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Parting gifts and beautiful sounds
2016 was a dark year for music fans. After David Bowie's sudden death on Jan 10 - just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album - the Grim Reaper kept busy and the pop-rock world lost other greats including Prince, Leonard Cohen and Glenn Frey (of The Eagles) - just to name a few - over the next 11 months.
Thankfully, many left behind modern classics as their swan songs, and a few have it made it to the list of our favourite albums of the year.
In other equally shocking news, earlier this month, vinyl sales overtook digital downloads for the first time in the United Kingdom, proving record shopping is all but dead.
So if you are still doing any last-minute Christmas shopping, here are a couple of titles you might want to consider stuffing down the stocking of a music-lover.
Bowie's 25th and final studio album (below) is as enigmatic as The Thin White Duke himself. Recorded secretly while he was suffering from liver cancer, the material is dark and trippy, making this a parting gift which fans will take years to unravel as they discover the beauty behind the madness of the music.
You Want It Darker
Also recorded when he was dying, You Want It Darker finds Cohen dealing with his mortality with an unusual dash of wry humour (just look at the album title). Yes, there is a tinge of sadness beneath it all and despite the sparse acoustic arrangement, these are some of the most powerful and poignant songs the late Canadian crooner has ever written.
Blood Orange's (Dev Hynes) unique brand of revisionist R&B owes a big debt to soul music from the past but somehow he also makes it sound new. The very lush Freetown Sound is his most personal work to date as the singer-songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist struggles with difficult issues like his race and identity - but somehow makes it sound sexy and beautiful.
Sixteen years in the making, Wildflower is as epic a dance record as you'd expect from these Australian DJs. While their sophomore effort might not be as dazzling as their 2000 debut Since I Left You (which featured hundreds of samples), this genre-defying album is still a wild and interesting ride through a kaleidoscope of genres. Let's just hope they won't take that long to make their third record.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
The tragic death of one of Australian singer-songwriter-author Nick Cave's sons mid-way through the recording of the band's 16th studio album shaped the way Skeleton Tree turned out. Bare-boned and slightly more experimental than usual, this quiet and contemplative record is the work of a man sharing his grief rather publicly with everyone. The equally dark companion documentary One More Time With Feeling (returning next year to The Projector) documents the recording sessions.
57th & 9th
Sting ditches the pan flute and goes back to bass-ics with his first pop-rock album in 13 years. The energetic 10 tracks are more than enough reasons to catch him in concert when he returns to play Singapore next May.
A Moon Shaped Pool
Nobody mashes art with rock the way Radiohead does and A Moon Shaped Pool, with its shape-shifting, multi-layered arrangements and songwriting put it up there with anything that this English quintet has ever released.