Get down to Digital Trends’ best albums of the year (so far)

Every year, legions of music fans await December — a time when critic overlords worldwide bless the masses with their definitive guide to the sounds of the past year. While that’s all well and good (read: we plan to contribute our own super-awesome list come year’s end), we, like most listeners, are already antsy.

Related: Embrace the heat with our most anticipated albums of summer 2016

That’s because apart from the seemingly never-ending onslaught of legends that have passed in the first six months of 2016, there has been a lot of seriously excellent music, too. Consider this a mid-year wake up call — a guide which will help you catch some of these acts while they are still on the road in support of their latest releases, and before you might have to snag a more expensive ticket to see them following others’ year-end listicles.

Without further ado, here are our top 10 albums of the year so far:

Lemonade — Beyoncé

A sonically-stunning visual album which has inspired and empowered legions of listeners worldwide, Beyoncé’s Lemonade is more than just the biggest smash of the first half of 2016: It’s a thought-provoking work of art. Beyoncé publicly explores issues of femininity and faithfulness, curating a visually and sonically stunning account of a modern day woman. Throughout myriad beat breaks and vocal runs, it’s this higher sense of purpose which propels Lemonade to the critics circle this year — a genre and thought-busting record of the highest order.

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Blackstar — David Bowie

In many ways, the January release of Blackstar, David Bowie’s dark and creative final album, has set the tone for the entire year of music. Because amidst surprising and high-profile deaths, the music world has been producing some of its most starkly creative works in years. Bowie’s 26th release, which will likely go down as one of his best ever, is no exception. The famed British pop star blends work from jazz musicians like drummer Mark Giuliana and saxophonist Donny McCaslin with the classic sounds of producer Tony Visconti, resulting in a swan song which is as groovy, complex, and as odd as the man himself.

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Malibu — Anderson .Paak

Following the release of Malibu, a spectacular amalgamation of hip-hop and R&B which feels perfectly suited for a post-Kendrick Lamar world, Anderson .Paak may be the brightest rising star in the music world. Malibu is groovy and heavily laden with talented musical efforts from all involved, but is perhaps most marvelous for the way in which its creator is able to showcase his varied talents. Whether he is banging out drum beats, singing hooks, or enthralling with quick-paced speech-song, .Paak proves himself to be a thoroughly enticing multi-instrumentalist, a 21st century Stevie Wonder whose musical mind seems dead set on making history.

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A Moon Shaped Pool — Radiohead

For a band like Radiohead, whose legendary musical explorations have made them both beloved musical icons the world over, and some of the most heavily-scrutinized creators on the planet, it’s tough to exceed expectations. But A Moon Shaped Pool, the spiritual sequel to 2005’s now-classic In Rainbows, did just that. A powerful and cohesive work, the album managed to touch on the band’s sonic past while recontextualizing their ideas based on the decade they had between them.

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Coloring Book — Chance The Rapper

Ok, nitpickers, technically this one is a mixtape. But with high-priced production, and collaborations with many of the biggest names in music, the only thing that really makes Chance The Rapper’s third release Coloring Book not “technically” an album is the fact that it didn’t come out on a major label. And given the attention he brings to unsigned acts everywhere, that’s probably just more reason to praise him. As far as the music is concerned, Coloring Book is a smorgasbord of contemporary hip-hop sounds, ranging from smooth and soulful to heavy and Southern. But though it may feel at times like a patchwork quilt of singles, the release is stitched together with endearing soulfulness, the same Chicago-born hope which brought idealists like Barack Obama and (pre-Yeezus) Kanye to the fore.

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