2016 was a very, very odd year in pretty much every category. From politics to celebrity deaths, the year seemed to try to suck the life out of all of us, and in many ways it felt like it was succeeding. There are a few categories in which 2016 did not suck, however, and music was one of them. It was actually a pretty extraordinary year in music, so much so that there is very little consensus as to what the best album of the year was.
Overall, the year seems to have been won by the hip hop scene, which scored several top slots in many lists across entertainment reporting. However, it wasn’t the only genre to release good quality. Below is a list of the five best albums of the year, from across the spectrum. There are also some honorable mentions at the bottom, just in case.
5. Frank Ocean, Blond
One of the trippiest albums of the year, Frank Ocean’s Blond focuses a lot on world- and self-reflection. Musically, the music is both instrumental and lyrically powerful. Reminiscing on everything from Trayvon Martin to Hurricane Katrina, Ocean’s album is, as described by Rolling Stone, a bit dizzying. It feels disconnected and inconsistent at times, yet it also feels like both feelings were created on purpose. The use of guitar and keyboard, at times without any percussion whatsoever, is excellent. The vocals can be weird, but fit. Ocean’s music is impressionism in music form.
4. Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
1,000 years from now, people will be looking back with admiration at the accomplishments of the Rolling Stones, and that won’t be just because Keith Richards will be still alive. Musically, they have not lost their touch, and Blue & Lonesome is living proof (as is Richards) that some things are immortal. The Stones nail the blues in this album, and it is a nice break from the newer sounds of the contemporary music. Rock and blues guitar riffs, a classic drum kit, wailing harmonica, and so much more help guide you through the album.
3. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
2016 has been a year of introspections in a lot of ways, and the same holds true for Chance the Rapper in his 2016 hit album, Coloring Book. A testament to both the art Chicago can produce and the dread it inspires, the lyrics condemn the city as well as music labels… while also looking back almost wistfully at his childhood in the same city, and the blessings he’s received in his life. There is almost a gospel element to the album, and it is a welcome one.
2. Beyonce, Lemonade
Without a doubt, one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The album’s success seems to have hinged largely on the raw, emotional turbulence of the band’s lives, channeled into the music they created. In a similar fashion, Beyonce’s Lemonade takes a tumultuous romantic life and turns it into gold… or, more aptly, she takes the lemons life has given her and turns it into Lemonade. The result is an emotional ride through Queen Bey’s heart, and the powerful nature of the music is amplified by its surprise release on the world. Commercially and musically, her pain became one of the year’s greatest successes.
1. David Bowie, Blackstar
We lost two musical giants in 2016. Prince was one, and David Bowie was the other. Two days before he death, however, Bowie released his last album. Blackstar is, as almost everything in 2016 seems to be, emotional yet trippy. I wrote a much longer review of Blackstar the day it came out, but here’s the short version: It is classic Bowie, filled with allusions to space, sex, and drugs, yet there are moments of lucidity. One of the most lucid moments is the last song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” seems like a final statement on life. It was, at the time the album came out, my favorite song, and two days later, became the perfect musical tombstone to the man’s legacy.
- Sting, 57th and 9th: Sting here proves he hasn’t lost his ability to rock as well as he did in The Police and his early solo days. He rocks, but he is also the same lyricist we’ve come to know for decades.
- Kanye West, The Life of Pablo: You can criticize his politics and his views, but you have to admire the work he puts into creating his art.
- Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings: Another album spawned of emotional turmoil, this one comes on the heels of Lambert and Blake Shelton splitting up, and the album’s songs are all about breaking up and rebounding – in classic country style.