This time it’s a welcome return for MusicRiot alumnus John Preston, who moved on a couple of years ago to write for Vada but comes back to the fold each Christmas to share his favourites with us. John was part of the first High Five in 2012, and it’s always refreshing to read his passionate and committed work. And we’re so pleased that he continues to champion the wonderful Dawn Richard.

 Album of the year

1-anohniTough call, but the reason this isn’t Mitski’s “Puberty 2” or Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is because neither artist quite captured the intensity and diversity of heartache – and these are all sublime records whose central theme is that of violent retribution – of Anonhi’s “Hopelessness”. That isn’t to say that this is a hard slog but Anonhi’s first album as a trans artist and without the Johnsons features her most accessible and exciting material to date. Touted initially as a dance record, “Hopelessness” undoubtedly uses densely modern and electronic R’n’B styles with steely production by Hudson Mohawke and OPN, but sensibly resists the urge to cast Anonhi as some fallen disco diva. Domestic violence, Barack Obama, surveillance culture, climate change and religion are some of the many aspects of its title’s state of mind. Beautiful, haunting, catchy and progressive; Anonhi has old school pop star values and she’s never been more radiant.

Independent Artist of the Year

PrintOne of the biggest music injustices of the last few years is that Dawn Richard is still not taking up the amount of mainstream, musical media space that she should be. It’s unlikely that this will change with November’s release of her third and final album in the “Heart” series, “Redemption”, and it’s quite possible that this is the way that Richard prefers it. She could now choose to work with producers or collaborators that would propel her into a world she once knew when working with Sean Combs, but this might mean that Richard would have to compromise and this is not a concept that appeals to the tireless, electro-R’n’B artist. “Redemption” feels less conceptual than “Golden and Black” and, although its first half is frenzied and beats heavy, Richard is just as reflective and thoughtful as before. The episodic and ambitious “LA”, featuring an incredible Trombone Shorty play-out, shows just what Dawn Richard is capable of.

Album Title of the Year

3-roisin-murphy“Monto (Take Her Up to Monto)” is an a 1958 Irish folk song by George Desmond Hodnett which means that Roisin Murphy can’t take sole responsibility for the name of her fourth solo album – “Take Her Up to Monto” . Monto itself is a nickname given to the one-time red light district in Dublin and quite what the relevance to this area and Murphy’s brazenly out-there collection of songs left over from last year’s “Hairless Toys” sessions is unclear. Where that album was curvier and had a deceptively gentle demeanour, “Take Her Up To Monto” is by far a more angular collection which in turn still thankfully indulges Roisin’s flirty and humorous tics. “Thoughts Wasted” is her magnum opus, a by-turns sung electro-pop, spoken-word orchestral stream of consciousness which has a surreality that punctuates the majority of her work whilst being touchingly relatable. Roisin Murphy always acts as though she is a bigger star than she actually is, one day let’s hope that this genuine visionary gets the stage she deserves.

Nearly there of the Year

4-sleigh-bellsSleigh Bells last two albums have been disappointingly pallid impersonations of their bruising 2010 debut. On “Jessica Rabbit”, Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss don’t exactly go back to the drawing board but they do attempt to try some new things. Krauss has always been essential to Sleigh Bells densely layered textures, a key part of the formula but sometimes frustratingly buried, the point maybe, but on occasion there is a yearning to experience her vocals yanked out and pushed high into the mix. This then seems to have been their objective on “Jessica Rabbit”, and obvious highlight “I Can Only Stare” is straightforward pop and Krauss’ voice is the stuff of diva dreams. Other tracks are fantastically bizarrely structured, episodic and bursting with musicality whilst the remainder sadly bottles out on this promise and just delivers more of the same. In part at least then, this is one of the most thrillingly dynamic records released in 2016.

Disappointment of the Year

5-lady-gagaLady Gaga has thus far been a brilliant and thrilling pop-star but around the arrival of her fourth album, “Joanne”, something changed. Its best tracks are, surprisingly, reminiscent of Bette Midler’s rawer and stripped material from the early 1970s but the majority is sentimental and derivative middle of the road Americana-lite. Shania Twain and Bon Jovi seem key, irony-free references. The fact that the record has constantly been referred to by Gaga, executive producer and nostalgist Mark Ronson, and large parts of the music press as ‘real and authentic’ is profoundly depressing – so what does this make the long period preceding it? Oddly, Joanne feels like the most contrived album of Stefanie Germanotta’s career and one that seems to mark her as a cynical fraud, “Poker Face” being more autobiographical than initially suspected.