Some years leave us bemoaning the state of the music industry (early aughts, we’re looking at you), but not so with 2016. So many amazing albums were released, in fact, that we’re leaving the task of comprehensive rankings to the likes of Rolling Stone. Instead, here are a few of our favorites of the past 12 months, those that made the biggest mark on pop culture, the industry or, simply, us.
A Seat At The Table, Solange
Beyoncé may have stolen most of 2016's thunder, but no matter—Solange offers a unique brand of fierceness that we applaud for its own empowering themes. A Seat At The Table earned the artist her first Grammy nomination, widespread acclaim and dare we say, a seat at the table.
We have a feeling this album will go down as one of the best of the century. It certainly captures a moment in history, one in which America's black population and its women and its black women have become increasingly frustrated by ongoing inequality. We'll never forget where we were when the Lemonade film dropped and we watched, jaws dropped, all the while thinking, Damn, Bey!
Puberty 2, Mitski
Believe it or not, Puberty 2 is 26-year-old indie-rock performer Mitski's fourth album (which begs the question what have we been doing with our lives, but that's a different story for a different day). The shy talent is giving Taylor Swift a run for her money in the confessional singer-songwriter genre, as this album is topping everyone's "best of" lists for 2016.
Blond, Frank Ocean
Fans who waited four years with bated breath for this album were not disappointed. Its method of presentation—sold in pop-up stores via an Ocean-created zine called Boys Don't Cry—would have overpowered a lesser album. Such was not the case with Blond, which stood out from the crowd regardless. We will forever love Frank for upending stereotypes of how men of his genre should look, behave and love.
A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
Radiohead's releases are always an event, and A Moon Shaped Pool proved no exception. It draws heavy inspiration from front man Thom Yorke's apparently heartbreaking split from his partner of 23 years and feels like the band's most intimate album yet.
The Weight Of These Wings, Miranda Lambert
Miranda also works her way through a heartbreaking split on this 24-song double album, which earned her raves despite her refusal to grant interviews around it.
Blackstar, David Bowie
The final creative effort of a legend, and one of his best, too.
You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen
See slide #7. (Heartbreak emoji.)
The Hamilton Mixtape
For obvious reasons.
Coloring Book, Chance The Rapper
This gospel-rap album is topping every "best of" list this year and is officially in the running for Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammys. It features collabs with Justin Bieber, Kanye West and more.
Rolling Stone called this effort the superstar's "first great album-length statement," and it was definitely well worth waiting for after innumerable delays and heavy anticipation. We dare you to get "Work," one of its biggest hits, out of your head now that we've mentioned it (sorry!).
Next Thing, Frankie Cosmos
Lyrics lovers would be wise to familiarize themselves with this album, as indie pop star Greta Kline could easily make a second living writing without the musical accompaniment. Next Thing is the kind of album that would feel at home as the soundtrack for a summertime LaCroix commercial, in the best way.
HEAVN, Jamila Woods
It's nice to see more and more young women raising their voices in protest of the injustices in the world, and Jamila is one such female artist using her work to further conversations around social change. She somehow accomplishes this here without feeling heavy-handed or, well, heavy at all.
Emily's D+Evolution, Esperanza Spalding
Beliebers might remember Esperanza as the relative unknown who stole the Best New Artist Grammy from Justin Bieber in 2011. In this effort, she bucks the pressures of mainstream artistry by channeling a more spiritual alter-ego named Emily with exceptional results.
The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West
Kanye's had a rough year, but that didn't stop him from making a masterpiece. As Rolling Stone pointed out in its review of this album, "My psychiatrist got kids I inspired" is an inspired line, and one that speaks to the artist's ability to put it all out there (or his inability to stop himself from doing so, depending on how you look at it).
The transgender artist once said, "A lot of the music scene is just a wanking, self-congratulatory boys club. It's just so boring and not useful. It's such a waste of our time ... another reflection of how astray we are as a civilization." Knowing this helps contextualize her album Hopelessness, which is activism at its finest. This is one of the most, if not the most, feminist albums of the year.
Awaken, My Love! Childish Gambino
Only the multi-talented Donald Glover could make Bey look idle, excelling as he does as a musician, actor, comedy writer, show creator (Atlanta) and more. On this album, he begins to ditch his Childish Gambino character for a more authentic version of himself as an artist, and the result is his best musical work to date.