As the end of the year draws closer, it's time to reflect on the craziness that was 2016. This year gave us some incredible new music and took a few of the world’s most beloved artists -- but not before they gifted us with their last words. While it’s impossible to acknowledge all of the musical genius that occurred this year, we did our best to pull together 25 of our favorite albums. Learn what we love about them below, and be sure to check them out all in one place with our Spotify playlist.
1. Light Upon the Lake by Whitney
Released: June 30, 2016
"The fuzzy vocals, the nostalgia -- it's warm and comforting, but still fresh. And that catchy guitar melody on 'No Woman' -- it gets me every time! I love it.” -- Nicole Wilson, Original Music Producer
We Say: Light Upon the Lake wanders as effortlessly and blissfully as the musicians behind it. Reminiscent of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, this duo-turned-7-piece collective echoes sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with bright horns, simple guitar riffs and soothing falsetto vocals. Carrying you away with fragility and ease, this album serves as a momentary break from the weight of the world.
3. Blonde by Frank Ocean
Released: August 19, 2016
“Elegant simplicity. Raw and transparent. It's fascinating -- he achieves freedom and divergence by way of restraint and subtlety. This record makes me want to go on a really long drive by myself.” -- Ryan Wines, Co-Founder, CEO + Executive Producer
We Say: This highly anticipated junior album surpassed expectations across the board. Venturing into post-genre territory, Blonde navigates both harrowing socio-political themes and deep, personal conflicts. A harmonious combination of languid electronic compositions, like “Futura Free,” and the satisfying hooks in “Ivy” and “White Ferrari” allow us to take a passenger seat in Ocean’s psyche, and experience the joy, pain and resolution that manifests itself in this record.
5. Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper
Released: May 13, 2016
“Between the number of outstanding features and his infectious smile that you can hear woven throughout each track, this album brings rap, gospel and pop together in the best kind of way.” -- Andrea Feehan, Community Ambassador
We Say: As its namesake suggests, Coloring Book is a rainbow of sound, pulling elements from a variety of genres to create a sonic masterpiece. Serving as a beacon of light in a tumultuous year, Chance counts his blessings, parties all night and reflects on the past -- all while giving a middle finger to the idea that artists need to be backed by a label to make it big.
7. Masterpiece by Big Thief
Released: May 27, 2016
"I think I played the track ‘Real Love’ off this album every single day this summer. Adrianne Lenker beautifully sings about the complexities of love in a whirling combo of reverb and guitar solos.” -- Jess Cassady, Creative Projects Manager + Marketing Team Lead
We Say: Masterpiece is constructed from blaringly honest, intricate stories told through gritty guitar and delicate vocals. A sweet fusion of folk and rock, the deeply personal, detailed lyrics make the album all the more relatable, living up to its namesake.
9. Heart Like a Levee by Hiss Golden Messenger
Released: October 7, 2016
"I've seen Hiss Golden Messenger live about four times, and they put on an absolutely phenomenal performance every time. They're incredibly tight, and are all A-list musicians. Listening to this new album just gets me excited to see them again whenever they next roll through town." -- Tim Shrout, Producer + Audio Engineer
We Say: Heart Like a Levee is substantial evidence that it only takes a little to say a lot. While the album is sprinkled with the occasional distant synth or orchestral elements, it is mainly rooted in the Americana, blues and soul influences that have shaped frontman M.C. Taylor. Stripped-down instrumentation and candid lyricism explore the themes of love, family and the search for truth, while the unexpected, lone funk track, “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer,” flaunts Taylor’s creative elasticity.
11. Puberty 2 by Mitski
Released: June 17, 2016
“Puberty 2 deals with some heavy issues like cultural identity and crippling anxiety, while still having catchy hooks and a fuzz level that makes this record perfect fodder for college radio stations.” -- Madeline Dowling, Music Supervisor
We Say: Puberty 2 feels like a grunge lullaby, crooning coming-of-age verses and resting in a place between anguish and complacency. Mitski blurs the lines of genre with distorted instrumentation and a range of different voices, all combining to create a sound that is completely and gloriously her own.
13. We Got it From Here...Thank You 4 Your service by A Tribe Called Quest
Released: November 11, 2016
“Tribe has always been special music that's stuck with me throughout the years, with certain tracks attached to specific landmark moments in my life. Phife's rhymes paired with Q-Tip's are like nothing else in the world, and it really set a high bar over the years for others to aspire to. RIP Phife.” -- Sarah Crisp, Product Owner and SCRUM Master
We Say: The long awaited sixth (and final) album from A Tribe Called Quest sends the legendary hip-hop group out with a bang. While the record could easily be mistaken as a nostalgic double dip into the jazz-infused flows that characterized Tribe in the past, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service gives fans an entirely new reason to love the hip-hop legends -- as if we needed more. Following the devastating passing of Phife Dawg, the record is a beautiful eulogy, a defining relic of the genre and a prophetic commentary on past and future generations.
15. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
Released: May 8, 2016
“I didn’t listen to the Radiohead record the whole way through until I took an international flight, and I thought the plane was gonna crash.” -- Eric Nordby, Director of Music Supervision
We Say: An essential and, at times, overwhelming piece of art, A Moon Shaped Pool is a vulnerable glimpse into the depths of its creators. Radiohead veers into the obscure and beautifully encapsulates loneliness, political protest and contempt for mass technological consumption. That said, it’s only fitting to enjoy this album is all at once, unplugged from worldly distractions.
17. Wildflower by The Avalanches
Released: July 1, 2016
“Wildflower is a dizzyingly ambitious, shapeshifting blur of found sound collage and drippy psychedelic pop. Between the thousands of obscure samples and guest list of indie and hip hop royalty, it's no surprise this record took them 11 years to make -- the surprise is that it might be worth the wait.” -- Bob Werner, Creative Project Manager and Producer
We Say: Besides the obvious musical genius involved in the myriad of carefully plucked samples for this record, Wildflower is just, well, fun. The merging of the best of music’s past with the creme d’la creme of hip-hop’s present results in a bombastic, nostalgic wonderland, well worth the 16 year wait between albums.
19. This Is Acting by Sia
Released: January 29, 2016
“This album is so great from start to finish, and the tour that followed was one of my tops of the year -- 'Move Your Body' was my most listened to track on Spotify.” -- Katie Seaton, Music Supervision Coordinator
We Say: Sia flaunts her ability to crank out banger after banger in This is Acting. Ranging from the heart-wrenching belting of “Footprints” to the carefree party anthem, “Cheap Thrills,” this album has a song for everyone and everything.
21. Eternally Even by Jim James
Released: September 19, 2016
“The funkiest way to talk about a depressing election year and sad state of the world.” -- Luisa Jeffrey, Executive Assistant + Project Manager
We Say: Eternally Even dances on the border of beauty and insanity. Weaving psychedelic guitars between melancholy vocals and funky rhythms, James pays tribute to the legends of ‘70s rock while crafting a sound that is all his own.
23. Emily’s D+Evolution by Esperanza Spalding
Released: March 4, 2016
“Where chaos and beauty blend effortlessly, Spalding’s new album keeps me at the edge of my seat, totally unpredictable. I love it!” -- Frankie Simone, Studio Manager
We Say: Spalding makes a dramatic shift from her former work with Emily’s D+Evolution. Part theatrics, part funk/rock and part jazz tribute, this album is a all-around musical masterpiece.
25. Klickitat by bed.
Released: June 10, 2016
“I'm a sucker for fuzz bass and catchy melodies.. and Klickitat has heaps of both! Bed.'s EP sounds fresh, but also brings me back to the heyday of shoegaze. Can't wait to hear more from them.” -- Mike Wroblewski, Web Developer
We Say: Portland-based duo, bed., creates a cozy headspace for garage dream-pop lovers everywhere. Klickitat is a self-described, “slow-fi” record that is perfect for long drives or lazy nights in.
2. Lemonade by Beyoncé
Released: April 23, 2016
“I listened to Beyonce's Lemonade record everyday in my car for a good 7 months this year. This album told a full story, which I really appreciate, because I feel like so many records today revolve around singles instead of an entire concept for an album.” -- Allison Soule, Project Coordinator
We Say: Although the world is used to Beyoncé delivering stunning work by now, her status as Queen of Pop has been elevated to artistic genius with the genre blending and cinematic qualities displayed in Lemonade. Even without the visual aspect, the album unfurls like a story you can feel, hear and taste -- almost as if you are caught in the midst of the emotional rollercoaster. Aside from narrating her journey from an angle of self-worth and respect, Beyoncé uses her personal life to speak to the broader experience of black womanhood. In the words of Marmoset co-founder, Brian Hall: “Bey is a boss. What can I say?”
4. 22, A Million by Bon Iver
Released: September 30, 2016
“22, A Million is a musical Rorschach — sometimes you hear something, and sometimes you don’t. But it is breathtaking the entire time.” -- Stephen McNally, Licensing Coordinator
We Say: Without abandoning his folk roots, Bon Iver’s sound has evolved into an experimental, electric art piece with 22, A Million. While abstract, the album remains relatable and tangible, offering a space for reminiscence, growth and pain, while hovering around the universal theme of uncertainty.
6. Singing Saw by Kevin Morby
Released: April 15, 2016
“Kevin Morby's Singing Saw is honest, spacious, vibey, soulful, dark, and super tasty. The straight forward, easy and effortless style of the vocals pay homage to Dylan, and the arrangements feature '60s inspired tones, gritty guitars, thumping bass and occasional orchestral embellishments of horns, and piano. Two thumbs up.” -- Alex Fitch, A+R Catalog Coordinator and New Music Scout
We Say: Beauty lies in simplicity with Kevin Morby’s Singing Saw. Featuring honest, poetic lyrics and timeless guitar riffs, the record feels like walking through a forest filled with Morby’s deepest musings and memories, whilst welcoming rumination of one’s own.
8. The Party by Andy Shauf
Released: May 20, 2016
“Andy Shauf's The Party is so damn good. ‘70s influenced baroque pop in the vein of Harry Nilsson and Paul McCartney. You'll lose yourself in the closing track 'Martha Sways'. Let it slow you down, and fall in love with the romance in losing it.” -- David Katz, Music Licensing Coordinator
We Say: The Party dances from room to room, capturing both the ambivalence and hopefulness characterized by early adulthood. Nodding at sad-boy rock ‘n’ rollers like Elliot Smith and Sufjan Stevens, Shauf plays the role of a detached, sober observer, analyzing his surroundings as the night unravels.
10. Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
Released: June 28, 2016
“What I love about Freetown Sound is how diverse the album is. From start to finish, it really takes you on a sonic journey through 17 well-crafted songs, seamlessly blending soul, RnB, chillwave, and electropop into a slick, sexy, contemporary package that makes you want to listen again and again.” -- Rob Dennler, Director of Music Production
We Say: Rawly recorded and artfully composed, Dev Hynes fuses traditional R&B, funk, spoken word and electropop elements to craft an album that is much more than an aesthetically pleasing sound piece. Freetown Sound is at once a lesson in African American musical history, a plea for social justice and a response to crippling discrimination. In Hynes’s own words: “My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way… it’s a clapback.”
12. A Seat at the Table by Solange
Released: September 30, 2016
"On her album A Seat at the Table, Solange synthesizes a powerful art-feminist vision into futuristic, groovy, restrained R&B-funk." -- Katy Davidson, Producer
We Say: A good album has the power to enchant or distract, briefly transporting the listener to a different place and time. A great album tells a story, makes a statement and plants itself in the center the current landscape, offering a unique worldview and a glimpse into the artist’s mind. A Seat at the Table sits among the latter, achieving all of these things and more. Revolutionary both musically and politically, this record is an instant classic and serves as a sonic timestamp of 2016.
14. Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
Released: May 20, 2016
“This music reminds me of the indie rock I grew up listening to. Angsty, raw and full of teenage and young adult rage. Play this one loud.” -- Brandon Day, Senior A&R Advisor + New Music Scout
We Say: Filled with all of the angst and energy that the title suggests, Teens of Denial is the “rage against adulthood” album that twentysomethings have been waiting for. With monotone vocals, thrashing guitars and an unapologetic, 11-minute ballad chanting “I give up” for the last three minutes, this album appeals to the anarchist in all of us.
16. Next Thing by Frankie Cosmos
Released: April 1, 2016
"Frankie Cosmos' Next Thing strips back all the pomp and circumstance around music that we all get wrapped up in and shows that simple songs with beautiful, expressive, honest vocal melodies will always be the most important element of a song. At least for me." -- Steve Schroeder, Catalog Curation Manager
We Say: Frankie Cosmos’ stream of consciousness writing and effortless melodies are at their absolute best in Next Thing. Cosmos charms us with her angelic vocals, retro, lo-fi guitars and candid lyrics -- each song bringing us closer to her quirky world.
18. Telefone by Noname
Released: July 31, 2016
“This was my biggest 'play on repeat' album of the year. I listened to it a lot. There's a sample on 'All I Need' of a kid who became YouTube famous from being interviewed at county fair and saying the word 'apparently' a lot. It's golden. LOOK IT UP.” -- Quinn Kennelly, Project Coordinator
We Say: This female rapper’s debut album is a gift from hip-hop heaven. With soulful hooks and long-winded, brutally honest verses, Telefone seems to be the X chromosome to fellow Chicago rapper, Chance’s, Coloring Book. While there are obvious parallels between the two, Noname forges a path of her own with her unique flow and jazz influences. It’s safe to say Noname won’t be a no name for long.
20. Nattesferd by Kvelertak
Released: May 13, 2016
"Kvelertak manages to make metal, dare I say it, 'fun' again -- like Odin bought a muscle car and he's stoked." -- Michael Van Pelt, Artists & Repertoire
We Say: Marrying the hubris of ‘80s glam with a black metal edge, Kvelertak creates their own crushing mixture known as "black ‘n’ roll." Nattesferd is sung entirely in Norwegian, leaving foreign listeners the freedom to assign their own meaning to the head banging anthems -- perhaps making it that much more magical.
22. Don’t You by Wet
Released: January 29, 2016
"I love this album because it can either feel like skipping through a cotton candy forest or drinking alone in a bathtub -- it just depends on who’s listening.” -- Sara Barron, Community Ambassador + Copywriter
We Say: Don’t You by Wet is a simple, fun treasure chest of dreamy electro-pop. The Brooklyn-based trio’s allure lies in their catchy hooks and refusal to take themselves too seriously. While the album covers the bases of love and loss, it does so in a way that makes you want to dance while you cry.
24. You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen
Released: September 21, 2016
“You Want it Darker speaks of life and death in a way only Cohen can do. This dark masterpiece, clearly Cohen's last will and testament, is a hauntingly beautiful epitaph for this musical genius.” -- Vic Semarjian, Operations Team Lead + Senior Project Manager
We Say: Before his passing, Leonard Cohen left us with one last parting gift -- a poetic musing on the mysteries of life and death. Accompanied by graceful piano melodies, Cohen gently speaks to us, bringing forth our deepest fears, while assuring us that it will be okay.