10. Wintersleep – The Great Detachment
Release date: March 4, 2016
After the growing success of their previous discography, Wintersleep set out to create a spirited and more organic effort by recording live-off-the-floor. The result: their best record yet.
Their energy on stage and sonic presence was almost perfectly transposed into The Great Detachment. Anyone can fill an album with sound and effects, but Wintersleep feverishly stitch together percussion, guitars, keys, bass, and lead singer Paul Murphy’s grizzly vocals into a quilt of rhythm and melody.
Favourite track: “Amerika”
9. Glass Animals – How To Be A Human Being
Release date: September 2, 2016
Although titled as such, the new album from U.K. indie synth-pop group Glass Animals is not an instruction manual. Instead, How To Be A Human Being is a paradigm shift of sorts, re-telling stories and interviews into music through the eyes of the characters – in this case, frontman and producer Dave Bayley. While on tour in support of their 2014 debut ZABA, Bayley recorded countless conversations and stories from strangers. Bayley developed characters, devoting hours into these fictional beings for each of the songs. So with 11 tracks in hand, How To Be A Human Being is as diverse and detailed as a group of 11 individuals would be.
Known for the glossy, tranquil mix of electronic and indie rock found on their debut record, Glass Animals have taken it up a notch, incorporating layers of added sonic details against their stealthy hooks. Surprisingly simple, yet catchy melodies act as the skeleton for each song, working the subtleness of their appeal to draw the attention to the soft, silky voice of Bayley and the hypnotizing range of synthetic textures.
How To Be A Human Being is equal parts personality and hits, dabbling into the realm of concept album, but without the oft-accompanying pretentiousness or dizzying complexity. Like a chocolate mousse cake, the album holds deeper layers, both musically and conceptually, below a coating of chocolatey goodness that is the ear-pleasing indie synth-pop. Listeners can delve deeper into the rich layers if they so choose, but will still be left satisfied with the surface.
Favourite track: “Youth”
8. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Release date: May 13, 2016
The best part of Coloring Book is Chance’s familiar bounce. His vibrant, and unique delivery forms the foundation of the album, bringing together retro-soul influences with the modern production tactics in this adhesive, time-blurring fashion. Lead single “Blessings” has a Ray Charles-era swing, while a number of tracks feature the soul-touching voices of gospel choirs (“All We Got”, “Angels”, and “How Great” for example), and groovy, summer-time hit “All Night” hints back to the early days of house music (a fitting link, with house rooting back to the Chicago club scene).
There is a reason why Chance is a prominent and relevant name in American hip-hop: he’s very good at what he does. Simple put, his awareness, poeticism, and homegrown talent will be looked back in music history as an influential stamp in time, just like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly or Kanye West’s College Dropout. And I’m sure I’ll be listening to this record for many years to come.
Favourite track: “All Night”
7. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service *
Release date: November 11, 2016
With most of the album recorded before the passing of MC Phife earlier this year, We Got It From Here… is able to hold on to the group’s defining sound and characteristics, even almost 30 years later. As undeniable influences and pioneers for modern hip-hop artists, A Tribe Called Quest refuse to change their style – and frankly, they don’t need to. With the word “throwback” written all over it, We Got It From Here… returns to the ’90s and still comfortably plants itself in 2016. Relevant lyrics, and poignant delivery, the new two-disc LP features the likes of Andre 3000 and Busta Rhymes for a dose of nostalgia that illustrates why the trio have stood the test of time, and the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West as they contribute to their heroes’ work.
Favourite track: “Kids…”
6. Kaytranada – 99.9%*
After winning the Polaris Prize this year, Montreal DJ Kaytranada rocketed into the minds and ears of electronic and dance music fans with his irresistible and ever-changing album 99.9%. Mixing together soul, funk, hip-hop, pop, and whatever else he feels fit, Kaytranada has as much fun putting sounds together as people have dancing to them.
Favourite track: “Together”
5. A Tribe Called Red – We Are the Halluci Nation
Release date: September 16, 2016
We Are the Halluci Nation functions as both a record to party to and a record that makes a political statement. As the members of A Tribe Called Red are proud members of the Indigenous community, and heavily involved in political discussions and campaigns in support of their culture, their music shares their passion, and pride. Drawing from the music and dance of their heritage, the trio of 2oolman, Bear Witness, and DJ NDN are continuing to close the gap between First Nation’s and their neighbours. They also worked with a handful of artists from around the world, that are connected to their respective First Nation’s communities, including Sweden and Australia, making the Halluci Nation project an international collective. And what better to do when connecting people from around the world? Dance, of course.
Incorporating aspects from dubstep, moombahtom, reggae, and hip-hop, A Tribe Called Red have created an album of wall-to-wall club hits, as the bass threatens to blow out the speakers. The density of Halluci Nation requires a handful of listens to reach the core, but with so many hard-hitting electronic hits worked in means that will happen anyway. Not only was one of the best electronic albums of the year, but also one of the best politically-focused albums of 2016.
Favourite track: “R.E.D.”
4. Royal Canoe – Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit
Release date: September 16, 2016
On their latest record Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit, Royal Canoe wanted to focus more heavily on vocals and drums – the two dominating features of their sound. It still holds onto those signature qualities: two percussionists, mix-matching vocals, and unpredictable effects on guitars and keys, and the familiaritiy of their sound is what gives Something Got Lost such a powerful first step, along with other influences outside of indie rock coming into play, with slow-burning hip-hop, and playful jazz rhythms.
Royal Canoe have once again delivered an impressive addition to the Canadian music scene, reaching new boundaries with their sound that everyone can enjoy.
Favourite track: “Somersault”
3. Jack Garratt – Phase
Release date: February 20, 2016
As the saying goes, if you want something done properly, just do it yourself.
British multi-instrumentalist Jack Garratt takes that to heart when writing his music. A guitar, a keyboard, a drum machine, and a soulful voice make up Garratt’s toolbox on his debut record Phase. Combining elements of electronic, alternative, and heart-felt lyricism, his music is something heard before, but in a refreshing way. All of the songs from Phase share a similar resemblance: trembling bass drum, blues-inspired guitar riffs, and Garratt’s cool, British vocals that can turn on a dime into something bigger. But even with the subtle cookie-cutter recipe, each song has its own character and charm that keeps the listener on his or her toes.
It is no surprise that BBC named Jack Garratt the sound of 2016; his fusion of the most striking and popular genres has a massive effect on the intensity and display of passion in his music. And although he is at his best when balancing his guitar, drums, and keyboards, Garratt leaves a raw performance on his debut release.
Favourite track: “Weathered”
2. Lawrence – Breakfast
Release date: March 11, 2016
Brother and sister duo Clyde and Gracie Lawrence grew up listening to the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Wonder, and it certainly shows in their music. The sibling pair along with their friends create dynamic and personalized soul-pop that are nothing short of fun and addictive. Their debut record Breakfast captures the band’s youthful energy and shares it through storytelling, groovy melodies, and jaw-dropping talent. Clyde’s raspy, yet slick vocals contrast beautifully with his sister’s sweeping, angelic harmonies as they take turns leading the album forward.
With close to 50 listens over the past few months, Breakfast is a collection on soul-pop gems that has made its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.
Favourite track: “Superficial”
1. PUP – The Dream is Over
Release date: May 27, 2016
Having a doctor tell you “the dream is over” is probably one of the worst things to hear as a professional musician. Just ask PUP‘s lead singer Stefan Babcock, who after singing, screaming, and shouting day after day was told he would have to quit music or lose his voice forever after a serious cyst had grown in his throat. But there are two types of people in the world: those that would take the medical profession’s advice and head home, and those that would eventually decide to say “fuck it” and keep doing what they’re doing. Thankfully Babcock is the latter.
After the whirlwind success of their 2014 self-titled debut, PUP have spent the last two years touring extensively (that is an understatement – 450 shows in less than two years is more than extensive) and the nomadic lifestyle has become the creative inspiration for their sophomore album The Dream Is Over. That, and Babcock’s surprise throat issues…well…basically, everything that went wrong over the past two years has been transformed into blood-pumping, chord-smashing, drum bashing, punk music. In a genre that would normally crank out depressing, angry songs in frustration, PUP instead said “let’s have some fun while the past burns behind us”.
Favourite track: All of them.