PMA's Favorite Albums of 2016

An ongoing list of our highest-rated albums of the year
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An ongoing list of our highest-rated albums of the year

(This is not an ordered, year-end list, but a collection of albums Pretty Much Amazing contributors rated a B PLUS or better throughout 2016. This page will be updated regularly. See also: Best of 2016: Albums and Songs — First Quarter Report & Second Quarter Report)

A-PLUS-GRADED ALBUMS

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Beyoncé, Lemonade

Beyoncé, an extraordinary album in its own right, revealed Beyoncé hungered to leave her peers behind, to join the pantheon of all-time greats. Lemonade is her invitation into Olympus. It’s a rare album that sounds this warm, this easy, this melodic, this fierce, this startling, this unforgettable. REVIEW

A-GRADED ALBUMS

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Bon Iver, 22, A Million

Not since Kid A has an album so superb pushed away and pulled closer its audience, simultaneously and with such aplomb. REVIEW

Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

Pablo may come just shy of being his greatest achievement (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy holds onto that distinction), but it’s the grandest distillation of West’s world-swallowing artistic vision, a sum of its superlative elder siblings. REVIEW

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool is the best album we could expect from a rock outfit already into its third decade of existence, and a superb work from the last important band left in the universe. REVIEW

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

A Sailor’s Guide feels at least five years too early. Artists spend decades working up to the level of instrumental variety and emotional awareness that Simpson seems to comprehend at his core, so it feels inherently wrong to be experiencing something so tender and well-rounded this early in his career. But it’s not wrong. It’s incredibly right, because A Sailor’s Guide is an incredible album. REVIEW

A-MINUS-GRADED ALBUMS

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Anderson Paak, Malibu

Paak’s got the musicianship down to a science. Now it’s clear he’s working on what his music feels like. REVIEW

The Avalanches, Wildflower

By using cross-era samples to orchestrate a genre removed from the effects of time, the Avalanches somehow created an album removed from the effects of influence. IsWildflower the best album of the year? Probably not. But it was made by one of the most influential artists of our generation. REVIEW

Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

The raps are at a peak there, but it’s the beats on the album that you consistently sink your ears into. REVIEW

De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody...

It’s their most musically ambitious record ever and their best since Buhloone Mind State way back in ’93, eclectic with the beats and gnomic with the wit, and it serves as a heartening rejoinder to the emotional and intellectual thinness of most of even the best current hip-hop. REVIEW

Deakin, Sleep Cycle

At just 33 minutes spread generously across its six songs, Sleep Cycle is an album that’s quite easy to fall in love with. Sonically speaking, it’s an inscrutable psychedelic journey; one that’s perhaps the musical equivalent of an ayahuasca ceremony in that it reveals itself to be an unmediated visionary journey for Deakin. REVIEW

Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

I keep trying to find something wrong with this album, something for me to criticize, something that rings false somehow, but I’m at a loss. How much more hyperbolic can I get? “10/10, baby”? “Album of the year”? I can’t quite give it that honor, but I can settle for it being the best release from one of the most exciting artists of the 2010s. REVIEW

Deftones, Gore

Gore is a challenging, fluid, and wholly engrossing album from a band who, 28 years after their inception, should by all accounts be past their prime. But Gore ferociously asserts that Deftones haven’t lost any of their creative spark. REVIEW

Frank Ocean, Blonde

On the whole, Blonde is more assured and consistent than Channel Orange. It inherits the bagginess of his overstuffed debut, but lacks the thrill of groundbreaking novelty. Frank Ocean is an outlier, an artist who can produce an album this phenomenal and nevertheless fall a bit short. REVIEW

Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered

A testament to hip-hop’s undeniable spearhead, Untitled Unmastered does away with excessive decadence. There is no flashiness on its facade, nor no grand showing as to how good the music is, it’s simply a collection of eight tracks recorded during the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions that demands to be lauded. REVIEW

M.I.A., AIM

You’ve got a few pieces of trash, a couple of sketches whose mileage varies on how well you dig their hooks, and plenty of fantastic stuff that ranks with M.I.A.’s best work. REVIEW

Mark Barrott, Sketches From An Island 2

Yes, it’s a rich guy’s fantasy. (When asked by The Fader what he liked to cook, he cheekily answered, “I have people who do that for me.”) But who cares? Listening toSketches From an Island 2 is like listening to a good stoner-rap album: it’s pure escapism. It allows you to inhabit not only a place but the enjoyment of experiencing that place. REVIEW

Nicolas Jaar, Sirens

This is brave stuff, even if it is masked in poetry. For someone who has concealed himself behind other monikers and never truly followed up his beloved Space is Only Noise until now, this is a surprising record. REVIEW

Olga Bell, Tempo

This sounds like club music, but experienced from outside the club. REVIEW

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger

Simon’s bemused yet quietly furious slyness is an exemplar to us all. REVIEW

PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project

The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey’s ninth proper LP, not only further etches her legacy into the marble edifice of rock history, it continues the mini-comeback Let England Shake began. REVIEW 

Preoccupations, Preoccupations

Whereas bands like Protomartyr and Savages tend to operate in shades of grey, Preoccupations speaks in a monochromatic tongue, which, in addition to translating to more color, also means albums that are not as wearying. REVIEW

Roosevelt, Roosevelt

It’s pop music that sticks with you. If the genre’s most assailable characteristics are its fleeting shelf life and surface-level affectations, Roosevelt proves that they don’t necessarily have to be. REVIEW

Solange, A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table shines due to Knowles’ unwavering commitment to her own complexity, both musically and personally. You won’t pin her down on the first, second, or third listen, but each listen will give you a better understanding as to why you never will. REVIEW

Swans, The Glowing Man

The album is monumental in every sense of the word, a visceral testament to the abilities of an incredible group of musicians, each member contributing equally to its breathtaking chiaroscuro. REVIEW

Swet Shop Boys, Cashmere

Nothing escapes Riz or Heems’ scrutiny: racial profiling, the TSA, Islamophobia, all receive due examination on Cashmere in a wealth of tones, ranging from comical to critical... Musically, it holds up in the same way actual cashmere holds heat: better than most. REVIEW

Underworld, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future

The songs here are long, dramatic, forceful, and linear in their motion. You don’t groove to something like “I Exhale” so much as get swept away in it.Barbara Barbara asks the listener to surrender, and the hypnotic force of Rick Smith’s beats makes it easy to comply. REVIEW

B-PLUS-GRADED ALBUMS

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Against Me, Shape Shift With Me

For the pop-punk band fan, this is a dream come true. Catchy as anything choruses, short track times, tight and sparse rhythms make this a record I wish came out when I was in high school. REVIEW

Animal Collective, Painting With

Where it lacks wild-eyed adventurousness, it compensates with clarity and focus. Offerings of pure pop pleasure are offset with healthy doses of weirdness. It’s a sincere, exciting and excitable album that successfully adds by subtracting. REVIEW

Aphex Twin, Cheetah

If you’re looking for something groundbreaking, you’re probably going to be disappointed, but this is still one of 2016’s best electronic releases, and a worthy addition to the Aphex Twin canon. REVIEW

Anohni, Hopelessness

Even if I miss the personal struggles of I Am a Bird Now and The Crying Light, Anohni and her collaborators have created a dazzling musical artifact. REVIEW

Anna Meredith, Varmints

Varmints displays both extremely well crafted instrumentation, and an overwhelming creative freedom. Opening with the operatic “Nautilus”, Varmints takes you through playful crescendos in “Scrimshaw”, progressive synth rock in “R-Type”, hectic abstract polyphony in “Shill”, pure ambient sounds in “Honeyed Words”, and even an addictive Nirvana-esque chorus in “Taken” (probably the only hook in the album). And, yes, it makes a hell lot of sense. REVIEW

Beach Slang, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings

With Loud Bash, Beach Slang builds on the solid foundations laid in The Things We Do. The sound is still powerful, establishing an energy that doesn’t let up until the penultimate track of the album. REVIEW

Chairlift, Moth

Moth is a breezy, immensely enjoyable pop record that provides just the amount of pep that you’ll need to make it through the winter. It makes a very upbeat soundtrack to cleaning the snow off your car. REVIEW

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

This is a vibrant, uneven, irresistibly likable, and occasionally transcendent release from an artist who shows no signs of falling off anytime soon. REVIEW

Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke, It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry

This one’s comprised of only two songs: one 18-minutes long and the other 20, and two-song, long-form ambient albums aren’t likely to garner much critical attention, especially in comparison to Jim O’Rourke’s song-oriented Simple Songs of yesteryear. But this is a good record, where two inherently different musicians who speak the same language get together in the same room and produce something that’s as amorphous as the cover and as emotionally charged as the album and track titles suggest. REVIEW

David Bowie, Blackstar

No, Blackstar’s components don’t add up to a perfect whole. Still, it’s as exciting as Bob Dylan’s latter-day masterpieces without the need to look backward for inspiration. REVIEW

Denzel Curry, Imperial

Denzel Curry may be a fiercely independent artist with no major label backing, mainstream cosigns, or company sponsorships whatsoever, but he’s unfazed by this, and nonetheless has no trouble imbuing Imperial with exciting, quality hooks and infectious, ear-worm melodies all on his own. REVIEW

Eleanor Friedberger, New View

No, New View isn’t the crowning jewel in Friedberger’s catalogue, but it is a beautiful, unadorned meditation on life’s most delicate mysteries: potential, narrative, and the passage of time. REVIEW

Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution

D+Evolution is a success. Clocking in at 45 minutes, in a world full of bloated albums, Esperanza has given just enough so that there would be no filler. REVIEW

Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing

Next Thing truly is beautiful, if a little too slight to be counted among the greats in its genre. It doesn’t seem to strive for that type of greatness, though. It’s content to revel in purely being, basking in its own breathless embodiment of grace and lightness. REVIEW

Hinds, Leave Me Alone

Two words come to mind not a minute into Leave Me Alone—“effortless” and “simple”. If I’m pressed for a couple more, they’d be “warm” and “sloppy”. REVIEW

James Blake, The Colour in Anything

Much like Blake’s first two records, The Colour in Anything offers generous portions of despairing, dub-inflected R&B and robotic folk. However, spanning nearly 80 minutes and 17 tracks,Colour is also far more sprawling and ambitious than anything Blake has previously attempted. REVIEW

Kaytranada, 99.9%

99.9% could play from start to finish behind a house party, and no one would accuse the setlist of being duplicative or boring. REVIEW

Luh, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing 

On Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, Roberts and Hoorn deliver a beautiful album filled with bombastic, gothic and anthemic hymns that aim for deliverance. REVIEW

Lucy Dacus, No Burden

On No Burden, Dacus follows up the stellar opening track with a wonderful debut album full of bigger, bolder slow-burn anthems and subtle epics. REVIEW

M83, Junk

Strangely enough, the album ends up pretty darn good in spite of its hackneyed self-awareness. REVIEW

Massive Attack, Ritual Spirit

Dense, foreboding, and eerily atmospheric, Ritual Spirit plays on all the best parts of Massive Attack’s brand of trip-hop. REVIEW

Mick Jenkins, The Healing Component

What makes The Healing Component most compelling lies in the confidence behind its explorations, Jenkins probing various subjects and, oftentimes, coming to less formal conclusions and more open-ended questions. REVIEW

Mitski, Puberty 2

As confessional as singer/songwriters; as confrontational as punk. People have brought up St. Vincent in comparison because both are women and both wield guitars (sometimes noisily), but Annie Clark has never been this naked and poseless. REVIEW

Parquet Courts, Human Performance

Parquet Courts are average guys with above-average observational skills in the mad maze that is modern day New York City. Nothing is catalogued until it’s flipped on its head and deconstructed. REVIEW

The Range, Potential

Potential is a unique and immersive album, and one that sends a powerful message to Hinton’s fellow producers. Samples are more than just clips to be manipulated with a keyboard; they are people and stories that play a huge role in shaping the course of an album. REVIEW

Savages, Adore Life

On Silence Yourself, they were shouting a rallying cry from the rooftops; on Adore Life, they’re shouting a foot away from your face. REVIEW

Sheer Mag, III

Spanning just four tracks, Sheer Mag’s latest is a prolonged roller coaster peak that's all exhilaration and zero comedown. REVIEW

Survive, RR7349

RR7349 proves that Stranger Things was no fluke. Survive are clearly still in the process of perfecting their “analog equipment meets digital-age songwriting” sound, but for the first time in their career, I think they’ve come close to achieving that perfect harmony. REVIEW

Thee Oh Sees, A Weird Exits

Expanding their lineup with a second drummer, Thee Oh Sees are allowed to stretch their sound and release one of their most cosmic, trippiest records yet. REVIEW

Vince Staples, Prima Donna

Dude’s got unlimited weapons in his arsenal, and every single outing seems to showcase another thing or two we didn’t know he was capable of before. REVIEW

White Lung, Paradise

Paradise is White Lung pushing their limits and coming out bloodied, hungry for more. It’s a record full of disease, doubt, dumpsters, and death, with the band rising above it all and reveling in their filth. Damn anyone who tries to get in their way. REVIEW

Wilco, Schmilco

It’s hard to convince the cool kids that this record’s quiet rebellion is worth hearing because it’s not drowned in irony or heady guitar parts or electronic sonics or whatever langue du jour. It’s simply, as mentioned, unpretentious, unassuming, and crucially, good music. REVIEW

Young Thug, Jeffery

Jeffery’s immediacy is what makes it make such an impression the first time around, and it’s a break from the increasingly experimental leanings of hyped pop releases. REVIEW