The competition was fierce, but we narrowed it down to the 10 coolest albums (plus some honorable mentions) of 2016 including from Rihanna, David Bowie, the Queen B herself and Bon Iver.
Rihanna - Anti
While it’s a shame that the Grammy folks chose to nominate Drake and Justin Bieber’s albums over this one for Album of the Year, it still stands as the best work of Ri-Ri’s career. Her surprise-released eighth album cuts a wide swath of styles from throwback doo-wop (“Love on the Brain”) to a Tame Impala cover (“Same ‘Ol Mistakes”) and gets better with every listen.
David Bowie - Blackstar
With the rock/pop/glam/punk icon passing two days after its release, this album would be remembered regardless of its content. But Bowie’s swan song is another mesmerizing re-invention of style that seamlessly blends art rock, jazz, and sonic experimentation. Released on his birthday and inspired by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips, the venerable musician’s farewell more than cements his legacy.
Kungs - Layers
The debut from Kungs (aka 19-year-old French producer Valentin Brunel) isn’t groundbreaking, historic or particularly original. But it’s hard to find a more enjoyable, start-to-finish dance/pop album this year. Building on the single “This Girl,” the hit collaboration with Australian funk trio Cookin’ on 3 Burners, Brunel infuses all of the album’s 12 tracks with the same infectious energy. The future is bright for this one.
Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
Another farewell from a musical legend, Cohen’s self-aware goodbye is filled with references to his own mortality, God, and personal reflection. Recorded while Cohen was suffering from back issues in his Los Angeles home, the Renaissance man made sure his last artistic statement was an unforgettable one.
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam - I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Collaborations from members of different successful bands are tricky business. But Walkmen singer Leithauser and former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam managed to create 10 gorgeous, varied songs that both draw from their previous work and expand their creative pallet.
Beyoncé - Lemonade
Queen B’s second “visual” album, it is accompanied by a one-hour HBO film. Tackling issues from infidelity to institutionalized racism, it incorporates a wide variety of styles and features collaborations with The Weeknd, Jack White, James Blake, and Kendrick Lamar. It sits atop all Grammy nominations with nine.
Nicolas Jaar - Sirens
The Chilean-raised, New York-based producer/composer made a name for himself with dance EPs in the club world. But his solo albums are far more experimental. A follow-up to his stunning 2011 debut “Space Is Only Noise,” his sophomore release is a politically charged and hypnotic masterpiece. Plus, if you buy it on vinyl, it comes with a scratch-off cover and a quarter!
Bon Iver - 22, A Million
Who knew? After releasing two albums and an EP of indie folk, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon spent five years creating his masterwork. An incredibly compelling mash-up of electronic, folk, and samples, even fans jarred by initial listens are sure to warm to the perfectly sequenced and immaculately constructed compositions here. Proof that solid creative instincts and thoughtful execution always beat staying the course.
Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Easily one of the very best albums of the year, Paak isn’t just the guy who was the best part of Dr. Dre’s “Compton” anymore. Deals from the NBA and delivering the most enjoyable live show out there right now will keep this guy around for many years to come. But it’s “Malibu’s” undeniable energy across Paak’s fearless amalgam of R&B, funk, hip-hop, and soulful grooves that make this album a must-have.
Kaytranada - 99.9%
Even though cassettes are now a specialty item, the term mixtape still gets thrown around a lot. Well, this 24-year-old Haitian-born, Montreal-based DJ/producer just made an album that sounds like one of the best mixtapes ever put together. Expertly fusing a wide-range of styles and collaborators, the genre-defying collection never feels forced and is a wildly enjoyable listen from start to finish. Already the winner of 2016’s Canadian Polaris Music Prize, this record should really be on (or near) the top of everyone’s list.
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
Margaret Glaspy - Emotions and Math
Savages - Adore Life
De La Soul - And the Anonymous Nobody
Christine and The Queens - Chaleur Humaine
Hinds - Leave Me Alone