Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

Top 50 Albums of 2016

on November 28, 2016, 12:00am
view all

leonard cohen Top 50 Albums of 201610. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

The pall that Leonard Cohen’s death cast upon You Want It Darker may linger for some time, just as it’s nearly impossible to separate from David Bowie’s passing. For many, it’ll stand as the surrogate last words of a man we never knew but so often, through his poetry, seemed to know us. Last month, Cohen told The New Yorker, “I am ready to die.” In July, he wrote a letter to one of his muses, Marianne, who was on her deathbed, suspecting that he wasn’t long for this world either. And yet, shortly after Cohen’s passing, we learned that he had two music projects and a book of poetry in the works. It speaks to a compelling duality that we’ve witnessed several times throughout this grave year. The man felt and accepted his mortality; the artist had work left to do. And that’s what we undeniably hear as Cohen gruffly leads us down You Want It Darker’s shadowy corridors, where the familiar beacons – love, faith, and truth – have all burned out. Never once do we sense an artist stepping away from life; we hear one who’s still in the thick of it. –Matt Melis

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Bon Iver09. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

After nabbing Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album Grammys in 2012, Justin Vernon chose to blow up Bon Iver. Not that he ended the band, instead locking it in a box tucked underneath other projects. But when he finally lit the fuse again, it was only to explode expectations of his work. It’s that kind of gutsy confidence that often leads to the most peerless art, and it’s what allowed him to deliver 22, A Million.

Although the album risks polarizing fans with its technological reliance, that’s a fallacy of demanding that artists fence themselves in while also ignoring the obvious progressions. “00000 Million” and “29 #Strafford APTS” are some of the most assured “folk” numbers Vernon has ever written while the horns of Bon Iver, Bon Iver simply find themselves Messina-ized as they cross over. “715 – CR∑∑KS” is “Woods” filtered through some 2016 Prismizer software, coming out once more as a startlingly gorgeous piece of contemporary a cappella.

Even as his lyrics remain as abstruse as ever and he’s further obscured behind the instrumentation, Vernon has boldly advanced his sound — which is what he’s always done. He creates with a daring that sets him apart from his fellows, as it does with 22, A Million and the rest of 2016’s best efforts. –Ben Kaye

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
__________________________________________________________

Anderson .Paak

08. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

No artist more thoroughly dominated 2016 from start to finish than singer, rapper, lyricist, and multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak, who released his stunning sophomore album, Malibu, in January and spent the rest of the year touring relentlessly to bring it to the masses. Eleven months after its release, Malibu remains at the forefront of the pop musical conversation, its lyrical and musical limbs stretching to encompass the same breadth as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly but resulting in an entirely different — and perhaps even more personal — hip-hop masterpiece.

Malibu plays like the spontaneous outpouring of pent-up energy, hopping from Hov-style zingers (“Volume One was too heavy for you frail niggas”) to horn blasts with the gleeful charisma of one who knows he’s on top of his game and can’t wait to show it to the world. .Paak’s talents come across here as larger than life, but the scope of his story is refreshingly intimate. On album highlight “The Season / Carry Me”, he relates an embarrassing story from his childhood, while on “Silicon Valley” he focuses on the insecurities hidden beneath physical beauty. It’s all a way of showing that, hey, we’re all silly people with our dumb, fucked-up contradictions, but sometimes we can be magical. Malibu, for lack of a more accurate word, is magical. –Collin Brennan

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
__________________________________________________________

Angel Olsen

07. Angel Olsen – My Woman

There’s nothing braver, or scarier, than outgrowing sadness. Angel Olsen flirted with melancholy on Burn Your Fire for No Witness and seemed to suffer from it on Strange Cacti. On first listen, My Woman seems to flip off her trademark frown, chasing sunny guitars and ‘70s jams instead of isolated folk ballads, but listen closer and there’s still a tremble within. Sadness moves to the background, quite literally in “Intern” where Olsen harmonizes with herself, and in its place is happiness as it grapples with fear: fear of choosing to be happy and fear of finding out that choice was naive. She manages to both feign insanity and demand validation on “Shut Up Kiss Me”. She articulates the sprawling stress of now with the trite optimism of the ‘60s on “Sister”. She downshifts her voice to be used as an instrument first and a vessel of poetry second on “Those Were the Days”. There’s a sturdy confidence within her that launches her songwriting to the next level, full of well-produced solos and goosebump-inducing howls, and it all stems from the conscious choice to strive for a better feeling. Angel Olsen has always been an artist of hidden complexities. My Woman is just the album that makes that visible to the public. —Nina Corcoran

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
__________________________________________________________

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds06. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

The pain that Nick Cave endured during the creation of Skeleton Tree, when his 15-year-old son, Arthur, died falling from a cliff, is not something that most of us can relate to. And thank god for that. It’s a similar pain that’s fueled a couple of the year’s finest films, Manchester by the Sea and Arrival, but with Cave we know it isn’t just actors on a screen reading lines from a page. The pain in Cave’s voice is the embodiment of grief, even though the songs don’t necessarily dwell on the real-life events. It’s stark and purposeful in the album’s opening line: “You fell from the sky/ Crash landed in a field/ Near the river Adur.” It’s otherworldly and eternal over the millennial whoop of “Rings of Saturn”. It quivers and spits the dust of a broken heart on “I Need You”. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone away forever,” Cave mourns, “because nothing really matters.” It’s been a year where we’ve been stuck in our own grief, be it for our favorite artists, for young men killed by police officers, or for our ideal American way of life that feels so threatened by the changing government. Cave’s grief is real, and hearing him put the pieces back together is shadowed in hope. If Cave can survive, why can’t we all? –Philip Cosores

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

view all
69 comments