Best Albums of 2016 | Laura Hamlett

Olly Murs’ 24 HRS and Adam Lambert’s The Original High reveal the more mature side of each singer.

 

1. Olly Murs | 24 HRS (Sony)

2. Adam Lambert | The Original High (Warner Bros.)

3. Bastille | Wild World (Virgin)

The #1 slot was tough for me, as the top three on my list were all verrrrrrry closely ranked. Ultimately, I decided to rank in terms of how much I’ve listened to them this year. Even though Olly Murs didn’t come out until late November, it still rocketed to the top of the list. It also features “Patience,” hands-down the best song I’ve heard in 2016—or a long time, actually. Even so, in any other year, each of these would be qualified to rank #1.

Murs’ 24 HRS and Lambert’s The Original High reveal the more mature side of each singer. In some artists, this is a risky and often disappointing endeavor; however, in these cases, both were top notch. I can’t even count how many times I’ve listened to each since they came out. Melodic, thoughtful pop at its finest.

After hitting the top of the charts with Bad Blood, Bastille faced major scrutiny as the release date for their sophomore offering grew closer. While there are no immediate standouts like “Pompeii” from the first album, Wild World is a master class in maturity and sheer talent.

(See my reviews for more about my love for these gems: Olly Murs’24 HRS, Adam Lambert’s The Original High, and Bastille’s Wild World.)

4. DNCEDNCE (Republic)

This album bursts out of the gate at 100 mph, a top contender for the most listening fun you’ll have all year. Although Joe Jonas & Co. can’t quite sustain the high level of smash hit “Cake by the Ocean” for a full 14 songs, there hit plenty of other home runs—including “DNCE,” “Body Moves,” “Doctor You,” and “Naked”—to ensure their self-titled debut is something you’ll return to over and over, whether you’re in the mood for a party or keeping yourself company. Put ’er on repeat and enjoy—and catch the high-energy quartet when they tour in January and February (including January 25 at Summit Music Hall in Denver!).

5. Mobley | Some Other Country (s/r)

I try to at least skim all the press releases I get. I look for words or “sounds like”s before I click on a link and stream a song. In the case of Mobley, something caught my attention and I watched the video for first single “Solo.” It was good enough to lead me to the full EP (a long one; it can almost be considered a full-length) and play it through. There was a mix of sounds, all tied together with that strong voice. His live show was as engaging as the recorded songs. Definitely one to check out.

6. Causes | Under Bridges that You Built for Me (s/r)

I heard one song on a new music show and was hooked—so much so that I actually bought this one just for myself, not to review. Moody British indie-shoegaze-pop hasn’t sounded this good in years.

7. Parachute | Wide Awake (Vanguard)

Of their four releases, this is my least favorite. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, because anything Will Anderson & Co. touch has a place in my heart. The lyrics are thoughtful, as ever, and the vocals rich and dreamy. The band went back to a three-piece for this album, though—and it shows through the songs’ reduced texture and tempos.

8. Roy English | I’m Not Here EP (Sony)

English was touted as Madonna’s and Pharrell’s latest favorite artist, and was touring with 5 Seconds of Summer. Although this EP is a short, short three songs, every one of them is pure gold. I’m hoping 2017 brings a full-length from this talented artist.

9. Shane Harper | Like I Did EP (Deep Well/Virgin)

Shane Harper is a force to be reckoned with. The pop singer-songwriter delivers five songs ripe for the “repeat” button—which I’ve done many, many times.

10. Shawn Mendes | Illuminate (Island)

Yeah. He’s every teenage girl’s fantasy. But he’s got some really good songs; ignore his age and give his music a chance. Mendes’s soulful, searching, yearning vocals take center stage, breathing new life into the love song genre. Whether the music plays in the background or front and center through your headphones, it’s almost perfect. This is what a sophomore release should sound like.

11. Blue October | Home (Up-Down/Brando)

I had largely abandoned Blue October. I was a huge fan back in the day, but then I turned more toward pop and, despite the fact Justin Furstenfeld can write a mean pop song, away from Blue October and their more alternative-rock leanings. Home is lovely, pop-centered, lyrically rich, and full of love.

12. HUNNY | Pain. Ache. Loving. EP (B3SCI)

 

Biggest Disappointments

OneRepublic | Oh My My (Mosley/Interscope)

Umm… Last time I checked, OneRepublic was a top-tier pop band. What is this mellow, meandering shit? The band kept me waiting three years since its last release…and this? The fact that Ryan Tedder’s voice is buried and indistinct much of the time works against them, too. If it were anyone but OneRepublic, I would have rated it higher—but it sounds nothing like them. Nothing.

Kings of Leon | Walls (RCA)

Sorry, but I’m a fan of new-school (aka pop rock) Kings of Leon, not their old-school (aka roots rock) incarnation. This one hooked me at first…and then let me way, way down.

Bruno Mars | 24K Magic (Atlantic)

It’s not that this one’s bad, but the album’s brief eight songs don’t sound fresh in any way. Mars steals grooves from James Brown, candlelight music from your parents’ mellow R&B records, and sexist lyrics from today’s rappers. Don’t come here looking for “Locked Out of Heaven,” because you’re certainly not gonna find it.

Jimmy Eat World | Integrity Blues (RCA)

This one’s maybe not fair because I couldn’t make it through a single listen. But really: Listen to the opening track “The End Is Beautiful” and tell me if you want to keep going. Me, I skipped straight to the beautiful end. I’ll stick with JEW’s first four killer releases; I’d prefer to remember them that way.

Bad Suns | Disappear Here (Vagrant)

I think it’s because the L.A. quartet’s debut was so perfect, but Disappear Here just doesn’t measure up. I’m going to give it another spin and see if it grabs me, but so far I find myself heading back to Language & Perspective when I want to get my Bad Suns fix. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 463 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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