2016 seems to be making up for what it has lost. Already, in the first half of the year, a handful of entertainers have passed away, which makes the musical developments of new acts feel like the turning of leaves. Even though Bowie’s influence can still be felt and Prince’s “Purple Rain” will continue to blare through speakers around the world, this year’s new releases come from a new team of versatile and talented players.
Light Upon The Lake – Whitney
It’s been awhile since a newly formed band released a debut that is as refreshing and cohesive as Whitney’s Light Upon The Lake. Made up of Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra alumni, the band seems to have taken the best parts of their combined musical history and molded it into something that is equal parts adventurous and learned. These qualities translate directly into the band’s live performances, where lead singer and drummer Julien Ehrlich sits in the middle of his kit while the other members of the band play trumpets and guitars around him. Leading up to the record’s release, the band toured with Wild Nothing and was often the star of the show. From the looks of it, Light Upon The Lake has definitely stolen the spotlight as well.
Focus tracks: “No Woman”, “No Matter Where We Go”, “Polly”
ANTI – Rihanna
ANTI is a record about confidence. Whether it belongs to the listener, to Rihanna, or both, is up for interpretation. The power that is heard throughout the 13-track release comes in waves that are both large and small, and have been building up for the past four years since the release of Unapologetic. On the album opener and SZA collaboration track, “Consideration”, Rihanna sings, Do things my own way darling/ You Should just let me/ Why will you never let me grow. ANTI is a perfect balance of declaration and soft spoken professions, ranging from tracks like “Yeah, I Said It” to “Never Ending” and back again. The deluxe version also boasts noteworthy track “Sex With Me”. Rihanna has harnessed both her talent and inner goddess, and ANTI puts it all on display.
Focus tracks: “Kiss It Better”, “Needed Me”, “Sex With Me”
Teens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo is honest. Four tracks into his band’s latest record, he sings about taking shrooms and feeling like and idiot instead of transcendent on “(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)”. The frontman of Car Seat Headrest has released 12 albums on Bandcamp, but Teens Of Denial is only his second release on Matador. The album originally made headlines for legal issues surrounding a Cars sample on the track, causing Matador to push the album’s physical release into the summer from it’s May 20 scheduled date. In an earnest letter released to the public, Toledo explains that both he and Matador “truly believed [they] had the issue resolved months ago, until last week.” The rescheduled release failed to hinder the record’s success, and perhaps Ric Ocasek is having remorse now about refusing to authorize that sample.
Focus tracks: “(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)”, “Vincent”
Skip A Sinking Stone – Mutual Benefit
Mom + Pop
Mutual Benefit’s Skip A Sinking Stone may be the most sonically beautiful record of the year. Like the band’s previous release, Love’s Crushing Diamond, Skip A Sinking Stone is just over a half hour of gorgeous orchestral folk. Gentle and complex string arrangements are clustered throughout the record, paired with crescendos of horns and cymbals. The fact that lead singer Jordan Lee could compose something so transcendent in New York City only speaks to his artistry.
Focus tracks: “The Hereafter”, “Skipping Stones”, “Not For Nothing”
Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos frontwoman Greta Kline has joined the ranks of acts like Chastity Belt and Florist with her release of Next Thing. Hilariously honest and refreshingly earnest, Kline and her band tell it like it is. From the curiously stalkerish “Sappho” to the confessional “Sinister”, Next Thing is both relatable and inventive. Growing up in New York City, Kline embraces city culture and it shines in her music — writing about bodegas and her parents’ occupations with a combined air of escapism and contentment. Frankie Cosmos is unconventional and charming, which makes Kline’s music interesting enough to approach, and unique enough to continue listening.
Focus tracks: “Outside With The Cuties”, “Sappho”, “Sinister”
Views – Drake
Young Money Entertainment
Views is Drake’s most easily accessible record since 2011’s Take Care. Even with new releases from Kanye West and Chance The Rapper, Views has stayed at the top of the Billboard Top 200 chart ever since it’s release in late April. Complete with a necessary Rihanna collaboration, Drake is the familiar emotive rapper listeners have come to expect. Only, he proves himself to be more versatile on Views with tracks like “Keep The Family Close” and “U With Me?”. Other tracks like “Grammys” and
“Controlla” closely mirror his past releases, giving the record a splash of old and new habits. The memes that dominated the internet after the unveiling of the album artwork were like cherries on top of the Views sundae.
Focus tracks: “Keep The Family Close”, “Feel No Ways”, “Controlla”
Puberty 2 – Mitski
Puberty 2 may be Mitski’s fourth album, but it’s her first manifesto. A masterpiece through and through, Mitski narrates her personal evolution with the help of 11 tracks. Whether she is harnessing her heritage on “Your Best American Girl” or facing her own battle with depression on “Happy”, Mitski explores her own landscape in a captivating manner. If the record had it’s own motto, it would be something like, “I’m not going to pretend like I know what adulthood looks like.” Puberty 2 is an ongoing internal power struggle that is both beautiful and difficult, which is what makes the record a true work of art.
Focus tracks: “Your Best American Girl”, “A Loving Feeling”, “Once More to See You”
Sept. 5th – dvsn
Frank Ocean still hasn’t released his new album, but dvsn’s Sept. 5th almost makes that okay. A quieter approach to R&B laced with falsetto riffs and venomous verses, Sept. 5th enters beautifully unfamiliar territory. Produced by some of Drake’s associates at OVO Sound, the overlaying harmonies and fades seems nearly effortless. With influences from Prince and the current R&B landscape, dvsn crafted a low-key record that may be one of the year’s most underrated.
Focus tracks: “Try/Effortless”, “Hallucinations”, “Angela”