The year in music seems likely to be remembered for its major losses. This was a year when we lost artists who were not merely stars, but icons whose albums helped shape entire genres of music.
A couple of them, even as death approached, managed to make the Sources' top albums of 2016 list.
1 Beyonce "Lemonade" No artist made more of a stir in 2016 than Beyonce. "Lemonade"—with its additional video content—had a lot to say about resilience, self-pride and self-determination, echoing such themes in songs like "Don't Hurt Yourself," "Daddy Lessons" and "Freedom." The music is as strong and focused as the lyrics; "Lemonade" contains some of Beyonce's most addictive songs yet.
2 David Bowie "Blackstar" An innovator right until the end, "Blackstar" is tough to categorize, but easy to enjoy. Its songs feel almost free form, their skittering rhythms pushing them through moments that range from striking beauty to gritty dissonance. Somehow it all coalesces into a focused and forceful album. The often-cryptic lyrics make several allusions to Bowie's impending death. In some ways, "Blackstar" mirrors its creator—enigmatic, shape-shifting, yet emotionally resonant and powerful all at the same time.
3 Car Seat Headrest "Teens of Denial" At age 23, Will Toledo has now released 13 albums under the Car Seat Headrest moniker, and with "Teens of Denial" he's made one of the year's best indie rock albums. Stocked with concise rockers and a trio of epic tracks, "Teens of Denial" is a multi-faceted, but also a frequently-bracing work.
4 Chance The Rapper "Coloring Book" This third mixtape from the Chicago native shines with its musical range and ambition, bending hip-hop boundaries with songs that incorporate elements of jazz ("All We Got"), New Orleans reverie ("Blessings"), gospel ("How Great") and more.
5 Drive-By Truckers: "American Band" No album this year captured the political/social climate of the country better than "American Band." Frequently angry and always thought provoking, the Truckers address racial tensions and hostilities between police and minorities, the rise of the National Rifle Association and much more on a set of taut mid-tempo tracks that are as musically powerful as the lyrics.
6 Dawes "We're All Gonna Die" On their fifth album, Dawes expands their sound while retaining their country-pop core. The group brings an electronic vibe to "One Of Us" and "When The Tequila Runs Out." At the other end of the spectrum, the delightful "As If By Design" feels jazzy with its freewheeling piano fills and horns. The new elements may challenge long-time fans, but stick with this album and its quality and inventiveness really shine.
7 Rolling Stones "Blue & Lonesome" Fifty-plus years ago, the Stones helped introduce the pop world to blues music by covering some of their favorite blues songs. Now the Stones have made their first true blues album, and this time, they bring a passion and authenticity to these covers that only talent and years of exploring and experience can produce.
8 Kanye West "Life of Pablo" West's recent albums have seemed a bit too convoluted. "Life Of Pablo" remains ambitious, but its songs are more sharply drawn, a little more economical in their production—but still creative and unpredictable. A couple of tracks fall flat, but "Life of Pablo" is a step in the right direction for the seemingly tortured, but undeniably creative West.
9 Radiohead "A Moon Shaped Pool" With this album, Radiohead has made one of its prettiest, most soothing albums, but one whose musical layers allow the songs to grow more potent with additional plays. By Radiohead standards, "A Moon Shaped Pool" might qualify as an easy listen, but it's also unique and bold—qualities we've come to expect from Radiohead.
10 Leonard Cohen "You Want It Darker" Sounding like he knew "You Want It Darker" would be his final album, Cohen is his usual articulate and poetic self as he frequently ponders the regrets of life and relationships within songs that balance the lyrics with considerable beauty. The famously dour Cohen also gets in a last laugh with the zinger of an album title. In all seriousness, though, our world has become a bit darker with the loss of this masterful songwriter.