2016 has been a year of significant loss, especially within the creative community. Headlined by the loss of Prince, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen, in particular, it overshadowed in many ways what also has been one of the strongest years of music in recent memory. From long-awaited follow-ups to genre-bending debuts, here are the Top 50 Albums of 2016, according to Everyday Tuneage:
This Canadian duo is signed on to Drake’s OVO Records, and while you can definitely see the influence, they are far from being mere proteges. Recalling the best aspects of The Weeknd’s early entries in darker, moodier R&B mixed with soaring hooks, SEPT 5TH is a very promising debut.
We are KING
KING’s debut album is full of beautifully written, breezy R&B throwback tracks. The first two songs in particular, “The Right One” and “The Greatest” recall classic quiet storm R&B with a serene sonic backdrop tinged in psychedelia.
Weezer (White Album)
The white album mostly won over long-time fans that had derided the band’s stagnant production for the better part of the last decade, but moreover, it also restated the band’s relevancy for the current generation. The formula hasn’t changed much, but with singles like “King of The World,” the hooks are nearly as good as they were when Weezer first came onto the scene.
The Sun’s Tirade
While expectations were likely set far too high for Isaiah Rashad’s long-awaited debut, The Sun’s Tirade still impresses and points to a level of potential that it would be easy to see Rashad becoming one of the better artists in rap in a few years time.
I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
Hamilton Leithauser, the vocalist from the now defunct The Walkmen, and Rostam Batmanglij, the former member of Vampire Weekend, paired up for a low-key album that works better than it should in a lot of ways. Yes, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine will sound immediately familiar to anyone that has ever put on a record by The Walkmen, but the layered nuance that Batmanglij brings to the table saves the album from feeling too flat.
With the universal praise given to their debut effort, Savages were never going to figure out a way to climb out of that shadow. Instead, they did the next best thing by not worrying about creating the perfect follow up and focus on pushing their own sound further. While a bit of a red hearing, the lead single “Adore” is what symbolizes the greatness of Savages– as a band they play with tension better than most anyone–they grab your attention and never let go.
A Giant Dog
They might be hard to take seriously, but A Giant Dog is surprisingly good, and Pile is a surprisingly good album. The band kicks it into overdrive and never slows down, providing some great tracks along the way in “Sex & Drugs” and “Sleep When Dead.”
While never outwardly experimental, Deftones have always been difficult to pin down due to their unique blend of genres that have been the trademark of their career. Gore falls in the same vein, somewhat dark that also feels infinite regarding the cavernous space their sound fills throughout the album.
Unfortunately overshadowed by other more assured and dynamic albums, Genesis is a very solid blueprint for Domo Genesis to use for future releases. Anchored by the soulful “Dapper,” Domo Genesis has always had the inquisitiveness and talent that it takes to be a force within the industry, it’s just time for him to go all in.
Long Way Home
The only weakness to Låpsley’s debut album is its familiarity. Between the glitchy production, the larger than life vocals, the immediate comparisons drawn are likely a hybrid of James Blake and Adele. Yet, with repeated listens, there’s clearly more here, especially given Låpsley’s young age. The soulful “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” really shows off her vocals without resorting to the same balladic style of “Love Is Blind” and “Hurt Me.”
Post Pop Depression
The idea of Josh Homme and Iggy Pop working together out in Joshua Tree is far more exciting than the results ever could be, but even so, Post Pop Depression is a delightfully introspective album about mortality and one’s legacy. Queens of the Stone Age fans will quickly identify the influence of Homme on the record, but it’s still Iggy Pop’s show.
One Day All of This Won’t Matter Anymore
Slow Club’s fifth release is a mostly laid back affair, but the duo still manages to fill a room in a way very few large bands can, let alone other two-piece bands. With some heavier Americana influences on songs like “In Waves” and “The Jinx,” One Day All of This Won’t Matter Anymore is another solid effort.
The band formerly known as Viet Cong may have changed their name, but they are as relentless as ever with their wall of sound of droning and occasionally dissonant guitars, bass, and hard-hitting drums. The production may not have the same bite, but the band is as gutsy as they were on their debut.
Kero Kero Bonito
Everyday Tuneage last mentioned Kero Kero Bonito less than a month ago about their fantastic single “Trampoline” and much of those adjectives apply to the album as a whole. Bonito Generation is a fun, dynamic and inventive pastiche of video games, J-Pop, hip-hop, and dancehall that will always keep the listener engaged.
The partnership between Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge makes a lot of sense as both have a penchant for finding niches within soul and R&B that their contemporaries have yet to uncover. As such, this album is one of the most exciting projects of 2016, especially from a production standpoint. Paak still has some convincing to do as a rapper, but the overall vibe is just about perfect.
Blue and Lonesome
The Rolling Stones
Blue and Lonesome may not have been what The Rolling Stones initially set out to make, but this collection of Chicago blues covers is likely exactly what the band needed and reaffirms their status as the branch between blues and modern rock n roll. Besides sounding incredible, the band also sounds as loose as they ever have, actually enjoying the moment and displaying a level of chemistry that hasn’t appeared naturally within a studio album in years. Casual fans may have wanted a new album of original material, but this is a more than welcome placeholder.
The Weight of These Wings
Miranda Lambert’s sprawling double album is deeply personal and impactful, taking on her very public divorce and fallout with Blake Shelton in a way that avoids the common elements found in “break-up” albums. Yes, there’s pain, self-discovery, the occasional moment of kicking back to lighten the mood, but between the gorgeous production, Lambert’s stirring vocals, and songwriting, The Weight of These Wings never feels burdensome during its two discs, brevity be damned.
The New Breed
Jeff Parker has made a name for himself well beyond his role as guitarist for the band Tortoise. Frequently experimenting with tone and structure, The New Breed takes these ideologies with a more free jazz and funk focus, sounding like a hybrid of Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman. The result is not only one of the more approachable jazz albums of the year but also one that gets better with repeated listens.
When a leader that’s so synonymous with their band comes out with a solo effort, it always raises the question of “Why?” Yes, there was some experimentation on Jim James’ first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, but outside of being perhaps a bit darker, it wasn’t anything that would’ve appeared too far out of left field on a My Morning Jacket album. Thankfully Eternally Even pushes the envelope further, perhaps exploring ideas that James had but hadn’t yet pursued, and at its best, gets waist-deep in a sweet mix of political funk and R&B that still has that strand of familiarity for My Morning Jacket fans so as not to get confused. James is still occasionally heavy-handed lyrically, but the music more than makes up for this throughout as it is the most willfully adventurous he has ever been.
The Life of Pablo
It’s far from his worst album, but The Life of Pablo is easily the most inconsistent effort Kanye West has ever put together. Despite his claims that this was a religious hip-hop album (“Ultralight Beam” can hardly offset the truly cringe-worthy lyrics that follow on the rest of the album), Chance The Rapper’s latest release is so far ahead of West that the claim doesn’t hold water. Instead, much like Graduation, this album sounds like Kanye’s in transition to his next great sound. Even so, there’s a lot to like about The Life of Pablo: the samples and production are top-notch, and West puts down some of the best rhymes in years on this album too. Given the hype, the constant reworking leading up to (and after) its release, it seems like The Life of Pablo could have been (and maybe was supposed to be?) so much more.
Noname’s debut mixtape is an impressive release, her stylized and poetic delivery articulates a somewhat nostalgic take on daily life. The production is warm, despite the occasionally glitchy nature, and never wavers even when tackling more serious issues as shown on “Casket Pretty.” It’ll be interesting to see where Noname goes from here.
The bombast of lead single “Born Again Teen” was definitely a red herring for Lucius’ sophomore album, but still pointed to the overall change to a more mainstream sound. Fans of the folk-oriented sound of their debut will likely get over the switch upon listening to such gems as “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain.” Good Grief has some fantastic hooks and is an endlessly fun listen.
The surprise winner of this year’s Mercury Prize, which is awarded to what is considered the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Skepta’s Konnichiwa is the perfect introduction to the renaissance of British grime hip-hop in 2016. Both the rhymes and production are incredibly well-done, with intense lyricism and a strong narrative from beginning to end.
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
After their breakthrough hit “Chocolate,” mastering the art of 80’s pop didn’t seem like the likely next step, yet that is very much where The 1975 end up with their sophomore release. “Love Me” is every bit a hybrid of INXS and Peter Gabriel, and that’s a theme throughout the album– there are clearly a lot of influences at work, but what separates The 1975 from most other bands is their ability to craft some semblance of cohesion amongst the chaos. Just about everything on I Like It When You Sleep… is so immediately addicting, that every song feels like it should be on the radio for the masses to enjoy.
Big Baby D.R.A.M.
D.R.A.M. is a refreshing and unique voice in an increasingly crowded hip-hop field, who seems to effortlessly crank out bangers like “Broccoli” and “Cash Machine” but can just as easily indulge in eccentric, pensive tracks such as “WiFi” and “Sweet Va Breeze.” His larger than life personality definitely helps matters, but make no mistake, D.R.A.M. is an immensely talented guy, he will certainly make his mark in albums to come.
It never seemed as though The Avalanches follow up to their famed debut Since I Left You would ever see the light of day, yet 15 years later they returned with the beautiful Wildflower. Whereas the debut relied on samples to serve as vocals, The Avalanches this time around turned to rappers while providing the production and depending on how you feel about that change it will either make Wildflower easier or harder to enjoy. The fact of the matter is that Wildflower does not feel revolutionary the way Since I Left You did, but some songs capture the same euphoric joy that existed with their debut.
Andy Shauf’s sophomore release is, much like his debut, haunting, wonderfully arranged and sneaks up on the listener with his wry lyrics, surprising flourishes, and addicting hooks. There also is an added confidence Shauf displays this time around– he’s no longer a meek observer as he is for much of his debut– there’s conviction within the observational lyrics that make his music (and his vocals) more enjoyable.
Light Upon the Lake
It’s a bit unfair to compare Whitney to their previous credits (Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns), only because so much of their sound has been reconstructed into this serene album. It is still worth noting, however, as both bands, at their core, are exquisite at reimagining 70’s pop music– something that Light Upon the Lake embraces completely. The result is a brilliant, breezy album that would have been right at home on AM radio.
Lambchop is a band that has consistently reinvented themselves over the course of their career, and the subdued FLOTUS (For Love Often Turns Us Still) is no different with their usage of vocoder and electronic music to influence their atmospheric, folky tones. It’s in a lot of ways similar to what Bon Iver has accomplished, but on a subtle scale.
The average song length on this album is less than two minutes, but someway, somehow, Frankie Cosmos conveys more intelligence, wondrous storytelling and beautiful music in that amount of time than most can throw together over the course of an entire album. Every track is a wonderfully written vignette that, for that moment in time, completely transports you to that world. It may not be rocket science, but it’s hard to ask for much more.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The death of Nick Cave’s son, which occurred during recording, overshadows much of Skeleton Tree. With its sense of longing and crisis, there is a personal touch to this album that makes Skeleton Tree all the more stirring than Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ previous work.
You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen’s last album is an appropriate send-off for a man who often took the bleakest subjects and brought them an inspirational beauty. You Want It Darker, produced by his son Andy, is almost funereal in its delivery and presentation but never ceases to amaze with its never-ending allure.
Awaken, My Love!
Donald Glover is a man of many talents, but never found himself completely accepted by the hip-hop crowd despite his many attempts and moderate success. Perhaps, through the birth of his son, or just with the wisdom and changed worldview in working with his other projects outside of music, Glover turned his Childish Gambino sound into something more magical and wondrous. Awaken, My Love! is a bonafide head-first dive into the funkiest of funk that hasn’t been explored so authentically since the days of Sly Stone and Funkadelic. The risk absolutely pays off, as the highs are much higher than anything Glover has done previously, and Awaken, My Love! as a whole is one of the most enjoyable albums of 2016.
Lucy Dacus’ debut is a stellar piece of work that mainly showcases her absolutely gorgeous vocals and sharp songwriting. From the opening, “I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore,” Dacus powers through each consecutive song with unwavering certainty. Dacus is wise beyond her years and will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
It was hard to determine if untitled unmastered should even be eligible for this list, but despite its explicit unfinished nature, it’s still not only some of Kendrick Lamar’s best work, it’s a clear display of how he’s on an entirely different playing field creatively than many other artists right now. If anything, untilted unmastered is like an audio version of liner notes for To Pimp a Butterfly, as many of the themes are repeated, but given the level of experimentation, it gives the listener the ability to better understand just how Kendrick Lamar ended up with his landmark album.
The hype for Kaytranada’s debut album built up over the course of two years from his initial single “Leave Me Alone” released in 2014. Despite the build up, 99.9% does not at all disappoint, as it is a powerful collection of tracks that, for all its features, has a cohesion that makes it enjoyable from beginning to end. With all but two of the 15 tracks having prominent features from the likes of Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon, BADBADNOTGOOD and many others, it’s important to note that at no point does Kaytanada fade into the background here. Instead, his precise production is clearly the thread that ties the album together and makes things tick– that in itself is an immensely important attribute for any artist to stand out.
Somehow improving on her fantastic debut Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN is impressive for showcasing Olsen’s incredible range as an artist. From country pop to grunge-influenced rock to the lo-fi indie she was known for from her debut, there’s a wide variety of genres covered and at nowhere does Olsen disappoint. She is truly a rare talent, and MY WOMAN features some of the best songwriting of the year.
Infinitely complex both thematically and musically, Mitski’s Puberty 2 requires repeated sessions to truly grasp everything that’s going on, but those that take the time will be rewarded with an experience unlike anything else heard in quite a while. It’s dense, occasionally fraught and dissonant but perfectly captures the conflict that exists within anyone’s self-discovery.
Unfortunately, Esperanza Spalding is likely still more infamous for winning the Grammy’s than anything else still, but the renowned jazz artist has significantly changed her sound to an angular take on R&B and funk. The result is an energetic and daring album that easily is her best and most consistent work.
Blank Face LP
ScHoolboy Q will likely forever live in the shadow of label-mate Kendrick Lamar, but damn if Blank Face LP isn’t a near-classic album. Interweaving gritty storylines to a nearly cinematic degree with strong hooks, larger than life production and some standout tracks, Blank Face LP is To Pimp a Butterfly‘s unhinged cousin.
Lemonade is a tour de force from Beyoncé– an album so deeply personal that it brought questions in the 24/7 news cycle about her relationship status with Jay-Z. In reality, though, it is more than just an album about a wronged woman, it is an empowering, staggering affront to the status quo and a celebration of Beyoncé as both a person and an artist. It’s demonstrated through her extensive experimentation with roots music, blues, and country and her politically loaded subtext that exists far beyond the obvious “Formation.” For an artist that could have easily played it safe, Lemonade is anything but that.
2016 has been Anderson .Paak’s breakthrough year– beyond Malibu, he has had numerous features, several NBA spots, notable live performances and his NxWorries project to boot. Malibu, in particular, is a sprawling and delightfully soulful album that is all at once the descendant of Sly Stone and Bilal but also straddles the line as Paak continuously dips his toe into the waters of more aggressive rapping. A man of many talents, Malibu showcases Anderson .Paak as one of the potential great artists of this generation.
A Seat at the Table
Where her sister’s album was more ostentatious in its presentation and mission with Lemonade, Solange’s album almost appears understated. Yet, A Seat at the Table is the most unapologetically black album to be released in 2016, going further and more direct than Lemonade, or any other similarly themed albums, ever did. Racial and gender identities run rampant, as indicated by the album title, the iconic album art, and it is so wonderfully dissected and thought out that it forces a discussion just through the listening and understanding A Seat at the Table as a whole.
Chance the Rapper
Where Anderson .Paak may not be quite a household name yet, Chance the Rapper has become a sensation overnight even without the help of a record label. With each album, Chance the Rapper has become not only a better rapper but he has become more consistent in his record output as well. The mixing and production still leave something to be desired, but the songs themselves are as strong as anything you’ll hear from 2016– a far more certain approach to the same type of Gospel rap Kanye was promising but didn’t fully deliver on his The Life of Pablo. Coloring Book is inspiring, insightful, and, perhaps the best part is that even still Chance the Rapper is never afraid to show his own flaws and seek to improve himself through his music– that’s a rarity in any genre, let alone hip-hop.
22, A Million
By far and away the best album Bon Iver has released, 22, A Million takes the larger than life moments that made Justin Vernon’s project so renowned, to begin with and sharpens the scope so that it not only focuses on larger but also being better. The heavily digitized aesthetic still manages to have enough of an organic quality so as not to ostracize the listener, but it also brings along a sense of wonderment and existential crisis as Vernon interweaves issues of identity and religion throughout the album.
A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool proves that even after all this time Radiohead can still impress and even in taking a long-known tune like “True Love Waits,” the band is still talented and daring enough to rework it to the point that it feels new again. From beginning to end, A Moon Shaped Pool is brilliant and is among the finest work from Thom Yorke and crew.
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest
The perfect baton handoff for the next generation of hip-hop artists, A Tribe Called Quest can finally ride off into the sunset knowing they did everything they could to leave the hip-hop community in a better place. Unfortunately, Phife Dawg wasn’t able to see that accomplishment all the way through release with the rest of the members of A Tribe Called Quest, and his death casts an understandably heavy shadow on the tone of the album. For all of the emphasis on finality, We Got It From Here… is still an incredibly invigorating listen packed with more highlights than anyone likely would have ever expected from the legendary group.
Everyone knew it was a good sign that Danny Brown signed with Warp Records. Between Danny Brown’s embrace of all things strange and a similar life mission for his newfound record label, the results don’t disappoint at all. The best way to describe Atrocity Exhibition to call it free jazz for hip-hop. There are moments where there’s no straightforward or discernable flow, there are moments where it’s literally impossible to tell what exactly it is that you’re hearing, but it all just works. Danny Brown’s latest is by far the most original hip-hop album in a very long time and it’ll probably take a while before it gets the appreciation it deserves.
Where Channel Orange was approachable with its California sun-kissed take on modern R&B, Blonde offers no such life raft to listeners. Even the songs that initially appear safe such as “Ivy” end up being abstracted into something else entirely. In spite of all the studio engineering that seem to intentionally build constructs to prevent the listener from getting too close to Frank Ocean as an artist, there is something about Blonde that continually intrigues. Much like the complicated relationships Ocean covers throughout his work, Blonde has that it factor that makes a listener want to regularly revisit the album.
David Bowie’s Blackstar is the kind of farewell most anyone can only dream of– it wasn’t obvious based on the initial release, but the themes of mortality and legacy became so much more poignant once the realization struck that Blackstar was in many ways Bowie’s way of saying goodbye. More than that, Blackstar experimented in ways Bowie hadn’t dare approached in a long time– with its hypnotic opening title track to the stellar “Lazarus”– it rarely sounds familiar. For a man that reinvented himself as many times as David Bowie did, that is one hell of a feat.
Listen to The Top 50 Albums of 2016 playlist below on Spotify