2016 was not a great year for many things. Whether politics, racism, or even untimely deaths, the world did not seem to steer in the right direction in numerous instances. However, through all of these hardships, music has always been by our side. And luckily, 2016 was a particularly brilliant year when it came to new releases.
As the year comes to a close, we take a look at the albums that made this whirlwind of a year a little more tolerable. Without further ado, here are the Top 20 Albums of 2016:
- Deftones – Core
Whoever said “Metal is Dead” was dead wrong. Although their past few releases haven’t been sub-par per se, no one would have expected these alternative rockers to return to the scene with such a fierce body of work.
It is without question that a gripe between members Chino Moreno and Stephen Carpenter helped lead to this high quality of material, a rare occurrence to see, especially given this band’s history together. Despite the fact that it is seemingly moodier than some of their past projects, don’t get it twisted; Deftones stay true to their Core principals with this pleasantly surprising project.
- Charlotte Cardin – Big Boy
Don’t let her participation on La Voix turn you away from this Quebec talent. The project’s six-track count allows for Cardin to be concise yet effective with how she presents herself, her voice channeling the chilling, soulful early days of Amy Winehouse à la Frank era. She is able to create genuinely wonderful pop music without sacrificing her artistic integrity, something that is seems to be increasingly rare in the music industry. Bonus points for the inclusion of one of Montreal’s finest rap talents, Husser, on the EP’s greatest track, “Like It Doesn’t Hurt”.
- Weezer – The White Album
After a decade of lacklustre projects, 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End brought Weezer back into full form. The Cali rockers continue their hot streak with their fourth self-titled LP, more commonly referred to as The White Album. Unlike Blink-182’s 2016 album California, these pop-punk icons were able to walk the thin line between making a record true to their playful past (which is particularly seen with its whimsical wordplay), while progressing their sound to a more mature state. All this to say, The White Album is exactly what a 2016 Weezer LP should sound like.
- The Rolling Stones – Blue and Lonesome
In their 53rd year and counting, it is more than fair to say this album demonstrates that The Rolling Stones still haven’t missed a beat. While Blue And Lonesome is comprised of blues covers rather than newly penned tracks, the band’s unique spin on some of the genre’s most wonderful forgotten gems makes these tunes seem as if they might as well be original material.
- Gallant – Ology
R&B is perhaps the genre that most flourished in 2016 releases, and Gallant’s debut album was certainly one of the driving forces of this. The Maryland native takes his 90s influences (Seal, Brandy) and spins them on their heads, offering fresh takes on timeless sounds. With all but one feature courtesy of the ever-enchanting Jhene Aiko, Gallant has all the room to shine over the mainly moody, slow-tempo beats he has chosen for his first offering to the world.
- Vic Mensa – There’s a Lot Going On
Although a lot of the world’s attention was centred around Chance the Rapper this past year, the real triumph of Chicago rap was fellow Save Money emcee, Vic Mensa. Although short in length, There’s A Lot Going On says more than most of this year’s releases, begging for a solution to America’s increasing race war, all while also finding time to deliver tracks for both the ladies and club goers.
Most notably, however, Mensa touches on the violence facing his hometown, doing so in such a way that the world has been longing for since the city began gaining rap prominence once again at the top of the decade. It’s a heartfelt, intense EP that is sure to have you feeling various moods in such little time.
- BadBadNotGood – IV
Fresh off the release of Sour Soul, their highly-acclaimed collaborative album with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, this Toronto group show no signs of slowing down with their follow up effort. This is meant both literally, and metaphorically, delivering yet another body of quality work, all while maintaining their often fast-paced, lucrative style that gained people’s attention from early on in their career.
Further incorporation of genres other than jazz, namely electronic and hip-hop, only give us more of a reason to appreciate this daring body of work that only helps assert the band’s importance within the Canadian music scene.
- J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
Similar to the release of his otherwise latest album, 2014 Forrest Hill Drive, J. Cole once again comes through with an end of year gem that is sure to hit you in your feels. Unlike Forrest Hill, however, this project requires that its audience listen top-to-bottom for maximum appreciation, opposed to picking through songs to find their favourites.
The album finds Cole navigating further away from the need to create radio hits, instead allowing the South Carolina rapper to create a compelling, (seemingly) true narrative of finding a deeper sense of meaning in his life with both the presence of his wife and newborn. It may be too soon to call it his best work just yet, but it is absolutely safe to say that once again, J. Cole has taken his time and cooked up something special that any true fan of his will appreciate.
- Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits
The frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator steps up from behind the scenes to release his most carefully crafted solo project yet. The album is unapologetically smooth, its delicious textures making for perfect cruising music, a seemingly fitting use given its inspiration from Martin’s experiences living in the city of Los Angeles. If his contributions on To Pimp a Butterfly weren’t enough to have you convinced, then let Velvet Portraits be the point of reaffirmation to let you know: Jazz is back, and is as cool as it ever was!
- Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
There has been a trend in recent years of new and noteworthy releases containing signifigant amounts of P-Funk influence. Begining arugably last year with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, followed up by many seeming to pay homage less elegantly in the months that followed.
However, there is a fine line between paying genuine respect to the movement and capitalising off of its resurgance in popularity. Not only does Childish Gambino’s latest find him creating the most genuine encapsulation of the distinctive 70s style that our generation has seen (sorry to George Clinton’s actual new Funkadelic album, released in 2014), but also sees multitalented individual delivering his greatest musical achievement to date.
- De La Soul – …And the Anonymous Nobody
De La Soul’s new album is not a step forward for the legendary Hip-Hop group, yet nowhere near a step backwards. Instead, De La’s first album in over 11 years is a step into a different dimension, with the Plug’s exploring of new grounds going deeper than ever before.
Over 200 hours of jam sessions with live performers resulted in scarse amounts of samples, leaving the trio sounding far more unique than the bulk of Hip-Hop albums released in 2016, an especially impressive feat considering their time in the game. This Grammy-nominated, crowd-funded album is nothing to sleep on.
- Solange – A Seat at the Table
After years in the shadow of her sister, Solange Knowles’ latest release finds the Texas singer finally getting the respect she so truly deserves. Never did I think a project with over a handful of Master P features would be cracking my Top 20 list, but I am damn happy I was wrong!
With themes of black empowerment, ideas of success, and women’s importance within our world, Knowles delivers a profound body of work, worthy of countless listens, demanding careful thought and consideration of its listeners who indulge in its sounds.
- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead return to the scene for what is perhaps their most self-aware project in years. On A Moon Shaped Pool, the band are less heavily reliant on experimentation, fusing a lot more of the raw, traditional sound that people grew to love Radiohead for in their early years. AMSP also sees the band dabbling with more classical/orchestral elements than we’ve previously seen from them. It’s a respectful blend of these ideas that resulting in a project that Radiohead fans of all eras could appreciate.
- A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You for Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest did not need to release a final album, but I’d be damned if I’m not thrilled that they did! Although bittersweet given its nature, the album serves as an extremely fitting final farewell to one of Hip-Hop’s most vibrant groups, especially drawing a close to the life and career of the late Phife Dawg. Although at times a little less natural-feeling than previous album, The Love Movement, we could all benefit from the sounds of Tribe as a voice of reason and insight in these turbulent times our world is facing.
- Beyonce – Lemonade
Question: What is your next step when you are the biggest entertainer on Earth, who has seemingly said all there is to say? Answer: Drop Lemonade. On her sixth solo effort, King Bey pulls a move nobody would have expected, creating a tightly-knit concept album about a potentially crumbling relationship with husband Jay Z. Whether or not the story behind the album is true is ultimately irrelevant when considering enjoyment, Lemonade is a bold, empowering piece that urges its audience to speak their mind when wronged, serving as yet another beautiful chapter in Knowles’ artistic progression.
- River Tiber – Indigo
Following multiple appearances on Kaytranada, BadBadNotGood, and even Drake songs on both producing and vocalisation frontiers over the past couple of years, Indigo marks the world’s first true introduction to this talented Toronto native. One of Tiber’s strong suits as an artist is nailing ascetics, which is clearly demonstrated through this album’s gloomy, down tempo sounds that liken him to something along the lines of a Canadian James Blake.
Aside from a keen sense of making electronic sounds that dazzle (which had been established through earlier work), Tiber also surprises by brilliantly incorporating various orchestral sounds on many moments throughout the album. Expect big things from this young talent in the near future.
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
Months years of torturous anticipation for this album were well worth the wait. Ocean’s second studio album finds the former Odd Future member in a gift and a curse of a situation: All were fixated over what could be next following a masterpiece of a debut. Luckily, Frank does not fold under pressure, delivering a mature follow up worth equal amount of praise. This versatile body of work sees Ocean digging deeper into his open book persona, while also finding time to tackle cultural and social issues pertinent to his engaged young followers.
- Kaytranada – 99.99%
At long last, Kaytranada is having his moment. This Polaris Music Prize-winning beauty of a debut album hits particularly close to home, as both a Montrealer (Kaytra’s hometown), and a longtime fan of the producer.
Like many other projects released via XL Records, 99.99% has a ton of heart. It is clear that the South Shore beatmaker took his time to meticulously craft what ended up being many listeners’ first impression of his craft. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Kaytranada’s debut album is that he did things his way, no compromise necessary. From working with those he personally defines as heroes (Craig David, Phonte, Kareem Riggins), to maintaining his off-beat sounds despite being surrounded a world of formulaic electronic music, Kaytranada stays true to himself, all while showcasing his true potential to the world.
- David Bowie – Blackstar
In the most bittersweet sense possible, David Bowie’s final outing is so much more astonishing because of his passing just days after its release. Plentiful lyrics centred on themes of death make it seem as if Bowie was well aware his time was coming to a close. Such knowledge adds to the already haunting release that is Blackstar.
The album also finds Bowie exuding the offbeat eccentricity that made the world first fall in love with him on a more contemporary level, infusing recently acclaimed talent of the rap and indie varieties when channelling Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips, along with clear influence from Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem, the latter of which’s lead singer, James Murphy, plays percussion on various tracks. There could have never been an ideal way to say goodbye to such a tremendous talent, but Blackstar definitely bids a farewell in the most remarkable way Bowie could have possibly conceptualised.
- Anderson .Paak – Malibu
You know an album is special when it comes out at the very top of the year and already has you posing the big “Album of the Year” question. Whether it’s his prolific storytelling abilities, impressive range, or eclectic blend of sounds, Anderson .Paak has something for everybody to appreciate.
Not only does Malibu deliver a fresh flavor that the R&B genre has been lacking in recent memory, but also sees the Oxnard native adding his own unique perspective to the California lifestyle, following in the footsteps of recent triumphs such as label-mate Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, and of course, mentor Dr. Dre’s Compton, on which the good doctor unleashed the young great upon us.
The project sees .Paak stepping his foot in the game with utter confidence and charm, letting us know he’ll be continuing to flourish for years to come.