No one really knows how many albums are released each year. With free mixtapes sites, Spotify, and Bandcamp opening up their loving arms to any album made by anyone, the best estimates are that there are around 75K albums made each year. If you wanted to keep up and listen to them all, you’d need to listen to 1442 albums a week. If you figure the average album is about 35 minutes, you literally don’t have enough hours in the week to listen to everything released each year. Some things are going to fall through the cracks.
That’s where we come in: Here’s our list of the 15 most overlooked albums of 2016 that we think deserved more attention than they got. But that’s not all: We believe that these albums are not only worth listening to, we think they’re worth owning as well, so you can purchase each and every one of these albums in the VMP Store, right now.
Without further ado, here’s our list of most overlooked albums from 2016.
There are certain artists and albums that garner incredible praise from fellow music industry insiders, but for whatever reason have a tough time making the leap into mainstream music consciousness. Chris Cohen’s past two albums come to mind, as does the debut album from Australian musician Alex Cameron. Formerly of electronic group Seekae, Cameron’s dark vocal pop captures modern internet/social malaise through the character of a seedy lounge singer. A Nilsson-esque storyteller, Cameron’s baritone voice punches through simple synth layers in an almost conversational way that demands you listen closely to the lyrics, and you’re rewarded richly for doing so. — Cameron Schaefer
Chairlift accomplished a tricky feat with Moth: the first listen sounds like you’ve known it forever, but the hundredth listen doesn’t sound stale. They tackle familiar feelings—attraction, transformation, crying in public—with familiar sounds, in an uniquely pop fashion. Moth’s unique sound is causally structured through easy horns and intoxicating bass lines over their classic synth brilliance. Combine this with singer Caroline Polachek’s effortless vocals smashing out catchy and unpredictable hooks, and you’ve got an album exudes fresh air. —Amileah Sutliff
Despite all odds, Lil B made his major label debut this year, and it was not a major story. The Based God is all over the first half of Clams Casino’s 32 Levels, the half that is all rap. What also failed to become a major story was that Clams used the back half of 32 to stake his claim as an alt&B producer, as he delivers stunning tracks with Kelela and Mikky Ekko features. This thing goes up and down—like every Clams Casino beat tape, and every Clams Casino beat, to be honest—but it’s inconsistency is charming. There were few rap or R&B albums as warm as this one this year.— Andrew Winistorfer
Brandy Clark is one of country’s most quietly devastating writers, and her incredible album Big Day in a Small Town is full of the small, emotionally wrecking moments that fill out the edges of her songs. “Homecoming Queen” deserves to be taught in every songwriting class, while “Broke” is able to make poverty rocking, tragic, and laugh-out-loud funny. Clark is marginalized not just because she’s a woman in a country music landscape dominated by men, but also because she makes anti-commercial country—which actually sounds like ‘70s country— with such gusto. She deserves to be rewarded for that.— AW
Exploded View came to be after UK-born, Berlin-based Annika Henderson played a slew of solo shows in Mexico with a backing band composed of local producers & artists. Their sound ultimately gelled in such a powerful way that it demanded its own creative channel. Henderson, who produced a solo album & EP under the name Anika after having spent some time teaming up with Geoff Barrow to provide vocals for his post-Portishead project, Beak, seems to have found the perfect dark, pulsing home for her Nico-esque voice. It’s a dark-alley-in-a-foreign-country journey that ultimately rewards listeners with the sleeper album of the year. — CS
It’s not often that album makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a different era, but Kacy & Clayton’s Strange Country achieves this effortlessly. As soon as the record begins to hum you’re in outlaw country: dry, red, and heading southwest. This feeling is perfectly encapsulated in songs like its title track as well as the adventurous “The Rio Grande” and “Over the River Charlie.” Hailing from rural Canada, Kacy & Clayton have created a hybrid of British and Appalachian folk. Throughout the record, Kacy’s voice swells with influence and is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s playful high register. This album deviates from many current alternative country records with its deeply complex guitar arrangements. “If You Ask How I’m Keeping” serves as a small departure from the time period and is beautiful in its subtlety. We feel the heartache that comes with a profound and melancholic realization when she sings: “everything I’m doing has already been done.” This record gives an escape from the harshness of the real world and brings you back to a time that’s almost imaginable.— Alex Berenson
Raymond Charles Jack LaMontagne has now released six studio albums, which is the point in an artist’s career where the great ones hit their stride (the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Kanye), but most retreat back into comfortable territory, content to squeeze every last drop of their career while “playing the hits.” After a lukewarm reception around his previous album, Supernova, Ray could have gone back to the basics and put the pacifier back in the mouth of his core audience. Instead, he entered the studio with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James at the production helm and put together the most “out there,” adventurous album of his career. Using the time constraints of the LP format as his only artistic buffer, Ouroboros makes little sense reduced to a single song or moment, happily existing to Ray (likely to the angst of his label) as a rich, meandering whole. “Never going to hear this song on the radio,” LaMontagne sings near the end of the of the album. You sense he’s smiling as he sings this, knowing he has entered a higher level of artistic development, fully himself and very much delivering his best material yet. — CS
Jessy Lanza is a mastermind at creating fantasy-level romantic soundscapes. Oh No is coated in a thick, multi-color mist not visible to the human eye; the mist doesn’t aim to obscure, just to filter, to adorn. Every track on could stand as a portal to another planet, but they all manage to exist in the same solar system. Lanza took calculated electronic risks, balanced out by pop influence and subtly breathless vocals, and the result is genuine textured beauty. Universal euphoria will exist when we can all crawl into Lanza’s world and fall in love. —AS
Debut albums often connote a lack of experience, but in Omni’s case, a band consisting of former members of Deerhunter and Carnivores, the newness is simply in the combination of talent. With one of the strongest opening tracks of 2016 (“Afterlife”), Deluxe is an intensely satisfying blend of driving, lo-fi garage rock and non-standard melodies/progressions that show the band’s true capabilities. For as catchy and complete as this album is, it’s criminal it hasn’t received more attention. Fans of Television, Wire and the type of hooky, nuanced rock that ages incredibly well would do right to hastily add this their collection. — CS
There’s a guilt we harbor and add to as we grow up and build our own stand-alone lives, a guilt that comes from having a life separate from our family and from replacing our old, important friends with new, convenient ones, from replacing that old, comfortable life we had with a new, unstable, much more isolated one all in the name of “adulthood.” We don’t talk about this guilt all that much, if ever, really, but it’s always there, waiting to be recognized and dealt with, and that’s just what Evan Stephens Hall and Pinegrove are working through on Cardinal. For eight songs that sound like a modernized, Americana-informed mixture of American Football, Something to Write Home About-era Get Up Kids and Stay What You Are-era Saves the Day, we hear the stress, loneliness and reconciling adulthood with what we thought adulthood would be dealt with more honestly and directly than normal, each song containing a line or two that plainly summarize a myriad of feelings in just a few words. Life is full of ups and downs, fuck-ups and reconciliations, and at the end of the day Pinegrove wants us to know it’s all (probably) going to be okay. I’m inclined to believe they’re right.—Adam Sharp, when Cardinal came out.
Andy Shauf’s The Party is one of the most criminally underrated albums of 2016. Truly beautiful in its production alone, The Party focuses on orchestral arrangements that vary between grandiose and understated, while its upfront vocal crispness gives Shauf a quiet confidence. The Party serves as the ultimate outsider’s guidebook. It focuses on an array of situations you never want to find yourself in: being the first person to arrive to a party while visibly annoying the host, counting on someone to stick with you throughout the night and having them ditch, and pining over painfully unrequited love. His second single, “Quite Like You” focuses on overstepping the boundaries between friends and lovers, and asks the listener to choose between allegiances with friends or with potential romantic conquests. The final track, “Martha Sways,” is a simple tune accompanied by hushed vocals, heart wrenching orchestral lines and lightly plucked guitar. It asks the listener to confront the ghosts of his or her own past within the prism of new love. Ultimately, if you ever want to get misty about the past, feel your feelings, and have a good cry: this is the record for you. — AB
Inspired by tribute albums and comps like White Mansions andOutlaws!, Southern Family is a concept album about the small stories of southern families, from guys hanging out at mom’s dinner table to pass the news, to watching grandpa die, to reflections on religion. It’s a stunning album helmed by Dave Cobb, who is the producer du jour in Nashville right now; he’s helmed records from every 21st century outlaw, from Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell to Sturgill Simpson and Shooter Jennings. He busts out the rolodex for Southern Family; he’s got Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Isbell, Jennings, and reclusive outlaw bellwether Jamey Johnson on this thing, and that’s not even half the album. The music Cobb produces gets pegged as country for people who hate country, but this comp is him showing he can straddle both insider Nashville, and outsider Nashville, at the same damn time.— AW
Esperanza Spalding made the rarest breakthrough a jazz bassist could possibly make in the 21st century: She had Beliebers ready to tear her limb from limb when she beat Bieber as Best New Artist at the Grammys back in 2011. She has refused to be pigeonholed as the woman with the afro who plays jazz bass since, completing an impressive transition to a funk bassist capable of menacingly covering the Willy Wonka soundtrack with Emily’s D+Evolution. This album is Spalding’s best, and is one of the most unexpected heaters of 2016.—AW
It’s not hard to understand why the latest album from Montreal rockers Suuns didn’t seem to catch quickly upon release; it’s not an easy album. This is a four listen album in a one listen world. It takes a tremendous amount of trust in a band, from the fans, from the label, from the producer (John Congleton) to allow them to push so far ahead musically into a place almost completely untethered from the present, but ultimately it was the right move. A band consumed by the future, they experiment tremendously with space on this album, as in periods of silence between notes that serve as their own instrument. Gradually as one listens, the realization sinks in that your mind and ears weren’t ready for this type of album yet. — CS
We frequently overlook volumes of impactful music because they seem to blend into to the background of our lives while more talked-about albums come to the forefront. In the same way, we often fail to dissect the smaller moments that make up the majority of our lives. Felix Walworth of Told Slant sits comfortably in spaces between, makes a home among the overlooked. A trip to the deli, a new sweater, the shade of someone’s nail polish, not knowing what to say—Going By envelops all the moments and things that comprise the scenery of our lives and extracts emotionally-tangible meaning in a sound that’s as fluidly powerful as crushing lyrics it houses. — AS