Highlights: The Louvre, Homemade Dynamite
2. bloom — Machine Gun Kelly
Perhaps the best thing MGK has released since his cult-favorite debut Lace Up, bloom is a complex exploration of a street kid’s experience breaking into fame and money. Like the rest of his best work, the album is largely autobiographical, and the purity of his ambition—an ambition that led him to learn how to play guitar just so he could do so on this album—shines through on tracks like “The Gunner” and “Rehab.” bloom is hardly devoid of hits—“Bad Things,” featuring vocals from Camila Cabello (ex-Fifth Harmony) went double platinum—but each and every song stays true to the rapper’s roots. The sound is highly refined and much cleaner than anything we’ve ever seen from him, but the lyrics retain the raw emotion that got MGK his first record deal back in 2012.
Highlights: The Gunner, Let You Go
3. Flower Boy — Tyler, the Creator
A huge stride in Tyler, the Creator’s growth as an artist and an individual, Flower Boy presents us with a more vulnerable, sensitive Tyler in a way we haven’t seen much of before. Throughout the album he confronts love, loneliness, and his sexuality. His emotions show themselves all over the album and are felt in soft, pleasant songs, such as “See You Again,” “Foreword,” and “Where This Flower Blooms.” Tyler’s use of various R&B voices, such as Rex Orange County and Frank Ocean, perfectly accentuates his refreshingly sentimental lyrics. He does this while maintaining his signature Odd Future weirdness through lyrics that often seem absurd, hilarious, and downright entertaining to hear.
Highlights: Where This Flower Blooms, 911/Mr. Lonely
4. RELAXER — alt–J
The first word that should come to mind when thinking of alt–J is weird. Just plain weird. And that’s exactly what’s been keeping alt–J’s third album on repeat. There’s the fast and freaky Deadcrush, the soundtrack to your life in slow motion 3WW, the borderline–battle–cry Adeline, the peaceful and pretty Last Year, and the bold–but–brilliant cover House of the Rising Sun. And, of course, the lyrics that’ll simultaneously click with you and make you cringe, as per usual alt–J antics (read: “I don’t subscribe to your cultural norms”, “well, that smell of sex, good like burning wood”, and then some). What alt–J does best is keeping us guessing what note comes next and how could they possibly have conjured up this madness of an album. Psst: the album’s also up for the Mercury Prize. If that’s not a seal of approval, we don’t know what is.
Highlights: 3WW, Deadcrush, Last Year
5. Something To Tell You — HAIM
HAIM resurfaced this summer, and we are very, very grateful they did. The way–too–highly–anticipated sophomore effort from arguably the coolest family in the music industry exceeded expectations in soundtracking what you might recognize as your current relationship status—the thrill, the love, the loss, the heartbreak, the confidence—through what they’re calling ‘spacious pop–rock’ (read: electric guitar, breathy vocals, punchy beats).
Highlights: Little of Your Love, Right Now, Walking Away
6. Pleasure — Feist
Technically this album was released in April, but it wasn’t until this summer that I grew to love Feist’s first new album in siz years, Pleasure. When I went to see Feist perform at the Town Hall in New York this past June, I was hoping to hear mostly her old classics, maybe sing a long a bit and head home. Instead my heart sank when she announced that she would playing through the entirety of Pleasure, which had been released a couple months before and I had only given a half-hearted listen. Yet, albeit reluctantly, over the course of that night I completely fell in love with the album and all its ebbs and flows. Pleasure doesn’t feel as effortlessly joyful as her past work with instant hits like “1, 2, 3 ,4” or “My Moon My Man.” It’s a soft-spoken record. But within that quiet Feist has created an album where every song burns and blossoms in its own way through each turn of phrase or unexpected melodic switch. It’s shimmeringly romantic and introspective without feeling saccharine or trite. Pleasure is the kind of album that even when listening through it track-by-track in a packed Manhattan auditorium, you feel like each song was written only for your ears.
Highlights: Any Party, Baby Be Simple
7. Untitled — Mura Masa
Electronic music was meant to sound like this. Stellar single after even–more–stellar single since 2014, we’ve finally been graced with Mura Masa’s debut album, Untitled. It’s track after track of beats and vibrations you never knew could sound so right, not to mention an impressive featured lineup—think Christine & the Queens, A$AP Rocky, Bonzai, Desiigner, Charli XCX...should we keep going? Every song has its own flair and funk that soundtracked the summer better than any generic Top 40 song could. Considering that we’re not bored yet, we’ll be holding on to this one for far longer than most.
Highlights: Love$ick, Firefly, What If I Go
8. LANY — LANY
LANY’s self-titled debut is everything we could want from a summery alt–pop album. Its light synth and new-wave electronica sound fuse with dreamy pop for an album that exudes urgent romance—making for the perfect soundtrack to that summer fling. Self-produced by the band, the album flows seamlessly from track to track—lyrically following a beautifully-written love theme that even the song titles thoughtfully follow (“The Breakup,” “ILYSB,” “It Was Love,” etc.). LANY’s debut is definitely one that transcends the summer and should follow you (and your future romances) well into the rest of the year.
Highlights: Hericane, ILYSB
9. DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
With his fourth studio release Kendrick proves why he is one of the best—if not the best—rappers and artists in the game. In 55 minutes, Lamar tells you his life’s story and destiny, spinning lyrical webs of past, present and future. In a departure from the uplifting air of his last project To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN. goes back to the roots of rap in a showcase of killer lines and electrifying beats. The album is as diverse as it is complex, filled with both radio bangers (“HUMBLE.,” “LOYALTY.”) and furious rhymes reminiscent of the mid–90’s (“DNA.,” “LUST.,” etc.). Appearances from industry icons —U2 and Rihanna are featured on tracks “XXX.” and “LOYALTY.” respectively—give the album commercial appeal while sticking to the Kung Fu Kenny vision, while up–and–comer Zacari (who, like Lamar, SZA and Schoolboy Q, is signed to Top Dawg Entertainment) lends a sweet refrain and hook to “LOVE.” But it is Lamar’s ability to turn inward and turn his own personal struggles and experiences into words in such an accessible yet elevated way that makes this album an instant classic. With it’s uniquely brilliant combination of critical acclaim and personal expression, DAMN. raised the bar not only for Kendrick but for what a rap artist and a rap album should be.
Highlights: DUCKWORTH., ELEMENT.
10. Last Young Renegade — All Time Low
All Time Low has always been a solid pop-punk band. Their albums, while showing a steady growth and progression, always retained a core sound and identity. The biggest leap and shift in their style comes in the form of their latest album, Last Young Renegade. This synth-heavy, 80’s influenced record may seem at times worlds away from previous pop-punk and rock staples Don’t Panic or Nothing Personal, but still manages to sound like the same band, but better. Frontman Alex Gaskarth’s vocal ability shines through, along with his complex lyrical skill. But the album is also a musical masterpiece. The band pushed the limits of sonic experimentation; not only did they dare to move as far away from their established sound than ever before, but they also made some unconventional moves, including recording drums in a vocal booth and running vocal tracks through guitar pedals. They experimented heavily with production, effects and synths, and for a band who has minimally explored those options, managed to pull it off successfully. On top of that, they were able to tie all of it together into a cohesive storyline, resulting in the band’s first concept album, and one of their best to date.
Highlights: Ground Control (feat. Tegan and Sara), Life of the Party
11. Big Fish Theory — Vince Staples
In his newest album, Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples keeps one foot firmly in his Long Beach roots while simultaneously maintaining funkier, moodier, and more hectic sounds compared to his Californian counterparts. Perhaps no better example of this diversity lies in the pivot between his opening track, Crabs in a Bucket, in which Staples rhymes over a moody UK grime-ish beat, and his second track Big Fish, a bass-bumping summer anthem perfect for cruising with the top down. Staples has always been known for his intellectual lyrics and excellent delivery, and Big Fish Theory offers more of the same as an exploration of the delicate social ecosystem of modern rappers. The product of Staples’ analysis proves to be a polished album of equal parts electronica and rap, an album in which you can learn something about his view on the hip-hop lifestyle if you choose to listen closely- but if not, you can always just enjoy the music, too.
Highlights: Big Fish, 745, BagBak, Samo
12. The Nashville Sound — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Following his 2016 Grammy win for Something More Than Free, Americana cornerstone Jason Isbell geared up for the release of one of the summer’s most highly-anticipated albums—and boy, did he deliver. This beautifully written album follows a series of characters facing a wide range of familiar hardships, from breakups and job loss to white privilege and rocky race relations in Trump’s America (“White Man’s World”). The melodies are as dynamic as the storyline—Isbell and his 400 Unit make use of everything from heavy guitars on hard-hitting tracks (“Cumberland Gap,” “Hope the High Road”) to fiddles and acoustic guitars on the standout crooners (“If We Were Vampires,” “Chaos and Clothes”). Whether you like country, folk or simply music that helps you unwind, The Nashville Sound is definitely one to checkout.
Highlights: If We Were Vampires, Chaos and Clothes
13. After Laughter — Paramore
Paramore’s 2013 self-titled album saw them moving away from their established emo-pop-punk style and towards a more alternative rock sound, and After Laughter is in many ways an extension of this, resulting in a more pop-influenced, experimental alt-sound. While the sound is a lot brighter than their previous material, the lyrics are emotionally raw, self-aware and at times decidedly dark, tackling difficult subject matter ranging from mental health to the pressures of fame. This album shows Paramore at their most open, mature and confident. With its dance-along grooves and sing-along choruses, accompanied by introspective and brutally honest lyrics, After Laughter is an emotional rollercoaster, but in the best way.
Highlights: Idle Worship, Fake Happy
14. smile, and wave — SAINTE
The three music videos released in advance of this EP were explosions of neon color – and that’s the best way to visually represent smile, and wave’s bright, ecstatic and super-energetic sound. SAINTE is the solo project of Tay Jardine, frontwoman for the band We Are the In Crowd (currently on hiatus), in collaboration with WATIC bandmates Mike Ferri and Cameron Hurley. While We Are the In Crowd was known for their pop-influenced rock music, this EP is boldly pop, with a bit of a rock edge. Jardine was unafraid to push the songs into lighter and brighter places, resulting in fully realized music that is catchy and confident. Irresistible, addictive and super-sweet, smile, and wave is the perfect summer release.
Highlights: White Lies, With or Without Me
15. hopeless fountain kingdom — Halsey
With this summer’s follow-up to 2013’s impressive BADLANDS, Halsey has lost none of the boldness and badassery that characterized tracks like “New Americana” and “Control”—not to mention her persona in general—on her sophomore effort. hopeless fountain kingdom is heavy synth beats meets the dark sultry romance in Halsey’s raspy voice and passionate lyrics. She sets the scene right from the beginning with the “The Prologue”—a recitation of the prologue to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—using it to set up a modern love story vastly different from that of the famous Verona lovers yet somehow still similar. We get admirable post-breakup independence from a seemingly abusive relationship in “100 Letters” and a much bolder sense of “fuck the world” independence in “Don’t Play,” crooning apologies in “Sorry,” and pure anger in “Lie,” a round-and-round duet with Migos’ Quavo. This most recent album is sultry, dynamic, heavy and fun, but most importantly it’s empowering. And we would accept nothing else from Halsey.
Highlights: 100 Letters, Angel On Fire