We’re already halfway through 2016, and the year already seems to be a bumper year for the album. It has also been a sullen start to the year for the music world, as two of music’s most gargantuan figures from either side of the Atlantic—David Bowie and Prince—passed away so suddenly in January and April. As we breeze past the halfway point, AllSole takes a look at the 10 best albums of 2016 so far.
Varmints – Anna Meredith
Label: Moshi Moshi
Release Date: 4th March
With a first class honours and a Master’s degree in Music, Scottish musician Anna Meredith is significantly better known for her classical oeuvres which have seen her pick up several awards and perform to over 40 million people on BBC’s Last Night of the Proms. Varmints is Meredith’s debut attempt at something more like a pop album, and is a complex patchwork of music drawing influence from everything ranging from electronic pop and jazz to avant-garde and her classical roots. Varmints is an experimental treat that has drawn great worldwide critical acclaim.
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
Label: Def Jam / G.O.O.D. Music
Release Date: 14th February
Following a much drawn-out and melodramatic roll-out, The Life of Pablo was welcomed into the world in February with signature bravado at a dedicated celebratory party in NYC’s Madison Square Gardens. With musical involvement from everyone from Rihanna to Paul McCartney, The Life of Pablo proved well worth the weight, packing typically controversial punches while always being overlaid with Kanye’s famous sense of humour.
Light Upon the Lake – Whitney
Label: Secretly Canadian
Release Date: 3rd June
Rising from the ashes of the recently disbanded Smith Westerns, Light Upon the Lake is the short, soft, melodic album from Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich (also formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra). Recorded in Jonathon Rado’s (Foxygen) Californian home/studio earlier this year, the album is a warm, upbeat and finely accomplished album with notable influences from The Byrds and Neil Young.
Lemonade – Beyoncé
Label: Parkwood / Columbia
Release Date: 23rd April
Seemingly dropped out of the blue at the tail end of April, Beyoncé’s latest album was quickly pounced on by Queen Bey fans particularly for the open treatment of her marriage with Jay-Z. Later made into a film, Lemonade was also accompanied by a number of outstanding music videos which help to excavate the content of the songs. Lemonade has only cemented Bey’s status as music’s feminist goddess who is currently drawing a devoted crowd on her UK tour.
The Colour in Anything – James Blake
Label: Polydor Records
Release Date: 6th May
James Blake’s follow-up to his 2013 Mercury Prize-winning album Overgrown has established the Englishman as one of the finest songsmiths working in contemporary music. Featuring contributions from Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and production work by Rick Rubin, the album clocks in at 76 minutes, every one of which feels merited on an album that is richly textured, varied and deeply original.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath Entertainment / Interscope
Release Date: 4th March
While great fanfare welcomed Kanye’s TLOP into the world, Kendrick Lamar quickly and quietly released untitled unmastered. A collection of previously unreleased demos recorded during the making of Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, this album continues in the same vein as TPAB with its politically tinged, psychological lyrics and experimentation with free jazz, soul, funk and avant-garde music. The fact that even when Lamar sheds his skin he produces albums of this quality only confirms him to be the most talented rap musician working today.
Ahoni – Hopelessness
Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: 6th May
Hopelessness is the debut album by Antony and the Johnson’s lead singer Anohni. An electronic/synthpop album full of passionate protest and anger, Hopelessness is an infectious album that grapples with weighty themes ranging from climate change to corporate capitalism, transforming the electronic dance single into a purposeful protest song.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Release Date: 8th May
After five long years of waiting and anticipation, England’s most famed alternative rock band dropped their ninth studio album in May only a week after causing a storm by completely erasing their internet presence. As we’ve come to expect from Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool is a sparse, reflective, powerful rock album dealing with love, fears and time through complex musical structures. It has been noted that some of the record’s singles have been lingering in the band’s back catalogue for as long as 20 years, and you can feel this record take you on a musical journey through Radiohead’s three decades in music.
Blackstar – David Bowie
Label: ISO / Columbia
Release Date: 8th January
Described as ‘lyrically inscrutable and thrillingly strange’ by Alex Petridis in the Guardian, Blackstar made an immediate impression on Bowie and music fans with its eerie mystique and spellbinding sound. The many faces of its content only grew more complex one week later when David Bowie sadly passed away, adding a dark, weighty new layer of meaning to the songs. The result is a spine-tingling, haunting album that only reinforces the lasting legacy David Bowie has left on music and the world.
Colouring Book – Chance the Rapper
2016 has been quite a year for 23-year-old Chancelor Bennett, known to his peers as Chance the Rapper. In between co-writing a number of tracks on Kanye West’s TLOP, working on songs with musicians including Macklemore and Skrillex, and meeting President Obama, Chance has found the time to trump his musical peers by crafting probably the most accomplished hip hop, if not musical, album of the year so far. Released as a mixtape exclusively though Apple Music, the album is a gleeful celebration of hip hop layered over with Chance’s clear gospel influences. Colouring Books has confirmed Chance’s status alongside the like of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples as one of the most exciting acts working in hip hop today.
Explore the top 10 albums of 2016 with additional songs from contender albums on Spotify.