For me, 2016 was a year of incredible agitation. Consequently, my musical consumption was driven by a search for joy and comfort. My favorite music mostly circled the same target: to make that unease comfortable, and even better, beautiful.
10. Honne – Warm On A Cold Night
It’s not often album titles read as safety instructions, “Open for ______”, but such is the case with British electronic soul pair Honne. A dreamy escape anchored by its own sincerity, this is music you can wrap yourself up in.
9. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
A stunning exploration of heartbreak and longing, Angel Olsen’s My Woman flows under the weight of all the great soul albums that influenced it, propelled by tracks that ring as classic as they do fresh. Ten out of ten would dance to in an empty high school gym.
8. Mitski – Puberty 2
Mitski Miyawaki writes spy lyrics. Her songs are filled with the kind of lines that find your cracks and infiltrate with surgical precision. Her fourth album is just as tender and affecting as her last three, which makes one wonder just how deep her emotional mine goes. My guess is to infinity.
7 . Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Michael Kiwanuka’s vocals waft through obstacles both singular and societal, always staying tethered to his deeply personal center. Where other artists stand outside their subjects, Love & Hate is an album situated firmly in the mire, looking for a way out. But there is beauty in struggle, and Kiwanuka has the proof.
6. Wet – Don’t You
I relish the pure simplicity of Wet’s Don’t You; an album of heartache so affecting in its straightforwardness. Kelly Zutrau’s fragile chords oscillate between airy and downright childlike, and that’s just in the first track. These are anthems for the tears of a thousand teens, current or sitting forgotten inside of their adult shells.
5. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
There is comfort, and there is joy. There is no joy more visceral than King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s fantastic Nonagon Infinity. It’s a frenetic effort that picks up just where 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz left off, each track building into the next in a perfect chain of controlled explosions.
4. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
It could have been so easy for Justin Vernon’s particular brand of late-aughts acoustic sincerity to fade into obscurity after the success of Bon Iver’s second album. That their relevance persists is thanks to Vernon’s emphasis on and continued exploration of audible textures through aggressive new technology. What emerges is a sublime experimental album with actual heart; a combination of substance and aesthetic that is deeply satisfying.
3. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
It would be enjoyable enough to listen to an album of Blood Orange beats and instrumentals; the silky 80s lounge vibes are what the ok_hand emoji was made for. But Freetown Sound is as literary as it is musical, and Dev Hynes’ thoughtful exploration and celebration of the feminine is what makes his sound so complete, so intriguing, so mature.
2. Frank Ocean – Blonde
No one else can stand under the leaky faucet of nostalgia as firmly as Frank Ocean, and he has 17 of the most beautiful subtweets to prove it.
1. Solange – A Seat At The Table
A Seat At The Table is a comprehensive look into the mind of Solange Knowles, and the view is ethereal. A commentary on race, identity, worth, and womanhood (to start) supported by downright lush production achieves a grace I definitely didn’t deserve to experience, but am very grateful for.
Moses Sumney – Lamentations
If there is another side, Moses Sumney is the guide I’d like to lead me there.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion Side B
CRJ’s E•MO•TION was pure pop joy and yes, I would like seconds.