Let's be real: you were a bit of a mess, but in the midst all of the chaos and fear and heartbreaking events, you produced some incredible art and music. As is my annual tradition, here follows the hardest (and most fun) list I'll make all year: my top albums for the year. December always means hours of re-listening to much of the year's best music to finalize my top collection. It's the best.
The "rules" are simple: 1. the top picks have to be full albums (EPs are excluded, although my favourites will often get a shout-out). And 2. this is based on my favourites - not necessarily the top albums in terms of quality or artistry or impact (case in point: Beyonce's Lemonade? Incredible & massively impacting. Yet, since I'm not a big Bey fan and I listened to that album a grand total of 1.5 times this year, it won't make this list).
So, here we go:
- Bon Iver: 22, A Million
Justin Vernon is an artistic genius and he does it again - perhaps with more depth and creativity and boldness than any of his projects yet. A journey of searching and wrestling and the reach and sting and depth of love and loss. Does this even need more of a sell than that?
- Kaleo, A/B
Icelandic Rock means American blues, with the subtle angst and idealism of youth and wrapped in a soundtrack diverse enough to fit a road-trip, Saturday at home, and/or smoky rock-show. A sample for you, below: because performing live on an iceberg? (or, you know, in a Volcano?) Um. Yes.
- James Vincent McMorrow: We Move
I think one of my favourite thing about the 2016 music year was the way that artists pushed beyond their own stereotypes or previously expected sounds. I've long loved James Vincent McMorrow, but in We Move, he seemed to discover a whole new depth and reach to his capability and scope as an artist. It's truly a thing of beauty.
- NEEDTOBREATHE: Hard Love
These southern rockers have been one of my favourite bands since their start over a decade ago - and one of the few bands for which I can say I know the words to every song. So it doesn't take a lot to sway me in favour of a new project. Hard Love album is a twist and development and maturity to their sound, and I loved it. Quite possibly the single most-listened to album of the year. And! I saw them live in San Diego in September and the concert exceeded all of my hopes and expectations (and they certainly were high going in), so now listening takes me back to that ampitheatre on that cold Southern California evening and the strength and warmth of Bo's voice live.
- Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
World/Radiohead keeners: Radiohead has a new (secret, uniquely released) album!
Me: ahhhh! AWESOME.
World/Radiohead keeners: It's sooooo good.
Me: (listening) Not super impressed. I feel a bit disappointed by this one.
World/Radiohead keeners: Best. album. ever.
Me: (listening again) Hmmmm. Still mixed.
Me: (listening some more). Goodness, they were right.
Me: (listening even more) The story. The narrative. The emotion. Soooooo good.
6. James Blake, The Colour in Everything
James Blake is like a moody, complicated, and intriguingly eccentric, but yet absolutely brilliant friend that you sometimes can't keep up with, but the more time you spend with them, the more you come to appreciate their depth and perspective. I admittedly wasn't sure about this album at first. But then I kept listening - and typical of Blake's albums, it grew on me and just.keeps.getting.better.
7. Jon Bryant, Twenty Something
This album has so much heart. In some regards it's pretty "classic" modern folk, but I found it to be rich, dynamic and raw - both lyrically and melodically. It's warm and it's jagged all at the same time. Super impressed by this emerging Canadian talent. (Also - Small world connection: I actually met and played beach volleyball with Jon and his lovely wife (then fiancee) this summer, just a few weeks before their wedding in Nova Scotia. However, at the time I was introduced to him as a friend of a friend and had no idea that he was the artist behind this album that I was listening to all the time. So cool.)
8. Lapsley, Long Way Home
This album surprised me with how much I came to love it, particularly given it's deviation from genres that I'm typically drawn to. Electronic meets R&B meets James Bay-esque ballads, Lapsley is only 19 and yet she crafts this album with a maturity beyond her years. It has a boldness that makes you pay attention and the combination of just enough production and just enough rawness to give it unexpected reach.
9. Explosions in the Sky, the Wilderness
Ever since I found out that they were the band behind the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights (my favourite TV show), I've been hooked on Explosions in the Sky. It takes a lot for an instrumental album to crack my top albums of the year, but this one does it easily. It echoes of the simultaneous calm and ruggedness of nature and the thrill adventure in a way that makes me want to jump in my car and head straight to the mountains. Listen to it. You won't regret it.
10. Head and Heart, Signs of Life
Warm. Barely complicated, and mostly reminiscent of summertime and goodness. Not a particularly bold album nor an unexpected sound from this definitively "coffeeshop" crew, but has just enough to keep you coming back and putting this album on in the background of a chill and sunshine-filled day.
11. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
This album is certainly amongst the highest quality of the albums released in 2016. Arguably blazing the way for a entirely new genre (New Gospel) and certainly forging a new path within the world of hip-hop: this is rap with soul and depth and a search for meaning that lands solidly on two feet. Not to mention the collaborations and partnerships throughout? So carefully chosen and so brilliantly woven into the overall language and heartbeat.
12. Matt Corby, Telluric
Guyyyyss. After years of EP's, Matt Corby finally released a full album. And it certainly lived up to the reputation of his previous work. This collection is intriguing in the way that it's both comforting and confusing, which almost seems to be Corby's trademark.
13. Birdy, Beautiful Lies
Florence and the Machine meets Adele meets Norah Jones meets a unique and personal twist on the world of sweeping soulful ballads and mesmerizing piano confessionals. She's young and that youth comes through in this project, but in a way that I think actually made me like it more: a constant weaving of weaknesses and idealism mixed with wisdom beyond her years and surprising strength.
14. Galant, Ology
R&B Soul with hip-hop ambitions, fitting a lot of emotion and history and trauma and hope into a largely poetic space. Galant's story comes through in this album: deeply personal and laced with pain and raw emotion, and yet he presents a vulnerable narrative with delicacy and skill. This album is rich and deeply impacting.
15. Switchfoot, Where the Light Shines Through
Switchfoot has been so much a part of my life and playlists for the entirety of the time that I've loved music that it's hard to imagine a world without Jon Foreman's commentary and lyrical insight and and the rock-and-roll impact of these SoCal surfers. This album felt like an anthem for our time and for a generation: hope blurred with lament, echoing and resounding through cracks and bruises, sometimes in an obvious way and sometimes so intermixed you almost can't see where one ends and the other begins.
New discoveries: Jack Garrett & Vancouver Sleep Clinic
Okay, I could rave about both for a while here. Jack Garratt's debut album "Phase" is freaking incredible and manages to never get old nor too familiar. The range is insane. Needless to say, I'm sold. And can't wait for more of this British kid's work in coming years.
And you know those artists you discover almost randomly and when you do, you kind of freak out with a "how have I not heard of this band before?!!". That was Vancouver Sleep Clinic. No full album released this year from this talented crew, but the singles they did release (Killing Me to Love You, Lung, Someone to Stay) were stellar. Not to mention that their album artwork was among the most beautiful I discovered all year.
EP Love // Brooke Fraser, Collection of Singles (Therapy & IV Fridays)
Because Brooke. And her lyrical depth and genius ("We are mirages, a trick of light a sleight of hand, when what we want is to be touchable again..."). And making new music Fridays extra special this summer. And Therapy being one of my favourite songs of the year? Done.
Single (unattached to an album) // Josh Garrels, Hiding Place
I needed this song this year. Maybe because this was the song that most clearly resembled a thousand prayers over this past year with the divisive rhetoric(s) of fear and hatred that seemed to dominate the airways and campaign trails of the western world and the song that accompanied so many tears for Aleppo and Mosul and South Sudan and the CAR. "So we will run though the way is rough and long..."
"Guilty" Pleasure // Chainsmokers, Collage
I hate the term "guilty" pleasure because I actually feel zero guilt about the music that I love (*cough*countrymusicforever*cough*), and I will fully admit that this year I discovered and deeply loved a lot of the electronically driven pop music that took over the charts. And amongst these bands and this sound, the Chainsmokers led the way. Closer? "All We Know? Looooove it. Without an ounce of guilt. :)
Worship // Hillsong Worship, Let There Be Light
From start to finish, over and over.