25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)
Ah, it’s that time again! Time for what you ask? Why, best of lists…SO FAR!!! Yes, there’s no more gleeful time in the life of a music journalist’s life than compiling his (or hers) best-of-lists. It’s time-consuming, imperfect, and has plenty of potential for cuss-word-provoking typographical errors, but in the end, it represents another work of art – another notch in the belt. So without further ado or unnecessary verbose or poorly contrived innuendo, here are the 25 best albums of 2016 (So Far).
Most of us went “gaga” when Beyoncé released her first visual album, simply titled Beyoncé. Lemonade, her second visual album, is an even bolder statement that finds Yoncé at her rawest. While Beyoncé incorporates the expected styles with pop, R&B, and hip-hop, she even incorporates elements of rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) and country (“Daddy”). That doesn’t even account for socially conscious and politically charged moments such as “6 Inch Heels,” “Freedom,” and “Formation.” No. 1, clearly.
Gems: “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Sandcastles,” “Freedom” & “Formation”
2. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
Anytime Radiohead drops an album, it’s “kind of a big deal.” While A Moon Shaped Pool didn’t earn quite the same level of commercial fanfare as Lemonade, the content of the album is brilliant. Captivating throughout its course with no missteps, some of Thom Yorke and company’s best moments come on “The Numbers” and the cleverly titled “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” that dabble in environmental issues. “Burn the Witch” can’t be omitted, kicking off the album with fire.
Gems: “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming,” “Ful Stop,” “The Numbers” & “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief”
3. Rihanna, Anti (Roc Nation)
Had this mid-year ranking occurred when Anti first arrived, the album probably would’ve missed the top-five and possibly might’ve been a fringe top-10 pick. Fortunately for Rihanna’s newest album, it quickly endeared itself easily separating itself as one of the very best of 2016. So, what’s the only thing(s) standing in Rihanna’s way? Beyoncé and Radiohead. “Kiss It Better” is among the year’s sexiest slow jams, “Work” is annoyingly infectious, while “Higher” is the interlude that definitely should’ve been expanded to a full-length song.
Gems: “Kiss It Better,” “Work,” “Desperado,” “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” “Love on the Brain” & “Higher”
4. Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered (Interscope)
Even if an album is technically “untitled” and “un-mastered” it can be superb in the hands of Kendrick Lamar. While Untitled Unmastered isn’t on the level of good Kid, m.A.A.d. City or To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s not that far off – that speaks to the prodigious musicianship of one of music’s best rappers currently. One of the appeals of this album is that every song can be broken down analytically – there’s clearly a message Lamar wishes to share. This has been consistent with every Kendrick Lamar project up to this point.
Gems: “Untitled 01,” “Untitled 02,” “Untitled 05” & “Untitled 08”
5. Anthony Hamilton, What I’m Feelin’ (RCA)
Traditional R&B doesn’t get the respect or notoriety that it should. Regardless, Anthony Hamilton – as Anthony Hamilton always does – delivers an exceptional album that’s consistent from top to bottom. What I’m Feelin’ is another magnificent addition to Hamilton’s stacked discography and a reminder to those who doubted R&B that it IS NOT DEAD. “Amen” even manages to incorporate hip-hop without compromising Hamilton’s neo-/retro-soul driven sound. “Take You Home” sounds like Sunday morning services.
Gems: “Save Me,” “Ain’t No Shame,” “What I’m Feelin’,” “Amen,” “Grateful” & “Take You Home”
6. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia)
Who would’ve thought that Blackstar would be David Bowie’s final album? Bowie passed away just two days after releasing Blackstar on his 69th birthday. As sad as it was to see the iconic artist die, Blackstar showcased the ever restless, evolving Bowie in top-notch form. “Blackstar” is easily one of the year’s most enigmatic songs clocking in just under 10 minutes. “Lazarus,” arguably the set’s biggest attraction, eerily seems to foreshadow Bowie’s own death (“Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”). On “Girl Loves Me,” Bowie incorporates a made up language coupled with gay slang (Nadsat and Polari). Bowie definitely went out on top.
Gems: “Blackstar,” “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Lazarus” & “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)”
7. Panic! At The Disco, Death of A Bachelor (Fueled by Ramen)
“All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah!” Is Brendon Urie a god? Yes, a musical god…Not the man upstairs of course – no false idols here! Anyways, Panic! At The Disco always know how to play to their strengths: incorporating a wide variety of styles and a heavy dosage of eccentricity. Some might even consider Death of a Bachelor a weird album, but it’s the idiosyncrasies of this project that make it worth acknowledging among the year’s best. Plus, doesn’t Urie nail updated Sinatra like a boss on the title track? How about that epic closer, “Impossible Year?”
Gems: “Victorious,” “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time,” “Hallelujah,” “Death of A Bachelor” & “Impossible Year”
8. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book (Chance the Rapper)
“Am I the only n–a still care about mixtapes?” That’s a debatable question from Chance the Rapper but regardless of the fact that Coloring Book is a mixtape, it’s a good one! While Chance doesn’t seem to care about selling his work, think about the kind of numbers Coloring Book might’ve put up if it were packaged more like an album as opposed to a streaming exclusive? Clearly, Chance the Rapper is one of the rising rappers in the hip-hop song who has no problem adding to the difficult decision of picking which hip-hop album of 2016 is truly the best. Chance is at his best when he’s on a spiritual high, such as “Blessings” and “Finish Line/Drown.”
Gems: “All We Got,” “No Problem,” “Blessings,” “Same Drugs,” “Angels” & “Finish Line / Drown”
9. Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo (G.O.O.D./Def Jam)
Is ninth too low for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo? It’s a hard call. The Life of Pablo was a fine album, though not the crowning achievement of West’s career. Even with the question marks and the odd rollout for the album that eventually debuted on the Billboard 200 at no. 1, there’s plenty to praise. Opener “Ultralight Beam,” for example, easily ranks among the best songs of West’s career, while he nails “Waves.” There’s also a certain superstar collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties in LA” that can’t be overlooked.
Gems: “Ultralight Beam,” “Famous,” “Waves,” “No More Parties in LA” & “Facts”
10. Jon Bellion, The Human Condition (Capitol)
If The Human Condition is any indication, the future seems incredibly bright for Jon Bellion. The Long Island musician is multitalented, whether it be songwriting, singing, producing, or rapping. While his voice is his primary instrument of choice throughout The Human Condition, he busts some mean rhymes on “New York Soul, Part, II.” Over the album’s course, he tackles his personal life, love, social issues, and spirituality. This is an album no one should sleep on.
Gems: “He Is the Same,” “All Time Low,” “New York Soul, Pt. II,” “Maybe IDK,” “Woke The F*ck Up” & “Guillotine”
11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Getaway (Warner Bros)
One of the best influences for a fantastic album is a breakup. Yep, that’s what happened to The Peppers on The Getaway – or rather to frontman Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis’ pain is our pleasure on the Peppers’ best album in years. Sure 2011’s I’m With You wasn’t horrid by any means, but The Getaway clearly surpasses it – single “Dark Necessities” does that single-handedly. That’s not the only gem of course. Opener “The Getaway” ‘goes for the kill’ in regards to the end of a relationship, setting the tone, while “We Turn Red” takes a jab at Donald Trump (“Coming down from the deserts where you / caught a glimpse of the billionaire.”) Between Bowie and The Peppers, rock has two albums that are clearly juggernauts in 2016.
Gems: “The Getaway,” “Dark Necessities,” “We Turn Red,” “Sick Love” & “Go Robot”
12. Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman (Republic)
After two albums, Ariana Grande decided to break away from her teen-pop persona and embrace being a Dangerous Woman. It pays off as Grande arguably delivers the best album of her career. Embracing more grown-up material coupled with her ridiculously flexible set of pipes, Grande shows she’s transitioned to the next phase of her career. Dangerous Woman masterfully blends pop, dance, and R&B.
Gems: “Moonlight,” “Dangerous Woman,” “Side To Side,” “Let Me Love You,” “Greedy” & “Touch It”
13. Maren Morris, Hero (Columbia)
Country music will NOT be left off the Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) list – no worries. Maren Morris “signed, sealed, and delivered” a savvy country album with Hero, which benefits from embracing numerous styles and well deserving of the label multidimensional. Too often country boxes itself in, but Morris avoids that here. She also shows a bit of extra edge, letting some naughty words slip off the tongue. She atones though – “Can I get a hallelujah?” – on the epic crossover hit “My Church.”
Gems: “Sugar,” “Rich,” “My Church,” “I Could Use a Love Song” & “I Wish I Was”
14. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)
Two country albums are more fun than one right? Right! Sturgill Simpson also separated himself from other country artists in 2016 (he’s been doing this for a while of course). A Sailor’s Guide to Earth transcends country – it’s eclectic. Ask yourself, how many times in modern country music are horns used? Also, ask yourself this question – how many country artists cover Nirvana (“In Bloom”)? More country artists should do as Simpson says – “Brace for Impact (Live A Little)” – go beyond the confines of the label country!
Gems: “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” “Breaker’s Roar,” “In Bloom” & “Call To Arms”
15. Lukas Graham, Lukas Graham (Warner Bros.)
Danish band Lukas Graham concoct an enjoyable, memorable pop album with their self-titled debut. Guess who the frontman is? Yes, Lukas of course – who did you think it was? Anyways, while the main attraction is clearly the emotional, meaningful “7 Years” (“Once I was seven years old…”) that’s not the only magnificent highlight. “Mama Said” and “Better Than Yourself (Criminal Mind Pt. 2)” both possess depth, while the shallower “Drunk in the Morning” is clearly the most fun song on the album, hands down.
Gems: “7 Years,” “Mama Said,” “Drunk in The Morning,” & “Better Than Yourself (Criminal Mind Pt. 2)”
16. Deftones, Gore (Reprise)
Sometimes certain genres don’t get much love on best of albums lists. It’s unintentional…sometimes. Deftones earn a hard-fought spot for their fine metal album, Gore. Why was Gore selected among the best? Often, the perception of metal is that’s it’s always loud and there’s a lack of a wider dynamic range. Throughout Gore Deftones show they can mix it up, sometimes going harder and at other times pulling back. “Prayers/Triangles” is the set’s ‘ace-in-the-hole.’
Gems: “Prayers/Triangles,” “Doomed User,” “Hearts/Wires,” “Pittura Infamente” & “Phantom Bride”
17. Anderson. Paak, Malibu (Steel Wool / OBE)
Back in January, Anderson. Paak might’ve secured a top-five spot with Malibu. In the review penned Malibu, I wrote: “Anderson Paak clearly shows himself to be a force to be reckoned with and hopefully Malibu isn’t just a critical breakthrough, but also a commercial breakthrough.” The problem is that since January, plenty more fantastic albums have joined Paak’s own standout. While Malibu may have lost some of its edge, coupled with being underappreciated in the first place, it’s clearly one of the year’s more intriguing, creative albums. Paak sings, raps, and wears lots of different hats throughout this Alt-R&B jewel.
Gems: “The Bird,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” “The Season / Carry Me,” “Put Me Thru,” “Your Prime” & “Come Down”
18. BJ The Chicago Kid, In My Mind (Motown)
Ah, another fine, if underrated/underappreciated R&B album. BJ The Chicago Kid’s debut, In My Mind, like Anderson. Paak’s Malibu, is clearly one of the year’s elite albums that haven’t received the notoriety that it should’ve. Despite poor commercial sales, critically, In My Mind has plenty of goods to offer, whether it’s the spiritual concerns of “Church” and “Jeremiah/Worlds Needs More,” or the sensually-charged “The Resume.” Two moments in particular shine: “New Cupid” featuring Kendrick Lamar and groovy, throwback closer “Turnin’ Me Up.”
Gems: “Church,” “Love Inside,” “The Resume,” “Jeremiah/World Needs More Love,” “New Cupid,” & “Turnin’ Me Up”
19. Drake, Views (Cash Money)
This one’s tough. Arguably, Views is Drake’s weakest album. Even so, Views is no flop. The biggest rub against this album is that Drake doesn’t necessarily progress forward, opting to maintain the status quo. Is that bad? No. Views is still one of the year’s more interesting albums, and when Drizzy’s “on,” he’s clearly “on.”
Gems: “Keep The Family Close,” “9,” “Hype,” “Redemption,” “Views” and “Hotline Bling”
20. Zayn, Mind of Mine (RCA)
On his debut album Mind of Mine, Zayn seemed to want to make sure that the world knew he’s had sex (“Pillowtalk”). Whether or not that was necessary, in a somewhat youthful, immature sort of way, Zayn did manage to escape the bubblegum pop of One Direction. Overall, Mind of Mine has a lot to offer in a pop album, even if it’s not the crème de la crème of this list. Besides “Pillowtalk,” Zayn shows his tenderer side on “It’s You,” while he goes full-throttle with “Fool for You.”
Gems: “Pillowtalk,” “It’s You,” “Befour,” “She” & “Fool For You”
21. The Lumineers, Cleopatra (Dualtone Music)
The Lumineers’ Cleopatra is an example of a great album that’s gotten overshadowed by other great albums. Happens every year. The Lumineers don’t reinvent the wheel on Cleopatra, but definitely show sound musicianship, particularly the songwriting in itself. “Ophelia” in particularly stands out, cleverly referencing “falling in love with fame.”
Gems: “Ophelia,” “Cleopatra,” “Gun Song” & “In The Light”
22. Elton John, Wonderful Crazy Night (Mercury/Island)
Had Wonderful Crazy Night arrived closer to assembling this list, its value would’ve been elevated more. Still, Elton John “did some work” on Wonderful Crazy Night, clearly expanding his legacy and arguably stepping up his game up more than 2013’s solid The Diving Board. The best moment? The rollicking title track without question!
Gems: “Wonderful Crazy Night,” “In The Name of You,” “Claw Hammer,” & “A Good Heart”
23. Nick Jonas, Last Year Was Complicated (Island)
Nick Jonas has clearly stepped up his game. The urban-infused pop style certainly seems a good fit for him. Is it still a bit tough to envision the former teen-pop star as a sex symbol beyond flaunting his abs and stepping up the innuendo lyrically? Perhaps, but he’s clearly “into it” (sex) throughout the course of Last Year Was Complicated, not to mention the f-word (gasps with shock*). In all honestly, Last Year Was Complicated is enjoyable, particularly duet “Close” and the addictive “Bacon” (“throw some bacon on it”).
Gems: “Voodoo,” “Champagne Problems,” “Close,” “Bacon” & “Under You”
24. The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Interscope)
The 1975 fans will clearly be angry at the placement of I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It on this best-of list. Why so low? Honestly, while the album has its epic moments, it also runs too long, specifically with “Please Be Naked” slowing down the momentum. Nonetheless, The 1975 kill gems like “Love Me” and “UGH,” with the crème de la crème being the extended, gospel-infused joint “If I Believe You.”
Gems: “Love Me,” “UGH,” “If I Believe You,” “Loving Someone,” “The Sound” & “Paris”
25. Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger (Capitol)
As he nears his 75th birthday, Paul Simon proves he’s “still got it” on Stranger to Stranger. Is Stranger to Stranger likely ‘better’ than many of the albums it sits behind on this ranking? Probably. That said, is Stranger to Stranger the year’s most ‘relevant’ album? Probably not. Regardless, the veteran songwriter definitely deserves recognition on this list.
Gems: “The Werewolf,” “Wristband,” “Stranger to Stranger,” “Proof of Love” & “Cool Papa Bell”
Honorable Mentions: Bonnie Raitt, Dig Deep (Redwing); Corinne Bailey Rae, When The Heart Whispers (Virgin); Declan McKenna, Liar-EP (Declan McKenna); Future, EVOL; Gnash, us; James Blake, The Colour in Anything; K. Michelle, More Issues Than Vogue; Keith Urban, Ripcord; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made (Macklemore); Santana, Santana IV (Santana IV); Sia, This Is Acting; YG, Still Brazy (Def Jam)