There have been so many words used to describe 2016 — perhaps that’s evidence of how wild it actually was. But regardless of the mishmash and chaos of it all, at least we had a good soundtrack.
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 and after the record’s release, the band toured with Wild Nothing and other notable acts, but 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”
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”
A Seat At The Table – Solange
A Seat At The Table is an album that was seven years in the making and it shows. Leading up to its release, Solange Knowles (sister of Beyonce) posted stunning visuals to her and her record label’s joint Instagram account. She’s been known to treat her life like an art exhibit (see: her perfectly composed wedding photos), and it’s well warranted. A Seat At The Table is a 20-track masterpiece, complete with odes (to self care), multiple interludes, and a closing track. Every second is a testament to how detail-oriented the artist is, and while she doesn’t explicitly tell you how to enjoy her album, she does an amazing job at guiding you through it.
Focus tracks: “Don’t Touch My Hair”, “Cranes In The Sky”
MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen grabs hold of her world and splits it open for you to ogle at with MY WOMAN. Previously known as a sweet folk crooner, the renames herself as a powerful and talented songstress on her fourth solo album. With sweeping ballads and raw emotion, Olsen proves she is not to be messed with. Dancing in a silver wig in the music videos for the album, she displays a kind of playful seriousness that circuits through the entire record. With song titles like “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Not Gonna Kill You”, MY WOMAN is electric and alive with energy.
Focus tracks: “Never Be Mine”, “Those Were The Days”
No Burden – Lucy Dacus
At the beginning of 2016, an article about Lucy Dacus was published. It noted that over 20 record labels were fighting to sign her, previous to the release of No Burden. From big names like Merge and Matador to smaller ones, everyone wanted her talent. Dacus went on to sign with EggHunt Records, a rather small and humble label and proceeded to release her debut album. No Burden is an album that is both quiet and loud, frustrated and content, accessible yet difficult. Dacus introduces a certain kind of humanity to her listeners that is somewhat hard to come by. Perhaps that is because she’s still close enough to care; just like signing to a small label, one of her band mates is likely to favorite your tweet about the album. There’s a closeness to Dacus found on No Burden that is hard to match with anyone else.
Focus tracks: “Map On A Wall”, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”
The Birds Outside Sang – Florist
Double Double Whammy
There has never been a better album to sit in bed and drink tea to on the first sunny winter morning. You can do everything while this album plays in the background: take a walk, write, read, etc. While it may be unassuming, that doesn’t mean that it’s not deeply personal. Florist’s lead singer, Emily Sprague, is a talented musician who was the victim of a hit-and-run cycling accident, and this album is her slow recovery. It’s quiet and beautiful — a soundscape for sore ears.
Focus tracks: “White Light Doorway”, “Only A Prayer Nothing More”
Blonde – Frank Ocean
Boys Don’t Cry
Half of this album’s gravitas comes from the amount of time Frank fans spent waiting for it. Date after date with no release can make a fan grow weary! But when the time came, Ocean’s fans were greeted with not one, but two full-length albums: one visual and one sonic. Blonde, the second album of the two was well worth the wait. It mirrors it’s artist: Blonde is as enigmatic, deep, and emotion as Frank Ocean presents himself to be. Perhaps this is why his two records are cherished so much — they serve as windows into a person of the public who hardly shows his face. In this case, Blonde is 45-minutes worth of secrets.
Focus tracks: “Pink & White”, “White Ferrari”
Mangy Love – Cass McCombs
Cass McCombs makes delicious records, and Mangy Love is just another perfect example. But with his eighth album, the singer-songwriter is more explicit. Mangy Love is McCombs’ most politically-charged work, with songs like “Bum Bum Bum” which states: Blood in the streets/ Our eternal river/ I know the killer/ He counts my silver. McCombs’ ability to deliver these prophecies in such a subdued manner make him a sort of Elliott Smith with a twist. What starts out as an album to make breakfast to ends up being a thought-provoking vessel.
Focus tracks: “Bum Bum Bum”, “Opposite House”
Starboy – The Weeknd
Starboy is a piece of work, but it’s the best piece of work that The Weeknd has put out since Trilogy. More cohesive and biting than both Beauty Behind The Madness and Kiss Land, Starboy brings Abel Tesfaye back to his roots. It’s also Tesfaye’s most sonically accessible record, proven by the fact that within 24 hours of its release, Starboy was #1 in over 80 countries. With visuals featuring plenty of Michael Jackson references, 80s samples, and a Daft Punk feature, the album aims to please.
Focus tracks: “Secrets”, “Sidewalks (ft. Kendrick Lamar)”
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: “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, “Vincent”