The end of June is somehow already upon us. We’ve survived half of 2016. Congratulations, everyone! Have you been enjoying the year’s music releases as much as we have? Whether you’ve kept up with the music scene this year or not, Jake and I want to look back on the first half of this year and present to you the albums (5 from each of us) that you definitely should have been listening to, along with some honorable mentions and what we’re anticipating for the rest of the year. In case you missed it, make sure to also take a look at our top 30 songs from 2016, and maybe take a peek back at our favorite albums in 2015 as well.
Jake: 2016 has easily been one of the most exciting years in music this decade for a number of reasons. With my music taste being rooted in pop music, this year saw some of my favorite artists returning to release what could arguably be their best works. Not only that, but many artists across all genres are experimenting with their sounds and expanding what fans expect from them. With such an already incredible year, it’s hard to narrow it all down to my favorite 5 albums — I had difficulty even picking the honorable mentions! But here is where I have been musically for the past six months.
Michael: What I’ve loved so much about music this year is that almost every album I’ve really enjoyed has caught me off guard. My top 5, represented below, is composed entirely of albums from artists I had no prior knowledge of or interest in. Even my honorable mentions list only contains one record I was looking forward to (Kanye, of course), so this year has been great for discovering amazing talents in music, and that’s especially exciting.
Time for the real list! Jake and I will present our respective top five lists in order, starting with number five and moving down to number one, beginning with Jake’s number five, then my number five, then Jake’s number four, and so on and so forth.
Without further ado, Jake and I present to you our favorite five albums of 2016 thus far:
Jake’s #5 Album: The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
One of today’s biggest exports from the UK is the alternative band The 1975. On their sophomore album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, the band soars to new heights, with a growing number of influences. The eclectic “Love Me” is a jarring, boisterous number telling about the struggles many celebrities face with fame — a common theme on the 80s-influenced record. I like it when you sleep has many different shapes and sounds, with the melodic “Somebody Else” and the melancholic “Paris” providing a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of single “The Sound” and fast-paced “She’s American.” The album only proves to get better with time, as opposed to my lukewarm reaction when I initially reviewed the record. I find myself listening to this one more and more as the year goes on.
Michael’s #5 Album: Gallant – Ology
Ology, the debut album from singer-songwriter Christopher Gallant, is 16 tracks of cool, atmospheric, contemporary R&B. Gallant’s powerful voice stands out on every track, effectively holding the entire project together. The instrumentals on here are just as impressive, ranging from punchy, slow, electronic pieces to the superior live instrumentals full of funky guitar/bass-lines and plenty of exciting drum fills. Ology is one long stride of absorbing and introspective tracks, making every song a pleasure to listen to.
The following video — a live performance of the single “Weight In Gold” — was my introduction to Gallant. His captivating on-stage energy instantly made me a fan, and I think it’s the best way to sell anyone on how amazing Gallant is. I won’t be surprised if he’s a huge name a couple years from now, so get in while you can, and you can subsequently tell everyone about how you liked Gallant before it was cool to like Gallant.
Jake’s #4 Album: Rihanna – ANTI
2016 has proved to be quite the year for the Barbadian singer. After a messy 2015, the superstar proved that with the right material, one can make a comeback. With the minimalist R&B sound on ANTI, Rihanna brought herself to the forefront more than ever. First single “Work” was practically inescapable, with many people wondering just what she was saying. The album is sleek, cohesive, and unpredictable all at the same time. One second, Rihanna is reflecting on the lust she has for an old flame on “Kiss It Better,” while the next she is intoxicated by love on album highlight “Love On the Brain.” The album, though meant to be the antithesis of what people expect from Rihanna, proves to be her most thought provoking work yet.
Michael’s #4 Album: Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits my number-four album of the past six months, Light Upon The Lake. Yet another debut album, this one from Chicago band Whitney, is the music equivalent to a calm, late-night drive on a warm summer night. The 30-minute LP opens with the most gorgeous song of 2016, “No Woman.” Whitney lead singer Julien Ehrlich croons in an affected falsetto, while a soft guitar plucks and violin strings swell in the background. And although the album does admittedly peak with its opener, the nine tunes that follow stay consistently enjoyable the entire way through. Light Upon The Lake offers up ten light, breezy, indie folk tunes capable of conjuring up nostalgic feelings — the perfect album for summertime listening.
Jake’s #3 Album: Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman
All latex bunny masks aside, this album is really, really amazing. While I’ve never been the biggest Ariana Grande fan, I can’t deny that this album is exactly what she needed to prove herself in today’s music industry. Dangerous Woman is a moody, exhilarating pop record from start to finish. Grande experiments with her sound, blending disco (album highlight “Greedy”), soul (the honest “I Don’t Care”), and her signature pop magic (the urgent and Song of the Summer, “Into You”). Her voice is unparalleled, as she is able to use her vocals as a tool to move each song to the next level. With an album as impressive as this, it’s no wonder why Grande is one of the biggest artists out now.
Michael’s #3 Album: Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
I love that this album opens with a confused girl declaring, “You are now listening to… uh… Car Seat Headrest!” Just in case you weren’t aware. I love the track that follows, “Fill In The Blank,” and the rest of the track-listing just the same. I especially love “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” To put it bluntly, Teens of Denial is lo-fi indie rock at its finest. The 12 guitar-driven tracks make up an album that rests at a staggering hour and ten minutes, but every minute is worth hearing. The band’s creative force, Will Toledo, sings (and yells and shrieks) with conviction, belting out immensely quotable lyrics on what is the absolute best rock album to be released so far this year.
Jake’s #2 Album: Gwen Stefani – This Is What the Truth Feels Like
No Doubt lead vocalist Gwen Stefani returned triumphantly in 2016 with her strongest body of work yet as a solo artist, This Is What the Truth Feels Like. The album picks up right where Stefani left off a decade ago with 2006’s The Sweet Escape, with her signature hip-pop sound receiving a major facelift. The production is fresh, the lyrics are refreshingly personal, and Gwen has never sounded better. This Is What the Truth Feels Like is exactly the album Stefani needed, with personal cuts such as the cool “Used To Love You” and the title track displaying the turmoil and romance the singer has dealt with in the past year. “Make Me Like You,” album highlight, turns the fun up a notch, serving as a modern day rendition of “Lovefool” by the Cardigans. This album was definitely worth the decade year wait as a fan, and has yet to grow old.
Michael’s #2 Album: Beyoncé – Lemonade
I didn’t even know any of the other artists in this list going into the year, but it’s Beyoncé’s latest that stands as the most surprising entry here. Outside of her infectious, enjoyable 2008 (God, was it that long ago?) hit “Single Ladies,” I’ve had no interest and definitely no reverence for Beyoncé. How she became the world’s biggest pop star was always a mystery to me. Lemonade, her sixth full-length release, was an album I scoffed at and actively avoided upon its release. Boy, was I wrong to do such a stupid thing.
Lemonade is phenomenal. I first experienced the album in its visual form, which is both inspired and straight up beautiful, but the film doesn’t factor into why I love Lemonade so much. After all, even shitty songs can have well-made music videos — at the end of the day, it’s the music that really matters. While I have yet to return to the visual side of Lemonade, I’ve listened through the album dozens of times since its release in late April. The 12 tracks that make up this album are wholly captivating, each sounding as riveting as the last. Over 45 minutes, Beyoncé weaves a bold, deeply personal account of betrayal, anger-fueled revenge, and ultimately, love. I think I finally understand why she’s the biggest pop star in the world.
Jake’s #1 Album: Beyoncé – Lemonade
My top choice was far too easy, as it’s undoubtedly the best album released this year. Beyoncé’s sixth album, Lemonade, takes the already stratospheric singer to new heights. Lemonade is bold, emotional, and experimental. With topics such as a relationship plagued by infidelity, overcoming trauma, and finding herself in the chaos of the world, Beyoncé was able to deliver a cohesive and truly outstanding work. I could highlight a song or two, but that would simply just not do the album justice. Listen to the whole album. Trust me, there hasn’t been a single week that has gone by in which I haven’t.
Michael’s #1 Album: Anderson Paak – Malibu
Could I have told you who Anderson Paak was three months ago? No, but now it’s all I want to do. Paak is a Californian musician, who has slowly but surely seen his come up over the past couple years, notably appearing on six tracks on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album Compton. Even still, he wasn’t much of a name until this past January, when his second full-length album, Malibu, was released to widespread acclaim. And somehow I missed all the hub-bub about him until mid-April, when after being recommended it by a friend, Malibu instantly became my favorite album of the year.
Malibu is near-perfect; 16 cuts brimming with R&B, soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop sounds all delicately blended together in order to mold a diverse, yet entirely cohesive album. Malibu is rooted in the sounds of the 60s and 70s, but is just as fresh as any album I’ve listened to this year.
Paak takes inspiration from all sorts of eras and genres for Malibu. Favorites like “Celebrate” and “Come Down” take a page from upbeat 70s soul, while album opener “The Bird” is a troubled R&B anthem, and “Am I Wrong” is a funky detour halfway through the LP. And the album isn’t even entirely a trip into the past, as “Your Prime” perfectly emulates Kendrick Lamar’s patented style, where Paak’s already similar voice becomes eerily indistinguishable with K-dot’s.
Pulling from so many styles could easily result in a muddled mess, but that simply isn’t the case here. From Paak’s warm melodies and inspired lyricism, to the gorgeous instrumentals and exceptional production found throughout, the album truly is a pleasure to listen to. And it just doesn’t get old no matter how many times I listen to it.
I simply get so much joy out of listening to Malibu, and I have no reason to believe it won’t still be sitting comfortably in this top spot come the end of the year.
Jake: The first half of this year has been honestly amazing in terms of music, and the latter half of the year is only looking to get better. Of course, I’m looking forward to those surprise albums I stumble into along the way, but with expected releases from Katy Perry, Bleachers, Lorde, Bastille, Young the Giant, and Lady Gaga, the final months of the year are going to include some of my most anticipated music ever.
Michael: This year has seriously been such a phenomenal year in music. There aren’t that many albums I’m looking forward to that have specified 2016 release dates, but with the number of surprise artists I’ve already come across so far this year, I look forward to stumbling upon a dozen more come January. Some albums I’m looking forward to that I know come out this year or expect to include Run The Jewels’ follow-up to RTJ2, R&B singer NAO’s debut full-length LP, whatever Kanye West has on the docket, the album from Anderson Paak’s side-project NxWorries, and one could pray that Vampire Weekend’s next project comes out this year.
I still very much think it’ll be tough to top Malibu, but I’m ready for whatever the rest of 2016 has to offer.
— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor