Rob Sheffield's Top 20 Albums of 2016

Beyoncé, 'Blackstar' and other favorites from a trying year

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Nick Cave, 'Skeleton Tree'
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14/20

14. Nick Cave, 'Skeleton Tree'

I've been a Nick Cave devotee for 30-something years, but I never knew he was capable of a statement like this. The documentary One More Time With Feeling tells the story – he was working on this album when his family suffered the death of his teenage son last summer. For fans who've used his music as therapy to get us through grief experiences, part of the Nick Cave mystique is how he approaches the dark side as a working professional, a family man who heads to the office and writes about his nightmares from nine to five. "I wake up in the morning and I go and sit down at the songbook or typewriter and I start to work," he told me in 2014. "The same way with anybody who has a job. You just get up and go to fucking work." But to face this real-life tragedy, he went back to the office and finished Skeleton Tree – starkly beautiful, unhysterical, an album that lifts you up because it's so candid about the mechanics of grief. Mourning the dead is a matter of doing the work. (The film's most surprisingly funny moment: His wife rearranges the house as he muses, "It's a common thing for women to move furniture around.") It's like Cave sings in "Girl in Amber: "If you want to bleed, just bleed."

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