Suffice to say that this inaugural year of Albumism’s existence has been a blast, and we’re so grateful for all of our fellow music obsessives who have joined and enriched our global community of album lovers. So first and foremost, THANK YOU!
We’re also thankful for all of the amazing new music that has surfaced over the past eleven months, the highlights of which we’ve compiled here in our year-end review of 2016’s best albums. Now we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, but this list—as with most “best of” lists, mind you—inevitably reflects our team’s biased perspectives and critical dispositions, so it’s absolutely and unabashedly a subjective assessment. Hence why we would love to know what YOU consider the best albums of the year to be, whether they appear on this list or not.
And without further ado, here they are in all of their aural glory…Albumism’s 30 Best Albums of 2016.
#10 | LISA HANNIGAN | At Swim
Hoop/ATO/Play It Again Sam
Our Two Cents: As evidenced by the enchanting, exquisitely executed At Swim, Hannigan’s songs continue to evolve with unparalleled grace and understated power in equal measure. One listen to this hauntingly gorgeous, unequivocal triumph of an album and you’ll be basking in its ceaseless afterglow, compelled to listen again and again and again.
#9 | UNDERWORLD | Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future
Our Two Cents: An official band statement refers to the album as “head music to dance to,” an apropos description of this inspired, masterfully constructed record’s essence, which is sure to reveal hidden treasure after hidden treasure upon repeated listens. Throughout the entirety of Barbara Barbara, Underworld sound more invigorated and unencumbered than they have in decades, suggesting that this next phase of their storied career is destined to be a shining one, indeed.
#8 | CHANCE THE RAPPER | Coloring Book
Our Two Cents: As it turns out, Chance doesn’t even need language to get his message across, much less poetry. “And we back” are the first words he speaks on Coloring Book, but they aren’t actually the first sound he makes. About ten seconds into “All We Got,” we hear one of Chance’s signature vocal bursts (I wouldn’t know how else to describe it, but you’ll know it when you hear it). He almost could have stopped right there. That opening gesture is full of such energy and commitment that it already signals a point made abundantly clear throughout Coloring Book—Chance the Rapper is back, and he isn’t going anywhere.
#7 | LEONARD COHEN | You Want It Darker
Our Two Cents: The follow up to 2014’s critically applauded Popular Problems, Cohen’s fourteenth studio album You Want It Darker finds the octogenarian in signature enthralling form, with his powers of provocation—not to mention his wry humor—fully intact. While the lyrical weight of the song suite coupled with Cohen’s gravely baritone spoken-word still commands the lion’s share of the listener’s attention, the stark yet sublime arrangements and production orchestrated by his son Adam Cohen also warrant plenty of praise.
#6 | RADIOHEAD | A Moon Shaped Pool
Our Two Cents: To be sure, Radiohead’s music and Yorke’s songwriting have always derived their power in the cerebral and melancholic. But A Moon Shaped Pool is arguably the most introspective and lucid song suite they’ve delivered yet. The pervasive and universally applicable themes of alienation, disenchantment, and the complexities of life and love that we’ve come to associate with Radiohead are all present once again. It’s clear that Radiohead’s ninth LP further cements the band’s unparalleled musical legacy, one that continues to evolve and excite in the most dynamic of ways.
#5 | ANDERSON .PAAK | Malibu
Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club/EMPIRE
Our Two Cents: One of the most refreshingly inventive albums to emerge so far this year is the multi-dimensionally gifted Anderson .Paak’s tough-to-pigeonhole Malibu, which we continue to bump on the regular here at Albumism HQ. Released back in January, a few months after his much-applauded guest vocal contributions on Dr. Dre’s Compton, .Paak’s sophomore album (or his fourth LP, if you count his two 2012 efforts released under his previous moniker, Breezy Lovejoy) Malibu is an unequivocal treat for the ears, heart, mind and soul.
#4 | DAVID BOWIE | Blackstar
Our Two Cents: With a recording career that formally began in the mid-1960s and subsequently spanned six different decades, the uncompromisingly chameleonic singer-songwriter was the personification of artistic experimentation and reinvention. Further evidence of Bowie's unparalleled penchant for musical adventure and fearlessness surfaced in inspired form across the sublime swan song Blackstar, his haunting twenty-fifth and final studio album released on his 69th birthday (January 8th), just two days before his passing (January 10th).
#3 | LION BABE | Begin
Our Two Cents: Now customarily, if a group releases five singles before their album hits stores, you would be forgiven for assuming that the other tracks that round out the album are destined to pale in comparison, conspiring to drag the album down ever closer to mediocrity. However, in the case of Lion Babe’s stunning Begin, you would be mistaken. So very, very mistaken. Pulling off the ultra-rare feat of infusing leftfield sensibilities to craft universally accessible tunes, Begin is contemporary pop perfection infused with an unapologetically adventurous spirit. In simpler terms, Lion Babe’s debut is an incredible record.
#2 | case/lang/veirs | case/lang/veirs
Our Two Cents: A tutorial in how best to synthesize the respective strengths of multiple creators while elevating their unique charms, Neko Case, k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs’ inaugural effort is a contemporary masterpiece of crystalline beauty, unfettered grace, and revelatory depth. Guaranteed to give its listeners incurable goosebumps and spine-tingling chills upon first and repeated listens, case/lang/veirs is simply wonderful.
#1 | JAMES BLAKE | The Colour in Anything
Our Two Cents: In the album closer ‘Meet You in the Maze,’ the second of two songs co-written by Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), Blake repeats the mantra “music can’t be everything,” suggesting that love takes precedence above all. We concur. But we’re also convinced that the inspired, modern-day masterpiece The Colour in Anything is essential, life-affirming music that, upon playing it a few times through, we know we can’t live without. Not that we need any further reminding, but Blake’s latest achievement reinforces just how unique and vital of a creative force he is.