20 Best Albums of 2016, From Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ to David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ (Videos)
TheWrap’s Best & Worst 2016: Radiohead, Paul Simon and A Tribe Called Quest also make the cut
Jeremy Fuster | December 28, 2016 @ 9:30 AM
Last Updated: December 28, 2016 @ 9:34 AM
When it comes to music, best-of-year lists are always going to be incomplete. There's so much great music out there that many brilliant works are going to be overlooked. Still, we've done our best to put together a great cross-section of musicians from a wide range of genres and fame levels. These are our 2016 favorites.
Anohni -- "Hopelessness" -- Nominated for an Oscar this year for her work on the documentary "Racing Extinction," Anohni drops another gut punch of an album with this electronic attack on pollution, drone strikes, and most striking of all, Barack Obama.
A Tribe Called Quest -- "We got it from Here ... Thank You 4 Your service"
Boy, did ATCQ pick the best time to get back together. "Thank You 4 Your service" proves these legendary rappers can be just as, if not more, relevant as they jump from one social conflict to another. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter and Make America Great Again, Quest has found themselves right where they belong.
Avantasia -- "Ghostlights" -- There's a lot of bleak music on this list, so we need to balance it with one joyful album. Avantasia continues its tradition of turning what should be pretentious, cheesy nonsense into an unmissable showcase of power metal vocalists and soaring guitar solos. At the center of it is "Let The Storm Descend Upon You," a 12-minute epic that band founder Tobias Sammet views as one of his favorite creations.
Beyonce -- "Lemonade" -- It's hard to argue that any other artist has left as huge a cultural impact on the world this year as Beyonce. With this album and the accompanying HBO special, she delivered a powerful statement of identity that made everyone take notice.
Car Seat Headrest -- "Teens of Denial" -- The 12th album from these Seattle indie rockers is also their first recorded in a professional studio, though that doesn't kill the garage feel. They have created the perfect soundtrack for a millennial coming-of-age film, basing their songs around a teen named Joe who is ruminating over childhood's end.
Chance The Rapper -- "Coloring Book" -- 2016 may not be looked back on fondly by many people, but it was a great year for Chance. His Grammy-nominated mixtape soared up the Billboard charts on streaming power alone, diving into the tragic violence of inner city Chicago with heartfelt spirituality.
Cymbals Eat Guitars -- "Pretty Years" -- An album for the classic rock snob, or maybe just for the classic rock appreciator. Snobs might find Cymbals Eat Guitars' attempts to take classic styles like Springsteen and twist them like a mobius strip to be an affront to their purist tastes.
David Bowie -- "Blackstar" -- Not since Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" has an artist confronted his mortality with such refreshing honesty. Released two days before his death, David Bowie left his comfort zone and jumped into new worlds. And then he left us. Forever.
Frank Ocean -- "Blonde" -- Dreamy, abstract, and overloaded with guest appearances. Frank Ocean's vocal and producer collaborations on this album include Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Tyler The Creator, Pharrell Williams, Om'Mas Keith, Alexander Hamilton, James Blake Hercules Mulligan, and many more on a mile-long list.
Gojira -- "Magma" -- Four years after the release of their masterful "L'Enfant Sauvage," Gojira returns with a prog metal offering that manages to make their style more accessible without losing its fearsomeness. "Magma" is an ominous nightmare that feels like it will never end, and we're thankful for it.
Insomnium -- "Winter's Gate" -- This death metal album has one song on it. That song is 40 minutes long. Yes, from the get-go, that makes it the most challenging album on this list, but "Winter's Gate" is a melancholy masterpiece, telling the story of a doomed Viking voyage in the middle of an icy squall.
Kanye West -- "Life of Pablo" -- And now for something completely different. Kanye may be in the headlines right now for the wrong reasons, but every new release he comes out with proves that for all his eccentricities he is a bona-fide artist.
Mitski -- "Puberty 2" -- Recommended for anyone who enjoys "BoJack Horseman" and empathizes with the titular character's desperate search for happiness. Mitski's indie rock offering features ruminations on the confusion that comes with the feeling that your life isn't what you want it to be, but you don't know how to find contentment.
Kendrick Lamar -- "untitled unmastered" -- Fresh off of "To Pimp a Butterfly" and his legendary Grammy performance, Kendrick Lamar got right back to work with eight untitled tracks that demonstrated all the nuance, genre blending, social commentary we've come to expect from the Compton superstar.
Leonard Cohen -- "You Want It Darker" -- The final album from the recently departed "Hallelujah" songwriter, like "Blackstar," deals with death fearlessly, even when it doesn't do so explicitly. The most sobering track is the final one, "Steer Your Way," in which Cohen gives a final condemnation of the secular, the sacred, and saddest of all, his own belief in "fundamental goodness."
Opeth -- "Sorceress" -- Mikael Akerfeldt and his band of intellectual Swedish metalheads have spent this decade forging deeper into prog territory. "Sorceress" sees Opeth continue their new path unapologetically, finding new levels of complexity while paying tribute to Led Zeppelin along the way.
Paul Simon -- "Stranger To Stranger" -- Well, who saw this coming? 30 years after "Graceland," Paul Simon has comeback with an album that is truly original. Drums from South America and flutes from Africa fill the melodies. Lyrics about werewolves and the Sandy Hook shootings fill the liner notes. You've never heard anything like this.
Radiohead -- "A Moon Shaped Pool" -- Radiohead sent their rabid fans into a state of euphoria when they announced a new album coming out with a week's notice. Sad symphonic melodies and Thom Yorke's eerie voice make this a haunting, almost unnerving work.
Savages -- "Adore Life" -- A noisy rock album that views love as a sloppy mess that is nonetheless worth rolling around in. Savages have found a way to take the teenage anxiety and confusion that comes with first-time romance and heartbreak and infuse it with maturity.
Solange -- "A Seat At The Table" -- Though it didn't achieve the cultural phenomenon status "Lemonade" got, Solange has created a thoughtful album that is both a worthy companion to her sister's work and a bold statement in its own right.