The art of selling an album we all know and love is a dead format. At least, that’s what they’ve been saying for a few years now. After all, physical sales are down and people can just find any song to listen to with just a few clicks, so it’s just a matter of time, right?

Well, even if album sales aren’t what they used to be, artists are still utilizing the power of the LP to create worlds through audio. In 2016, the best albums sent listeners on emotional journeys and offered exhilaration that most special effects-filled blockbusters could only dream about; these are some of our favorites.

Frank Ocean: Blonde

Four years removed from his critically acclaimed breakout Channel Orange, anticipation for Frank Ocean’s next release was fervent. The finished product Blonde might not have had the immediacy of Channel Orange but it betters its predecessor through how Ocean weaves together tales of romantic woes and social commentary through such majestic arrangements and production. Ocean’s words are hard to take at times, but the beauty makes you want to press replay right away.

A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Only a group as legendary as A Tribe Called Quest could get away with a title that unwieldy. The band’s first album in almost twenty years and purportedly final due to the passing of founding member Phife Dawg earlier this year, The arrival of Service on the musical landscape felt like witnessing LeBron James descending upon a pickup game at a basketball court: titans proving why they’re titans.

David Bowie: Blackstar

The death of David Bowie, less than a week after Blackstar was released, was a shock as he hadn’t disclosed his liver cancer. As a parting gift, Blackstar is perfect. Seen as one of the best rock albums of the year, tracks like “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days,” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” addresses his then-pending mortality. On the epic opening title track, he embraces his mythology as a musical icon and in between, he just has fun. The loss of Bowie was immense, but we know he left our realm in the most epic way possible.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave’s 16-year-old son, Arthur, died last year after falling off a cliff. Much of Skeleton Tree, had been written before that tragic accident but it’s all but impossible to not hear the impact this had on Cave and the album. Skeleton Tree is intense, to say the least. But it’s also beautiful in part because of how nakedly Cave expresses his grief.

Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition

Since the release of his breakthrough album, 2011’s XXX, Danny Brown has stood out as an unmistakable presence in hip hop, willing to go to unknown places while other artists tread water. On Atrocity Exhibition, Brown goes for absolute broke, maniacally rapping over beats that are only a little less unhinged than he is. If you’re not prepared, you might feel more than a little overwhelmed by the end of it.

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