To start, two less-than-hidden gems, albums which have received tremendous coverage on Metacritic and elsewhere but which I first heard as recommendations based on other artists in my rotations.
Mitski, Puberty 2
FOR FANS OF: St. Vincent, PJ Harvey, early Metric
Mitski (the band fronted by Mitski Miyawaki) dropped this beauty of an indie rock record in June 2016, and it immediately seemed to dwarf other similar records from recent months. Her songs veer gracefully from brooding to sly, introspective to subversive, tackling issues of sexuality, trust, self-control, and self-deception. Standout tracks are impossible to select; the whole record fits together like a brilliant puzzle of youth and fire, worthy of many, many spins.
Laura Mvula, The Dreaming Room
FOR FANS OF: Nina Simone, Santigold, Jill Scott
A blindside of empowerment and infectious energy, The Dreaming Room is the second full-length by British singer Laura Mvula. Set apart by the diversity of her sound, with party bangers like “Phenomenal Woman” and chain-breaking spirituals like “People (ft. Wretch 32)” sharing invaluable record space, Laura Mvula mixes elements of Nina Simone’s revolutionary energy, Jill Scott’s poetics, and dance experimentalism recalling Janelle Monae and Santigold into an album of breadth and pop. Take the thumping drums of “Overcome,” which, halfway through, give way to a mountainous choir of blissful shimmer, before slowly building their way back, perfectly melding the party with the sense of wonder and history that can elevate music from diversion to expression.