This has been a horrible year, even if you can somehow put politics out of your mind. David Bowie died a little over a week after New Year's Day and the deaths kept coming with horrible regularity. Prince, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and Sharon Jones are just a handful of the icons and talented musicians we lost over the past 12 months. After a while it just became numbing. Thankfully, great new albums helped us get by, even if some of them were made by people that died shortly after they were recorded. We asked our readers to select their favorite albums of the year. Here are the results.
Iggy Pop has devoted nearly of his creative energy to the Stooges since they reformed in 2003, but this year officially closed the book on his proto-punk band and revived his dormant solo career. Not wanting to go it alone, he recruited Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme to help craft the brilliant Post Pop Depression. "I work better with other people," Pop told Rolling Stone. "You're out of your comfort zone. You say, 'OK, you threw down. I'll throw down.'" The end result evoked the classic albums Iggy and David Bowie made in Berlin in the 1970s, and to emphasize that he hit the road with Homme playing only songs from the Post Pop Depression and the two Bowie records. They fit together perfectly.
For the past couple of years rumors were constantly flying that Frank Ocean was on the verge of releasing his follow-up to 2012's groundbreaking Channel Orange. After a while, it started to seem like the Chinese Democracy of the R&B world, but when Blonde finally appeared in the iTunes Store on August 20th all the doubters were silenced. It sounded like nothing else in music, and guest stars Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Yung Lean and André 3000 were flawlessly incorporated into it. Without any doubt, it was one of the pivotal musical events of the year. Now if only he'd do a proper tour…
The cover of the Drive-By Truckers' 11th album simply shows a flag at half-staff. It's a simple, but stark message by Patterson Hood and his bandmates that they feel the country they love is not living up to its ideals. Across the 11 songs on American Band, they tackle everything from gun violence to Black Lives Matter to immigration and even the legacy of the Civil War. "The things Donald Trump says are way worse than a lot of what [Alabama governor] George Wallace said," Hood told Rolling Stone. "It's like, 'God, haven't we learned anything?'"
The Rolling Stones began their career as a bunch of British teenagers obsessed with American blues music recorded when they were kids. Now it seems like they're going to end their career as a bunch of British septuagenarians obsessed with American blues music recorded when they were kids. Their new album, Blue & Lonesome, was recorded over just three days last December and features nothing but blues standards like "I Can't Quit You Baby," "Commit a Crime" and "I Gotta Go." "The thing about the blues," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone, "is it changes in very small increments. People reinterpret what they know – Elmore James reinterpreted Robert Johnson licks, as did Muddy Waters. So I'm not saying we're making the jumps that they made, but we can't help but reinterpret these songs."
After the longest hiatus of their career, Radiohead came roaring back this year with A Moon Shaped Pool. It's a sorrowful albums due to key songs like "Burn the Witch" and "Daydreaming," but they became the perfect soundtrack for the never-ending nightmare that was 2016. "True Love Waits" and "Present Tense" have been in the works for years, but they finally came together for A Moon Shaped Pool and they've never sounded better. They released it without doing a single interview, letting the music do all the speaking for them.
Who would have thought the Monkees would have one of the best albums of 2016? Beyond the fact they haven't made anything worth hearing since the Head soundtrack in 1968, Davy Jones is dead and the remaining members seemed firmly entrenched in the nostalgia circuit. But Rhino Records felt there was still magic to be tapped and they brought Fountains of Wayne frontman Adam Schlesinger into the producers chair and recruited songwriters like Rivers Cuomo, Noel Gallagher and Ben Gibbard to pen new tunes. The final product is shockingly great, with the Gibbard-penned "Me & Magdalena" going down as the one of the best songs in Monkees history.
Gwen Stefani's solo career got off to a remarkably strong start with 2004's Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and 2006's The Sweet Escape, but then in a (possibly misguided) decision, she turned her attention back toward No Doubt. A decade passed before she released another solo album, and in that time, she lost a lot of momentum. Despite having The Voice to showcase her new work, 2016's This Is What the Truth Feels Like didn't see a single rise higher than Number 52 on the Hot 100. That said, the Stefani cult loved it, and it seems like they possibly flooded this poll.
Metallica alienated a lot of fans in the 1990s and early 2000s by moving away from their thrash metal roots, but their new LP Hardwired…to Self Destruct continued the path they started down with 2008's Death Magnetic in which they embrace their 1980s sound, but found a way to move them into the 21st Century. There was an eight year wait for this album, but they used that time to put together enough killer riffs to fill up two CDs. It's a radically non-commercial record, but the Metallica faithful happy were very pleased with it. They're going to sound great live on the road next year.
If there was any doubt Beyoncé was the biggest superstar of the entire music industry, she proved it in 2016 with Lemonade. Released on April 23rd along with a 60-minute HBO "visual album," the 12 songs on the album were ubiquitous all year. Every critic hailed it as a masterpiece, and every gossip rag was obsessing over the lyrics. Was it a confessional album about her troubled marriage? Who is "Becky with the good hair?" In a wise move, Beyoncé avoided all press and didn't answer any of those questions. She opted to simply play sold-out stadiums all over America, show up at nearly every music awards show to play live and keep everyone guessing.
The world had two days to digest David Bowie's Blackstar without the intense emotional baggage of knowing he made it while dying. In that brief time, Bowie fans were enthralled by the ambitious seven-song collection he recorded with a New York jazz collective lead by saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The 10-minute title track is a spiritual cousin to "Station to Station," while "I Can't Give Everything Away" summed up Bowie's desire to hold back the important parts of his life from the public. Miraculously, he managed to live in poor health for years without anybody knowing. It allowed him to work in peace on his last album and let the world embrace it right before he left this planet. He couldn't have scripted a better ending, or given the world a better parting gift.