30. Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Release date: December 25, 2016
Hip-hop power-duo El-P and Killer Mike spent most of 2016 riding the success of last year’s RJT2, while also teasing fans and hinting at third album sometime in the future. And along with Santa Claus’ arrival bringing gifts, the veteran pair left their third instalment under the trees of fans with a free download on Christmas morning. Sneaking their way onto the Top 50, Run the Jewels have held on to their hard-hitting combination. With El-P once again at the helm of production, the album is dense with electronic, complex beats and energy, while the two playful take turns running through creative wordplay and politically charged lyrics.
Favourite track: “Legend Has It”
29. Hamilton / Rostham – I Had A Dream
Release date: September 23, 2016
You might recognize both names in this unlikely duo: Hamilton Leithauser is the growly-voiced former frontman of The Walkmen, and Rostam Batmanglij is the former multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter from Vampire Weekend. Although the music of their previous full-time gigs may not exactly compare, the match they find working together on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine puts that all to the side and seems to begin from square one.
The two pals meet in the middle on the new record: Rostam’s love for layered guitar and keyboard tracks, and his classical training coming out in the form of subtle hints of sonatas in his piano playing, while Leithauser’s Americana love edges his voice and his songwriting tracing the outline of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The mix-match pair of two solo artists is what gives the album such a rich character and personality. If you listen closely, you can hear the distant call-and-response echoes across the canyon of music between The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend on each track.
Favourite track: “A 1000 Times”
28. The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
Release date: February 26, 2016
Without reinventing the wheel, the Dirty Nil generate a new burst of energy into the punk scene. Influenced by the music of Fugazi, Black Flag, and a timely upbringing during the 2000’s alternative rock era, the album jumps around between sub-genres of grunge, alt-punk, and even a dabble of hardcore. Higher Power is a dopamine-filled, brain-bashing blitz of organic punk n’ roll, following the trail of other great youth-punk bands such as PUP, FIDLAR, and Modern Baseball. Just as PUP’s debut record launched them into a frame of success, The Dirty Nil have released their own catapult.
Favourite track: “Zombie Eyed”
27. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Release date: February 14, 2016
Love him or hate him, Kanye West has been one of the most monumental names in pop culture and hip-hop. His progressive outlook on the genre has maintained his status as a significant producer and rapper, regardless of the handful of releases that have fallen short of the target. His seventh album The Life of Pablo was certainly an improvement from Yeezus, and although still glossed with his gigantic ego and all-consuming need to be the biggest and best, it was an entertaining release nonetheless. I still miss the old Kanye, but this will do.
Favourite track: “Ultralight Beam”
26. Solange – Seat at the Table
Release date: September 30, 2016
With J Cole, Frank Ocean, and Common, amongst other R&B/hip-hop artists releasing powerful, socially conscious music, Solange took front and centre with her third studio album Seat at the Table, providing a female perspective in the Black community. With 9 interludes framing the album into parts, her album is an adventurous R&B release. Solange Knowles’ voice sweeps between soft and gentle harmonies to strong-footed soul and gospel qualities, making her songwriting shine via her vocal prowess.
Favourite track: “Junie”
25. July Talk – Touch
Release date: September 9, 2016
After their wild entrance in 2014 with their self-titled debut, Toronto alternative rock powerhouses July Talk ignored the sophomore slump myth with Touch. Matching the contrasting intensity of their black and white aesthetic, the album ripped through each track, as the combination of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay once again proved to be an unstoppable force. And although the sound of Touch is somewhat familiar, it still remains unpredictable, namely with the help of the alternating vocal responsibilities, but also in structure, as the album moves from sweet, groovy alt-rock to smooth serenading, and builds momentum with blasting rock n’ roll. The subtle, yet varying style differences keeps Touch moving forward and is the driving force behind its power and appeal. As a band that never ceases to amaze during their live performances, July Talk transfer the energy and authenticity of their live sound onto the record, keeping effects and layered tracks to a minimum, and holding onto the gritty, raw vocals of Dreimanis and Fay.
Favourite track: “Picturing Love”
24. Adam Betts – Colossal Squid
Release date: November 25, 2016
Often times, music fans are fairly skeptical and weary of drum solo albums, often finding it overwhelming and difficult to follow (or the other end of the spectrum, basic and boring). But Adam Betts pushes past what the drum kit can do by discovering what it can create with other musical elements and most of all, its melodic abilities.
On Colossal Squid, Betts’ percussion finds a similar aesthetic and familiarity for Three Trapped Tiger fans, and masterfully captures the melodic components as well. Along with a handful of synths and loops providing some additional layers, most of the songs on the album get its bulk from behind the kit. It’s almost like an aggressive trance-meets-drum n’ bass album that is as hypnotic to listen to as it is to watch (you can find live studio cuts of all the tracks on his YouTube channel). With only 7 tracks, Colossal Squid is a short, but conscience record that accomplishes so much, blurring the lines between electronic music and live performance.
Favourite track: “FUB”
23. Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling
There’s this weird part of me that loves articulate, instrumental progressive rock. It’s so captivating and engaging and relentless. But it has to be just right. Anything too over the top takes away from the enjoyment, and anything too simple is often boring and repetitive.
Every so often comes along an album that fits the criteria; this year, London, England trio Three Trapped Tigers steal the show with their sophomore full-length Silent Earthling. And as the name suggests, it seems to come from another planet. Intergalactic effects and synthesizers create a star-grazed backdrop for their intricate instrumentation. Dense effects often reserved for metal and hardcore music take on a new role as Three Trapped Tigers create uplifting melodies and tangled webs of vibrant textures in a less aggressive setting – although it’s still easy to thrash around to.
Favourite track: “Engrams”
22. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
Release date: May 20, 2016
Some albums have personality. Teens of Denial is a personality. Fronted by Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest is an interesting combination of indie rock, singer-songwriter, drug-trip stories, and refined honesty.
It’s smart, easy to relate, and easier to enjoy. Let Toledo do the talking…
Favourite track: “Vincent”
21. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Release date: January 15, 2016
Hands down one of the busiest guys of the year, Anderson .Paak’s countless successes of 2016 all point to his breakthrough release Malibu. His strengths range from soul to funk to and hip-hop, and his gritty, soulful voice transfers gracefully between genres on the record. The hearty 16-track effort features a handful of noteworthy collaborations as well, including BJ the Chicago Kid, The Game, and ScHoolboy Q, adding to the widespread style of the record. His skill behind the kit, keys, and mic showcase how talented of a musician 2016’s biggest breakthrough star truly is and although his sophomore release, Malibu undoubtedly put the Californian on the map.
Favourite track: “Am I Wrong”
Challenge: Count all the albums in the Top 50 that Anderson .Paak is featured on (hint: *)