The Best Albums of 2016

  • Publish Date: December 23, 2016
  • Comments: ↓ 1 user comment

Nick Cave has the best-reviewed major album of 2016

2016 95 Skeleton Tree
by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
2015 96 To Pimp a Butterfly
by Kendrick Lamar
2014 95 Black Messiah
by D'Angelo and the Vanguard
2013 92 Sunbather
by Deafheaven
2012 92 Channel Orange
by Frank Ocean
High Scoring Albums by Year
(Minimum 15 Reviews)

Several themes unite seemingly disparate entries in our list of 2016's best albums. One—unsurprisingly for a year that has seemed bleak at times—is death. Themes of mortality appear in the lyrics of multiple albums, including 2016's highest-scoring release: Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, a band whose frontman lost his son while the album was being recorded. For two artists in our top 10, death was even closer: both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen died within days of releasing their final albums.

Another commonality in our top 10 was much less bleak: that of veteran bands scoring some of their best-ever reviews late into their careers. That applies not only to Nick Cave but also bands like Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, and Drive-By Truckers. And there was one other easy way into the top 10: having the last name of Knowles.

At the time we are publishing this, there are 654 albums released during 2016 that have seven or more reviews from professional critics. Of those, 153—or over 23%—received universal acclaim (with a Metascore of 81 or greater). That's up from 2015's figure of 20% (and even further up from the 13% rate we saw in 2014). And four new studio albums managed to achieve an elite score of 90 or higher, up from last year's mark of three.

Below is this year's final ranking of the best albums (in Metacritic's database) released during 2016 as determined by their Metascores (an average of all reviews by professional critics at the time of each album's original release). Note that live albums, reissues, compilations, and the like are excluded from this chart, though they are listed separately a bit further down this page.

The 40 best-reviewed albums of 2016 (min. 15 reviews)

Album cover#1
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
95 Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)

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Perhaps the most critically acclaimed album in a multi-decade career filled with them, Skeleton Tree is also one of the most personal albums in Cave's discography. Lyrics dealing with the accidental death of Cave's 15-year-old son (who died during the album's recording) and Cave's always dramatic delivery combine with sparse, atmospheric instrumentation to create a haunting, emotional record. The result is not just the year's best-reviewed album but also one of 2016's best movies. Filmmaker Andrew Dominik's excellent companion documentary, One More Time with Feeling, captures some of the album's creation.

"It’s a record of unusual rawness, honesty and intensity."

The Guardian More reviews...

Album cover#2
92 Lemonade (Parkwood)

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The year's #2 release is also a movie-album twofer. The pop star's first album since her eponymous 2013 release somehow managed to be even better (and, with guests ranging from Jack White to James Blake to Kendrick Lamar, even more stylistically diverse), earning Beyoncé the best reviews of her career and nine Grammy nominations. But it's also a "visual album," launching with a 60-minute HBO film that itself is landing on some film critic top 10 lists.

"It’s a rare album that sounds this warm, this easy, this melodic, this fierce, this startling, this unforgettable."

Pretty Much Amazing More reviews...

Album cover#3
Leonard Cohen
92 You Want It Darker (Columbia)

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It probably doesn't get much darker than a singer-songwriter dealing with his own approaching death, but in typical Leonard Cohen fashion, he does it with a welcome sense of humor (in addition to the bleakness). Cohen died at the age of 82 just 17 days after the album's release, having released three albums during his final five years of life.

"Leonard Cohen’s 14th studio album is a bleak masterpiece for hard times from pop’s longest-serving poet."

The Telegraph More reviews...

Album cover#4
A Tribe Called Quest
90 We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)

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It's both a comeback and a swan song. The legendary hip hop act's first album since 1998's The Love Movement is also billed as Tribe's final release, with the group set to disband following the death of member Phife Dawg (who was present for part of the album's recording). It's also the year's best-reviewed rap album.

"Sounding like nothing else out there, distinct even from Tribe's previous work, We Got It From Here is political without being preachy, fun without being unintelligent and next level out while being street corner down. A superb swansong."

The Wire More reviews...

Album cover#5
Chance the Rapper
90 Coloring Book [MIXTAPE]

Though he has yet to release a proper solo studio album, Chicago's Chance the Rapper is one of the decade's brightest hip hop stars. This, his third mixtape, is his most critically acclaimed release yet, and it includes contributions from his group The Social Experiment, with whom Chance released the 2015 album Surf.

"Coloring Book is one of the strongest rap albums released this year, and is destined to be on year-end lists aplenty."

Pitchfork More reviews...

Album cover#6
89 A Seat at the Table (Columbia)

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Beyoncé isn't the only Knowles to drop a classic album in 2016. Blending funk, soul, and R&B, Solange's third LP (and first in eight years) placed just a few spots behind her older sister both here and in our collection of music critic top 10 lists.

"The album radiates universal beauty and truth in the tradition of Stevie Wonder and Minnie Ripperton--and the whole world could simply use more of that."

Entertainment Weekly More reviews...

Album cover#7
Drive-By Truckers
88 American Band (ATO)

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The Southern alt-rock band received the highest Metascore to date for their 11th studio album. American Band is also their most politically charged release to date, with numerous songs dealing with issues related to gun violence.

"The band displays a new level of clear-eyed purpose and here-and-now urgency on American Band. Eloquently plainspoken as ever about the pressing issues we face as a nation, they’ve made an album multiple decades into their career that establishes them as more directly relevant than ever."

Slant More reviews...

Album cover#8
88 A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)

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Radiohead's first album in five years was welcomed more warmly by critics and music fans than its predecessor, The King of Limbs. One reason might be the inclusion of several older tracks (including "True Love Waits," which the band has been performing live since the mid-1990s) which have never before appeared on a Radiohead studio album.

"Radiohead's most melodically accessible collection, almost meditative in its ethereal mid-tempo loveliness, yet shot through with the kind of edgy details that never quite let a listener relax. It is chill-out music to put your nerves on edge. "

The Telegraph More reviews...

Album cover#9
David Bowie
87 Blackstar (Columbia)

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Released on the legendary rock star's 69th birthday—just two days before his surprising death from a previously unrevealed cancer—the 25th studio album from David Bowie is a fitting end to a remarkable career, finding him exploring new musical territory yet again while addressing themes of mortality.

"For all its jazz accents and solos, Blackstar ends up becoming a stage for the things that first made Bowie a pop star: his incessantly catchy melodies and elastic voice."

The A.V. Club More reviews...

Album cover#10
Angel Olsen
87 My Woman (Jagjaguwar)

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Two years after her breakthrough album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, singer-songwriter Angel Olsen returned with an even better third album that is divided into a more upbeat first half and quieter, sadder B-side. Combined, they showcase her increasing versatility and superb vocals.

"On the surface, a welcoming, accessible, wholly beautiful record, but laced with depth, allusion, and verbal knots that refuse to be untied. It’s addictive yet confusing, instantaneous yet difficult to fully understand--it continually forces to you to cease arguing, and simply listen."

Clash More reviews...

... and the rest of the top 40:
Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
11 Cover Blonde
by Frank Ocean
87 Spotify iTunes
12 Cover Puberty 2
by Mitski
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
13 Cover 22, A Million
by Bon Iver
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
14 Cover A Sailor's Guide to Earth
by Sturgill Simpson
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
15 Cover Love & Hate
by Michael Kiwanuka
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
16 Cover blackSUMMERS'night (2016)
by Maxwell
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
17 Cover Teens of Denial
by Car Seat Headrest
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
18 Cover Dissociation
by The Dillinger Escape Plan
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
19 Cover untitled unmastered.
by Kendrick Lamar
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
20 Cover Malibu
by Anderson .Paak
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
21 Cover Stranger to Stranger
by Paul Simon
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
22 Cover Atrocity Exhibition
by Danny Brown
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
23 Cover Singing Saw
by Kevin Morby
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
24 Cover Full Circle
by Loretta Lynn
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
  Cover Let Them Eat Chaos
by Kate Tempest
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
26 Cover Blood Bitch
by Jenny Hval
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes
27 Cover FLOTUS
by Lambchop
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
28 Cover Patch the Sky
by Bob Mould
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
29 Cover Konnichiwa
by Skepta
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
30 Cover Light Upon the Lake
by Whitney
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
31 Cover case/lang/veirs
by case/lang/veirs
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
32 Cover Wildflower
by The Avalanches
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
33 Cover The Ghosts of Highway 20
by Lucinda Williams
83   Amazon iTunes
34 Cover Eyes on the Lines
by Steve Gunn
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
35 Cover Hopelessness
by Anohni
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
36 Cover SVIIB
by School of Seven Bells
83 Spotify Amazon iTunes
37 Cover Blue & Lonesome
by The Rolling Stones
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
38 Cover Freetown Sound
by Blood Orange
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
39 Cover Love Streams
by Tim Hecker
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes
40 Cover The Waiting Room
by Tindersticks
82 Spotify Amazon iTunes

What about albums with fewer reviews?

Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than 7 reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)

Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
1 Cover Black America Again
by Common
88 Spotify Amazon iTunes
2 Cover Upland Stories
by Robbie Fulks
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
3 Cover You Will Never Be One of Us
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
4 Cover Hollowed
by Ital Tek
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
5 Cover Centres
by Ian William Craig
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
6 Cover Midwest Farmer's Daughter
by Margo Price
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
7 Cover This Is Where I Live
by William Bell
86 Spotify Amazon iTunes
8 Cover Nerissimo
by Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld
86   Amazon iTunes
9 Cover Fires Within Fires
by Neurosis
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes
10 Cover Winter Wheat
by John K. Samson
85 Spotify Amazon iTunes

Albums released between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016 with 7 or more reviews (15 or more for the first chart) in Metacritic's database were eligible for inclusion. Reissues and other older material, EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, multi-artist soundtracks, and other compilations are excluded from the above lists. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores on this page are from December 21, 2016.

More bests and worsts

Now that we've heard from the critics, what about Metacritic users? Here are the 2016 releases receiving the highest average user scores:

2016 Releases Most Liked by Metacritic Users (Min. 15 User Reviews)
Album/Artist Listen Buy It User Score
1 88 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead Spotify Amazon iTunes 9.1
2 87 Blackstar by David Bowie Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.8
  90 We Got It From Here... by A Tribe Called Quest Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.8
4 80 All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend by Aurora Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.7
5 81 Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.6
  83 Light Upon the Lake by Whitney Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.6
7 85 The Impossible Kid by Aesop Rock Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  78 The Colour In Anything by James Blake Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  82 Freetown Sound by Blood Orange Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  80 Bottomless Pit by Death Grips Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  78 Next Thing by Frankie Cosmos Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  81 99.9% by Kaytranada Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  83 Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  86 Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  74 Lady Wood by Tove Lo Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  79 Good Times! by The Monkees Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  71 Glory by Britney Spears Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5
  83 Still Brazy by YG Spotify Amazon iTunes 8.5

User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

If you read the fine print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues, compilations, live sets, and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new full-length studio albums). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of the year:

Best-Reviewed Reissues, Box Sets, and Compilations of 2016 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album/Artist Score Stream It Buy It
1 Cover The Early Years 1967-1972 Box set
by Pink Floyd
97 Spotify Amazon iTunes
2 Cover Singles: The Definitive 45's Collection Compilation
by Sun Ra
92 Spotify Amazon iTunes
3 Cover Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) Box set
by David Bowie
92   Amazon iTunes
4 Cover 1971-1981 Box set
by Cluster
92   Amazon
5 Cover Fuzzy Logic 20th Anniversary Deluxe Ed.
by Super Furry Animals
89 Spotify Amazon iTunes
6 Cover The Complete BBC Sessions Reissue
by Led Zeppelin
88 Spotify Amazon iTunes
7 Cover Live at the Hollywood Bowl Reissue
by The Beatles
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
8 Cover A Place Called Bad Box set
by Scientists
87 Spotify Amazon iTunes
9 Cover Before the Dawn Live
by Kate Bush
84   Amazon iTunes
10 Cover Juarez Reissue
by Terry Allen
84 Spotify Amazon iTunes

Thousands of albums are released each year, and most of those don't even make their way to reviewers; as a result, the vast majority of the awful albums recorded each year do not show up on Metacritic. However, there are always some major releases this year that fail to impress critics, and we now share with you the 10 disappointing albums receiving the worst reviews in 2016:

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2016 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album/Artist Score Stream It
1 Cover Nine Track Mind
by Charlie Puth
37 Spotify
2 Cover Star Wars Headspace
by Various artists
48 Spotify
3 Cover These People
by Richard Ashcroft
51 Spotify
4 Cover Hymns
by Bloc Party
55 Spotify
5 Cover Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid
by Die Antwoord
55 Spotify
6 Cover Operator
55 Spotify
7 Cover Fitz and the Tantrums
by Fitz and the Tantrums
56 Spotify
8 Cover Khalifa
by Wiz Khalifa
56 Spotify
9 Cover Peace Trail
by Neil Young
57 Spotify
10 Cover High Anxiety
by Thom Sonny Green
57 Spotify

What do you think?

What were your personal favorite and least favorite albums of 2016? Let us know in the comments section below, and don't forget to vote for your favorite albums of the year in our Best of 2016 User Poll. And for more of 2016's best albums, see which titles critics are including on their year-end top 10 lists.


Comments (1)

  • michaeln  

    Regina Spektor's Remember Us to Life deserved a lot more critical praise. Sure, it doesn't deal with today's hot topic themes, but it does have strong melodies, charisma, and depth. Those traits mean lasting power. We won't remember most the albums on this list within a few short years.

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