Don't Sleep: 2016's Most Underappreciated Albums So Far

iLoveMakonnen, Chairlift, Margo Price, and more make our list

Here at MTV, we are literally always listening to music. Here are a few albums that might have passed you by in the first four months of 2016, but that at least one of us loved too much to keep quiet about — from a chilled-out jazz trio to a boisterous ATL rap mixtape to an eerie French-language club night.

Mikey Dollaz, Picture Me Rollin

It took Mikey Dollaz a few years to find his niche in Chicago's rap taxonomy. Since 2012, he's rapped with hit-or-miss drill trio M.I.C., split a tape with local powerhouse Dreezy, flirted with R&B, and dabbled in the city's high-energy bop sound — chasing trends as they emerged, never quite committing. But on February's Picture Me Rollin, everything officially clicked. Maybe the mainstream's waning interest in Chicago street rap has done Mikey a favor: With drill casting a much smaller shadow, he's free to explore the intersection between steely street rap and weirdo club music. It's not totally unprecedented — King Louie paved the way years ago with stuff like "Arrogant" and "Too Cool" — but I'm guessing there won't be too many more mixtapes where guys like Sonny Digital and Honorable C.N.O.T.E. share credits with new-school grime producers. "Commas," with a beat from Planet Mu's Silk Road Assassins, is the waviest shit I've heard all year. —Meaghan Garvey

Jean-Michel Blais, II

In spite of five or six years of lessons as a kid, I always totally sucked at piano. I never fully grasped the concept of reading music, so I would just commit every song to memory ("My Heart Will Go On" was in heavy rotation) and hope my teacher didn't notice, which proved completely useless in the grand scheme of things, but whatever. Either way, Montreal pianist and composer Jean-Michel Blais's II has been a sanity-saving counterpoint to the rest of my daily music intake. There's this sense of measured extemporaneity to his playing — fleshed out by the occasional field recording but mostly just left alone — that allows my mind to wander unlike anything else this year. Didn't know I needed that. —Meaghan Garvey

Ayumi Tanaka Trio, Memento

I'm obsessed with the sound of cymbals played with brushes, which is just one of the reasons I'm obsessed with Memento, a free-flowing, improvisation-heavy album from the jazz trio led by Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka. One track is straight-up called "Cymbals," and allows drummer Per Oddvar Johansen to play strictly in the analog-fuzz-like zone of soft sound that only cymbals allow. Tanaka is primarily interested in capturing mood, and Memento is a series of multisensory sketches captured on the shifting breeze, the sound of micro-feelings. It is a contemplative Sunday morning album to make scrambled eggs to, but if you play it in your car on Saturday night, don't be surprised if you end up driving somewhere you've never been. —Molly Lambert

ILoveMakonnen, Drink More Water 6

I can't stop listening to Drink More Water 6, even though it sounds like what resulted when all the artists and engineers went out to get Chinese food and left someone’s little cousin alone in the studio. Makonnen's vocals have the same fevered tenor as on his 2014 breakout track "Tuesday," but they've grown less professional, more off-key and strained, as though fame has had the paradoxical effect of increasing his recklessness. The lyrics are simple and in some cases unfinished. The vocals are recorded with very little in the way of reverb, backing tracks, or Auto-Tune. This should be offensive, but weirdly, the effect is gripping. Makonnen is second only to Jeremih's Late Nights for using EDM trippiness to mine the surreal out of normally trite sentiments like "get money, fuck bitches." He is deeply charismatic, and if he ever combines this magnetism with an acutely produced set of cuts, the sum will be very powerful. —Carvell Wallace

Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

She might be country music’s shiny new star, but it’s been a long, rough time coming for Margo Price’s debut solo album. With a lost family farm, a bit of jail time, and years playing in Nashville without label recognition under her belt, Price eventually sold her wedding ring and the family car just to record Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. And the album is as tough as her backstory, filled with whiskey-drenched kiss-offs to unappreciative men, the music industry’s sleaziest sides, and hustling for cash. “Tell me, what does your pride taste like, honey? / Well, haven’t you tried it out? / It’s better than the taste of a boot in your face, without any shadow of a doubt,” she sings on the righteous “About to Find Out.” With a style and voice reminiscent of old-schoolers like Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, Price’s pedal steel–driven, cutting country makes for an instantly classic debut. —Hazel Cills

Chairlift, Moth

New York City is well known for its coldness. It’s a city where it's acceptable to ignore others as you run at a lightning pace to meet your own needs, and selfishness is seen as survival. But on Chairlift’s Moth, a record heavily inspired by their NYC home, members Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly explore what it means to be fearlessly sentimental on the city’s harsh stage. On songs like “Show U Off” and “Moth to the Flame,” the duo, known for their coolly composed electronica, open their sound to brassy R&B and disco-inspired instrumentals as they sing unabashedly of euphoric newfound love. “I’m sorry I’m causing a scene on the train,” Polachek sings on “Crying in Public,” an ode to mid-commute breakdowns but also to realizing when you’re truly falling for someone. Frequently fun yet emphatically vulnerable, Moth is the strongest pop songwriting Chairlift have ever done. —Hazel Cills

Kilo Kish, Reflections in Real Time

Twenty-five-year-old Kilo Kish has carved out several artistic niches for herself over the past five years, with precocious R&B singer and cool-kid fashion muse prime among them. On her latest album, the self-released Reflections in Real Time, Kish expands her musical vision into a 20-song deep dive into her own mind, full of eccentric humor and existential dread. Reflections takes the form of a journal, but it’s less diaristic than it is a weirdo pop dissertation on the bizarre ways we perceive desires, relationships, and fears. Kish pulls off impressive musical risks (the chorus of voices that comprise “Collected Views from Dinner”) and keeps her songwriting clever (the sardonic, Home Shopping Network–core standout "Existential Crisis Hour!”); her hushed vocals, moreover, have never sounded better. With Reflections, Kilo Kish has made a case for herself as one of the most creative, unusual indie songwriters of her generation. —Eric Torres

Essaie Pas, Demain est une autre nuit

Montreal husband-and-wife duo Essaie Pas's debut album, the title of which translates to "tomorrow is another night," occupies a distinctly nocturnal headspace. Like a Nicolas Winding Refn film set in a sexy, claustrophobic, possibly vampire-infested Paris nightclub, Essaie Pas’s bracing mix of techno and coldwave draws from several musical wellsprings: Italo disco, minimalist electronic, industrial music, horror film soundtracks. With the majority of its lyrics murmured in French spoken word from bandmates Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau, the entire album drips with an eerie nighttime ambience that vacillates between analog and digital, up- and down-tempo, provocative and menacing. Slow burners like “La chute” and the title track evoke the seething new wave sensibilities of electronic forebears like Cabaret Voltaire, but it’s danceable highlights like “Retox” and “Lights Out” that command attention. Listening to Demain est une autre nuit is like taking a trip into the dark corners of the club, all anxious pleasure and icy reserve. —Eric Torres

2 Chainz, Felt Like Cappin

It’s hard not to love 2 Chainz. His dog is named Trappy! He’s also approximately 100 in ATL rap years, which makes his late-career resurgence even more impressive. Forget Collegrove, his much-hyped project with Lil Wayne. Chainz's best project of 2016 is this brief, six-song mixtape. The tape’s mood is captured in the cover art, where he positions his pinkie rings to frame his diamond-encrusted grill in a gleaming vision of luxury and attitude. The whole tape is dripping with Chainz's nonchalant charisma, making even routine boasts like "I’m a rich nigga / I take rich drugs" sound like the coolest words in the world. Even his throwaway lines ("Two crosses on, and they're looking like amen”) beg for repeat plays. —David Turner

Rezz, The Silence Is Deafening

New York–born producer Rezz opens her first project on Deadmau5's Mau5trap label with a post-Zen koan from singer Delaney Jane: “What a beautiful world / To be anything but alone.” After that, Rezz’s light techno leanings recede in favor of a pleasingly gritty industrial crawl and apocalyptic vibes. The buzzing thump of “Delusion” sounds like it could single-handedly reboot the Matrix series, and the wailing siren and metallic clanks of “Methodology” deserve to run three times the track's near seven-minute length. If these are the end times, at least they'll have a thrilling soundtrack. —David Turner

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