My Favorite Albums of 2016

As I stated in a previous post, my relationship with pop music has changed as I've aged out of the target Top 40 demographic. What this has meant for 2016 listening is that I have gravitated away from singles (though I did like a bunch of singles this year, namely these two and these five songs) to albums. In many ways, this is how I started listening to music as a kid. Because I had a limited number of CDs when I started out as a music fan, I played the same albums all the way through over and over. 2016 has been an interesting year for the album as an art form, and it's been fun to return to my roots as a pop music fan.

Here are the five albums that I adored playing straight through.

5. Sia's This is Acting
Sia kicked off the year with her excellent new record, This is Acting. More varied in tone and texture than her previous effort, this album allowed Sia to slip into different divas's personas (for whom she wrote these tunes, though they passed on the songs). Always the chameleon and underdog superstar, the diva garnered another number one single with this album, the sturdy "Cheap Thrills," and cemented her pop legacy.

4. Britney Spear's Glory
I would argue that Glory plays better as a complete pop opus than anything else in Britney Spear's catalog. Its chill-out tone works both as a reflection of current pop trends (namely the downbeat Zen-pop of stars like Zayn and Justin Beiber) and Spear's zany, light-hearted, and self-reflective tendencies. This album finds her in great voice, relaxed, and having a good time making music. Her happiness and comfort infuses Glory with an understated joy that I found heartwarming. Also, tracks like "Clumsy" and "Do You Wanna Come Over" have genuine possibilities as strong singles.

3. Paula Cole's This Bright Red Feeling
Paula Cole has always been a strong live performer, and her recent slate of shows celebrating the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough, This Fire, confirm the talents that made her a success. In fact, her voice is even better now, which can be clearly heard on her live album, This Bright Red Feeling. Part of my affection for this record is that I attended the concert during which it was recorded, and these tracks capture the energy of that night plus Cole's magic as a live performer. It also includes two re-recordings of her biggest hits, "I Don't Want to Wait" and "Where Have all the Cowboys Gone." This Bright Red Feeling not only celebrates where Paula Cole has been, but also where she is headed in future. I look forward to her next record.

2. Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion Side B
Jepsen won my heart last year with her brilliant and under-appreciated Emotion. She followed that album up this year with her stellar b-sides EP. A successful album in its own right, Emotion Side B functions as a legit pop record in its own right, while also extending the sonic universe of its sister album. From the quirky "Store" to the pop perfection of "Fever," every tune is a delight.

1. The 1975's I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful and yet so unaware of it
When I first wrote about the 1975's latest album, I had a hard time wrapping my head around its brilliance. It is a masterwork--a pop opus with a sprawling construction that creates a distinct universe of 80s homage, romantic angst, and modern cultural touchstones. It fluctuates between ethereal mood pieces, pop gems, and heartbroken ballads. Every time I play this album, I think I am going to just listen to a track or two, and somehow find myself riding its emotional waves to the conclusion. Part of me wants to pinpoint specific tracks to enjoy, but I think that would be a disservice to both the listener and the band. Do yourself a favor and buy the whole thing. It's brilliant, and on its way to becoming a modern pop-rock classic. Not to mention, it's perfect mood music for the autumn and winter.

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