The 10 Best Albums of 2016

While I spent most of 2016 buried inside podcasts and audiobooks, I still found time to listen to new and interesting music. Much like 2015, this was a year for discovering new and extremely interesting artists. However, unlike 2015, this was a year filled with nonstop bad news, from Trump, to music becoming exclusive, to the deaths of beloved musicians such as Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. Here's hoping that the following list of albums I could not stop listening to this year will bring you some solace as we leave 2016 behind and welcome in the New Year.


Erra - Drift

Drift is Erra's third studio album in five years, and the first with unclean vocalist, J.T. Cavey, formerly of Texas In July. As a whole, most metalcore bands tend to pigeonhole themselves, and as a band, Erra has been bucking that tradition for years now. J.T. Cavey fits right in with both the harder and more melodic sounds that Erra is known for, and while it may differ sonically from Impulse or Augment, Drift is as good an Erra album as any.

 

Islands - Taste

Islands released two albums simultaneously this year, Taste, and Should I Remain Here At Sea? The former is more experimental and electronic, and the latter more acoustic in its sound. If any of it sounds even vaguely familiar, it's because the band's lead, Nick Thorburn, penned the soundtrack to the podcast Serial (including the mailkimp girl). Both albums are incredible, but it's Taste that stands out the most to me.

 

David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie has died many deaths over the span of his career. Everytime he has put to rest one of his many identities, another one will pop up. Blackstar is no different, other than it shakes up what we think a Bowie record can sound like. It blends jazz, pop, rock, and that familiar sense of Bowie drama. While this will have been his last LP, Bowie will live on long after his death. Rest in Peace.

 

Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat

Black Terry Cat, Xenia Rubinos' album, is nothing short of an absolute indictment of 2016 as a whole. The album's thick beats and jarring jazz underscore Rubinos' challenging and complex lyrics. It's equal parts conversation and dance party, all held together through Xenia's flawless vocals.

 

 

 

L.A. Salami - Dancing With Bad Grammar

With the strum of his guitar, L.A. Salami brings the spirit of a 1970s singer/song-writer while invoking the sounds of post-modern acoustic blues. Throughout this album, you'll hear hints of Connor Oberst and Courtney Barnett in the wounded delicacy and droll observations peppered throughout the lyrics. For fans of introspective ruminations, this album is worth the 80 minute listen.

 

Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denial

Teens of Denial is one of the best indie-rock albums I've heard in a long time, and is probably the best album I've ever heard about being a chemically dependent 20-something year old. The backing band slowly kicks in as the trip that is this album gets worse (better). It sounds like a guy walking around, sifting the bad thoughts from the good, and it works really well.

 

Dance Gavin Dance - Mothership

Mothership is Dance Gavin Dance's seventh studio album, and third with Tillian Pearson, and he's here to stay. No more drama, or major lineup changes. This is Dance Gavin Dance as it was always meant to be. The album was highly anticipated, and came only a year and a half after their previous release, Instant Gratification. The band comes packing, and boy do they deliver throughout all 13 of their tracks. If there's one album on this list that is a must listen to, it's this one.

 

 

Kaytranada - 99.9%

Kaytranada is a Montreal based musician, who first made his name as a dance DJ on SoundCloud. He moved to Canada when he was an infant with his family from Haiti, and within his music, you can tell that he's proud of his roots. There are heavy doses of weird and nostalgia, mixed in with catchy and incredibly inventive drum beats. 99.9% is a dreamy and mellow album to listen to, one that will take you to far off places.

 

Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

Awaken, My Love! is the album in which Childish Gambino ditches rap for a lovingly produced funk inspired album. I've always been a fan of Donald Glover, especially as a musician, but his newest LP is his most enjoyable piece of work yet. The intensity of Gambino's singing mixed with his crooning falsettos work beautifully with the ripping electric guitars throught the album. It's a different kind of album, but one well worth the listen.

 

Tobacco - Sweatbox Dynasty

You may not think you've heard Tobacco before, but if you've ever watched HBO's Silicon Valley, then you're more familiar with him than you were aware of. Sweatbox Dynasty is as as much a Tobacco album as any, in that it's weird, uncanny, and not-quite-right-but-it-works, and while this may be a slight different take on synthpop, it's still unconventional in its approach. Much like Kaytranada's 99.9%, this album will take you places you didn't think possible.

 

BONUS

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Beyonce - Lemonade

You can't talk about 2016 without someone mentioning this absolute gem of an album. From her Super Bowl halftime show to the 30 minute HBO music video for her entire album, Lemonade was 2016 in a nutshell. The only problem with Lemonade was how it was tied down to Tidal, yet another streaming service. It wasn't until earlier this month that Beyonce made some of Lemonade available on YouTube. And it's because of this lack of accessibility to this album that it's a bonus, and not in my top 10.


On Podcasts, the Future of Audio

Every day, I commute half an hour to work, and another half an hour back home. During those thirty minutes inside my car, I'm simultaneously alone, but surrounded by some of my closest friends. This may sound strange, but bear with me, I'll explain.

Back in the mid-aughts, around 2006-07, while I was still in high school, my brother was a student at the UofT Mississauga campus. For a while, he worked with their on campus radio station, CFRE, and one day, he brought home an .mp3 file of an interview CFRE had with one of our favourite bands, Moneen. I must have listened to that interview hundreds of times, devouring the words and their live acoustic renditions of some of the more popular songs. At the time, I didn't know two things. The first being why I loved listening to that interview so much, and the second being that that was my first exposure to what would soon become one of my favourite things in life - podcasts.

If I'm being entirely honest, I'm still not 100% sure as to what draws me into listening to podcasts. I think it's a combination of being able to passively listen in on incredibly interesting conversations about politics, technology and design while also being able to learn more about the things that interest me. But that's not where podcasts end, rather, where they begin.

Podcasts are more about the art of story telling, and in the last three years, it's been going through something of a renaissance. From new titles like Serial, that spawn discussions about the weekly updates (and subsequent discussions on those discussions) to Welcome to Night Vale, which is a sort of meta-podcast about a radio show taking place in a fictional mid-western town where all sorts of strange things happen, to Radiotopia, anchored by the incredible 99% Invisible, which is all about design in the modern world. Each of these podcasts brings something incredibly unique to the table, and every day people spends hours upon hours consuming and listening to these shows, and many others, from fantasy football to terraforming Mars.

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

The interesting thing though is that podcasting isn't new by any stretch of the imagination. It's been around for decades as talk radio, but only now is it really making noise. The reason for this is that I think it's now far more accessible. Anyone can find a show that they like and subscribe. You no longer have to tune in at a specific time and sit in your car or by a physical radio to listen. Instead, you can set up notifications, have the show you like to auto-download, and listen at your own pace. It's the audio version of video-on-demand, and it's fantastic.

The second reason as to why I think podcasts are booming now it's that it's such a personal and intimate experience. It doesn't matter where you are when you're listening - a car, train, bus, or walking down the street - you feel like you're sitting with these people inside your ears and like you're actually participating in that conversation in that exact moment. That's something you don't get with television or games. Sure, those two mediums may be more visceral, but they're not nearly as tangible. 

There have been many times when I've been driving home from work late at night, only to see other drivers around me staring at me as they pass me looking utterly confused and scared because I'm laughing to myself. What they don't know is that in that moment, Chuck Nice (from StarTalk Radio) just cracked a hilarious joke and he, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I are all sharing a laugh - together.

I've been listening to podcasts for the last four or so years, and in that time, I've managed to get my friends into them as well. Sometimes we listen to the same, and others not at all, but that's okay. And that's the brilliance of podcasting, it really does bring people together around topics you'd never think anyone else would ever share with you. It reminds me of Google's new advertising tagline for their Android OS platform - "Be together, not the same."

So, for as long as the people behind my favourite podcasts and radio shows like Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Welcome to Night Vale and Song Exploder keep producing amazing content, I'm going to keep listening and supporting them, because that's what friends do.

The Catcher in the Raichu

Yesterday, my friend Dave and I spent our Saturday afternoon as two full grown 20-something adults binge-watching the first three Pokémon movies. We were feeling nostalgic, given that the franchise just celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Looking back, however, we may have been a tad too nostalgic, because objectively speaking, the first three Pokémon movies are pretty terrible. You can follow along below, as Dave and I take them apart bit by bit.