Taking much influence from the musical community and culture of which he inhabited, Hutchings crafted a unique piece with zeal and compassion. – RJ


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43. Mild High Club – ‘Skiptracing

Sensuous soundscapes meet tranquil observation on ‘Skiptracing‘, the latest and most accomplished record yet from Alex Brettin. Counteracting the heart of loss with amorous dreams of picturesque sounds and affectionate intimacy – Brettin is a considered conductor of effecting visions. – RJ


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42. Bon Iver – ‘22, A Million

Fragmented, observable, luscious, indulgent. Just a few words to describe ’22, A Million’ – the surprise third record that arrived from Justin Vernon. Yet one simple word describes it best, moving. Unfathomable is the wealth of spirit and absolute reaction Vernon could decipher from unquestionably cryptic foundations. – RJ


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41. Bueno – ‘Illuminate your room

A deeply personal record made very much within a particular time in the members’ lives, ‘Illuminate Your Room’ instantly captures the essence of who Bueno are and how they deal with their wandering notions and recognition for what is front of them. Deftly poetic with an earnest heart. – RJ


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40. Toro Y Moi – ‘Live From Trona

Chaz Bundick presented the eclectic sounds of last year’s ‘What For?‘ in its purest form on ‘Live From Trona‘ – a record that bursts with warmth, vitality and firm, purposeful clarity. Bundick braved moulding all the sounds he experiments with into one sitting, and as such crafted another welcome impression of his style. – RJ


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39. Preoccupations – ‘Preoccupations

New name, new album, same vital band. Some may see Preoccupations’ name change as a blessing in disguise – this self-titled record proved it unimportant. Preoccupations are a fervent, unyielding group that face the anxiety, monotony and lack of human connection in modern existence and literally tear it from their own souls. A deafening exhibition in sound and narrative. – RJ


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38. Florist – ‘The Birds Outside Sang’

Bed-ridden with a broken neck and arm in 2014, Emily Sprague nonetheless wrote what was to become one of 2016’s most beguiling releases. The Birds Outside Sang is a quietly powerful album, one that finds strength in fragility and the ability to keep reaching outwards from the deepest of introspections. – Caleb Fanshawe


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37. City Yelps – ‘City Yelps Half Hour

As assertive and potent a record as you’ll hear this year – ‘City Yelps Half Hour‘ is a surprisingly accordant and intelligibly lucid work, one that finds great balance between dissonance and harmonious texture. Exacerbated self-conflict and disconnection rings heavy with significance in a brilliantly unmistakable half hour. – RJ


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36. Adam Green – ‘Aladdin

The soundtrack to his own independent re-interpretation of the classic tale – Adam Green remains the most unpredictable of personalities. Much like the film – the soundtrack is a deviant creature created by an off-kilter yet obviously literate imagination that’s influenced cleverly by Green’s own experiences. – RJ


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35. Bane’s World – ‘Drowsy

Shane Blanchard is a wonderfully distinct character – one who moulds many notions into a quirky miasmic pot. Evidently as influenced by the romanticism of 60s pop as the thumb-twiddlers of the modern age – ‘Drowsy‘ is an admirably tender account of a 20-year old in the midst of his life, watching the world go by and pondering where he stands within it. – RJ


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34. Sheer Mag – ‘III’

What’s so fantastically succinct about a Sheer Mag EP, ‘III‘ in particular, is how they thrust such substance and enthusiasm into a short amount of time and space. It’s down to many components, yet ‘III’ is the strongest proof of the groups ability to write short, engaging and unquestionably exhilarating songs. – RJ


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33. Frankie Cosmos – ‘Next Thing

Snapshot fragments of New York twenty-something life are imbued with meaning over fifteen songs by Greta Kline. Observational nous and deft use of metaphor mark her out as a vital voice in contemporary song writing – and as the title of ‘Next Thing’ implies, she makes it look like a walk in the park. – CF


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32. Proto Idiot – ‘For Dummies

For Dummies‘ is a brilliantly defiant garage rock record, led by it’s razor-sharp hooks and Andrew Anderson’s more contemplative subtlety than when with The Hipshakes. Still incensed but in an incisive manner – the record is a cogent statement against self-acrimony. – RJ


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31. Ultimate Painting – ‘Dusk’

The third record in as many years from James Hoare and Jack Cooper, the duo have completely settled in and are looking forward on ‘Dusk’. Retaining their penchant for contemplative musings over gorgeous melodies – the group are more forlorn, a pensive air settling across their reflective journals. – RJ


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30. Acid Ghost – ‘Warhol’

Purposefully inspired by personal visionaries from Jenny Hval to ‘White Light / White Heat‘ – Acid Ghost crafted a record crammed with dissonant ambience and pacifying mood. His most compelling yet elusive record yet, Ace Barcelon finds a balanced line between clarity and impressionism that elicits real merit. – RJ


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29. Trust Fund – ‘We Have Always Lived In The Harolds

They’ve only gone and done it: Trust Fund have scored a veritable hat-trick with another fantastic release, the intriguingly titled ‘We have always lived in The Harolds’ sees the UK’s finest purveyors of off-kilter indie pop exploring more experimental territory – while those yearning for the bouncy, self-pitying songs of past will not be disappointed. – CF


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28. The Hipshakes – ‘Snake

Intelligently witty – ‘Snake‘ focuses on the negative repetition of everyday life and simply turns it upside down with some rockin’ riffs and the sharp vernacular of Andrew Anderson. Another collection of smash punk hits from a cult band that are a lot smarter than most on the scene. – RJ


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27. Wilco – ‘Schmilco

Since it’s announcement, months before its release, ‘Schmilco‘ was given the definition of an ‘acoustic album’. What perhaps we should’ve expected was not something soft and fragile – but an album of harmonious unity and another creative exploration for a constantly progressing group. ‘Schmilco’ is broad, powerful and a telling reminder of Wilco’s depth. – RJ


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26. LVL UP – ‘Return To Love

For all the great bands you could compare LVL UP to they sound fresh as a squeezed lime: a perfect antidote to the many vacuous guitar bands around at the moment. ‘Return to Love’ is in many ways the Platonic ideal of a Sub Pop record, the one you idly daydream about creating. – CF


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25. The Prissteens – ‘Demos & Rarities

Another golden collection dug up by the passionate minds of Girlsville Records, The Prissteens aren’t just relived here, but reevaluated and given the acclaim they first deserved just short of two decades previously. Straight-laced US punk with that cruising power-pop bounce, ‘Demos & Rarities‘ doesn’t simply show what could’ve been. – RJ


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24. Soft Hair – ‘Soft Hair

Finding a weirdly comfortable middle was always going to be interesting concept for a collaboration between two chameleonic players like Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust. But Soft Hair achieved as such, a real smooth layer of squelchy yacht-pop that felt like a lustful love letter read out allowed over something found underground in the 80s. – RJ


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23. Kevin Morby – ‘Singing Saw

With ‘Singing Saw‘, Kevin Morby is now truly out on his own. An eagerly spirited record full of rich tradition and political fervour, Morby’s intelligence with verse is at the forefront of a record that could easily have warranted such merit based on his arrangement work alone. – RJ


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22. Jessy Lanza – ‘Oh No

Frenetic in its work rate and sound, ‘Oh No‘ thrives within its effervescent distinction – Jessy Lanza the individualistic superstar who disappears into the night before we can even comprehend the records true value. Amongst the glistening euphony lies something foreboding – the true emotional quality summoned from Lanza’s bursting conveyance. – RJ


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21. Radiohead – ‘A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool‘ is tough to cast amongst the rest of Radiohead’s work. Upon its release it felt almost like an old friend – personal, warm and welcoming to the point of reverie yet existentially novel. Maybe its disorientating nature was the affecting message the group were trying to express in beautifully crafted form. – RJ


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20.Nicolas Jaar – ‘Sirens

Since ‘Space Is Only Noise‘ arrived five years ago, Chilean producer Nicolas Jaar has broken boundaries with his vast explorations in electronica. With ‘Sirens‘, his first full-length since, Jaar takes a political stance and drives it home with devotion and authenticity. A consummate statement in resonance. – RJ


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19. Girlsville Records V/A – ‘Wild Angels

A wild combination of power pop nuggets and rock n roll notoriety – ‘Wild Angels‘ crafted together all the misfits, degenerates and punks they could find and created something cohesive and glorious. Mixing classic cult groups with newly birthed bands, Girlsville arranged something timeless and undeniably convivial. – RJ


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18. David Bowie – ‘Blackstar

A startling and harrowing goodbye letter from a human being better than you and I. On ‘*’, David Bowie encapsulated everything that made us love him through his half-century career and delivered an intensely modern and unsparingly definitive piece of work. Experimental, avant-garde and consistently forward-looking, as he always was and forever intended to be. – RJ


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17. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – ‘Nonagon Infinity

For all the releases and quality creativity King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard has produced in the last few years, you just don’t see them stopping anytime soon. ‘Nonagon Infinity‘ is another bash at their wild garage-psych template, with no barrier for which to withhold their vivacity. – RJ


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16. Bullion – ‘Loop The Loop

Possibly the most idiosyncratic record on this list – Nathan Jenkins’ first record as Bullion was a much more human account than you would expect from such an electronic release. Pulling from vast genres and soundscapes, Jenkins’ left his heart and sacrifices all across it, in the hope of finding something new and distinctive – he succeeds. – RJ


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15. Planet Jazz – ‘Thank You For Having Me

Alongside his good-natured power pop solo project, Charlie Murphy formed another group late last year to further satiate his prolific work ethic. ‘Thank You For Having Me’ would turn out to be the first EP from Planet Jazz, directing the exceptional hooks and definitive energy of their live show into short accessible bursts that they are quickly becoming renowned for. – RJ


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14. Jadu Heart – ‘Wanderflower

An outstandingly broad effort, ‘Wanderflower‘ encompasses all manner of RnB, Pop, House and Ambience to craft a record of melodious understanding. For a debut release, to establish a record of some width is utterly spellbinding, but to do so with such human empathy and enchanting sounds is resounding. – RJ


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13. Woods – ‘City Sun Eater In The River of Light

Having subtly turned a new leaf from their more minimal and rugged psych-folk sound – Woods delivered something bolder and more harmonious with ‘City Sun Eater in The River of Light‘. Eclectic in its roots in rhythm and more melodious in Jeremy Earl’s delivery, the group adapted and thrived. – RJ


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12. Kanye West – ‘Life of Pablo

Perhaps the most anticipated record of the year (apart from a certain Mr.Ocean), ‘The Life of Pablo’ is a consistently adapting piece of art. Kanye was never quite finished tweaking and developing its sound, and that’s what makes it so fruitfully rich. Soulful, individual and conceivably his most balanced. – RJ


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11. Bad Sports – ‘Living With Secrets’

Bad Sports returned this year for the first time in three years with a blistering record – full of the notorious punk hooks they’ve become a die-hard name for. A shifting, more sweetly-toned delivery maximises their already worming melodies, full of sincerity that hints at a power pop vibe. – RJ


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10.

Angel Olsen – ‘My Woman

‘My Woman’ is direct, commanding and unashamedly despairing and lonesome. Such contrasting emotions within one record mingle here on Olsen’s strongest work to date. Grand sweeping notions, raw shedding of skin and naturally heart-rending arrangements coerce into one definitive statement of instinct and spirit. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me‘ is one of this years most vital anthems while ‘Sister‘ breathes progressive consideration alongside maternal compassion. A grand statement. – RJ


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9.

Magic Potion – ‘Pink Gum

Utterly fried, skewed, baked and woozy, and it’s all the better for it. Magic Potion’s first full-length was pretty effervescent in all the right ways – the utterly chilled vibe they evoke, the unconventional abrasion in clarity of their guitars and quite simply the tender romanticism of it all put together.’Pink Gum‘ is affectionate, yearning and just that little bit sorrowful to piece it all together – filled with marshmallows, cola boys and so much bubblegum you don’t know where to step. Whilst notably nostalgic for the exuberance of childhood, the Swedish group channel that into something wishful and intimate. – RJ


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8.

Leon Vynehall – ‘Rojus (Designed To Dance)

With ‘Rojus’, Leon Vynehall continues the conceptual tradition he began in 2014 with the profoundly good ‘Music for the Uninvited’. But where ‘Music…’ was a nostalgic ode to the bygone epoch of cassette tapes and Chicago house, ‘Rojus’ is a four-to-the-floor exploration of eroticism in the most carnal and basic of senses. Vynehall draws parallels between the mating rituals of birds of paradise and the young club-goer’s pursuit of sex – layering his samples and textures so masterfully that the resulting syrupy mass is one of the most libidinous listening experiences we’ve ever had. ‘Rojus‘ is a collection of incredibly strong tunes that are as primal as they are cerebral. – Liam Hart


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7.

Animal Collective – ‘Painting With…

Returning with perhaps their most cohesive record to date, Animal Collective amassed all their off-kilter idiosyncrasies and penchant for pop simplicity and effectively painted it into ‘Painting With…‘, a record full of colour and continuity. Identifying at points with the most abrasive part of their sound – the group balance the coherent noise of ‘Centipede Hz‘ with the unattainable heights reached with ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion‘ and arrived here with a composed sound that satiates all of their mannerisms into a fresh chapter of their discography. – RJ


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6.

Juvie – ‘You Ain’t Gonna Rock n Roll No More

This may be the first you’ve heard of Travis Ramin, and that’s ok – Juvie’s first record ‘You Ain’t Gonna Rock n Roll No More’ just may be the definitive Ramin release. Power Pop of the highest order that channels golden rock n roll sounds and is unsystematically jubilant for it. Ramin makes it all sound so modern, bringing abiding hooks with looseness and vibrancy. Careless to anything apart from enjoying whats in front of them, Juvie defines whats so strikingly celebratory about this sound. – RJ


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5.

Arbes – ‘Psalms

With ‘Psalms‘, only their second EP – Arbes possessed the ability to further demonstrate how arresting a group they could be. What they left on exhibition is a young group growing, learning but already sounding so established and braced but what they are doing in the first place. They delve into an expansive yet reassuring place, allowing you to get lost in its wave of timelessness yet remain firmly within something tangible and pragmatic. An adventure in 30 minutes of music. – RJ


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4.

Whitney – ‘Light Upon The Lake

Light Upon The Lake‘ arrived in June and has been holding us close with comfort ever since. The musicianship on display is luscious, Max Kakacek’s dreamy guitar-progressions a sprinkling of sugar over the already sweet country soul jams that the group really made with idenity. Julian Ehrlich found his true calling within its creation, a humble lead man with frankness and altruism who leaves himself on the record for all to hear and take heed in his simple cares in life. A wonderfully compassionate record for a dark year. – RJ


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3.

Murph & The Gazorpos – ‘All Night’ / ‘A Little Reaction

Charlie Murphy is a young man from St.Mabyn in Cornwall. He writes power pop and punk music, draws accompanying comics and runs a label and studio from within his room. 2016 is his, and doesn’t belong to anyone else, he’s earned it – based on these releases alone, let alone everything else. Across two EPs, Murphy has traced a lineage in rock n roll and injected it with that punk snarl and those power pop dreams and found something pretty real within it. As simple and inviting as it is, theres real heart here. – RJ


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2.

Thee Oh Sees – ‘A Weird Exits’

Why it has taken nearly two decades for this band to receive more than the cult attention they warrant is beyond scepticism, but if its taken the release of ‘Weird Exits’ to gift them the sort of acclaim they deserve, then it’s with happiness that its finally arrived. Constantly evolving and grafting for the love of doing so, John Dwyer may have found his most complete sound here – the strength in the unity of the group, the intense anxiety that lingers across the record with definition and the almighty weight in noise they create – giving up complete control couldn’t be more gratifying. – RJ


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1.

Parquet Courts –  ‘Human Performance

After the scorched noise and madness in disorder of ‘Monastic Living‘, I don’t think many expected Parquet Courts to deliver the most cohesive and purest version of themselves with ‘Human Performance‘. Yet here we are; with not only the most accomplished record they’ve made but the best record from this year full stop – Parquet Courts have truly cemented themselves. Channeling the notoriously edgy spark and glorious hooks of their previous releases and embellishing it with actual heartfelt emotional value is a treasured gift. It’s warming, actualising, stark and enveloping, a strong definition of modern life itself – a deeply engaging work. – RJ


Words: Caleb Fanshawe, Liam Hart, Ross Jones

Feature Image: Holly Kennelly

With thanks: Henry Young, Jake Willbourne, Charlie Murphy

Wax Music – 2016

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