To reference Merriam-Webster’s perfect summary of 2016, it’s been a surreal year. Despite all the misfortunes, it’s also been a year with an excellent soundtrack and plentiful albums. Dozens of annual end-of-the year-lists have rolled out by now, and as much as I love Beyoncé, Frank Ocean and David Bowie, there are other artists that deserve album recognition as well.
One of the great things about music is that it’s objective, so there’s no way to measure a definitive critical list or declare an ultimate best. Here are some of my favorite albums of 2016—in no particular order—which you may have overlooked, or, like me, noticed were absent from the abundance of annual roundup lists.
“Long Way Home”
The 20-year-old British singer and songwriter bared all her intimate thoughts for her debut “Long Way Home,” presenting an intimate lens that flickers through experimental pop. Låpsley’s multi-instrumental skills and former classical training translate across layers of synth-pop distortion and disco-inspired anthems, while her lush vocals peel back earnest tales of agony.
“Love & Hate”
Michael Kiwanuka is one of the few R&B artists who have refused to succumb to the genre’s synthesized trends and modernized pop adaptions. Instead, he continues to craft retro echoes of traditional folk-soul on his sophomore album, incorporating orchestras and reverbed vocals. “Love & Hate” is reminiscent of radio songs from the past, all while remaining authentic, as it explores Kiwanuka’s painful memories, failing relationships and racial identity in a white world.
“Never Be Like You” featuring Kai was a game changer for the Australian producer, as its radio-hit status introduced him to a new mainstream pop audience. But Flume delivers more than just a one hit-single on “Skin,” his genre-pushing sophomore album that combines melodic features (from the like of Tove Lo, Vince Staples and Beck) with his impressive abilities to craft bass sounds so fluidly. All 16 tracks hold their own unique energy, while together they chart the sonic journey of this progressive artist.
Remember the craze over Baauer’s viral “Harlem Shake?” Well, now forget all about it. Baauer proves he’s far removed from making another memeable hit and shows off his eclectic producing chops on “Aa,: his unforeseen sensational debut. The 13-track album thumps through trap and hip-hop influences, featuring the genres’ tastemakers, including Future, Pusha T and M.I.A, among others. “Aa” jumps the line between glitchy and sleek jams, while relentlessly pounding out raw bass drops that will keep you guessing and yearning for more.
The Belgian artist is a genre-bending hidden gem, and once discovered, her music is too enticing to ignore. Selah Sue has a profound, old school voice made for soul, and it’s matched with cathartic songwriting that explores her battles with mental health. Her sophomore album “Reason” ranges from stripped down ballads to upbeat dance tracks and reggae infused sounds, all while lyrically remaining true to her emotional being.
The Brooklyn duo’s recent break-up announcement makes this one an even more worthwhile listen. Chairlift has consistently evolved their sound, amidst indie-rock darling labels and Apple commercial fame. Their fourth album, “Mouth,” is their most significant testament to growth, taking synth-pop to a futuristic R&B world. It’s bittersweet that Chairlift found their best avant-pop sound on their final release.