Best Albums of 2016 AKA Beautiful Sadness

This year, I’ve written multiple album recaps – namely, Beyonce’s Lemonade and Cash Cash’s Blood Sweat and Three Years. Now, I’ll tell you 18 more – because those two are two of the best albums from this year.

This list is eclectic. It consists of pop, rock, alternative, and electronic. It’s a list of albums from my favorite bands and from artists I discovered this year. I’ve listened to so many albums this year, it’d be hard for me to count. Not including the 20 finalists, here’s a list of all the albums I’ve listened to this year:

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Getaway
  • Phantogram, 3
  • The Lumineers, Cleopatra
  • Glass Animals, How to Be A Human Being
  • Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Ride
  • St. Lucia, Matter
  • Two Door Cinema Club, Gameshow
  • The Knocks, 55
  • Kongos, Egomaniac
  • The Naked and Famous, Simple Forms
  • The Heavy, Hurt and the Merciless
  • Weezer, Weezer (The White Album)
  • Young the Giant, Home of the Strange
  • Bear Hands, You’ll Pay For This
  • M83, Junk
  • Flume, Skin
  • Ra Ra Riot, Need Your Light
  • Lake Street Dive, Side Pony
  • Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion Side B
  • Drake, Views
  • The Head and the Heart, Signs of Light
  • Bloc Party, Hymns
  • Kings of Leon, Walls
  • 1975, Long Ass Title
  • Relient K, Air For Free
  • ZHU, Generationwhy
  • Wet, Don’t You
  • Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
  • Panic at the Disco!, Death of a Bachelor
  • Bastille, Wild World
  • Jake Bugg, On My One
  • Band of Horses, Why Are You Okay
  • Broods, Concious
  • Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
  • John Legend, Darkness and Light
  • Radiohead, Moon Shaped Pool
  • Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love!
  • David Bowie, Blackstar

None of these stood out to me as well, none of them struck me as hard, none had the impact of the 20 finalists. It’s a tough list to come up with, and it was a grueling process. There are some good albums I left off this list – Blackstar, How to Be a Human Being, and Death of a Bachelor come to mind – but they just weren’t as good as even number 21 – the honorable mention. Which reminds me:

Honorable Mention: Various Artists, The Hamilton Mixtape

Chance the Rapper said this year that he thought he was the only one who still cared about mixtapes. Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Roots proved that wrong, providing multiple artists a chance to recapture their favorite Hamilton song. Those artists include the aforementioned Chance, Sia, Nate Reuss, Queen Latifah, and Busta Rhymes, who inspired the style of Hercules Mulligan (my personal favorite).

The mixtape is a wide-ranging mix of songs, out of order from the original story, and following many different paths of musical styles. The music encaptured within the mixtape re-tells the story of Hamilton, using some of the greatest artists of our generation. More importantly, the mixtape adds to Hamilton songs that it felt like it lacked. Those are “Congratulations” and “Valley Forge”, two of the better songs on the album. Having these within the Hamilton canon adds layers to both the war and the character of Anjelica Schyuler that were previously non-existent.

#20 Rihanna, Anti

Rihanna’s Anti is an encapsulation of where the singer, as well as pop music, is right now. Including songs like “Work” and “Consideration”, the album flows smoothly, showing off Rihanna’s range and sophistication. The singer cuts the album back and forth between her thoughts, focusing on “Same Ol’ Mistakes” while moving quickly through “James Joint”.

Anti is experimental, while remaining truly Rihanna. The best songs on the album resemble Rihanna’s previous works in Loud and Unapologetic. It sounds like pop music as well, mainly because of the thick guitar layered behind the vocalists work, and the beats that enthusiastically add to the album’s sound.

Ultimately, “Desperado” is the best song off the album. “Work”, already known for its confusing lyrics, still serves as its catchiest song. The album, complex and layered, serves to install another layer in the complicated puzzle that is Rihanna.

And yes, I’m going to sound this posh and pretentious the entire time.

#19 Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

Death Grips is a mix of metal and rap. Just letting you know in advance, because if that’s not a sound you necessarily want, jump off now. However, if that does sound interesting, it’s beyond your expectations. Death Grips is insane, but its music that moves you and is background, easy music for the modern era.

Bottomless Pit is an album without a standout song, but also an album that as a whole is standout. That’s another trait of Death Grips – they don’t write hit singles, they write songs that mesh well together, that can be listened to continuously. That’s their single. And they do that style of album well, as shown in Bottomless Pit.

If you are looking for a song that encaptures the album though, to test out whether Death Grips is for you, look no further than the first song on the album – “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”. The title becomes almost chant-like, as the hard and heavy music drops in, and Death Grips mumbles beneath it.

#18 Young Thug, Jeffery

Young Thug is a rapper known for his mumbling style, where it’s hard to figure out the lyrics. It’s hard to figure out what Young Thug is saying, but he sure is good at saying it. Nobody sounds quite like Young Thug, but he and Death Grips make a nice pair – Death Grips is heavier and hits a lot harder, while Young Thug is the quieter, more lyrically sound version.

This is another album from this year that messes around with genre, with style, with technique. Alternating between electronic, rock, and funk backdrops, Young Thug is tributing his influences and references pop culture multiple times throughout Jeffery, including on the track titles. These include “Floyd Mayweather” and “Harambe” but also “Kanye West” and “Wyclef Jean”, which is odd, as Wyclef later features on Kanye.

Young Thug;s voice itself alternates, between the quiet sway of his rapping and the long, slow mourning of his singing voice.

For a track recommendation, “Future Swag” is explicit but creative.

#17 American Authors, What We Live For

American Authors’ debut album, Oh, What A Life, is one of my favorite albums. Their follow up isn’t half bad, but it’s just not in the same league as their debut.

For the most part, their signature happy banjo sounds found in “Best Day of My Life” and “Luck” are gone from What We Live For. In its place is a heavier emphasis on the good old guitar and drums, plus the addition of the keyboard, as American Authors morphs into a more traditional alternative band.

Their lyrical style – catchy, memorizable, and chantable – remains intact, as it springs songs like “Born to Run”, “Pocket Full of Gold” and “Right Here Right Now” to life.

American Authors style shines through. The endlessly cheerful, catchy pop music version of alternative. AA is the answer to downtrodden, shoe gaze music that is currently enrapturing the alternative crowd with bands like Radiohead and Glass Animals. I personally prefer the chippy, rock steady pop.

#16 OneRepublic, Oh My My

Oh My My is the fourth studio album from OneRepublic. This is a time when bands are entering their peak, and with OneRepublic’s quality over their first three albums, it’s hard not to say they peaked early. But Oh My My might be their best album.

They trace familiar routes – the phrase “Automatic Love” (“Artificial Intelligence”) is something used by both them and The Mowgli’s this year. They’re following the old familiar road of love is pain with “Let’s Hurt Tonight”.

Oh My My also features great guests like Peter Gabriel and Santigold. But the star attraction, OneRepublic, is the one delivering most on their album.

There’s just something about Ryan Tedder’s voice that captures the audience and holds them there. The rest of the band is doing work, but Tedder is the one keeping the audience in place, keeping us tagging along as OneRepublic explores the world of Oh My My.

#15 Bon Iver, 22, A Million 

Experimental in nature, 22, A Million is unlike anything Bon Iver’s done in the past. Using saxophone, looped rhythms and samples, broken sounds and quiet vocals, 22, A Million sounds like a preacher delivering their last homily. With “22 (Over Soon)” Iver’s audio fry and downbeat rhythms displays a broken narrative. A beat up man pleading for his gone days.

This continues throughout the album, though there are times when the speed picks up and the album gains momentum. But that momentum remains fleeting, as Bon Iver fades back into sadness and melancholy.

There are sounds on this album that do not strike the listener as naturally melodic. These sounds sound like a speaker trying to deal with music that’s far too loud and a helicopter taking off. The experimentality is not only with instrumentation and beat, though, as Bon Iver uses autotune as many others have, using it for his speaking voice in “715 – Creeks”.

#14 Foxes, All I Need

When I first heard Foxes on Zedd’s “Clarity”, I could never picture anything but a band – the plurality of the word fox messed with me far too greatly. Listening to her album “All I Need” now, all I can picture is a solitary singer, alone in a studio, pleading her heart out to the world. That’s what her album sounds like.

On the opening and closing “Rise Up”, Foxes brings in a child to imagine a new world, and then invites violins and fiddles to do the same. Then she proceeds to explore her actual world with “Better Love” which sounds like the song that inspires the main character in a travel film, but in a good way. It’s inspirational is what I’m trying to say here.

She stays powerful, motivational through the rest of the album, including on songs like “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” and “All I Need”, but there are also elements of brokenness in songs like “Devil Side”. This list is a group of albums consisting of beautiful sadness, and Foxes’ All I Need is no different.

#13 Ladyhawke, Wild Things 

Ladyhawke is another Australian singer/songwriter who’s not been discovered by mainstream culture yet, and it’s a damn shame. In the vein of Courtney Barnett, Ladyhawke is her own thing, a seperate entity than the direction popular music is heading. Lighthearted and gorgeous, the sound of Ladyhawke is unlike anything else this year.

The album sounds like something that came out during the New Wave era of the 80s. Ladyhawke is a modern equivalent of bands like Blondie and 80s-era Madonna. Using techno beats and purely electronic backdrops, Ladyhawke sings her thoughts about love, life, and money.

Honestly, I love this album because I’m obsessed with Ladyhawke’s lyrical prowess. The words and phrases she drops in songs like “The River” and “Sweet Fascination” is like if a rapper decided their voice was too good not to be a talented pop-rock singer.

These lyrics include, from “The River”: Everybody wants to know/how to dream and how to flow/living life remote control/so I can turn into you

#12 Kygo, Cloud Nine

Kygo’s tropical house sound first hit the music market with his remix of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. Then, “Firestone” hit in the summer of 2015, and Kygo became even bigger. Finally, his album was released this year, and finally tropical house had its face, as they gained popularity.

Yes, Kygo is tropical house. It’s called that because imagine a club in Hawaii or in Costa Rica or in the Bahamas, and this is the sound/genre of music you’d find playing there. It’s electronic dance music at its most relaxed, with the biggest grooves.

From the opening sounds of the lyricless “Intro”, Kygo moves the audience, first through head swaying, and as the album keeps going, the audience finds more and more to dance to. John Legend’s “Happy Birthday” is this higher level romance until it is revealed that it is a Birthday song. Even then, it’s still better than any version of Happy Birthday ever was.

Kygo takes smaller name vocalists and makes them shine brighter than diamonds, showcasing his talents.

#11 Grouplove, Big Mess
Grouplove hadn’t been heard from since 2013’s Spreading Rumors. Even then, Spreading Rumors wasn’t nearly the album that 2011’s Never Trust a Happy Song was. Perhaps that’s why Grouplove disappeared for their long hiatus – and came back with Big Mess. The debut single, “Welcome To Your Life”, informs you that it’s going to be a good album. Then it was Grouplove’s job to back it up. And they did.

Another experimental album in my list, Grouplove experiments from the standpoint of an established, successful alternative band. Which means they have more rom to do so, because they’ve already made it, and their fans are with them to the end.

Big Mess is firmly a Grouplove album, featuring the usual Grouplove traits – the yelled singing, the beats with a firm, capturing groove. But it’s also a new standard for Grouplove going forward, because they explore more than they did in previous albums, and their tangents are more meaningful in the end. Grouplove achieved their purpose in the end, as out of the mess, there is an established thread, a beautiful narrative of the album.

#10 Fitz and The Tantrums, Fitz and The Tantrums

Fitz and the Tantrums are one of the funkiest alternative rock bands in the world. Their signature sound has been long in development, changing over the years, until it reached its apex in their self-titled album. There’s a reason they gave their name to this one, and it starts with the single “Hand Clap”.

Mixing electronic and alternative rock, Fitz and the Tantrums give you a beat and its your job to just let it wash over you. Because they want to be the band you sway to, the band you revel in. They want to make your hands clap.

Far from sounding the same, the transition from “Complicated” to “Burn It Down” shows how complex and navigating the band can be, going from quick, fast stabs of “Complicated” to the slow, lingering deep thoughts on “Burn It Down”.

Being honest, “Roll Up”, where an alternative band tries out every genre, from Japanese pop to funk, is the best song on the album.

#9 Cash Cash, Blood, Sweat, and Three Years

I’ve already written about my thoughts on Blood, Sweat, and Three Years, but, through continued listenings, I’ve come up with more.

Blood Sweat is not a perfect album. But it’s not far from it for Cash Cash. While the album turns towards the slow side of alternative after “Turn”, it still remains definitively Cash Cash – that is, repeatable and mesmerizing.

I still think if the first 8 songs were taken on their own, with the addition of perhaps “Take Me Home” and “We Will Live”, it would be the singular greatest electronic album. But downfalls and pit traps like “Bada Boom” and “Escarole” kill the album, and as it slows down, it loses a lot of the momentum it worked hard to build.

Still, the album has one of the best starts to it of the year, and I don’t think any other album (besides perhaps Beyonce’s or Chance’s) rival it in terms of the first four songs.

#8 The Mowgli’s, Where’d Your Weekend Go?

The Mowgli’s became one of my favorite bands over the last two years. Where’d Your Weekend Go? is a solidification of that fact. Including songs like “Spider Web”, “So What” and “Automatic”, the Mowgli’s hit every mark they set out to hit.

This is lower on the list simply because of complexity. What Chance and Beyonce and everyone above The Mowgli’s do is much more complex than Weekend Go? and thus deserves higher praise. But that doesn’t mean that Weekend is a bad album at all. In fact, it’s still one of the best from the alternative rock genre in years.

“Spider Web” and “Automatic” are the especially effective songs on the album, both all-stars in their own rights. While I’d say other albums peak early, The Mowgli’s do wisely to peak in the middle, with the pair mentioned above, as well as “Alone Sometimes”, “Arms & Legs” and “Freakin’ Me Out”. These are very fun songs, and the album as a whole is endlessly listenable. It’s great. (Just imagine that’s the last sentence for every album from here on out.

#7 Saint Motel, Saintmotelevision

Saintmotelevision is the follow up to Saint Motel’s debut album Voyeur and their EP My Type. Saintmotelevision is better in every way. From the start with “Move”, Saint Motel is out to rock you. And they achieve that goal early and often, making every one of their songs land.

Even their slowest song, “For Elise”, is a skillful and capable song from an even better band. It’ll have you humming the chorus’s melody.

They also achieve something no album (besides Where’d Your Weekend Go?) higher on this list had – a good back half. That means the entire album is solid, and it’s well rounded.

Saint Motel displays various styles, from old school hum tunes in “Local Long Distance Relationship” to pure rock in “Born Again” to saxophone in “Destroyer” to electronic in “Move”. It’s pure genius from a previously unproven band.

It’s close to being the best rock album of the year. But there’s just one more coming up later.

#6 Kanye West, Life of Pablo

Not going to lie, I had this album a lot higher when Kanye wasn’t an avowed Trump supporter. I have a hard time seperating the artist from the art, and West being an awful person, at least politically, kind of puts a damper on Life of Pablo.

But the record on its own is a great work. It’s not My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, still the best (later-life) Kanye album, but Life of Pablo comes close.

Life of Pablo is the saddest Kanye album since at least 808s & Heartbreak. It’s Kanye trying to figure out a life after becoming uber popular and marrying a celebrity. “Real Friends” sees him trying to figure out if he has actual friends who like him not for his money but for him. “I Love Kanye” is in part Kanye is not the same person he was when he started, and that he can never be that person again. “FML” is Kanye trying to convince the world he’s more than what we see, as well as admitting that he’s made mistakes that fucked his life up.

The whole beautiful sadness has reappeared. This time, it won’t leave.

#5 Miike Snow, iii

The best rock album of the year, Miike Snow may be called a rock/electronic crossover group. I’d say that’s an accurate representation, but I believe they’d define themselves as rock. And that suits them well.

I also give them the 5 spot because they’re the only album to feature Run the Jewels on an off year for the rap group. So, like, that bumps them at least 2 spots.

All kidding aside, this album is fresh, and sounds as unique as Miike Snow is as a band. The three exclamation marks in Snow are deserved, as I get excited everytime I listen to the album. Emotion oozes out of this album, from the beautiful sadness of “I Feel the Weight” to the excitedness of “The Heart of Me” to the rocking out with “Genghis Khan”.

The best song on this album, though, is “Longshot (7 Nights)” which is also the slowest song on the album. See, I’m not entirely against slow songs, they just have to be done right. And the song comes in the back half of the album, and this is yet another well rounded album, with strong songs all the way around.


#4 Sia, This Is Acting

This Is Acting is Sia finally proving herself to be one of the top tier powerhouse singers in the world. As she belts out song after song, you find yourself feeling emotions, becoming motivated, moved, saddened, angry, just general emotion.

The story of the “The Greatest” video helps to make it the best of the year. There is a lot of story telling in Sia’s album, and it shows through in the way the album flows.

The two sides of Sia are also visible in This Is Acting as she creates dance hits but also works in the beautiful sadness, through “One Million Bullets”, “House On Fire” and “Footprints”. Sia wants you to realize as you move your body to the beat that the world is sad and broken. Wonderful!

The best song off the album is “Unstoppable”, which comes just before the middle mark. While not a part of the original release of This Is Acting, “The Greatest” featuring Kendrick Lamar is the best song off the Deluxe edition.

#3 Frank Ocean, Blonde

I’m not going to lie to you, Blonde requires multiple (concentrated) listenings. Just putting Frank on in the background while doing other things is not going to listen. But focusing on what he’s saying, what’s going on with the different elements in each song, making a concentrated effort to paying attention to this album – it’s not only worth it, it’s recommended.

Blonde is the follow up to Ocean’s hit Agent Orange and its been long awaited. Ever since Agent Orange, people have been awaiting Ocean’s next album. He took awhile, but delivered not only with Blonde but also with visual album Endless, which I have not yet seen/heard.

The album hits hard, making sure you’re paying attention as Ocean pours out his soul, exploring childhood, being famous, being an adult, sexuality, race and so, so much more. His minute long intermissions are breaks for humor and breaks to allow room for the emotion to wash over the audience.

The best song is his first, “Nikes”, which includes the lyric “RIP Trayvon/that n**** looked just like me”. Those are the thoughts found in Blonde.

#2 Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

Before listening to the #1 album, I had Chance in that spot. I still think of his album at that same level – last year, this would have been the number one album. It was a strong year this year for albums, and there Chance sits, at the top. He should win the Grammy, he should actually win multiple. Yet he insisted on the Kanye song he featured on “you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy”.

Fr0m the victorious “All We Got” to the religous “Blessings”, Chance showcases range, sophistication, and jubilant spirit in Coloring Book. He just wants the best for all people, and honestly, if we’re electing a rapper to replace Donald Trump, Chance 2020.

Chance is a young Kanye, the old Kanye Kanye raps about in “I Love Kanye”. He’s the one who’s taking over the game, who will be running this game in a few years. He’s the optimist’s rapper, the one you want to listen to when you’re happy. Just as Eminem is the human embodiment of anger, Chance is the embodiment of glee, of hope. If you’re ever feeling down in the next four years, pull up Coloring Book.

#1 Beyonce, Lemonade

Beyonce’s Lemonade is something I have already covered in depth. But, again, I do have more to say about it here.

Lemonade is musical storytelling at its best. Albums are supposed to flow, to go into the next song, to tell a story. Beyonce’s album does just that, and while it’s a heartbreaking story, its told very well.

This relates back to that beautiful sadness thing, as everything in Beyonce’s Lemonade is really quite sad, and quite beautiful.

She goes through multiple genres to express her feelings, and the seven stages of grief are all expressed. Again, this is a really complicated album, but the way it flows, the sounds of the album, the songs on it, it all combines to make it, quite simply, the best of the year.


So quick recap:

  1. Lemonade, Beyoncé
  2. Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
  3. Blonde, Frank Ocean
  4. This Is Acting, Sia
  5. Iii, Miike Snow
  6. Life of Pablo, Kanye West
  7. Saintmotelevision, Saint Motel
  8. Where’d Your Weekend Go?, The Mowgli’s
  9. Blood, Sweat & Three Years, Cash Cash
  10. Fitz and the Tantrums, Fitz and the Tantrums
  11. Big Mess, Grouplove
  12. Cloud Nine, Kygo
  13. Wild Things, Ladyhawke
  14. All I Need, Foxes
  15. 22, A Million, Bon Iver
  16. Oh My My, OneRepublic
  17. What We Live For, American Authors
  18. Jeffery, Young Thug
  19. Bottomless Pit, Death Grips
  20. Anti, Rihanna

All great albums, but some are better than others. If you want my favorite album of the year, though, that’s simple. It’s Chance’s Coloring Book.

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