By Meredith Nardino
Ah, 2016. I do not think I have ever been so happy to see a year end. Through all of its ups and detrimental downs, music has been the one constant. Every genre, subgenre and sub-subgenre saw growth and exposure at some point in the last twelve months.
Choosing my favorite songs for this year-end wrap-up was so challenging, so I decided to switch over to entire albums instead. In the spirit of democracy (and mostly indecision), this list is simply in alphabetical order by artist.
Alicia Keys – Here
For me, this album is one of the best surprises of the year. I do not have an extensive knowledge of Alicia Keys’ work, but I have always applauded her originality and truth as an artist. Here is a powerful ode to both personal and political struggle. Upon first listening, it is easy to be swept away in the irresistible melodies.
Listen a few more times, and the beauty of Keys’ lyrics takes precedent. Stand-out tracks like “Girl Can’t Be Herself” and “More Than We Know” encourage empowerment and unity. Various interludes are dispersed between songs, acting as windows to Keys’ recording process. Packed with social commentary, Here is a modern woman’s manifesto and a timely investigation into the complexities of black femininity.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
While not technically an album, this mixtape from Chicago’s newest savant made an incredible impression on the industry. It could be argued that Chance the Rapper’s decision to release his mixtape without the support of a label catapulted its success. Coloring Book is one of the first releases to chart solely on streams, earning a historic 57.3 million listens in its first week.
Through all its simplicity, the mixtape is a complex investigation of spirituality and society. More than unique, Chance is a visionary. From “No Problem” to the gospel-fueled “Blessings,” the tape changes the way we interpret hip hop. In a year as tumultuous as this one, it feels comforting to hear “music’s all we got.”
James Blake – The Colour in Anything
On the day The Colour in Anything was released, I was walking through the Lower East Side in the pouring rain, feeling like I was the protagonist in a pretentious but loveable indie rom-com. The brooding mystery of James Blake is contagious, apparently. As the follow-up to the 2013 Mercury Prize-winning Overgrown, this LP could not have been more impressive.
Minimalistic and introverted, as always, Blake’s work is nothing if not thoughtful. It almost seems selfish to adore this album knowing it emerged from a place of deep heartache and self-exploration. Each song is laden with a sort of sorrow that comes across as both pain and relieved, determined and cathartic.
Matt Corby – Telluric
There are few people with as much natural talent as Australian singer-songwriter, Matt Corby. In the same vein as Hozier or Ben Howard, Corby comes armed with vocals so strong and soulful it could bring you to tears. Telluric is an experimental work, often darting between intricate instrumentation and creative choruses.
Corby is not one to shy away from an unusual arrangement, as heard on “Monday,” where each sound is made by just his voice. On “We Could Be Friends” and “Wrong Man,” Corby demonstrates an expert amount of control over his instrument, masterfully transitioning through highs and lows. The album flows with a sort of oceanic inertia, an electric current of lush musical poetry.
The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the incredible artistry of The 1975. This Manchester four-piece is not afraid to be controversial, even if that means transforming themselves from a dramatic alternative group to an unabashed pop powerhouse. With an award-winning light design and a full arsenal of back-up singers supporting them on tour, the band stops at nothing to portray their vision. ILIWYS is a massive 17 tracks long, so by the time you finish saying the title, you might be half-way done listening to the album. From the reworking of their debut album’s title track, to the soulful “If I Believe You” and every ambient symphony in between, the album sets itself apart from anything produced this year.
Young the Giant – Home of the Strange
Airy and eclectic, this California indie-rock band proves their affinity for evolution with their third studio LP. Released in the final days of summer, Home of the Strange made a name for itself as a timely examination of the immigrant experience. The album opens with “Amerika,” where our narrator has arrived with gold in their eyes.
Coming full circle, the album finishes with the title track, “Home of the Strange.” With a stark juxtaposition to the blind optimism of “Amerika,” it has the potential to be a liberating anthem in our contemporary climate. But by far the most impressive song on the album falls directly in the middle of the narrative; “Titus Was Born” demonstrates the impact of singer Sameer Gadhia’s unique cultural perspective on his storytelling.