The 10 Best Albums We Heard in 2016
As we wind down 2016, it's time to reflect on the good things that happened this year—mainly, the music. While we've lost a couple of the greats, including Prince and David Bowie, we were bestowed with long-awaited releases and surprise drops that were so good, they helped take our mind off the current political climate, if only for a few precious minutes. From Lady Gaga's Joanne to Beyoncé's Lemonade, here are the best albums we've heard so far.
Though it wasn't quite as big of a surprise as her self-titled 2013 album (a highly publicized HBO special is a surefire way to stir up rumors), Beyoncé's Lemonade—and its corresponding visual component—was a musical behemoth in its own right. The collective tracks broke new territory for the singer, marking the first time she painted an honest picture of feminism and explicitly critiqued the institution of marriage. Whether or not her words were true is besides the point: Her emotionally raw expression inspired boatloads of women to speak their mind ... and maybe even swing a baseball bat while they're at it.
David Bowie, Blackstar
David Bowie would've undoubtedly been remembered as a legend without Blackstar, but the twenty-fifth and final album from the late, great English singer only served to further cement his place in the pantheon of rock music and prove that he was a true innovator until his final days.
Frank Ocean, Blond
Frank Ocean's beautiful mélange of rap and R&B is realized in Blond's pared-back, ethereal sound, with lyrics recounting everything from life before fame to the pitfalls of not accepting a friend on Facebook. Released four years after his debut album, Channel Orange, this one proved well worth the wait.
Solange, A Seat at the Table
Solange described her third album, released on her newly-minted record label, Saint Records, as "a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing," and the achingly beautiful sonic respite from a tumultuous year came at a time when we truly needed it most.
Lady Gaga, Joanne
Little Monsters 'round the world patiently awaited Gaga's fifth album, and the singer's 11-track homage to her late aunt, Joanne Stefani Germanotta, was like a crash course in badassery and girl power. So it comes as no big surprise that she took center stage at this year's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show to perform two of its catchiest tracks, "A-Yo" and "John Wayne"—in a skin-tight jumpsuit and towering heels, no less.
Angel Olsen, My Woman
One could listen to Angel Olsen's folksy croon on loop all day long and still want more. Thankfully, the St. Louis-born indie chanteuse's voice is the focus of her appropriately named third album, My Woman, which chronicles the perils of being a female in the modern world.
Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
After weeks of social media teasers, West famously dropped his seventh album during his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden, whereupon he staged the most epic listening party for 60,000 screaming fans. It was a spectacle indeed, and a fitting one for The Life of Pablo, a spiritual meditation on the inner-workings of Ye's mind.
Sia, This Is Acting
Few artists in music today have experienced a career resurgence like Sia, the notoriously camera-shy Australian singer, often seen in public with 14-year-old Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler as her likeness. Her hot streak continues with This Is Acting, an electropop album rife with anthemic tracks like "Cheap Thrills" that quite possibly touts the best message ever: You don't need money to have fun.
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
Chance the Rapper's much-hyped third mixtape served as the perfect blend of gospel music and hip-hop, featuring church choirs and brass instruments set against pulsating synth pop beats. It was the perfect follow-up to West's TLOP, which left Chance fans hungry for more of his soulful verses.
Tove Lo, Lady Wood
Some may not know that Tove Lo is responsible for penning hits like Hilary Duff's "Sparks" and Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do," but the Swedish singer-songwriter has plenty of swoon-worthy songs to call her own on Lady Wood, a hauntingly dreamy sequel to her 2014 debut, rife with piercingly soulful lyrics that defy pop conventions.