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Best Albums of 2016: Yahoo Music Staff Picks

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year, which means we’re making our lists and checking them twice — our year-end best album lists, that is.

2016 concludes on a bittersweet note, as three of our overall top album picks are by artists that are no longer with us. But while David Bowie’s Blackstar, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, and A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service (featuring the late Phife Dawg) are obvious favorites — and not just sentimental favorites; these albums are spectacular — individual Yahoo Music writers’ lists cover everything from forward-thinking R&B (Frank Ocean, the Knowles sisters), to elegant elder statesmen (Nick Cave, Iggy Pop), to fresh new singer-songwriter voices (Maren Morris, Margo Price).

Listen to our wide-ranging album picks below, and you’ll realize this year wasn’t all bad. A lot of wonderful music came out in 2016.

David Bowie's 'Blackstar' is Yahoo Music's top album of 2016.
David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ is Yahoo Music’s top album of 2016.

Overall Yahoo Music Top 10
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Leonard Cohen –You Want It Darker
3. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
5. Beyoncé – Lemonade
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
7. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
8. Solange – A Seat at the Table
9. Maren Morris – HERO
10. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Lyndsey Parker, Editor-in-Chief
1. The Struts – Everybody Wants
2. Savages – Adore Life
3. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
4. David Bowie – Blackstar
5. Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION SIDE B
6. Suede – Night Thoughts
7. CRX – New Skin
8. Oscar – Cut and Paste
9. The Monkees – Good Times!
10. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Some people say rock is dead. Those people have clearly never heard the Struts. Fronted by Luke Spiller, aka the Zandra Rhodes-caped lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Joan Jett, in 2016 these dandy Englishmen revived everything awesome about (and often sadly missing from) rawk ‘n’ roll: call-and-response singalongs, fist- and heart-pumping choruses, power vocals, power ballads, unapologetically/unironically indulgent guitar solos, sausage-casing-snug leather trousers, panda eye makeup, showmanship, theater, fashion, fun. Good, glam times ensued. Let’s hope the Struts lead a full-scale, glitter-rocking British Invasion in 2017. –LP

Wendy Geller, Senior Editor
1. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
2. Vince Gill – Down to My Last Bad Habit
3. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
4. Cody Johnson – Gotta Be Me
5. Dwight Yoakam – Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars
6. Willie Nelson – For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
7. Aubrie Sellers – New City Blues
8. Brent Cobb – Shine on Rainy Day
9. Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers
10. Ryan Beaver – Rx

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Miranda Lambert’s 2016 post-divorce album with the one released by her ex-husband, Blake Shelton, earlier in the year. While Shelton took a straightforward approach to chronicling his feelings, Lambert chose a more meandering path through her pain, resulting in by far the more seductive of the two releases. The Weight of These Wings is an ambitious double set, taking note of Lambert’s established outlaw strengths while allowing her to experiment with newer, fragile moods. The resulting inconsistency is actually charming rather than ragged. ”If you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart,” (from her song “Tin Man”) is as fine an example of country music’s famous brittle simplicity as exists throughout the decades. –WG

Dave DiMartino
1. High Highs – Cascades
2. Bibio – A Mineral Love
3. Momus – Scobberlotchers
4. Yumi Zouma – Yoncalla
5. Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood
6. Big Deal – Say Yes
7. Light Fantastic – Out of View
8. Van Morrison – Keep Me Singing
9. Chook Race – Around the House
10. The High Llamas – Here Come the Rattling Trees

From Brooklyn by way of Australia, the duo comprising the High Highs — Jack Milas and Oli Chang — have a knack for crafting nearly perfect, sonically impeccable, scarily polished pop that evokes a cross between ‘80s Brit bands like China Crisis, the Korgis, and the Lotus Eaters and, oddly, Steely Dan — yet ultimately sounds completely like their own thing. Deliberately understated and completely classic. –DD

Billy Johnson, Jr.
1. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
2. Solange – A Seat at the Table
3. Beyoncé – Lemonade
4. Rihanna – Anti
5. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
6. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
7. Robert Glasper Experiment – ArtScience
8. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
9. MAJOR. – I Am MAJOR.
10. Common – Black America Again

I love that A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service‘s sound and message stay true to the group’s legacy, 26 years after their debut. Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi have made Phife Dawg proud. May he rest in peace. –BJ

Chris Willman
1. Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die
2. Beyoncé – Lemonade
3. David Bowie – Blackstar
4. Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories
5. Maren Morris – Hero
6. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
7. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
8. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
9. Lake Street Dive – Side Pony
10. Aubrie Sellers – New City Blues

Rock ‘n’ roll is in such a precarious modern position that calling Dawes “America’s finest rock band” almost sounds like damning faint praise. But Taylor Goldsmith’s conversationally sharp songs would stand out even in a more competitive era, and the ensemble he’s assembled to perform these gems skirts the fine lines between singer-songwriter, powerpop, jam band, Americana, and melodic indie to wind up in a rock category most easily encapsulated as… classic. –CW

Paul Grein
1. Bonnie Raitt — Dig in Deep
2. The Weeknd — Starboy
3. Keith Urban — Ripcord
4. Maren Morris — Hero
5. Norah Jones — Day Breaks
6. Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger
7. Margo Price — Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
8. Ariana Grande — Dangerous Woman
9. Willie Nelson — Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin
10. Shawn Mendes — Illuminate

Bonnie Raitt has always followed the adage that serves as the title of this, her 17th studio album. The album even includes a surprising cover of INXS’s “Need You Tonight.” –PG

Jon Wiederhorn
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
3. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree
4. Leonard Cohen –You Want It Darker
5. Deftones – Gore
6. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
7. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky
8. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
9. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
10. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Brilliantly written and executed, Blackstar would have been another genre-bending game-changer from the gifted chameleon of rock and pop even if it wasn’t a farewell offering — a record so steeped in references to sickness, death and spirituality that it practically comes across as a eulogy. In his weakened state, Bowie drew strength from the creative jazz musicians he worked with, and developed an uncanny amalgam of experimental-rock, hard-bop, and electronic music that became an ideal, if unfortunate, swan song from an artist who placed art above all else. –JW

Craig Rosen
1. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
3. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
6. Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die
7. A Tribe Call Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
8. Margo Price – A Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
9. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
10. John Doe – The Westerner

In a year dominated by death, Radiohead continued to be a reliable bright spot, even with music steeped in melancholia. Thom Yorke and company continue to amaze with their awe-inspiring sound collages that reach sonic heights few can match. –CR

Jim Farber
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die
3. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
4. Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends
5. case/lang/viers – case/lang/viers
6. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
7. William Bell – This is Where I Live
8. Syd Arthur – Apricity
9. The Frightnrs – Nothing More to Say
10. Donny McCaslin – Beyond Now

For his final release, Bowie doubled down on his original mission: to constantly evolve. Blackstar sounds like nothing Bowie had ever recorded before. By employing the arch soundscapes of Donny McCaslin’s jazz band, he forged an angular new style. His lyrics, too, were new, referencing his transition to whatever comes at life’s end. –JF

The Reverend Shawn Amos
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
3. Fantastc Negrito – The Last Days of Oakland
4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
5. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
6. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
7. Mayer Hawthorne – Man About Town
8. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
9. The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
10. The Bad Plus – It’s Hard

The Thin White Duke says farewell before we had a chance to say goodbye. At once elegiac, cryptically confessional, and supremely curious, Blackstar is the album artists wait a lifetime to produce. For Bowie, it was the curtain call for a life filled with musical mastery. –SA

Steve Baltin
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Beyoncé – Lemonade
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Skeleton Tree
4. Anthony Green – Pixie Queen
5. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
6. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere
7. Garbage – Strange Little Birds
8. Afghan Whigs – Black Love reissue
9. Blink-182 – California
10. Karmin – Leo Rising

Even if not for the sentimental value, Blackstar would be the best album of 2016, a gorgeous and masterful collection from arguably the greatest rock star ever. And fittingly he went out on his terms musically, leaving a swan song that reminded all why there was only one Bowie. –SB

Lori Majewski
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
2. Beyoncé – Lemonade
3. Solange – A Seat at the Table
4. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
5. Sting – 57th and 9th
6. Frank Ocean – Blonde
7. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
8. Maren Morris – Hero
9. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are beautiful yet so unaware of it
10. Pet Shop Boys – Super

During the first three days following the release of musical shapeshifter Bowie’s 25th studio album, I marveled at just how vibrant it — and he — sounded. Sixty-eight years of age when he recorded Blackstar, Bowie was still pushing himself to go places he’d never been, eventually gifting us on his 69th birthday with eight electronic-tinged jazz compositions he’d recorded with the modernist sax player Donny McCaslin and his quartet. Each time I listen, I have a different favorite song, but the mainstays include the epic, nearly 10-minute title track; “I Can’t Give It All Away,” a soaring ode to his own enduring mystique; and the mournful “Lazarus,” which already ranks in my top five (three?) Bowie songs of all time. After his death on Jan. 10, Blackstar became a different record entirely: a perfectly orchestrated farewell. But whenever I play it — which is often — he’s still very much alive, and he always will be. –LM

Laura Ferreiro
1. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
3. Teen – Love Yes
4. Jagwar Ma – Every Now and Then
5. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
6. Wilco – Schmilco
7. Santigold – 99 Cents
8. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
9. Bat for Lashes – The Bride
10. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Complex melodies, soaring strings, and ominous beats comprise Radiohead’s latest album, but as always with Thom Yorke and company, the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. At times achingly beautiful, at others hauntingly ominous, this album adeptly alternates between elevated inspiration and quiet devastation. –LF

Rob O’Connor
1. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
3. Tim Buckley – Lady, Give Me Your Key: The Unissued 1967 Solo Acoustic Sessions
4. Bob Dylan – The 1966 Live Recordings
5. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
6. Van Morrison – It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Vol. II, III & IV
7. David Bowie – Blackstar
8. Young Moon – Colt
9. Drive By Truckers – American Band
10. Terry Reid – The Other Side of the River

It’s sadly fitting that 2016 is closing out as grimly as it began. Leonard Cohen was 81 when he recorded his final album, You Want It Darker, and it sounds like the man making it had advance warning of what was coming, for himself and for everyone else. While he clearly lost even more of what limited voice he once had, he kept the essentials and delivered these final nine songs with a sober devotion to truth and economy that few artists dare attempt. Thirty-six minutes, start to finish. RIP. –RO

Chuck Arnold
1. Beyoncé – Lemonade
2. Solange – A Seat at the Table
3. Frank Ocean – Blonde
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
5. David Bowie – Blackstar
6. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
7. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
8. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
9. Maxwell – blackSUMMERS’night
10. Alicia Keys – Here

Surprise-released just two days after Prince’s death, Lemonade is the kind of bold, genre-defying move that did the Purple One proud. Slaying on every level, it’s the sound of a black woman fiercely embracing her artistic freedom, taking a bat to all of the rules. –CA

John Kordosh
1. Connections – Midnight Run
2. Mitski – Puberty 2
3. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
4. Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
5. Purling Hiss – High Bias
6. Jared Leibowich – Welcome Late Bloomers
7. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
8. Omni – Deluxe
9. Krano – Requiescat in Plavem
10. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

Midwestern garages prove, as ever, to be our most valuable resource for rock ‘n’ roll. Connections are the latest in this tradition, playing ragged but well-crafted songs with energy, abandon, and honesty. –JK

Lina Lecaro
1. The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
3. Beyoncé – Lemonade
4. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
5. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
6. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
7. Solange – A Seat at the Table
8. Sia – This Is Acting
9. The Struts – Everybody Wants
10. Garbage – Strange Little Birds

They did it. The Stones made not only a decent new album, but a full-circle, career-punctuating great new album that’s as gritty and defiant as their first foray on record. It’s not original material, it’s better — an homage to the blissful blues nuggets that first inspired rock’s ultimate bad boys. They’re older than the legends they sought to emulate back then, so it makes sense, but it’s more than that. The Stones’ brand of blues is effortless and layered here, vocally seductive and instrumentally loose (they recorded it in three days). In context of David Bowie’s passing this year (and in contrast to his farewell release), this glorious jam-sesh-like collection is not only raw and resonating, it’s reaffirming. Ultimately it’s not “only” rock n’ roll; it’s life, and the Glimmer Twins still got a lot of it. –LL

Robert of the Radish
1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
2. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
3. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
5. Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee
6. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
7. Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool
8. Teenage Fanclub – Here
9. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
10. John K. Sampson – Winter Wheat

Sometimes music can transcend its structure, and plug directly into the very foundation of what makes us human. Nick Cave has always been an artist that could do this, and his ability to confront mortality has been something that’s separated him. The death of his 15-year-old son in a tragic accident during the creation of Skeleton Tree amplifies his talents to a level that is truly haunting, exhausting, and beautiful. –RR

Tristam Lozaw
1. Carolina Eyck & ACME – Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
3. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
4. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
5. Skylark – Crossing Over
6. Snarky Puppy – Culcha Vulcha
7. Charles Bradley – Change
8. Radiohead – A Moon–Shaped Pool
9. Andy Shauf – The Party
10. Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism & the Phonograph 1890–1900

In a year full of albums that merited repeat listens, return trips to Carolina Eyck & ACME’s Fantasias were the most bracingly liberating. Eyck’s theremin work here is masterful as it weaves buzzing, fluid, flashing musical conversations that swoop in and around often–frenetic, minimalist string quartet compositions (her own), rolling from deep–sea serenity to speed–of–light fireworks. And the flights of fancy generated by Eyck’s spontaneous combustions are as melodically charismatic as they are electronically exotic. –TL