Top Albums Of 2016: 1 - 10
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 08:14:05
There are a number of quagmires that come to mind when conceiving of writing a Top Albums of the Year list, the most being what signifies something as top? Is it most streams? Drake. Most CDs sold? Mozart. It's important to not over weigh single opinions, to have listened to an absurd amount of records, and to have an ear to both the crowd and the underground.
So what makes for a best album? We'd say sincerity, swagger, and a touch of je ne sais quoi. We are saying these are the best albums of 2016, but in our humble opinion, they certainly deserve to be in the conversation. So without further ado, here are our favorite albums of 2016.
1. Leonard Cohen — You Want It Darker — Columbia Records
As should be no surprise, Leonard Cohen made the most definitive comment on 2016 with his album title. He told us, we "want it darker" and from the look of the current landscape, he couldn't have been more spot on. He passed away just two weeks after the record was released, leaving us to decipher the final work of one of the finest writers of multiple generations. Much like "Hallelujah", it may be years before anyone can really understand the importance and relevance of the final gift Leonard Cohen left to the world.
2. Anderson .Paak — Malibu — Steel Wool Records
In a year that saw the departure of so many icons, Anderson .Paak provided a bright spot. His sophomore effort, Malibu, swirls rap, jazz, funk, and soul applying color to the picturesque landscape of his album's namesake and a silver-lining to its dark corners. On album opener "The Bird", he states, "I learned my lessons from the ancient roots / I choose to follow what the greatest do." It's a sentiment that runs its way through the entire record where he mixes swag with sincerity creating a vivid, palpable landscape.
3. David Bowie — Blackstar — Columbia Records
The events surrounding Blackstar made David Bowie's final album even more iconic than the triumph it is as a record. As we all know, Bowie passed away two days after the release of the his twenty-fifth studio LP. The album begins on a grim note with its title track, but as it continues he finds joy, and by the time it closes with "I Can't Give Everything Away", we know his legacy will not be going anywhere. If there was any question as to the immediate impact of the record, it also became his first ever Billboard 200 topping record.
4. Rihanna — Anti — Westbury Road Entertainment
"Work" is what Rihanna has put in for over a decade, and after the first extended absence of her career, the Caribbean Queen has released what might be her most complete album. Sexy, powerful, and independent, RiRi is just getting higher, and like each listen of Anti, only improving as she does.
5. Beyonce — Lemonade — Parkwood Entertainment
Lemonade put a baseball bat through the fodder surrounding Beyonce's personal life while taking aim at the social issues facing our nation. It was clear from the moment she performed "Formation" during the Super Bowl halftime show, her new album would shed light on more than many were prepared to see. She found some truth behind the lies, and brought a conversation that many thought would remain behind closed doors to the attention of millions.
6. Radiohead — Moon Shaped Pool — XL Recordings
At this point, Radiohead has been a band for over 30 years, so it's a wonder that they are still able to tap into the popular stream with such ease. Moon Shaped Pool, nonetheless, continues on the mournful, wandering path that the band has been on for sometime. However, things seem closer this time around — no doubt because of Yorke's split with his partner of 23 years. On the record, they step away from computers and onto tape and take use of members of the London Contemporary Orchestra, giving the album a more human touch. It's a spellbinding choice that makes Moon Shaped Pool one of their most tangible efforts in years.
7. Kendrick Lamar — Untitled Unmastered — Aftermath Entertainment
Even the demos that didn't make To Pimp A Butterfly are engrossing. All of the tracks are named untitled, # and date, making for a record that is just as jazz-oriented as the one the excerpts are from. It was Kendrick's second consecutive US #1 album, and little else needs to be said about the 34-minutes of compromising music that's on it.
8. Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book — Unaffiliated with any label
With Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper finally reached the mainstream. In short, the album is glorious, which comes as no surprise to Chance's ever-growing faithful. It, along with Kanye's Pablo, took hip-hop and built it a church — a move that is as forward as it rooting. From beginning to end it is praiseworthy, despite the difficulties surrounding the streets of south Chicago, Chance is able to elevate its rougher edges and dubious characters, creating a kaleidoscopic landscape that must be admired. Chance doesn't harp on about overcoming adversity, but rather looks to, "Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play."
9. Drake — Views — Cash Money Records
Just look at the stats behind Drake's Views: As of November 7th, Views had over three billion album streams, as of December 9th, "One Dance" has over 988 million. Drizzy is the Babe Ruth of streaming. And numbers don't lie.
10. Frank Ocean — Blonde — Boys Don't Cry
Frank Ocean doesn't need a Grammy. Few doubt the quality of Blonde and, in fact, removing it from award consideration might bring the album even more credence. If Ocean had put out anything less than stellar, his critics would have eaten him for his continuous failure to meet his self-proposed deadlines. Instead he delivered two records, and Blond — the finer in our humble opinion — is a deep work that reverberates with the echoes of an artist just beginning to reach his potential.
—The ARTISTdirect Staff