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Top 89 Staff Picks: Jay Gabler, digital producer

The Current's digital producer Jay Gabler shares his top albums and songs of 2016.
The Current's digital producer Jay Gabler shares his top albums and songs of 2016.MPR graphic

by Jay Gabler

December 06, 2016

Top 10 Albums of 2016

10. Rihanna, ANTI. In a slack year for Top 40 music, Rihanna's smoldering collection was a standout, with "Work" becoming one of the year's most indelible anthems.

9. Mitski, Puberty 2. Sometimes you just need a passionate wash of guitars, and this year no one brought those crank-the-volume feels like Mitski.

8. (tie) Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death; Shura, Nothing's Real. Tegan and Sara brought Shura on tour and sang the praises of Alexandra Denton, the singer-songwriter whose new album tapped the same vein of heart-on-sleeve synthpop as Tegan and Sara's own release. The pairing was a perfect fit, and Nothing's Real is actually a more consistent collection than Love You to Death — even if Shura doesn't hit the exuberant heights of songs like "Stop Desire" and "Boyfriend."

7. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service. ATCQ's swan song is a fitting culmination to a remarkable career, and an apt tribute to the late Phife Dawg. As Sean McPherson notes in his review, the album doesn't retread past ground but instead pushes the hip-hop legends into the future.

6. Solange, A Seat at the Table. A seductive and strangely elusive breakthrough for Beyoncé’s kid sister, A Seat at the Table pulled a surprise upset when it edged Bon Iver's much-anticipated new release for the top slot on Billboard's album chart. My theory about how that happened: Bon Iver's record makes for great deep listening, but A Seat at the Table is the one you want to bounce on repeat.

5. Anohni, Hopelessness. Formerly known as Antony (as in "and the Johnsons"), Anohni crystallized that feeling of suspension between hope and despair that characterized this year for so many. With unambiguous lyrical references in songs like "Drone Bomb Me" and "Obama," this album was an instant time capsule of our uneasy moment in history — and its sweeping soundscapes will bring listeners back to this album for years to come.

4. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book. Chance was this year's stubborn optimist, with a bounce in his step and a gleam in his eye as he vaulted from being a cult favorite to a ubiquitous pop-culture presence singing "Jingle Bells" with the Obamas on the White House lawn. In addition to being musically airtight, Coloring Book was a watershed release that showed just how much you can do these days without signing to a record label. (The answer: basically everything, at least if you're as driven and talented as Chance.)

3. Bon Iver, 22, A Million. Justin Vernon debuted this new collection with a live front-to-back performance at the second annual Eaux Claires festival, and it was instantly clear to the rapt audience that the album was a deeply personal effort that would reward intimate listening. It's weird, wonderful, and eerily resonant from its opening phrase, emerging from a wobbly drone: "It might be over soon."

2. (tie) David Bowie, Blackstar; Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. Looking at the year in music, it's impossible not to think of these three death-haunted masterpieces as being somehow united. Bowie and Cohen both knew they were nearing the end of their days when they recorded these albums, and Cave was reeling from the death of his son. All three albums are evidence that great artists can find transcendence even in the darkest of days.

1. Beyoncé, Lemonade. Best album of the year, and it's not even close. Unsurprisingly, Lemonade is emerging as the strongest consensus pick for a year's best album since Kanye dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. As an album with accompanying full-length visual, Lemonade marked a progression even beyond Beyoncé’s remarkable self-titled 2013 collection. Its greatness lies not only in the sweep of its storytelling — has any concept album ever held you in such suspense? — but the way it knits Beyoncé’s personal story into a larger narrative about race, gender, and power. It hits like a sledgehammer.

Top 10 Songs of 2016

10. Angel Olsen, "Never Be Mine"
9. The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, "Closer"
8. Rihanna featuring Drake, "Work"
7. Tove Lo, "Cool Girl"
6. Ariana Grande, "Into You"
5. Fraea, "Criminal"
4. David Bowie, "Lazarus"
3. Kiiara, "Gold"
2. Tegan and Sara, "Stop Desire"
1. Beyoncé featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Freedom"

The Current Hosts' and Staffers' Top 89 of 2016

Brett BaldwinBill DeVilleJay GablerLeah GaraasJadeCecilia JohnsonLindsay KimballMary LuciaJim McGuinnSean McPhersonShelley MillerDan NassMike NovitzkiMatt PerkinsBrian OakeJill RileyJake RudhNate RyanDavid SafarDerrick StevensAndrea SwenssonLuke TaylorAnna ReedMark WheatMac Wilson