The 30 Best Albums of 2016 So Far

Bowie Blackstar best albums of 2016 so far

PJ Harvey Hope Six Demolition ProjectPJ HarveyThe Hope Six Demolition Project
(Vagrant)

Picking up where the historical and political narratives of Let England Shake left off, Polly Jean Harvey puts her songwriting through a journalistic lens on her ninth album. It’s an eclectic and soulful set of songs that blends the diverse arrangements and influences of recent albums with the power and volume of early records, all of which back notebooks full of observations on neighborhoods in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, D.C. Her unflattering reading of the underserved communities didn’t sit well with some local politicians, but Harvey’s not taking an activist approach on these songs by any means. She’s just offering a no-filter, honest account of what’s in front of her. – JT


Tim Hecker new album Love StreamsTim HeckerLove Streams
(4AD)

Canadian ambient electronic musician Tim Hecker shifted off his usual course with his newest album, Love Streams, for fear of redundancy. The move garnered brilliant results. Hecker worked with Ben Frost, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and the Icelandic Choir Ensemble to create choral arrangements that were worked into his eighth full-length album. Inspirations for Love Streams came from the likes of Latin liturgical works and “Kanye’s autotuned gospels” that culminated in dichotomous moments like “Violet Monumental I” and “Violet Monumental II.” Holistically, Hecker’s newest work marks another jewel in his crown of masterful avant-ambient music. – CD


5-13-kvelertakKvelertakNattesferd
(Roadrunner)

Employing three guitarists says a lot about a band—though not as much as four does (‘sup Diarrhea Planet)—and since their 2010 debut Norway’s Kvelertak have increasingly found more innovative uses for the 18 strings between their three axemen. Third album Nattesferd is a big guitar record by any measure, from chunky hardcore riffs to more theatrical wizardry on the fretboard. But it’s not simply the guitar playing that sets Nattesferd apart; it’s the songwriting. From freedom rock lighter-lifters like “1985” to the blazing blitzkrieg of “Berserkr” and the melodic psychedelia of “Ondskapens Galakse,” it’s a showcase for some of the band’s best songs to date. – JT


Kendrick Lamar untitled unmasteredKendrick Lamaruntitled unmastered.
(Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)

It is hard to think anyone other than K. Dot could release eight previously unreleased demos and it becomes one of the best hip-hop albums of the year to this point. The songs were initially made during the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions but were never used on the album, and the unrivaled emcee’s “demos” feature many of the musicians on TPAB such as Thundercat, Anna Wise and Terrace Martin (to name a few). It follows in a similar vein as Kendrick’s 2015 masterpiece, with a heavy amount of funk, jazz and soul influences embedded throughout these tracks, and it features one of the best hip-hop tracks of 2016 in “untitled 07 | 2014-2016 (Levitate)”. All hail King Kendrick. – CD


Nails You Will Never Be One Of UsNailsYou Will Never Be One Of Us
(Nuclear Blast)

I have had a feeling 2016 might go down as the year grindcore and powerviolence breaks through into the metal mainstream. Nails’ guitar tone on their third full-length is as nasty as you can get while they still play riffs that hold together actual songs. Songs, in this case, describes sharp bursts of anger, rather than how you might conceive of a more conventional song. Nails take the feral snarl of the guitar and put enough raw anger into them that they are transfigured from just being cool riffs into an honest expression of their worst feelings. Moving to bigger label Nuclear Blast hasn’t dampened any of the power, so if you are ready to scream “sell out,” hold your breath. Fans of their previous work are getting what they asked for after Abandon All Life made them scream for more. – WL


Oranssi Pazuzu Varahtelija giveawayOranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
(20 Buck Spin)

The Finnish cosmonauts of Oranssi Pazuzu took bold strides on Värähtelijä and stretched black metal to its outermost limits. This fuzzy, spacey masterwork serves as a medium for meditative introspection as well as a shimmering display of transcendent metal that can and should be enjoyed by all. It is a bit of a lengthy and grandiose offering, covering 70 minutes of music. Within its extended run time, traces of many other musical styles can be detected, from shoegaze and krautrock. Oranssi Pazuzu steeped a unique blend of music and showed again they can shatter the mold of what metal can and should be. – CD


Anderson Paak best neo soul albumsAnderson .PaakMalibu
(Steel Wool)

Holding true to the title, Paak’s funky, soulful collection perfectly captures the West Coast essence while being uniquely autobiographical. From smooth R&B of “Room in Here” to invigorating hip-hop of “Come Down,” Paak weaves various styles and eras together in a way that feels distinct and nostalgic. The songs reveal many hardships such as growing up with an incarcerated father and a mother who “caught the gambling bug,” but the themes that surface again and again are not of desperation but of hope and resilience. Paak’s smooth and raspy voice effortlessly dances between rapping and singing all atop a vibrant production that tickles the ear hairs in all the right ways. – PG


Palace of Worms the LadderPalace of WormsThe Ladder
(Broken Limbs)

A one-man black metal band with a penchant for atmospheric darkness, Palace of Worms probably looks on paper like a lot of other acts in the dark metal arts. Yet Palace of Worms is a much more complex act, blending in the aesthetic sleekness of post-punk with a songwriting sensibility that so often is abandoned for the sake of intensity or atmosphere. The Ladder is a bold album, not just for its arrangements (mandolins! in a black metal song!) but for how strongly constructed it is. This is black metal at its most ambitious. – JT


Parquet Courts Human PerformanceParquet CourtsHuman Performance
(Rough Trade)

Parquet Courts likely had more than a few fans nervous with the EP-length noise exercise from last year, but that exercise in purging bad vibes may have indirectly resulted in the album that followed being their best yet. More tuneful, more creative, more diverse and tautly written and performed from the opening thump of “Dust” up to the acoustic plucks of “It’s Gonna Happen,” Human Performance finds Parquet Courts at their strongest. Ultimately a break-up album with some heavier questions about identity and place, Human Performance is curiously not at all a drag to listen to, instead finding a cleansing catharsis in the aftermath of a major bummer. These songs aren’t really about feeling good, but Parquet Courts don’t put that on the listener. One man’s breakdown is another’s road trip anthem. – JT


best albums of 2016 so far PinegrovePinegroveCardinal
(Run For Cover)

There’s something already inherently familiar within the 10 tracks of Pinegrove’s Run for Cover debut, and I’m not speaking of the remastered version of “New Friends.” It’s a certain simplicity Cardinal constructs, sans predictability. Each track oozes sentimentality without ever gushing into a mushy sop of corniness. Earnestness specifically prevails on this release. Frontman Evan Stephens Hall howls through the album’s peaks and pits, crafting sharp lyrics bearing the ability to shift in and out of moments of poetry and prose. By integrating aspects of singer-songwriters, alternative country, and indie rock, Pinegrove creates something entirely new, filling Cardinal with vivid imagery and an overwhelming feeling of novel, “Americana-emo” nostalgia. – PP

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