Notable albums, hits and amazing artists of 2016

Angel Olsen- My Woman

After 2012’s “Half Way Home” and 2014’s “Burn Your Fire for No Witness,” Angel Olsen has settled upon a level of intensity that seemed to be building up over her entire indie-folk career. “My Woman” is the record where the spare, empathetic sounds of her previous projects congeal with her constant stream of epiphanies to result in a daring and dreamy sound. With a voice that lies somewhere on a spectrum between Courtney Barnett and Hope Sandoval, Olsen carries a conviction with her music that places her among so many female pop and rock greats — a self-reliant attitude marked by introspection. Olsen questions the notional theory of love on “Pops,” asking “What is it a heart’s made of?” as if she’s not as confident in herself as her voice might suggest.

Tracks like “Heart Shaped Face,” “Sister” and the aforementioned “Pops” see her vibrato navigating the puzzles of love and womanhood through her own self-realization: “I want to follow my heart down that wild road — All my life I thought I’d change”, she sings on “Sister.” Self-determination shines through across the entire record, and Olsen makes it clear on the impassioned “Shut Up Kiss Me,” where “stop pretending I’m not there, when it’s clear I’m not going anywhere” sounds less like a threat and more like an assertion of independence.

Kanye West- The Life of Pablo

Six years ago, Kanye West sealed his own fate with the release of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” His 2010 release solidified his place in hip-hop and pop culture as an imperfect genius. In 2016, after spending years as one of the most public figures of the 21st century, the toll of fame bleeds into his music more than ever. “The Life of Pablo” offered treats beyond the release — Kanye tweaked and added to many of the songs in the following weeks. His musical process is just another factor that weighs on him, and he addresses these pressures throughout “Pablo.” Even though the musical themes are typical Kanye, the variety is as well, and it results in a sonically chaotic project. “Real Friends” displays the egotistic Kanye   in an all too familiar place of vulnerability, but the standout song is “Ultralight Beam”. With a feature from Chance the Rapper, the gospel ballad is a place of hope from everyone’s favorite paragon of exuberance — the ever-troubled Kanye West.

Young Thug- Jeffery

In a year where every other chart-topping rapper polarized the hip-hop community in unprecedented ways, Jeffery Lamar Williams found himself consistently at the center of attention. A stream of mixtapes kept Young Thug at the front of everyone’s trap playlists, with “I’m Up” and “Slime Season 3” boasting some of the most infectious hooks and melodies (see “With Them” and “Hercules”).

But his best project came later in the year. “Jeffery” proved wrong all the talk of Thug being sub-linguistic and showboaty (the latter is more arguable than the former) from the start the opener “Wyclef Jean” sets the bar high, with a hook that you can’t miss singing along to — “Boolin’, rockin’ all the Frank Muller” — and a poppy rhythm. “Floyd Mayweather” and “Guwop” hold down some of the best features on the album and continue the undeniable swagger that has come to be expected of Thug. But what sets “Jeffery” apart from his other recent projects is the way Thug balances himself on the median, in between gangster and playful, loving and cold, even between genders. “I feel like there’s no such thing as gender,” he remarked in a Calvin Klein campaign video. Young Thug is everywhere at once, and people notice.

Other notable albums:

– Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade

– Vince Staples – Prima Donna

– Frank Ocean – Blonde

– Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

– Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

– Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

– Wilco – Shmilco

– Mitski – Puberty 2

– Pinegrove – Cardinal

– A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

-Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool