all the nasty ladies: 2016 in records;

2016: the year I stopped listening to men.

Unless they were called John. Or Bruce. Or Frank or Ryan or Brian.

Yes, of course I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect. But, as I wrote in my last piece for The Arts Desk (until they asked if I could fulfil my traditional Christmas Day duty, anyway): this was the year in which the nasty women, to reclaim the tantrum cry of the US President Elect, took over my record collection:

Original riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna and her band, The Julie Ruin, demolished “token girl”-ism in the middle of an album containing some of her most personal, autobiographical songs. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! got back to business as usual on another fierce, fearless album, while continuing to play the most inclusive, life-affirming shows you will ever see. Tacocat took on anonymous internet bullies (and lionised Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully, just a few months after an X-Files reboot so terrible that most people have already forgotten it happened). Jenny Hval made a concept album about periods and vampires, and Hinds and Honeyblood celebrated the girl gang. The Jezabels snuck a song about street harassment onto a pop album, while frontwoman Hayley Mary cooed “come and give a bitch a kiss” like a seduction.

But towering above them all, there was Beyoncé.

Whatever your opinion of Lemonade, Queen Bey’s sixth studio album seems such an obvious choice for album of the year from a December vantage point that it’s easy to forget how it felt seeing those flooded New Orleans streets recreated in the “Formation” video for the first time. Or that the biggest pop star in the world put her considerable cultural clout behind the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown during the album’s primetime premiere on HBO and again during her sold-out live shows. Or the sight of Beyoncé, resplendent in a yellow dress, seizing control of her own narrative with a baseball bat and a pair of six-inch heels.

Year after year, I hear people complaining that nobody makes decent protest music anymore. In 2016, the biggest pop star in the world proved them wrong. And thank god for that, because as the world continues to turn we’re going to need all the protect we can get.

Check out my top 50 records of the year below, with links to things I’ve written where possible – and let me know if there’s anything you think I missed in the comments.

50. PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project review | buy
49. Yip Man: Braw Power buy
48. United Fruit: Eternal Return buy
47. Kid Canaveral: Faulty Inner Dialogue buy
46. White Lung: Paradise buy
45. Basia Bulat: Good Advice buy
44. glacis: love, if you love me, lie beside me now buy
43. Fair Mothers: Through Them Fingers Yours and Mine buy
42. The Prettiots: Funs Cool buy
41. Esme Patterson: We Were Wild buy

40. David Thomas Broughton: Crippling Lack buy
39. Book Group: The Great Indoors buy
38. Shearwater: Jet Plane and Oxbow buy
37. Amber Arcades: Fading Lines buy
36. Lydia Loveless: Real buy
35. BOY: We Were Here buy
34. Fear of Men: Fall Forever buy
33. beat radio: Take It, Forever buy
32. Adam Stafford: Taser Revelations buy
31. Alex Dezen: Alex Dezen buy

30. Virgin of the Birds: Secret Kids interview | buy
29. Pinegrove: Cardinal buy
28. Katie Melua: In Winter review | buy
27. Drive-By Truckers: American Band buy
26. The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset buy
25. Lisa Hannigan: At Swim review | buy
24. Hannah Georgas: For Evelyn review | buy
23. Brian Fallon: Painkillers buy
22. King Creosote: Astronaut Meets Appleman review | buy
21. Honeyblood: Babes Never Die review | Electric Fields festival review | buy

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20. Rachael Yamagata: Tightrope Walker review | buy
“Like the French daredevil Philippe Petit, for whom her latest album was apparently named, slow and steady wins the race for Yamagata: it’s there in its staid, rhythmic opener and title track; and it’s there in the atmospheric, but no less deliberate, ‘Money Fame Thunder’, which closes proceedings with another nod to its central character.”

19. Laura Gibson: Empire Builder review | buy
Empire Builder is, perhaps, the first great American rail trip soundtrack … I fell for the album at its first single and opening track – ‘The Cause’ is an agitated, unsettling little song strangely grounded by Gibson’s ethereal voice and percussion that itself sounds like those train tracks – but it’s the title song that’s the album’s crowning achievement. Written for ‘the person I loved most in the world’ and accompanied by video footage filmed on the very train trip for which it was named, ‘Empire Builder’ is by turns gut-wrenchingly direct and misty-window poetic.”

18. Skating Polly: The Big Fit interview | buy
The Big Fit … is the duo’s first [album] to get a UK release and it’s a visceral introduction to a band that follow in the sonic footsteps of the godmothers of grunge. New single ‘Perfume for Now’ is pure L7 in the chanted ferocity of its chorus, while elsewhere the album triggers images of Kim Gordon and Courtney Love in all her early-90s kinderwhore glory.”

17. Amanda Shires: My Piece of Land buy

16. The Jezabels: Synthia review | buy
“The gaudy, synth-heavy gloom-pop of Synthia seeks to catch you off guard with its sexualised sighs, sinewy rhythms and liquid melodies. It’s only on repeated listens that its wider themes emerge: gender roles and identity; desire and disgust and, in ‘Smile’, a devastating put-down of the everyday street-harasser.”

15. Emmy the Great: Second Love review | buy
“[I]f the Emmy the Great of Second Love remains untrusting and a little introspective, it’s only to be expected, and hardly objectionable when she swirls those emotions in ethereal and increasingly electronic sounds to turn the banal into the beautiful.”

14. Mitski: Puberty 2 buy

13. The Pictish Trail: Future Echoes review | buy
“Despite their snatches of folk-inspired melody, often unconventional structure and occasional hints of malice, so many of the songs on Future Echoes beg to be danced to – until the mood changes, as it does often, and you’re left shuffling your feet, trying to conceal your awkwardness, like your silent disco headphones fell off in the middle of a wake.”

12. Jealous of the Birds: Parma Violets interview | buy
“[Naomi] Hamilton hints at ambition as a properly crossover indie pop, albeit crossover indie pop full of vans ‘the colour of Christ’s blood’ and popping ‘pills like Parma Violets’. ‘Trouble in Bohemia’ sounds like the gothic lovechild of Sheryl Crow, combining gloriously weird lyrics with a radio-friendly riff to create the outsider’s summertime jam; while the moody ‘Tonight I Feel like Kafka’ finds a broody Hamilton raiding the liquor cabinet at 2am, like she ‘couldn’t be anymore hipster if I tried’.

11. Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math buy

10. Ette: Homemade Lemonade interview | buy
“Named for the suffix to many of the 60s girl groups that have long inspired Carla [Easton’s] songwriting, she’s not the candy-coated bubblegum queen she first sounds – rather, Ette is an experimental pop duo which finds Carla’s sunny melodies put through a proverbial psychedelic meat grinder operated by Joe Kane, of Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab.”

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9. Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death review | buy
Love You to Death may arrive in the glossiest of packaging … but that’s merely the gift wrap on two musicians who have spent the better part of 20 years perfecting their craft. This time around, Tegan and Sara’s heart-on-sleeve songwriting finds them as much the heartbreakers as the heartbroken (‘you were someone I loved, then you were no-one at all’ goes a line on piano-driven ballad ‘100x’ that cuts like a knife) – and with their relationship with each other, as much as their romantic relationships, in their sights.”

8. Hinds: Leave Me Alone live review | buy
“Early single ‘Trippy Gum’ properly sets the tone for the night though, with its stoner rock verses and singalong ‘wooh-ooh-ooh’ chorus sounding like a rallying cry for the world’s coolest girl gang. Songs like ‘Fat Calmed Kids’ and ‘Bamboo’ follow the same winning formula: tempo shifts, surf-pop riffs and that ragged bass chug that keeps it from getting too cutesy. The effect is something slightly warped, made almost purposefully un-lovely – but presented with such exuberance it’s impossible not to fall for anyway.”

7. Kate Jackson: British Road Movies review | buy
British Road Movies may be Jackson’s solo project, but there’s plenty here for fans of her previous band to devour: the same desolate views of urban sprawl and motorway verges, the same humdrum heartbreak made somehow cinematic.”

6. RM Hubbert: Telling the Trees review | interview | buy
“[T]he result is a remarkably coherent – if spectacularly diverse – body of work that’s as much a peek into your new best friend’s record collection as it is a shiny disc with one man’s name on the cover. Underpinning it all, of course, is Hubby’s signature guitar, an instrument that provides both melody and rhythm from the way in which its master leans into the strings and taps on its wooden frame. But on these simple foundations, the co-writers and performers as well as long-suffering producer Paul Savage have built towers from spoken word and piano, out of love and longing and synthesisers.”

5. Against Me!: Shape Shift With Me buy

4. Tacocat: Lost Time interview | buy
“Basically, Tacocat are a band that make me want to like beer so I can go out for one with them and talk about how much we hate the patriarchy. Also, I bet they know where to get the best burritos.”

3. John K Samson: Winter Wheat buy

2. Emma Pollock: In Search of Harperfield review | buy
“In just two songs, Pollock perfectly showcases her dynamic talent: there’s the dreamy, ghostly ‘Cannot Keep a Secret’, as immersive a song ever written to fit Pollock’s husky, beguiling voice; and ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, a catchy rocker that’s as insistent as its name.”

1. Beyonce: Lemonade review | live review | buy
Lemonade traverses so many genres across its 12 tracks that it’s practically a modern-day reworking of Alan Lomax’s Archive of American Folk Song: there’s hip hop, dancehall, R&B, trap, reggae, blues and even a full-on country song, plus prodigious sampling and reinterpretations across rock, pop and folk. With these disparate roots, the fact that every song stands strong alone is perhaps a given – but tie them together and what you have is a masterpiece that gets better with every listen.”