Guitar-based music has largely been absent from Top 40 playlists, but artists operating in the pop-rock idiom had fun pushing forward. It’s consistently jarring, but it also makes sense. Talk about "pop" usually means humongous hit singles, and 2016 sure had its share. at the Disco, released Death of a Bachelor, a genre-spanning showcase for frontman Brendon Urie’s still-formidable vocal. Cuomo, too, had a triumph with Weezer’s hook-packed Weezer; Weezer’s summer tour partners, Panic! The Montclair, N.J. group Pinegrove have two logos: one, a small box intersected with an identical box, is favored among their legions of young and tattooed fans, as evidenced in an endless stream of RTs on the band’s page. See the list of GRAMMY Awards Winners & Nominees for the Best Pop Vocal Album. With mixing by ace Chris Coady, the bid for professionalism paid off in a set of elegantly restrained, melancholic synth-pop tunes that showcase Maine’s aching falsetto. © Copyright 2020 Rolling Stone, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media, LLC. –Matthew Ramirez. She enlisted a murderers’ row of collaborators while embracing spite (the Jack White-assisted “Don’t Hurt Yourself”) and tenderness (the wedding-dance-in-wait “All Night”) with equal vigor. The burbling, drunken loop of “Lifeblood” is in constant danger of being overtaken by a lush drone, while “Marked for Life” drags warmth from what sounds like the flickering glow of a million computer screens. Swan Gallet/WWD/Rex The two biggest pop releases of 2016 came in the form of semi-sneak attacks from superstars whose boldface-name status transcends music. Front Row Seat to Earth has many of these moments, where Mering’s vocals and arrangements coalesce into a melancholy, beautiful cry to the heavens—not a plea to a higher power, but a declaration of worthiness in the present day. What saves Pool from getting lost in its own glossy vibes is an underlying sense of intimacy, helped no doubt by its being recorded mainly in Maine’s Manhattan apartment, and by some warmly enigmatic backing vocals from Greta Kline, better known as Frankie Cosmos. Pinegrove songs are appealingly episodic. But when that certainty is impossible, For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), Frankie Cosmos: “Outside with the Cuties”, For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have). Flutes, xylophones, and old video game effects contrast with the harsh whisper of Savage alongside Future on “X.” “Feel It,” a love song, seems hopeless, but Savage’s near-percussive repetition of “I can feel it in the air” is intoxicating. She knows exactly when to end a song, which can be just as important as knowing when to start one. But despite these albums, pop still remains a genre for singles. –Ryan Dombal, Listen: Frankie Cosmos: “Outside with the Cuties”, On A Good Night in the Ghetto, the young Oakland MC Kamaiyah captures lightning in a bottle. Rihanna’s Anti, which arrived rather suddenly in January after a relatively long wait for the Barbadian superstar, was a taut offering that showed Rihanna working her voice in new ways (as on the torchy “Love on the Brain”) and dominating all who came near her (like overpowering Drake on the sinewy “Work” or setting highways aflame on “Desperado”). His narratives are accented by the production’s rhythmic twitches; low, round bass buoys his flat, vocal fry monotone. It evoked that liminal state between awake and asleep, when your whirring brain slows down enough to let your body rest. Near the end of her brief, brilliant album Next Thing, backed by a simple backbeat and ringing guitars—think the Strokes minus any and all machismo—the 22-year-old breaks down nothing less than the paradox of life in two tidy lines: “When you’re young, you’re too young/When you’re old, you’re too old.” The record’s 15 songs all clock in around the two-minute mark, a brevity born of wisdom rather than laziness. Want more Rolling Stone? M83’s Junk, meanwhile, rummaged through radio’s rubbish bins, spinning signifiers that defined CVS bangers of yore (gold-spun sax lines, Steve Vai solos) into pop fantasias. Huerco S.’s ambient album For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), was this year’s great salve. Artists have never had more ways to express themselves, from one-off Soundcloud singles to social media posts to live streams of video. Bay Area producers such as P-Lo, 1-O.A.K., and Trackademicks blend new jack swing and radio R&B samples for this young, agile rapper. Kristin Kontrol, the new alias of former Dum Dum Girls mastermind Kristin Welchez, put out X-Communicate, which swapped out her former band’s swirl of guitars for otherworldly synths. It demands we learn how to talk with one another. Endings require answers—or at least some gesture toward certainty. Send us a tip using our anonymous form. Kamaiyah’s style descends from fellow West Coast rappers like Suga Free, but it’s also very much her own, blending equal loves of Cali hip-hop and ’90s vocal groups like TLC. A follow-up EP of Pool demos, Water, further attests to the sturdiness of Maine’s craft. The other is an ampersand. These are the best albums of 2016. Flutes, ... lo-fi pop. Rihanna made one of 2016's best pop albums. On “Ain’t Too Hard” he raps, “Sometimes emotions get the best of me clearly/And I ain’t never try to straddle no fences.” May he never aim for the middle ground. As Frankie Cosmos, her muses include New York City, animals, the touring life, memories, friends, growing up—big topics that she distills with a few carefully chosen words and notes and sounds. Unlike his more self-pitying peers, Staples lucidly dissects his psychological disintegration. We want to hear from you! This summer, when Pitchfork interviewed the band’s frontman, Evan Stephens Hall—a 27-year-old of highly enthusiastic, bookish charisma—he said he’d thought about publishing a pamphlet on Pinegrove iconography. Rihanna, Gaga, the 1975 and more of the year in hooks. Certainly not, , is one of only two rap albums released this year, to be awarded platinum certification by the RIAA (the other being Drake’s massive, guest-star-laden. –Marc Hogan, Greta Kline is the girl on the F train scanning the subway car’s bounty for inspiration, scribbling her thoughts in a notebook.