Year In Review | Top 20 Albums of 2016

–by Quincy Tejani, Music Connoisseur

Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest

2016 is being referred to by many people as “The Year the Music Died” and although the deaths of music legends like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince and Glenn Frey have been heartbreaking it is up to us, the fans, to find this year’s silver lining. And where can a bunch of music fans find solace for all that’s gone down this year? Why, by finding more awesome music of course! Therefore I offer you a list of 20 albums that were released across the past 12 months that have helped me forget my woes and remember what’s really important in life, the tunes. I hope you can find some new music that will lead you into the new year with a warm feeling in your belly and love in your heart. Enjoy!

Have a look at last year’s list here: Top 10 Albums of 2015

20. Beyoncé | Lemonade

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I was personally guilty of sleeping on this album. I though to myself, “Beyoncé has a new critically acclaimed album? Meh, it’s probably all just hype.” Well, news flash to everyone who, like me, is avoiding this because of the labels that have come to be associated with pop music, check your ego at the door and just listen. This record displays the queen of pop and the top of her game and is filled with tracks that bleed raw emotion and energy. Until Lemonade the problem with Beyoncé’s albums was that she was not able to be consistent throughout the entire hour. Thankfully on this LP she cuts it down to around 45 minutes and for that reason the record is much more concise and contains very little filler.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Sandcastles

4. 6 Inch

3. Formation

2. Hold Up

1. Freedom

 

19. Porches | Pool

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A lot of people loathe this record and I can see why. It’s entire aesthetic can easily be associated with everything that people hate most about the “hipster-indie-suburban-rich-white-whatever” scene. But if you can get past the immediate feeling of pretentiousness that surrounds this band and just listen to the music what you will find is a record that is filled with playful synth-pop tracks that are incredibly infectious once they enter your ears. Not only is bandleader Aaron Maine (along with girlfriend Frankie Cosmos) incredibly talented at writing catchy hooks and rhythmic melodies but his greatest skill is creating a singular mood that dominates the entire record.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Mood

4. Pool

3. Security

2. Underwater

1. Hour

 

18. Frankie Cosmos | Next Thing

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And speaking of Frankie Cosmos… Next Thing shows the indie songwriter perfect her songwriting style (ie. creating songs under a minute and half that accomplish the same thing that other bands take 4 minutes to do). At only 29 minutes long this LP is easily digestible and yet because it is made up of 15 different tracks has enough material to keep the listener coming back time and time again. On this record Cosmos has been lauded for her ability to write simple yet meaningful lyrics, and though her vocal abilities are not exactly top notch it almost seems irrelevant when Cosmos says a lyric like “I floated in and started living/ Passed a Blondie asked you a question/ “What are you doing?”/ “What are you doing?”

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Sinister

4. If I Had a Dog

3. I’m 20

2. Outside With the Cuties

1. Fool

 

17. David Bowie | Blackstar 

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Bowie’s swan song is beautiful, haunting and a good final statement by the most important glam rocker of all time. The story of Blackstar is the kind that legends are made of and for that reason this will always be considered one of the most important albums of the year. That being said, I must admit that I do find it slightly overrated and though the album contains two of the best songs of the year (“Blackstar”, “Lazarus”) and I am including it on my year end list I absolutely cannot stand “‘Tis a Pity She Was A Whore” and I also believe that a couple of the other tracks on the album aren’t nearly as memorable. One thing that is certain is that the legend of Bowie is only heightened by this record and that can never be a bad thing.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Girl Loves Me

4. Dollar Days

3. I Can’t Give Everything Away

2. Blackstar

1. Lazarus

 

16. Kevin Morby | Singing Saw

8ded819bThis is one of those gems that seems to be slipping through the cracks on many of the year end lists that I’ve seen so far. Really that’s no surprise as Kevin Morby and his previous band Woods have been flying under the radar for years now. On this record Morby continues to find his voice and get more ambitious attempting to write longer songs with more complicated song structures (see the title track). Like his heroes Dylan and Cohen, Morby is a musician who makes concise and complete albums based around singular themes rather than creating individual tracks and compiling them into long-play format. This is evident on Singing Saw as the entire record plays out wonderfully as a 45-minute piece of music. The sum of it’s parts are not nearly as strong as when they are played together as one.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Dorothy

4. Destroyer

3. Drunk and On a Star

2. Singing Saw

1. Cut Me Down

 

15. A Tribe Called Quest | We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

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As far as surprises go this has to be one of the greatest of the year for all music fans. A Tribe Called Quest seemed to be long gone after their last real release came in 1998 (The Love Movement) and so when I heard that they would be returning with a new album I really didn’t think much of it. Yet here I am a month later absolutely astounded with the quality of We Got It From Here... Not only does it have that classic Tribe feel to it but it sounds wonderfully modern and relevant as well. I’m sure that a lot of that has to do with Q-Tip, Tribe’s talented frontman and producer but I think it also has to do with the earnestness and passion with which this record was made. This really comes across throughout the entire LP and truly makes this album a pleasure to listen to.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. The Donald

4. Whateva Will Be

3. Dis Generation

2. We the People…

1. The Space Program

 

14. Chance The Rapper | Coloring Book

b17a54d05a3de269cc6ea53c3f71f73e-1000x1000x1Earlier this year I wrote an article called “Top 10 Rappers of the Decade (So Far)” and I forgot to include Chance. For that I still lose sleep and will always be ashamed because Chance the Rapper is certainly one of the most important figures in modern hip-hop. On his latest release Coloring Book Chance continued to build upon the ideas found on his debut mixtape Acid Rap yet this time around he sounds far more mature and sure of himself as an artist. Although I believe that the album suffers slightly from a bit of overindulgence on Chance’s part when you have a vision this good it is almost a crime not to over-extend by a small margin. As many have said, this is the gospel record that Kanye wishes he had made.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Juke Jam

4. All We Got

3. Angels

2. Finish Line

1. How Great

 

13. Whitney | Light Upon the Lake

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I wish nothing but success for this band. They are awesome and their music is awesome and the story of their rise to fame is awesome. There were a few months during the summer when a day didn’t go by without a couple of spins of Whitney’s brilliant debut Light Upon the Lake and for the memories I associate with this record it will always have a place in my heart. Tracks like “No Woman”, “Golden Days” and “Dave’s Song” emit feelings of summer love and loss while managing to remain original. Band leaders Julian Ehrlich and Max Kakacek will be hard-pressed to top this record on the next time around but I cannot wait to hear them try and do it!

Top 5 Tracks:

5. No Matter Where We Go

4. Light Upon The Lake

3. Polly

2. No Woman

1. Golden Days

 

12. The Avalanches | Wildflower

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Back in the year 2000 The Avalanches released one of the most highly acclaimed records of the year and then proceeded to disappear from the public eye for nearly 16 years. By the time it got to 2016 I didn’t believee that The Avalanches would ever release the highly anticipated follow-up and even if they did, I had no idea whether the boys would still have what it takes to create a fully cohesive piece of music. Well was I ever wrong! Wildflower exceeded all of my expectations and more upon first listen. I love the 60’s influenced direction that the group decided to take on this album and some of the tracks found here are right up there with the best stuff from their first LP. This record along with A Tribe Called Quest’s new one are definitely neck and neck for my “Comeback Album of the Year” Award. Now I guess we’ll have to wait until 2032 for the next one. Totally worth it.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Harmony

4. Subways

3. Colours

2.  Because I’m Me

1. Saturday Night Inside Out

11. Nicolas Jaar | Sirens

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Nicolas Jaar is one of the most under-appreciated artists of this decade. His debut album showed a lot of promise but his Darkside project is what proved Jaar was a force to be reckoned with. Therefore I was incredibly excited when I heard that the Chilean-American producer was getting ready to drop his second LP Sirens half way through the year. On this record Nicolas Jaar successfully trims the fat (something he failed to do on his debut) and releases 6 of the most finely crafted electronic tracks of the year. The real winner here is the sprawling and masterful “Killing Time” which lasts just over 11 minutes in length and uses silence to create an atmosphere unlike any that I’ve heard in a long time. There is not a moment while listening to this record that I wish he would have removed and I am incredibly excited to see if he can keep up this level of production in the years to come.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. History Lesson

4. The Governor

3. Three Sides of Nazareth

2. No

1. Killing Time

 

10. Danny Brown | Atrocity Exhibition

atrocityexhibitionIs it a surprise that the first album to crack the top 10 is also the most important hip-hop release of the year? I think not. Danny Brown has never been one to follow the trends and on this, his third full-length release he begins forging a path for what hip-hop may come to sound like over the next few years. Just listen to a few moments of this album and tell me whether you’ve ever heard production like this or if you’ve ever heard some one flow quite like Danny? While the content that makes up the lyrical portion of the album isn’t all that different from Brown’s earlier output it is the style and the emotion behind the words that makes this record stand out.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Really Doe

4. Get Hi

3. Lost

2. Rolling Stone

1. Downward Spiral

 

9. Angel Olsen | My Woman

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You heard it here first people, Angel Olsen is indie rock’s most badass chick and there ain’t no doubt. My Woman is such an interesting record because it is split into two succinct halves. The first half is filled with short straight indie rock songs while the second is made up of longer, more epic tracks. For some people who might not dig Olsen’s voice or style throughout the first half should definitely wait it out as the second side of this LP is among the very best of the year. The problem with Olsen’s previous record Burn Your Fire For No Witness was that it didn’t seem as though Olsen had to much to say with those songs. That is the exact opposite impression that I get from this record. The urgency with which Olsen sings the songs on this LP is very powerful and makes this record a must listen.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Heart Shaped Face

4. Woman

3. Intern

2. Shut Up Kiss Me

1. Sister

 

8. Deakin | Sleep Cycle

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By far the least appreciated member of Animal Collective showed everyone how important he has been to the success of that band when he released this, his fantastic debut record Sleep Cycle. Controversy surrounding the making of this record was all but silenced when it was released due simply to the sheer beauty and honesty that envelopes the sounds on this album. Although the LP is more of an EP and contains only four real tracks (and two interludes) the staggering emotion felt on each song makes this much more important and valuable than if it had been longer and less concise. The best thing that comes with the release of this album is that it proves Deakin’s value to one of the greatest bands of this century as well as shows his worth as an individual artist.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Shadow Mine

4. Footy

3. Golden Chords

2. Just Am

1. Good House

7. Bon Iver | 22, A Million

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The fact that Bon Iver’s new album 22, A Million is only coming in at #7 on this list is a testament to how fantastic this year’s output of albums has been. Before this record came out I predicted that it would be Justin Vernon’s defining moment as an artist and although I may have to admit that that statement was a little bold I still stand by the idea that this record is going to be more important in the development of music as a whole than were his last two records. The thing about this LP is that because of Bon Iver’s importance in the music world this record will no doubt reach the ears of indie fans and hip-hop fans alike. I foresee it being a huge influence on production techniques as well as song structure for creators of all different types of music and it is for that that Bon Iver will be remembered, not so much the tale of his adventures in the Wisconsin woods.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄

4. 715 – CR∑∑KS

3. 29 #Strafford APTS

2. 8 (circle)

1. 33 „GOD‰

 

6. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard | Nonagon Infinity

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This album wins my award for most fun record of the year, my most played record of the year and is my dark-horse pick on this list. I have long been a fan of the Gizzards but have always felt like there was just a small piece missing from each of their LP’s released up until this point. Well, I can finally say that with Nonagon Infinity the Aussie lads have created a perfectly layered, consistent album THAT FREAKIN’ REPEATS ITSELF IN AN INFINITE LOOP. This record is perfect for working out, long car rides, walks on the beach, dinner with the in-laws (okay maybe not those last two) but damn it if this thing isn’t the anthem of my year. If you have any love for garage rock or want a recommendation to get started on the genre then please listen to this. It’s 45 minutes of straight rockin’. Just what the doctor ordered.

Top 5 Tracks: 

… THE WHOLE THING IS ONE TRACK, JUST PLAY IT!!

 

 

 

 

5. Radiohead | A Moon Shaped Pool 

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When I first heard this record I started throwing around brash statements like “Best Album of All-Time” and “Most beautiful record I’ve ever heard” when really I think I was just happy that it wasn’t another King of Limbs. Now that I have had some time to sit with it I think it fits comfortably into my top 5 of the year but is not quite as good as I had originally thought it was. As a major Radiohead fan frankly I am amazed that Yorke and the boys are still able to create music that can come anywhere close to rivalling their output from the 90’s/early 2000’s. A Moon Shaped Pool is a testament to the never-ending pool (hehe, get it?) of talent to be found in the greatest band of the last 25 years and would actually be a great album to retire on (Radiohead, please don’t read this and decide to retire).

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Decks Dark

4. Ful Stop

3. True Love Waits

2. Identikit

1. The Numbers

 

4. Frank Ocean | Blonde

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I think that this album is better than Channel Orange, full stop. Where Ocean’s debut was an album that was made for immediate love and mass consumption his sophomore effort is a thinker, is a grower and is ultimately the more rewarding of the two LP’s. Apart from what is possibly the worst interlude that I’ve ever heard (Be Yourself) the album has very little filler and I would argue that it’s peaks rise above the peaks of Channel Orange. This record is oozing with personality, humour, character and substance and while I’m sure it won’t be enthusiastically acclaimed across the board as it’s predecessor was, I urge you to give this record some time. I promise that with patience all of it’s wonders will be revealed.

Top 5 Tracks: 

5. Solo

4. Nights

3. Seigfried

2. Ivy

1. Pink + White

3. Anderson Paak. | Malibu

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Way back in January Anderson Paak. burst onto the scene with his new record Malibu. I remember letting his soulful voice wash over me and while this LP played through my speakers I could almost see the frost on my window melt away. The release of this record combined with his collaborative effort Yes Lawd! and all of his wonderful features make a strong case that 2016 has belonged to Anderson Paak more than any other artist. The best thing about Paak is that behind his incredible voice and passion for music seems to be one of the most genuine people in the game (I say this purely because of interviews I have seen, unfortunately I do not have the pleasure of knowing Paak. personally). Although this was not his debut record it sure had that feeling and I cannot wait to see what he is capable of doing next.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Parking Lot

4. Put Me Thru

3. Come Down

2. The Bird

1. Season/ Carry Me

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | Skeleton Tree

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I have never heard a more emotionally charged, bleak, sad and unsettling album as this one. After the untimely death of Nick Cave’s 15 year old son everyone knew that his next record would be shrouded in the cloud of sadness that no doubt was encapsulating the Australian artist. However, I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that Cave would be able to produce something as real and as powerful as Skeleton Tree. Although Cave has said that some of the material for this record was written prior to the accident involving his son this record cannot be properly listened to outside the context within that context. If and when you do check this thing out make sure to bring three boxes of tissues and make sure you do it on a good day. For there will be tears. It’s such a personal album that I honestly almost feel bad for writing about it.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Skeleton Tree

4. I Need You

3. Jesus

2. Girl In Amber

1. Magneto

1. Car Seat Headrest | Teens Of Denial

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Lyrically and instrumentally this is the most intelligent record that I’ve heard since last March when Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp A Butterfly. Unlike that record which did it’s best to celebrate black music and black culture Teens of Denial celebrates and expands upon the roots of white music and does so by honouring the traditions of indie rock while also breaking away from tradition and forging new avenues. I read somewhere that if Morissey is the godfather of indie rock then Will Toledo, bandleader of Car Seat Headrest, is it’s new mayor. Whether or not anyone else agrees with that sentence I believe one thing that can’t be argued is the value that Toledo brings to the table. Just as in 2001 when The Strokes were said to have saved rock and roll with their album Is This It, Toledo may be the saviour of indie-rock for a new generation of music listeners.

Top 5 Tracks:

5. Vincent

4. (Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)

3. Cosmic Hero

2. The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

1. Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales (My Song of the Year)

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Quincy Tejani is the co-founder of The Violet Wave and is also editor of music. When he’s not listening to or writing about music you can probably find him walking through the forests of Ontario or questioning the inner workings of the universe. He also never turns down a cold Pabst… never.

Twitter: @thevioletwave

Facebook: The Violet Wave

 

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