Solange: A Seat at the Table (Columbia, 2016).
Probably the most mainstream record I have on my best of 2016 list, but Solange Knowles kills it on this record. She is everything her sister Beyonce is not. She’s tasteful, coherent and trying to write music that is meaningful. None of that applies to Queen Bey, she hints at being tasteful and meaningful but it’s all about the paper.
I would describe the sound of this record as a slightly minimalist and expertly arranged updated classic soul sound. She does get into some sophisticated vocal arrangements but they’re not cluttered and they’re in service of the song and what she’s trying to say. I really like the sounds on the record which span from old school to occasional electronic flourishes (arpeggiated dance synths, etc). There are a bunch of sections which sound very Prince influenced, a couple of plays which refer back to ’70s soul and some more recent vibes.
I read somewhere that it took her five years to make this record and it sounds it. It’s well performed, heartfelt, serious but not preachy, emotional but not overwrought, she did a great job of balancing and finishing the record.
Check it out as this is my most mainstream pick of 2016.