Beyoncé, ‘Lemonade’ – “Girl, I hear some thunder” – damn, that’s putting it mildly. Beyoncé shut everyone else down this year with a soul-on-fire masterpiece, testifying about love, rage and betrayal that felt all too true in the America of 2016. The queen not only made the album of the year, she delivered a confessional, genre-devouring suite that feels larger than life yet still heartbreakingly intimate, because it doubles as her portrait of a nation in flames. She dropped Lemonade as a Saturday-night surprise after her HBO special, moving in on every strain of American music from country to blues-metal to post-punk-gone-Vegas dancehall to feminist hip-hop windshield-smashing. Even with “All Night” as an ambiguous resolution, it’s a whole album of hurt, which is why it especially hit home after the election. Beyoncé speaks on how it feels to get sold out by a lover – or a nation – that fooled you into feeling safe, how it feels to break free of a home built on lies. The question of whether it’s singing about Jay Z is moot because, unfortunately, it turned out to be about all of us. But thanks to Bey’s sheer fire-breathing musical power, Lemonade was a sign of hope amid all the emotional and political wreckage. Ashes to ashes. Dust to sidechicks. And woe to any fool who tries to interrupt her grinding.David Bowie, ‘Blackstar’ – there’s never been a musical farewell anything like ‘Blackstar: The Cracked Actor’ saved his bravest and boldest performance for the final curtain. David Bowie showed up on his 69th birthday to drop a surprise masterpiece, let an astonished world puzzle over the music for a couple of days, and then slipped off into the sky. Nearly a year later, Blackstar still gives up fresh mysteries with every listen. Right from the start, this came on as one of the Starman’s most dizzyingly adventurous albums, stretching out in jazzy space ballads like “Lazarus” or the 10-minute title epic. But it took Bowie’s death to reveal Blackstar as his rumination on mortality – anguished, bittersweet, mournful, refusing to give in to self-pity even as he sang his passionate final word, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” a song every bit as moving as “Heroes.” After a 50-year spree of rock & roll mind-bending, David Bowie still wasn’t running out of ways to shock people. Blackstar remains an inspiration – and a challenge – to us all. Chance the Rapper, ‘Colouring Book’ – the year’s finest hip-hop album had a vision as radiant as its pink-sky cover art. Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape combines radical politics and heavenly uplift to create life-affirming music that refuses to shy away from harsh realities. He uses the optimistic, joyful sounds of gospel choirs to soundtrack his hopes, fears and blessings, giving practically everything a spiritual hue, “I don’t make songs for free, I make them for freedom,” he raps on “Blessings.” The album explodes with enthusiasm, as Chance embraces both the convoluted microphone mathematics of the old-school and the unpredictable melodic twists of the new. An electric dispatch from Chicago, Chance’s infectious sing-song weaves together his faith, a city in crisis, his new daughter and the unique struggle of being the world’s most famous unsigned musician: “If one more label try to stop me, it’s going to be some dreadhead niggers in your lobby,” he raps with the giddiness of someone who’s already the victor.Car Seat Headrest, ‘Teens of Denial’ – here was some of the year’s most surefire guitar alchemy, full of revolving riffs and lyrics that flashed insights, slogans and jokes so quickly it erased any difference between them. “Friends are better with drugs, drugs are better with friends,” Will Toledo sang over and over in the one about taking mushrooms and not transcending. And his songs were full of drug trips to nowhere, girls who offered empathy instead of sex and medicine cabinets where you could choose a new personality. But the sound was anything but depressed. Like Nirvana building quiet and explosiveness into the same space, Car Seat Headrest knows how to be intimate and epic at the same time.Frank Ocean, ‘Blonde’ – it took four years to construct this quietly audacious follow up to Channel Orange. There were almost no drums, the pulse coming from swaying guitars and undulating keyboards. Dreamlike and hushed, as if you were listening to the sound leaking out of someone else’s headphones, these songs were awash in memories that kept threatening to slip away: childhood, love, that time you took acid and got your Jagger on.