Remember when I had exclusions to my Top 50 Albums? Me too, I remember too. Because of that I've decided to make a complementary post to mention a few releases deserving of our love and affection. Or to make a music analogy, that first post was an album and this post is the B-sides. I'm clever, yes?
This post will be a two parter (does my dedication know no bounds??). The first will be five 2016 releases that didn't pass the restrictions test (I do NOT grade on a curve) aka film scores, musicals, b-sides, etc. The second will be my five favorite artists who debuted this year. Basically this is an excuse to extend my list, because who doesn't love love love inclusion. We good? Cool cool. Hold on to your butts!
Five Albums I Excluded from my Top 50 Albums Because of "Restrictions" But Definitely Should Be Recognized
(how's that for a title/ the records are in no particular order)
The most beautiful album of 2016. It's an open and shut case. Honestly. I won't be discussing the matter any further. Arnalds builds are where he soars, taking simplistic melodies to new heights, creating a wall of sound that sounds every part of you.
While this isn't the first time he's impressed me, it is far and away my favorite release of his. The reason this was omitted from the initial list is that it compliments a short film, albeit HIS short film, but a film nonetheless. It takes place in seven different Icelandic cities (his home country) over the course of seven different weeks. Each city receiving a song to compliment it's story, built with local musicians at each stop.
It's a wonderful exploration and the images and stories paired with the music only elevate the beauty further. This is a masterwork.
Notable Tracks: ...the whole thing...
This record has been a constant for me since it's April release, largely as my main falling asleep companion. I’m obsessed. The reason I questioned it’s placement on the main list is that it’s a re-imagining. Midnight Machines is a stripped down collection of tracks from her 2014 record Little Machines. It’s something she did with her 2011 LP Siberia as well (Siberia Acoustic).
The songs feature different arrangements than their original counterparts, so it’s not just simplified versions of old songs. She also includes two new songs, so there’s actually something genuinely original as well. This record is pure comfort. I love it, and I think you will too.
To read my full review of the album CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Same Sea" // "Don't Go Home Without Me"
Leslie Odom, Jr.
Leslie Odom Jr.
This was a re-release. The first version, funded by a kickstarter campaign, came out in 2014. The initial release, though appreciated, failed to gain any commercial steam. Then Odom was thrust into the spotlight by a little show called Hamilton, which gave him the means and the inspiration to get back in the studio.
Though he kept six tracks from the original release, they were updated and restructured. And as for the four new tracks? Gems. To be honest, it was until the release of this record that I realized Odom's talent level. His smooth but strong vocals, held together with absolute control. It's an album of covers, but he molds them into his own creations with new arrangements both instrumentally and vocally.
This album is worth your time, I promise.
Notable Tracks: "Look For The Silver Lining" // "I Know That You Know"
While this technically could have been admitted into the main program, at it's core it is a b-sides record (of sorts) and I didn't feel like it was trying to be anything more than that.
untitled unmastered. however, is far from a b-sides album in terms of quality. In fact, I'd say this solidifies his reign atop the lyrical leaderboard. The songs here were built to complement his past works, making the improbability of flowing together near impossible; and yet, they do. Does this man's talent know no bounds?
He continues to challenge the structure of hip hop, both in production, storytelling, lyricism, and flow. I wrote a full review upon the album's release, so if you want to just get to the music I'll stop talking, and if you'd like to read a little more CLICK HERE. Not a bad way to follow up the best album of 2015, eh?
Notable Tracks: "untitled 02 I 06.23.2014" // "untitled 07 I 2014 - 2016"
Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
An absolute dream. Written by the ever increasing talent Sara Bareilles, the musical is based on the Keri Russell/ Nathan Fillion (love them both) film of the same name. This was one of my five most listened to albums this year. Much like Bareilles own albums, there is quite a bit of weight tucked into the pop tunes she crafts, creating an emotional journey that may be somewhat surprising to the unsuspecting listener.
The cast is headed by Jessie Mueller. To call her a star would be putting it lightly, as she is the glue that holds everything together (not mention sings my favorite song of the YEAR according to Spotify, "What Baking Can Do"). Her counterpart, Drew Gehling, complements her well, his voice smooth and sweet, much like his character; but my favorite part about the show has to be featured actress Kimiko Glenn, who's "When He Sees Me" is...everything. And her opposite Christopher Fitzgerald's "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me" and "I Love You Like A Table" are two of the best moments in the show. Those two steal it.
The show juggles complex emotions with a simple and sweet attitude, so when things do get heavy, you really feel it, but they never let you stay down for long. Due to unfortunate timing they missed out at this years Tony Awards (unfortunately timing aka go up against Hamilton), but since tickets are a billion dollars and it's selling out every night, I'd say they're doing just fine without a few trophies.
Notable Tracks: "What Baking Can Do" // "When He Sees Me"
Five 2016 Debuts: Artists To Watch
(once again in no particular order)
Miloux - EP 1
One minute into the first song and you know you've found something special. Atmospheric and consuming, her jazzy vocals blend into the synth heavy backdrop seamlessly. I remember when I first heard "Pockets," the lead single, and I couldn't contain my excitement/ joy. I just sat their smiling.
The rest of the EP follows suit, as she crafts catchy and unorthodox melodies over heavy drums, or over dreamlike soundscapres i.e. "Beaches." Miloux is the real deal, and I can't wait to hear what comes next. Hop on the wagon now, she's only going to get better.
This EP is SO. DAMN. GOOD. Press play already.
Notable Tracks: "Pocket" // "Beaches"
Perlo - Patterns
Perlo was put a slight advantage as 1/2 the duo is one of my favorite artists. The artist I'm talking about is Mree, whose brand of music is...my entire world? Yeah, I guess that's how I would put it. As a result, anything she touches turns to gold. He's she's joined by fellow folkster Henri Bardot, whose 2016 release Blue Night was solid as well.
The two complement one another quite well, especially in the quiet moments, as their softness combines into a level of comfort that was rarely touched this year. Another highlight is the harmonies, which felt equal parts natural and angelic, two words that could also be used to describe their respective voices. Beautiful, and much too short.
Do yourself a favor and CLICK HERE to get taken to Mree's Spotify page and be lifted on high.
Notable Tracks: Don't act like you don't have time to listen to the whole thing. It's 12 minutes.
berhana - berhana
berhana's self titled EP was a genuine sonic journey. With quite a few ideas floating around, the ambient hip hop/ R&B approach reminded me of one of the years best records, Cool Company's Slice of Paradise, which is to say, he's got potential.
In my review of the EP i touted the fluid nature of the record, which works partly because I think ambient based music generally flows well, but also due to berhana's attention to the tone and tempo throughout. It's a rarity when it comes to EP's and shows real artistry when those details are brushed to the side.
Janet is the main draw here, and no matter how many times I've listened it remains the main draw, which is saying something considering none of these songs warrant a skip. Hopefully 2017 holds more for us to love, until then...
Notable Tracks: "Janet" // "Grey Luh"
Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor
I had been listening for a few months when I finally decided to make note of it on the website a few weeks ago. It sounds like it's born of a different era and was one of the most refreshing listens of the year. While it was incredibly varied, it offered a different mood than everything I listened to throughout the year.
It’s very much a product of the late 60s/ early 70s, high on seduction and dream like melodies. The warmth in her voice is something to note, it’s the voice you want singing you to sleep at night, or at least me…you don’t? You sure? Listen more, you’ll get there.
I was actually fully ready to put this on my Top 50, only to realize it JUST missed the 30 minute minimum the album needed (it was 29 minutes, I WILL NOT COMPROMISE). I'd like to see her expand her scope a bit and explore other sounds of the era she inhabits. Only time will tell!
Notable Tracks: "Honeycomb" // "Gramma Honey"
KAMAU - A Gorgeous Fortune EP
I can't say enough good things, nor can my excitement ascend any higher. To put it as eloquently as possible, KAMAU's EP knocked me on my ass. It was lively, it was unique, it was genuine, it was everything. There wasn't another like it all year, plain and simple.
The opening track "Jambo" is all you need to hear. If you need more to be hooked then I can't help you, although the next song, "Jusfayu" is the best. Relying heavily on layered vocals, whether it be for harmonies or supplying the beats, it gives the feel of a army, despite being just one man. Tackling both humor and seriousness ("BooDha" // "Pohlease") with ease and poise, it seems that nothing is out of reach for the versatile artist.
What does an artist with infinite potential follow this up with? I guess we're going to find out.
Notable Tracks: "Jusfayu" // "Gaims"
And that's that. I hope you all enjoy listening, there's a lot to love, so get to it.