As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to rank the best music released during the previous twelve months. Only time will tell if 2016 yields music that lasts generations from now. At the moment, however, the best albums of 2016 reveal that this past year has given music lovers some excellent music to enjoy while waiting for time to sort out which albums will still be enjoyed in future decades.
Honorable Mentions: Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch, Wow to the Deadness – Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil, Slow Trauma – Bill Mallonee, Stranger to Stranger – Paul Simon, Sea of Noise – St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop, We Can Do Anything – Violent Femmes, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not – Dinosaur Jr., Hero – Maren Morris.
15. Lemonade – Beyoncé
Universally praised, Lemonade proves that Beyoncé is still the Queen of the pop music mountain. Whether or not you appreciate her political statements, it’s next to impossible to deny that Beyoncé knows how to create catchy, enjoyable, and interesting pop music; a talent that is sadly lacking in most of the musicians currently dominating the Top 40 charts.
14. The Ride – Catfish & the Bottlemen
If you long for more stadium-worthy rock and roll in your life, The Ride is for you. As a lover of rock and roll, I’m always excited whenever a rock and roll record makes any kind of splash in today’s mostly rock and roll-less market. The latest from Britain’s Catfish & the Bottlemen mixes the power of gritty rock and roll with a hint of Big Star-esque power pop.
13. Beyond the Bloodhounds – Adia Victoria
Feted as one of Rolling Stone’s 10 new artists that you need to know in 2015, her 2016 debut LP proves the once venerable music magazine correct. Mixing her soulful voice with the writing sensibilities of Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, Adia Victoria is introducing the dark truthfulness of Southern Gothic to a new generation.
12. Name the Fear – The Cowards Choir
Singer-songwriter Andy Zipf’s latest iteration of his musical project/band The Cowards Choir released a compelling and beautifully rendered debut LP earlier this year. After a series of EPs, Zipf finally gave his fans a full-length album containing the confessional intimacy that he has mastered.
11. Colleen Green – Colleen Green
While only an EP, Colleen Green’s self-titled offering is the indie-pop album that other indie-pop musicians strive to create. With sunny power-pop guitars, crisp drum machines, and a deadpan voice, Colleen Green is a sardonic reflection on life as a millennial.
10. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings – Beach Slang
A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings proves that nobody does alienation and loss of innocence set to music like Gen X does. Fronted by the middle-aged James Alex, the Philly punk band Beach Slang is the continuation of the ’80s hard-core movement as defined by The Replacements.
9. The Hope Six Demolition Project – PJ Harvey
I live in Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, to be specific), so it’s hard for me to not like an album that caused much consternation among local politicians. That fact that one of my favorite musicians of all time recorded the album and, well, it lands in the top ten on my best albums of the year list. Politics aside (for the record, I don’t know if I agree with PJ Harvey about the Hope VI project or not), Harvey’s well-established skills as a songwriter and musician are fully displayed on The Hope Six Demolition Project.
8. Real Feels – John Raymond
I was first introduced to jazz musician John Raymond via The Gospel Coalition this past winter. Since that time, it’s been a rare week that I haven’t listened to Real Feels multiple times. Highlights on the album include smooth renditions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “Scarborough Fair,” and, of course, “Amazing Grace.” In fact, John Raymond’s performance of “Amazing Grace” may be my favorite track of 2016.
7. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
To be honest, it doesn’t feel like five years since Radiohead released their last album. To be even more possibly unhelpfully honest, I wasn’t overly excited when I heard that 2016 was going to see Radiohead release their ninth studio album. It’s not that I dislike Radiohead; I, in fact, love Radiohead. It’s that I was assuming that their inevitable artistic slide was forthcoming. I mean, creativity has a shelf life for most bands. However, A Moon Shaped Pool proves my skepticism foolish. Although possibly their darkest thematic album, A Moon Shaped Pool is as lush and layered as we’ve come to expect from what many consider to be the preeminent band of the last twenty years.
6. True Sadness – The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers were on the vanguard of the current rise of Americana/roots music. Their latest album finds the North Carolina-based brothers opening up about their struggles. Yet, through it all, The Avett Brothers find hope in and through their music. Their honesty without succumbing to despair coupled with their prodigious musical talents helped propel True Sadness to the top of the charts and a couple of Grammy nominations.
5. Blackstar – David Bowie
Refusing to pay homage to the music-killing tastes of those who chase after singles on streaming sites, David Bowie kicked off 2016 by releasing one of his best albums on his 69th and final birthday. In other words, it’s a complete album that requires discernment. A musical genius’s reflection on death, the measure of a man, and pop-star fame, Blackstar may prove to be one of the albums of 2016 that people are listening to twenty years from now.
4. Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer
In 2004, Weezer promised their fans that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. With the release of Weezer (The White Album) in 2016, the band is proving true to their word. Signaling that their 2014 return to “classic” Weezer form wasn’t an aberration, their latest album is a smart collection of catchy tunes filled with frontman Cuomo’s love for obscure metaphors and imagery.
3. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – Margo Price
The highest-ranking debut album on this list, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter signals that Margo Price will be a musical force to be reckoned with for years to come. Tight, rich songwriting and a nuanced, harmonic voice are just the beginning of the treasures to be had throughout Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.
2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson’s masterful cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” would have probably been enough to land A Sailor’s Guide to Earth somewhere on this list. The fact that one of Nashville’s most enthralling artists released an entire album of masterful songs garners the number two spot for Simpson’s sophomore release.
1. You Want it Darker – Leonard Cohen
A nearly perfect album, the almost spoken-word You Want it Darker reveals Leonard Cohen’s final earthly reflections. For Believers, Cohen’s word speak of a Jacobin wrestling match; except, this time, “Jacob” rebelliously surrenders. For Unbelievers, Cohen’s sad elegies reveal the futility of life in the face of death in such an honest manner as to make the album disconcerting. Regardless, You Want it Darker, throughout its terrifying peacefulness, is mesmerizing. You Want it Darker is an album that creates silence in the listener.