With less than a week left before the most anticipated music awards of the year, the 2016 Grammy Awards, the top albums of the past year are all well-deserving of the prestigious award.

2016 Grammy Nominees for Album of The Year (Album Reviews)

Representing various genres, the nominated albums show ingenuity and utmost musical creativity. Here are the five nominees and why they have made it to the top.

‘Sound & Color’ by Alabama Shakes

On their second studio album, Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes bring the same retro mix of soul and rock & roll that they became known for with their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, but apart from reaffirming the successful formula, this new album does more. Sound & Color demonstrates the band’s ambitions to expand beyond what seems to be their comfort zone and surprise their fans. The end result is a record that is a little bit of everything — electronic, R&B, soul and even reggae. The lyrics, while still using familiar tropes, are nevertheless profound and approachable, revealing the maturity of lead singer and songwriter Brittany HowardSound & Color is a rich musical achievement that is well-deserving of recognition beyond its niche genre and the band’s expanding creativity highlights promising new frontiers ahead of them.

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is surprising in its grandeur and eclectic sound. The atmosphere is chaotic and dramatized right off the bat, in fact, overly theatrical at times. This gives the album an overall surreal quality that asks us to submerge ourselves in the narrative. The music is every bit as thunderous and unpredictable as the lyrics, with jazz influences and piano riffs sounding over a modern base. Lamar’s album, as his previous endeavor good kid, m.A.A.d. city, is highly critical of its contemporary times but also turns back on the artist to take a more self-conscious tone of personal responsibility. The album’s message speaks to improving life on a small scale while remaining consciously of its political and social context – one of racial tensions and police brutality. To Pimp a Butterfly ultimately asks us to take that responsibility and improve life in all the little ways we can every day, even though it might be forced to come to an abrupt end at any moment.

‘Traveller’ by Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton’s debut solo country album deservedly has made its way to the top 5 albums of the year. Traveller sounds organic yet contemporary. From slow tunes like “Fire Away” and “Tennessee Whiskey” to explosively fun tracks like “Parachute” and “Might As Well Get Stoned,” Stapleton takes us on a musical journey of superb variety and excellent musicianship. While most of the songs are downbeat, often even declamatory in sound, Traveller is extremely varied in what it has to offer in terms of music. Each song’s lyrics contains Stapleton’s personal signature as a songwriter with a few recurring themes that string the tracks together. The album’s title is thus fitting to its themes. While we may find ourselves in the recognizable idiom of country music cliches, Stapleton successfully reinvents them with original melodies and raw lyrics.

‘1989’ by Taylor Swift

It’s hard not to talk about the road that Taylor Swift has travelled to acquire her superstar status. With her latest album, she seems to further distinguish herself from her early years in Nashville and country music, but she does so while remaining conscious of the task of solidifying her identity as a pop star. Her album 1989, as the title points us, is vaguely reminiscent of a time in music in the latter half of the 1980s, when pop was less overtly a matter of eclectic collaboration between genres like RnB, dance and electronic music, which seems to be the formula for a catchy pop hit today. Moreover, much of pop music today is highly timely, referencing its own time and culture. While Swift does experiment with the contemporary understanding of what pop music is on hit songs like “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space,” she seems to be taking a step away from the current time and aiming for timelessness and universal relevance in her lyrics. Even though most of the originality on 1989 stems from its sound, it is still doubtful whether Swift’s album achieves what it sets out to do or ends up conforming to the very song-making mechanisms it is calling out. One thing is clear, Swift has taken a decisive turn away from her acoustic sound in favor of something more grandiose and arguably more mature.

‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ by The Weeknd

After Trilogy and Kiss Land, Beauty Behind The Madness arrives as a refined and sophisticated rendition of the familiar theme romanticizing a life of sex and drugs. For those familiar with Abel Tesfaye‘s work as early as the deep cuts of Trilogy, his hit single “Can’t Feel My Face” might sound like a laughable kid-friendly version of his artistry. It happens to be his most popular song so far, which has earned him a genuine status of a pop star, but Beauty Behind the Madness has a lot more to offer in terms of musical artistry. Tesfaye’s sensual voice is captivating throughout the album and remains perhaps the most intriguing feature of his music. His vocals on this album have been compared to Michael Jackson’s, which is a testament to the R&B star’s continuous rise to the top. The album contains several collaborations with Labrinth, Ed Sheeran and Lana del Rey, which provide a nice balance to Tesfaye’s pervasively enchanting vocals.

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