There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. (Cohen)
This has been a fucked up year for music. We weren’t ready for Bowie to go, we didn’t see it coming with Prince, we thought Sharon Jones had it beat… Even with the old-timers – part of me thought Leonard Cohen would make to 200, and Leon Russell would at least make it to his 80s. Despite the darkness, though, there has been so much great new music come into the world – including some by those greats we’ve lost.
That’s the thing about music though, man – and I’m trying to avoid a bad cliche, but – music will be here forever, and certainly they really do live on in each note we hear again.
This best-of project has been going on for a few years now (OpMan Archives: 2015-long/2015-top 5, 2014, 2013, 2012).
I typically reserve this for full-length albums only, making some half-exceptions at times. This year, I’m changing it a bit. While the music industry has clearly changed over the past decade, it’s been kicking and screaming, every step of the way. Change is hard. I get it. This is why most artists still release music as “albums”. This is not a rule anymore though. Plenty of artists only ever release EPs, and some dare to break conformity altogether and create music things that just don’t fit into traditional formats. Since this falls into the area that I tend to like best, I just can’t exclude them from this anymore!
That said, there are still rules:
– Must have been released in 2016
– Must have been listened to by me
– Must actually be good
– No traditional singles (No single-song releases, or small release promoting an upcoming album were considered)
With that in mind, I present to you: the top 100 music releases of 2016!
January 8: David Bowie – Blackstar – This album is surreal! I got the same experience as everyone else: 1. Bowie released a new album, 2. It’s pretty weird but really good, 3. Holy shit! Bowie just died??!!!, 4. Need to listen to that album again, 5. It all makes horrifying sense now, 6. This album is surreal! I’d like to think I would have liked it just as much if he hadn’t died shortly after its release, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s like all the imagery in the album meant much more, and now his death is intertwined with this dark, crazy, imaginative, really good album.
January 15: Anderson .Paak – Malibu – I’ve been hearing this killer voice more and more on other people’s albums (coming up under Dre’s wing doesn’t hurt a career), and have obviously been as impressed as anyone else. His new album hits just the right spot to bump in everyone’s trunk, this summer; an old school west coast vibe and relaxed feel make this an easy listen. But it’s once you’ve heard it a few more times that you realize there’s a lot going on, lyrically. He’s mixing a casual gangsta feel with depression, love, life… Wow! Well done, Mr. .Paak.
January 15: Panic! At The Disco – Death Of A Bachelor – I’ve heard the name a few times over the last few years, but I’d never heard a song of theirs until this album fell under my radar. I’ve since Wikipedia’d up on Panic! At The Disco and expect some different sounds, going back in time, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. With this album, the lyrics didn’t really do much for me, but I ignored my first thought that it wasn’t really my kind of thing because I couldn’t get over the singer’s voice. I mean… damn! This guy would do well in any style! So, even though this album is a little poppy for me, it’s actually really good, and I’m actually really jealous that I can’t sing like that. Like… really jealous!
January 29: Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing – The first time I heard Saul Williams (one track on a Ninja Tune compilation, released in 2000), he gave me chills. A few years later, he released a killer album, produced by one of my favourite artists (Trent Reznor), though it wasn’t well-received. And another, also not well-received. A few years after that, I started following him closely on social media, listened to his back-catalog, learned he’d moved to Paris and back to New York… and finally heard he’d be releasing a new album! I hadn’t anticipated a new release that much since I was a kid. Holy fuck! Did he ever deliver! This concept album tells a story, boils the blood, makes you stomp your foot, pump your fist, and, god forbid, think. While it’s all set in a made-up alternate reality, it’s clear how present, relatable, and real the content of MartyrLoserKing really is. Bonus points for tying in a book, remix album, stage play, and who knows what else he’s got planned.
February 5: King – We Are King – If this is the future of R&B, I’m on board. Lush synth pads, poppy minimal beats, vocal harmony… it’s a little like a time machine to the past, without going full TLC; instead swimming in these great big, warm, calm waters of sensuality. Mmm mmm mmm. Listen to this on headphones alone, thinking about the one who got away, or put it on the hi-fi by the fireplace with your lover. Either way, let the waves of sound wash you into ecstasy. Mmm.
February 5: Knower – Life – Stop reading. You’re still reading, so go here. Scroll to the bottom. Watch every single video… I’ll wait…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Right?! These two are on fire! They released this album as a total surprise, and I didn’t hesitate in listening (not to mention, they made my Top 5, a few years back. While the videos clearly add to the unquestionable wickedness, the music has always been at least 85% of why I like them. Again, they are here to blow minds with tricky beats, dancy synths, and next-level talent, all with a signature ridiculous sense of humour, and just the right amount of seriousness. I would probably donate a vital organ to see these two perform in Regina!
February 9: Yeo – Ganbaru – Yeo is new to me, but I suspect he will be a long-time favourite. This album has elements of pop, dub, and trap with this kind of super-produced garage band vibe. If my last.fm profile is any indication of what I like, the 110 listens I’ve given Ganbaru so far haven’t diminished my desire to hear it again. Some of the tracks get stuck in my head for days – but not in that kill-me-now sort of way like It’s A Small World After All – more like a yeah-I’m-dancing-on-the-sidewalk-whatchu-don’t-mess-up-my-vibe-sucka? kind of way like Promise/Secret.
February 12: Basia Bulat – Good Advice – I’ll never forget the first time I saw Basia Bulat: Folk Fest, circa 2008 (Holy hell! Was it that long ago? Okay I forget the time, but not the experience). It was one of those happy moments, while walking to one of the free daytime stages to see someone else perform that I passed by another stage, where she was performing; just her and an autoharp. I was smitten, and so were we all. Fast forward a few years and couple more albums later. This new album is simple and really good, as all her music tends to be. She has earned her place in frequent Canadian radio play and I highly recommend going to see her, next time she’s in your town.
February 19: Jean-Michel Blais – Il – Pianists spend a lot of time alone. This results in a particular type of musician: someone who doesn’t know how to play in a band, doesn’t really socialize, and has had oodles of time to practice their chops. Yeah, yeah… exceptions to rules and whatever, but that’s how this album plays out. Blais is clearly a very good player, with classical training, I suspect, and his compositions have this I’ve-only-played-for-my-cats sort of feel. I swear I’m not putting the guy down, though. The music is lovely, intriguing, varying, and of course very good. Apt for a mid-winter night and a cup of tea.
February 19: Jack Garratt – Phase – It kind of amazes me how much music is being released these days that, by description, is just like Jack Garratt: poppy, dancey, synthy, R&B-influenced solo artist. It amazes me much more when it sounds this good! Let’s be honest. There is a lot of pretty bland stuff that fits this same description, but Garratt somehow pulls you right in and keeps you until the last note. Cory played this guy on the show once, prompting a search for videos, where we found this. I was sold. Wow! That’s talent. Good music, good lyrics, good performance!
February 19: Matmos – Ultimate Care II – This is my favourite album made entirely from recordings of a washing machine. Actually, I very much like it when people make music-like, experimental, manipulated or somehow-made-weird recordings of otherwise normal things. Knowing only a little bit about Matmos, myself (they’ve recorded and performed with Björk, one of them is a writer for Pitchfork), when I heard they were making this album, I kept a bookmark of the release date, so I’d know to find it, months later. Good thing, too. I’ve given this a few listens now, and it’s interesting each time.
February 26: Sarah Neufeld – The Ridge – With ties to Colin Stetson, Arcade Fire, and Bell Orchestre, it’s easy to expect impressive things form Sarah Neufeld. Her newest album is minimal, consisting mostly of solo violin work, but has simple vocals, a healthy dose of drums and percussion, as well as some tasteful synth stuff. This is the type of album that would get played right after, say, an album of washing machine sounds. Not because it’s quite that far out there, but more because it’s a nice middle ground between weird and stuff people are used to. There is some really cool composition, a lot of atmosphere, and a very cool feel about this whole recording.
February 26: Shooter Jennings – Countach (for Giorgio) – There isn’t much about this album that I saw coming: the mixture of styles (’70s country meets ’80s synth pop meets ’90s rock), the barrage of ’80s references, the fact that it’s a tribute to relatively obscure (though big in small circles) electronic music composer/producer Giorgio Moroder, it’s unusual release (free vinyl copies given away by finding access to them in a specific video game, digital stream/download, CD, cassette, 8-track, and wax cylinder), and the fact that it has guest vocals by Marilyn Manson. I mean what the actual fuck? I didn’t know any of this, going into it. I just heard there was a new album by the only son of Waylon, and saw Atreyu on the cover. I probably had it on repeat for a week though. The concept is neat, the music is good, and… let’s be honest – I’m an ’80s kid. This is tugging on my nostalgic heartstrings. It sounds like Jennings basically made his own soundtrack to his childhood – and that kinda rules!
March 4: The Cat Empire – Rising With The Sun – As some point during their performance at Regina Folk Fest, this summer (being the third time I’ve seen them), it occurred to me that The Cat Empire may, in fact, be my favourite band. This new album is every bit as exciting as the first time I heard them (over the PA, as a lowly instrument salesman at a Canadian retailer). More than a party band, this is music to make your life better. As they mature, they only get better: tighter rhythms, more impressive solos, better songwriting, more depth (songs like Bataclan – in the wake of the horrible attack last year), while still finding time for so much fun. I can’t stop listening to this album, and I can’t think of a reason why I ever would.
March 4: Ray Lamontagne – Ouroboros – When I heard the first single off of Ouroboros – the mildly noisy, guitar-heavy, and even synthesizer-solo-marked, blues-based rock track “Hey, No Pressure” – I was so disappointed. I thought, ‘That’s it! We’ve lost him to the sea of disappointing, plain rock.’ I remember and love the lovesick Lamontagne of Trouble, Can I Stay, and Hold You In My Arms. What the hell happened to him? When this album came out, it took me months to actually listen to it, but when I did, I got it. He’s still a bit lovesick, and still has that signature songwriting and singing style. He’s just moved on. It may have helped ease my transition when the album opened with something that sounded like it could have fit on Til The Sun Turns Black. From there, it’s actually got a lot more ’70s rock inspiration going on than I expected. There are a number of times when I thought he must have just listed to Dark Side on repeat a couple of times before recording this. The album really pulls you in. Perhaps that’s why the lead single was so jarring for me – it was just missing the rest of the album.
March 4: Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution – Spalding first caught my attention when I saw a video of her perform Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed for the U.S. pres and Stevie, himself. Obviously, I’ve been impressed – there aren’t many masters of the bass in their ’20s (she’s 32 now), let alone many who are also female. But, it wasn’t until this album that I gave her work the proper listen it deserves. And wow – flavours of Joni all over: crazy chord changes, similar vocal styling, playing that would make Jaco jealous, all while clearly her own style. Despite the apparent influence, there’s a lot that Joni wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do, on this album. It’s a big listen, wildly impressive, with A-list playing and production (co-produced by her and Tony Visconti, by the way, who also co-produced Bowie’s Blackstar). All-around, crazy good album for anyone who’s really into music.
March 18: The Body – No One Deserves Happiness – If there were an award for darkest, most uncomfortable recording of the year, it would surely go to No One Deserves Happiness. If metal were a haunted mansion, with different rooms for different sub-genres, you’d find this album chaotically painting the walls of a hidden sub-basement with the blood of its own severed arm. At times, it’s almost goth, at times, it’s black-as-fuck metal, at times, it’s downright noise, with just a touch of ambient electronic. Overall, this horror is unique and just too god damned horrifying to go unnoticed. Best enjoyed with a
glass chalice of your enemies’ blood.
March 18: Liima – ii – I first played Copenhagen’s Efterklang in 2012, on What Planet Is This?!. Since then, Operation Manatee came to be, as did Liima – which is basically just Efterklang plus a drummer. In my opinion, drummers just tend to be those noisy, inappropriate drunks we musicians occasionally tolerate to make a track unnecessarily louder, but somehow, a drummer turned what used to be the already excellent Efterklang into the magical Liima! At times, ii makes me want to dance like it’s 1980. At times, it makes me want to rock out like it’s 2080! Whatever this is, I like it!
March 23: Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto – Dayumn! Kamaiyah’s breakout mixtape is BAD ASS! I haven’t heard someone in their early 20s this cool since TLC, and they were nowhere near this thugged out! I have no shame in admitting my house is shaking so much shit is falling off shelves as I write this! Kamaiyah meets west coast gangsta shit and ’90s R&B right at the crossroads. Sound aside, she’s not just straight gangsta, though. Yeah, some of the lyrics sound like a party, but some sound like she knows she’s a beginner and just figuring out how to be in the scene (“Tell me, how does it feel to be rich?”), while others sound straight Marvin Gaye sexy (“We’ll be making love like it’s going out of style”). There will come a day when she’s a mentor in this game, and we’ll all look back to how BAD this album was to bring this sound to 2016.
March 25: The Range – Potential – “Right now, I don’t have a back up plan for if I don’t make it.” The first thing you hear on this album tells you The Range is not just dabbling. If every sound on Potential was directly created/spoken/sung by The Range, it would be impressive enough as a good electronic dance recording, but the concept and execution of this album are what really make it worth a listen: he watched hundreds of hours of youtube videos, collecting audio clips to sample more-or-less as the vocalists (and possibly some instrumentalists) along with his production. The whole album is worth multiple listens if for no other reason than to attempt to discern the many many voices used.
March 29: BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance – Admit it, you fucking love this! I got my first taste of BABYMETAL, when Cory played them on the show, earlier this year, and I haven’t looked back. I started playing them for company, playing them in the car, sending youtube links to friends, when suddenly… what’s this? A new BABYMETAL album?! This band screams Japan! The combination of impossibly technical, heavy, modern metal with three young girls in full lolita mode singing could only come from the country that brought us both X and Hello Kitty. Even after the novelty has warn off, you find yourself re-listening again and again, because it’s just so good! Seriously! Watch this and tell me you don’t love it. You’ll be lying, but go ahead and tell me. Damn it! I actually got lost in BABYMETAL youtube for like half an hour!
April 1: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Ears – As synthesizers become cheaper and work their way into popular music once again, so too has risen synth-based, non-pop music. There are two main types of synth-heads: 1. The girl/guy in the band who plays that sick lick that everyone loves, 2. The experimental soundscape artist who plays with texture and colour. Smith more closely aligns with the latter. Instead of going into the dark side of non-musical noise, though, the colours and textures she uses from her Buchla Music Easel only serve as the vast ground and sky in which she plants and glides flutes, saxophones, and voice. This album is so easy to listen to, and while it may be too on the fringe for casual music listeners, for someone like me, this is nearly pure sonic heaven.
April 1: John Congleton And The Nighty Night – Until The Horror Goes – The name might not ring a bell, unless you’re a geek who reads liner notes. But if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll notice Brian Wilson, R. Kelly, Goldfrapp, The Roots, David Byrne, Marilyn Manson, Antony and The Johnsons, Murder By Death, Sigur Rós, and several dozen other well-known artists have all worked with him. Known mostly for his production, I guess Congleton got bored and decided instead of making everyone else’s albums sound great, he’d just make his own album sound great. Thing is, Until The Horror Goes sounds like it was made by a madman! From out of tune synthesizers, in-tune pianos and odd vocal harmonies to orchestral instrumentation mixed with rock band, and some of the most fun lyrics of this year (“If you wanna see a dead body, take off your clothes”, “there’s me, the temporary custodian of these particles, the free=floating radicals that convene for 80 years or so – that’s if I’m lucky though… what an ordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing”), this goes past original, straight to who comes up with this shit? I’ve-produced-Brian-fucking-Wilson Congleton. That’s who.
April 1: Kaada Patton – Bacteria Cult – I waited so long and so patiently for this album. Their first release together came out 12 years ago! I’ve been a Mike Patton fan for many years, and it was through the collaboration of these two that I first learned of Norwegian composer John Erik Kaada, someone whose music I quickly came to love immensely, and someone I don’t mind admitting has influenced a great deal of my own music. Kaada’s sense of melody mixed with his penchant for using less than usual sounds along with traditional instruments coupled with Patton’s complete insanity made their first release one of the best recordings I’ve ever heard. While I might critique this one for not having quite as much Patton as it could, it feels so obviously like the next release I’ve always wanted from them! It’s dark, suspenseful, imaginative, agonizing, beautiful, curious, playful. This is gorgeous music! Having kept up as much as I’ve been able with Kaada’s career over the years, and this sounds so heavily influenced by his style, featuring Patton as merely one of the album’s more vibrant colours. While part of that nags at me, for some reason, I can’t help but feel relieved that this isn’t just another Mike Patton feature plus whomever. Kaada is center stage, throughout each track.
April 1: Ash Koosha – I AKA I – The first few seconds of I AKA I made me think of Oneohtrix Point Never’s insane album Garden Of Delete (something that was selected for 2015’s long list). It’s hectic, dark, at times easy to hum along to, at times hard to tap your foot along to. Unlike Oneohtrix Point Never’s playful insanity, though, Koosha sounds like the blips and crunches he produces come from a different part of the world – figuratively and literally, since Ashkan Kooshanejad hails from Iran. While I am a firm believer that environment and culture have a huge impact on art, it’s one’s own heart and intention that ultimately decide the how the art is formed, and it feels like Koosha’s heart formed something experienced and wonderful in the midst of trouble. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a lot of layers and a little dissonance with their catchy electro stuff.
April 1: The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect – I never cared for this duo’s 2008 release to the extent of its cult following. It’s like it kept trying to be a great country-tinged, ’70s-inspired hillbilly rock thing, and never quite made it. When I heard a there was a new album, I didn’t exactly leap at the chance, but I kept reading good things about it, so what the hell? I gave it a casual listen. It didn’t go well. All I could think was: yeah. There it is. Another album by guys from bands I don’t really like in a project I never really cared for (what a cynic, right?). So I set it aside for a week or two and gave it another listen. This time I kinda decided there were a couple catchy tunes – there’s rock, there are strings, there’s weirdness, fun lyrics. Alright. Not horrible, but not great. Couple more listens: songs getting stuck in my head. Few more listens: I’ve actually listened to this album a lot now. Huh. Without really realizing it, the songs were getting stuck in my head and I had a couple favourite tracks. This is actually a really good album. I don’t know why I held onto it and gave it that second listen, but I’m really glad I did!
April 1: Black Mountain – IV – At face value, this might look like another unlikely candidate to me, as I’ve never been hugely into the whole psych rock jam thing. That said, I’ve always found myself looking forward to Black Mountain releases. Some of their tracks get a little long for radio play, which keeps them a little further underground, but they just sound so fun! Tell me you wouldn’t want to be in that basement/garage/dingy club. Admittedly, this is not super deep stuff, but it doesn’t need to be. This is guilt-free listening pleasure! I think part of me not-so-secretly wants to be in this band, or a band like it.
April 8: Kweku Collins – Nat Love – This album does a couple things that annoy the hell out of me in modern music: vocal auto-tune, hyper use of electronic closed hi-hat. That said, I didn’t know why I kept listening to Nat Love at first. It’s just that there are more than a couple things I do like in modern music, and this album’s got ’em: the style is hard to pinpoint, shit’s out of tune and time, sometimes it’s hip hop, it’s dark dark dark, it’s fun, sometimes there are triplets, other times it nearly swings – or swings too much, before snapping back into place. And to be fair, the auto-tune isn’t ever-present, and the high hats do subside and give way to some very cool production work. The percussion is virtually always doing something more interesting than most stuff I’m hearing today. I kind of can’t get enough of this 19-year-old’s debut album!
April 8: Tim Hecker – Love Streams – Bet you didn’t know this easily defensible fact, but: there is a new electronic music album released every 20 seconds. Yeah. It’s hard to know when something is going to be worth even a first listen, let alone a highly sought spot on your prestigious record shelf. It takes something to be overwhelmingly interesting or catchy or relevant or famous to truly be great, doesn’t it? Well, if you’re listening to Love Streams, maybe it’s not so complicated. Some albums aren’t exactly famous, don’t have anything catchy, and maybe aren’t even something that’ll make your desert 50, but every time you listen to it, you feel lifted just high enough that gravity becomes irrelevant. Moments of joy interrupted by shots of colour and light are the best I can describe this album. It’s a trip that’s worth taking anytime, but probably enjoyed best between 3:00 and 4:00 AM. Opiates optional.
April 15: Royce Da 5’9 – Layers – If you would have told me in 1999, when I first heard Royce Da 5’9 on a track on Eminem’s Slim Shady LP that I’d be putting him on a best album list in 2016, I would have told you, “Psshhhtt! Man, get outta here!” And yet, I’ve listened to this album 116 times this year. A few rappers are going for the introspective, human-side thing lately, so it might be easy to dismiss this album as a bandwagon thing, but the tracks are actually good! The stories are good! The production is good! This is a surprisingly good album. Sorry I ever doubted you, Mr. Da 5’9.
April 15: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – This album is kind of incredible! The opening mixture of buoy bells, seagulls, and synthesizers giving way to this beautiful piano/guitar and those opening lyrics, “Hello my son, welcome to Earth.” I had no idea what I was getting into. The whole album is this gorgeous sea-coloured mixture of country-flavoured rock ballad R&B something something, ending in a big party. Some tunes are fun, some are heartfelt, all are good!
April 15: Suuns – Hold/Still For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to music that makes me feel a little uncomfortable: when vocals are a little out of tune, when timbres are a little dark, when content is a little messy. Montreal’s Suuns have got me covered. This isn’t the type of album you put on to entertain at a summer party… well, maybe if all your friends are messy, uncomfortable weirdos – which is entirely a possibility if you’re into songs where the only discernible lyric is the repetition of the word “instrument”, over a repeating synth bassline and very minimal drums. Despite being dark, uncomfortable, and simple, though, Hold/Still is quite fun to listen to. It’s often catchy, and something that would work well on a night drive between Canadian cities.
April 16: John Frusciante – Foregrow – I’d never heard of Frusciante before this release, and that’s a damned shame. This EP’s use of 101 basses and 606 drums immediately call to mind Aphex Twin. That’s where the similarity ends, though. This is more like if Aphex did pop music. Sort of. The tracks are catchy and sometimes have lyrics (something Aphex Twin never really does), but also have this great flow and musicality. There’s an on-and-off R&B vibe, with some guitar, and some other synth noises, while keeping things just too weird to be enjoyable for, say, people only looking for good R&B. I would maybe recommend this to either people looking for something new out of R&B or something new out of jammy synth stuff. Either way, I look forward to digging more into this guy’s work!
April 18: Alex Cameron – Jumping The Shark – “I am the drunkest, ugliest girl at the bar,” is my favourite line from Jumping The Shark. I can’t tell how much of this release is real and how much is made up. The ’80s casio piano bar singer and slightly distorted reel-to-real recording sound of this album would lead you to believe that he couldn’t be serious. Could he? Yet, as you listen, you get sucked into this seedy little world where characters (or Cameron, himself) give little tidbits of their personality or their evening. I could easily see this being the soundtrack to one of those low-budget, surreal ultra-arty movies that everyone secretly loves, but it never makes the A list. I expected to give no more than a passing listen, but ended up loving every second of it. Probably best paired with a really cheap vodka martini.
April 29: Dal Niente / Deerhoof – Balter/Saunier – Whenever new collaborations form, I always wonder how they came about. Did they meet at a music festival? Mutual friend? Did one reach out to another? However this recording came about, it turned out gorgeous! The mixture of Deerhoof’s signature insane, often complicated pop rock thing they do and Ensemble Dal Niente’s expert contemporary chamber stuff is part beautiful, part madness, and exactly the type of album I can’t wait to show friends – you know, so we can talk syncopation and stuff.
April 29: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times, Vol. 1 – The first of 5 Savage Times EPs released over the course of the year, Vol 1 gives us a glimpse of like stoner grunge, angry dance stuff, and something to sing along to. I’m officially intrigued, despite the fact that I don’t typically listen to stuff that sounds like this, so I put it in my back pocket, and take it out from time to time, just to rock out in between longer releases.
April 29: King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity – Again, I find myself listening to ’70s-inspired jam rock (something I’m generally not really into) and fucking loving it! The more you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean. This album is on fire and it has such a unique feel – especially for a brand new record. You kind of feel like you’ve just discovered something amazing from the golden era of marijuana-infused jam rock golden years that just got overlooked or shadowed by Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, etc. This is the type of album that your kids should find in your record collection years from now and get their minds blown!
May 6: ANOHNI – Hopelessness – This album is dark. I’m not talking about Suuns dark, I don’t mean Kaada/Patton spooky, and I don’t even mean The Body’s despair. The aptly named Hopelessness starts with a track addressing drone bombing, touches on topics of global warming, execution, lack of mercy, violence, global crises – and absolutely rips apart the fabric of your comfortable world. Very few artists are making music that with content that hits this hard. And to round it off, the instability and sometimes ruthlessness of Oneohtrix Point Never’s and Hudson Mohawke’s production makes this an absolutely great listen.
May 6: Death Grips – Bottomless Pit – Never shy to to give us all a big fuck you, Death Grips’ new album comes a year after they supposedly disbanded. And you know what? Good for them! I can’t get enough of their criminally insane experimental noise hip hop whatever. I don’t know that this album is really exploring new ground for them, but it’s fun and deserves a listen. Possibly not the two dozen or so listens that I’ve given it, but you know…
May 6: Kaytranada – 99.9% – In his early 20s, Kaytranada’s first major release is self-produced, features Anderson .Paak, BADBADNOTGOOD, (among several other notables), won the 2016 Polaris Music Prize, and has been acclaimed worldwide in the media. Go big or go home, I guess. The production is on point! Each track has a personality, while the album has a flow. Great listen.
May 6: White Lung – Paradise – Perhaps less on the punk edge than 2014’s Deep Fantasy, Paradise is a great melodic punk rock album. It’s still heavy as hell, but maybe more rounded. The songs are not overly complicated, yet easier to get lost in than a simple punk album. I love the dubbed vocals that go between unison and octaves, and I love that I can just as easily tap my foot and listen on headphones at work or blast in the car, with the windows down. I will continue to look forward to future White Lung releases.
May 8: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – It’s really exciting when Radiohead releases something new. They’ve reached legendary status. They’re somewhere at the top of pretty much everyone’s playlists – and with good reasons. Somehow their new releases never quite reach up to that golden era of OK Computer and Kid A, for me, but each new album still feels like I get a little bit of that back. A Moon Shaped Pool has some very Kid A moments with tracks like Daydreaming, and almost take me to OK Computer with Ful Stop. If this were some nobody band’s first release, I would probably tell everyone it’s one of the best things released this year. It is a really good album. But having their entire discography to compare it to, this album fits comfortably with the rest, but just does quite ascend into the realm of the mind-blowing good old days of Radiohead.
May 10: Tanika Charles – Soul Run – Yes! I love this new soul vibe! I could see Tanika Charles opening for Sharon Jones (R.I.P.), opening for Stevie Wonder. It’s not overly obvious, though. I mean, she’s not jumping right onto the soul revival bandwagon. She’s got her own style, it’s just heavily dipped in the best parts of classic R&B.
May 20: Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial – The band name alone was enough to draw me in. The fun tunes, simple singing and playing, clever lyrics, and some scattered horns and Pink Floyd reverb kept me listening. I feel like Teens Of Denial would make a great album-by-a-band-you’ve-never-heard-of-but-wish-you-had, if this album hadn’t kind of exploded for them. Good for long car drives, headphones at work or anywhere you just need a great rock album without feeling ashamed for listening to something corny and old (like Green Day or something).
May 20: Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone – Sometimes I put all tracks on random. Not sure what I want to listen to, you know. And for the most part, I can handle the schizo disorder of styles and sounds, but whenever a track from Skip A Sinking Stone comes on, I always find myself stopping what I’m doing and checking, “Who is this?” That’s because, while there aren’t really standalone tracks that really stick out from this album, each tune has this melty chocolatey nice feeling that always ends up being Mutual Benefit, when I check. I’d recommend this to anyone looking to get lost in a sound.
May 20: Andy Shauf – The Party – This album proves that Andy Shauf deserves every accolade coming to him. It’s thoughtful, interesting, it tells a story with good characters, it sounds like it was recorded in a studio with real musicians (a lot of his previous work was recorded solely in his parents’ basement) on real (acoustic/non-computer) instruments, and most importantly, it sounds like Andy Shauf: somewhat awkward, relatively simple, yet absolutely gorgeous. The party to which the album’s title refers may or may not have happened. It doesn’t really matter, because you end up following every word through this world of unrequited love, social awkwardness, loneliness, and togetherness. Something about Shauf’s unassuming manner mixed with expert word and songsmith are just irresistible and this album really shows what he’s capable of.
May 27: Olga Bell – Tempo – I didn’t see something this cool coming from an artist named Olga (no offense). To be honest, it might have been the name that drew me to listen to the album. I think it took about 30 seconds to hook me in though. The style is cool and her voice is quite suiting. There’s something about Tempo that reminds me of the ’80s. Not in that holy-fuck-not-another-retro-album way. More in the way she sings – her choice of melody. The music actually sounds modern. Not in that Skrillex-bores-me-to-tears way. More in that way that makes you want to get your dance on only after 2:00 AM has come and gone. She also sings about coffee. I like that.
May 27: Maria Usbeck – Amparo – This is such a cool album! A swirl of Afro-inspired South American percussion and instruments with modern pop, minus the obnoxious elements of modern pop. Sometimes, she sounds like Owen Pallett’s Spanish-speaking sister. Sometimes it feels like going to a folk music festival and watching this magical, unheard-of artist unfold layers of beautiful sounds before a smiling, mellow summer crowd. Overall, a lovely listen.
May 27: PUP – The Dream In Over – I don’t know if the title and some of the content of this album (eg, “If this tour doesn’t kill you, I will.”) are a hint at the end of PUP, but I honestly hope not. This band is so much fun, and the new album rocks! PUP, if the dream really is over, please come back to Regina before calling it all off. The Dream Is Over has all the best parts of modern punk. The word needs more of it.
May 27: Space Dimension Controller – Orange Melamine – This artist is new to me, and to be honest, if Orange Melamine hadn’t been released on Ninja Tune, I probably would have overlooked it (I have this bad habit of avoiding artists with bad stage names – only to find out they’re really fucking good). I’m really glad I didn’t. This glitched up, spaced out collection of tunes featuring audio samples from ’80/’90ss films, and drenched in ’80-inspired synth sounds is perfect for a release today. This falls under the category of: lots of people are doing something like this, but very few are doing it this well.
May 27: Holy Fuck – Congrats – I like people who aren’t afraid to make weird sounds and call it music. Holy Fuck have pretty much always had rock at heart, but the homemade electronics and love of noise keep them far enough from the mainstream, while still being just too irresistible to play on the radio (and known so well as “Holy F”, on the airwaves). While still noisy as hell, this album is admittedly closer to a pop rock album than I think they’ve gone for before. I don’t hold it against them, though. They haven’t lost their edge, they’re just trying other things along with the things we know and love them for. Well played, Holy Fuck. Well played.
June 3: Nomadic Massive – The Big Band Theory – Nomadic Massive is one of Canadian music’s best-kept secrets. I feel like they should be much bigger than they already are. Okay, they’re big in small circles: well-known to people seeking hip hop in Canada, and they’re slowly becoming better known, but c’mon world! I guess it has been 7 years since their last major release, so I can kind of blame them too. This impressive, multilingual, multicultural, Montreal-based combo shows off their chops on the new album: masterful rhymes, Latin grooves, nice harmony, cool tracks, jazz band instruments, little old school hip hop, little new school vibe… it’s all so good!
June 3: William Tyler – Modern Country – I could listen to this recording on the longest drive to nowhere, on repeat, forever. The country-flavoured jams and droning synthesizers make for such an easy-to-listen-to combo. There are no real choruses, no big denouements, just some A-B-A form and some real nice picking. This would go over really well for that late night afterparty jam at so-and-so’s house.
June 6: Huerco S. – For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) – Ambient music is kind of a lost art. Maybe because of its lack of appeal to most people. Admittedly, I don’t always go straight for Brian Eno or Aphex Twin at the beginning of the day, either (although I sometimes do). It’s nice to see that newer artists are still honing this craft. To the inattentive ear, this may just sound like a soothing wall of uninteresting, pretty sound. But to those who love to get lost in the subtleties of sculpted sound, For Those Of You Who Have Never… is poised to be a new favourite.
June 6: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt. 1 – The first of six unbelievably good EPs released as a series by Andrew Judah, this year, Metanoia, Pt. 1 already has me by the heart. The feel and incredible melody, mixed with haunting vocals, and intense, driving percussion, not to mention there are only 3 tracks, absolutely have me hooked. I expect great things from the rest of this series.
June 10: Astronoid – Air – I’ve always been a fan of mixed meter and mixed feel in music. Astronoid have mastered the latter of these techniques. The music is incredibly heavy – basically anything one could expect from a decent modern metal band: loud, one to two chord tunes, harmonic (a nice touch, not always present)… it’s the vocals that ice this cake for me. Rather than the typical blistering growl that accompanies this type of metal (think Killswitch Engage), Astronoid uses much lighter, slower, gentler vocals to accompany the onslaught of thrashing guitars and drums, creating this wonderful ambience not present in most heavy music. Yeah, they didn’t invent the style, but they’re sure as hell doing a good job of making me want to listen to it.
June 10: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times, Vol. 2 – I don’t listen to pop radio. If I did, however, I assume I’d have heard the lead track from this EP about a million times. It’s catchy, and it’s so good! Rock with a disco flavour and just the right amount of cheese. The other two tracks are just as fun, for different reasons. It’s like he’s the only sober person in a sparsely-populated bar, putting his whole soul into a few good rock tunes.
June 10: Moon Hooch – Red Sky – Saxophone-based rock music? You had me at “Sax”. We played a bit of Moon Hooch back in 2013, then kind of just lost track of them. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this new album that I remembered they exist. And that’s a damned shame! Their unique, dancy sax-heavy stuff they do is so up my alley! Red Sky should be memorized by music students studying saxophone or modern music. It’s not like it’s solely academic, though. This is just straight great, fun music made by three humans in an unusual ensemble!
June 15: Deerhoof – The Magic – Deerhoof is exactly my kind of crazy! I’ve been listening since 2007’s Friend Opportunity, but really became a fan with 2012’s Breakup Song, when I got that album for free, from Polyvinyl, for filling out an online survey (you may recognize one of that album’s tracks as the alternate Operation Manatee theme, when Cory isn’t in). Couple albums later and they continue to be super fun with simple lyrics, tricky rhythms, noisy bits, mellow bits, and uniqueness that makes them unmistakable for any other band. Good for you, Deerhoof, you lunatics!
June 16: Weaves – Weaves – I kind of think of these guys as Canada’s Deerhoof. I can’t help it. It’s like the two bands grew up together in high school or something. You’d never listen to Weaves and think you’re listening to Deerhoof, though. Weaves isn’t quite as rhythmically complicated or variable. They’re crazy fun to listen to though. This album is full of catchy, yet out-of-tune melodies, obnoxious solis, and tons of grit. Even the mellower tracks are a little off-key and too uncomfortable to be uninteresting. I would give this 3.5 out of 5 deer hooves.
June 17: Margaret Glaspy – Emotions And Math – This is one of the best albums released this year! From start to finish, Emotions And Math navigates through relationship stuff, personal demons, and, you know… feelings or whatever. The songwriting is a step above most, and even the simple rock combo instrumentation lends to the feel of this release. Some of the songs get stuck in your head as the catchy rockers they are (ie, Situation), while others tug those heartstrings (ie, Somebody To Anybody), and still get stuck in your head, yet you repeat them over and over. This album is just too good for one listen. The more you play it back, the better you know it, and the more you feel like you know her. Great album!
June 17: Mitski – Puberty 2 – I’d never heard Mitski before this album. Still haven’t, actually. I’d be interested to hear where this sound is coming from and if this album is the second coming-of-age for which it’s titled. It’s got this dated solo singer/songwriter rock tinge one might expect in an indie film or at an open mic night at your favourite local joint. Mitski’s style is hard to place, though. The whole album has the feel of bedroom/basement production, but is still part rock star. Maybe recluse rocker.
June 17: Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room – I love the imagination in this album. It’s dancy, playful pop music, but it’s boisterous, grandiose. Mvula’s great voice reminds me of a cross between Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine) and the perhaps lesser known Ingrid Helene Håvik (Highasakite), while the music doesn’t quite remind me of anyone. It’s synth-heavy, it’s surprisingly unique, it uses tricky chord changes, big, thick harmonies, and bouncy syncopated melodies. Lovely, interesting stuff!
June 24: DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall – While the legendary DJ Shadow has been around seemingly forever now, having been included on virtually every good DJ mix since the mid ’90s, I’ve never been more than a passing fan. It’s like I’ve always kinda dug the tunes, but have never been completely drawn in. I am a changed man. Nevermind the guest appearances by Run The Jewels, and Nils Frahm. Nevermind that he covers more stylistic ground than he ever has before. This is a motherfucker of an album! The personaility of these tracks makes it hard to pick a favourite. I like Nobody Speak for the inevitable badassness that RTJ bring, I like the experimentation in Depth Charge, I like the tricky as hell beats in Mambo and again in Depth Charge, I like the groove in Ashes to Oceans and Suicide Pact. Damn! This is a cool album – and not just for DJ fans, as plenty of DJ albums are. This is a cool album for anyone who likes experimentation in their groove.
June 24: River Tiber – Indigo – This album was a bit of a surprise for me. The first track (Genesis, appropriately) plays these three chords, almost like they’re easing out of a church pipe organ, but you can hear timbres of strings, saxophone, synthesizers. From there, the album continues on this rich, synth-filled harmonic journey, guided by R&B tendencies, and vocals that kind of make you think of Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio at the same time as Sade or John Legend. Another good one to get lost in over and over, hearing something different that you might have missed last time.
July 4: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt II – Fuck! I wish everyone were making music this cool! The second installment is no less intriguing than the first: melodies soaked in reverb, strong choruses, big chords, and vocal mixes that kind of remind me of silverchair’s more experimental days. This is lovely stuff!
July 8: BADBADNOTGOOD – IV – This group never ceases to impress me. It’s not the stellar musicianship, it’s not the mix of jazz and hip hop, it’s not their ambition, it’s not even the fact that they did a collab album with Ghostface Killah just last year; it’s the creativity! Not one band sounds like BADBADNOTGOOD, and if they sound close, it’s only because they’re emulating this great band. This new album just shows off the quartet in their best form. The ideas are fantastic! The sound is so fucking good! Worth every repeat listen.
July 15: Charlotte Cardin – Big Boy – Charlotte Cardin is going to come out of left field by next year. This is far better than I’ll admit I thought it would be. When I see a 22-year-old model decides to try out music and release an EP, I don’t exactly jump for chance to listen. It was when I heard the title track that I started jumping, and that’s not even the best this release has to offer. These 6 tracks have me sold. Cool style, good voice, and some killer production, and more than worthy songwriting. I underestimated you, Ms. Cardin.
July 15: Saul Williams – These Mthrfkrs: MartyrLoserKing – Remixes, B-Sides & Demos – I love musical surprises! Williams had mentioned in interviews that he was working on a number of things rooted in his January release, MartyrLoserKing, including but not limited to a play, book of poetry (which I also own), and ???. This release didn’t really get any lead-up press mention or anything that I saw. There was just a tweet one day from Williams with a link that led me to this collection of remixes, outtakes, etc. from the MartyrLoserKing sessions. I don’t know if it was intentional but I think this lack of announcement just adds to the intrigue into this world of hackers and artists. It’s like they’re still there, despite all the shit working against them, still making their art, still hacking. While this is a remix/b-side thing, it still deserves a spot on this list. Just make sure you listen to the original first.
July 22: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times, Vol. 3 – While each of the tracks on the Savage Times EPs have been short (none lasting longer than three and a half minutes), they’re always quite enjoyable, and just a little different for relatively simple rock. The third release sounds perfect for summer: it kind of lazier than the last two and it’s catchy and easy to get into. Nothing takes away from it’s energy though. The more I hear El Khatib, the more I want to see him perform in my town!
July 29: Kool Keith – Tashan Dorrsett – The Preacher – Back again to show us how sane he clearly is not, Kool Keith reprises his Tashan Dorrsett role and makes some ridiculous raps (“all them wigs get her spanked”) over beats so cool he decided they should be on the album twice. The first 8 tracks are simply repeated as instrumentals (cool for any DJs out there, I guess). It is a good album though. Production is bad ass, tracks are catchy (despite the lyrics), and let’s face it: rap needs innovators. There are definitely some out there, but there is only one as daring to be as different as Kool Keith.
August 1: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt III – Installment number 3 is no less intriguing than the last. These tunes are lovely, well-written, dark, catchy, and just really good. Little more than a guitar, a beat, a voice, and a healthy amount of reverb/delay create a special vibe.
August 10: Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things stk vol 1 / August 19: Kyle Dixon – Stranger Things stk vol 2 – This series has gotten a crazy amount of attention this year – and not just for being a cool, strange, original show – virtually every mention of the series includes the soundtrack. Reasonably so, I’d say. The use of music in the show is so intrinsic that it becomes part of the experience. It’s not just background fluff, it evokes emotion, expectation… Outside the show, the music is no less interesting. The super-heavy use of classic synths in a classic style call out to someone my age. Movies used to sound like this! TV shows used to sound like this! It wouldn’t be enough to just play bang out a bunch of chords on a Juno 106 though. This is imaginative, meticulously created sound for an equally imaginative show. Oh yeah, and there’s so much of it that they had to release it in two separate volumes! Neat, eh?
August 19: Crystal Castles – Amnesty (I) – Like anyone who had been a fan of the previous incarnation of this duo, I was a little skeptical to hear that Crystal Castles was releasing new material after losing half its membership (still waiting on a new Alice Glass album, by the way). Who ever heard of Edith Frances, anyway? Well, nevermind that. Crystal Castles is as dirty good as ever. The new duo continues down the road of lo-fi, gothy thing they do, clearly guided by Ethan Kath’s skilled hand. This album is easy to get lost in, and let your inner eyeliner-marked self go wild. My faith is restored and I continue to want to see Crystal Castles perform!
August 26: De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody – The world needs De La Soul. With only a handful of exceptions, hip hop being produced today is completely unoriginal, unimaginative, and just boring: yet another dead American art form, gone the way of jazz and rock. When De La Soul released their entire back catalog for free through their website a couple of years ago, it was like an awakening. We suddenly had access to enough good music from one legendary group that we collectively began to remember how good we had it. De La has been so emulated and redone by less imaginative ensembles that it’s no wonder they released a new album. After releasing all that music for free, we took a moment to stop listening to the wannabes and listen to the good stuff. They must have noticed, because surprisingly, they released this killer album. and the Anonymous Nobody features an unlikely assortment of guests, including Snoop, Usher, David Byrne, Damon Albarn, Estelle, and others, which is cool, but more importantly, it has that great, relaxed rhodes piano and cool as hell backbeat feel that made them so great in the first place. Hearing new De La Soul in 2016 is like a dream come true. Young rappers, listen the hell up! This is how it’s done.
September 5: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt IV – I’m not sure if he was going for a deeper meaning with each of these EPs’ constellation covers, but aside from tying all of these EP together, it’s really the music that keeps me coming back. The fourth installment has a nice synth poppy feel with no less reverb-soaked vocals. This may be the poppiest of the Metanoia EPs. I’ve yet to listen to them all in order, but I feel that should probably happen in the near future.
September 9: Snowblink – Returning Current – Snowblink has a sound unlike any of the other Canadian indies. The combination of Returning Current‘s frequent use of simple analog drum programming and repetitive synth chords, along with a fondness for bits of colour, in the form of melody or little bleeps and bloops of sound, distracting from the main feel are what keep me listening to Snowblink. The occasional use of brass and strings doesn’t hurt either. There are a lot of nice colours and ideas throughout this release, and they’re always weird enough to keep me listening again and again.
September 11: Royal Canoe – Something Got Lost Between Here And The Orbit – I was really excited for this release. This Winnipeg band continues to be imaginative, fun, and original. This new album progresses in pretty much the direction you’d expect from their previous work: they’re exploring further down the path they’ve already carved out for themselves, perfecting minimal beats, good vocals (with a little less vocoder, which is nice), and some songs that are so good, they’re actually hard to stop playing over and over. Great release!
September 15: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy – Pour yourself a cup of black tea, put some headphones on, find a comfy spot, close your eyes, and let yourself spiral into the deep sonic tunnels created by these two mistresses of ambient synth. In two lengthy jam tracks, they let their creativity overflow and let us come along for the ride. This is a super cool listen, and while I’m sure it would do well as a background to a work day, it’s best fully listened to without any distractions.
September 16: Die Antwoord – Mount Ninji And Da Nice Time Kid – There’s something about insane people who make music that we can’t resist. When these two first came across my youtube clicking frenzy, I never thought they’d be anything more than this weird thing I saw on the internet once. Little did I know they’d soon be hitting the big music festivals, and gaining the popularity they have. Even with all of this in mind, I wouldn’t expect much from them in the future, yet, here they are again, with another surprisingly enjoyable album. The production is top notch, and while the lyrics won’t earn a Nobel prize, they’re occasionally really clever (“Sometimes I get sad and I cut myself…. a piece of CAKE!”), and also dark. This is a fucked up album of fun tracks for unstable people.
September 16: Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust – I love Kishi Bashi! A few years ago, in yet another youtube clicking frenzy, I came across this video. Mind = blown! So, naturally, I’ve bought everything he’s released since. Sonderlust doesn’t disappoint. Actually, it exceeds expectation. I can’t stop listening to this album! The songs are musical, meaningful, memorable. The range in styles (’70s rock, modern pop, ’80s synth pop, classical, little bit of chiptune…) is almost as astonishing as the songwriting itself. This is easily one of the best albums released this year.
September 16: A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation – I knew A Tribe Called Red was going to release a new album, and was quietly waiting, with growing anticipation. What I did not know was that they were working on their strongest release yet. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that they’d already hit their stride and were just busy doing the thing they do. I didn’t see them coming with John Trudell, Black Ber, Yasiin Bey, Tanya Tagaq, or Saul Williams! Actually, holy fuck! I underestimated you, ATCR. Canada needed this album and we need you! We Are The Halluci Nation album hits hard as hell, and just doesn’t stop! The content is vital, the delivery is unmatched. Wow!
September 23: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times, Vol. 4 – Vol. 4 keeps the show going with three good, fun pop rock tracks. Each of these EPs just makes me wonder what is coming next. He’s got something good going on here. I dig it!
September 23: KROY – SCAVENGER – Over and over, I like musical surprises. While at first listen, some of the tracks on this album sound familiar (electro pop something something with female singer), some of the tracks on this album actually make me stop what I’m doing and pay attention. I hear some Portishead influence in here or Morcheeba, but I also hear a relatively unknown artist exploring what she can do with electronic pop music.
September 23: Vangelis – Rosetta – When the masters speak, we tend to listen. Rosetta came to be as a result of a conversation between Vangelis and astronaut André Kuipers, while Kuipers was aboard the international space station. With this lofty, surreal idea in mind, Vangelis takes us to space, and lets his imagination loose. This is the kind of thing that would inspire a younger great like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, but it’s also the kind of recording that lets the casual listener imagine something beyond us all.
September 27: Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition – Another surprise for 2016. I’d never listened to Danny Brown before, so went in blind. I’m always a little skeptical about new hip hop albums (and new jazz albums). It’s hard to do something great and new with an aging artform. Yet, this album has it. Atrocity Exhibition has originality, intent, crazy good production, a handful of badass guests (notably Kendrick Lamar and B-Real), and a relentless collection of tracks that show off that Brown is an original.
September 30: Bon Iver – 22, A Million – This band has been huge since their first release. Every time they do something (release, performance), it seems everyone who cares about music is talking about it. I tend to shy away from hype, so even after all this time, I was apprehensive listening to another new Bon Iver release, partly because of how excited everyone was getting. Again, I should just ignore the hype if it bugs me. This album is full of glitchy sounds, horns, percussion, samples, and vocoder – all done right. Start to finish, while the vocoder schtick does start to get on my nerves after a while, the album is super cool, full of great sound, good tracks (with excellent track titles, by the way), and just really good music! Stop reading my hype. Just listen.
September 30: Nicolas Jaar – Sirens – Sirens is a mind-blower! The 11-minute opening track was the first indication that I was getting into something good. The feel of this album is dark and warm, yet not entirely comfortable: the soulful singing, the reverb-drenched percussion, yet tight drums, the synthy basslines, the jammy feel, the ever-changing styles and instrumentation, THE EXPERIMENTATION – all of it stirs into this melt of supercharged musical invention. This is something no one else is quite doing. It falls into the make-believe category of “this is what I wish pop music sounded like.”
September 30: Machinedrum – Human Energy – As a general rule, if something is good enough to be on the Ninja Tune label, it’s good enough for me, so when Ninja Tune mentioned Machinedrum’s Instagram account, I started following. Within a couple months, a new album was mentioned, with little teaser videos posted on Instagram. Okay. Good enough for me to give a single listen. One is all it took. This album puts a big old goofy smile on my face as I shamelessly get my mothafuckindanceon on the public bus, at work, at home, walking downtown, driving the wife’s SUV – literally anywhere I happen to be listening to this. It’s just DJ dance producer stuff but it’s so damned good! The music is so well produced – I don’t know – it’s impossible not to start dancing to. Not just that though, when I got to a track called Spectrum Sequence, where a series of different timbres are preceded by simply speaking the words, “red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, etc.”, I just about lost my mind. Very cool stuff! Not like a lot of dumb dance stuff out there today. This is really cool!
September 30: Solange – A Seat At The Table – I’ve never really cared about or for Beyonce. It’s what I call uber-pop. It’s typically insincere garbage written and produced by unrelatable hit machines. Solange, on the other hand first had my attention with this super fun video. At that time, I wasn’t even aware she was sister to the whatsername. Sounds like she’s done being the goofy younger sister seen there, though. This album sounds like she’s past grown up and gone straight to great. Not only is the sound of this album (produced by her and Raphael Saadiq, Questlove, Q-Tip, David Sitek, and other A-listers) amazing, the content is on point, centering mostly on racial issues, but also on personal matters. This album covers a lot of ground. It sounds personal, yet it’s so widely relatable, and honestly likely to go down as one of the most important albums of 2016.
October 17: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt V – Starting with a punchy number that could have been released alongside an ’80s hit, ending with a syncopated synth thing, with a nice dark thinker in the middle, Judah continues to be ever the enigma. I keep hearing hints of Sufjan Stevens’ incredible 2015 release, Carrie And Lowell, throughout this series. Particularly clear in Lonely Light, on part V, here.
October 21: Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker – When I heard the lead, title single from this album, I thought, ‘This may be it. Leonard Cohen is done.’ I didn’t want it to be true, but when I heard, “I’m ready, my lord”, what else could I think? The album had not been out for four weeks when Cohen died, and immediately went to re-listen and re-listen and re-listen. Cohen has been one of my favourite artists, idols, and distant mentors since as long as I’ve ever sought to create. The man had a way with words I could never live enough to rival. In his last album, the Poet Laureate Of Misery gives us what only he could: his final words. The album opens with a very sardonic choir, has his signature charm and wit all throughout, and ends in a string ensemble. We couldn’t have asked for more. Yeah. We wanted it darker.
October 21: Agnes Obel – Citizen Of Glass – Big, flowing strings, vocal harmonies, playful melodies, sparse scoring, notes in exactly the right places. This album is something lovely in the dark – an album that piques curiosity, goes where others are afraid to look, and absolutely pulls you under with it. The water is warm, and the creatures here are lovely. Just let go and enjoy this beautiful album!
October 21: Tanya Tagaq – Retribution – Tanya Tagaq is exactly the kind of weird that Canada needs. The sounds she makes (ie, Inuit throat singing, non-pop experimentalism) are so jarring and intriguing that we don’t know to what she could even be compared. When someone asks you what kind of music Tanya Tagaq makes, what do you say? Is it Indigenous? Is is experimental? Is it noisy? Is it not even music? At times, I would say yes to any of that. Tagaq’s previous work has always made me a little prouder as a Canadian and as an experimental noise maker, but with this album I feel like I can finally say, you know what? The things that make Tagaq unlistenable to pop fans is exactly what I’m looking for in new music. Retribution is jammy, unrelenting, authentic, original, and fucking good!
November 11: A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – Late last year or early this year, there were rumours that there would be new Tribe – for the first time in nearly a decade! The rumours built. Then Phife Dawg died (fuck you yet again, 2016). Many a hip hop fan, including yours truly was crushed. Yet, these rumours persisted: new Tribe. What the fuck? How? Then it finally dropped. New Tribe Called Quest. For real. 2016. Holy fuck! Oh my god! Just like that, I was 16 again… yet, this album has current times written all over it (“All you black folks, you must go. All you Mexicans, you must go.”). It ends with a track called, The Donald for god’s sake. Just days after the horror that unfolded in the U.S. election, it was like hearing, Phife is gone, this insane motherfucker is about to have real, damaging power, but we’re still here, we will get through this, and Tribe still has your back! The album is full of politically-charged lyrics, signature Tribe energy, and relevance. 2017 will be hard, but we are going to fucking get through it with the help of ATCQ! It’s not just politics, though. This album’s got heart and power the whole way through.
November 25: The Weeknd – Starboy – So, The Weeknd kinda went popstar after those incredible 2011 mixtapes, yeah. Who could blame him, I guess? When you come out of nowhere with shit that good, I mean, who could say anything against it? Now that the popstar phase has worn off, though, I feel like The Weeknd, while no less boisterous, is back to being actually good. This album still has hip-pop written all over it, with its crunk influence, drug-infused lyrics, and party atmosphere, but it’s like the drugs are back to being good influences (don’t do drugs, kids). The creativity is back, it’s a little bit different than what he’s done before. This is good shit, and I’m feeling optimistic about the future of The Weeknd.
November 29: Andrew Judah – Metanoia, Pt VI – The final installation in the Metanoia EPs permanently cements my liking of Andrew Judah. Again, the style and feel of the tracks are impressive as hell! Listen to Metanoia right now. Just do it. Thank me later.
December 2: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times, Vol. 5 – It has been such a fun ride listening to each new release from Khatib. The punk tendencies, the pop feel… I love it. I’ve listened to each Savage Times release as a little 3-track EP, just as intended, but it obviously fits together as a fun collection, through all the volumes. Listen to these releases, back to back, and tell me you’re in a bad mood. You can’t, but I triple dare you or whatever.
December 16: Blitz The Ambassador – Diasporadical – I waited and waited and waited for this album. I knew this list would be incomplete without it. Not disappointed. Heavily inspired by his experience of being African in America (he’s from Ghana, y’all), this album exemplifies the best parts of what I love about music: it’s collaborative, it draws a variety of influences, it’s fun, it’s relevant, and it’s really, really good! I first heard Blitz by accident (youtube clicking frenzy – this song). But happy coincidence, Regina Folk Fest brought him in a few years ago, though the show was shut down after a few songs, due to weather. I’ve been paying extra close attention ever since. This album is a little more Africa, and a little less America, and I love every second.
December 25: Run The Jewels – 3 – Merry Christmas, motherfuckers! Surprise Christmas release? And it’s a free download? Hell! It’s a god damned miracle! This album is not the least bit surprisingly bad ass!! Sometimes an album doesn’t live up to the ridiculous amounts of hype that precede it. This is not one. It’s not just the guests (Danny Brown, Tunde Adebimpe, Kamasi Washington, etc.), it’s not just the signature bad-as-fuck production, and it’s not just the fact that we had to wait two whole years for another (proper) album (all respect to Meow The Jewels, of course): It’s that these guys consistently produce interesting music! Hell, it’s all of it. These guys are exactly what we need in hip hop, nay in music, just before 2017. Frankly, we wouldn’t make it without them!
5 thoughts on “OPERATION MANATEE MUSIC PRIZE 2016: THE LONG LIST”
Thanks for the kind words Chris! Glad you are enjoying the Metanoia series 🙂