2016.5 // our favorite albums of the year (so far)
As we approach the midway point of what has been an overwhelming year for new music, here's the ever-evolving list of our favorite records of (roughly) the first half of 2016. Favorite songs of the year (SO FAR) coming later this week:
01 JESSY LANZA | Oh No
On her dazzling sophomore LP, Jessy Lanza draws from all of the dopest inspirations (Yellow Magic Orchestra, Shangaan electro, Aaliyah, Miharu Koshi, and Prince, to name a few) and filters them through her own inimitable modern electronic pop lens to create a lowkey masterpiece that, like her 2013 debut, already feels like a timeless all-time favorite that we've known forever. And seeing/feeling the new jams performed live in the club on Lanza's recent tour with Junior Boys revealed a moving, intense visceral dimension that only reinforced their greatness. Best tracks: "It Means I Love You", "Going Somewhere", "Vivica"
02 KEDR LIVANSKIY | January Sun
A stunning debut from Russian Kedr Livanskiy, a producer and songwriter who makes otherworldly dance-pop that is haunting and beautiful, and that, somewhat surprisingly, sounds as good now that the temperature's heating up as it did during the dead of winter. What we said back in February still stands: "...through the hypnotic haze of even her raviest tracks shines a natural pop sensibility, revealing an exciting talent who incorporates myriad diverse influences — Laurel Halo, Inga Copeland, Aphex Twin, Mazzy Star, Teklife, ‘90s & early ‘00s-era MTV, and as “Keep Your Word” exhibits, old school jungle — to create a dream-like world that sounds sort of unlike anything else happening right now." Best tracks: "Razrushitelniy Krug (Destructive Cycle)", "April"
03 RADIOHEAD | A Moon Shaped Pool
As cynical and dismissive as we would have liked to be of the 'head's "we deleted our internet presence (but not really)" gimmick, in reality we loved all of the speculation and melodrama that led up to the cathartic first listen of A Moon Shaped Pool, an undeniable, elegantly lush, darkly beautiful, and at times brutally emotional return. Best tracks: "True Love Waits", "Daydreaming", "Decks Dark", "Ful Stop"
04 KAYTRANADA | 99.9%
We've been casual fans of Kaytranada since hearing his brilliant Janet Jackson remix a couple years back, but his incredibly diverse proper debut LP is a next-level effort from the versatile Montreal producer. So many breezy bangers on this thing, thanks to Kaytra's vibrant, living/breathing beats, which glow with heavy Dilla vibes. The only real knock, and it's a very minor one, is that we could have done with one or two fewer collabs. Our official album of the summer. Best tracks: "Lite Spots", "Track Uno", "Glowed Up", "You're the One"
05 KENDRICK LAMAR | untitled umastered.
Surprise releases have become so commonplace in the last few weeks that it kind of feels like an eternity ago since Kendrick sprung this one on us out of nowhere back in March, apparently just because Lebron asked him to. There's obviously a much breezier, looser vibe here than on 2015's rightfully universally acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly, which gives this lowkey collection of TPAB "outtakes" a relatively tossed-off feeling (I mean, there's a beat by a 5-year-old on here). But we are of the possibly unpopular opinion that untitled unmastered. is also the more enjoyable listen. That Ali Shaheed Muhammad bossa nova beat on untitled 06 is an instant classic. Best tracks: untitled 06, untitled 07, untitled 03
06 BEYONCÉ | Lemonade
I guess it remains to seen how these songs will hold up on their own, but Lemonade, as experienced in its intended context as a "visual album", is one of the most powerful things we've seen or heard this year, Becky + Jay-Z memes and internet conspiracy theories notwithstanding. Best tracks: "All Night", "Hold Up"
07 YUMI ZOUMA | Yoncalla
After collaborating long-distance on two of our favorite EPs of the last couple of years, the group finally got together in the same room to record their debut LP Yoncalla, and the IRL intimacy paid off. As we've said multiple times, this is shimmering, wistful, anthemic dream-pop at its best. Best tracks: "Short Truth", "Keep it Close to Me", "Remember You At All"
08 LEON VYNEHALL | Rojus
A stellar double 12″ concept album of warmly shimmering, exotic bird-sampling, “functional club music”, in which UK producer Leon Vynehall draws parallels between "courtship rituals of birds of paradise" and a night in the club. Best tracks: "Blush", "Saxony"
09 MARIA USBECK | Amparo
Between this and the Yumi record (which dropped on the same day), Cascine continues their reign as the finest current purveyors of warm, sophisticated modern pop. What we said when we premiered this one a couple weeks ago: "Co-produced with the great Caroline Polachek of Chairlift and sung almost entirely in Spanish — Usbeck also deftly weaves in bits of Rapa Nui from Easter Island, Quichua from Ecuador, Bribri from Costa Rica, and Catalan — Amparo is a breezy and lucid journey, culminating in the serenely shimmering back-to-back combo of “Uno De Tus Ojos” + “Ciudad Desnuda“, one of the most poignant and emotionally resonant stretches of music you’ll hear this year." Best tracks: "Uno De Tus Ojos", "Ciudad Desnuda", "Moai y Yo"
10 WHITNEY | Light Upon the Lake
Our other album of the summer, Light Upon the Lake is a beautifully worn-in and classic-sounding debut. As the self-proclaimed world's-first-superfans of the Smith Westerns' lightning-in-a-bottle 2009 debut LP, we're elated to see former members Max Kakacek + Julien Ehrlich reach the elusive emotional highs and stellar songwriting of that record once again. Best tracks: "No Woman", "Dave's Song", "Polly", "No Matter Where We Go"
ARIANA GRANDE | Dangerous Woman
CASEY MECIJA | Psychic Materials
CHARLES | That’s How Baby Learns
CFCF | On Vacation
DJDS | Stand Up and Speak
FEAR OF MEN | Fall Forever
FORT ROMEAU | Secrets & Lies
HINDS | Leave Me Alone
HOOPS | Tapes #1-3
JAMES BLAKE | The Colour in Anything
JAPANESE BREAKFAST | Psychopomp
JULIANNA BARWICK | Will
KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH | Ears
KANYE WEST | The Life of Pablo
LSDXOXO | Fuck, Marry, Kill
MALL GRAB | Sun Ra
MARISSA NADLER | Strangers
MEMORYHOUSE | Soft Hate
MOOD HUT | Disco Mantras
MORLY | Something More Holy
MSSINGNO | Fones
NV | Binasu
OMAR-S | The Best!
POSTILJONEN | Reverie
SHE-DEVILS | She-Devils
SKEPTA | Konnichiwa
TROLLER | Graphic
WET | Don’t You
WHITE DENIM | Stiff
[gif via kaytranada.com]