Favorite Albums of 2016 So Far

Favorite Albums of 2016 So Far

What a time to be alive.

In the age of streaming services, surprise releases, visual albums and viral hits, it feels safe to say there is more music being created, shared and discovered than every before.

Between immersing ourselves in blockbusters from Rihanna, Kanye West and Beyoncé, back door opuses from Radiohead, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar, career-making efforts from relative newcomers like Chance The Rapper, Sturgill Simpson and Anderson .Paak, and wonderful new sounds in the areas of metal, electronica, world music and beyond, there really hasn’t even a dull moment for music fans – let along a moment to sit back, reflect and try to soak it all in.

At the mid-point of 2016, we look back at some of the most memorable moments of the year so far. Dig into our playlists collecting our favorite Songs and Videos from the last six months. Below we have handpicked and shared our thoughts on an armful albums you really won’t be sorry for checking out.

— The TIDAL Editors

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David Bowie: Blackstar
ISO Records / Columbia
Released: January 8, 2016

Released just after the new years, on his 69th birthday, it was immediately apparent that David Bowie’s 25th studio album, Blackstar (styled ‘★’), was one of his finest works in years. Little did we know the album would also be his last. Just two days later, the rock icon passed away peacefully at home from what was later revealed to be a private 18-month battle with cancer. A true artist and poet, even up and into his death, Bowie’s longtime producer and intimate Tony Visconti said the album was intended as a “parting gift” to his fans. And after a few listens and the benefit of hindsight, the signs are everywhere: this album is about a man confronting his own mortality. (In medicine a “black star” is a kind of lesion indicative of cancer.)

Blackstar consists of just seven tracks, each as rich and riveting as the last. From the striking title number to closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the records never lets up until its conclusion. Filled with guitar screams, drum diversifications and insurmountable lyricism, the emotional intensity runs so deep, words alone can hardly do it justice. The instrumentals provide the album with an eerie yet forceful sound that compliments Bowie’s prayer-like vocals. Said to be inspired by jazz and the recent work of Kendrick Lamar, and featuring a cast that includes jazz greats and James Murphy, Blackstar is yet another socially, culturally and profoundly progressive album that brings its listeners through a narrative of cryptic emotional thrill. David Bowie’s swan song is every bit as vital and modern as anything in his discography, marking a most extraordinary bookend to a legendary career. We lost a god.

Read our feature Changes: The Many Faces of David Bowie and this piece from The Talkhouse where artists remember the late icon. Hear David Bowie’s Legends playlist here.

 

Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
Self-released
Released: May 26, 2016

In contemporary music today, there are few capable of keeping up with Chance the Rapper, a dynamic and genre-bending artist who has managed to consistently bypass the music industry’s most entrenched conventions to tremendous success on both a critical and commercial level. On his latest mixtape, Coloring Book, the 23-year-old independent artist offers his most full-bodied, thoughtful and inspiring project to date, realizing the gospel rap he teased on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” in true totality.

Religious, maturing, grateful and optimistic, Coloring Book perfectly demonstrates Chance’s belief in music as a means for positive social change, putting the progressive and insanely talent young Chicagoan in a lane of his own which can only maybe be compared to that of Kendrick Lamar.

Need more Chance in your life? Listen to his Guest Verses playlist here.

Anderson .Paak: Malibu
Steel Wool / OBE / Art Club / EMPIRE
Released: January 15, 2016

Pegged last year as a TIDAL Rising artist to watch and recently included in XXL’s 2016 freshman class, Anderson .Paak is without a doubt one the biggest and busiest breakouts of 2016 thus far. First jumping onto our radar after featuring on half the track list for Dr. Dre’s Compton last year, the Oxnard, California-bred singer, rapper, drummer and producer dropped his latest LP Malibu to wide and still-growing applause.

Featuring an esteemed cast that includes Talib Kweli, ScHoolboy Q, The Game, Hiatus Kaiyote and jazz pianist Robert Glasper, Anderson .Paak enters the scene like he know’s this is his moment. With an abundance of funky, mellow beats and a rich, soulful cadence, Malibu stands as Anderson’s most personal and mature project yet, delving immediately into his life story not unlike Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city. Smoothly straddling the line between rapping and R&B crooning, Anderson’s charismatic flow perfectly complements the production’s juicy undertones. And since dropping the album in January, he’s become the bona fide golden goose of featured appearances, lending his numerous talents and permanent grin to more recent records than we can keep track of.

Check out our Anderson .Paak Essentials playlist, along with his TIDAL Rising Q&A and Connect interview with DJ Reflex.

 

Rihanna: ANTI
Westbury Road / Roc Nation
Released: January 29, 2016

On her highly anticipated eighth studio album, Rihanna doesn’t play nice. She isn’t here to make friends or amends. Instead she’s doing things her way, resulting in her most confrontational and uncompromising album yet. As she sings on “Needed Me”: “But baby, don’t get it twisted. You was just another nigga on the hit list. Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch. Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?” ANTI is easily her most artistically mature and musically varied effort to date, featuring classic chart-topping pop (“Work”), along with harder beats and heartbreaking piano balladry (“Close To You”). There’s even a cool-as-ice cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” ANTI is something that must be experienced to be understood.

Check out our playlists Legends: Rihanna and The ANTI World Tour Set List, while reading our feature Rihanna: The Only Girl In The World.

 

Majid Jordan: Majid Jordan
OVO Sound / Warner Bros.
Released: February 5, 2016

A Canadian R&B duo hailing from the city of Toronto and signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label, Majid Jordan is at the forefront of that fresh new northern sound some have coined New Toronto. Comprised of singer Majid Al Maskati and producer Jordan Ulman, the pair first met back in 2011, quickly rising in the musical ranks after co-writing and producing Drizzy’s smash single “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”

Emotive, hypnotic and substance enhanced just enough to spice things up, Majid Jordan’s self-titled debut demonstrates the duo’s powerful knack for infectious and sensual nocturnal pop that’s equal parts heartbreaking and heartsoothing.

Hear Majid Jordan and the others artists from Toronto’s new guard in our playlist Other Views From The 6: Sounds of New Toronto.

 

Kanye West: The Life of Pablo
GOOD Music / Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella
Released: February 14, 2016

At this point, what hasn’t been said about Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo? And yet what have we agreed upon? Hailed by critics as “a complex, conflicted masterpiece,” a “brilliant work-in-progress,” a “radical act of creative transparency” and his “most complicated album yet,” Kanye himself has in instances called it a gospel record, a family record and a “living, breathing, changing creative expression.” Pablo is impossible to miss.

As the most visible and emblematic artist of today, Kanye West’s every move is watched, reported on and dissected, and like no artist before him he’s used modern tools and mediums to communicate directly with his audience at a level of public intimacy that was previously impossible. As such, The Life of Pablo is the ultimate document of an artist living in the present and pulling back the veil on both his personal life and his creative process. More than four months after it’s initial Madison Square Garden premiere, he continues to make updates and additions, and share new visuals and edits, each creating its own tidal wave of news stories, think-pieces, Twitter trends, memes and controversies. Just by being himself, Kanye creates a conversation in his wake. If that’s not the definition of a powerful artist, we don’t know what is.

Read our feature articles Kanye: Album by Album and Kanye Unfinished: The Evolving Life of Pablo. Check out some of our Kanye West-related playlists here.

 

Esperanza Spalding: Emily’s D+Evolution
Concord
Released: March 4, 2016

On Esperanza Spalding’s luscious, inspired and wholly original fifth full-length, the multiple Grammy-winner crafts a jarring concept album and rock opera around her fictional muse Emily (her middle name), melding jazz, funk, rock, R&B, theatre and more, with assistance from David Bowie producer Tony Visconti.  Both a personal exploration and a social plea peace and tranquility, Spalding’s creamy vocals and bubbly experimentalism brighten up the underlying content that’s are anything but breezy. Along with earning our Album of the Week distinction back in March, Prince also named her single “Earth to Heaven” as his Purple Pick of the Week.

Hear Esperanza Spalding and the other great artists and tracks featured on Prince’s Purple Pick Of The Week series here.

 

Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.
Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope
Released: March 4, 2016

In March 2015, Kendrick Lamar shook the world to its core when he surprise released his third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly, a jazz- and politics-infused masterpiece of incalculable depth that topped uncounted year-end lists and will almost certainly stand as a landmark in hip-hop and American culture at large for a long time to come. Dropped just shy of 12 months later, untitled unmastered. is not a proper album per se, but rather an incredible companion piece that adds newfound insight to its predecessor while standing solidly on its own two feet.

As the title, track names and artwork might suggest, the project is an unprocessed counterpart to To Pimp A Butterfly’s lush and intricately crafted perfectionism – as if you stripped that masterpiece of all its rich, decorative flourishes to reveal the raw, steaming talent underneath. Featuring previously unreleased demos from the Butterfly sessions – including the talk-about “Untitled” songs he’d performed for The Colbert Report, The Tonight Show and the 2016 Grammys – and as such the tracks are similarly political and psychological in content and experimental in sound.

Even the most supremely gifted artists of our time might sound naked or unfinished without the tools and crutches of the modern day editing suite. These songs prove that Kendrick doesn’t need any studio trickery to spit some of the most substantial poetry of his generation. Somebody hold a mic up to this man and don’t stop recording.

Check our playlists The Best of Kendrick Lamar and Kendrick Lamar’s Guest Verses.

 

dvsn: SEPT 5TH
OVO Sound / Warner Bros.
Released: March 27, 2016

Unsubtly sexy, DVSN’s Sept 5th is a guide to romance. Signed to Drake’s OVO sound, producers Paul “Nineteen88” Jefferies, Noah “40” Shebib and vocalist, Daniel Daley maintain the bold reputation. The entire album is somewhat of a sexual serenade. With its soothing vocal presence and heavy downbeats, it’s an album that carries you through an expression of intensive desire. While somewhere along the lines of modernity, we seem to have lost this sense of sensual elusiveness, DVSN finds it on Sept 5th.

Discover more of fresh sounds in R&B with our New R&B Artists to Watch in 2016 playlist.

 

Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Atlantic Records
Released: April 15, 2016

In 2014, following his enjoyable albeit conventional debut, High Mountain Top (2013), Sturgill Simpson sent a shock-wave through the Nashville establishment with his Dave Cobb-produced sophomore effort, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. With this year’s self-produced, universally-hailed A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Simpson further proves Cosmic American Music to be the only descriptor that’s broad yet ideologically unified enough to suit his expansive vision.

While ostensibly labeled as country music, Simpson feels free to explore the entirety of the cosmos without justification, guided by his wanderlust fascination with the undefined; or as Son Volt’s Jay Farrar put it: “searching for a truer sound.” As was the case with Gram Parsons in the ’60s and ’70s, “country” simply isn’t big enough for the ambition of Sturgill Simpson. With its elaborate horn flourishes, soulful breaks, deep, dark corners and soaring finish, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is one of the finest albums of the year so far and one that demands to be heard from start to finish. It’s a beautiful, universal record that’s as timeless as it is ahead of its time.

Read our feature article on Sturgill Simpson and Cosmic American Music while listening to this supporting playlist.

 

A$AP Ferg: Always Strive And Prosper
A$AP Worldwide / Polo Grounds / RCA
Released: April 22, 2016

After dutifully serving as second string to his chart-dominating teammate Rocky, A$AP Ferg’s second album finds him poised to grab his own spotlight. As sonically diverse and dynamic as anything to come from the A$AP Mob, Ferg steps up to the challenge, showing off his pungent lyrical prowess. Managing to express tender and thoughtful sentiments into hard-rocking bangers, to powerful effect. If “Always Strive and Prosper” is A$AP Ferg’s mantra, the New York rapper is man who lives by his words and continues to push his growth as an artist. If he keeps it up success is sure come with.

Check out our playlist of A$AP Ferg Essentials.

 

Beyoncé: LEMONADE
Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia
Released: April 23, 2016

Back in February, the Saturday before the Super Bowl, Beyoncé unleashed a strike on the world in the form of a brand new song and video titled “Formation.” Thumping with the bounce beat of New Orleans hip-hop, the Mike Will Made It-produced song features Bey singing about Southern heritage, identity, self love and hot sauce, on top of a whole lotta swaggering and slaying. Backed by such powerful visuals as plantation houses and a sinking police cruiser in a flooded post-Katrina landscape, Beyoncé delivered the heaviest, most politically saturated expression of her career to date, alluding to police brutality, gender, culture, class, history and the greater black experience in today’s America. To put it modestly, she started one hell of a conversation.

On another unsuspecting Saturday in April, Beyoncé released LEMONADE, a visual album based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing, featuring 12 new songs and a corresponding short film. Awe-inspiring, breathtaking and groundbreaking in every way, LEMONADE is not simply an album but a cultural event from the most powerful music star on the planet. “Hey! I’ma keep running. Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” Beyoncé sings on the powerful “Freedom.” A winner indeed. 

Read about The Formation to Lemonade, and explore our playlists collecting Beyoncé’s Biggest HitsDeep Cuts and Music Videos.

 

Imarhan: Imarhan
City Slang
Released: April 29, 2016

Southern Algerian desert rockers Imarhan are keen on confounding Western conceptions surrounding the music and culture of the Sahara desert’s Tuareg nomads. Founded in 2008, Imarhan (which means “the ones I care about”) have worked tirelessly to establish a sound rooted in their rich cultural background that simultaneously reflects the group’s relationship with the now. Consisting largely of pure pop melodies informed by traditional North African sensibilities, their self-titled debut on City Slang marks the exciting and seamless unification of seemingly disparate styles and cultures.

Discover tons of other great music challenging what you think of as “World Music” on our regularly updated World Café playlist.

 

James Blake: The Colour In Anything
Polydor Records
Released: May 6, 2016

On his stunning new record, The Colour In Anything, James Blake perfects his one-of-a-kind sound and manages to expand it with newfound strengths and confidence, all while sounding even subtler than his previous efforts. An master exercise in minimalism, the synths and loops are made to equally important here as silence and breaths. It definitely takes more than one or even ten listening sessions to discover all the brush strokes and layers of The Colour In Anything, which might be what make it so rewarding. While it’s more of an album to be heard in full than a hit parade, one of the record’s standouts, the Bon Iver collab “I Need A Forest Fire,” is certainly a highlight, harmonizing two beloved voices in the most satisfying of circumstances. Goosebumps guaranteed.

Read our report from James Blake’s recent performance at New York’s Webster Hall while listening to our playlist of his essential songs.

 

Skepta: Konnichiwa
Boy Better Know
Released: May 6, 2016

London rap veteran Skepta has been considered an icon of the U.K. grime scene for quite some time now. Five years since his last release, Skepta dug deep to rediscover his creativity and the results do not disappoint. Konnichiwa is an album that has truly breathed new life into the grime scene and put the U.K. hip-hop at large on the international map like never before. Producing 8 of the 12 tracks himself, the acclaimed album features, among others, Pharrell Williams, Wiley, Novelist and A$AP Mob’s Young Lord and A$AP Nast.

Dig deeper into Skepta and his greater scene with our Skepta Essentials and New U.K. Grime playlists.

 

KAYTRANADA: 99.9%
HW&W / XL Recordings
Released: May 6, 2016

On KAYTRANADA’s debut album effort, the buzzed-about Haitian-Canadian producer and electronic artist clearly wants to prove something. Very much representative of the eclectic CV he’s racked up remixing songs by Erykah Badu, Disclosure and Robert Glasper and producing for the likes of Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, 99.9% is not true to any one genre. Walking the line on dance-house, electronic, hip-hop and jazz, the music differs significantly from one track to the next, allied primarily by Kay’s unique percussion style.

The album contains a charming variety of guest performances that assist the alteration of styles throughout the album – be it with R&B men Anderson .Paak and Craig David, electro-pop duo AlunaGeorge or jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD – all of which create equally memorable moments that are entirely distinctive. If there’s any other consistency across the album, it’s that it’s virtually impossible to sit still through any track.

If you like 99.9% you’ll love our Glowed Up playlist.

 

ANOHNI: HOPELESSNESS
Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade
Released: May 6, 2016

Following a decorated career leading Antony and the Johnsons, HOPELESSNESS is the electrified full-length solo debut by ANOHNI and one of the most powerful protest albums of recent memory. Not many artists these days sing so bravely and explicitly about the topics that are so painful and current to consider, be it drone warfare, the death penalty, disappointment in the Obama presidency or climate change. Anger, frustration and displeasure are palpable in all of these songs, and ANOHNI somehow manages to make all of those negative feelings sound beautiful.

In a refreshing departure from the downbeat baroque pop of her work with the Johnsons, her otherworldly voice is accompanied here by a electronic-infused music co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Sometimes it’s monumental, experimental and impassioned, other times delicate, sweet and nuanced to makes the razor-sharp lyrics even more distinctive. It packs a mighty punch.

Read the ANOHNI edition of our column Still Rock And Roll To Me. Listen to our best of ANOHNI and Antony and the Johnsons playlist here.

 

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
XL Recordings
Released: May 8, 2016

“I’ll drown my beliefs. To have your babies. I’ll dress like your niece. And wash your swollen feet” sings Thom Yorke on album closer ‘True Love Waits’ off of Radiohead’s triumphant ninth album. It’s a hauntingly beautiful and emotionally raw composition dating back 15 years, wrapping up an record that, from start to finish, simmers with subtle, ethereal, seductive and breathtaking soundscapes and a refreshingly reflective viewpoint previously unobserved in the forward-looking British icons. From the gorgeous string arrangements on cuts like “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” to the soulful acoustic shuffle on “Desert Island Disk,” this is yet another gift from one of the most untouchable bands of the last 20 years.

Enjoy some of our Radiohead-related playlists including The Best of Radiohead, Thom Yorke’s Guest Appearances and Produced by: Nigel Godrich.

 

Car Seat Headrest: Teens Of Denial
Matador Records
Released: May 20, 2016

“You have no right to be depressed/ You haven’t tried hard enough to like it/ Haven’t seen enough of this world yet/ But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” So goes the telling first chorus on “Fill In The Blank,” the opening number on Teens of Denial, the titular sequel to Car Seat Headrest’s Madator debut, Teens of Style. Lead by 23-year-old frontman Will Toledo, the prolific Seattle-based four-piece crafts introspective indie rock and roll with a vitality and intelligence reminiscent of Pavement or The Strokes at their very best.

Guitar-driven, scrappy and effortlessly catchy, Teens of Denial is easy to appreciate on a sonic level alone, though the album’s true treasures lie in its understated lyrics, made relatable by their keen ability to tap into the down-and-out disillusionment of today’s youth.

Keep up all the best new sounds in the world of indie with our frequently-updated playlist Indie Circus.

 

Whitney: Light Upon The Lake
Secretly Canadian
Released: June 3, 2016

Rising from the ashes of the short-lived but well-loved indie band Smith Westerns, Whitney was formed by guitarist Max Kakacek and vocalist/drummer Julien Ehrlich (also formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra), and completed by keyboardist Ziyad Asrar and trumpeter Will Miller. With their debut release, Light Upon the Lake, Whitney offers an instant-classic of a summer album, one that, while being decidedly laid-back, breezy and loose on the surface, is simultaneously thoughtful and deeply introspective. Following in the tradition of L.A.’s 1970s mellow mafia music scene, Light Upon the Lake is a comforting and seasonally appropriate record comprised of crisp and sparkling tunes tailor-made for swirling summer sunsets.

Read our TIDAL Rising Q&A with Whitney’s Julien Ehrlich, where we get to know the fast-rising indie favorites a little better.

 

Vic Mensa: There’s Alot Going On
Roc Nation
Released: June 3, 2016

Vic Mensa, the rapper from Chicago, is one of the most riveting young artists on the come up today. He first started popping up on people’s radars after dropping the Chicago house influenced single “Down On My Luck,” subsequently picking up steam when West brought him out to perform “Wolves” on Saturday Night Live.

Soon after, Mensa released the dense and rewarding There’s Alot Going On, a 7-track EP, rapping not only about his own struggle but also about the world’s struggle with racism, police brutality, women, addiction and abuse. Portraying his versatility as artist throughout the EP, Vic Mensa shows he cares about the real issues and wants to use music as a platform to spread awareness.

Check out some of Vic Mensa’s numerous guest playlists on TIDAL, as well exclusive videos like our short documentary series featuring exclusive behind the scenes footage from his talked about Traffic Tour.

 

Gojira: Magma
Roadrunner
Released: June 17, 2016

Few bands have the capacity to stay true their own musical style while bridging gaps between various musical camps – and at the same time push it forward into brand new territory. Gojira is such a band, and Magma is this year’s magnum opus in metal. Taking a decidedly more dynamic and accessible turn, with cleaner vocals and a newfound emotional charge, Gojira has set a new standard for arena-sized metal without ever losing their edge. Magma has immediate appeal for those craving mighty riffs and hard hitting anthems, while maintaining an intriguing avant-garde approach. This is a beast of a record that we won’t forget soon.

Keep up with all of our favorite new metal with our regularly updated playlist, The Metallist.

 

YG: Still Brazy
400 / CTE World / Def Jam
Released: June 17, 2016

Born Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, the Compton-born and bred rapper known as YG has been hot on the scene since back in 2009 when he released his debut single, “Toot It and Boot It” with Ty Dolla $ign. Since then, YG has been busy, signing to Young Jeezy’s CTE imprint in 2013, and releasing both his critically-acclaimed debut album, My Krazy Life, and a short film/soundtrack, Blame It On The Street, in 2014. Most recently, YG put out his massively-hailed sophomore effort, Still Brazy, an uncompromising and timely gansta rap record that proves equal parts powerful and compelling.

Check out our YG Essentials playlist here.

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