Mid-year report: EW sizes up the top records from the first six months of the year
Just six months into 2016, this year has already brought music fans exceptional albums from stalwarts like Beyoncé, Radiohead, and Kanye West, innovators like Anohni and Car Seat Headrest, and one late legend, David Bowie. Below, EW’s music team picks the 25 best albums of the year (so far). For more on the year in music so far, check out our list of best songs from 2016 (so far), and pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new Ultimate Summer Preview Issue, on newsstands Friday, or available to buy here now.
25. Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future, Underworld
The year’s most engrossing headphones record, from veterans of U.K.’s ’90s electro boom. –Nolan Feeney
24. Leave Me Alone, Hinds
The Madrid crew of badasses revives ’90s riot-grrrl punk on an album so thrilling, it might inspire you to publish your own zine. –Kevin O’Donnell
23. Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
Indie whiz kid Will Toledo mixes vivid storytelling with killer guitar hooks. –Eric Renner Brown
22. Moth, Chairlift
Like a certain winged insect to a flame, you won’t be able to resist Caroline Polachek’s acrobatic voice and her band’s off-the-wall grooves. –N.F.
21. Ology, Gallant
He’s got a weightless falsetto on par with Smokey Robinson’s and Prince’s, but 24-year-old crooner Christopher Gallant pushes the boundaries of R&B further with hazy atmospherics and big beat drops. –Madison Vain
20. Untitled Unmastered, Kendrick Lamar
Lamar’s collection of eight loosies didn’t make the cut for his 2015 opus To Pimp a Butterfly, but he successfully continues his free-jazz experiments while serving up more intricate and politically aware verses. –E.R.B.
19. Long Way Home, Lapsley
If Adele had spent her teen years hunched over GarageBand, she might have turned out like this 19-year-old Brit, whose sparse, electro-tinged R&B will have you brooding in the deep. –N.F.
18. Ouroboros, Ray LaMontagne
The enigmatic songwriter teamed with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for this dreamy set, which throws it back to when Laurel Canyon icons like Joni Mitchell and CSNY mastered the art of the chill-out record. –M.V.
17. Mind of Mine, Zayn
With bedroom slow jams as smooth as the finest pickup line, Zayn’s on his way to making his boy-band backstory a mere footnote to his career. –N.F.
16. Adore Life, Savages
On the English group’s second album, Jehnny Beth & Co. meditate on love, flirtations, and romance with—what else?—blooming grooves, gnarly guitars, and explosive fits of post-punk fury. –Jessica Goodman
15. 99.9%, Kaytranada
The Haitian-Canadian producer-DJ scored a crew of cool kids (AlunaGeorge, Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak) to craft a soundtrack to the year’s sweatiest block party. Disco, hip-hop, jazz—it’s all here, and it’s pure fire. –K.O.
14. Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
On his dazzling third mixtape, the 23-year-old Chicagoan proves he can hang with rap’s best MCs. But Coloring Book’s defining feature is its fusion of gospel, electronic, and hip-hop music, like on the standout “How Great.” –E.R.B.
13. Matter, St. Lucia
Does this decade need its own Thompson Twins or A Flock of Seagulls? Judging by this spectacularly upbeat dance-pop record, the answer is unequivocally yes. –K.O.
12. The Colour in Anything, James Blake
A pioneer of this decade’s trend in chilly, electronic-based balladry returns with a 76-minute album—sad but deeply felt, you’ll need a mood stabilizer to recover. –K.O.
11. This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani
Loves lost (Gavin) and found (Blake) provide the twin poles for Stefani’s gorgeously honest chronicle of a very complicated year—and inspired some of her most purely satisfying pop songs in years. –Leah Greenblatt
10. The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
Slapdash release and subsequent editing aside, Pablo is loaded with tracks that stand toe-to-Yeezy-clad-toe with West’s best, from the hushed reflection of “Real Friends” to the Kendrick Lamar-featuring rhyming bonanza of “No More Parties in L.A.” –E.R.B.
9. Human Performance, Parquet Courts
What’s it like to be a broke college grad with piles of student loans but no money to pay your monthly utilities? Like Broad City, Parquet Courts’ fourth album is a vivid document of twentysomething youth today, with thrilling jams that cop the style of avant-punk stalwarts Velvet Underground and Television. –E.R.B.
8. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price
With the support of Jack White, the year’s most promising Nashville breakout delivers devastating roots-rockers about her poor childhood, hard drinking, and the death of her newborn son. –M.V.
7. Hopelessness, Anohni
The acclaimed singer’s shift to experimental pop will move you to dance—and maybe save the world, with its dark tales of climate change and drone bombs. –N.F.
6. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson
A little bit country, a little bit rock & roll: The singer-songwriter’s third album blends groovy soul, horn-laden funk, Southern-fried riffage, and, yes, some steel-guitar twang for a product as quintessentially American as a Chevy pickup. –E.R.B.
5. SVIIB, School of Seven Bells
After cofounder Benjamin Curtis died from lymphoma in 2013, Alejandra Deheza overcame her grief with a breathtaking coda to their six-year musical partnership. SVIIB sets 41 minutes of heavenly harmonies, gritty guitars, and dance beats underneath her gut-wrenching tales of love and loss. –K.O.
4. Anti, Rihanna
“Let me cover your s— in glitter, I can make it gold,” pop’s most DGAF star promises coyly on opener “Consideration.” But Anti’s wild, woozy R&B easily earned 24-karat status all on its own. –L.G.
3. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
The art-rockers’ ninth album is both their most intimate and grandiose in years: Thom Yorke turns his melancholy inward, with a gimlet-eyed look at relationships on songs like “Daydreaming,” while their arrangements (those strings!) are some of the band’s most romantic ever. –E.R.B.
2. Blackstar, David Bowie
It’s dark, heartbreaking, gorgeous, theatrical, and, at times, pretty damn funny. The late icon’s epilogue distills his five-decade-long quest for the new and unknown with a perfect, jazz-inflected tour de force. –K.O.
1. Lemonade, Beyoncé
Mrs. Carter’s incendiary cracked-marriage confessional proves that pop music can still hold the power of shock and awe. (And lays out one hell of a case for divorce court, should she ever choose to use it.) –L.G.