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Best albums of 2019, according to critics

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Jason Kempin // Getty Images

Best albums of 2019, according to critics

Music lovers were treated with a feast of albums in 2019. From those that were solidly genre-specific to those that moved fluidly across definitions, the year’s releases offered much to be consumed and critiqued.

Of the thousands of albums released throughout the year by major labels, independent labels, and unlabelled artists, those at the top of the critically acclaimed list represent a balanced number of each. Many weren’t best sellers and many had sparse radio play, but their genre-busting, experimental, and reflective takes on modern politics and society resonated with reviewers and music journalists.

To compile the list of best albums of 2019 based on published reviews, Stacker qualified releases between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2019, that earned at least seven published reviews. We compiled that data from Metacritic and ranked the reviews according to Metascore. Ties were broken by the number of reviews.

From an English punk duo to an Australian experimentalist, these are the best-reviewed albums of 2019. Did your favorite make the Top 50? Read on to find out.

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Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

#49. 'Eton Alive' by Sleaford Mods (tie)

- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 16

UK post-punk duo Sleaford Mods released its fifth studio album, “Eton Alive,” in February. The record reflects the Mods’ passionate political observations and opinions with the pointed language that attracted critics since 2007. With lyrics that are as much introspective as angry, “Eton Alive” impressed a more diverse listenership.

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Tabatha Fireman // Getty Images for Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

#49. 'Any Human Friend' by Marika Hackman (tie)

- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 16

Marika Hackman shed her acoustic folk persona with the release of “Any Human Friend” in August. The songs explore love and sexuality through the queer filter, with both a sense of humor and vulnerability. The multi-instrumentalist played all guitars, bass, and synthesizer on the 11-track album.

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JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER // AFP via Getty Images

#47. 'The Book of Traps and Lessons' by Kate Tempest (tie)

- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 17

Whether they are spoken, written, or sung, Kate Tempest created art with words. This was especially evident in her 2019 album, “The Book of Traps and Lessons.” She layered her award-winning poetic style—part beatnik spoken word, part progressive hip-hop—on top of the textured sounds of prolific producers Rick Rubin and Dan Carey.

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Tore Sætre // Wikimedia Commons

#47. 'The Practice of Love' by Jenny Hval (tie)

- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 17

Norwegian artist Jenny Hval was driven to write “The Practice of Love” after watching a movie of the same name, so the songs explore alternative definitions of love. The music itself was inspired by 1990s trance music. Hval recorded in Oslo while collaborating remotely with vocalists in Singapore and Sydney.

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Bryan Bedder // Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation

#46. 'Western Stars' by Bruce Springsteen

- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 31

The Boss released his 19th studio album, “Western Stars” in June. It was his first solo recording since 2012. The songs tell stories of the American West, with characters and themes reminiscent of the hits from 1970s California artists like Glen Campbell. Later in the year, Springsteen made his directorial debut with a film of the same name.

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Lisa Lake // Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

#44. 'Patience' by Mannequin Pussy (tie)

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 8

Patience” is the first Mannequin Pussy record to deliver more than 20 minutes of music. The punk band from Philadelphia, fronted by co-founder Marisa Dabice, is known for packing a lot of punch in short, aggressive songs. Working with emo producer Will Yip resulted in controlled chaos without softening the edges.

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Dia Dipasupil // Getty Images

#44. 'ZUU' by Denzel Curry (tie)

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 8

Rapper Denzel Curry’s 2019 album, “ZUU,” is an homage to his hometown of Miami, Fla. ZUU is Curry’s nickname for his neighborhood, Carol City. Every track on the record referenced people, places, and experiences from his life in great detail. He made his television debut on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” performing a medley from the album.

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Ian Gavan // Getty Images

#41. 'Amadjar' by Tinariwen (tie)

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 9

After performing at a festival of nomadic music, the Grammy Award-winning band Tinariwen decided to write ‘“Amadjar” while traversing the Moroccan desert. They wrote about the experience, then recorded live in a tent without headphones or production effects. Later, popular indie artists such as Warren Ellis and Cass McCombs added instrumentation.

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ason Kempin // Getty Images

#41. 'Walk Through Fire' by Yola (tie)

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 9

British vocalist Yola had sung with Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers, and as lead with Phantom Limb. She caught the attention of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced and released her solo debut, “Walk Through Fire.” The songs reflect the series of traumas Yola survived—including a house fire—and earned four Grammy nominations.

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Der Robert // Flickr

#41. 'Badbea' by Edwyn Collins (tie)

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 9

In the 1980s and 1990s, Scottish artist Edwyn Collins fronted the seminal post-punk band Orange Juice and had some soundtrack song success. He experienced a near-fatal stroke in 2005. In his first album in six years, “‘Badbea,” Collins revisited material written prior to the stroke. The songs are hopeful and upbeat, reflecting his successful recovery.

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Ethan Miller // Getty Images

#40. 'In Cauda Venenum' by Opeth

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 10

Swedish progressive rock band Opeth released its 13th studio album, “In Cauda Venenum,” in September in both Swedish and English versions. Further diverging from their death metal origin, Opeth continued to experiment with lush instrumentation and influences that range from blues to folk while maintaining the heaviness its fans expect.

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Michael Coghlan // Flickr

#39. 'Bird Songs of a Killjoy' by Bedouine

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 11

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Bedouine released her second album, ”Bird Songs of a Killjoy,” on independent label Spacebomb Records in June. The Syrian-American is a modern folk singer, using her lyrics, voice, and a guitar to deliver intense feelings about heartbreak and separation.

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HELLE ARENSBAK/AFP // Getty Images

#38. 'Amo' by Bring Me the Horizon

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 12

Nominated for a 2020 Best Rock Album Grammy Award, “Amo” is Bring Me the Horizon’s sixth studio album. The band incorporated electronic music and hip-hop into its core hard-rock sound. The Grammy nominated single ‘Mantra’ was a Top 20 hit in the United States, fueled by a controversial video that depicted cult imagery.

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Chloe Muro // Flickr

#37. 'Morbid Stuff' by PUP

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 13

Canadian pop-punk band PUP released “Morbid Stuff” in April. The 11-song album was recorded in the band’s hometown of Toronto. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Stefan Babcock explored his experience with depression and negative thinking on the album, using music as both a catharsis and permission to be angry.

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Rich Fury // Getty Images for Coachella

#36. 'All My Heroes Are Cornballs' by JPEGMAFIA

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 14

“All My Heroes are Cornballs” was JPEGMAFIA’s first album to chart on Billboard. The experimental, stream-of-consciousness record employed the musical elements of punk and ambient as well as the vocal characteristics of pop and rap. The lyrics are political and social, referencing pop culture with humor and disdain.

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Dominik Matus // Wikimedia Commons

#35. 'Life Metal' by Sunn O)))

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 16

Life Metal” served as the 20th-anniversary celebration for Seattle-based drone metal band Sunn O))). Producer Steve Albini recorded the four tracks completely analog to capture the essence of the band’s heavy sound. Musicians from Chicago, Iceland, and Australia performed with Sunn O))) founders Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley on the album.

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SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP // Getty Images

#34. 'Miss Universe' by Nilüfer Yanya

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 19

British singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya started her music career on Soundcloud, uploading original tracks and developing a fan base appreciative of her genre fluidity. Her debut album, “Miss Universe,” was released in March. It showcases Yanya’s rock, hip-hop, jazz, and soul influences as well as her keen ability to satire the online wellness industry.

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Matt Cowan // Getty Images for Coachella

#33. 'Two Hands' by Big Thief

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 22

“Two Hands” was the second album Brooklyn’s Big Thief released in 2019. The band called it the “Earth twin” to “U.F.O.F.” which was released earlier in the year. All ten tracks were written by singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker. Recorded at a studio in a Texan desert, all her vocal takes were recorded live, capturing the rawness of her voice in the dry air.

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Jason Kempin // Getty Images

#32. 'On the Line' by Jenny Lewis

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 24

“On the Line” is a collection of personal L.A. stories from Southern California native Jenny Lewis. She channels both the ghosts and legends of the city’s music: it was recorded in Capitol Records Studio Bthe room Frank Sinatra made famoususing the piano heard on Carol King’s “Tapestry.” Ringo Starr makes a guest appearance as does Beck, who also co-produced.

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Rich Fury // Getty Images for FYF

#31. 'Crushing' by Julia Jacklin

- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 26

Australian indie-folk artist Julia Jacklin released “Crushing” in February. Jacklin named Fiona Apple and Leonard Cohen as influences, which is evident in the way she writes about relationships. “ Crushing” opens with a five-minute song based on a harrowing, true experience in which a fight with a significant other might lead to exploitative retribution.

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Alison Buck // Getty Images for The Recording Academy

#30. 'There Is No Other' by Rhiannon Giddens

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 8

Acclaimed Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens released her third individual project “There Is No Other” in May. The collaboration with Italian jazz artist Francesco Turrisi includes 10 interpretations of American and European folk songs, as well as two original songs penned by Giddens.

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Jack Taylor // Getty Images

#28. 'Punk' by Chai (tie)

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 10

All-female Japanese band CHAI released “Punk” in March. Influenced by artists like Chvrches and Gorillaz, the music referenced punk, with a disco beat. The lyrics on the album focused on individuality and empowerment. The band started a movement—neo kawaii—around their messaging of self-acceptance and breaking down judgemental norms.

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Amy Sussman // Getty Images

#28. 'Midsommar [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]' by Bobby Krlic (tie)

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 10

Ari Aster was listening to Bobby Krlic’s music while writing the hit horror movie, “Midsommar,” and then hired him to write the soundtrack for the film. Krlic’s music amplified the gorgeous but graphic imagery Aster designed. As a stand-alone listen, the tracks range from upbeat, Swedish folk to disturbing electronica layered with sounds of human pain.

 

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Lisa Lake // Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

#27. 'House of Sugar' by (Sandy) Alex G

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 16

Philadelphia lo-fi rocker (Sandy) Alex G titled his ninth album after the SugarHouse Casino in his hometown as well as the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel.” With the release of “House of Sugar,” he debuted on the Billboard Emerging Artist chart and reached #5 on the Heatseekers Albums chart.

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Bennett Raglin // Getty Images for FIJI Water

#26. 'thank u, next' by Ariana Grande

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 24

Ariana Grande released her Grammy Award-nominated album”‘thank u, next” in February. Written and recorded around the time Grande’s ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died, the songs covered the experience of loss, dealing with fame and fans, and embracing independence. The hit single, “7 Rings” samples “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.”

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Cindy Ord // Getty Images for Vulture Festival

#25. 'Remind Me Tomorrow' by Sharon Van Etten

- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 34

American indie-rock artist Sharon Van Etten released her first album in five years in January. All ten tracks on “Remind Me Tomorrow” were written or co-written by Van Etten. Her storytelling was informed by major life changes including first-time motherhood, first-time acting on “The OA” and “Twin Peaks,” and going back to school to become a mental health counselor.

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FERDY DAMMAN // AFP via Getty Images

#24. 'Dogrel' by Fontaines DC

- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 16

Irish post-punk band Fontaines DC released its debut studio album, “Dogrel,” in April. The album was also released in cassette tape format. The songs are honest depictions of the band’s life in Dublin. In addition to earning a performance spot on “The Tonight Show,” the album was nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize for best UK album release.

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Martin Hearn // Flickr

#23. 'Reward' by Cate Le Bon

- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 18

Welsh art-pop musician Cate Le Bon moved from Los Angeles to England’s secluded Lake District to write “Reward.” Her setting inspired songs about how the mind and heart are affected by solitude. The 10-song album landed her on the Top 10 of the Billboard Heatseekers Album chart and Top 50 on the Independent Album chart.

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Redheadwalking // Flickr

#22. 'Purple Mountains' by Purple Mountains

- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 20

“Purple Mountains” is the only record from David Berman’s last music project, Purple Mountains. The poet and musician died in August, just three months after the album’s release. Berman was writing songs about his depression, retirement, his wife, and his mother’s death for five years before recording them for “Purple Mountains.”

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Emma McIntyre // Getty Images for FYF

#21. 'U.F.O.F.' by Big Thief

- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 24

U.F.O.F.” dropped in May as the first album Brooklyn’s Big Thief released in 2019. The band considered it the “celestial twin” to “Two Hands” which was released later in the year. It was recorded in the woods of Washington state, which was reflected in the ethereal lyrics and intimate production.

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Alexandre Schneider // Getty Images

#20. 'Norman F***ing Rockwell!' by Lana Del Rey

- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 28

Lana Del Rey and longtime production collaborator Jack Antonoff earned a Grammy nomination for “Norman F***ing Rockwell.” Released in August, the 14-track album debuted on Top 10 charts internationally and is on more than two dozen year-end Best Of lists. In addition to self-penned songs, Del Rey covered Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.”

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deepskyobject // Flickr

#18. 'Caligula' by Lingua Ignota (tie)

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 8

Multi-instrumentalist Kristin Hayter called on her musical alter ego, Lingua Ignota, to create a ferocious collection of violent revenge anthems for “Caligula.” A survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse, Hayter employed her operatic training as well as metal, industrial, and classical styles to purge and transmute her anger.

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Dennis Seelig

#18. 'War Music' by Refused (tie)

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 8

In its nearly 30 years of existence, Swedish hardcore band Refused has been representing non-conformity and leftist politics. With its first album in four years, Refused again fired at capitalism, fascism, and today’s divisive politics. The video for “REV001” depicts frontman Dennis Lyxzén leading a revolt against fascists.

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Bruce // Flickr

#17. 'Designer' by Aldous Harding

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 18

In April, New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding released her third record, “Designer.” Harding solely wrote the nine-song collection. Her distinctive singing style, which is half-whisper, combined with unusual word choices created comparisons to artists such as Bjork. “Designer” reached #10 on the Billboard Heatseekers Album chart.

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Antony Jones/Getty Images for Citi

#16. 'Jaime' by Brittany Howard

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 19

After two critically acclaimed albums with Alabama Shakes and one with Thunderbitch, lead vocalist Brittany Howard released her solo debut, “Jaime” in September. Dedicated to her sister who passed away as a teen, “Jaime” has earned two Grammy Award nominations. The album illuminates Howard’s songwriting skills as well as her multi-textured voice.

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DONOSTIA KULTURA // Wikimedia Commons

#15. 'Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest' by Bill Callahan

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 22

American musician Bill Callahan released 13 albums as Smog, and five under his own name. With 20 tracks, “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest” is Callahan’s longest album to date. The theme of the album was domestic life, as the singer-songwriter reflected on marriage and fatherhood.

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Brad Barket // Getty Images for SKYY Vodka

#14. 'Bandana' by Freddie Gibbs

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 23

The second collaboration between rapper Freddie Biggs and producer Madlib, “Bandana” was released in June. Some of hip-hop’s luminaries, including Anderson Paak, Killer Mike, and Yasiin Bey, made guest appearances. Biggs lyrical focus was black history and its specific stories, referencing Melvin Williams, the slave trade, Allen Iverson, and Tupac.

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Steve Jennings // Getty Images

#13. 'Magdalene' by FKA twigs

- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 28

After a four-year wait, FKA twigs released her second album, “Magdalene,” in November. She again used all the genres in her arsenal—from R&B and hip-hop to pop and dance—to soundtrack her songs about heartbreak and healing. The rapper Future was featured on the song “Holy Terrain.”

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Neighbourhood Recordings

#12. 'Psychodrama' by Dave

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 9

British rapper Dave released his debut full-length studio album in March. “Psychodrama” is a concept album inspired by his experience with mental health, decaying relationships, and being a working-class black youth. An 11-minute track called “Lesley” was the story of a woman suffering through an abusive relationship. “Psychodrama” won the 2019 Mercury Prize.

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HERBERT P. OCZERET/AFP // Getty Images

#11. 'We Are Not Your Kind' by Slipknot

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 14

The sixth studio album from heavy metallers Slipknot, “We Are Not Your Kind,” was released in August 2019. The album took nearly two years to write with 14 of more than 35 songs making the cut. The music was more experimental than previous Slipknot records. “We Are Not Your Kind” debuted at #1 on both the Billboard 200 and UK Albums charts.

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Monica Schipper // Getty Images for Panorama

#10. 'LEGACY! LEGACY!' by Jamila Woods

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 18

Singer-songwriter and poet Jamila Woods’s second album, “LEGACY! LEGACY!” reflected her deep connection to the history of people of color and her hope for their future. The Chicagoan paid homage to artists like James Baldwin and Muddy Waters. “LEGACY! LEGACY!” peaked at #6 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.

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Noam Galai // Getty Images

#9. 'Kiwanuka' by Michael Kiwanuka

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 21

Michael Kiwanuka released his third album, “Kiwanuka,” in November. Evoking influences that ranged from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic, Kiwanuka’s music was often lighter-sounding than the weight of the lyrics. On this record, he wrote about loss and disillusionment with a prevailing sadness.

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Thierry Chesnot // Getty Images

#8. 'When I Get Home' by Solange

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 25

“When I Get Home,” the fourth album from Solange, was a collection of songs about her hometown of Houston, Texas. In its 19 tracks, “When I Get Home” featured guest appearances from Gucci Mane, Tyler, The Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt. Solange also released a short film version of the album that had a monthlong theatrical release.

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Matt Cowan // Getty Images for Coachella

#7. 'All Mirrors' by Angel Olsen

- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 28

Angel Olsen’s fourth studio album, “All Mirrors,” debuted at #52 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album about love and staying authentic in relationship was made cinematic by featuring a 12-piece string section to accompany Olsen’s vocal performance, which ranged from subtle and romantic to volatile and bombastic.

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Dia Dipasupil // Getty Images for BET

#5. 'Eve' by Rapsody (tie)

- Metascore: 90
- Number of reviews: 8

Each of the 16 songs on rapper Rapsody’s third album, “Eve,” is named after an influential black woman. From “Nina” and “Aaliyah” to “Serena” and “Michelle,” Rapsody illuminates empowered blackness with reverence and humor. Guest appearances included Queen Latifah, J. Cole, and GZA with D’Angelo.

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Paras Griffin // Getty Images for BET

#5. 'Jimmy Lee' by Raphael Saadiq (tie)

- Metascore: 90
- Number of reviews: 8

R&B artist Raphael Saadiq’s August release was named after his brother who died of a heroin overdose after contracting HIV. Though he had been making music for 40 years, this was his first in eight years after taking time to reflect on past tragedies. The songs explored addiction and how it affects the family dynamic, especially after a loss.

 

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Stefan Brending // Wikimedia Commons

#3. 'Gold & Grey' by Baroness (tie)

- Metascore: 91
- Number of reviews: 14

Sixteen-year-old heavy-metal band Baroness released “Gold & Grey” in June. The album is the first to feature new guitarist Gina Gleason. The 17-track record was produced by Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann, who captured the elements of psych, grunge, space, and prog rock.

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Mark Metcalfe // Getty Images

#3. 'Grey Area' by Little Simz (tie)

- Metascore: 91
- Number of reviews: 14

British rapper Little Simz released her third album, “Grey Area,” in March. Produced by childhood friend Inflo, “Grey Area” used more live instrumentation and less sampling. Acclaimed musician Michael Kiwanuka was featured on the song “Flowers,” a track which shows the softer side of Little Simz.

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Leonard Nevarez // Flickr

#2. 'Titanic Rising' by Weyes Blood

- Metascore: 91
- Number of reviews: 26

Natalie Mering, who performs as Weyes Blood, was inspired by the Titanic disaster and the looming threats of climate change when writing “Titanic Rising.” While the music was reminiscent of early 1970s California folk, the theme of man-made crisis was not diluted. Mering wrote all ten songs on the album.

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deepskyobject // Flickr

#1. 'Ghosteen' by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

- Metascore: 96
- Number of reviews: 28

After 17 albums, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds delivered one of its best-reviewed in October. The double album “Ghosteen” is the final in the trilogy that included “Push the Sky Away” and “Skeleton Tree.” Through its 11 tracks, themes of loss and grief were prominent, as were reflections on hope and empathy.

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