2016 was a spectacular and sad year for music. We saw/heard the beautiful wrath of Beyonce’s Lemonade, fell into Radiohead’s moon-shaped pool, said goodbye to David Bowie and Prince–two of the most legendary musical icons ever, grooved to the sounds of Anderson .Paak and openly gay artist Kaytranda, and saw that the live concert experience is going nowhere but UP (thank god)!
This list was painstakingly curated by our contributors. We invite you to listen and share your thoughts on the below list of the 25 greatest albums of 2016. Enjoy the musical journey!
25. Yeasayer – Amen and Goodbye
One of the greatest alternative-rock bands is back with an ambitious psychedelic concept record that is chalk full of incredible musical landscapes, quirky riffs, falsetto’s, and their signature psychedelic-pop style. While it seems many critics were harsh on them, we disagree. Yeasayer is as strong and focused as ever on Amen and Goodbye.
24. Still Parade – Concrete Vision
Still Parade is Niklas Kramer, the new one-man-band of 2016. Similar to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Kramer has taken on the duty of performing all instruments and creating luscious melodies from the instruments he employs (mainly a synthesizer). Kramer’s breathy vocals coupled with his lo-fi sounds are the perfect psychedelic, chill-out music of 2016.
23. Britney Spears – Glory
The pop princess Britney Spears does not disappoint on her glorious ninth album appropriately-titled Glory. It’s hit after hit with Britney in party girl mode here. There isn’t a track on this album you won’t be singing or dancing to.
22. Omni – Deluxe
The Atlanta trio Omni includes ex-Deerhunter guitarist Frankie Broyles, as well as two former Carnivores. Together, they make an incredible mix of post-punk, new wave, and lo-fi on their debut album Deluxe. We put it on this list because it is one of the best post-punk albums released in years.
21. Tiga – No Fantasy Required
Tiga’s latest release is a stunning dance masterpiece that spans several musical genres including R&B-tinged dance, electro-pop, house, electro-bangers, and more. Tiga’s witty humor is exceedingly apparent on this album–and adds more fun to it!
20. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
For his final album, release three weeks before his death, Leonard Cohen grapples with mortality in the face of death. Recorded in his house in Los Angeles, the album is classically Cohen, sewn together with a fragility of man (literally) on his death bed.
Songs to check out: “You Want It Darker,” “Treaty” and “String Reprise/Treaty”
19. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
The third in a trilogy of albums that started with XXX and ends here. Danny Brown’s unique style, high-pitched/goofy vocals, and expert rhyming skills lead us on an exciting hip-hop journey make for a very fun time with this record if not one of the better of 2016.
18. Quilt – Plaza
The female-lead pysch-rock outfit Quilt released their second album this year and proved that the pop-leaning indie rock, psychedelia, vintage British folk, and Americana genre is not all the same. Plaza is as stunning a record as it gets here. While the band honors their influences they stay strikingly unique and absolutely shine on this whimsical indie record.
17. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
PJ Harvey is one of the greatest artists of all time. The Hope Six Demolition Project is a real departure from her other works. Most of the time, Harvey writes her music as an active participant in her music. On The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey takes the role of reporter. She traveled to Washington, DC, Kabul, and Kozovo where she reported on what she saw. Also, her new album features more horns than previously. Harvey as observer not intimately involved is punctuated by the horns and the auto harp, giving the album an honest feel without judgement.
16. Woods – City Sun Eater In The River Of Light
One of their standout songs on City Sun Eater In The River Of Light is “Sun City Creeps” and this is a detour into reggae and African jazz, complete with horns, trebly guitars and the loose, first-take feel of an early Studio One session–it’s a song that will leave you breathless. One their ninth album they are still turning heads and bringing in new sounds, this is a stunning piece to add to their repertoire.
15. Bear Hands – You’ll Pay For This
The band’s third album sees them going all-in on big, hooky, unforgettable indie-rock dance gems. Quite honestly, its a breath of fresh air in a time when so man indie rock albums focus on darker themes and darker issues. Bear Hands puts the fun back in indie rock and leaves us with a cheerier, coming of age album.
14. Dragonette – Royal Blues
Dragonette’s Royal Blues like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is an album that comes from a painful place, at least one that is apparent in their lyrics. While both Martina Sorbara and Dan Kurtz have not disclosed Sorbara has stated: “It’s such a special thing to be in a band with your spouse. You get asked about it a lot. In the back of our minds we were scared.” However, you wouldn’t guess from the albums upbeat, fast tempo dance tracks! Every song on this album is standout and there isn’t one dull moment.
13. Justice – Woman
French electronica duo Justice went back to their roots on this album toward the brighter sounds of pop and disco that made them famous on Woman. While this wasn’t the groundbreaking album that Audio, Video, Disco was, this is certainly one of the best EDM albums of the year. They are no Daft Punk but they are the next greatest thing.
12. Lady Gaga – Joanne
Lady Gaga’s Joanne was an upset to fans expecting the Fame-era Gaga. However, this was a lyrical, emotional, and musical masterpiece unlike any of her other albums. This saw Gaga at her most primal, and emotionally-rich state with songs like “Joanne” and “Million Reasons.”
11. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Openly-gay artist Kaytranada did two brave things this year with his genre-defying stew of funk, soul, R&B, and beat and dance music that he brought to life on 99.9%. His soulful music spans several genres and is a throwback to the heritage of percussion-driven music.
10. Panic! at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor
Brendon Urie, the band’s mind and mouthpiece, is creating hooky, danceable pop-rock music that is infectious and grandiose in scale. Panic! at the Disco’s albums get better, and better with time. Urie has a lot left in him and Death of a Bachelor proves just that.
9. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
For his third studio album, James Blake continues with his familiar unique sound of dream-like vocals mixed with textured electronic effects. The album creates a soft tension that’s both warm and comforting, yet tense and dissonant.
Songs to check out: “Radio Silence,” “Timeless” and “I Need A Forest Fire”
8. Regina Spektor – Remember Us To Life
Regina Spektor, whose 15-year career deserves much more recognition than it’s gotten, released a piano-pop-ballad spectacle this year with Remember Us To Life. The intoxicating, emotionally-rich piano ballads are poetic and finely-calibrated for the listener. Take a listen to “Bleeding Heart” below:
7. The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood
The shocking thing about this rock duo is that they are still teenagers but have one of the highest scoring albums on our list this year. Brian and Michael D’Addario might be young but they are rocking like veterans and play/write music that makes them sound much older. The melodies resonate soft 70’s rock and funk with subjects that mainly span the topic of love. Harmonically-rich tracks with clever instrumentals make them stand out from the batch of indie artists that released albums this year.
6. Beyonce – Lemonade
Queen Bee certainly stunned audiences with Lemonade. Especially considering that most of its content is directed towards her current husband Jay-Z. The hypnotic, rhythmic tracks are poignant but keep their danceable fierceness throughout the album.
5. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak is the new king of R&B/Soul and Malibu is his masterpiece. Malibu is a meld of soul, R&B, funk, and hip-hop genres that remain cohesive as a whole while sounding uniquely original..Paak skillfully depicts his surroundings while remaining in the foreground. The multi-instrumentalist is now involved in joint efforts with multiple musicians, and is receiving critical acclaim across the board.
4. The Weeknd – Starboy
There will never be another Michael Jackson but the Weeknd is certainly a good second best option and he’s showing his immense talent every chance he gets. With the song “Starboy” he gets help from Daft Punk (and of course Michael Jackson) and the song is an epic song of sorts with incredible production work from Daft Punk. However, its their second track together “I Feel It Coming” that will literally send chills up your spine because it sounds like what we would have gotten if Daft Punk and Michael Jackson collaborated. However, this is the Weeknd and he’s proving to the world that he has what it takes to be a superstar.
3. Jagwar Ma – Every Now and Then
The Australian dance-rock trio Jagwar Ma went big and bold on their second album Every Now And Then. They told us back October where much of their inspiration comes from: “I think there is a lot to be said about managing input and output, living in a major city is a great vibe, great to soak everything up, but then at some point we find it best to get away, take up the natural world, and it be quiet enough so you can hear yourself think and see how you actually feel there.” On their current album the musical landscapes are sprawling and you literally feel like you traveled the world with them.
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
This magnificent record is the fitting good-bye from one of the greatest artists of all time–David Bowie. Blackstar is an intense record; not an easy listen at all. Perfect example is “Lazarus”, the song of a man who knows his time is near, that time itself has defeated him, just as he predicted 40 years ago in “Time” from Aladdin Sane. Check out these lyrics:
“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now.”
Such a perfect song to end a perfect career. Bowie was always the innovator, the talent, the bright star who eventually collapsed under his own glory and became the Blackstar. God bless and watch over us.
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
And here it is–Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool tops our list as the number one album of the year. Heavily shaped by lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s string orchestration from his work composing scores for films, Radiohead’s ninth album is one of their most subdued and cohesive pieces. The biggest shock is the inclusion of “True Love Waits” – an unreleased track the band has been kicking around on tour since 1995.
Songs to check out: “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits”