Each and every year thousands of albums are released by artists and bands from countless countries and cities around the world, and of varying degrees of fame. To listen to them all would be an impossible task, but as a lover of music, I did my best to listen to as much as I could, from groups I know and love, to musicians I’d never been exposed to before. Eventually, I managed to condense all of the releases I’d listened to from 2016, into a list of the 25 albums I believed to be the best, or enjoyed the most, which, after a great deal of deliberation and frustration is finally here. If you haven’t already checked them out, you can see my list of honourable mentions HERE, where I talk about some great albums which couldn’t quite find a home on my list. So, without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2016. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing and listening.
25. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Even on a collection of unfinished demoes and B-sides, Kendrick Lamar still manages to be one of the most impressive rappers and hip hop musicians around. Similar to his last studio release, 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” in terms of sound and style, the 8 tracks on the album are what you’d expect from Kendrick, with stellar flow and writing, excellent production, and themes of a religious nature, and commentary on social and political issues, all with that same experimental jazz and funk inspiration that make his music so great.
24. The Weeknd – Starboy
Courtesy of his 2015 chart-topping, and critically acclaimed album “Beauty Behind the Madness”, The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, became a household name across the globe. Following up such a popular album is no easy task, but Abel doubled down, giving audiences more of what they loved about “BBTM”, whilst also incorporating more hip hop and electronic influences into his music, working with amazing artists such as Kendrick Lamar, and Daft Punk, which elevated The Weeknd musically to another level. The obvious Michael Jackson inspiration shines strongly on some tracks, and Abel’s stunning vocal performances are certainly reminiscent of the King of the Pop. While some might call it radio friendly music for clubs, there’s definitely a degree of artistry and musical talent in these really enjoyable, smooth, and funky R&B tunes.
23. Beyoncé – Lemonade
Queen Bey was back doing what she does best in 2016, releasing an album of beautifully written, produced, and performed pop/R&B tracks, this time on Lemonade, which is easily Knowles’ best album in the last decade. Packed with tracks which tackle issues of infidelity, love, black sisterhood, and civil rights, Beyoncé gave a voice to many who couldn’t speak for themselves, and did so whilst also creating some of the year’s finer pop tunes, with stellar vocal performances, and an impressive list of features and collaborators.
22. Billy Talent – Afraid of Heights
Canadian punk rock four-piece Billy Talent showed in 2016 that the genre is still very much alive and kicking, releasing their most impressive and enjoyable album to date. Lead singer Ben Kowalewicz’s distinct vocals are as impressive and impassioned as ever across the album’s 12 delightfully angst-filled tracks. The record is packed with distorted guitars, heavy bass lines, and blasting percussion, which provide a wonderfully punkish and catchy backdrop to tracks about relationships, addiction, religion, life, the current state of affairs, and a fear of the unknown.
21. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
In a year of sombre music, it’s hard to go past the sixteenth studio album, Skeleton Tree, from the Australian rock group fronted by the enigmatic Nicholas Cave. A dark and gripping, emotionally charged album, led by Cave’s vocals, which while strong and soulful, are the sound of a man who feels tired and defeated. The songs are loaded with an eerie and unsettling sound, filled with lyrics of a religious and introspective nature, delivered in such an austere manner. This is by no means a fun album, but artistically, it’s as good as they come.
20. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
The ninth studio album from the Arizona alternative rock quartet is perhaps their best since 2001’s stellar “Bleed American”. Building on their last release, 2014’s “Damage”, the group embrace a more modern sound, stepping away from their pop punk roots to develop a more experimental electronic, alternative rock, and power pop inspired sound. Jim Adkins refuses to let age slow him down, and his vocals continue to be a wonderful element of Jimmy Eat World’s music, along with a wealth of catchy riffs and melodies; the album is an undeniable return to form and an absolute treat for fans new and old.
19. Solange – A Seat At The Table
With her third studio album, Solange Knowles finally comes into her own light as a musician and an artist, and whilst similar to her sister Beyoncé’s album in terms of content and themes, the 30-year-old approaches these in a very different way. It’s far more personal, stripped back, and artistically focused. All of which pay off in a big way. Her beautiful, powerful, and emotional vocal performances combined with some wonderful beats inspired by jazz, soul, funk, and psychedelic music make for amazing listening. The nine interludes spread across the album are also a nice touch, in a record filled with important messages, stories, and great music.
18. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Returning to the music scene with their first album since 2011’s underwhelming “The King of Limbs”, the British alternative rock giants recapture what made their best work so good, and manage to finally feel comfortable in their own skin, without having to push the boundaries. Many songs take on a minimalistic approach, as they ebb and flow, maintaining a quiet thoughtfulness, backed by piano, soft guitars and bass, and steadily thumping drumbeats. Yorke’s trademark vocals accompany eerie, and at times creepy sounding musical compositions, in what feels like the soundtrack to the end of the world.
17. Frank Ocean – Blonde
The highly anticipated follow up to the critically and commercially acclaimed Channel Orange, Blonde is the sophomore album from 29-year-old R&B artist Frank Ocean, which after much speculation and delay, finally dropped in 2016. A beautifully poetic self-portrait about the problems of everyday life, Blonde showcases Ocean’s talent for soulful and introspective lyrics, as well as his vocal ability, on a record which feels incredibly reactionary, to audiences and critics alike. Undeniably professional production with a focus on minimalism, and a lengthy list of well-known collaborators and inspirations make the album an experience, where each listen will reveal something new to appreciate.
16. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Words cannot even begin to describe the utterly bombastic, discomforting, absurd, and unsettling portrait of insanity and addiction that is the second full length album from Detroit rapper Danny Brown. This album does the experimental hip hop genre justice, with its mismatched, unconventional, and off-kilter sounds, paired with Danny’s trademark scream-like rapping style. Atrocity Exhibition, is, as the title says, a display of so many wrong things. It serves as a Downward Spiral into chaos and the absurd, feeling like a particularly bad trip you can’t quite escape from. A memorable and unique experience into the art of lunacy.
15. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
The eleventh album from the country rock group Drive-By Truckers is absolutely ground-breaking for the genre, as the piano and guitar driven melodies, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, serve as the background to empowered vocals singing politically and socially charged lyrics, on controversial issues, namely mental health, gun control, and civil rights. With stunning vocal performances from both Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, “American Band” is an album to enjoy, and an album to make you sit, think, and feel.
14. Bastille – Wild World
Following up on the massive success of their 2013 debut LP “Bad Blood”, the British indie pop sensation returned with “Wild World”, a consistently impressive album from start to finish, featuring what are easily some of the group’s best tracks, and a more consistent overall tone and sound. The band’s lead singer Dan Smith continues to cement his spot as one of music’s premier vocalists, as his song-writing too improves, while the upbeat electronic and pop tracks, backed by some wonderful string sections makes for some mighty enjoyable listening.
13. The Temper Trap – Thick as Thieves
On their third album, the Melbourne alternative rock quartet continue to impress, and build upon what made their first two albums so enjoyable. Lead singer Dougy Mandagi’s vocals are an absolute treat as always, while his work lyrically continues to improve. The band’s typical blend of electric guitar riffs, strong drumbeats, and synth elements makes a return in force, and it’s as catchy as you’d expect. Whether they’re being upbeat, or melancholic, The Temper Trap know how to make songs that make you want to sing along, make you want to dance, and make you feel something deep inside. You can read my full review of the album HERE.
12. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Following on from the success of 2013’s “Acid Rap”, Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape sees the 23-year-old Chicago rapper at his upbeat, poppy best. Jazzy melodies, an abundance of gospel elements, with some excellent writing and even better rapping make this one of the best hip hop releases of the year. Chance is just so happy, and so in love with life on this album; it’s wholesome and you can’t help but love it and him. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but manages to create his own wonderfully unique and impressive sound. Easily one of hip hop’s greatest young talents.
11. Blink-182 – California
With Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba replacing founding member Tom DeLonge, the Californian pop punk trio finally hit the studio, and when they were done, what we got was undoubtedly a return to form for the group. “California” brings together the best aspects of all their previous projects into one grandiose display and celebration of the band, the genre, and youth. You can read my full review of this album HERE.
10. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
One of the year’s most controversial releases, and understandably so; Kanye West released the equivalent of someone trying to make a picture using pieces from twenty different jigsaw puzzles, yet somehow, made a beautiful picture. That’s what “The Life of Pablo” is. It’s an undeniable mess, but it’s supposed to be. The production is all over the place, as is the tone and mood; it’s a far cry from the cohesive project we’ve come to expect from Ye, but it’s still brilliant and features some really wonderful writing and rapping. The gospel and religious overtones, introspective and referential lyrics, along with the wealth of amazing features make “The Life of Pablo” less of an album and more of a journey through the mind of someone who’s either insane, or a genius.
9. The Avalanches – Wildflower
16 years after the release of their critically acclaimed debut album “Since I Left You”, Australian plunderphonics masterminds The Avalanches return with “Wildflower”. Not many albums could be worth such a long wait, but this is one of the rare exceptions. Backed by a wealth of impressive guest vocal talent, each beat, sound, sample, and melody on all of the album’s 22 tracks are so carefully chosen, creating what is undoubtedly a work of art. With a plethora of upbeat, funky tunes, Wildflower serves as an exceptionally trippy journey through a kaleidoscope of electronica, pop, hip hop, and good times.
8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thanks 4 Your Service
18 long years after their last album, one of the elite groups in hip hop return with their final album, and one which they didn’t want to make, but rather, felt they needed to. Backed by an amazing list of features and collaborations including Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Jack White, the super team consisting of; Q-Tip, Jarobi White, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the late Phife Dawg, gave audiences the best rap release of 2016. With its old school sound, and East Coast hip hop influences, the 16 track album tackles a variety of controversial topics and issues, and makes no apologies for doing so. With absolutely sublime writing and performances from everyone involved, along with outstanding production from Q-Tip, what we get is one of the most complete and brilliant musical packages of the year gone by. If this truly is the last album from ATCQ, then they have given us an amazing parting gift, which will remain a classic for years to come.
7. Angel Olsen – My Woman
Combining elements of dream pop, and garage rock, Angel Olsen provides an album which feels so modern in its vintage sound, creating a wonderful sense of timelessness. It’d be easy to compare her sound to that of Lana Del Ray, or The Black Keys, but Olsen is creating some of the most unique and enjoyable music around at the moment. Her amazingly raw and passionate vocals, and the stunning rock oriented instrumentation fit so perfectly with the spacey and dream-like mood, as Angel sings about what it means to be a woman on a deeply personal and beautiful record.
6. Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Texan indie rock band Shearwater have flown under the radar for a lot of their career, but their eighth studio album is an undeniable thing of beauty. Led by the extremely talented Jonathan Meiburg, the album is almost cinematic in tone and sound, while being oddly reminiscent of 70s and 80s pop and rock music, with a definite focus on a sound that would have you believe the band are bigger than they really are. A number of lyrics and motifs reoccur throughout the album, an unusual and interesting artistic touch, as the songs touch on society, culture, and life in a heart touching way. Each of the 11 tracks have a familiar and comforting sound to them, but to draw a comparison would be almost impossible, especially in modern music. It’s upbeat, it’s moody, and it’s quite magical.
5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Seemingly emerging from nowhere, the Seattle based indie rock band led by the charmingly awkward and highly talented Will Toledo very quickly gained a cult following online, and for good reason. Teens of Denial is loaded with youthful energy, and angst, where raw and passionate vocals meet fast-paced rock instrumentation, which all comes together in tracks that feel so comfortable and familiar, but at the same time, so fresh and exciting. A deeply personal, introspective, and at times moody album, Teens of Denial is one of the best proper indie rock albums in quite some time.
4. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
The undoubted hidden gem of the year, “Holy Ghost” is the third studio album from the Pennsylvania indie rock quartet, and despite clocking in at only 28 minutes long, the album is truly spectacular. Touching on themes of loss, grief, existentialism, mental health, and relationships, the 11 tracks on this LP are the angsty teen anthems which the emo genre so desperately needed. A wonderfully raw and real lo-fi aesthetic, with passionate vocals and rugged pop punk instrumentation, and beautifully relatable and emotional lyrics. The album splits down the middle with the two front-men Jake Ewald taking the first half, and Brendan Lukens the second, and it’s a really impressive artistic touch, as both sing about the things close to their heart.
3. The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
This marks the second album from the incredibly talented musical duo of Miles Kane, and Alex Turner, both of whom have come a long way since their 2008 debut LP “The Age of the Understatement”. With a myriad of sounds and styles from baroque and psychedelic pop, to alternative rock, the album is an eclectic mixture of different tracks which all fit so perfectly together. Backed by a wealth of strings and horns, some of the album’s songs end up sounding like a film score in the best way possible. The production and instrumentation are immense, and the writing and vocal performances from both Kane and Turner are superb. What you get is one of the most wonderfully unique, fun, and original releases of the year.
2. Weezer – Weezer (The White Album)
It’s been a very long time since Weezer, the Californian alternative rock giants released their first of four self-titled albums, and “Pinkerton”, the records which made them a critical and commercial success. Since then it’s been one underwhelming or unpopular album after another, with 2014’s “Everything Will Be Alright In the End” somewhat bucking the trend. The group’s fourth self-titled album, also known as The White Album, is an absolute vintage masterpiece, and a return to form for the band, recapturing everything which made their first two albums so good. With a sound inspired by The Beach Boys, Weezer are back to their best, with catchy, upbeat power pop hooks and melodies, whilst retaining their scintillating indie rock guitar work and drumbeats. Rivers Cuomo’s awkward and nerdy charm is dialled up to 11, as he sings so passionately about themes of gender dynamics, modern dating experiences and references to religious iconography. An absolute modern classic, full of incredible instrumentation, amazing lyrics, and upbeat, fun tunes.
1. David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)
What could I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? The 25th and final album from the English musician who over the course of 54-year music career redefined genres, whilst reinventing his sound, his stage presence, his entire persona, time and time again, whilst releasing a number of eternally classic and unforgettable albums. Blackstar was Bowie’s swansong, and his parting gift to fans of music everywhere. A hauntingly beautiful art rock masterpiece, which blends traditional rock and pop elements with jazz, blues, and avant-garde, whilst Bowie’s tired and defeated vocals sing of harrowing thoughts about life, death, and existentialism. The whole album gives off an uneasy feeling, and sounds like something written from beyond the grave. It’s a strangely personal album from a man who spent his whole life playing characters; for its themes, for the music, for the lyrics, and for the vocals this album will remembered as one of David Bowie’s best releases, and for good reason. This is the best album of 2016. Rest in peace, hero.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this list! You can find a full list of all the albums I listened to in 2016 in the comments. Let me know if there’s any great releases I missed, or if you’re wondering why your favourite album didn’t make the cut.