#3: Kristin Kontrol – “X-Communicate”

In a just universe where actual pop songcraft was rewarded over celebrity, every song on X-Communicate would be a hit. Of course, Donald Trump is going to be president, so we don’t live in that universe. But Kristin Welchez, who formerly fronted Dum Dum Girls, can take solace in knowing she has made her most complete album yet, on her own, and further established herself in my mind as a low-key pop genius.

X-Communicate feels like a pop clinic, put on by an artist who has listened to it her whole life and has memorized the recipe of a memorable song. There is a virtuosic feel to its verses, choruses and bridges, and to Kristin’s vocals, which have range and expression that she couldn’t show in Dum Dum Girls. The album doesn’t stray much from traditional pop structures, and it doesn’t really break new ground, but this is by design: Kristin uses the nostalgic sounds of the past to make an album that is a celebration of the pop song as a form of personal expression.

#4: Bat for Lashes – “The Bride”

One of my favorite quotes from any television show is from Seinfeld, when Jerry is trying to beat a lie detector test and asks for George’s help. George gives this piece of advice: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

When it comes to musicians — and disproportionately women musicians — there is often an assumption that the singer is being “confessional” and sharing experiences from their own life. Artists who do this are applauded for being honest and real, for putting every piece of themselves into the music.

While I admittedly love albums like that too, I think it has become overemphasized, and it doesn’t give music enough credit as a storytelling medium, or the artists enough credit as weavers of fiction instead of people singing out of their diaries. And it doesn’t give fiction credit for sometimes being more truthful than reality.

The Bride is a work of pure fiction by Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes, which might be why it got a fairly muted critical response compared to her usual work. But while this album is all “lies,” Khan believes them. She commits fully to her story of a woman whose husband dies on her wedding day, and in unraveling her story gradually through the album, she finds real truths and moments of deep sadness and humanity.

This album is audaciously slow-paced, requiring a level of patience that I’m not sure many listeners have, and I’m sympathetic to anyone who thought it was boring. But I really admired how it was so self-contained and how dedicated Khan was to telling her story on her terms, even though she had to know not many people would meet her halfway.

#5: Angel Olsen – “My Woman”

Prior to 2016, I had written off Angel Olsen as one of those no-fun Americana/folk artists that is clearly talented but doesn’t quite grab me with her music. That said, I’m a very generous, fair person, so I gave My Woman a shot to see if Olsen could win me over.

Well, she did, and My Woman might be the album that surprised me the most this year. I did not expect Olsen to bust out this garage-rocky, psychedelic sound, to have this kind of charisma as a performer, or to have songs that have such legitimate pop hooks. On “Shut Up Kiss Me” she channels Gwen Stefani (but like, in a good way) and pretty much sounds like a rock star, while “Intern” shows her pure ability as a singer and lyricist who can still sell the hell out a ballad. It all builds up to “Sister,” a nearly eight minute jam that seamlessly melds indie rock, traditional singer-songwriter, and the folk/lo-fi style she was initially known for.

Olsen expands her sound and style on My Woman, but does it in a way that is very true to herself and retains what made people like her in the first place — it’s a big album, but it often feels very small. It pulls off a delicate trick, which is satisfying her existing fans while also pushing herself artistically and winning over new ones like me.