Whatever the hell else it might have been, 2016 was quite the year for new music. I had to limit myself to ten albums or we would be here until 2017: these are merely (or not merely) those that have spoken to me the loudest; or the most clearly; or in a language I had not heard before.
"Blackstar", by David Bowie. Obviously.
"The Ship", by Brian Eno. It sits somewhere between an art installation (without visuals) and a collection of songs. Whatever it is, it is both compelling and fascinating.
"The Colour In Anything", by James Blake. Clocking in at 76 intense minutes, this is too big an album to take in in one sitting (or even 100 sittings). Sometimes you just have to trust your gut as to whether an album as daunting as this is going to be worth the effort that your brain knows is going to be required to fully absorb all that it might have to offer. Gut says yes. Ask me again in 10 years.
"A Moon Shaped Pool", by Radiohead. I have never listened to a Radiohead album in my life. Until this one. Does that make it the Radiohead album for people who don't like Radiohead? Well, I wouldn't know.
"Metal Resistance", by Babymetal. Don't judge.
"Skeleton Tree", by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Many music critics have struggled to interpret this album as anything other than a very public outpouring of grief by (an undoubtedly grief-stricken) Nick Cave. What I hear is Nick Cave saying, "This is our new album. Deal with it."
"Lost Cities", by Ed Kuepper. This is Ed's first collection of new songs since "Jean Lee And The Yellow Dog", in 2007 (which was, in turn, his first collection of new songs since 2000's "Smile ... Pacific"). As such, there is no universe in which it wouldn't be on this list. What's surprising, though (but maybe not all that surprising, given Ed's recent stint as a part of the touring Bad Seeds), is the degree of musical affinity it has with "Skeleton Tree".
"Modern Country", by William Tyler. There's a lot of this kind of music about. (With apologies to Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman and Chris Forsyth, any of whom might have been on this list.)
"Sirens", by Nicolas Jaar. Jaar has been such a constant presence over the last few years that it's easy to forget that this is his first solo album since "Space Is Only Noise", five years ago. You can't really say it's been worth the wait, because you haven't noticed that you have even been waiting. Its opening few minutes suggest that you have walked into the start of a particularly contemplative set by The Necks. I wouldn't exactly say it gets "better" from there, but it does get different.
"Golden Sings That Have Been Sung", by Ryley Walker. But you knew that.
Best new old music:
A toss-up between "Some Other Time", an unreleased gem by The Bill Evans Trio, and "Finale", a fine concert recording from 2008 by the original (or, at least, the gold standard) lineup of Pentangle, playing together (it says here) for the first time since 1973. (And, sadly, they won't be doing it ever again. It's nice that we have this.)
"It Means I Love You", by Jessy Lanza. The template for 21st century pop music. One can only hope.
"Kuiper", by Floating Points. Taking it to the next level. Whatever "it" is.
"Present Tense", by Radiohead. Perfect in every way.
"Hubris Variation", by Oren Ambarchi vs Ricardo Villalobos. Two names that I don't think many people would have thought to put in the one sentence. Oren sold me many excellent records during his stint behind the counter at Metropolis, but I have never really engaged with his own music until this year's "Hubris" (which this "remix" boils down to its barest essence).
"Young Death" / "Nightmarket", by Burial. A new Burial record is always an event. (Boy, there's a cliche.) Two songs don't make an album, but you can't have one of these songs without the other, so here they both sit.
Best 2015 record that I didn't hear until 2016:
"Elaenia", by Floating Points.
We saw several excellent films this year. "Spotlight". "The Big Short". "Everybody Wants Some". "Rams". "Your Name". But any film released in the same year as "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" was never going to be my film of the year.