Artist: Frank Ocean
Label: Boys Don’t Cry
Released: August 20, 2016
Blonde (written as the masculine “Blond”) was sold as an insert in a silver magazine called “Boys Don’t Cry.” Multi-layered, hazy and confessional, the album is cultural commentary packaged in psychedelic pop and a true testament to Ocean’s musical prowess.
The work is neither light, nor uplifting, but full of ambiguity as Ocean wrestles with thoughts and emotions through a stream-of-consciousness form, like in “Solo” and “Ivy.” More than anything, the album is beautiful. The minimalist use of the guitar and keyboard further reflect the simplicity of everyday life and complications of survival.
Album: A Moon Shaped Pool
Label: XL Recordings
Released: May 8
We know Radiohead is ambitious and pioneering, but after 2011’s The King of Limbs, we were a little nervous to hear the ninth studio album.
In the opening track, “Burn the Witch,” frontman Thom Yorke previews what is to come by announcing “this is a low flying panic attack” and then the album soars. Classical music and harmonies blend well with lighter electronics. The album is dark, introspective and must be unpacked track by track. But fortune favors the patient.
Album: This Is Acting
Released: January 29
This is Acting is an album of rejects. Sia wrote almost every track for another artist, but each was cast off. Instead of taking it personally, Sia packaged all of the tracks together to create a cohesive dance album, packed with staggering vocals.
The opening ballad, “Bird Set Free” is intense, yet liberating. In “Alive,” you hear a rawness to her vocals as she hits the high notes. The popular reggae track, “Cheap Thrills” adds a catchy balance to the mix. If this is an album of discarded tracks, imagine what Sia could deliver in the future.
Album: Stranger Things, Vol. 1
Artist: Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
Label: Lakeshore Records
Released: August 12
The Netflix television sensation, Stranger Things, became a cult favorite almost overnight. Like the show, the score carries an eerie and mysterious tone that warms you while setting you on edge.
The waning synth of “She’ll Kill You” builds into a crescendo of alarm and then evaporates almost as soon as it starts. “One Blink for Yes” is subtler and makes you feel like you’re floating in a dreamless state. Each track informs the show, yet maintains a subtle and unique message, making it one of our favorite scores of 2016.
Label: Roc Nation
Released: January 29
Rihanna’s eighth studio album ANTI is rich in musical variety and powerful vocals. You hear psychedelic soul, pop, hip-hop and blues; but more compelling is Rihanna’s ability to transcend different genres while presenting a connected album.
The up-tempo single “Work” is balanced by the soulful “Love on the Brain.” “Needed Me” plays a different role as a breakup ballad as she sings “Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?” Well for those of us that were unsure, message received RiRi.