Abdow Avenue’s 50 Best Albums of 2016

It is hard to describe 2016 in just a few words. It is a year that seems to have been branded by death and divisiveness. Between Brexit, Donald Trump, several tragic terrorist attacks, and a long list of celebrity deaths, it is hard to pick one moment that really defined the year. All the feelings that have resulted from this darkness seems to have bled over into our art, especially our music. 2016 was a generally darker year for music, especially compared to the past couple years. But as far as I am concerned, besides a slight dead period in the middle of the summer, this was one of the most consistently great years for music that I can remember. It made making this list hard to do, not only because I love so many of these albums, but because I know there are at least 20 albums that deserved to be contenders that I just did not have the time for. In the end, these are the best of the best from what I heard and I hope, if anything, I can help recommend some great albums that might have either been overlooked or ignored. If you would like to read more about any of these albums, I have linked my reviews into each title so you can check those out if you would like. Now that I have said all that, enjoy my list for the 50 best albums of 2016!

 

50) Usher- Hard II Love

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I know this album is not amazing. That is why it just barely made this list. But I have nostalgia for Usher and this record just reminded me why I liked him for such a long time. There are catchy songs that deserved to be bigger hits and songs that showcase his vocal range and abilities. This is easily his best album since Confessions, even if that is not saying much, and I was happy to see Usher make somewhat of a comeback in quality this year. There are several albums I would recommend you listen to before this, but if you were a fan of Usher before, you might find yourself liking him here as well.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Tell Me
  2. Crash
  3. No Limit (feat. Young Thug)
  4. Pump
  5. Need U

49) Elton John- Wonderful Crazy Night

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In a year as dark as 2016, it seemed like few albums had a genuine feeling of joy. Leave it to Elton John to deliver some much needed happiness on his 32nd studio album. While this is not the kind of record to push boundaries, it shows a master at his craft in his element creating a consistent set of songs. This was Elton’s first time in 10 years with the Elton John band which explains the upbeat nature of this record. The production by T Bone Burnett also adds some slight Americana influences that make this album stand out just enough to be unique in Elton’s recent discography.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Looking Up
  2. Blue Wonderful
  3. I’ve Got 2 Wings
  4. A Good Heart
  5. In The Name of You

48) Kaytranada- 99.9%

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Kaytranada is one of the most promising young producers and his debut album proves that. He is able to take an impressive ensemble and create some great beats for all of them. This does not break down any walls for electronic music, but it still was one of the more noteworthy albums in the genre from this year. If anything, this is worth it for the Anderson .Paak track which just shows off his talents as a performer. Keep this name in mind because I guarantee after this release, he will start to get much more credit for his work which seems to work with most of the popular genres around now.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Glowed Up (feat. Anderson .Paak)
  2. Got It Good (feat. Craig David)
  3. Drive Me Crazy (feat. Vic Mensa)
  4. One Too Many (feat. Phonte)
  5. You’re the One (feat. Syd)

47) Metallica- Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

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Even as a casual listener of metal, I can acknowledge how great Metallica is. Their early discography is flawless and while I have never been drawn to any of their newer material, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is a huge step forward for the group. Tackling social issues in a relentless way, this album is smarter than I think people were expecting it to be and certainly better than I expected. Even if they are not back to the quality of their glory days, this is the closest they have gotten to recapturing the sound of their self-titled album 25 years ago.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Spit Out the Bone
  2. Now That We’re Dead
  3. Atlas, Rise!
  4. Murder One
  5. Confusion

46) Denzel Curry- Imperial

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One of the better breakthroughs of 2016 was Denzel Curry who definitely caught my attention with this project. A surprisingly aggressive rapper of his generation, and one of the only great inclusions on this year’s XXL Freshmen List. Imperial does not tread any new water, especially in hip hop, but this material is handled in such a well-executed way that it does not matter as much. Denzel Curry is certainly one to look out for. I am anticipating some great material from him in the near future.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Gook
  2. If Tommorow’s Not Here (feat. Twelve’len)
  3. Ult
  4. Knotty Head (feat. Rick Ross)
  5. Sick and Tired

45) J. Cole- 4 Your Eyez Only

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While not perfect, this was certainly a pleasant surprise for the end of the year. J. Cole continues to prove that he is one of the best storytellers in popular hip hop, using this album to tell the story of his late friend James McMillan Jr. This is small, personal project that I am sure means more to Cole than any of us, but even with that said, there is plenty on here for his fans to enjoy. I also liked to quiet production, it definitely added to the emotional weight of this record. I recommend listening to this a few times, even if you did not love it first time around, to let it really sink in.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. 4 Your Eyez Only
  2. Change
  3. She’s Mine, Pt. 2
  4. Neighbors
  5. Immortal

44) Flume- Skin

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As great as 2016 was for music, electronic music seemed to be lacking. In a year where the most relevant electronic artists were The Chainsmokers, some other superior artists flew under the radar. Flume was one of these artists that I feel deserved to get more attention than he ended up getting. On this album, he was able to mix his brand of wonky production and make it accessible to a festival audience. Mixing alternative, indie pop and hip-hop together there are several standout tracks on here. It is a rare album where almost everyone will be able to cherry pick something they enjoy from it. Just look at the guest list on this project and you will know what I mean. On a side note, “Say It” is the version of “Closer” that deserved to make it big. Just saying.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Smoke & Retribution (feat. Vince Staples & Kučka)
  2. Say It (feat. Tove Lo)
  3. You Know (feat. Allan Kingdom & Raekwon)
  4. Wall Fuck
  5. Innocence (feat. AlunaGeorge)

43) Paul Simon- Stranger to Stranger

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Even at 74, Paul Simon is still able to make music worth talking about. Even if this does not reinvent the wheel in terms of what Simon usually does, this is an interesting set of songs that will surely be seen as a highlight in his later discography. There are plenty of personal insights and social commentary, making this a more than solid folk album. The production is light and utilizes some odd sounds to add some complexity to each of the songs here. Fans of Paul Simon, especially of his solo work, will surely find plenty on this album to enjoy, it has definitely stuck with me for a few months.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Werewolf
  2. Stranger to Stranger
  3. Insomniac’s Lullaby
  4. Wristband
  5. In a Parade

42) NxWorries- Yes Lawd!

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This was definitely one of the better collaborations of the year. For those who do not know, NxWorries is a duo made up by rising R&B singer Anderson .Paak, who will be making another appearance on this list, and hip hop producer Knxwledge. The two work excellently together, creating an assortment of short little tracks and putting them together into a fun collection of odds and ends. Some of these songs might get a little goofy and tread the line of bad taste, but the overall quality of these songs is strong and worth checking out if you are a fan of either of these artists.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Get Bigger/Do U Love
  2. Lyk Dis
  3. Scared Money
  4. Best One
  5. Link Up

41) PJ Harvey- The Hope Six Demolition Project

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As politically heavy-handed as it is, there is still plenty on this project to latch onto, especially if any of these various issues are important to you. PJ Harvey feels less like a songwriter and more like a journalist on this record as she sings about her experiences visiting Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C., capturing all the details of her experiences in a descriptive and emotionally impactful way. The touches of jazz to this indie rock record help it sound even more dynamic. Even if this is not at the level of her earlier work, Harvey has taken her career in a new direction and I would be more than happy to see more material like this from her.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Wheel
  2. Dollar, Dollar
  3. The Ministry of Social Defense
  4. A Line in the Sand
  5. The Community of Hope

40) The Weeknd- Starboy

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I have made my love for The Weeknd no secret. Part of me wishes I could put this album higher on this list but that should not take away from how great this album can get. The themes of growth here show emotional maturity from Beauty Behind the Madness and the 80s influences on here make even the darkest of moments a little fun. I do not think anyone, including The Weeknd, thought he was going to blow up the way he did in 2015 and this is a perfect exploration of his views towards that fame and his desire to grow up. Even if this is not perfect, the songs on here are catchy enough for casual listeners to love and have enough depth to dissect if you are looking for something heavier. Even if I do not think this is as great as his last album, The Weeknd is still finding ways to impress me.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Starboy (feat. Daft Punk)
  2. Sidewalks (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
  3. False Alarm
  4. I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk)
  5. Ordinary Life

39) Bon Iver- 22, A Million

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I feel like I was harsher on this album than most critics were. While I stand by everything I initially said, I do not think my problems should take away from the fact that this is a great piece of music. There are several touching, beautiful moments on here and I am glad that Bon Iver did not stick to their traditional sound and decided to get ambitious with electronics. I see another masterpiece in the future for this group, and knowing Justin Vernon, we might have to wait a little for it. But I am more than okay with that if he sticks to what makes his music great. Do not let the weird track titles turn you off from this, I promise there are at least a handful of songs on here that will not leave you anytime soon.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. 22 (OVER S∞∞N)
  2. 00000 Million
  3. 29 #Stafford APTS
  4. 33 “GOD”
  5. 8 (Circle)

38) YG- Still Brazy

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I honestly did not expect YG to make any impression on me with this album. I have never cared too much for him before but something about this album clicked with me. YG’s writing and delivery has improved massively, creating a set of personal and political rap anthems that are filled with plenty of energy. The production is a pleasant throwback to 90s G-funk that Dr. Dre helped popularize and helps several of these songs pop. I wish more of these songs hit it big because YG deserves recognition for his improvements.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Twist My Fingaz
  2. FDT (feat. Nipsey Hussle)
  3. Blacks and Browns (feat. Sad boy)
  4. Who Shot Me?
  5. Don’t Come to LA (feat. Sad boy, A.D. & Bricc Baby)

37) Common- Black America Again

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In a year like 2016, it only made sense that Common would release an album like this. As far as conscious rap goes, it does not get much better than Common, who has some of the most passionate tracks in years on this project. As you can guess from the title, racial injustice is the main theme of this album and while some of it sounds like slam poetry, it is some of the best slam poetry you will ever hear. Even many of the R&B tracks on here work, making this a very sonically consistent record, even if some of the content gets lost. This is Common’s best work since Be and if you do not mind your hip hop being outwardly socially conscious, this is worth a listen.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Black America Again (feat. Stevie Wonder)
  2. Rain (feat. John Legend)
  3. Little Chicago Boy
  4. Letter To the Free (feat. Bilal)
  5. Pyramids

36) Red Hot Chili Peppers- The Getaway

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After five long years since their last album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came back with a new producer and a new feel. Much of this album deals with Anthony Kiedis’ failed relationship with a 19-year-old model, making this a uniquely personal album for the band. This is only helped by Danger Mouse’s work as producer, who calms this band down from their usual sound and pushes them in an interesting direction. The songwriting here has also improved considerably, causing more tracks on this project to really hit emotionally. Most bands that have been making music this long would have given up making thoughtful music years ago. I am glad that the Chili Peppers have yet to give up after over 30 years.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Dark Necessities
  2. Dreams of a Samurai
  3. Sick Love
  4. The Longest Wave
  5. Feasting on the Flowers

35) The Avalanches- Wildflower

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For those unfamiliar with this group, they created one of the greatest plunderphonics albums of all time in 2000 and then never made a record again until Wildflower this last summer. Plunderphonics is a unique subgenre of electronic music where instead of using normal beats, the production is made up primarily of samples from other songs making it one of the most creative genres out there. I am a huge fan of this group and was thrilled about how great this album turned out. They mixed their classic sound with arranged orchestration and vocal performances from artists like Danny Brown, MF DOOM and Toro y Moi and the end result was one of the most entertaining releases of the year. It plays like a wild, psychedelic musical score, so if that sounds like something you might enjoy, check this out immediately.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Frankie Sinatra (feat. MF DOOM & Danny Brown)
  2. Because I’m Me (feat. Camp Lo)
  3. The Noisy Eater (feat. Biz Markie)
  4. The Wozard of Iz (feat. Danny Brown)
  5. Colours (feat. Jonathan Donahue)

34) King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard- Nonagon Infinity

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Sometimes gimmicky albums can work, and this is certainly the case for Nonagon Infinity. The nine tracks on this album all seamlessly flow into one another and the last song flows right back into the first song. This means you can listen to this album on loop forever without noticing any stopping points. The actual music on here is great, making these repeat listens all the more warranted. Going darker than most garage rock groups, the lyrics on this record are graphic, disturbed and occasionally satanic making this an incredibly unique listen. Outside of metal, I have not heard content like this handled in such a fun way in years. If you are into exploring new and interesting types of rock music, give this a try because it is a wild ride not to be missed.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Gamma Knife
  2. Robot Stop
  3. Beat
  4. Road Train
  5. Big Fig Wasp

33) The 1975- I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

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Regardless of the music, the fact that a young indie rock band from the U.K. made a 75 minute album about cocaine, loneliness and just general self-destruction and had it debut on top of the Billboard 200 is impressive. Combining the general drugged-up feeling from frontman Matt Healy and the light musical interludes that eat up a large portion of this album make this perfect music for late night listens. Fans of The 1975 will love how the band has pushed their sound and tie this record back to their first. The mixture of synths with the classic rock instrumentation makes this feel like a nice slice of the 80s, while remaining contemporary. The themes are also varied and hit hard if you put in the time. This album may be bloated, but it makes sense given the personality Healy presents to us here.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. If I Believe You
  2. Somebody Else
  3. Love Me
  4. Paris
  5. Loving Someone

32) Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression

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On his supposedly final album, Iggy Pop joins forces with an all-star team of alternative rock artists to create one of his best albums in years. With the help of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita as well as Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders, this album feels contemporary even with Iggy Pop’s older vocals. If this is really how Iggy Pop wants to end his musical career, this is an excellent way to do it.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. American Valhalla
  2. Break Into Your Heart
  3. Chocolate Drops
  4. Gardenia
  5. Sunday

31) James Blake- The Colour in Anything

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This was not an easy listen for me. There are so many elements to this, between James Blake’s mesmerizing use of electronics, the overarching themes of depression and the 76 minute length, there is so much to unpack here. This is an unusual brand of R&B that fans of Bon Iver’s latest album should love. The production will be jarring for many, but beneath all the artificial sounds is real emotion from Blake’s passionate vocals. People familiar with Blake will also find that this album contains some of the greatest songs of his career. I hope more people take the time to sit with this album because I do truly think it awards those who are patient with it. Blake’s writing collaborations with Frank Ocean also give me hope he will continue to work with big artists. Also that Bon Iver duet was something truly special.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. I Need a Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)
  2. The Colour in Anything
  3. Radio Silence
  4. Put That Away and Talk to Me
  5. Meet Me in the Maze

30) Kanye West- The Life of Pablo

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I never thought I would even include this album on this list when I first reviewed it. Especially not this high. Despite giving it a B- originally, The Life of Pablo has grown on me incredibly since February. For one, it was actually finished which helped things. Even if many of the problems I had with the lyrics are still present, I started to appreciate this album more for just how weird it was. I value things that are unusual, and I feel that unlike with Yeezus, Kanye has created something that is instantly recognizable as his own. There is beauty buried deep within the mess of madness and those moments have stuck with me all year. I would be lying to myself if I did not say that this appeals to me on several different levels. This album manages to feel both primitive and complex simultaneous and is truly one of the most unique records to be released in 2016.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream & Kelly Price)
  2. Real Friends (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
  3. No More Parties in LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
  4. Saint Pablo (feat. Sampha)
  5. FML (feat. The Weeknd)

29) Anderson .Paak- Malibu

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This is an artist who has continued to impress me since I heard him last year on Dr. Dre’s Compton. His voice is instantly recognizable because of its noticeably grittier and rougher sound. Even with this, he is an amazing presence when singing and this album pairs him with some amazing production to complement him. I was initially critical of this album, and while I still do not think it is perfect, it has grown on me over the year. The features on here are all great and .Paak proves himself to be one of the best rising stars in R&B right now. I know .Paak has already made another appearance on this list but he continues to deliver, making me excited for his next solo effort.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Season/Carry Me
  2. Am I Wrong (feat. ScHoolyboy Q)
  3. The Dreamer (feat. Talib Kweli & Timan Family Choir)
  4. Heart Don’t Stand a Chance
  5. Celebrate

28) Frank Ocean- Endless

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I am sure most people ended up hating this album when it first came out a day before Blonde. To be fair, we did not know that Blonde was coming so we just had to assume this was Frank’s official follow-up that we had waited years for. This is not to say this is a bad record, just a quiet one, feeling small in comparison to his other work. Once the veil had been lifted and I understood what this project was intending to be I found it much more enjoyable. It is an intimate release that Frank released to experiment with some sounds and to share some tender feelings. The production on here is great, with several notable artists working on here, including Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, James Blake, and Alex G. If you are a fan of Frank Ocean and overlooked this, I would recommend going back to check it out. There are definitely some gems on here.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. At Your Best (You Are Love)
  2. U-N-I-T-Y
  3. Sideways
  4. Slide on Me
  5. Wither

27) Solange- A Seat at the Table

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It seems like nobody was expecting Solange to come out with an album like A Seat at the Table. For those who do not know, Solange, the often ignored sister of Beyoncé, has quietly been releasing R&B albums once every several years. None of them have ever made an impression like this one did. This album is about beauty and self-appreciation that African Americans should have for themselves. This raw empowerment is delivered in a soft, delicate way, as Solange’s angelic vocals dive into her own personal feelings about feeling like an “other” in a society. This is a special album that I can see people loving and I am not surprised to see it top so many critic’s year end lists. It certainly accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do in an understated, yet passionate way.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Cranes in the Sky
  2. Mad (feat. Lil Wayne)
  3. F.U.B.U. (The-Dream & BJ the Chicago Kid)
  4. Don’t Touch My Hair (feat. Sampha)
  5. Junie (feat. André 3000)

26) Death Grips- Bottomless Pit

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If you like Death Grips, this will be for you. If you don’t, stay away. That is about all I can say about this experimental hardcore hip hop group. As someone who has consistently enjoyed this group’s discography, this album was another fun listen for me. While still embracing their abrasive sound, the trio tones things down slightly on this release making this about as accessible as a Death Grips record can be. MC Ride’s manic delivery still is incredible as he raps about the group’s crazed fan base and makes some social commentary on the self-important and cheap garbage that seems to flood the internet. This is probably my favorite release from the group since No Love Deep Web, and I cannot wait for whatever this group decides to do next.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Giving Bad People Good Ideas
  2. Trash
  3. Bubbles Buried in This Jungle
  4. Eh
  5. Ring a Bell

25) clipping.- Splendor & Misery

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After his excellent, and Tony winning, performance in Hamilton, Daveed Diggs goes back to his roots with the rap group that initially put him in the spotlight. It seems his experience on Broadway helped mold this project about the sole survivor of a rebellion on a slave ship in deep space. If that was not ambitious enough, the story is told through the perspective of the ship’s computer. Needless to say this was one of the most unique concept records to come out in a while and one that was certainly able to pack a lot into its short length. Is this another Hamiton? Of course not, and it does not try to be. It is the kind of strange, niche, album that will be loved by a small group of nerdy rap fans.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Story 5
  2. Air ‘Em Out
  3. True Believer
  4. A Better Place
  5. All Black

24) Young the Giant- Home of the Strange

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I have always had a soft spot for Young the Giant since I first heard “My Body” all the way back in 2011. Since then I have always followed the band, enjoying their music but never considering it something all that amazing. It seems that the group has found a winning formula with this record, writing some more socially aware content, without getting overtly political. Frontman Sameer Gadhia has proven to be one of the more promising stars in alternative rock and I am hoping he is able to create more fun, thoughtful content like this. Despite the title, this album is very easy to get into, regardless of your music preferences, so I highly recommend this to people as a substitute to most pop groups that are out now.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Know-It-All
  2. Something to Believe In
  3. Repeat
  4. Art Exhibit
  5. Jungle Youth

23) Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

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Easily the best debut in country music this year, Margo Price has made an album that brings back the sounds of artists like Loretta Lynn, who she is clearly referencing with the title. Tackling subjects ranging from difficulties of making it as an artist, growing up in a small town and dealing with bad men, this is the sound of a woman who has experienced life and has been eager to share her experiences with the world. It is a shame Margo Price did not get more attention than she did for her work here but considering she has Jack White behind her, I do not think she will be going anywhere anytime soon.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Hands of Time
  2. About to Find Out
  3. Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)
  4. Four Years of Chances
  5. Weekender

22) Mitski- Puberty 2

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An album that I almost went the whole year without hearing, this is an excellent example of how classic sounds from the 90s can be revitalized to work today. Despite being only 26-years-old, Mitski is able to fit so many detailed and painful feelings into this short record that barely goes over a half hour. In a year full of indie rock records, this is certainly a highlight and should certainly be checked out by fans of the genre.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Your Best American Girl
  2. Happy
  3. Crack Baby
  4. I Bet on Losing Dogs
  5. My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars

21) Drive-By Truckers- American Band

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I doubt anyone would argue that 2016 was one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory. New political and social issues were subject to constant debate every week and there seemed to be no end to it. This was reflected in this year’s music, but few were handled in the way Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers approached these issues here. Songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood hit topics ranging from police brutality, the Confederate flag and mass shootings in a matured and nuanced way, making them stand out from others who attempt to hit the same subjects. I would argue no other song tackled racial tensions as well as “What It Means” did. I loved getting to hear all these topics written from the perspective of people who were born and raised in the South, something we do not get much of in music.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. What It Means
  2. Guns of Umpqua
  3. Surrender Under Protest
  4. Ever South
  5. Baggage

20) Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book

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A couple months ago I was fortunate enough to see Chance the Rapper at The Meadows in Queens and it was the most fun I have had at a concert in a long time. Chance has the kind of personality that shines in his art, he comes across as a genuine and charismatic guy, and it makes Coloring Book an enjoyable listen. This self-released mixtape is the fusion of gospel and hip hop that people were looking for with The Life of Pablo. Whether he is making music about not being controlled by a major label or about his spirituality, Chance delivers with insightful rapping and some surprisingly good singing. Chance the Rapper is a breakout star that has quickly become a household name and I am so glad for him.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Angels (feat. Saba)
  2. Summer Friends (feat. Jeremih & Francis & The Lights)
  3. Finish Line/Drown (feat. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane & Noname)
  4. Same Drugs
  5. Blessings (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Raury, BJ the Chicago Kid & Anderson .Paak)

19) Touché Amoré- Stage Four

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Even as someone who rarely gets into emo or screamo bands such as this one, the emotional weight was too heavy here to ignore. The album details the grief felt by lead vocalist Jeremy Bolm following the death of his mother. He screams about his feelings of depression, disbelief and regret as he tries to cope with his pain. The instrumentation here is great as well and deserves credit, but it is Bolm who owns every moment of this powerful record. This is not something I can imagine going back to frequently, but I appreciate it greatly for what it is. Even if it is as heavy as an album can get, both in subject matter and sound, I found myself listening to every word out of Bolm’s mouth. This will likely be far too dark for many people to listen to, but that does not mean it is not a work of beauty.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. New Halloween
  2. Displacement
  3. Palm Dreams
  4. Flowers and You
  5. Skyscraper

18) Miranda Lambert- The Weight of These Wings

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It is always hard to put a breakup into words, especially over the course of an album. Very few artists have been able to successfully create a breakup album, and considering this is a 94 minute double album, my expectations had to be lowered quite a bit. But this album proved to be something special, as Lambert ditches the mainstream approach to country and created something that is authentic and rougher in sound. Lyrically, Lambert details her feelings after very publicly divorcing Blake Shelton and does so in an honest way. She paints herself as a flawed person but still gives you enough reason to like her in the end. This is easily the best album Lambert has ever done and despite its massive length, it does reward its listeners with a collection of amazing country songs.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Pushin’ Time (feat. Anderson East)
  2. Tin Man
  3. Keeper of the Flame
  4. Vice
  5. Runnin’ Just in Case

17) Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

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In a year where the Grammys seemed to go out of their way to disappoint me, one Album of the Year nomination managed to be such a pleasant surprise that it almost made up for it. It took me a little while to really hit me, but I am so glad I put in the time. Sturgill Simpson created this as a guide for his son to follow through life and the love and compassion shows. Not only do the lyrics hit hard, but the production is large, combining classic country instrumentation with heavy horns and rock to make this one of the best sounding records of the year. Not to mention the Nirvana cover just to add a little extra greatness to this project. I am so glad this album has gotten the attention it has and while it would not be my choice for the Album of the Year Grammy, I would be delighted if it ended up winning.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)
  2. Oh Sarah
  3. Breakers Roar
  4. In Bloom
  5. Call to Arms

16) Weezer- Weezer (White Album)

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There were few albums that were as consistently entertaining as Weezer’s latest self-titled album. As someone who has had to wait their entire lifetime for a great record from these guys, they have finally delivered and I could not be happier. Even as someone who enjoyed Everything Will Be Alright in the End, I had thought their best material was behind them, but in a year full of comebacks Weezer was able to deliver with their best record since Pinkerton. After years of making some downright embarrassing music, this 20+ year old band was able to go back to their roots in such an effortless way. Welcome back, Weezer.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Do You Wanna Get High?
  2. A. Girlz
  3. King of the World
  4. Jacked Up
  5. Wind in Our Sail

15) Angel Olsen- My Woman

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I never listened to Angel Olsen until a couple friends of mine convinced to check out My Woman. With no expectations, I gave this a listen and got into it instantly. The writing is sharp, the production is consistent and Olsen proves herself to be an emotive presence when performing. The record has its emotional moments but it never gets too heavy, remaining enjoyable even during the two epic seven and a half minute songs on the back half. Even with a shift in tone halfway through, this is one of the finest singer-songwriter projects to be released this year and will certainly put a well-deserved spotlight on Angel Olsen.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Shut Up Kiss Me
  2. Sister
  3. Never Be Mine
  4. Woman
  5. Not Gonna Kill You

14) Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!”

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This is why I wait until the end of December to release my “Best of” list. Nobody knew what to expect from this record after the lead singles which were completely stripped of any rapping. In the end, we got a purely R&B/Soul record with elements of funk and psychedelic rock and it could not have made me happier. Donald Glover took a risk with this one and it delivered, showing off just how talented of a performer. Seriously, I have nearly blown out my voice singing along to “Me and Your Mama” in the car, I did not expect anything close to this from him. He takes elements from artists like Prince, Sly & The Family Stone, D’Angelo and so many more and makes them his own, blending modern and contemporary seamlessly. I do not even know what I expect next from Glover, but I know I am pumped for it.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Redbone
  2. Me and Your Mama
  3. Stand Tall
  4. Boogieman
  5. Baby Boy

13) Kendrick Lamar- untitled unmastered.

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Last year, my favorite record of the year was easily To Pimp a Butterfly so how could I not include this album. These assorted demos from the recording sessions of that album are all excellent and come together to form a surprisingly complex album, even if they were not recorded with this project in mind. The music speaks for itself, making the decision to leave everything untitled fitting. Never has an album with such a lack of an image have such a strong personality. This just continues to prove that Kendrick is the best rapper of his generation and even in a year of weak features, he shows his own music can speak for itself.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. untitled 05 | 09.21.2014
  2. untitled 06 | 06.30.2014
  3. untitled 08 | 09.06.2014
  4. untitled 01 | 08.19.2014
  5. untitled 02 | 06.23.2014

12) School of Seven Bells- SVIIB

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This is without a doubt the best album this band has put out, it is just a shame that it will likely end up being their last. The album dives into the ending relationship between Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, who passed away shortly after recording this. The lyrics are tragically prophetic in how they deal with the loss of a loved one and moving on from that. Despite being driven mainly by synths and electronics, this album remains quiet and personal in a way that most music in this genre does not get close to. It’s a quieter record but still worth your time, especially if you enjoy this kind of synth pop. This is definitely one of the most underrated albums to come out in 2016.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Open Your Eyes
  2. This is Our Time
  3. Ablaze
  4. On Your Heart
  5. Signals

11) Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial 

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Another fabulous gem of an album that I did not dig into until later into the year, Teens of Denial showcases the skills of singer-songwriter Will Toledo, who will likely become one of the most acclaimed artists in indie rock. This is a dark album, going into the deep, dark and ugly feelings of adolescence in an honest, mature way. Being young himself, Toledo is able to sing about these emotions from fresh eyes, making everything on here feel authentic. This is certainly one of the greatest displays of writing in 2016 and there is not a moment from this 70 minute record that I feel needs to be cut. This is a band I will be following eagerly, hoping that whatever they create next can possibly match what they delivered here.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Ballad of the Costa Concordia
  2. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
  3. (Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem]
  4. Cosmic Hero
  5. 1937 State Park

10) Danny Brown- Atrocity Exhibition

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I have been open about my soft spot for artists who are open about their self-destruction in their lyrics. While it is hard to say what on here is reality, all I can say is Danny Brown created one of the wildest rides of the year with this album. I know many people will be turned off by the subject matter and Brown’s voice, but it is their loss because this is a phenomenal album. The beats on here are insane and the fact that Danny Brown is able to rap over them with his crazed flow is even more astounding. Hearing him sounds like listening to André 3000 in an alternate universe where instead of forming Outkast, he got coked-up and made something more experimental. Like I said, this is not for everyone, but I loved this album and will be listening it for years to come. For me, this is easily Danny Brown’s best album and one of the most insane things to come out of hip hop this year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Really Doe (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt)
  2. When It Rains
  3. Hell For It
  4. Pneumonia
  5. Rolling Stone (feat. Petite Noir)

9) Jeff Rosenstock- WORRY.

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We are currently experiencing a drought of good punk music. This should not be the case considering the various divisive political and social issues that have been exploding in recent years, especially in 2016. Sure, there is likely material in the underground that is great that I have never heard of, but for the most part we are left with Green Day and that is about it. That was at least what I thought before I heard WORRY. from Jeff Rosenstock who was easily my greatest discovery of the year. On this record, Rosenstock blends elements from rock, ska and hardcore punk to create one of 2016’s most energetic releases. Whether it is about gentrification, police brutality, internet culture or any of the other contemporary issues addressed here, Rosenstock sounds like he is making an anthem to back it. If any of this sounds like something you might like, take time to give this a listen because it is truly one of the greatest albums to come out this year and one I found myself instantly connecting to.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. To Be a Ghost…
  2. Festival Song
  3. Wave Goodnight to Me
  4. We Begged 2 Explode
  5. HELLLLHOOOOLE

8) A Tribe Called Quest- We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

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When I heard that A Tribe Called Quest was working on new music following the death of Phife Dawg, my expectations were low. I thought this was going to be a cash grab and mildly nostalgic at best. I have never been happier to be wrong. I felt like I was listening to an album that came out 20 years ago, the chemistry between these guys is still just as strong as it was in the 90s when they were still making music. The addition of rappers from their era, as well as more contemporary artists, help to add to this project and fill the spaces left after Phife Dawg’s passing. This is not only a touching tribute to the group’s fallen member, it is one last goodbye from the legendary group and a passing of the torch to a new generation of rappers to carry on their legacy. If you are a fan of hip hop, especially the classics, this is something you must listen to. It is a special kind of album that we rarely get nowadays, and the biggest comeback of 2016.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Space Program
  2. Dis Generation (feat. Busta Rhymes)
  3. We the People….
  4. Lost Somebody (feat. Jack White)
  5. The Donald (feat. Busta Rhymes)

7) Dave Cobb & Various Artists- Southern Family

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This is an album that should not connect to me in the way it does. This country album looks back in nostalgia of all the traditional Southern family values people grew up with. The closest to the South I have been is Virginia Beach, I am a liberal college kid from Massachusetts and I am currently a Communications student in New York. Nothing about this should work for me, but damn, emotion is emotion and anyone who has empathy will be able to listen to this and be affected by it. Even if country is not necessarily your thing, this is something special that deserves to be listened to. Also, the incredible list of 13 country artists who worked on this should be enough to excited any fan of genuine country. Whether it is indie darlings like Jason Isbell and John Paul White or mainstream artists like Zac Brown and Miranda Lambert, there is certainly something for all fans of music.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. I Cried (by Brandy Clark)
  2. God is a Working Man (by Jason Isbell)
  3. Grandma’s Garden (by Zac Brown)
  4. Simple Song (by John Paul White)
  5. The Way Home (by Rich Robinson)

6) Beyoncé- Lemonade

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I had previously been unafraid to voice my criticisms of Beyoncé, seeing her as little more than an overblown, manufactured pop star. God, did 2016 prove me wrong. After her controversial Super Bowl performance I knew we were going to get something daring but I did not expect what we ended up getting with Lemonade. This album takes the goddess image people have anointed onto Beyoncé and tears it down to its most vulnerable and human feelings. Everyone knows by now the subject matter, focusing on Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity. Even with that, this album managed to not get buried in the tabloid drama and instead rose above it and became a work of art separate from all of that. This is not about Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s relationship, it is about empowerment, true empowerment. This is by far the greatest work Beyoncé has ever done and has opened me up to the possibility of getting more great work from her. This was the biggest surprise of 2016 for me, I did not expect anything from this album and I am so glad that it proved me wrong in such an inspiring way.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
  2. Daddy Lessons
  3. Don’t Hurt Yourself (feat. Jack White)
  4. 6 Inch (feat. The Weeknd)
  5. Sandcastles

5) Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 3

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There is no competition for best contemporary rap duo right now. With just three albums, Run the Jewels have proven to be one of the best artists currently in hip hop and this might just be their best release yet. Killer Mike and El-P’s chemistry continues to get better and better, even as they rap about some of the most personal and political topics of their careers. Both of their flows are always fierce and the lyrics never fail to deliver wit and aggression. El-P’s production, in particular, has always solidified Run the Jewels as amazing artists, making experimental beats that are still bangers. I have no problem labeling this the best hip hop album of the year, even with it being out for just one week. It is just that instantly phenomenal.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Thursday in the Danger Room (feat. Kamasi Washington)
  2. 2100 (feat. BOOTS)
  3. A Report to Shareholders/Kill Your Masters (feat. Zack de la Rocha)
  4. Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown]
  5. Legend Has It

4) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Skeleton Tree

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In a year as bleak as 2016, no record truly captured sadness in the way that Skeleton Tree did. It was easily the most difficult listen for me, given the tragic event that inspired much of this. For those who do not know, Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, died unexpectedly in the summer of 2015. This unimaginable pain is captured by Cave’s nearly spoken-word delivery, as he sounds more worn out and drained of joy than ever before. Knowing that none of this is an act and every word he speaks is filled with sorrow just adds to the emotional weight of this record further. Nothing on here is showy or catchy, instead it feels as if Cave is using this as a way to let out some of his depression and use it to find some possible catharsis. This is not a record I will be able to listen to often, it is just that powerful, but if you really feel the need to be moved to tears by something beautifully heart wrenching, listen to this because it really is one of the greatest albums of the year and will certainly not be forgotten by me.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. I Need You
  2. Girl in Amber
  3. Distant Sky
  4. Skeleton Tree
  5. Jesus Alone

3) Frank Ocean- Blonde

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After all the hype and the anticipation, Frank Ocean finally released his sophomore (or third depending on how you see Endless) album and I do not think anyone expecting something like this. Maybe we should have, considering how quiet Frank had been since he missed his July 2015 deadline. This is a quiet, introspective album that does not feel like it was meant for us to hear, yet we still got to and it was beautiful. Blonde is an incredibly rewarding listen and gets better with each listen, in a way that Channel Orange never was able to. As much as I loved that album, this feels like a mature and risky step forward and has continued to hit me hard since it was released in August. I doubt this will be looked at the same way that Channel Orange is but that is alright with me, this has never felt like the kind of album that was going to ever make it big and I am happy knowing it did as well as it did. In a year as dark as this one, getting two Frank Ocean projects helped lighten things. As much as I like Endless this will always feel like his true follow up to me and a highlight of this year in music as a whole.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Nights
  2. White Ferrari
  3. Solo
  4. Ivy
  5. Seigfeld

2) Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

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One of my favorite bands of all time has returned with one of the best records in their entire discography. Nearly every aspect of this record is polished and orchestrated perfectly, making this one of the best produced records of the year. Outside of the beautiful instrumentation, the lyrical themes of heartbreak, climate change and paranoia makes this album all the more timely. Thom Yorke continues to prove that he is truly a genius and a once in a lifetime talent. After almost 25 years since their debut album, Radiohead has continued to push their sound with each new release making them one of the few bands worth getting excited about still. As a huge fan, it was also great to hear the group dig up songs that were only played at live shows or hinted in demos and see them fully fledged out. If you are passionate about music, this is a must-listen simply for the gorgeous production. The deeper, emotionally impactful lyrics are just an additional treat.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Burn the Witch
  2. True Love Waits
  3. Identikit
  4. The Numbers
  5. Daydreaming

1) David Bowie- Blackstar

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I remember the morning I found out that David Bowie had died. I had been listening to this album all weekend trying to get my thoughts together and then one day I woke up, went on Facebook and saw Bowie was trending. I saw the news he had died and I felt chills. My friend soon texted me to relisten to this album, as it was his final goodbye. This was the first album I reviewed in 2016 and the second album I had ever reviewed on this site. I barely knew how to construct a basic review and I was tasked with writing on this tragic swan song. Where does one even begin with praising an album like this? These are the final thoughts going through Bowie’s mind as he battled his terminal cancer diagnosis, his desire to come back from the dead, enjoying his final time on Earth and giving us one last message to hold onto. There is no easy way to discuss or to listen to this record, it is just something you need to go into and get carried away with. Only David Bowie could end his career in this way and in his old age create the greatest album of the year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Lazarus
  2. I Can’t Give Everything Away
  3. Dollar Days
  4. Blackstar
  5. ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore
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