It's been a long time coming, but 2016 will go down as the year that Wilco officially went Dad Rock, and I couldn't be more delighted. Schmilco trades in the energy and intricacy of previous albums for an acoustic emotional intimacy that brings you almost unbearably close to frontman Jeff Tweedy's sad sack childhood memories.
ANTI is the sound of a brilliant singles artist at last expanding her vision out into album form, boasting of sounds ranging from reggae to electronic to even Doo-wop leanings, and stretching her emotional pallet just as far. Rihanna has never sounded quite so vulnerable... or badass, for that matter.
As if Donald Glover wasn't already expanding our artistic paradigms with this summer's FX show Atlanta, "Awaken, My Love!" trades in his previous rap trappings for Parliament-style funk whole-sale, and the completely new sound is groovy as all get out.
Banks is what Lorde would sound like if her coffee was spiked with whiskey instead of cream, an aggressive electro pulse powering her searing, hair-raising croon. The Alter provides a break-up album for those less morose than enraged, turning her frustrations straight to the dance floor.
Mac Miller isn't exactly anyone's idea of a serious rapper, but on The Devine Feminine he proves that earnestness can be just as valuable. A thorough celebration of the beauty and grace (and perhaps some other things) of the women in his life, the disc enticingly rides the line between outspoken lust and deeply-felt appreciation of the farer sex.
2016 saw the demise of too many music legends to keep track of, but for my money Cohen was the only artist who seemed to literally score his own funeral. Alternating between sounds golden as hymnals and black as soot, You Want it Darker is a perfectly old-school conclusion to a career that had seen it all.
Music can sometimes be a little tricky to put into words for those who have yet to listen, but god bless Whitney for turning it into an easy process. Like The Strokes with tea instead of liquor and cheesy love notes instead of tossed-off insults, these newcomers value unfussy simplicity and warm, homey sounds over even a modicum of complexity.
After a string of disappointingly subdued releases, Stephen Wilkinson returns to a level of variance and eclecticism that made Ambivalence Avenue one of the more under-rated releases of the past many moons. At turns lo-fi, somber, joyous, gentle, and excitable, A Mineral Love has a sound for just about anyone.
Mysterious, enveloping, and never less than beautiful, the music of electronic producer Pantha Du Prince isn't likely to send a stampede of feet to the dance floor, but his new album The Triad is still more than capable of taking over a room, its lovely, exacting sounds providing a perfect soundtrack for quite rumination.
About halfway through Yes Lawd!, one would be forgiven for thinking they were listening to a new R&B masterpiece. Things don't completely work out that way, but Anderson .Paak's second album of his massive 2016 breakout is stocked with enough laid back, bedroom-ready jams to make all but the rarest artists jealous.