Exclaim!'s Top 15 Soul and R&B Albums Best of 2016

11. Laura Mvula
The Dreaming Room
(Sony Music)
"When your heart is broken down / And your head don't reach the sky / Take your broken wings and fly."
When it was released earlier this year, we didn't know yet how important or prescient Laura Mvula's The Dreaming Room would prove to be in 2016. "Come together, be brave," she urges later in the same song, the exquisite "Overcome" with Niles Rodgers, her voice skipping up and down a mountain of layered vocals and sing-song beats. It's just the second track on the album, but already we are swallowed whole, safely ensconced in The Dreaming Room's lush soundscape.
Even in the record's starkest moments — "Lucky Man," with its whispery flute-like anxieties and synth-and-drum marches evoking something cavernous and pained, the ominous and foreboding "Kiss My Feet" — there's a cinematic scope that's almost dizzying in its breadth. On the spacious and delicate "Show Me Love," bittersweet layers of regret and hope crescendo against an orchestral swell as Mvula's voice is pushed front and centre, like the moon pulling the night into daybreak.
Resilient, stark, luminous, it establishes the path out of dreamlike suspension and into something more decisive, declarative and celebratory: the triumphant and flawless dance-happy final track, "Phenomenal Woman."
Andrea Warner