Fall is essentially over, and with winter suddenly sliding its way into our lives, that means it’s getting close to the busiest time of the year: album of the year picks. For all those wondering, I’ve started compiling my favourite records from 2016 into a nice, organized list. I’ve got a few in mind to take over the top spot…
Plus, you can catch me as the recent guest on the Ottawa podcast Life After Rehearsal hosted by friends to the site Ben DiMillo and Stephen Adubofuor. They invited me to talk about Dusty Organ and all the fun and challenges I’ve faced over the past few years and you can check out their podcast here. Stay tuned for the episode!
DNCE – DNCE
For a lot of pop artists, they (a.k.a. their team) focus on an individual track and hope it causes a surge of record sales. And for many fans, the remainder of the album is a disappointment and that one hit is the only song given attention while the rest sit on a dusty shelf.
But when you’re a band composed of touring musicians for pop stars, and lead by one of the most famous faces in pop music, you’re probably going to have a debut album that exceeds the mediocre expectations of pop music. DNCE is that band, and their self-titled debut album certainly avoids sitting on the shelf.
Lead by Joe Jonas and backed by Jonas Brothers drummer Jack Lawless and guitarist JinJoo Lee, and bassist Cole Whittle, DNCE have technically been together since the early 2000s (aside from Whittle). With a lengthy friendship as the foundation, their debut album has the confidence and cohesiveness of a band that has been together for awhile but with a fresh face that certainly ditches the Disney-boy band persona.
Gluing together funk, dance, pop, and rock, DNCE is a whole ton of fun. Their lead single “Cake By the Ocean” took the world by storm, and even over a year or so later, it still has the same pep and irresistibility that spreads over to other tracks. Opening with a string of funk-pop tracks, like “Body Moves”, “Doctor You”, and “Toothbrush”, the album eventually shifts to more pop-rock and dance-rock tracks, releasing more and more energy with every track.
Although the front half of the record is where you’ll find the radio hits, the second half slows things down for “Almost”, “Naked”, and “Truthfully”, allowing Joe Jonas to share his pop-vocals in a more intimate fashion. Nevertheless, the party continues, and DNCE ends on a high-note, with “Pay My Rent” and “Unsweet” putting glossy pop as the final touches.
And if you ever need a solid pep-talk, put on “Good Day”.
Stream the full album via Spotify, and head to their website to get your copy.
Must-haves: “Cake by the Ocean” // “Blown” // “Good Day”
Highly Suspect – The Boy Who Died Wolf
After the shoulder-shrugging success of their Grammy-nominated debut album Mister Asylum (IMO: The Grammys don’t mean much nowadays anyway), Highly Suspect somehow popped up on people’s radars – but they’ve stayed for good reason. Proudly apart of the string of grunge/garage-rock revival bands, Highly Suspect put together pieces from the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, even prog-rock icons Pink Floyd, and much of their own flavour into their sophomore album The Boy Who Died Wolf.
Composed of twins Rich and Ryan Meyers and their friend Johnny Stevens, Highly Suspect create a lot of noise for a trio. Crunching guitars, punchy percussion, and scowling vocals are just the cherry on top of power-hungry riffs, and electrifying energy, and honest lyrics. Finding the bright side of pessimism, putting negativity and assholes in their place, and all the while, releasing a ton of good ol’ rock n’ roll energy, tracks like “My Name is Human”, “Viper Strike”, and “Postres” give character to the album and really put the attitude and edge of the band first and foremost.
Lead vocalist Johnny Stevens lets his voice ring on slow-burning tracks “Give Me An Angel” and piano ballad “Chicago”, demonstrating a pseudo-softside of the grunge-focus Highly Suspect.
On a superficial level, The Boy Who Died Wolf is a fairly basic rock album, especially considering most of the influence and sound comes from generations before them. But what makes the album their own is the personality that shines through the lyrics and the twisting, sporadic genre-splicing that occurs throughout the record. The amount of character and entertainment value on the sophomore album definitely holds up to the expectations set by their eyebrow-raising Grammy nods (but what does that really mean?)
Must-haves: “My Name is Human” // “Serotonia” // “Wolf”
Kevin Abstract – American Boyfriend: A Suburban Lovestory
I heard Kevin Abstract‘s lead single and opening track “Empty” for the first time last week and it captivated me. Starting off his sophomore album American Boyfriend, the ballad-like song layers together emotion with experimentation, and its swelling chorus and blur of hip-hop, R&B, and pop gives it a slight sense of nostalgia that forms some sort of bond between the listener and Abstract – even if you can’t quite relate to the story in the song.
And although the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach that level of sincerity, the experimental-meets-singer/songwriter hip-hop/R&B style of Abstract’s music gives American Boyfriend an unpredictable side, and a seamless flow; it’s as if Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, and Childish Gambino were on repeat while Abstract produced the record.
With a handful of interludes scattered throughout the tracklist, Kevin Abstract glues together the tracks with these snippets, each leading into songs surrounding relationships, homosexuality, coming-of-age, and being yourself in minimalistic fashion and through storytelling.
Must-haves: “Empty” // “Papercut” // “Miserable America”
DAWN – Redemption
Making her start as a member of R&B-pop group Danity Kane, DAWN (a.k.a Dawn Richard) has made a name as a solo artist with her ambitious future-pop sound. Combining pop, EDM, R&B, house, grime, and anything else she sees fit into her music, her third solo album Redemption is a fascinating and welcomed addition to the alt-pop genre, as Aphex Twin, Rihianna, and Ibeyi come to mind as the album moves between textured electronic beats and sultry, female-forward energy.
Including a feature from the ever-so talented Trombone Shorty on the closing half of “LA”, Redemption has countless strong points throughout the record. Between the glossy, yet glitchy electronic pieces, and dynamic dance music that finds its influence from across the map, DAWN seems to be in her own universe; but that only adds to the alluring appeal of her energy and creativity. The crushing bass of “Renegades” and “Lazarus”, or the tricky electronic gleams of “Voices” and “Black Crimes” makes you shift and move between places, but only craving to get more and more lost in her music.
Must-haves: “Black Crimes” // “LA” // “Renegades”
The Gentle Hits – The Gentle Hits
Indie folk rock group Dear And the Headlights disbanded quite a few years ago, and fans of the Phoenix-based ensemble were left feeling slightly abandoned. A few years later, DATH frontman Ian Metzger and drummer Mark Kulvinskas announced they had joined forces with James Mulhern of What Laura Says, and Wayne Jones for the musical project The Gentle Hits. With Metzger’s raspy, rock n’ roll voice at the helm, they put folk music into a much louder and bigger universe, which fans of Deer Tick and Band of Horses will certainly enjoy.
The Gentle Hits is like a kitchen party taken over by spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis and the subtle twang of Avett Brothers.
Stream the full album here and head to their website to get your copy.
Must-haves: “Small Minute Given Up” // “All That Information” // “Walk Out”
Rapsody – Crown
North Carolina rapper Rapsody earned herself a feature on Kendrick Lamar’s stunning To Pimp A Butterfly, because, well, she’s one talented chick and has a way with social consciousness and rhyming. Known by many in the underground hip-hop community, and catching the eye of Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation over the summer, Rapsody’s new mixtape Crown has been generating some worthwhile buzz. Translating the issues and conflicts of being Black in America into quality hip-hop, it won’t be long until the rapper becomes apart of the mainstream hip-hop community. Crown is bold, compassionate, and articulate, as Rapsody makes her stance clear through powerful hip-hop tracks and with a little help from her friends (Ab-Soul and Anderson .Paak to name a few).
Listen to and download a free copy of the mixtape here.
Must-haves: “Tina Turner” // “2 A.M.” // “OooWee”