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This Year Can Go, But The Music Can Stay: Top 10 Albums of 2016


2016 was a trying year for many people for many reasons, and while music can’t solve our problems it can certainly provide a reprieve and help usher us through rough times.

I spend a huge chunk of my day on Apple Music, listening to albums I’ve saved or searching for new ones, and with countless hours invested, and the year coming to a close here are my top 10 albums of 2016. An exceptional year of music worth celebrating.

10. Andy Shauf – The Party

Introspective, spacious, moody and orchestral, The Party by Saskatchewan native Andy Shauf, shimmered its way into 2016. And although it came out this year, it could easily be spinning on a record player in some sunken living room during the 70s.

The Party is aptly named, as a chunk of the album takes place in a house party. The picture of the house party is painted from the perspective of an introvert sitting back and taking it all in. He’s someone who is likely a bit drunk, anxious and uncomfortable. We see this strewn throughout the album in songs like, ‘Begin Again’ where he takes a regretful look at himself and sings, “listen to this half-wit, spilling his guts after a bottle of wine, thought this would be a good time, now I can’t finish my drink.”

With a distinctive knack for crafting a song and telling a story, Andy Shauf is an exceptionally special songwriter and an old soul who’s years ahead of his time. He’s just hit his stride, and that’s something anyone with ears should be excited about.

Favourite Track: The Worst In You

9. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Montreal producer Louis Kevin Celestin, known to most as Kaytranada, took home the $50k Polaris Prize in September for 99.9% The prize is annually given to the best full-length Canadian album as judged by a select jury of Canadian music journalists. And while he seemed to be in complete and sincere shock after winning, it wasn’t really that big of a surprise to anyone who listened to the album. For me, it was one of the best ass-shakin’ feel-good albums of the year and the perfect Summer time company as I wandered around Toronto.

Although he seemed to emerge from nowhere, Kaytranada has been making waves for a couple of years. Landing a deal with XL Recordings in 2014 planted the seed for this colourful, diverse, mega jammy and incredibly fun album, which includes features from Craig David (yes you read that right), Anderson Paak, AlunaGeorge, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon and others.

The ambitious album slingshots into a bunch of different genres suck as, electronic, 90s dance/house, funk, tropicalia, r&b and hip-hop. For most producers, presenting such a wide range of music would spread them too thin, in Kaytranada’s case, 99.9% benefits tremendously from it as do its listeners.

Favourite Track: Lite Spots

  1. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service

“Holy shit! Yes!” are pretty much the thoughts that came to mind when I heard ATCQ were releasing a new album this year. Without a doubt they’re my favourite hip hop related anything ever, I grew up on albums like Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory. After seeing the tumultuous unraveling of the group in the 2011 doc Beats, Rhymes & Life I wasn’t holding out hope for a reunion, so when it happened my mind jumped into the sky and clicked its heels.

Recorded before ATCQ member Phife Dog’s passing in March (2016 was brutal for that) We Got it from Here is another album that deals with political consciousness and race in a brilliant way. It sets the tone from the first verse of the album, “it’s time to go left and not right, gotta get it together forever” until the last verse. The album also enlists some of the World’s brightest musical talent, collaborating with the likes of Jack White, Andrew 3000, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, their old pal Busta Rhymes and the list goes on and on and on…

Although you never really know what to expect after a group is apart for so long, We Got it from Here dropped and it was like order was restored, as if they never left. And although there’s a bittersweet realization that it’s their final album, for now I’m okay with forgetting the years they weren’t around.

Favourite Track: We the People

  1. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

Dev Hynes is a force. His third album, Freetown Sound is further proof of that, once again putting all of his skill and sensitivity on display. An amazing vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and dancer, Hynes is one of the most creatively free people making music at the moment, and perhaps one of the most vulnerable. His confidence and comfort in his own skin bursts through, and like anyone, really knowing who you are seems essential to producing amazing work.

Thematically similar to Solange’s, A Seat at the Table, Freetown Sound dives into a prevalent theme of race, sexism and homophobia specifically. When he announced the record on Instagram, he did so with the caption that the album was for, “everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way …” He confronts those issues head-on throughout the album through songs like, ‘By Ourselves,’ ‘Augustine,’ ‘With Him’ and ‘Hands Up’ just to name a handful.

Freetown Sound is a stunning and personal statement piece from beginning to end. And whether it’s through his singing, musicianship or choreography, Blood Orange seems to have a uniquely beautiful way to let you know exactly what’s on his mind.

Favourite Track: Augustine

  1. Kanye West – Life of Pablo

Kanye. West.

Reading that name likely conjures up some strong feelings, whether good or bad. Since the beginning of his career I’ve been in the pro-Yeezy camp, and have made every excuse in the book for him. But lately my friends, I don’t know, especially with the whole Trump meeting, I just don’t know…Honestly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about The Life of Pablo, but I had to, it’s just too good not to.

Regardless of what you think of what you know of him, this much is true, his ambition and creativity is boundless. He wants to accomplish and try everything, which is reflected on The Life of Pablo in a big way. Over his past few albums especially, Kanye has defied structure, The Life of Pablo is no different.

In true Kanye fashion, no two songs can be mistaken for each other, and with him continually tweaking the album post-release, we see just how much of a caring o.c.d ridden perfectionist he is. Throughout the 20-song album that perfectionism is on giant display in neon lights, which is actually all a listener can ask for.

When it comes down to it, I will only, “miss the old Kanye” if this kind of creative output stops, or if he keeps hanging out with The Donald, whichever one comes first I guess.

Favourite Track: Augustine

  1. Solange – A Seat at the Table

Knowles

Noun: The last name of someone whose musical talent knows little to no bounds

That could easily be the dictionary definition for both Beyonce and Solange. Without comparing the two, as Beyonce’s Lemonade is good in its own right, Solange’s A Seat at the Table is an especially stunning and important album based on the climate for which it was made, and the communities for whom it was intended.

In 2016 we saw a number of marginalized and under represented people push harder for their, “seat at the table” as the desperation for respect and equality seemed to reach a fever pitch and patience wore thread thin. Whether it was the Black Lives Matter movement, women demanding equal treatment to their male counterparts or the Sioux tribe at Standing Rock, this year especially seemed to highlight how socially backwards the world still is.

“….It really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being black, and that if you do, then it’s considered anti-white. No, you’re just pro-black and that’s okay, the two don’t go together, because you celebrate black culture does not mean that you don’t like white culture, it’s just taking pride in it.”

That excerpt is from the interlude, ‘Tina Taught Me’, just one of the many important moments on the album. In a time where so much of what we consume is soaked in self-indulgence, Solange uses her tools for the greater good, making a beautiful effort to lift people up.

Favourite Track: Don’t Touch My Hair 

  1. Frank Ocean – Blond

“Will he release it? Won’t he release it? When will he release it? Why isn’t he releasing it?!!?” Those were some frantic questions that spiraled around the Internet, as the masses salivated for a new Frank Ocean album. It was a bit annoying to see, but also understandable, as his debut album Channel Orange to many was nothing short of a classic.

After a name change (was originally called ‘Boys Don’t Cry’) and a visual album called Endless he released Blond as an, Apple Music exclusive on August 20th. As with anything that’s so hotly anticipated, there were many disappointed people, I myself wasn’t in that camp and actually like Blond more than even Channel Orange (*gasp* the sacrilege, I know…)

Blond curls its 17 tracks up in a zone that’s minimal, laid back, intimate, self aware and just….Cool.

“He released it!” and I for one throw up the ‘praise hands’ emoji because of it. 

Favourite Track: White Ferrari

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Sure, it can be fun to romanticize being alive at a different time in history, but would you really want to miss out on Radiohead?

A Moon Shaped Pool is another example of that. It made me snap my head back, look skywards, with my eyes slowly blinking, faintly whispering, “yup, they’ve done it again” well, that didn’t really happen, but you get the point. It’s an otherworldly album that, with zero hyperbole, made me cry. Sure, the subject matter of songs like ‘Present Tense’ and ‘True Love Waits’ chipped away at my tear ducts, but more than that, the possibility of Radiohead and what they are continually able to achieve is overwhelming.

Amongst all of the music that comes out on the regular, and the really talented bands out there, I truly believe that they’re on a different plane. Here’s to hoping that they never stop making music, because a world without Radiohead is not a place I want to roost.

Favourite Track: Daydreaming 

  1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

You can tell that Chance the Rapper knows exactly who he is. From the moment he stepped out he’s humbly defied tradition in the music industry, with a “no label, no problem” approach, he’s done things on his own terms, continually surprising people along the way.

His third and latest one Coloring Book has even made history as the first streaming-only album to be nominated for a Grammy.

As a piece of work, Coloring Book feels like a gigantic borderless canvas with bright paint from every spectrum cartwheeling all over it, the paint colours representing themes like hope, ambition, hyper-positivity and appreciation.

As thirst quenching and refreshing as Coconut water during a balmy day, Coloring Book was like electrolytes for my ears in 2016.

Favourite Track: Blessings

  1. Anderson Paak – Malibu

“I’m only coming out to play!” exclaims Anderson Paak on the first verse of ‘Am I Wrong’, and play he did. In 2016 he was the energetic kid in the sandbox who seemed to have the most fun, using all of the buckets and shovels at his disposal.

From beginning to end, Malibu scorches. It’s optimistic, funky, soulful, smooth, gritty, confident, and thoughtful. On Malibu Paak shows a incredible range of songwriting talent, from the mega hooky hip shake inducing, ‘Am I Wrong’ to the contemplative ‘The Season/Carry Me’.

Aside from Malibu, Paak seemed to pop-up on so many amazing tracks this year, and really made them his own, Kaytranada’s ‘Glowed Up’ is just one example. It was undoubtedly Paak’s year, and I feel lucky to have gotten a bit of that sand in my shoes.

Favourite Track: The Season/Carry Me

Story by Riaz Charania

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