Top 25 Albums of 2016: January-May

25mutual

Mutual Benefit, Skip a Sinking Stone

Jordan Lee follows up his breakthrough – 2013’s Love’s Crushing Diamond – with another set of equally beautiful, quietly devastating acoustic-based tracks.

24. TheRange_Potential_3000CVR

The Range, Potential

 On James Hinton’s new album as The Range, the producer positions a variety of samples in fascinating ways, creating some downright fantastic moments, with highlights including “Florida” and “Superimpose.”

23. Kamaiyah

Kamaiyah, A Good Night in the Ghetto

While Kendrick Lamar is the face of the west coast rap renaissance, it’s artists such as YG and Kamaiyah doing a lot of legwork to show this isn’t a standalone movement. A Good Night in the Ghetto is one of the year’s premiere mixtapes, proving Kamaiyah to be one of the more intriguing voices to emerge in these early months of 2016.

22. sia

Sia, This Is Acting

Sia has always been known for her songwriting, and on her latest, she takes songs written for (and rejected by) A-listers including Adele and Rihanna, and takes them as her own. While the narrative would suggest a discarded, disjointed pile of throwaway pop tracks, This Is Acting is surprisingly vital, largely due to the considerable vocal strength of the album’s star. As much as she may claim, it’s hard to believe Sia; this doesn’t feel like acting.

21. fifthharmony

Fifth Harmony, 7/27

The X-Factor came and went in its attempt to crossover to the United States, but perhaps the show should deserve a bit of credit. Of the recent lot of singing competition shows, the X-Factor’s Fifth Harmony have risen to become the (only?) voice to warrant mainstream attention. 7/27 is a tour de force in pop music execution, with each member getting their own screen time while the tune stays in perfect harmony.

20. whitneylightuponthelakealbumart.png

Whitney, Light Upon the Lake

Light Upon the Lake is the type of timeless, guitar-driven indie rock music seldom created these days. Whitney has crafted an album that wears its influences on its sleeve while resisting the urge to become reductive.

19. jessylanza

Jessy Lanza, Oh No

Lanza returns with a exquisite set of electro-pop tunes anchored by “It Means I Love You” and “Never Enough.”

18. davidbowe

David Bowie, Blackstar

Ziggy Stardust’s last album is one hell of a final statement, proving to be as subversive and challenging as the star at his brightest.

17. kanye

Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

The evolving The Life of Pablo could end up being the year’s best album – we never know what Kanye could do to change the album. In it’s current form, the album sits outside the pantheon of great Kanye West albums while still being among the year’s best. While it’s not as progressive as the prior Yeezus or as commercially viable as GraduationPablo is still a fascinating glimpse inside one of our smartest working artists.

16. kevingates

Kevin Gates, Islah

Kevin Gates is finally having his breakthrough moment, and it couldn’t come with a better set of tracks. From “2 Phones” to “Jam,” Gates is as biting and addictive as ever.

15. drake

Drake, Views

Views follows Drake’s momentous 2015, and continues the rapper/singer’s reign of dominance. When you think he can’t get bigger, Drake finds a way to top himself.

14. jamesblake_tcia

James Blake, The Colour in Anything

James Blake couldn’t even get an entire weekend to himself when he surprise-released The Colour in Anything late on Friday night. That Sunday, a little band known as Radiohead released their album, A Moon Shaped Pool (more on that later). But Blake’s Anything is the artist’s most assured, mature album to date. Featuring collaborations with Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, Anything is also his most colorful.

13. joeypurp

Joey Purp, iiiDrops

Joey Purp, an associate of Chance The Rapper, released the best mixtape from a new artist in 2016 so far when he dropped iiiDrops, a mixtape that continues to reveal itself with repeated listens. The bonkers “Photobooth” and confident “Girls @” lead the way, but the rapper’s sincere, candid lyrics prove to be the tape’s most compelling draw.

12. dvsn

dvsn, Sept. 5th

Sept. 5th sits next to King’s album as the year’s essential bedroom albums. Ranging from explicit (“Too Deep”) to sensual (“The Line”) to desire (“Hallucinations”), dvsn use Sept. 5th to profess a radical sanctity to sex.

11. Young-Thug-2016-Slime-Season-3

Young Thug, Slime Season 3

One of rap’s loudest, most exuberant voices has already released two albums this year, with the best being Slime Season 3. The album showcases all of Thugger’s best qualities, and its brisk runtime leaves me breathless.

10. 1975

The 1975, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

The year’s creepiest album title is certainly the one bestowed upon the 1975’s latest, but if you can put that behind you (and you should), you’d discover one of the year’s most exhilarating music collections. The band takes plenty of detours along the way, covering so much ground you’ll wonder how this could all come from the same people.

9. sturgill

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

The year’s best country album takes all of the genre’s most endearing qualities to create an album that comes to life with Simpson’s vivid storytelling and muscular instrumentation.

8. king

KING, We are KING

We are KING follows years of false starts, but when the album finally arrived in early 2016, listeners were treated to an album of unhurried beauty. The album feels like a series of long inhales and exhales, each one more necessary as the trio strikes with a timeless R&B gloss.

7. rihanna

Rihanna, Anti

In a lot of ways, Anti is Rihanna’s most unconventional album yet. Even “Work” wasn’t the club banger we’re used to from the superstar, as it opted to be a more low-key affair between the singer and constant musical partner Drake. But the album features some of Rihanna’s best vocal performances to date – “Love on the Brain” and “Higher” beg to be belted at the top of your lungs – and feels like the most authentic version of Rihanna we’ve ever received.

6. kendrick

Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.

Dropped with no advance warning, untitled unmastered. could be seen as a cobbling of outtakes from Lamar’s previous two masterstrokes, but that would downplay the album’s cohesion and just how inspired Lamar sounds. Featuring tracks performed live on TV as well as previously unheard recordings, unmastered. is the work of a master working on his own playground, with his own tools and own rules.

5. Lemonade-beyonce

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Lemonade purports to reveal a lot about Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s domestic drama, but as compelling a backstory as that may be, what makes Lemonade stand out amongst the Queen B’s best is the artist’s complete command of her surroundings, finding ways to make the smallest moments mountains.

4. anderson

Anderson .Paak, Malibu

Malibu came out when everyone was still bundled in their winter coats, but as temperatures rise, Malibu sounds better and better. Anderson .Paak is having a massive 2016 with his impressive list of features, but it’s Malibu that stands out as .Paak’s premiere destination.

3. car

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial

There isn’t an album that rocks quite as hard as Teens of Denial does in 2016, let alone one that comes with as many quotable lines as the ones Will Toledo comes up with here.

2. radiohead

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool could be viewed as Radiohead’s first ever victory lap. It features fan favorites such as “Identikit” and “Burn the Witch,” and by the time “True Love Waits” comes along, it feels as much as a victory for the band as for their audience. They finally found a home for one of their most gut wrenching songs, tucked away in a creaking attic, surviving off of lollipops and crisps.

1. Chance_3

Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book

The year’s best album to-date is also the one hardest not to break a smile to. When he raps, “you don’t want no problem” on the great Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz-featuring “No Problem,” it’s not necessarily the threat I initially heard it as. Why create a problem when you could have as much fun as Chance is having?

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