The year is just nearly over and so Rolling Stone has just released their list of the year’s best albums. Since the list came out I’ve been doing my best to listen to those that I hadn’t heard and relisten to those that I have. These are supposedly the most groundbreaking, influential and just ‘best’ albums of the year and so in a musical era where the album has gone somewhat by the wayside it deserves a look or two. In this article I’ll give my take on the albums and why they should or shouldn’t be on the list. These are obviously not concrete opinions, simply the opinions of an avid listener.
In addition to a short blurb about how these albums stack up to others from the year I will also be giving you some information on where you can stream them. I recently accidentally locked myself into an amazon prime subscription and have to say that I couldn’t be happier. Were I to live in the U.S. I would probably enjoy it more, but nonetheless the musical offerings are pretty comprehensive or at least better than Apple Music’s. Despite having heard a large number of the albums before the list came out I had to be realistic and split the list up into two parts just for my own sanity and my eardrums. The other part of the list will be linked here once it’s finished. Without more blathering on about non-music related things here we are with number 50.
50 Bomba Estéreo “Amanecer”
An album I’d never heard of by a band I would probably pronounce wrong. The album definitely kicks the list off right though. An almost Major Lazer-esque feel to a few of the songs and lots of latin soul and electro pop as well. The whole album feels like a whole bunch of “world music” styles put through a synth or two and blended together with some special attention paid to their latin roots, all in all the whole album is worth a listen. My favorites were “Caderas”, “Soy Yo” and “Algo Está Cambiando”, they are all over the place but will give you a pretty good feel for the album as a whole.
You can find the album on both Spotify and Apple Music, however with amazon you’ll have to buy the album in order to stream it.
49 Bob Dylan “Shadows in the Night”
Dylan is still putting out albums and really there isn’t any reason why he should stop. The album isn’t extraordinarily inventive, but it shows a different side of Dylan than you may be used to. It’s a collection of covers of Sinatra songs from around the late ’50s and early ’60s, but thankfully you won’t hear him trying to impersonate the crooner. Dylan does a pretty great job ob making you feel like you are in the room with him and if you want an album full of loneliness and sadness for a bygone era, then this one is for you.
“Shadows in the Night” is available to stream on all the major streaming services and was even given out free to some AARP members, so go to Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon Music to hear it.
48 Carly Rae Jepsen “Emotion”
That’s right, Carly Rae Jepsen made her way onto the list and it isn’t a terrible album. You most likely know her from her “Call Me Maybe” earworm from a few years ago which she followed up with “I Really Like You” on this album. “Emotion” sounds like someone from 2015 decided they wanted to make an 80s album without ever living in the 80s. “Warm Blood” and “Boy Problems” are actually pretty good songs, but they don’t make up for an otherwise unoriginal and formulaic pop album. This would not have gone on my top 50 list, but it does prove that Carly Rae Jepsen may have some pop staying power.
If you are still keen to give it a listen after that and haven’t heard any of it on the radio you can find it on Apple Music and Spotify.
47 James Taylor “Before This World”
I will be the first to tell you that James Taylor is no favorite of mine. His singing voice just doesn’t do it for me and there’s nothing that will change that so I gave the songs a listen and tried to look passed that. “You and I Again” and “Stretch of Highway” sounded like some pretty classic James Taylor songs and were not half bad in my opinion, which is saying something. Obviously the album would not have been on my list, but it also doesn’t seem like an extraordinary album by James Taylor’s standards. The lyrics are original but there is nothing new and so even with my aversion to his voice I would say that it probably shouldn’t be on the list of the best albums.
If you are a James Taylor fan then head right over to Apple Music or Spotify to hear what I’m talking about.
46 Rhiannon Giddens “Tomorrow Is My Time”
If you knew Rhiannon Giddens’ name before looking at the list then you most likely have already listened to the album, but everyone else is in for a treat. She sings some old American jazz and blues standards and does them real justice. With a great voice and more than a knack for the violin this one definitely deserves a spot on the list. It’s her first solo album so there should be more from her on the way to look forward to.
You can find her album on all three of the major streaming players so give it a listen when you find the time.
45 Madonna “Rebel Heart”
I would never have thought a few days ago that I would be defending a Madonna album, let alone recommending that others go and listen to it. “Rebel Heart” has got an amazing list of features from the likes of Mike Tyson and Nas as well as some of the great producers of the music world right now. The album is pretty much all that a pop album should ever be and who is more perfect to give it to us than Madonna? There are a lot of EDM and trap influences that will most likely date the album, but it is a great listen altogether. Tracks like “Iconic” and “Illuminati” were probably my favorites, but they really are all pretty great. With producers like Diplo, Kanye and Avicii it’s pretty tough not to have a pretty great pop album.
This one is for sure worth a listen and available on all of the big streaming platforms as well.
44 Rae Sremmurd “Sremmlife”
“Sremmlife” is pretty much the most fun you can have with an album where you don’t understand every sixth word. “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” made the rounds at parties and on the internet a while back and the album fully came through with the amount of hype those provided. The whole album feels like you’re at a party where things are just too good to be true, but you’re just enjoying yourself anyway. In all honesty it’s surprising “Up Like Trump” hasn’t been used as a campaign song, but surely it’s just a matter of time. Producer Mike Will Made it turned some hilarious and goofy lyrics into absolute hip hop bangers with some great trap beats. I didn’t expect to see this one on the list, but it really does fit.
“Sremmlife” is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Spotify.
43 Selena Gomez “Revival”
Selena Gomez taught us with this album that we didn’t really listen to Selena Gomez that much before and that wasn’t such a bad thing. The songs are catchy for the most part but they really start to blend together as you go through the album and the only standout for me was the one song I had heard before this list came out. “Good For You” has been on the radio for a while and many didn’t even know it was Selena Gomez, (including A$AP Rocky when he was asked to do a feature on it) but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a pop hit and is probably one of my favorite pop songs of the year. One single however doesn’t really mean your whole album really deserves a spot on this list though.
If you still want to listen to the album though you can find it on Apple Music as well as Spotify.
42 Björk “Vulnicura”
Björk is Björk, she really doesn’t need much more of an introduction. If you are a Björk fan you’ll love this album, there’s more strings than a usual Björk album and the whole thing sounds amazing. It’s a pretty polarizing artist that continues to put out some great experimental stuff, although I’m not sure this album is any more so than her others I’d say it’s tough to argue with putting it on the top 50 list.
If you’d like to stream it it is available on all of the major platforms, Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music.
41 Kamasi Washington “The Epic”
“The Epic” is just that, an epic. It takes a lot of hype for me to get into listening to an almost three hour jazz album, but it needed to be done. The idea of the album itself is probably enough to get it into the Rolling Stone top 50, but who it’s coming from and then how it actually sounds cements that status. I’m no converted lover of jazz, but if you have a few hours to kill you might want to check it out. Unsurprisingly it sounds like a lot of the instrumentals from Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” and I just can’t wait for the sampling that will undoubtedly come out of this album as an electronic and hip-hop music lover.
Kamari Washington’s album is available to stream on Apple Music and Spotify.
40 Songhoy Blues “Music in Exile”
If you listen to any contemporary guitarists from around Mali, where Songhoy Blues come from, you’ll probably somewhat familiar with the style of music in this album. If not then you should really give it a listen because there is some real creative and interesting stuff going on. I’m all for music in different languages for the most part and this album is no different. The genre is a mix of R&B and blues with some real African influences. It’s not something you’ll hear everyday so if you are looking to her some rocking stuff that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to definitely give this album a try. The songs are all pretty different and all have their own merits so the full album is definitely worth a listen.
You can find the album on both Apple Music and Spotify.
39 Muse “Drones”
My feelings on this album were that somebody making the list probably just got hyped up about a new Muse album. It sounds like Muse’s albums in the past, with a little more electronic experimentation but otherwise nothing incredibly overwhelming. The main reason I’d say they are on the list is because they are just a hugely popular band so people are always interested in new music from them. If you have been partial to Muse or never really given them a chance then check out the album, it’s actually a pretty good listen, otherwise you might as well skip it because you’ve essentially heard it before.
You can stream this one on Apple Music and Spotify.
38 Ashley Monroe “The Blade”
If you know me you’ll know that I’m no lover of country, so I came at this album with some prejudices. That said there are some worthwhile songs on the album for sure. There is some real original songwriting and Ashley Monroe has a pretty good voice for pop/country/rock or whatever the genre is called at this point. If you are into the genre you probably have already heard the album, but if not give it a try and see if you might be a bit of a country fan these days.
Her album “The Blade” is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Spotify as well.
37 Alabama Shakes “Sound & Color”
This album was already one of my favorites of the year, so being “forced” to go back and listen to it wasn’t so bad. Honestly I’ve listened to it at least once a week since it was released. The lead singer Brittany Howard gets to do her fair share of belting it out throughout the album and the songs range between minimal blues and just some old style rock and roll. It isn’t so often that a second album really stands out for a band, especially when the first album was successful, but this one is in my opinion even better than the first. The album is just about 50 minutes and will feel like 15 as you think about just restarting it. In my opinion this deserves to maybe be further up on the list, but regardless if you haven’t listened to it yet got on it.
Sound & Color is available on Amazon Music, Apple Music and Spotify.
36 Hop Along “Painted Shut”
Another one I’d heard nothing about before coming upon this list that will probably be making it’s way into my permanent library. The songwriting is all pretty original and the music sounds like something The Unicorns or Los Campesinos might help to put out. Very folky while at the same time full of punk/indie angst. In some ways it even reminds of The National’s live music, aside from the lead singers actual voice of course. Definitely worth a listen if you miss the indie of the last decade with some more folk and punk influences.
The album is available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify right now.
35 Vince Staples “Summertime ’06”
I’m not so sure this one really needed to be in the top 50. The one song you’ll most likely know is “Norf Norf”, but otherwise the album is relatively uneventful. He certainly has some talent for songwriting, but the songs really melded together for the most part. In many ways the album came off as too minimal in my opinion.
“Summertime ’06” is available on Apple Music and Spotify.
34 Marilyn Manson “The Pale Emperor”
This album was another that really struck me as better than expected. The album isn’t quite as out there as the past songs that I’ve heard from him and is pretty easily accessible for most I think. For the most part it sounds like if David Bowie had taken over the lead singer role of System of A Down, and not in a bad way at all. I’m not going to go out of my way to look back on Marilyn Manson’s discography anytime soon, but I certainly won’t be against turning this on from time to time.
The album is on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Spotify.
33 Beach House “Depression Cherry”
The new Beach House album was, much like their previous albums just great chilled out stuff. You most likely heard “Space Songs” on your local indie or college station if you heard it anywhere on the airwaves. In this case I am going to revert to the original list to describe this album because they really did it justice “Listening to a new Beach House album feels like plunging back into a favorite dream for the thousandth time”.
“Depression Cherry” is available on Amazon Music, Apple Music and Spotify.
32 Jazmine Sullivan “Reality Show”
Another no name (to me) to make their place pretty high on the list. And she really deserves it. The whole album is a contemporary pop/R&B sensation. If you need a sense of what it sounds like put together Amy Winehouse and Beyonce with the production team from Justin Timberlake’s most recent album. Each song sounds like it should be a hit until you hear how good the next one is. This is pretty much exactly the type of album that can still be listened to in its entirety.
The album is available on Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music.
31 Leon Bridges “Coming Home”
If you just got listening to Charles Bradley on your stereo then Leon Bridges might just be your favorite new artist. He’ll have you swearing that he was in fact frozen during the 60s and only now was thawed and put into a recording studio. He’s a great soul and blues artist, you may even have seen him play on Saturday Night Live recently. This is another album that just makes you realize that there are still people making albums, not singles. Since I did my first run through of all these albums this might be the one that I hadn’t heard of that got played the most.
You can find Leon Bridges on Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music although you might wanna opt for the vinyl on this one.
30 Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Style”
Despite having one of the most random and greatest artist names ever Car Seat Headrest does even more to endear himself to me. This album is just about as Lo-Fi as you can get while feeling at the same time psychedelic and punky. I easily listened to the whole album and will most likely go down a band camp rabbit hole listening to his other albums shortly. This album is one of the things that make the Rolling Stone list so great. It can showcase a great album by a not so well known artist and bring it to a much larger audience.
You can stream “Teens of Style” now on Apple Music and Spotify.
29 Joanna Newsom “Divers”
Joanna Newsom is a pretty well known name as far as female folk singers go. In my eyes she’s somewhat of a female Sufjan Stevens. I think this album really shows that similarity in all of its folk meanderings. The lyrics seem secondary at first but if you really start listening to them there really are some insightful gems in it. All in all the album is a solid listen all of the way through. The album is good, but I’m not positive it belongs in the top 30, nonetheless it is worth a listen.
This one isn’t on any of your normal streaming platforms sadly so you may need to just buy it outright like in the old days.
28 Miguel “Wildheart”
One of the best R&B albums we’ve had in a while and great guitar riffs to go with it. This one definitely deserves its spot on the list. The album may not have any overarching themes lyrically but musically it’s got a lot of great beats, some great guitar work and voices (mainly Miguels). My favorites were certainly “Simple Things”, “Coffee” and “NWA” so if you are looking to start somewhere you can try those.
The whole album is available on both Spotify and Apple Music to stream.
27 Eric Church “Mr. Misunderstood”
Eric Church it seems is about as close to country I can stand, or my tastes have just changed to enjoy and tolerate country music. There is some good guitar work on the first song “Mr. Misunderstood” and there is some funky organ chords and gospel choirs in some of the other songs. All in all the album has a lot to offer especially if you are a fan of country song storytelling. I would give it a shot even if you aren’t a country person because it manages to really adapt and and flit between other genres throughout the album.
“Mr. Misunderstood” is on all the streaming platforms you know and love, Amazon Music, Spotify and Apple Music.
26 Future “DS2”
I honestly did not expect for Future to make it onto the top 50 of any lists this year, but I might have to say that was just me being naive. It’s not quite the Future album you might expect from his previous features and singles, but it really does showcase what is going on in Hip-op at the moment with all of the trap influences. You probably have heard the song “F*** Up Some Commas” if you listen to hip hop on the radio and while the album is good, it really doesn’t live up to that single. However, that may just be me loving that song too much.
The album is available to stream on Apple Music and Spotify.
That’s it for the first half of Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums. Stay tuned for the next 25 and make sure to listen to a few of these before it’s too late! Or just listen to them when you have some time.