Six months in, time to take a look back at this year's musical landscape
We're a few days into July, which means the first half of the year is officially over, and in terms of music, what a year its been!
Kanye, Rihanna and a slew of others redefined "surprise releases" with prolonged, long-time-coming albums, and we've also lost some of the greatest musical artists of all time since 2016 has kicked off.
Working from the scores provided by Metacritic - which collects all the reviews and determines an aggregate, overall score - here are the ten best reviewed albums of 2016 so far.
10. Kevin Morby - Singing Saw - 84%
Sample review - Pitchfork Media: "Singing Saw is his strongest album because it shows a process of refinement, and because Morby’s songwriting has become less referential and more grounded. The basic ingredients haven’t changed, but Morby is figuring out how to retain and amplify his strongest points—his weary and wise voice, his understanding of how the musical pieces fit together—and leave everything else behind. On his debut, Morby’s voice cracked in places, suggesting effort that transcended ability, but Singing Saw finds him cool and controlled at every turn, fully aware of his limitations but confident in what he can accomplish within them. His singing is simultaneously intimate and distant, part conversation and part stylized monologue. Single lines don’t really stand out, but Morby’s commitment to such elemental concerns has a cumulative effect, and the album’s lack of specificity becomes a strength."
9. Paul Simon - Stranger To Stranger - 85%
Sample review - Rolling Stone: "As on most of his recordings, Simon explores new musical territory alongside the familiar. Besides Clap! Clap!'s earthy grooves, he draws on the sounds of iconoclastic avant-garde composer Harry Partch. On the final track, "Insomniac's Lullaby," cloud-chamber bowls, chromelodeon, zoomoozophone and bowed marimba pullulate like cosmic carpenter ants beneath Simon's acoustic guitar and voice, as he sings of lying alone in bed with his fears. "We'll eventually all fall asleep," Simon concludes – true, of course, in both the immediate and existential sense. It's a grace-note glimpse of the infinite, from a man who seems in no rush to get there."
8. Anderson .Paak - Malibu - 85%
Sample review - Noisey: "Between his Afro-Korean roots and his Kendrick-topping Compton cameos, it's tempting to read too much into this long-breaking, genre-busting, musically adept rapper-singer-drummer. Right, he's made an album about enjoying success without overdoing the cars and chains. But the most cultural song here is the staying-alive crowd-pleaser "Celebrate," where the operative metaphor is "fixin' up the tree"—the endangered family tree he husbands belatedly throughout. Culturally, however, the trouble he puts up with from the woman he loves is a bigger deal. Assume she's one woman and assume he loves her as much as ever—the biographical .Paak is married with a son no longer a toddler. Assume too that he was cruising for all the trouble she could give him."
7. Kendrick Lemar - untitled unmastered. - 86%
Sample review - The A.V. Club: "Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered is a master class in managing expectations. True to its title, each of the eight songs on Lamar’s surprise album is christened simply with a track number and a date, presumably (though not necessarily) signifying when they were recorded. Coupled with the no-frills packaging and nonexistent promotional campaign, it’s as if Lamar has gone out of his way to make it clear these were just some leftover tracks on his laptop, and that in no way should they be mistaken for the proper follow-up to 2015’s critic-awing, Grammy-winning, Obama-adored magnum opus To Pimp A Butterfly, a tough act to follow if ever there was one. But although Untitled begs to be graded on a curve, it doesn’t need to be. Leftovers or not, this is magnificent music from a rare talent working at peak creativity"
6. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth - 86%
Sample review - Slant Magazine: "Simpson is apparently smart enough to realize that, when using these criteria, country music is beyond saving, at least by just one guy. So with his follow-up to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, he smartly doesn't even bother trying. A Sailor's Guide to Earth is an astoundingly well-realized, consistently surprising, and mostly brilliant genre-bending experiment that's as bound to piss off everyone hoping for Honky Tonk Heroes Part 2 as it is to delight those with a broader set of expectations."
5. Mitski - Puberty 2 - 87%
Sample review - Pitchfork: "This is the experience of listening to Mitski: When you look closely, everything is a little trickier than it had once seemed. Puberty 2plumbs second-wave emo in the storytelling, wistful dream-pop to blunt the pain, slow-simmering electronics, brusquely strummed folk-punk, bits of surf guitar, and plenty of ’60s pop hooks; none of them show up just once, though, so they all end up feeling incorporated into the album’s overall sound. Her editing eye is impeccable, which it needs to be when mixing this many patterns."
4. David Bowie - Blackstar - 87%
Sample review - The Guardian: "The most compelling interpretation – bolstered by a remark made by Donny McCaslin, the New York jazz musician whose electro-acoustic trio forms the core of the backing band on Blackstar – is that the album’s opening title track is Bowie’s response to the rise of Isis. It seemed plausible: Bowie has always been fascinated both by messianic dictators – not least the relationship of their power to that of celebrity – and by the idea that the world is facing a future so terrifying that the thought of it, as he once put it, makes your brain hurt a lot. The theory was subsequently denied by Bowie’s spokesperson, which seems a shame: there’s a pleasing circularity to the idea of a muse that burst into life amid what the writer Francis Wheen called the “collective nervous breakdown” of the 1970s, apparently sparking up again amid the collective nervous breakdown of the present day."
3. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool - 88%
Sample review - NME: "Lead single "Burn The Witch" is a bit of a red herring, a classic slice of Radiohead scaremongering with cellists wielding their bows like pitchforks. Mostly, the glistening strings and spectral choirs serve to bring a luxuriant vagueness to these proceedings. More inviting than 2011’s The King Of Limbs but unlikely to trouble the compilers of 'Drivetime Hits 17', A Moon Shaped Pool is strange, shimmering and uncertain."
2. Chance The Rapper - Colouring Book - 90%
Sample review - Chicago Tribune: "Above all else musically, Coloring Book is a celebration of singing, harmonizing, human voices making a joyous noise together. It's no coincidence that most of these vocal melodies are derived from the way harmonies are stacked, drawing on traditions that were about collective, rather than individual, statements: street-corner doo-wop, gospel choirs, the wordless backing hooks of Gladys Knight's Pips or the Temptations or Boyz II Men or Jodeci. Kanye West, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have recently framed their superstar albums as collective works, incorporating a multitude of voices and styles. In many ways, Chance was early to the game with his mixtapes, a fast-rising artist lifting and empowering a local scene and then bringing it to an international platform. It goes hand in hand with the notion of freedom and what that word, that promise, means for African-Americans. In the context of Chicago's soaring body counts and the outrage over Laquan McDonald and countless other shooting victims, Chance's music suggests that the civil-rights era is far from over."
1. Beyonce - Lemonade - 92%
Sample review - Rolling Stone: "Whether Beyoncé likes it or not – and everything about Lemonade suggests she lives for it – she's the kind of artist whose voice people hear their own stories in, whatever our stories may be. She's always aspired to superhero status, even from her earliest days in a girl group that was tellingly named Destiny's Child. (Once upon a time, back in the Nineties, "No No No" was the only Destiny's Child song in existence – but make no mistake, we could already hear she was Beyoncé.) She lives up to every inch of that superhero status on Lemonade. Like the professional heartbreaker she sings about in "6 Inch," she murdered everybody and the world was her witness."