2016 has been a killer year for music.
From Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” to Bowie’s “Blackstar,” droves of acclaimed and platinum-selling records have been released. Sales aren’t a tell-all about the quality of music, however, and plenty of incredible albums are released every year that simply don’t receive the attention they deserve. This is a list of some of those albums from 2016, in no particular order.
Andy Shauf — “The Party”
Genre: Indie folk/indie rock
Since releasing his debut LP in 2015, Andy Shauf has been adored by his listeners for his beautiful instrumentation and intimate lyrical narratives that tell the everyday stories of everyday people. On “The Party,” a loose concept album about the events that transpire at a party, Shauf capitalized on his strong suits with heartbreaking stories from the album’s various characters and beautiful arrangements that include clarinets, strings, and synthesizers, in addition to typical indie rock fare. This album takes you on a journey from beginning to end, each story making you feel the character’s pains, paranoias, and ecstasies.
Recommended songs: “The Magician,” “Early to the Party,” “The Worst in You,” “To You,” “Martha Sways”
Anderson .Paak — “Malibu”
R&B singer-songwriter, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak gave the world his most personal release yet with “Malibu,” a 61-minute epic that winds its roots through his past and present, all the while floating atop the velvety textures of the album’s instrumental backing. .Paak’s humility and honesty is refreshing, making the album feel more like a memoir than a self-important biographical narrative. The stylistic variety of the track list is tremendously impressive, with .Paak exploring all sorts of sonic territory without going far enough away to compromise the album’s easy going cohesion.
Recommended songs: “The Bird,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” “Am I Wrong,” “Come Down”
Weyes Blood — “Front Row Seat to the Earth”
Genre: Indie rock
In the rapidly changing age in which we live, pausing to reflect on our society’s trajectory can be difficult. On “Front Row Seat to the Earth,” Natalie Mering does just this by applying a modern perspective to the sonic palette of late ‘60s/early ‘70s folk. Normally, when an artist tries to express the disconnect they feel from their generation, it comes across as nostalgic pandering to bygone times. But Mering manages to avoid this altogether, instead offering songs that toe the line between tongue-in-cheek and sincere. The instrumentation, while taking many cues from ‘60s/’70s folk, offers enough of a modern feel to not feel derivative.
Recommended songs: “Diary,” “Used to Be,” “Do You Need My Love,” “Generation Why”
C Duncan — “The Midnight Sun”
Genre: Folktronica/Indie Pop
With 2015’s “Architect,” C Duncan debuted his signature sound: lush choral arrangements and varied instrumentals held together with lo-fi production to create a pleasantly organic listening experience. “The Midnight Sun” retains this formula, but introduces new sounds that make it a captivating sophomore release. Duncan has said that the album’s vibes were partially inspired by the dark aesthetic of the TV series “The Twilight Zone.” This can be heard easily in the dark pianos and synth pads that frequent the project, as well as the shimmering vocal arrangements and twinkling synth arpeggios. Though some songs on the album run together a bit, others see Duncan striking an incredible balance between moody sonic intrigue and borderline pop accessibility.
Recommended songs: “Nothing More,” “Like You Do,” “Other Side,” “On Course,” “Window”
Kate Tempest — “Let Them Eat Chaos”
Genre: Spoken word/electronica
It makes sense that a spoken word artist wouldn’t garner as much attention as more traditional musical acts, but UK poet Kate Tempest should not be overlooked. On “Let Them Eat Chaos,” she uses her trademark mastery of entrancing imagery to reflect on the state of the world, putting it under a microscope and exploring microcosms of hope and despair. The musical aspect of Tempest’s output is the electronic production she speaks and raps over. At times, it sounds a bit uninspired, but this fault stays out of the way of Tempest’s true strength: her hypnotizing lyrics.
Recommended songs: “Lionmouth Door Knocker,” “Europe Is Lost,” “We Die,” “Pictures on a Screen”
Street Sects — “End Position”
Genre: Noise punk/industrial
The blistering aggression of punk and industrial music can traditionally only be achieved in a handful of ways, making it difficult to innovate within the genre. This is why “End Position” is such a remarkable achievement. Street Sects construct their songs largely with sampling, crafting their instrumental backing out of the sounds of machinery, race cars, and anything else that makes a loud noise. The vocals here, often screamed, are left relatively buried in the mix, allowing their unrelenting rawness and power to join the chaos instead of stand atop it. This is an album that can be terrifying to listen to. But the fact that it evokes such a strong response it what makes it so notable.
Recommended songs: “And I Grew into Ribbons,” “Featherweight Hate,” “Our Lesions,” “Feigning Familiarity”
Sturgill Simpson — “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”
Country is another genre in which it can be difficult to innovate without alienating fans. It takes a fair amount of courage to shrug off the trappings of decades of Nashville cliché worship, and Simpson’s willingness to do so makes him one of the genre’s rare pioneers. “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” is unmistakably a country record, but its atypical song topics and captivating instrumental embellishments add a degree of intrigue that many country artists would struggle to imitate. Simpson has already begun to make waves within his genre, inspiring several of his peers to attempt to break the country formula.
Recommended songs: “Breakers Roar,” “In Bloom,” “Brace For Impact (Live a Little),” “Oh Sarah”