2016. One of the best years for music and equally one of the worst. First the bad (it's something we're all very aware of by now), 2016 took some of music’s brightest stars: Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones to name a few. But as these stars faded we are left with the incredible soundtracks they enriched our lives and the world with forever.
2016 also produced an amazing amount of really good music. 75 albums made by ‘Best of 2016’ playlist, versus 53 albums in 2015.
What does it take to become a favourite album for me? Every January I start a new playlist and begin filing it with my favourites. More than anything it should evoke a feeling and ignite me to want another listen. There have been moments where at first listen (Weezer, Tragically Hip, Brian Fallon) I almost dismissed their records after a single spin. However something prompted (by a recommendation, a review, a radio spin) a re-listen, with maybe a different frame of mind or new surroundings, on a second take the albums became standouts, making the list.
Here is my Top 16 (thanks for the idea DLG to make it 16) for 2016:
16. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) is a completely new artist to me. Freetown Sounds is one of those albums that was popping up everywhere when it was released and that prompted me to give it a listen. And I’m thrilled I did. It is a personal, soulful, R&B, funky filled album of a man searching for answers and trying to make sense of the world.
15. A Seat at the Table – Solange
This is an album that now stands firmly in the top spot on many year-end lists. From her stunning Saturday Night Live coming out live performance, to the 21 songs and interludes that make up this album, Solange proves she is a formidable musician with a talent for delivering personal themes and stories through her songs.
14. Voice of the Void – Anciients
The only heavy metal to make my Top 16 (the only other to make the overall list was GOJIRA’S ‘Magma’; sorry Metallica) was Vancouver’s purveyors of all things metal: Anciients.
13. Views – Drake
Views is billed as a sort of concept album of the time between the changing seasons, Winter to another Winter, in Drake’s beloved hometown ‘The 6‘ (Toronto). There were better Hip-Hop albums this year (see below ATCQ, Chance and Kanye) but Drake still managed to put a stake in the snow for a top sounding rap album with 'Views'. Drake’s seemingly effortless flow, and the fact that it sounds like he’s actually enjoying himself now, made 'Views' one of my favourite albums of 2016.
12. Man Machine Poem – The Tragically Hip
It was a tough year for Hip fans as we found out the legendary-front-man, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with brain cancer. A triumphant cross-Canada tour culminating with a CBC televised Kingston, Ontario concert allowed us to share in The Tragically Hip soundtrack once again, all together. We shared ‘Man Machine Poem’ and the solace of hearing the band get together to create one of their best albums in years. Songs like Tired as Fuck, In a World Possessed By the Human Mind and the absolute standout Machine make up the best Canadian album of 2016.
11. Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
Released as his third mixtape (with a working title of Chance 3), 'Coloring Book' sounds like a Chance victory lap. Coming off one of the best verses on Kanye’s TLOP, and a triumphant Saturday Night Live performance, 'Coloring Book' is a tight album of gospel infused Hip-Hop with a message. With young guys like Chance and Kendrick in the game, Hip-Hop is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
10. Blonde – Frank Ocean
Momentum started to build online that something was happening in the Ocean camp. Then there it was: a 45-minute visual album, Endless. It was sparse sounding but still weaved that beautiful Frank Ocean texture throughout. Word soon came that an actual Ocean album was imminent. Blonde (or Blond depending on where you see or read it) is a long way from Ocean’s fantastic Channel ORANGE album. It's exactly what he and we needed. Similar to the #1 album on this list, Ocean had immense pressure to follow up on the previous album. Delivering an album that demands a deeper listen, with a sparseness of almost no drums at times, Ocean has created a treasure of sounds.
9. Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop
Iggy and Bowie release albums in 2016 and they’re both great?! 2016 indeed delivered that feat. Iggy managed to find the fountain of youth and turn back time with help from Josh Homme on Post Pop Depression.
8. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest
Something I didn’t think we would see in 2016: a new A Tribe Called Quest record. But there it was, right under the wire coming out in November, shortly after the early passing of Phife Dawg. It was as if 18 years hadn’t passed since The Love Movement and Tribe had been sound-tracking the 2000’s all along. Tip, Dawg and the all-star guests are most definitely on-point here.
7. Malibu – Anderson .Paak
First hearing .Paak on Dre’s 2015 Compton album, I was immediately struck at the uniqueness of his voice. .Paak has the spotlight on a full length album and he completely shines. Mxing R&B and Hip-Hop, .Paak delivers one of the grooviest albums of 2016.
6. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
Any year with a new Radiohead album is a good year. Thom and the boys came back in what seems to be a theme of 2016 music: sparseness (Kanye’s TLOP excluded of course). Letting songs have a texture and simply grow within themselves with subtle but rich sounds. As has been the case on the last few Radiohead albums, songs or portions of songs fans have been exposed to live now showed up on A Moon Shaped Pool. Burn The Witch and the absolute standout album closure True Love Waits both finally get the studio album release.
5. Blackstar – David Bowie
We began 2016 with this amazing album from David Bowie. Two days later he was gone. He kept his cancer secret from fans, instead choosing to use this album as a swan song and ‘parting gift’ for his fans. Knowing that now, Blackstar continues to reveal the layers of Bowie’s parting gift, lyrically and even within the deluxe beautifully constructed vinyl packaging.
4. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
Few artists have sound-tracked the 2000’s for me like Mr. West. Lyrically this album is a mess at times. But sonically it doesn’t get any better. Is it long? Yes. Too long? Probably. But what a journey West weaves on this never quite finished 2016 masterpiece.
3. Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Heartbreaking. Stark. Healing. It’s impossible to know what Nick Cave is dealing with after the death of his teenage son. Skeleton Tree (and the accompanying documentary, One More Time With Feeling) shines a light into the process of moving on from immense sadness and traumatic loss. The bravery Cave shows for bringing us along on this search for healing as he confronts death is remarkable. The result is an extremely moving and powerful album.
2. Lemonade – Beyoncé
Rarely to do we see stars, that the public views as near royalty, reveal their dirty laundry. Beyoncé delivered the ultimate ‘Fuck You’ and eventual reunification album of 2016. Lemonade is a helluva fun ride with musical twists and help from Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and James Blake. Beyoncé delivers the best album of her career. At times it’s country themed, others straight ahead rock and then anathematic R&B. It all gets squeezed across Lemonade’s 12 songs. Now let’s get in formation!
1. 22, A Million – Bon Iver
Justin Vernon has achieved 34 minutes of music perfection. What it must have been like to have the pressure to follow up his stunning sophomore self-titled album, we can't even image. Instead of repeating Bon Iver, Vernon’s philosophy was to make it a complete transformation and the results are beautiful. Vernon has put so much thought into each sound and word, and how they bleed into the next. It creates a running theme through each song as our protagonist ponders and reflects on ‘self understanding’. The mathematical design of the album cover and abstract song titles only work to build upon the magic of this package. No album sounds like 22, A Million. No album has received more spins from me in 2016. And as we approach 2017, 22, A Million shows no signs of slowing down.