The Top 50 Albums of 2016
And a short list of notable mentions
Illustration: Jenny Scales
2016 was a helluva year. Through the good and the bad, many of us turned to music for a reprieve from the distracting and awful headlines. Below, you’ll find the 50 albums that we found ourselves playing over and over again in times of joy and sadness. You may discover some new artists and the rest should be familiar names at this point.
Here’s to 2017 and all of the great music that it holds for us. And let’s leave the rest of the wack shit in 2016.
Notable mentions: Majid Jordan’s Majid Jordan, Xavier Omär’s The Everlasting Wave, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered, BJ The Chicago Kid’s In My Mind, Nao’s For All We Know, Swet Shop Boys’ Cashmere, Jazz Cartier’s Hotel Paranoia, James Blake’s The Colour In Anything, Kemba’s Negus, Denzel Curry’s Imperial.
50. Beyoncé Lemonade
Like everything Beyoncé blesses us with, Lemonade was a worldwide event. Not only did we get a video for every track, but we got to be pissed at Jay Z for a whole hour and some change before she made up with him by the end of the project. What an emotional rollercoaster to put us all through. We made it though, guys. We made it. – Kathy Iandoli
49. Joyce Manor Cody
Pop punk quartet Joyce Manor went the route of Blink-182 with their fourth studio record and grew up a bit, thanks to producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Guided By Voices). That’s not to say Cody isn’t full of teen-angst and simplistic lyrics depicting short romances and awkward feelings of getting older. On Cody, Joyce Manor are quieter and more refined, but stock-full of short songs with addicting melodies and interesting guitar work. In the span of 20-minutes, Joyce Manor delivers a melancholy trip through teenage years past from the voice of a quiet emo kid with big love. – Kevin Cortez
48. DJ Shadow The Mountain Will Fall
DJ Shadow doesn’t drop an album every year. But when he does, he puts his all into it. This time around, he earned himself the #1 spot on the Billboard Electronic/Dance chart its first week. The album is as unpredictable as they come with old school hip hop, jazz, ambient noises, and whatever you want to call the kickass track he did with Run The Jewels. The album is another surprise in his discography that pushes what an album doesn’t have to be but could be. It’s not Endtroducing and that’s a great thing. – Bryan Hahn
47. The Frightnrs Nothing More To Say
The new Frightnrs album sounds like it was recorded many years ago on an isolated island of tropical climates. But it’s in fact a product of Queens, NYC in 2016. The singer Dan Klein unfortunately passed away earlier this year due to ALS but his unique voice will live on forever with this first album that the group released through Daptone. Their interpretation of early reggae is a true testament to their love of the genre and its roots. – Bryan Hahn
46. STWO D.T.S.N.T.
In Stwo’s latest album, the Parisian producer stays true to his signature sound filled with dreamy harmonies and gauzy vocals, a sentiment that D.T.S.N.T’s final track “Blue Sky” richly sums up: that of floating on a “big, blue sky.” Stwo’s choices for the album’s collaborators is an international convening of richly talented artists like Rotterdam’s Sevdaliza (a personal favorite), OVO’s Amir Obe and Peruvian newcomer A.CHAL, each of whose significant vocals plays a perfect pair to Stwo’s ruminating rhythms. Stwo’s style is clearly birthed of the musical melting pot that so clearly defines the interesting direction much of today’s musical genres are heading in. – Zoy Britton
45. Pup The Dream Is Over
Canadian band Pup impressed us with their 2013 self-titled album. It was an explosive, raw record full of fun melodies and punk rock songs that demanded sing-alongs and screaming the way Beastie Boys raps did in the ’90s. This year, Pup have done the impossible and topped their insane debut with The Dream Is Over. The record is a barrage of sound, unmistakably fun and dedicated to wholesome shout-alongs with friends and strangers alike. – Kevin Cortez
44. Kamaiyah A Good Night In The Ghetto
Kamaiyah was a welcomed addition to 2016, and her contribution goes way beyond being a woman in hip hop. A Good Night In The Ghetto was an idyllic entry for the Oakland native into the rap game. Of course “Out The Bottle” lured us in, but we stayed for the rest and in turn Kamaiyah is here to stay. – Kathy Iandoli
43. KA Honor Killed The Samurai
Since production has dominated the tastes of fans, consciously or not, the lyrical content for many rappers have gone by the wayside. But for Ka, honest storytelling is all he knows and we have nothing but respect for it. He’s consistently stayed true to himself and not given into popular trends–similar to a noble samurai. Each song plays out like a carefully planned chess move. Watch the master at work. – Bryan Hahn
42. JANK Versace Summer
Like all great emo bands, JANK broke up before you even got to know who they were. The Philly trio left us with a solid discography and two awesome releases for 2016: Awkward Pop Songs and Versace Summer. Full of twinkly guitars and fast rhythms, JANK’s Versace Summer takes the cake for being the ultimate jam-out, anxiety-ridden package of emo punk of the year. Catchy and damn funny, JANK took their jokes and lyrics seriously without ever coming off as corny or insincere. That’s saying a lot from a band who has a song called “General Tso What?” and describes lyrics for one of their tracks, “Gucci Spring,” as strictly “*saxophone noises*.” And best of all, Versace Summer is a free-to-download EP. What’s not to love? – Kevin Cortez
41. Joey Purp iiiDrops
The SaveMoney artist created a well rounded project that heavily dealt with the violence in Chicago. And since he’s been witness and victim to it, that’s what naturally shined through. The production ranged from influences from the Neptunes to vintage Kanye, but with timeless lyrics from Joey Purp. And now with KAMI working on his solo releases, we can’t wait to see the return of Leather Corduroys. – Bryan Hahn