Lemonade - Beyoncé

LemonadeIn keeping pace with the infamous surprise release of her 2013 self-titled album, Beyoncé released Lemonade this year with little warning. Paired with a 60-minute film, Lemonade is a powerhouse of a pop album that brings together rage, revenge, discovery and self-assurance into 12 incredible songs. These themes are channeled into a strong and poignant statement on black femininity, serving as both an affirmation to the struggles of black women in America as well as a protest-piece to an America that is largely unconcerned with these struggles. 

Stylistically Lemonade is all over the board, featuring elements of hip-hop, soul, R&B, blues, rock and country-western. In the midst of this smorgasbord of sound, Beyoncé’s commanding voice remains the constant and connective thread that holds the whole thing together. Given the weight of its themes and its precise execution, Lemonade will surely go down as one of Beyoncé’s most provocative and compelling statements.
Jordan Petersen

Album Highlights: “HOLD UP” “DON’T HURT YOURSELF (feat. Jack White)” “FREEDOM (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”

Coloring Book - Chance The Rapper

ColoringBookChancellor Bennett has had a breakout year since landing a verse on Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo opener “Ultralight Beam.” Chance immediately reflects the karma on his third mixtape with “All We Got,” a steady building, bombastic anthem featuring vocoder groans from West. The album rides a wave of gospel passion into summer hit “No Problem” and beyond.

Throughout Coloring Book, Chance commonly alludes to complex Biblical stories such as Israel wrestling God as extended metaphors for his own faith, racial identity, and new fatherhood. The album manages to cozily couple a reprise of the popular worship song “How Great is Our God” with guest appearances from mainstream hip-hop greats like Lil Wayne, Future, and Young Thug among many others. Chance’s dizzying wisdom and conversations with God maintain a charm and optimism in a time when a black boy from Southside Chicago has plenty to be upset about. Chance says it best in his curtain call “Blessings”: “They never seen a rapper practice modesty.” It’s probably the only gosh-darned record featuring 2 Chainz that your youth pastor would endorse.
Cotter Koopman

Album Highlights: “No Problem” “All Night” “Blessings”

A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead

AMoonShapedPoolRadiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016 after thirty-one years of being together. They have proved themselves to be aging gracefully. The songs on A Moon Shaped Pool have been described as some of the band’s most melancholy, beautiful, and pensive. Radiohead recorded much of the album with the London Contemporary Orchestra, combining their electronic art-rock with gorgeous string arrangements written by guitarist Jonny Greenwood. AMSP is colored by lyricist and front man Thom Yorke’s recent split with his partner of twenty-three years, but doesn’t limit itself to autobiography. Radiohead is no stranger to being political, and their perspective on AMSP feels downright clairvoyant. Global information streams have never been more open, and it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore humanity’s ugliness: In the apocalyptic “Decks Dark,” Yorke sings, You run to the back and you cover your ears / it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard / We are helpless to resist / Into your darkest hour.” 

2016 saw bodies of those fleeing civil war washing up on the beaches of the wealthy and indifferent. Global CO2 levels exceeded 400ppm for the first time in human history. Politics of hate and fear won in the United Kingdom and United States; Brexit and Donald Trump are not going away. AMSP reflects on these cataclysms maturely and thoughtfully, but is never complacent or staid. Many of the songs contain some sort of commentary, though it can be ambiguous to whether Yorke is addressing the public sphere or a jilted lover. In standout track “Present Tense,” Yorke coos, In you I’m lost.” He may be suggesting unifying love or defeated alienation. A Moon Shaped Pool is textured, human, and worth poring over for months to come.
Matthew Schepers

Album Highlights: “Daydreaming” “Decks Dark” “Present Tense” “th glmng”

A Seat at the Table - Solange

ASeatattheTableSolange Knowles released her third album, A Seat at the Table, in late September, after much anticipation from her fans and peers. With 21 tracks, listening to A Seat at the Table may seem like a laborious task. However, it's surprising how quick the album is from start to finish. Each song flows seamlessly into each other with interspersed interludes featuring wisdom from her parents and famed New Orleans rapper Master P. Laced with funky beats (thanks to Raphael Saadiq) and beautiful R&B harmonies, this album is a jig from beginning to end.

Of course, she faces the inevitable comparisons to her sister, but Solange has always been in her own lane. A Seat at the Table is no different. The stories told are unique to Solange, but still give Black people, and Black women in particular, a special kind of solace and cultural reverence in the face of racism and sexism. The song "Cranes in the Sky" speaks to the depression many of us deal with and the ways we've tried to "fix" it without seeking help. We try to "drink it away," "work it away," or we "run around in circles trying to keep ourselves busy."

Solange wrote, composed, and arranged this entire project over several years, but it is still timely. Although the past few years have seen several projects from Black artists in the pro-Black vein, I still think A Seat at the Table is important. It shows that we have the right to feel every emotion associated with years of abuse and that we can still be great. A Seat at the Table takes a more therapeutic approach to pro-Black music than albums like D'Angelo's Black Messiah, but there is not just one way to be pro-Black. We can yell, or we can cry, and both approaches are valid and necessary.
Elyse Hill

Album Highlights: “Cranes in the Sky” “F.U.B.U.” “Don’t Touch My Hair”

Blond - Frank Ocean

BlondEmerging from his Tumblr cave and shrouded in myth, Frank Ocean released the long-delayed follow up to 2012’s Channel Orange. Blond is a more distant collection of songs than Channel Orange was, but that is not to say that it is less engaging or impressive. This time around, Frank opts for mood and atmosphere over balladry. Across 17 songs featuring dreamy guitars, synths and organs, Frank creates the contemplative sounds of his love-yearning mind. Most of these songs are not for the dramatics of heartbreak or new love, but rather for the more ambivalent and quiet spaces in between.
Jordan Petersen

Album Highlights: “Nikes” “Solo” “White Ferrari”

Puberty 2 - Mitski

Puberty2With her fourth album Puberty 2, Mitski cements her place at the forefront of the indie-rock scene. Her music, previously characterized by folk influences, now features louder and heavier guitars for a more immediate rock sound. 

Mitski’s Puberty 2, a spiritual sequel to her 2014 album Bury Me at Makeout Creek, is a deeply personal album that ponders the complexities of early adulthood through her instrumentation and intricate lyricism. She laments the fact that she cannot to be content in this stage of life and mourns her loss of innocence. In the song “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” Mitski wails on the guitar about her inability to “pay rent,” while all she wants to do is “see the whole world.” The sadness she experiences in adulthood is kept at bay by routines, and the album reflects Mitski’s search for identity as a Japanese American adult.
Jenna Van Donselaar

Album Highlights: “Happy” “American Girl” “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”

Blackstar - David Bowie

BlackstarOn his birthday in early January, just days before his death from cancer, David Bowie released his 27th and final studio album, Blackstar. This album once again confirmed Bowie’s genius as a song-crafter and storyteller, and also worked prophetically and (some may say) autobiographically, as it discusses the death of a hero. Through the years, Bowie—who has had immeasurable influence on popular music and American culture in general—turned sixty-nine this year but never lost his innovative fervor or precise ability to craft stories and moments in word and sound. The album, which, at times, frankly discusses death and the afterlife, is not just worth listening as the last album by a pillar of rock and roll, but is a powerful, confident, and fitting conclusion of Bowie’s legacy.
Mike Lentz

Album Highlights: “Blackstar” “Lazarus” “Dollar Days”

Teens of Denial - Car Seat Headrest

CarSeatHeadrestCar Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial is the culmination of Will Toledo’s almost dozen independent EPs and albums. The first LP under the Matador record label, Teens incorporates pop hooks and more production without losing the low-fi punk rock sound that was the foundation of Toledo’s early work. Tight guitar work, dynamic vocals, propulsive drumming and blasting brass keep the record energized throughout. His sound may have changed, but the brutally honest lyrics he is known for remain. Toledo lives in a world of depression and self-medication; he explores these situations bluntly.  Teens comes at a time when indie rock is waning and the “white boy” ennui is fully setting in. Instead of combatting this reality, Toledo capably searches for his place not only in the music sphere, but also this unforgiving world.
Derrick Kamp

Album Highlights: “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” “The Ballad of Costa Concordia”

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

TCQLike the cool dads of hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest returned with an acute awareness of their place in music today as they released their final album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. Rather than claim any sort of crown, the rap group set out to do what they have been known to do, and then did it even better.

Each song on the album focuses almost exclusively on the rhythm and the rhymes, taking a no-frills approach to production and restoring a once common rap group aesthetic. There’s a competitive nature to this format, as each spotlighted verse attempts to out-do the last and it is a pleasure to listen to these masterful MCs slingshot back and forth.  We got it from Here… feels so natural and communal that it’s as if A Tribe Called Quest threw a party and the listener somehow snuck in. And while they are having fun, A Tribe Called Quest is unafraid to get political, covering topics such as gentrification and bigotry while poking holes in the idea of a post-racial America. But who says throwing some of America’s crap back in its face can’t still be a party?

We got it from Here… is a back to basics hip-hop album that feels fresh in the varied state the genre is in right now. Those seeking an art-school experimentalism have Kanye West; those seeking quotables and pop appeal have Drake; those seeking whatever Young Thug is currently doing have whatever Young Thug is currently doing; and those seeking a straightforward and cutting hip-hop album got it this year from A Tribe Called Quest.
Jordan Petersen

Album Highlights: “The Space Program” “We The People” “Dis Generation” “Conrad Tokyo”

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth - Sturgill Simpson

ASailorsGuidetoEarthIt doesn’t seem like Sturgill Simpson got the memo about the pigeonhole that has been created for country music. Or he just doesn’t care. Using the genre (with healthy doses of soul and psychedelic rock) to write about whatever he feels like writing about, Simpson turns any expectation about what Country music is on its head. This is certainly not “bro-country” and you won’t find any ideological mantras regarding faith or flag.

Instead, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth serves as a letter of advice to Simpson’s son based on his own experience. With this frame, Simpson mines the depths of his personal philosophies, reflecting on both the externalities and internalities that have shaped him. These reflections are political, spiritual and existential, featuring criticisms on US military action, musings on God and an overlying awareness of mortality: All welcome challenges to the perception of contemporary Country music.
Jordan Petersen

Album Highlights: “Welcome To Earth (Pollywag)” “Keep It Between the Lines” “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)”

The Life of Pablo - Kanye West

TheLifeofPabloSince his vocal debut in 2004 with The College Dropout, till 2013’s Yeezus, Kanye West has been considered one of the most important and influential producer/artists in hip-hop. As his cultural persona threatens to implode, his music remains vibrant, interesting, and relevant, though it has begun to take on a paranoid and thin texture.

After several name changes, release date changes, and even track changes post-release, Kanye’s most recent album, The Life of Pablo, is the kind of sprawling, uneasy, yet confident record that somehow seems to be the most accurate musical representation of the person of Kanye West. This album has a taste of everything a Kanye fan could want, with parts that sound like they could fit into any one of his past albums, yet all work together in this album. The album is mostly about Kanye reconciling with his own celebrity, the ways he’s seen himself change, the ways he’s been frustrated by those around him changing, and his realization that, perhaps we are all vicious wolves. The Life of Pablo has moments of messiness, vulgarity, honesty, self-reflection, and perfection.
Mike Lentz

Album Highlights: “Ultralight Beam” “Real Friends” “Wolves”

22, A Million - Bon Iver

22amillionIt might be over soon.” Bon Iver’s third album, 22, A Million, opens with hope and optimism in first track “22 (OVER S∞∞N).” The following track “10 d E A T h b R E a s T,” the opening track’s dire and sonically punishing foil, quickly launches into gloom. The Tao image of the yin and yang immediately comes to mind, with “22 (OVER S;&infin∞N)” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T” representing light and dark, an essence of both good and evil, respectively.

22, A Million is centered around a crisis of faith that breaks artist Justin Vernon down to his core. One only has to look at the album art to feel it: rife with Christian, Buddhist, Taoist and occult imagery, the album art makes profane what many hold to be sacred: bodies hang crucified on telephone poles, and Bodhisattvas (individuals who defer enlightenment to help others on Earth in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition) are seen smoking weed. 22, A Million’s central thesis revolves around Vernon’s internal struggle. Whiplashing between despair in “715 - CR∑∑KS” and euphoria in the bombastic “33 _GOD_,” Vernon falls to temptation in “666 t” turns his life around while falsely hoping for enlightenment and inner peace in “8 (circle),” before realizing his own damnation in the saxophone laden “____45_____”: “I’ve been caught in fire… I stayed down.” In the album closer, “00000 Million,” Vernon finally gives in to defeat, a willful submission to pain and suffering: Well it harms, it harms me, it’ll harm. I let it in.”

Following Bon Iver’s beautiful 2011 record Bon Iver, the deeply personal 22, A Million takes a turn to the strange and the dark, begging the void for even a pinprick of light.
Matthew Schepers

Album Highlights: “33 _GOD_” “666 t” “00000 Million”

Freetown Sound - Blood Orange

FreetownSoundOne of the beauties of Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound is that it does not feel required to give answers. “Usually when topics like race or history or sexuality are discussed, there’s a question or an answer or something…. I’m really just thinking on this record… I’m just trying to go through these things,” Dev Hynes tells EW. While many artists try to decree verdicts on these complicated issues, Hynes is comfortable with simply letting voices be heard. Hyne’s vocals are featured on only half the tracks; the rest of the record features the voices of Zuri Marley, Empress Of and other women. Throughout the R&B-infused tracks, Hynes also weaves in audio samples. The opening track features poet Ashlee Haze declaring her femininity and much of the album features clips from the documentaries Black is…Black Ain’t and Paris is Burning. “My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way,” Hynes tells EW, “it’s a clapback.” Freetown Sound uses poppy synths and R&B-infused electronica as a podium for the voices of the oppressed to be heard.
Derrick Kamp

Album Highlights: “But You” “Desiree” “Best to You”  “Juicy 1-4”

Blood Bitch - Jenny Hval

BloodBitchNorwegian artist Jenny Hval’s latest album, Blood Bitch, explores a motif with a burgeoning history in pop-culture: menstruation. Her album is inspired by the goth/metal scene of Norway, horror (and vampire) films, and of course her own experience.

Hval’s work, full of atmospheric soundscapes mixed with complex yet gentle melodies, is strikingly present to the listener. She excellently incorporates sounds of Norwegian metal throughout the album, particularly in “Female Vampire,” but also more subtly throughout the album. The track “Lorna” slows things down and features Hval’s melodic voice, coupled with feelings of vulnerability. The album captures the emotions of the fear, vulnerability, and power of the female experience.

As a piece of art in the rich history surrounding musical menstrala, Hval does not shy away from talking about the fearful and abstruse nature of the female experience. In an artist’s statement, she called Blood Bitch “an investigation of... blood that is shed naturally... the purest and most powerful, yet most trivial, and most terrifying blood; menstruation. The white and red toilet roll chain which ties together the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers.”
Jenna Van Donselaar

Album Highlights: “Conceptual Romance” “Untamed Region” “the Great Undressing”

Stage Four - Touché Amoré

Stage4At its heart, hardcore music has always been about honesty and Stage Four, the most recent album by post-hardcore band Touché Amoré, is no exception.  Written after the passing of vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s mother, Stage Four tells the story of grief, heartache, and regret.

Touché sounds older in this album – lyrically wizened by emotion that only comes from loss while musically experimenting with clean vocals, managing these changes without losing the familiarity of Bolm’s scream backed with heavy riffs.

Stage Four’s lyrics are confessional and bold as Bolm seeks to understand his mother’s life better, craving answers to the questions he never asked (“Palm Dreams”), struggling with still-present grief despite passing time (“New Halloween”), and the constant regret of being absent when she finally passed (“Eight Seconds”).  However, while the record addresses difficult subject matter, it does not leave the listener in despair.  By concluding with the song “Skyscraper,” a cathartic and nostalgic ballad, Touché manages to exit the album with a glimpse of hope and closure, finding comfort in the memory of a city.
Kendra Larsen

Album Highlights: “New Halloween” “Rapture” “Displacement”

My Woman - Angel Olsen

MyWomanIn her third studio album, Angel Olsen delves deep into the complexities of young adulthood, as she contemplates the remnants of a dwindling romance. Relationships are a major theme throughout the album; Olsen transforms heartache into autonomy, knowing at the end of the day that she has "still got to wake up and be someone."

The music itself draws upon an eclectic array of genres and influences. From the dreamy synth-pop vibes of “Intern” to the melancholy piano of “Pops,” and everything in-between, Angel’s artistic genius proves to be just as multifaceted and complex as the thematic content of My Woman. Olsen refuses definition from relationships or genres or otherwise.
Emma Carpenter

Album Highlights: “Intern” “Never Be Mine” “Sister”

HOPELESNESS - ANOHNI

HOPELESNESS“Rage is a really fun place to dance from—expressions of anger sublimated into something beautiful are invigorating, especially if you feel like you’re telling the truth,” ANOHNI recently told Pitchfork in an interview.

ANOHNI, formerly known under the name Antony and the Johnsons, released her first album under the new name with HOPELESSNESS in May. The album, which includes collaborations from co-producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, is a collection of intensely political electronic dance anthems, each with a unique societal critique. “4 Degrees” mourns humanity’s lack of environmental stewardship; “Drone Bomb Me” condemns the use of military drones; “Crisis” apologizes to the prisoners of Guantanamo and opposes the use of torture. Each song is raw, questioning, and introspective, yet remains musically accessible, powerful, and invigorating. Thom Yorke once said in an interview with The Guardian that “In the 60s, you could write songs that were like calls to arms … it’s much harder to do that now.” ANOHNI has not just written one successful call to arms, she’s written eleven, and she’s compiled them together to make up the forty-one minutes that are, HOPELESSNESS.
Patrick Jonker

Album Highlights: “Drone Bomb Me” “4 Degrees” “Watch Me”

Ology - Gallant

OlogyChristopher Gallant’s debut album delicately balances respect for the passion of the past while experimenting with new styles in a time when the future of R&B is being pulled in many different directions. Ology maintains a cohesive tonal world while exploring all its sparkling corners, between dark and stirring anthems (“Weight in Gold”, “Bone + Tissue”) to more tender ballads that ride Gallant’s forever graceful and arresting falsetto (“Skipping Stones,” “Miyazaki”).

Gallant supports his sound with theatrics onstage: during his Spring 2016 show in Calvin’s CFAC, Gallant often sprinted across stage while ripping through cathartic vocal lines. Even at his most acrobatic, Gallant never sounds like he’s showing off. His articulate and candid dissections of his own insecurities keep him isolated, echoing off the insides of his own head. With his voice ever at the forefront, Gallant plays in new sonic territories, while always maintaining sincere roots in classic R&B, and proving he’s worth his weight in gold track after track.
Cotter Koopman

Album Highlights: “Bourbon” “Counting” “Episode”

Next Thing - Frankie Cosmos

NextThingGreta Kline, the artist behind Frankie Cosmos, is still mourning her childhood dog JoeJoe, who features in many of her music videos and album art. To fill the little dog-shaped hole in her heart she’s come to be on a first-name basis with Instagram personality Marnie the Dog, even being asked to DJ the decrepit Shih Tzu’s Bat Mitzvah. Frankie Cosmos is the most fun artist in my iTunes library, and Next Thing is my jam.

The songs on Next Thing are lo-fi indie pop, guitar-driven and filled with up-tempo drum parts and warm synthesizers. Most of the album was written when Kline was 16 and rerecorded and released as an album five years later. The funny thing is that nothing has really changed since then: in Kline’s world, we’re all just awkward kids who somehow found themselves in adult bodies. Sometimes you’ll have overwhelming regret regarding a lost opportunity for making out, sometimes getting together with friends on a Sunday night will be better than heaven, and sometimes you’ll just wish you had a dog.
Matthew Schepers

Album Highlights: “If I Had a Dog” “On The Lips” “Is It Possible/Sleep Song”

Heavn - Jamila Woods

HEAVNTwo days after Alton Sterling’s murder, Jamila Woods released her album, HEAVN, on July 7 of 2016. The album as a whole is about black girlhood and Woods’ experiences growing up in the city of Chicago. On “VERY BLK” Woods describes blackness as “magic" and a “spell," a celebration and curse of the culture and oppression associated with her skin. The chorus’ tune brilliantly plays off the traditional children’s rhyme “Miss Mary Mack,” a seemingly pleasant arrangement juxtaposed to words alluding to the violent deaths of black lives this summer. In so doing, Woods captures the “magic” act, as black lives must unwillingly participate in a specific violence and grief only they know. It is a stage set by an audience of Americans who do not understand the sorrows often placed upon blackness. Woods also celebrates the “secrets” of black culture as a woman at the end of the song describes her joy in playing the game “Popsicle” with other black women in the midst of confused white coworkers.

“LSD,” which features Chance the Rapper, alludes to the body of Lake Michigan in relation to Woods' own body. It dares her audience to question her identity of self and place when she says, “My city like my skin/ it’s so pretty/ if you don’t like it/ just leave it alone.” Like its title, the album searches a life beyond suffering. “Chicagoans create this sense of heaven in the midst of tragedy in the midst of injustice in the midst of pain, life goes on all the sudden, because what else can we do?” the end of the song says. HEAVN is an album that solidifies and hopes for a world of beauty despite the suffering of racial oppression.
Ale Crevier

Album Highlights: “BLK Girl Soldier” “VERY BLK” “In My Name”

No Burden - Lucy Dacus

NoBurden“I don’t wanna to be funny anymore,” Lucy Dacus sings in the opening track of No Burden. Despite these words, the blues/rock singer-songwriter can’t seem to help herself from delivering insightful lyrics wrought with a dry and witty sense of humor. “I thought you’d hit rock bottom/But I’m starting to think that it doesn’t exist/Cause you’ve been falling for so long/And you haven’t hit anything solid yet,” from the track “Strange Torpedo,” demonstrates the artist’s flair for pithy one-liners. Yet the lighthearted humor of No Burden is juxtaposed with its solemn deadpan execution and a mood somewhat reminiscent to that of Julien Baker in Sprained Ankle or Daughter in Not To Disappear. The narrative of No Burden describes a young woman navigating early adulthood, trying to find herself in the midst of her social surroundings. Full of insight and introspective ponderings, No Burden makes it clear that Dacus intends to be taken seriously, thankfully while retaining her sense of humor.
Emma Carpenter

Album Highlights: “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” “Strange Torpedo” “Map On A Wall”

Sirens - Nicolas Jaar

SirensOn his sophomore album Sirens, Nicolas Jaar works in contrasts. The album shifts between calm, atmospheric tracks and pounding, post-punk songs—each track flowing into the next and juxtaposing the last one’s sound. His sonic manipulation and musicianship alone are enough to carry the record, yet Jaar’s striking political lyrics add another layer of depth. Jaar, a Chilean, uses this album to reflect on the past Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and assess the current state of the American sociopolitical climate. His critiques are biting, yet he still expresses hope in this tumultuous political atmosphere. Sirens, full of rich and diverse sounds, is a political record from a new perspective.
Derrick Kamp

Album Highlights: “Killing Time” “The Governor” “No”

Malibu - Anderson .Paak

MalibuPrior to releasing music under his new name, Brandon Paak Anderson saw both his parents go to prison and was homeless for a time with his wife and son. Throughout this hour-long album, Anderson .Paak details familial and personal struggles with wisdom and honesty. Instrumentally, the album is reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, as it steps through decades of funkadelic, soul, gospel, and hip-hop, featuring recordings of conversations and always maintaining tight, booming drums. As a professional drummer, .Paak often provides these drums himself, rapping and singing from behind the kit. .Paak’s uniquely raspy voice is simultaneously sly and comforting, as he speaks with candor about his upbringing. The album’s extensive breakdowns leave ample breathing room to marinate in guest appearances and nostalgia. On the album’s curtain call “The Dreamer,” Paak sings “Who cares your daddy couldn’t be here / Mama always kept the cable on / I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch / Living room, watching old reruns.” The entire album presents .Paak as a living testament of glory and positivity from difficult conditions.
Cotter Koopman

Album Highlights: “The Season/Carry Me” “Am I Wrong” “Come Down” “The Dreamer”

Goodness - The Hotelier

GoodnessThe Hotelier’s third LP Goodness serves as an honest answer to the band’s seminal 2014 record Home, Like NoPlace Is There. While Home maturely estimated the emotional toll of a tumultuously painful young life riddled with the attempted suicides and deaths of friends, broken families, and an overarching narrative of loss, Goodness is, appropriately, an even more mature record. The focus shifts to an embrace of mystery, coupled with an earnest pursuit of wholeness. Jagged, racing guitars and screaming vocals are exchanged for an all-together less urgent record.

The Hotelier has continually avoided creative stagnation and genre-pigeonholing. The band has progressed from abrasive musings on juvenile angst (2011’s It Never Goes Out), to poignant vignettes of emotional turmoil (Home). With Goodness, The Hotelier is still holding onto the immediacy and energy of their punk roots, but now seeks light amidst perpetual frays with darkness.
Daniel Hickey

Album Highlights: “Goodness, Pt. 2” “Soft Animal” “End of Reel”

You Want It Darker - Leonard Cohen

YouWantitDarkerIn a strange turn of cosmic misfortune, echoing David Bowie’s final bow, Leonard Cohen died this past November, just days after releasing his fourteenth and final studio album. In many ways, Cohen’s legacy demands that he be given renown as the foremost pioneer of metered, melancholy, meditation-songs. His deep baritone voice, his deep yearning for love, and his never-ending wrestling match with God and spirituality were constant hallmarks of his music. This year’s album, in particular, You Want It Darker, is about many things, but primarily, the singer’s relationship and reconciliation with the fact of his impending death. As he feels his life coming to a close, he attempts to make deals (or, treaties) with those that he loves and even with God himself, though he knows he cannot escape death. As fans of Cohen know to expect, the album is plodding and poetic, a beautiful farewell to a life and legacy.
Mike Lentz

Album Highlights: “You Want It Darker” “Leaving The Table” “Steer Your Way”