A round up of this year’s most notable albums.
Perhaps the “best,” a few of the “hottest,” but definitely some of the most meaningful albums of 2016 speak on politics, culture, the environment, and more.
1. Lemonade – Beyonce
Dropped by complete surprise on April 23rd, Beyoncé revolutionized her artwork through her 50 minute visual album Lemonade, featuring Serena Williams, the Weekend, Kendrick Lamar, and more. Uncovering some of her deepest and most personal feelings with uncountable intricacies and motifs, the Queen delineates the complexities of black womanhood and racial nuances in her hometown of New Orleans. Beyoncé’s album is by-far one of 2016’s best and is definitely one of the most telling stories written this year.
2. 22 a million – Bon Iver
On September 30, Justin Vernon leapt into musical unfamiliarity with his release of 22 a million as Bon Iver. Surprising fans and redefining his Indie label. Vernon surpassed expectations of a five-year album as he uncovered songs dedicated to self-discovery and musical exploration. “22 a million” may have many hidden messages, but will always stand for shedding shells and breaking new ground.
3. A Seat at the Table – Solange
On September 30th, Solange gifted the world with her album, A Seat at the Table. Outwardly commenting on the inherent struggles of black womanhood in America, she successfully depicts a rich statement of herself, her family, and oppressed women across the United States. Solange wasted no time as she skillfully and beautifully intertwined social commentary with stunning vocals and smooth instrumentals.
4. Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’ – Kid Cudi
On October 3rd, Kid Cudi checked himself into rehab claiming he was “not at peace.” Only two months later, on December 16th, he released Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin, which is undoubtably attributed to his personal struggle with depression and his coping through music. The album is one of Cudi’s best in a while, and is perhaps a testament to himself and those who have supported him during this very real, very human time.
5. Blackstar – David Bowie
On the day of his 69th birthday, and just two days before his death, David Bowie released his 25th studio album, Blackstar, as a parting gift to his fans. Just 41 minutes long, the album is colored with hints of his forthcoming death, alluding to his battle with cancer. The album closes with “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” Bowie’s final musical tribute to the world. As an artist, a creator, and a legend, Bowie made sure that his final salute was loaded with symbolism and meaning — a true farewell to his undying supporters.
6. Darkness and Light – John Legend
John Legend released his sixth studio album on December 2nd, both surprising and enlightening fans. Darkness and Light is a personal and political statement, discussing the current governmental unrest in the U.S. alongside the intricacies of his individual life. “Right by You” is seemingly dedicated to his newborn baby daughter, following suit with his allusion to love and family in the midst of a crazy world throughout the album. Through Darkness and Light, Legend successfully draws a contrast between love and hate, and acceptance and prejudice.
7. Malibu – Anderson .Paak
Anderson .Paak may be a relatively new name to mainstream media, but his second studio album, Malibu, speaks greatly for a musical newbie. Released on January 15th, the album following Venice speaks to living beyond societal constraints and the struggles of growing up within a broken family. Alluding to the importance of perseverance and working hard, .Paak combines funky tunes with meaningful nuances to captivate fans and continue to make his mark.
8. Peace Trail – Neil Young
On December 9th, Neil Young released yet another album dedicated to his passion for growing environmental issues. Following a similar album, Earth, Peace Trail openly discusses the Dakota Pipeline issue, as well as other protests referring to the mistreatment of America’s indigenous peoples. Each song is a unique message meant to be received as more than simply a rockstar’s blue-grass tune, but rather as social commentaries on major and consequential topics.
9. 4 Your Eyez Only – J. Cole
J. Cole’s 2016 debut not only reached the third biggest weekly sales sum for a single album and hit number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart, but it surpassed musical greatness with his dedication to a deceased friend’s daughter. The album is arguably written in the perspective of an unidentified friend who parallels J. Cole’s life, revealing the unexplainable struggles of living in danger and working on the streets.
10. Signs of Light – the Head and the Heart
Dropped on September 9th, Signs of Light is the Head and the Heart’s first major label album. The debut marks a vocal transition from soft acoustics to Indie Rock, along with the band’s move to California. While each song tells a story of its own, “City of Angels” alludes to their new home in L.A. and “Signs of Light” is a dedication to Josiah Johnson, co-frontman who is currently struggling with addiction. As the indie-pop band breaks new ground, they navigate through difficult times and changing sounds, all of which is revealed in this remarkable new album.