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Best albums of 2016 so far

The top music from the first half of the year 

Photo credit: Michael Gethen

For music fans across the world, the first half of 2016 has been a real treat. A flurry of new album releases from artists in various genres offers something new for everyone. With fresh music from artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rihanna and Sarah Jarosz as well as major collaborations like case/lang/veirs, the industry is buzzing with news of album releases and summer tours getting on the road. There have also been talented actors crossing vocational lines to collaborate on some of these albums like actor Alan Cumming, who is featured on The Hot Sardines' number, "When I Get Low, I Get High", and actress Olivia Wilde, who takes on the directorial helm of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' first music video, "Dark Necessities", from their latest album. 

Without further ado, here's a round-up of the best albums of 2016 that will add some colour to your music collection.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, "The Getaway"

Genres: Rock, Alternative Rock

"The Getaway" is the American rock band's chart-topping 11th studio album and the first since their 2011 album, "I'm With You". The band gets a fresh start on this album by welcoming new producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) on board. With a cleaner, smoother sound, "The Getaway" is one of Red Hot Chili Peppers' best offerings to date. The album largely stays true to the band's signature sound, infusing their punk-rock style with some '80s electro and disco elements in tracks like "The Getaway", "Go Robot" and "We Turn Red". Bassist Flea's slap bass rhythms take centre-stage on the band's first single, "Dark Necessities", and Anthony Kiedis' vocal harmonies add depth to this expressive album.

KT Tunstall, "Golden State"

Genres: Pop, Singer/Songwriter

While fans await the launch of KT Tunstall's new album slated for release in September 2016, they can bask in the rhythmic bliss of her latest EP, "Golden State". The album features three tracks: the lead single "Evil Eye", "All or Nothing", "The Healer", and the album closes off with a remix of "Evil Eye" by Django Django. Tunstall epitomizes the very best of guitar pop on this upbeat album that she says is all about joy. Vibrant, catchy beats roll along peppy acoustic guitar work and are highly addictive. This should keep music fans in high spirits until the launch of her full album in the fall. 

Jake Bugg, "On My One"

Genres: Rock, Alternative

The 22-year-old singer-songwriter has come a long way since he first made his record-breaking album debut at the age of 17. With the latest release of his third studio album, "On My One", Bugg's stepping into some new shoes as he takes greater control of his music by producing most of the tracks. This is reflected in this eclectic album that dabbles in different genres. He stays true to his roots of folk rock on numbers such as "The Love We're Hoping For", "Hold on You" and the rockabilly-style "Put out the Fire", while he makes a foray into rap with the hip-hop-infused "Ain't No Rhyme". There's also an ode to country music on "Livin' Up Country". While it's a diverse album that detours from Bugg's wheelhouse, he stays at the top of his game throughout.

case/lang/veirs, "case/lang/veirs"

Genres: Rock, Alternative

"case/lang/veirs" is a collaboration of three phenomenal vocal powerhouses, k.d. lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs. Their debut album is a folk-rock stunner that combines their soulful vocals with spellbinding rhythms. k.d lang seductively croons on tracks like "Blue Fires", Laura Veirs' indie-rock soul pours out of "Best Kept Secret" and Neko Case lends a melancholic touch to songs like the opening track "Atomic Number". Their exceptional voices and rich melodies shine throughout the entire album.

Sarah Jarosz, "Undercurrent"

Genres: Singer/Songwriter

Sarah Jarosz's fourth LP, "Undercurrent", heralds a new chapter in her life and is an album of many firsts for the Texan singer-songwriter. This is her first album since she graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, and she confidently takes a step towards showing us a dimension of her music that is simple, yet powerful. Unlike her previous albums, which featured assorted musical arrangements, in "Undercurrent" she performs four of her songs accompanied only by a guitar. This is also her first album where she has written all of the songs, collaborating with some with her favourite musicians such as Sara Watkins. This lyrically empowered album, serenaded by lush guitar acoustics, brings you closer to the majestic new world of Sarah Jarosz.

The Hot Sardines, "French Fries & Champagne"

Genres: Jazz, Hot Jazz

After a hugely successful self-titled debut album, The Hot Sardines are back with their latest offering, "French Fries & Champagne". As they celebrate their ninth anniversary on the jazz circuit, this New York-based ensemble is poised to expand their impressive repertoire of covers and originals with an album that boasts exceptional arrangements by band leader Evan Palazzo laced with lead singer Elizabeth Bougerol's luxurious vocals. 

One of the highlights of the album is a collaboration with actor Alan Cumming for a spirited take on a classic popularized by Ella Fitzgerald, "When I Get Low, I Get High". Robert Palmer's 1985 classic, "Addicted To Love", also gets a jazzy revival. Some of the originals that shine on the album are Evan's instrumental homage to his old neighbourhood, "Gramercy Sunset", and the title track, "French Fries and Champagne", which carries a reminder to all of us to just let go and enjoy ourselves when the going gets tough. 

Rihanna, "Anti"

Genres: Pop, R&B

The biggest surprise comes from pop diva, Rihanna, who turned in her dance club routines in favour of a more soulful vibe on her highly anticipated eighth studio album, "Anti". The album is themed around a simmering affair with lyrics that deal with the complexities of romantic love and self-assurance. Rihanna's powerful renditions appear to be some of her moodier and soulful songs of her career. 

"Anti" sways with slow jams like "Kiss It Better" and revels in classic soul in "Love On The Brain" and "Higher" to the more up-tempo dancehall-style collaboration with the artist Drake on "Work". "Anti" is poised to be one of Rihanna's most defining albums.

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