The Five Best Mid-Year Lists of 2016 (So Far)

With tens of thousands of albums released every year, and potentially hundreds of them specifically worth your attention, year-end “Best Albums of the Year” lists are a valuable tool to narrow the field. The only problem is they only come but once a year! By June, the previous year’s list has been exhausted, and we are all out of killer music recommendations. Lucky for us, with the new online standard of music journalism, we get supplemental lists from all the great websites in June. And even luckier for you, the best of those lists are compiled below.

Number of Albums Honored: 20 of Classic Rock’s Best
Does It Have the Staples? Interestingly enough, Bowie’s Blackstar is the only album by a “Classic Rock” artist to have made the cross-over to most of the “hip” lists.
What’s the Vibe? Although we all know what they mean, it’s sort of disconcerting to see some of these heralded as “Classic” so soon after release. Nevertheless, there’s something charming about seeing bands you grew to love while learning to play guitar in junior high continue to be recognized in 2016. If nothing else, this list can be credited with reminding us that Cheap Trick and Megadeth are still out there, doing stuff that some people evidently enjoy.

Number of Albums Honored: 45
Does It Have the Staples? Every single one of them: Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper, Kanye, Radiohead and David Bowie are all represented among the many available slots.
What’s the Vibe? To list 45 albums in this time frame is to say many things. One, that on average there were almost two albums a week that deserved recognition. Two, that despite this embarrassment of riches, there weren’t five more albums to make it a nice, round 50. By listing this excessive amount, Rolling Stone has allowed itself room for the best of both worlds. Indie darlings like Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest slot comfortably beside legacy acts like Elton John, Paul Simon and the Monkees.

Number of Albums Honored: 20
Does It Have the Staples? Mostly. Notably missing Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, which I’m going to let slide but won’t be happy about.
What’s the Vibe? Ever the British contrarians, The Guardian organizes its list in alphabetical order, as opposed to the more American-style merit ranking. So do we know what The Guardian truly believes is the best album of the first half of 2016? No, but we have an idea of what it liked and a 5 percent chance of guessing correctly. Props go to this list for exposing me to Christine and the Queens, and for recognizing my beloved Parquet Courts.

2. NME
Number of Albums Honored: 19(?)
Does It Have the Staples? Almost exclusively
What’s the Vibe? This is your workhorse of mid-year lists. It gets the job done and gets out without any fat — NME didn’t even waste your time with numbering the list or trying to squeeze in a single substandard album just to make it 20. NME is not interested in giving one bit of extraneous information; it only wishes to provide the no-frills mid-year list experience. The 19 albums the publication lists are crowd-pleasers and critical darlings alike, and the majority will be appealing to just about anyone out there.

Number of Albums Honored: 26
Does It Have the Staples? Everything but Rihanna’s ANTI, which I’m pretty much okay with.
What’s the Vibe? So maybe it's not as bad as it used to be, but Pitchfork has a reputation for overwriting its reviews and being generally pretentious. In arguably the online magazine's most hipster-contrarian move yet, it chose to reject the widely accepted “X Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)” naming convention of its peers. Instead, Pitchfork went with the vague “Best New Albums” and weirdly lumped it all together on a page that includes albums from last year. Weird. The list's diversity in content ranges from gospel-infused hip-hop to post-post-punk to funky jazz-fusion, all of which feature heavily on my own personal mid-year list. Pitchfork's taste remains impeccable among hip twentysomethings, clearly.

Of course, this raises a question: What makes the “best” list? Is it the one that confirms your tastes, or the one that challenges and exposes you to things you may have missed? Like a good friend, an ideal list will do both. First, it will establish a trust by validating your opinions, then will hand over some additional recommendations based on your shared interests. Be a good friend back and pretend you actually listened to a single album you hadn't already heard
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Eric Smith splits his free time between writing music and writing about music for the Houston Press. His short sleeve button-up game is as on point as the Hamilton cast album he loves so much.