The unsung heroes of an interesting year in music
Plenty of established, popular artists like Beyoncé, Radiohead, Weezer, and Kanye West released beloved albums in 2016. However, there were plenty of new names or lesser known artists that released amazing albums that fell under the radar; here are six I think are worth your time!
Shura’s “Nothing’s Real”
If you enjoyed Carly Rae Jepsen and her turn towards synth-led pop music on “E.MO.TION,” you will adore Shura’s mix of synth-pop and R&B on her debut studio album, “Nothing’s Real.” The instrumentation is subtle and subdued, and Shura’s whispery, silky vocals compliment the mixes extraordinarily well, giving the album a bubbly, yet nostalgic aura to it. The album also explores the complexities of relationships that are down to earth and not played up to any degree of melodrama. The album may have done decently well in the UK, but it has had little to no impact here in the States, which is a shame, because it is an airy, yet gorgeous debut that I think will leave listeners in awe.
PUP’s “The Dream is Over”
There were two sides to the witty, self-deprecating depression-themed rock music coin of 2016. On one side, there was the much beloved “Teens of Denial” by Car Seat Headrest. On the other side, there was the sophomore album from rock punk band PUP, which did not receive the same mountains of critical acclaim as “Teens of Denial,” but offers a much more manic and wild take on the subject. Taking influence from The Offspring and Dropkick Murphys, PUP goes for chanting choruses and catchy guitar riffs to go with their self-aggrandizing lyrics. Admittedly, these lyrics could easily straddle the line of wince-inducing at points, but the waves of witty lyricism create an intense and often funny album.
Kyle Craft’s “Dolls of Highland”
While we lost David Bowie last year, the banner for glam rock did not die with him. Kyle Craft’s style of glam rock is not as spacey and experimental as Bowie’s, but it is just as bombastic, operatic and incredibly fun. “Dolls of Highland” is Craft’s debut album off Sub Pop Records, and his artistic merit is on full display with his clear influences from acts like Bowie, Queen and even, Elton John. Kyle Craft has a knack for creating ear-grabbing melodies with songs like “Eye of a Hurricane” and “Berlin.” With “Dolls of Highland,” Kyle Craft set the standard for modern glam rock, and here’s hoping Craft has a prosperous career in the future.
Sims’s “More Than Ever”
Doomtree member, Sims goes solo on his latest album “More Than Ever.” While it has flown under the radar for the common hip-hop fan, it is a hard-hitting and worthwhile album. “More Than Ever” offers the ram-shackled, often synthetic production you would expect from a typical Doomtree project, but it also offers a more personal look into Sims as a person. With no guest features, Sims lets his lyrical prowess come into play and explores interesting and dark territory, such as on “Voltaire,” which tells a tale of a shooting in a night-club. Harrowing and intense, “More Than Ever” is a strong feature in a decent year for hip-hop.
Elzhi’s “Lead Poison”
Elzhi, a member of Detroit rap group Slum Village, released his solo comeback album through Kickstarter donations early in 2016. Elzhi still proves he can spit bars (evident on “The Healing Process”), but “Lead Poison” offers a far darker tone, exploring loneliness, death, and abandonment. This is best exemplified on “Two 16’s” where Elzhi answers to fan demands for two sixteen bar verses, but both verses delve into a story about a young kid getting killed in a gang shooting before his daughter was born. Elzhi’s exploration of life in Detroit streets makes “Lead Poison” a somewhat saddening listen, but also a poignant one with Elzhi’s incredible delivery and production.
Lydia Loveless’s “Real”
Though originally hailing from the alternative country camp with her previous work, Lydia Loveless steps out of her comfort zone with “Real,” which goes full-out Americana and even veers towards pop and rock. Speaking of stepping out of your comfort zone, Loveless goes towards raw complexity and emotional turmoil in her lyrics that make songs like “Clumps” and especially, “Real” that much more impactful. The production is rough around the edges, giving an off-the-cuff feel to the performance. “Real” is true to its name, giving the listener an in-depth look at the real Lydia Loveless, as her rough and sometimes pained vocals feel genuine and unflinching. That, along with one of the best closing songs to an album in 2016, is reason enough to give it a listen.