Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday we were ringing in 2016, yet here we are nearly halfway through what has fortunately been a pretty solid year in music thus far. Your friendly Radio UTD staffers have rounded up their picks for the best releases of the first half of the year.

Jamie Park, Station Manager

Anderson .Paak // Malibu

California producer and singer/rapper Anderson .Paak’s second LP, Malibu, released early on in January, is nothing short of a good time. Like many of his contemporaries, .Paak borrows from old school R&B and soul to craft an album that feels both old and new. Malibu feels lightyears ahead of 2014’s Venice, which felt at times scattered, as though .Paak was still trying to find his signature sound. Despite borrowing from a grab bag of influences, from jazz to funk to hip-hop, Malibu is a supremely tight record. Grooves “Come Down” and “Am I Wrong” featuring ScHoolboy Q keep the 16 track album from ever feeling too long, while downtempo, throwback jams “Put Me Thru” and “Celebrate” show off skillful production. Already having caught the attention of the public this year with performances on Kimmel and Colbert, 2016 promises to continue being a big year for .Paak.

Savages // Adore Life

January also saw the release of Savages’ second LP, Adore Life. While not as outwardly aggressive as their 2013 album Silence Yourself, this effort sees a more polished up version of the London-based band’s signature post-punk sound. Energetic tracks like the explosive “Sad Person” and the driving “T.I.W.Y.G.” make the 10 track album fly by in a whirl of visceral, intellectual rock. While Savages is largely known for their dynamic live performances, Adore Life is intensely listenable on its own. The album takes its time, building up each song into a tense, beautifully restrained crescendo. This is perfectly exemplified on “Adore,” an intense, five-minute near-ballad about being overwhelmingly in love with life itself. Adore Life is a superbly solid album and will no doubt stick around until those end of the year lists in December.   

DMA’s // Hills End

DMA’s debut album Hills End, released in February, is similar to the previously mentioned Malibu in that it strikes a nice balance between an inspired sound while dipping into what’s currently popular. Critics have largely zeroed in on the band’s sonic resemblance to a slew of artists, namely the Britpop giants Oasis. The psychedelic jam “In The Moment” and the driving “Too Soon” certainly are reminiscent of the great Mancunian bands of the ‘90s, but Hills End’s slower moments, particularly the power ballad “Delete,” sound almost like an early Arctic Monkeys. Despite looking to the recent past for influences, a wash of shoegaze-y sounds grounds Hills End in something more current and shows promise for what’s to come from the Australian rockers. In a year that’s otherwise been particularly boring for good ol’ middle-of-the-road rock, Hills End is a welcome addition to 2016’s musical catalog.

Tony Nguyen, Programming Director

Foodman // Ez Minzoku

Probably what would be the most fun you’ll ever uncover will be found in the colorful idiosyncrasies that Foodman conspires in Ez Minzoku. It’s a orchestrated beautiful mess of zany Japanese plunderphonics cut with rampant juke and dilated vaporwave. The palette of sounds heard can range from squeaky clean bounciness jumping all over the place, queasy inflation of high pitched whistles and glitchy footwork beats that will drive one absolutely bonkers. Ez Minzoku is a collection of hallucinogen inducing tunes that abhors to the quessentially strange philosophy that Orange Milk, the record label Foodman is signed with, consistently delivers. The euphoria from Ez Minzoku will raise confusion to how one can possibly cope with how mind-melting one can cope with it all, but the unique roulette of possibilities of how Ez Minzoku warps, morphs and elongates is completely enthralling.

Puce Mary // The Spiral

Power electronics and noise has always been male dominated genres, but on Puce Mary’s third LP, The Spiral, she continues to be an inspiring figure of distorting what it means to be in awe. Essentially, the heavy bass parts chokes up grotesque imagery of modern industrial decay. Terrifying is an understatement to The Spiral conjures as it’s an experience of physical nausea and anxiety. The twists and turns that Puce Mary exceedingly deconstructs are that of intimacy, sensibility and structure to where the calm before the storm silence in these tracks are as harmonious as blistering feedback. Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar, though, as sinister as it can be it’s truly a rewarding listen.

Xiu Xiu // Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

The fictional worlds that David Lynch creates are of pure mystery, horror and most of all, surrealism.  In fact, Lynchian is a term that’s been incorporated into everyday lexicon as it’s just so recognizable to what the motifs and compositions that Lynch entails. Twin Peaks, a puzzling soap opera that’s enshrouded in security, premiered across televisions everywhere from 1990-1991 (with a new season coming out in 2017) to haunt viewers over who killed Laura Palmer. Xiu Xiu’s Plays the Music of Twin Peaks tributes the legendary soundtrack set by Angelo Badalamenti with wild instrumentation that attunes to the evocative praxis of dark melodrama. The atmosphere is sheer creepiness that goes beyond wits end, but with layers of unsettling feedback there is also so much beauty to be found.

Kevin Barahona, Music Director

Kevin Morby // Singing Saw

Singer/songwriter Kevin Morby’s Singing Saw, showcases the artist’s progression as a musician, providing the groundwork for a truly refined and cathartic masterpiece. Kevin Morby’s attention to detail throughout Morby’s nostalgic production is impeccable. Every musical chord has a meaning and purpose, with the artist never doing more than he has to. The overall production of the album is skeletal, but Kevin Morby provides his listeners with a variety of instrumentation stretching beyond just his trusty acoustic guitar. Morby’s vocal are all his own, full character and unique from note to note. Kevin Morby does away with the shackles from past projects (Woods, Babies) and allows his musical creativity flourish. This newfound freedom is reflected in every song. Singing Saw is melancholic in its songwriting, but with contrasting shinning instrumentation, makes for a truly magical listening experience.

Maria Usbeck // Amparo

There are not enough fitting superlatives to describe Maria Usbeck’s Amparo. Sprawling production coupled with Usbeck’s sweet, sultry vocals create something that can’t be described as anything less than gorgeous. Maria Usbeck’s vocals are sweeter than honey as she serenades listeners with her sensual Spanish. The album is vibrant and rich with a variety of different instruments. Amparo feels pure to its core. The album takes listeners on an exotic adventure through the Usbeck’s childhood in South America. Maria Usbeck dissects the intricacies of the human condition and expression through her experiences and music. Former frontwoman of Selebrities returns with a near perfect album and a beautiful, transcendental musical experience.

Joey Purp // iiiDrops

Chicago’s very own Joey Purp, has come out with one of 2016’s most impressive mixtapes so far, with his project iiiDrops. Joey Purp is a part of Chance the Rapper’s Savemoney crew. Joey Purp’s bars are technically proficient and ruthlessly stylish. A style that helps differentiate himself from other members from the Savemoney Crew. Even with the mixtape’s pristine production and almost flawless delivery from Joey Purp, the album is undeniable gritty.  Joey Purp is aware of the troubles that are tearing his city apart and this darkness comes through in his raps. Joey Purp gives his perspective on Chicago and systemic failures plaguing his city. Joey Purp delivered the first mixtape worth listening this year, helping him burst onto everybody’s radar.

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Erika Bocanegra, Promotions Manager

Mothers // When you Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired

When you Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired is the debut album from Athens, Georgia based band, Mothers.  Lead singer, Kristine Leschper, vocal eccentricities evoke sorrow, longing, and ache as she bounces back and forth between wails and murmurs. Lecshper’s frank and vulnerable lyrics are supported are perfectly contrasted by a backing band that creates antagonism with such precision that its dirfficult to not be overwhelmed by emotion. When you Walk a Long Distance is an album for self-reflection, growth, and hurt, because it hurts; until it doesn’t.

Rihanna // Anti

This album could alternatively be titled The Emancipation of RiRi, as we see Rihanna’s vision for herself as an artist be unleashed unto the world. ANTI flirts with different genres, such as dancehall, doo-whop, and psych rock and sees Rihanna meander her voice to sing kiss-offs, ballads, and Jamaican Patois. While the distinct styles throughout the album could seem off-putting to some, it works because Rihanna doesn’t care whether or not it is to the listener’s liking because she’s doing things her own way, and we should just “let her grow”; A powerful statement from a massive pop-star who is expected to satisfy the pockets of those around her.

Radiohead / A Moon Shaped Pool

It’s been five years since Radiohead released The King Of Limbs, an album that was mostly met with a lukewarm response from critics and casual fans alike. A Moon Shaped Pool  sees the English quintet explore some of their most atmospheric music and autobiographical lyrics yet. While opening track “Burn the Witch” might have the listener believe the incessant tension throughout the track will be a key sound throughout the record, it is actually the only song of this nature. The album feels otherworldly, and dreamlike; Contact has been reached with the homesick alien we’ve been warned about since the days of OK Computer, except we are no longer “uptight”; Instead we have accepted our fate and are taking it as comes.