RANKED: The 20 best albums of the year, according to critics

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Parkwood Entertainment

2016 was a whirlwind year in music, punctuated by blockbuster releases, a handful of masterful albums, and the loss of some iconic artists.

From the critical dominance of the Knowles sisters – Beyoncé and Solange – to the final LPs from legendary acts like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and A Tribe Called Quest, 2016 has produced many innovative, affecting, and memorable works.

We turned to the review aggregator Metacritic to find out which albums critics have gravitated to and praised the most this year. The resulting list includes the expected big names alongside a few lesser-known artists with remarkable works.

Here are the top 20 albums of the year, according to critics’ scores on Metacritic:


20. Ian William Craig — “Centres”

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Fat Cat

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 7.5/10

What critics said: “There’s an addictive, hypnagogic quality to this ghostly combination of ambient noise, treated vocals and bursts of static.” – Uncut


19. Maxwell — “blackSUMMERS’night”

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Columbia

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “Maxwell’s transcendent falsetto and the soulful jazz, electronic and soul arrangements need no cohesive story line to make them resonate.” – Los Angeles Times


18. Michael Kiwanuka — “Love & Hate”

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Interscope

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “This is an album that sounds like a world of music in itself.” – The Telegraph


17. Sturgill Simpson — “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

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Atlantic

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 8.0/10

What critics said: “‘Sailor’s Guide’ is classic album length – nine songs, 39 minutes – and best heard in one sitting; this is Nashville craft less as pop science than as expansive headphone storytelling.” – Rolling Stone


16. Ital Tek — “Hollowed”

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Planet Mu

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 7.8/10

What critics said: “No other album made by the countless electronic composers delves this deeply into places people fear to face.” – PopMatters


15. Bon Iver — “22, A Million”

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Jagjaguwar

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “The wonder of ’22, A Million’ is how beautifully he melds the disparate forms – inside and outside, acoustic and digital, past and future, ground level and interstellar. It’s a stunning record, well worth the wait.” – Spin


14. Nails — “You Will Never Be One of Us”

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Nuclear Blast

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 6.2/10

What critics said: “Nails constructs towers of noise tall enough to blot out the sun.” – The AV Club


13. Mitski — “Puberty 2”

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Dead Oceans Records

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “A visceral work that shares the immediacy of classic punk and confessional singer/songwriter fare at once, ‘Puberty 2’ takes listeners behind closed doors with the kind of no-holds-barred lyrics that are likely to leave a lasting impression.” – AllMusic


12. Frank Ocean — “Blonde”

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Boys Don’t Cry

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “‘Blonde’ is dewy, radiant and easeful, with an approach to incantatory soul that evolves moment to moment. It’s feverish but unhurried, a slowly smoldering set that’s emphatic about loneliness.” – The New York Times


11. Angel Olsen — “My Woman”

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Jagaguwar

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.3/10

What critics said: “Her lyrics have the conviction of someone like Fiona Apple: a profoundly individual presence that centers, above all, on self-reliance, on searing autonomy, on the act of becoming. ‘My Woman’ does this more vividly and lucidly and daringly than before.” – Pitchfork


10. David Bowie — “Blackstar”

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Columbia Records

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.8/10

What critics said: “There are more than enough narratives to follow down the rabbit hole here, and themes and imagery so dense they could probably be dissected for days or even weeks. Most of all, though, it’s the kind of album that works beautifully as a physical experience.” – Entertainment Weekly


9. Robbie Fulks — “Upland Stories”

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Bloodshot Records

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 3.5/10

What critics said: “A continuation of the warm folk, fiddle, and banjo style of 2013’s ‘Gone Away Backward,’ here Fulks continues proving he’s one of music’s best song craftsmen.” – Austin Chronicle


8. Common — “Black America Again”

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Def Jam

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 7.6/10

What critics said: “One of the year’s most potent protest albums.” – Chicago Tribune


7. Radiohead — “A Moon Shaped Pool”

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XL Records

Critic score: 88/100

User score: 9.1/10

What critics said: “Drawing on the embattled, hopeful possibilities of early Seventies soul, rock and folk, its chamber-classical and folk instrumentation allows for pleasure as well as despair. This is a Radiohead album to make you feel, better.” – The Independent


6. Drive-By Truckers — “American Band”

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ATO

Critic score: 88/100

User score: 7.8/10

What critics said: “Eloquently plainspoken as ever about the pressing issues we face as a nation, they’ve made an album multiple decades into their career that establishes them as more directly relevant than ever.” – Slant Magazine


5. Solange — “A Seat at the Table”

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Columbia

Critic score: 89/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “The album radiates universal beauty and truth in the tradition of Stevie Wonder and Minnie Ripperton – and the whole world could simply use more of that.” – Entertainment Weekly


4. A Tribe Called Quest — “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”

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Epic

Critic score: 89/100

User score: 8.8/10

What critics said: “This is no nostalgia trip or callous comeback. It’s a giant exclamation point on the end of a brilliant career.” – AllMusic


3. Leonard Cohen — “You Want It Darker”

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Columbia

Critic score: 92/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “Following a string of records that have each felt like a swan song, ‘You Want It Darker’ may be Cohen’s most haunting LP.” – Rolling Stone


2. Beyoncé — “Lemonade”

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Parkwood Entertainment

Critic score: 92/100

User score: 7.6/10

What critics said: “Here, we see Beyoncé fully coming into her own: wise, accomplished, and in defense of herself.” – Consequence of Sound


1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Skeleton Tree”

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Bad See Ltd.

Critic score: 95/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “No other record released this year will provoke such conflicting emotions in you. ‘Skeleton Tree’ is both beautiful and harrowing, hard to listen to but even harder to look away from.” – NME