Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top 10 Albums of 2016

10. Mind of Mine by Zayn

With a debut that clocks in at 20 tracks when deluxe tracks are added into the equation, Zayn Malik gives himself ample space to shape who himself as a solo artist. It seems he's had a lot to say for a long time, and for first time ever, he is uninhibited in his craft. After all, it's much easier to build a badass image over some brooding PBR&B, intricately crafted to be enjoyed in the dead of night, than his former band's bright pop-rock. Sure, he intrudes on some other artists' territory on Mind of Mine – the Weeknd was really the one to make Zayn's genre of choice accessible to pop audiences last year – and that would be a problem if he weren't doing this well. But he is.

Favorite tracks:
"BeFoUr," "BoRdErZ," "LIKE I WOULD," "lUcOzAdE," "TiO"

9. I Remember by AlunaGeorge

Whereas AlunaGeorge's debut album, Body Music, dipped its toes into the pool of mainstream pop, I Remember dives headfirst. Gliding through their stew of influences, Aluna Francis and George Reid have their sights split between a good time and experimentation through downtempo rhythm and blues, warm tropical house, and most often, bonafide pop disguised as banging electronic dance. In many respects, the twelve tracks of I Remember have rendered the duo's debut material, which was at one point deemed "futuristic pop," damn near obsolete. By and large, the album is a prepackaged party, but it's all executed with gusto, swinging smoothly from style to style without losing touch of home base.

Favorite tracks: "I'm in Control," "Mean What I Mean," Mediator," "Not Above Love"

8. Don't You by Wet

Wet's debut album takes the cake for the album that grew on me the most this year, for sure. While all 11 tracks on this record are derivatives of the same cross-breed of PBR&B, dreampop, and synthpop, attentiveness will easily discredit the careless listener who argues that the tracks stagnate as the album runs its course. Distracted listeners will only float at the top of a placid pool, while those who devote undivided attention to the album at hand will be sucked under the surface, encapsulated by the soothing body of water without the worry of grabbing another breath.

Favorite tracks: "It's All in Vain," "Deadwater," "Weak," "Island," "Move Me"

7. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

Unlike her previous releases, both overloaded with collaborations and hoards of producers, Dangerous Woman is Ariana Grande at her least formulated, at her most genuine. The smoothest transition into an adult image compared to her contemporaries, this album acts as her true sexual liberation. The deep dance undertones help raise the temperature, keeping the album pulsating like neon lights in a sticky nightclub and holding it to a consistent tone. She was a singer before – an extremely talented one, at that. But a record this consistent has finally rendered her an artist. One with a vision, one with a passion, and now more than ever, one with distinction.

Favorite tracks: "Be Alright," "Into You," "Greedy," "Thinking 'Bout You"

6. Long Way Home by Låpsley

Largely a product of suspicion and distress, Long Way Home listens as such. Unlike her two closest vocal equivalents – Amy Winehouse and Adele – she rejects the type of traditional pop production usually paired with her type of soulful inflection, often opting for sparse, self-produced beats and foggy atmospheres. The album, composed of tracks produced within a lengthy two-year span, is a safe space in which the young artist can learn to walk on her own two legs, learning from experience and massaging any growing pains along the way – yet the results of DIY song-making experiments render listeners breathless nonetheless.

Favorite tracks: "Cliff," "Falling Short," "Heartless," "Hurt Me," "Love is Blind"

5. Christine and the Queens by Christine and the Queens

Despite being the result of vigorous study of the superficial mirror of society that is pop music and being the home to a well-placed sample of a 2008 Kanye West hit, the debut album from Christine and the Queens is a well-versed dance record for modern-day philosophers who can never stop thinking and artists who can never stop creating. With an album that is both perceptive and danceable, Christine manages to marry two elements that are often thought of as mutually exclusive: the need for realistic thought and the desire for upbeat sonic appeal. It's a recipe that yields pop music that masks its great intelligence with glamour – but bears that intelligence nonetheless. (Yes, this album was released in the United States in late 2015. But if the great Annie Mac can put it on her 2016 list, so can I.)

Favorite tracks:
"iT," "Narcissus is Black," "No Harm is Done," "Safe and Holy," "Tilted"

4. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975

Shocking entrants to the list, English pop-rock band The 1975 delivered an album this year that seeps with Tumblr-chic aesthetic, but within that aesthetic also lies substance. Frontman Matt Healy and his band members thrive in spicing everyday thoughts with some unorthodox topics of conversation, then covering it in glossy production tactics that cover any imperfections like sonic Instagram filters. While it's quite obvious as to why people like the sound of their tracks, their lyrical shtick validates listeners' experiences but pushes them into a degree of escapism – a pleasantly addictive sensation.

Favorite tracks:
"UGH!," "She's American," "Somebody Else," "The Sound"

3. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Both chronicling personal turbulence within a marriage and examining societal race issues from the standpoint of a black woman, Lemonade is a surprisingly concentrated piece of work that makes unprecedented statements from a mainstream artist – an archetype that normally does not stray from the status quo in fear of draining her listener pool. But Beyoncé is not par for the course in stardom; she has made it quite clear that she is Beyoncé, in a class of her own. This year, she dropped an album that has set a new precedent for independent women without another installment to her straightforward girl-power tracks. Life gave her lemons, and she did, indeed, make some of the world's finest Lemonade.

Favorite tracks:
"Pray You Catch Me," "Don't Hurt Yourself," "Daddy Lessons," "Formation"

2. Nothing's Real by Shura

The magic of Shura's debut album stems from the authenticity in her commitments to achieve a perfectly imperfect reimagination of porous, spacey '80s synthpop: Fuzzy layers of white noise, heavy reverberation, vocal filters, and succinct 808 hits make for an album that channels a decade with unbelievable execution for an artist who didn't even live through it. The album's competitive advantages can be found in its space age meandering, refusal to abandon a midtempo pace for a more marketable livelihood, and overt sincerity and pensive nature. Essentially, Nothing's Real is Shura's very own personal time capsule, crafted with care and filled with memories, home video tapes, and a heap of pop records that predate her by ten years, and we listeners have been invited only to marvel as it's cracked open.

Favorite tracks:
"Nothing's Real," "What's It Gonna Be?," "Touch," "Make It Up," "White Light"

1. The Altar by Banks

With its metamorphic narrative and natural sonic experimentation, The Altar was all but guaranteed to take the gold against its competition upon first listen. A masterful recalculation of her debut's heartbroken conclusions, the album resolves Banks' former insecurities with the reigning confidence she promised to have all along. It is represented by a title that, without context, hints at either of two extremes: unconditional or unrequited love. But because Banks opens the record with the snide "And to think you would get me to the altar," we enter the album with the understanding that the title does not represent the devotion (or lack thereof) to another. It is a devotion to herself: as an artist, as a sexual being, as a woman. And it is through that mindset that she truly reigns supreme.

Favorite tracks: "Gemini Feed," "Lovesick," "Trainwreck," "This is Not About Us," "Poltergeist"

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