Top 50 Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Rachel Gordon.

What a massive undertaking producing this list has been. In the past only one writer, Andreas Babiolakis, would make the sites best albums of the year list. While his lists were always great, it wasn’t reflective of the site as a whole. This year when I became the Music Editor I decided that everyone who contributes should have a say.

What a success it was, well over 200 albums received at least one vote and just under 100 albums reached the minimum threshold of votes to be considered. I’m very proud of this list and I think it accurately reflects the music we here at LiL both love and cover. The top 25 albums each feature a short write up from members of the team who advocated it’s strengths. I would sincerely like to thank the 11 writers who contributed to this piece, Mehek, Gemma, Andreas, Katrina, Matt, Mark, Rhys, Ryan, Connor, Michael and Mike and the 14 other staff members who submitting their album ratings. A very special thank you goes out to Rachel Gordon who designed the post graphic.

Being that we are a Canadian publication we feel it is important to point out what albums are by Canadian artists and encourage you to support local talent. I know one album is technically from 2015, but it came out after last year’s list was published, so it was eligible for this year’s list.

50. Låpsley- Long Way Home

49. Brooklyn Doran- These Paper Wings (Canadian)

48. BADBADNOTGOOD- IV (Canadian)

47. Andy Shauf- The Party (Canadian)

46. The Avalanches- Wildflower

45. Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression

44. PJ Harvey- The Hope Six Demolition Project

43. Sarah Neufeld- The Ridge (Canadian)

42. DIIV- Is the Is Are

41. ScHoolboy Q- Blank Face LP

40. Kings of Leon- WALLS

39. White Lung- Paradise (Canadian)

38. Deftones- Gore

37. The Strumbellas- Hope (Canadian)

36. The Tragically Hip- Man Machine Poem (Canadian)

35. Kanye West- The Life of Pablo

34. Basia Bulat- Good Advice (Canadian)

33. Glass Animals- How To Be a Human Being

32. Against Me!- Shape Shift with Me

31. Jazz Cartier- Hotel Paranoia (Canadian)

30. Gallant- Ology

29. Bastille- Wild World

28. Kaytranada- 99.9% (Canadian)

27. Black Mountain- IV (Canadian)

26. Chance The Rapper- Coloring Book

25. Explosions in the Sky- The Wilderness

The Texas post-rockers return after a 5 year hiatus, during which they scored the soundtracks for three films. Their comeback was worth the wait as they have gotten even more playful. While there are some almost danceable numbers, the real treats are the soft and gentle songs that come with a hint of curiosity. Their vocal-less music continues to push the boundaries of what rock music is capable of. –Dakota Arsenault

24. Charles Bradley- Changes

Charles Bradley has gotten his music down to a formula, which entirely consists of showcasing his soulful but weathered voice accentuated with a beautiful horn section. Bradley has the aura and charisma of a seasoned veteran but in reality this was only his third album, one that urges us to love one another despite our differences. He opens the album with a stark version of “God Bless America” and even includes a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”. Earlier this year Bradley announced he had stomach cancer, but hopefully we don’t loose him too soon like a lot of other icons we lost this year. –Dakota Arsenault

23. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam- I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

One of the more underrated albums of the year, Leithauser (former lead singer of The Walkman) and Rostam (former producer/vocalist/instrumentalist of Vampire Weekend) collaborated on a folksy love letter for the ages. It goes down smooth, showing off talents from each contributor: Leithauser’s emotive, long-range vocals aimed at your heart on “The Morning Stars” singing “If the man that you need honestly wasn’t me/Tell me honey, who could that be?”; Rostem’s quintessential glimmering production “When The Truth Is…” that is recognisable as Vampire Weekend fodder, but shines differently in this collaborative light. “1959” simultaneously closes and sums up an album that is constantly giving your lovelorn ache that final push—only, in a positive way. –Michael Natale
22. Vince Staples- Prima Donna

For those who thought his ambitious double opus debut Summertime ’06 was a fluke, this EP should silence all skeptics and more importantly whet the appetites of those who were floored by the message and the funk of Summertime. –Mike Gallagher

21. A Tribe Called Red- We Are the Halluci Nation (Canadian)

With each passing album Tribe continues to elevate their sound, finally making their most cohesive work to date. Continuing the themes that Gord Downie also sang about on Secret Path, the album primarily focuses on the story of Chanie Wenjack the Native boy who died running away from his residential school. This album is proudly Canadian showcasing the best talents we have to offer and presenting a world where we all get along and dance together. –Dakota Arsenault

20. Pusha T- King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude

Tight production, raw flows and outstanding features from the likes of Kanye and Timbaland made Darkest Before Dawn stand out in a year of solid hip-hop releases. The album’s name references the ‘dawn’ of Pusha’s hotly anticipated King Push album, and also reflects the dark, foreboding nature of the production of many of the tracks. The lyrical content and flow felt spot-on in 2016, with raw, angry bars complementing our uneasy geopolitical climate. –Rhys Butcher

19. Ray LaMontagne- Ouroboros

One thing has become clear about Ray LaMontagne following this release. When he puts his heart and soul into something, he is fully committed. Ray and Jim James collaborated on this wonderfully soothing psych-folk experience. An album never intended to produce catchy hits; its entire purpose is as one whole piece of music. It’s a wonderfully crafted album from start to finish. Listening to a song alone won’t provide much insight into the beauty behind the release. If you’ve yet to hear it, set aside forty-five minutes and treat yourself to a chilling escape from the conventional sound of Ray’s work. –Ryan Watson

18. Parquet Courts- Human Performance

Parquet Courts most recent album Human Performance is one of the most unique Indie Rock albums of 2016 as it carries many abstract qualities, and each song on the album is unique. With saying this, the album still has such a nice flow to it and as you listen, you just suspect the different and the excitement builds. Some of the best songs on the album include, “Two Dead Cops”, “One Man No City”, and “Captive of The Sun”. –Gemma Mastroianni

17. Skepta- Konnichiwa

Easily the strongest Grime release of the year, Skepta’s Mercury Award winning Konnichiwa is a pleasure for old and new Grime fans alike. Skepta’s most compelling singles from the past couple of years such as “That’s Not Me”, “Shutdown” and “Man” all make an appearance, combined with some solid new material with features from Wiley, Novelist and Pharrell Williams. As a whole, the album resonates with the raw, nervy vibrancy, which makes Grime so compelling, while managing to remain relatable. –Rhys Butcher

16. Bon Iver- 22, A Million

Bon Iver’s third album is both a sudden departure and a familiar friend all at once: while Justin Vernon’s first two albums lived in natural, sentimental soundscapes, 22, A Million explores the darkest halls of the human soul. Sometimes accompanied by a cacophony of instruments, other times in the lonely company of his own voice, Vernon continues to capture the highs and lows of the human experience with breathtakingly emotional candor. –Connor Beck

15. Blood Orange- Freetown Sound

Blood Orange aka Dev Haynes quite possibly made the year’s most feminist album, in a year that featured excellent releases from Solange, Beyoncé, Angel Olsen, Jenny Hval and more. Bringing out guests like Carly Rae Jepsen, Nelly Furtado, Debbie Harry and Frankie Cosmos, Hynes knows when to take the lead and knows when to sit back and let others do the work. His work is sensual while making you feel wanted and appreciated, not just a sexual being. –Dakota Arsenault

14. dvsn- Sept. 5th (Canadian)

These days R&B is mostly about doing something different, but in dvsn’s case, it’s about doing something right. Sept. 5th presented singer Daniel Daley’s enriched, stunning falsettos amidst a renaissance of late 90s, early 2000s rhythms that pays as a stronger ode to the genre than other releases this year. ‘Hallucinations’ may have caught the attentive ears of the Internet, but the likes of “The Line”, “Another One” and “Too Deep” are the real throwback treats that standout in the present. –Mehek Seyid

13. Anderson .Paak- Malibu

Anderson .Paak’s Malibu was easily one of the most musically diverse albums of the year, drawing inspiration from 60’s soul to 90’s hip-hop and more recent trap production. Given these disparate influences, .Paak’s real feat is the cohesiveness of the album, which flows effortlessly from track to track, driven by his raspy yet soulful voice. Songs like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Put Me Through” were in high rotation in my household, and had me bopping along all summer long. –Rhys Butcher

12. Beyoncé- Lemonade

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Beyoncé had producers and musicians, filmmakers and influences ranging from Daughters of the Dust to Malcolm X. Those were her citruses, so she made LemonadeLemonade is for women, African American culture and the emotionally hurt, but it’s also for Beyoncé herself. With the widest variety of Grammys ever attributed to one album, we learned this year never to mess with the queen because she moves all across the chessboard. –Andreas Babiolakis

11. Esperanza Spalding- Emily’s D+Evolution

On her latest record, Esperanza Spalding weaves funk, rock and jazz, pushing her music into new territories. She’s always been into jazz and here, it gives her (and a crack backing band including Karriem Riggins and Matthrew Stevens) a base to push into new forms: the chugging rock of “Judas,” the angular funk of “Good Lava” and the tricky rhythms of “Elevate Or Operate.” In a year where some of the best rock records used jazz to stand out, Spalding goes the opposite route and comes out with a winner. –Mark Milner

10. Kendrick Lamar- untitled unmastered.

It started with a tweet. LeBron James asked Lamar to release music he’d been sitting on. Like magic, it arrived shortly after. untitled unmastered. is low-key in the extreme: no cover, notes, post-production and not even any titles. The music speaks for itself: over tightly wound electro grooves or spacey jazz beats, Lamar works through the themes and ideas of his sprawling masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly. Hell, on “untitled 7 2014-2016,” he works out a song on a guitar into what sounds like an iPhone. It’s not really a making of or a collection of outtakes, but more like a rough draft for something similar, but distinct. But in a year where Kanye’s bombast or Gucci’s goofy irrelevance defined rap, Lamar’s LP is the one I kept going back to: it’s a grower, and even if it’s not all the way there, it’s interesting and compelling. -Mark Milner
9. Angel Olsen- My Woman

From the sad ashes of last year’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness comes the cool strength of My Woman. Angel Olsen traded some of the melancholy (but not all) for forceful rock ’n’ roll, coming straight at you with “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Not Gonna Kill You”, while saving room for wistful laments like “Those Were The Days” and “Pops”.  Her inimitable voice carries tears and loss except the words delivered are often anything but – it’s an amazing mix that keeps the record spinning again and again. –Matt Forsythe

8. Savages- Adore Life

The sophomore slump is a real thing, but not for Savages who stomp away any idea of slump with the same intensity and catharsis they bring to their intense live shows. Adore Life justifies all the hype afforded them after their debut and even improves in all areas on this one.  I can’t wait for the follow up.  –Mike Gallagher

7. Danny Brown- Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown is a hip hop artist, with a rare sound. His most recent album Atrocity Exhibition, perhaps his best yet, is an excellent example of so. Brown doesn’t stick to the mainstream rapping about booze, sex, and drugs- he gets on another level. Of course these things are mentioned however, he speaks about the reality of them. Topics on this album are heavy, but the realism and honesty of it is what makes it so great. –Gemma Mastroianni

6. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

The album is one of their most well rounded and the best display of Jonny Greenwood’s composing skills to date. It features songs of all variety that often have flashes of albums released long ago. After the initial release it was clear that this was not only one of their overall best albums, but also featured some of the best Radiohead songs ever made. Like most Radiohead songs (and even albums) they can be slow burners. Daydreaming was ominous and beautiful from the first second, but after spending the better part of the last six months going back to the album with the excitement of hearing that song, it has become clear that this is one of the most incredible pieces of music they’ve ever produced. –Ryan Watson

5. Baroness- Purple

Purple is Baroness’s triumphant return to the music scene after miraculously surviving a horrific bus crash in 2012. Between the harmonized riffs and captivating melodies, this album features some of the band’s strongest work to date. When everyone gets together to shout lyrics such as “Please don’t lay me down/Under the rocks where I found/My place in the ground/A home for the fathers and sons.” It has a powerful impact as you can’t help but feel as if these songs are stories about survival, being told by people who are thankful to be alive. –Katrina Wong Shue

4. Frank Ocean- Blonde

As an artist whose absence since Channel Orange sparked its own cultural mythos, Blonde came as surprise this year. From its vehicle as an Apple Music exclusive/break from Def Jam Records, to Ocean’s whole aesthetical shift, it’s less concerned with traditional R&B formats (at times doing away with choruses all together) and the personified cinematic references we saw on Channel Orange. Ocean instead chose to hone his stance as a poet first, providing tradition in the outstanding, nostalgia revelling “Ivy”, to more personal “Good Guy” and political “Nikes” testaments. Blonde is Ocean’s way of owning both his artistry and his cultural mythos, even if it means flipping off the version we wrote for him. –Michael Natale
3. Solange- A Seat at the Table

In the days after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Solange’s album A Seat at the Table rarely left my CD player: the lush strings, neo-soul groove and pointed lyrics on “Cranes in the Sky” hitting a sweet musical sweet spot. “I tried to work it away,” she sings, “but that just made me even sadder.” Throughout, her album reflects on what Time Magazine recently called the “divided states of America,” but this song – one she wrote eight years ago – is the one I keep thinking about. –Mark Milner

2. David Bowie-

Our farewell to the rockstar great was hard, but it may not have been as hard as his farewell to us. Blackstar is a triumph by itself: A stellar album made fifty years into a musician’s career that resonates. With every last breath Blackstar was made, and you can hear and feel David Bowie slip into the permanent darkness above as we bid farewell teary eyed. Ziggy Stardust was Bowie coming to Earth, but Blackstar was Bowie leaving Earth to conquer the universe. –Andreas Babiolakis

1. A Tribe Called Quest- We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

We the people don’t deserve We Got It From Here…. Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi lost Phife Dawg earlier this year to diabetes complications. No one expected new material, yet the surprise we got is some of their best work. Q-Tip is on point, Jarobi holds his own in a crowd of guests that all turn in worthy cameos (Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000), and the production sits exactly where it needs to be between their classic boom-bap sound and modern beats. –Matt Forsythe

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.