After the sparsity of his 2011 self-titled debut and 2013's Overgrown, James Blake has continually embraced space in his music. While The Colour In Anything isn't a departure from the rainy-day mood his music resides in, it is a more decidedly maximalistic release for the artist. Still, James Blake knows how reign it in and strike an emotional chord within you (see the album's title track and "Meet You in the Maze"), making The Colour In Anything a welcome release and another wonderful addition to Blake's discography.
Track You Need To Hear: "I Need a Forest Fire"
The Colour in Anything
Released: May 6, 2016 | Polydor Records
First and foremost, HOPELESSNESS is a protest record — even if it doesn't sound like one. After announcing her transition from Antony Hegarty (performing as Antony and the Johnsons) to Anohni, she teamed up with electronic producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never to create HOPELESSNESS — a crushing, searing commentary on the fallacies of today's society. The album is as poignant as it is powerful; it is a record released by a transgender woman that empowers us to take up arms against the political machine.
Track You Need To Hear: "Drone Bomb Me"
Released: May 6, 2016 | Secretly Canadian
Childish Gambino showed a level of awareness and musical prowess to create a funk album in 2016 that doesn't sound like a cheap trick. "Awaken, My Love!" is the difference between an artist trying something new as a stunt and an artist fully immersing themselves in a genre and creating true art; on this album, Childish Gambino is the latter. Despite blow after blow at the hands of triggering headlines and a powerful conservative agenda this past year, Donald Glover's project is the intersectional reminder that now that we're aware of what's going on in the world, we can't ignore it.
Track You Need To Hear: "Redbone"
"Awaken, My Love!"
Released: December 2, 2016 | Glassnote Records
Over three decades since their formation and 18 years since their last album, A Tribe Called Quest have released their swan song. The most immediate aspect of We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your service is that it is neither a throwback to a time long past, nor is it a ham-fisted attempt to reinvent and keep up with the times. Instead, it’s what ATCQ has always been: completely comfortable with their place in the world. Backed by lyrical content that has never been more potent and relevant, this album is proof that A Tribe Called Quest never really left.
Track You Need To Hear: "We The People...."
We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
A Tribe Called Quest
Released: November 11, 2016 | Epic Records
In the year that we lost Merle Haggard, a man who is akin to his spirit created his best album yet. There is something about Sturgill Simpson that is familiar but refreshing; he employs classic country twang, strongly-sung vocals, horn arrangements, and melodies that exist outside the traditional realm of country music. After several strong releases, Simpson was already on his way to becoming a legend in meaningful country music. After A Sailor's Guide to Earth, he might have just cemented that status.
Track You Need To Hear: "Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)"
A Sailor's Guide to Earth
Released: April 15, 2016 | Atlantic
On Puberty 2, singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki tackles themes common to her twenty-something age group, but does so with a refreshing amount of honesty and awareness. She adeptly tackles the album’s main themes: the struggle to find (or even define) happiness, and the intersection of entering adulthood with a lack of true personal identity. What is most impressive about Puberty 2 is not only do we find an artist establishing herself as one of the most intriguing voices in indie rock, but we find a singer who is finding herself as an artist right in front of our eyes.
Track You Need To Hear: "Your Best American Girl"
Released: June 17, 2016 | Dead Oceans
KAYTRANADA is one of the few artists in electronic music that successfully and almost seamlessly blends urban music into their sound. The exceptional usage of R&B and hip-hop elements in his music has become a calling card for the Canadian artist, and he has created a wonderfully-produced record with some incredible guest spots. 99.9% is a brilliant, well-realized combination of styles, with more than its fair share of memorable and addictive songs.
Track You Need To Hear: "GLOWED UP"
Released: January 22, 2016 | Matador
"Look up here, I'm in heaven / I've got scars that can't be seen," Bowie sings on "Lazarus." There may not have been a more haunting and fitting way to start off 2016, and it came just days before the shocking blow that the legendary artist had died after a battle with cancer. Blackstar showcases Bowie at his best, perfectly matching his lyrics to the overall tone of his songs, but the album is more than just Bowie showing off his abilities. It is an album that is important not only as our final reminder of the Goblin King, but as a record that sets aside its icon status to create a truly inspired release.
Track You Need To Hear: "Lazarus"
Released: January 8, 2016 | Columbia Records
After years of Kanye doing what Kanye wanted, he finally gave us the album we wanted — and he knows it too. But just like the artist himself, The Life of Pablo is contradictory; it sees Kanye going back to more of the "chop up the soul Kanye," but also sees him pushing the boundaries of what an album truly is. Sonically, it is a safe album, but where he held his punches musically, he put the risks in the rolling out of the album. His "living, breathing organism" mentality, where an album can undergo changes — even after its initial release — felt chaotic at times, but how much can we argue when we hear Kanye actually having, dare we say it, fun? The Life of Pablo is Kanye's most freewheeling album in more than a decade, with a replayability and infectiousness about it that we haven't heard from Mr. West in quite some time.
Track You Need To Hear: "Ultralight Beam"
The Life of Pablo
Released: February 14, 2016 | GOOD / Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella
You Want It Darker is not a casual invitation into the final moments of the revered songwriter’s life, but a plea to stay, to take up residence, and to fully explore the intricacies of each and every track. While the lyrical themes throughout the album may be similar, it is the constant — if subtle — variance between each track that begs you to listen deeper, time and time again. You Want It Darker may be the last album of Cohen’s storied career, but it is more than just that. It is relentless in its reverie. It is inquisitive. It is hyper self-aware. It is, at times, oddly satisfied in its own demise. But above all, it is mortal — and serves as a beautiful reminder of our own fragility.
Track You Need To Hear: "Treaty"
You Want It Darker
Released: October 21, 2016 | Columbia Records