J Matthew Cobb

2016 was not a very great year for groundbreaking music. No one came out swinging like a Kanye dynamo or invading pop radio with eargasms of life. Yeah, Adele's 25 deserves special mention because it sold more millions in one week than any other record since nSYNC's No Strings Attached, but maybe it's because Adele's hiatus in between records had everyone glued to iTunes for a pre-sale date. Or maybe because it had everything to do with Adele's last triumphant record, the multi-platinum selling 21. Or maybe it's because there simply was no competition for her on that week or any other week.

Justin Bieber tried to compete; Purpose clearly stands out as his most definitive album. Still, it wasn't groundbreaking. Despite the underachievement of today's pop royalty, indie records reigned. Yup, indie rock, indie R&B, indie soul, indie pop, indie dance, indie anything. Their records were better, brighter and more interesting. Take lessons, you big labels.

That probably explains the diverse lineup featured on HiFi's top 33 (and 1 for extra) albums of 2015. Check out these incredible releases below and feel free to post your comments.

Also check out HiFi's list of 45 best singles of 2015. And be sure to take advantage of the player next to each listing to get into the groove via Spotify.

Listen to our choices by using the embedded Spotify player.

At the bottom of each page, share your views and opinions with us. Tell us what you think.

Link up with your favorites by checking out their official websites and Facebook pages.

Purchase the music using the links to Amazon and/or iTunes.

Forever Charlie

Returning to the Gap Band funk, especially in an era when “Uptown Funk” resurrected it, Charlie Wilson finds comfort in tracks that point back to the golden years. “Somebody Loves You” is perfect for a sing-a-long, “Just Like Summertime” was just right for cookouts, while Carl Carlton's “Bad Mama Jamma” riffs landed on “Sugar.Honey.Ice.Tea.” And even when the tempo slows down for romance, the legendary R&B crooner flexes his Stevie Wonder melisma on soulful delights like “Touched By An Angel” and “Goodnight Kisses.” A delectable disc for grown-folks seeking that old school funky R&B.

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The Desired Effect
(Island/Virgin EMI)

The solo material of The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers usually aligns him with accessible pop like “Only the Young” and “Crossfire” that's complimentary to the edgier rock that his bands throws out. But The Desired Effect, an effort handled by producer Ariel Rechtshaid, is a disc that flexes Flowers' creative powers while forcing artful ‘80's synthpop to a stunning apex (“Can't Deny My Love,” “I Can Change,” “Lonely Town”). Even the album sleeper “Never Get You Right” drops the real Bruce Hornsby on piano into its glorious mix. Those looking for a Killers-esque reprise should be pleased with “Untangled Love.”

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(Warner Bros./Helium-3)

On their concept album Drones, Muse returns to a simpler sound, one without the orchestral and EDM pulses. Bringing on producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (the guy behind Maroon 5's Hands All Over), the UK prog rock band pours their skill into solid rock grinding, reminiscent of their early works. The themes range from future wars to deep empathy in a George Orwell 1984 society and the lyrics are at times embarrassingly silly, but Muse's playing is paramount. “Reapers” is totally bad ass, flaring with Matt Bellamy's guitar solo and awesome shredding. The U2-pickled “Mercy” is gorgeously rendered, while hard rock jams like “Psycho,” “Revolt” and “Defector” prove to be entertaining album highlights. The enclosed theatric interludes also provide good cinematic drama, as if they've culling a rock opera around Pink Floyd's The Wall inspiration.

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(MCA Nashville)

The unorthodox approach of breakout singer Sam Hunt in the realm of country proved to be enough to separate him from the rat pack of country stars. His dashing good looks may have also helped in that climb. Evidenced on Montevallo, Hunt's debut disc, the songs journey from feelgood country pop (“House Party,” “Single for the Summer”) and R&B-teased bangers (“Leave the Night On”). He also drops an inventive talk-and-sing vocal skill and a storyteller's vibe on “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Take Your Time,” creating a new-age hybrid using Bob Dylan technique and remnants of Drake's hip-hop.

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Top 45 Singles of 2015

Top 33 1/3 Albums of 2014

Top 45 Singles of 2014

Top 33 1/3 Albums of 2012

Top 45 Singles of 2012

LISTEN: 45 Best Singles of 2011

LISTEN: 45 Best Singles of 2010


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