If you’re unfamiliar with Jenn Woodard’s work on poetryinanemptycokecan, then you need to do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with it immediately. Jenn is constantly honed in on some of the freshest and most unique sounds across the electronic world – an ear unparalleled in that environment. So when she signed on to help us with our end-of-the-year project, we were pretty excited to say the least.

When SoundChips first asked to me to share my top moments in music this year, I’ll admit I was somewhat hesitant. While the musical landscape in 2016 certainly had its high points, I felt it was a little scanter than years past, quantitatively speaking. That said, the moments that did manage to stand out were quite meaningful, so I’ll do my best to recount them here. Moreover, as a fan and friend of SoundChips the site, there was no way I could let them down.

Hamilton, the Musical

As an enthusiast of the theatre, I have to say that 2016 undoubtedly belonged to Hamilton, which picked up 11 Tony awards this year including Best Musical. The score, composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda was an incredible, sweeping showcase of riveting showtunes that combined both history and hip hop to critical success. Miranda somehow managed to pull off the impossible – making musicals cool and history exciting – so every accolade he receives is well deserved.

Though I’m not one of the lucky ones to’ve actually seen Hamilton on Broadway (hookup anyone?), the soundtrack was on heavy rotation for me this year so I’d definitely place it in my top five. For fans of the show, The Hamilton Mixtape, a collection of covers from everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Chance the Rapper is also a must-listen.

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

Another record on repeat for me this year was the autobiographical Blood Orange album, Freetown Sound. As 2016 was a particularly contentious year, Dev Hynes did a tremendous job expressing through verse the political divide that shook the country this past year – serving as the voice of an important movement.

More than just a political piece, Freetown Sound was deeply personal for Hynes, the title of which is a nod to his father’s birthplace in Sierra Leone. And in true Hynes fashion, he collaborated with a number of topnotch talents on the LP, including Empress Of on the ballad “Best to You” (on my personal list of top tracks this year).

Blood Orange encompasses everything I’m into musically – progressive synthpop stylings, melodic hooks, and lyrical depth – so this album was a definite highlight.

Radiation City

In addition to being drawn to electronic music and sounds that push the boundaries of modern music, I’m also a huge fan of the plush pop structures of the ‘60s from the Phil Spector era. Hence, when I was introduced to the group Radiation City this year by way of SoundChips (S/O to Joey), it was love at first sound.

The Portland quintet have this deliciously sultry, retro vibe that conjures bossa nova reveries and reflective wistful fancies. They put out a decent new record called Synesthetica this year, but I recommend their entire body of work – their live recordings especially – for those into the genre.

James Blake, The Colour In Anything

The artist that most took my breath away in terms of emotional gravity and exquisite musicality this year was none other than James Blake. Having waited a few years to release his third LP, The Colour in Anything, it seems the UK crooner took his time to craft a stunning composition of spacious, electronic works that unfurl like a requiem – with contributions from both Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean (who had successful years in their own right).

While the effort was generally well received, I can’t help but feel this album is criminally underrated. He’s been criticized for having overly simplistic lyrics (e.g. “I suggest you love like love’s no loss”), but I personally feel that lines like this align with his minimal aesthetic and contribute to the overall poignancy of the album without sounding pedestrian. Blake is clearly working through a difficult breakup on the confessional record, and his angelic vocals layered over majestic arrangements equate to a near religious experience in my book.

I also had the opportunity to see Blake perform live this year, which was hands down one of, if not the best show I witnessed in 2016. During the concert, Blake mentioned how thrilled he was to be able to perform his music organically on stage with the aid of a live drummer and keyboardist – and to his credit the effect was both intimate and exhilarating. Transitioning from soulful hushed sounds one minute to booming electronica the next, Blake delivered a self-assured performance that seemed indicative of where he’s at in this moment of his career. Another highlight was seeing Moses Sumney open the show – talk about a talent, that guy is about to blow up.

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious

This year I completed my final phase of fandom with Andrew Bird, catching him in concert three times – following the music virtuoso all the way to his homeland of Chicago for his Gezelligheid holiday residency at the Fourth Presbyterian Church. I can claim Chicago though, since my father is from Illinois right? Right. Anyway. In all seriousness, Bird is one of the most skillful live musicians I’ve ever seen – the multi-instrumentalist and renowned whistler is a master looper and improviser, so no show is ever the same.

I appreciated them all (in Chicago, DC, and Baltimore) for different reasons, but seeing him perform his signature pizzicato in a hallowed space in his hometown, ‘the city of lights’ was particularly transcendent. That was actually my fourth time seeing Bird live, all told, and at every show a different song tends to stick out as most inspired. The most dynamic track he performed that night in my opinion was his recently resurrected protest song, “Sic of Elephants.”

Bird has built up quite the canon of work over the years, and I enjoyed his latest LP, Are You Serious more than I could’ve even imagined. The album marks an evolution for the classically guarded wordsmith, who settled down and became a father in between records. From his playful duet with Fiona Apple to the romantic swells of “Roma Fade,” the album radiates joy from start to finish, and is the type of effort that enables you to discover something new with every listen. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, but as someone that seems to breathe ingenuity, there’s no doubt that further Bird-spiration awaits us.