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Rob Sheffield’s Top 20 Albums of 2016

Beyoncé, ‘Blackstar’ and other favorites from a trying year

Rob Best Albums 2016

Rob Sheffield looks back at his 20 favorite albums of 2016, from David Bowie's 'Blackstar' to Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' and beyond.

As you might have noticed, 2016 was not the brightest year for the human race. So here’s to the musicians who made albums worth celebrating – so many great ones, there was no way to slice it down to a mere top 10. These were my 20 favorites, from all over the map: soul catharsis, rock & roll kicks, hip-hop exorcism, cheap pop thrills. Some came from new voices, others from old favorites, and a few from legendary hearts saying good night. But these were the albums that lifted me up, dug me out, spun me right round and sang me back home.

16

75 Dollar Bill, ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’

An album of four stretched-out guitar trances from the duo of drummer Rick Brown and ax man Che Chen. Brown bangs a plywood crate he found on an NYC street corner while Chen digs into his refretted quarter-tone guitar for improvs that blend Moorish modal music with Ornette and Bo Diddley, creating one monster of a groove record – especially the climax of "Beni Said," which sounds like Fairport Convention covering "Sister Ray" while their hair catches fire.

17

Anderson Paak, ‘Malibu’

"The visionary in the vintage Chevy" pulls off so many dazzling tricks on his virtuosic sophomore album, building his poetic R&B grooves. Bonus applause for rhyming "chronic smoke" with "the greatest hits of Hall and Oates."

18

Parquet Courts, ‘Human Performance’

The Brooklyn guitar savants dabble in verse-chorus-verse songcraft to mix some of their funniest blurts with a few downright sincere moments. And when they lock into the sideways riffs of "Dust" or "Outside," they're both funny and sincere.

19

Danny Brown, ‘Atrocity Exhibition’

Here is the young man, the weight on his shoulders. Danny Brown gets as goth as you'd expect on a rap album named after a Joy Division tribute to J.G. Ballard, complete with an opener titled "The Downward Spiral." He goes cinematic, from "I'm like Kubrick with two bricks" to "I'm Coltrane on Soul Plane," in a disturbingly druggy tour of hotboxed hotel rooms and red-carpet nosebleeds, from the industrial interzone of Detroit.

20

The Monkees, ‘Good Times’

Some witty Peter Tork stage banter, from the Monkees' 50th anniversary tour this summer: "If you've been following us from the beginning, just remember one thing. Any one thing." But against all odds, they came back with one of the year's kickiest pop surprises. Thank producer Adam Schlesinger, the first actual Monkees fan ever to make a Monkees album – which might be why it's (easily) their finest since the Head soundtrack. All the guest songwriters rise to the occasion, because they're also fans: Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge, even Noel Gallagher. Seeing Mike Nesmith join live for "Papa Gene's Blues" – via Skype – was another surprise. Here's to crazy ideas and the artists crazy enough to make them real. In 2017, the world will need as many of those as we can get.

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