The 30 Best Albums of 2016 So Far

Bowie Blackstar best albums of 2016 so far

Radiohead A Moon Shaped PoolRadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
(XL)

For many long-term Radiohead fans, the last 9 years have been testing. Thom Yorke’s solo output, and the band’s 2011 album The King of Limbs, have both indicated a turn away from the rich, textured, organic sound that for many made the band great. On A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead gloriously return to earth and soil. It feels from afar that Jonny Greenwood is back captaining the ship, and the influence of his film soundtrack work is in evidence throughout. Standouts “Glass Eyes,” “The Numbers” and “Present Tense” are achingly beautiful and poignant, and “Ful Stop” still has that supercharged energy that the band don’t get enough credit for. Don’t count Radiohead out yet. – MP


Savages Adore LifeSavagesAdore Life
(Matador)

Savages’ new album opens with lead single “The Answer,” and it’s clear from this point that the London band is ready to rock just that much harder. The guitar tone is thicker almost to the point of sludge, but rumbles with more of a punk-edged “Manic Depression” drone. And while on first listen some Jehnny Beth’s vocal melodies might strike you as being not as focused as what she brought to the party on Silence Yourself, but with repeat listens it all comes together, clear that the band is taking things in a different direction here. The album enjoys the benefits of better production than that of their debut, the bass thicker and Jenny Beth’s vocals up front and unencumbered by the mix. The guitar still flirts with surreal layers leaving the hammer of the bass to carry the weight, but at other times Gemma Thompson’s guitar takes on a harder rocking sound than they had before. Adore Life finds Savages going much heavier than ever before. – WL


Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide to EarthSturgill SimpsonA Sailor’s Guide To Earth
(Atlantic)

Many singer/songwriters will strive their whole lives to write whole albums with the same heart-wrenching emotional depth as “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog),” the opener on Sturgill Simpson’s third album. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, framed as an extended message to Simpson’s newborn son, starts at a peak of incredible joy with the half country ballad/half soul rave-up “Pollywog” and never comes down. Even when songs like “Breaker’s Roar” and “Oh Sarah” bring questions of depression and marital/parental difficulties to bear, the record never wavers in its core messages of love and hope—often in the face of copious bullshit from the outside world. I should also mention that it’s a goddamn fun album, with the Dap-Kings adding real rhythm to Simpson’s country foundations. – LG


Esperanza Spalding Emily's D+EvolutionEsperanza SpaldingEmily’s D+Evolution
(Concord)

Esperanza Spalding is ostensibly a jazz artist, though Emily’s D+Evolution is far from a straight-ahead jazz album. In fact, it’s not really a jazz album at all, instead combining the influences of heroes such as Funkadelic, Joni Mitchell and Prince along with contemporaries such as Janelle Monáe into a swirling, celebratory psychedelic soul album. It’s the Portland bass virtuoso’s most accomplished and innovative work to date, in no small part because of the vast scope of her songwriting, which ranges from the fiery (“Good Lava”) to the dense (“Earth to Heaven”) and sweetly ethereal (“Unconditional Love”). It’s an album that challenges while it soothes, confronts while it caresses, and ends up feeling like a B-12 shot with the arrival of each track. – JT


Swans new album The Glowing ManSwansThe Glowing Man
(Young God)

Whatever your opinion of Swans or bandleader Michael Gira, the band’s ability to create music of immense scope and heaviness unlike any other (barring certain metal bands, none of whom are as listenable) cannot be denied. On The Glowing Man, Swans follow up the best work of their second act—2014’s To Be Kind—with another massive album on about the same level. It goes to unexpected places of quiet with “When Will I Return” and “Finally, Peace,” but there’s more than enough chaos to go around, particularly on “Cloud Of Unknowing” and the explosive riffage of the 30-minute title track. The Glowing Man will require a lot of time and exact a pound of flesh from your ears, but it’s worth it. – LG


best albums of 2016 so far TombsTombsAll Empires Fall
(Relapse)

What happens on Tombs’ latest EP should not come as a surprise considering how much they have evolved with each album. Savage Gold might not have been as dark as its predecessor, but Mike Hill & Co. keep pushing forward. With the inclusion of Fade Kainer from Battilus into the fold on All Empires Fall, my initial instinct was to think the industrial influence that has lurking under the surface would rise like Godzilla. This is not the case. They make it clear the metal isn’t going anywhere. When the darkness does rolls in on “the Last Day of Sunlight,” the band reaches the next level. The music slithers around Hill’s vocal in a kind of death rock fashion, as we’ve heard from them before but is now more fully embraced. The only drawback is that it’s an EP rather than a full length, because it should leave any listener wanting more. – WL


Underworld Barbara BarbaraUnderworldBarbara Barbara, we face a shining future
(Caroline)

More than 20 years on from asserting a stranglehold on artful electronic music at the start of the big beat era, Underworld have adjusted their grip. Half as long as their statement 1990s releases, Barbara Barbara is just as powerful and tactile. Karl Hyde’s digitized cut-up poetry remains equal parts pseudo-romantic (“Nylon Strung”), third-eye smart (“If Rah”), and obtusely anthemic (“I Exhale”). Meanwhile, he and Rick Smith continue to generate beautiful, thrilling instrumental backgrounds appropriate for both dancefloors and headphones. – AB


best albums of 2016 so far VektorVektorTerminal Redux
(Earache)

By album three, former Arizona wunderkinds Vektor prove they are the real fucking deal. While their demo and debut were excellent, they still sounded a bit too much like their influences at times, with clear nods to neglected masters Voivod as well as King Crimson and Rush. Album two pushed them towards a sound that was purely their own and oddly (or fittingly) enough it was lifting the plot of Rush’s “Cygnus X­1” suite and retrofitting it to their tastes that proved the perfect ground for their enunciation. Exciting, brilliant, modern, and, above all else, heavy fucking metal. – LH


Kanye West The Life of PabloKanye WestThe Life of Pablo
(G.O.O.D./Def Jam)

The release of The Life of Pablo made possibly the biggest splash of Ye’s discography. For starters, its anticipated title changed from So Help Me God to SWISH to WAVES before finally landing on Pablo, and Kanye still continues to edit the project long after its release, perhaps setting a new trend of “working albums.” But hype aside, it’s a damn good album on par with Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. To say The Life of Pablo is a return to form is not quite accurate, but reinvention isn’t its main focus either. Here Kanye is comfortable being Kanye, and on top of his innovative production and a dominant flow floats darkness, humor, and unapologetic honesty woven into a hardy twenty tracks (that’s right, he just added “Saint Pablo”). – PG


White Lung ParadiseWhite LungParadise
(Domino)

Whether you’re interested in White Lung’s massive riffs or frontwoman Mish Barber-Way’s forthright and inspiring feminist lyrics (hopefully you love both), the band’s fourth album Paradise will meet your needs. The production—and Way’s vocals—are both crisper than previous White Lung albums but no less fierce, as “Dead Weight” and “Sister” prove, and songs like “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and “Hungry” pair arena-ready choruses with confrontational lyrics about everything from body image issues and sexual power dynamics to serial murder. Kenneth Williams’ ferocious guitar is better than ever, and longtime drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou provide the pounding rhythms essential for truly urgent punk. – LG

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