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The 11 best albums you might have missed this year

2014 Governors Ball Music Festival - Day 2
Lucius.
Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

End-of-the-year lists can be overwhelming. Every December, like clockwork, you look around and realize just how many great albums, books, or films you’ve missed from the preceding year. (Don’t feel bad — there’s a lot out there to pay attention to; it’s okay to have skipped a few.)

If you’re still doing your best to catch up on all the excellent music 2016 delivered, we’re providing a cheat sheet in the form of a “you may also like” list. Below are 11 very popular 2016 albums and songs, paired with slightly lesser-known (but highly recommended) analogues from this year. Here’s your chance to discover something you may have otherwise missed.


If you liked Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, try…

Joey Purp, iiiDrops

Kanye West fatigue — when his public antics overshadow the good music he’s producing — reached new highs in 2016. Regardless, The Life of Pablo is a stellar album, combining the best elements of every Kanye album to date: gospel backing tracks, autotuned electronica, verses about Kanye himself. But if you need a break (or even if you don’t), look to Joey Purp’s mixtape iiiDrops.

The blasting horns of the album’s first track are a harbinger of what’s to come on iiiDrops, a richly layered rap record that’s reminiscent of Kanye and Chance the Rapper in both lyrics and form. Joey comes from Chicago’s emerging rap royalty scene, Chance’s Savemoney Crew, that includes Vic Mensa, Nico Segal (the artist formerly known as Donnie Trumpet), and more. Joey Purp’s song “Girls @” quietly blew up this summer, but iiiDrops deserves a listen in full.

If you liked Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, try…

Nicolas Jaar, Sirens

Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, with its extra-manipulated vocals and synthesized sounds, pushed the band to the edges of their electronic comfort zone. The further Justin Vernon gets from For Emma, Forever Ago, the closer he gets to Nicolas Jaar, who offers a headier, more trance-y, version of Bon Iver’s baser electronic instincts. Take 22, A Million’s track “21 M◊◊N WATER,” strip it down a bit further, and you’ve got Sirens, a six-track release from Jaar, a Chilean-American artist known for experimental compositions that do double duty as dance music. “Three Sides of Nazareth” is a good place to start.

If you liked Rihanna’s Anti, try…

Wet, Don’t You

Anti is a masterful album from a bona fide pop star: Rihanna gives us songs for the party (“Work,” “Needed Me,”) and songs for when you’re home alone afterward (“Higher,” “Love on the Brain”). Wet’s debut full-length album, Don’t You, does something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. Like Rihanna, Wet’s lead singer, Kelly Zutrau, has an intensity and confidence behind her voice that makes her upbeat songs (like “You’re the Best”) just as powerful and captivating as her slower ones (like “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl”).

If you liked Meghan Trainor’s Thank You, try…

Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math

Meghan Trainor’s music is the definition of bubblegum pop: insanely catchy, with radio plays for days. What made Trainor famous, though, was her cheeky lyrics: “All About That Bass” skyrocketed her to popularity in 2013, and the star has been releasing tongue-in-cheek songs since. (Case in point: this year’s chart-topping “NO,” which lists all the ways she denies boys asking her for dates.) If you’re looking for similarly brassy lyrics without the pop star sheen, try Margaret Glaspy. The singer-songwriter’s voice is sweet and brash in turns, carried by her own guitar licks, while she sings about not needing any affection from a man, thank you very much.

If you liked Sia’s This Is Acting, try…

Lucius, Good Grief

Sia is nothing if not experimental. Her videos, her style, and, most importantly, her music all play with convention — with her powerhouse voice backing up the risks she takes. If Sia’s soaring melodies and inventive rhythms get you going, the harmony-driven band Lucius should be your next stop. This five-piece is dominated by its two female leads, whose voices weave together to create some of this year’s most breathtaking vocals (see: “Dusty Trails”). But on songs like “Gone Insane,” the women are joined by the rest of the band to create an intense track about madness that descends into layers of beautiful, on-key screaming by the end. The inventiveness of Lucius’s videos rival Sia’s as well, minus the singularly recognizable dancer.

If you liked MØ’s “Final Song,” try…

Maggie Rogers,Alaska”

Danish darling MØ, or Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen, hasn’t released a full album since 2014’s No Mythologies to Follow, but “Final Song” was one of the spring’s best pop songs, and a top-notch follow-up to MØ’s earlier collaborations with Iggy Azalea and Major Lazer. “Final Song’s” party-anthem chorus and tight metronomic beat makes it one of those impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head tracks. A newcomer in the indie scene has the same idea. Maggie Rogers, who got her start in the spotlight when Pharrell gave her a stamp of approval at his NYU master class, has only released two songs. But if MØ had the song of early 2016, Rogers’s “Alaska” has the latter half on lock. The twinkling track blends Rogers’s banjo-laced Americana roots with her love for electronic music. Listen once and you’ll have it on repeat.

If you liked David Bowie’s Blackstar, try…

Parquet Courts, Human Performance

David Bowie’s final record, released two days before his death, was a widely praised capstone on a legendary career that inspired countless musical descendants. One such descendant is Parquet Courts. The Brooklyn punk band is known for its dissonant tracks where repeating lyrics end in a cacophony of electric guitar riffs — try listening to Bowie’s’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and Parquet Courts’ “One Man, No City” back to back. What makes both of these 2016 rock albums so strong, though, is that their singers get personal. On Blackstar, Bowie addresses his mortality in the poignant “Lazarus.” Human Performance has a number of introspective songs, but the title track is its best, ruminating on the deep ennui that comes with the end of a relationship.

If you liked Frank Ocean’s Blonde, try…

Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”

After four years of waiting, Frank Ocean’s dreamy follow-up to his hit debut, Channel Orange, deserved all the hype it got when it finally appeared in August. Then, in the last month of the year, Childish Gambino dropped its funkier, less-heralded analogue, the dramatic “Awaken, My Love!” On his third studio album, the artist also known as Donald Glover strips out some of the tricky rhyming he’s known for and instead goes for a robust, sometimes theatrical funk-and-soul album. Where Blonde is smooth and laid-back, Awaken is more intense and in your face, but both artists have crafted albums that can be enjoyed on both a song-by-song basis or as a full-on, straight-through listen.

If you liked Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion Side B, try…

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

It’s cheating a bit to pair these two together, because so much of Carly Rae Jepsen comes from Blood Orange. Dev Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange, is a producer and writer who worked on Jepsen’s album (as well as with a slew of other popular singers, including Solange Knowles and Florence and the Machine). If you enjoyed Jepsen’s add-on album to 2015’s Emotion, Blood Orange is for you. Though what it offers is a little less pure pop than Jepsen’s “Higher,” for example, the album retains the sort of driving beats the pop star is known for, while adding more vocals, tempos, and unexpected instrumentation. As a bonus, Jepsen herself is featured on the song “Better Than Me.”

If you liked The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, try…

Whitney, Light Upon the Lake

If the 1975 is today’s answer to a pop boy band, Whitney is its alternative on the indie acoustic scene. The 1975, a group of four from Manchester, focus mostly on electronic pop with just a hint of rock and ’80s slow jam, making excellent music for big crowd shows. Whitney is another crew of men, but the group’s one and only album zeroes in on pure acoustic pop. Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake, one of my favorite albums of 2016, taps into a sense of nostalgia with sweet and simple lyrics and occasional trumpet solos. If you dig the 1975’s more lyrically driven songs, like the single “UGH!” you’ll like Whitney, especially their song “No Matter Where We Go.”

If you liked Beyoncé’s Lemonade, try…

Solange, A Seat at the Table

I always hesitate to directly compare the Knowles sisters: One stands in a field of her own as the undisputed queen of the popular music world and everything that comes with it; the other is a wholly individual R&B artist whose music is less focused on flash and more on soul. In 2016, though, both women released beautiful albums that are only on par with each other. Beyoncé’s Lemonade, released with a stunning visual album, not only produced great anthems (“Formation,” “Hold Up”) but its songs let us into Beyoncé’s personal life and addressed racial and political tensions, especially in the accompanying videos.

Solange’s A Seat at the Table is quieter, a soul album with rap influences that features both Raphael Saadiq and Lil Wayne. It’s political as well: In “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange works through struggles she faces as a black woman. They’re two spectacular 2016 albums that stand on their own, while also reflecting each other’s strengths.

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