An influential year in music with the release of many great records
With many hit albums released in 2016, here is my list of the must-listen-to records from this year.
David Bowie – Blackstar
The year started with the loss of music legend, David Bowie. Blackstar is a deeply personal look at death and only becomes more powerful with the passing of the singer himself. Bowie brings us right to the edge and forces us to peer into the abyss with this album. It is his most beautifully morose work to date. The blend of experimental jazz alongside his classic elastic voice and pop sensibility reminds us why he is one of the most iconic pop stars of all time. His knack for ballads isn’t lost either, with “Dollar Days” providing a beautifully nihilist view on life. Every song latches onto the soul, as the lingering strings and horns glide through the album. David Bowie transcends death, and Blackstar is the most haunting album of the year.
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
The Canadian poet sadly passed away earlier this month, but like Bowie, he left us with a reminder of his greatness. His 14th full-length LP may be his most somber project yet. A deep, church choral background accompanies him on the title track. The unmistakable sound of Cohen’s grisly voice sends shivers down spines whenever he sings. Much like Blackstar, You Want It Darker marks the end of a legend’s journey. The rich and tight production serve as the perfect backdrop for Cohen and his uncanny ability to tell beautiful, concise stories. With each song, Cohen accepts his fate and inherently resigns himself to death. The description of the album on iTunes says it best: “At 35, he sounded like an old man—at 82, he sounds eternal.”
The Darcys – Centerfold
Retro 80s pop and funk mixed with a sense of cool swagger is rarely heard, not only from Canadian groups, but from any group. This project is such a dramatic departure from The Darcys’ usual heavy, tone-focused albums. It features suave instrumentals from Jason Couse and Wes Marskell, combined with old-school funk guitar and electronic-oriented production. These melodies bring us straight to the beaches of Miami at spring break. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than an album that’s just plain old fun. The groovy, retro guitar licks, laid back drum lines and Couse’s silky voice provides us with a neon-laced dance pop record that holds nothing back.
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Kanye out-dueling Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties In L.A.” is reason enough for The Life of Pablo to appear on this list. However, there are many other reasons to love this project. Kanye’s classic egotistical and insecure persona shines, but is also accompanied by a new sense of accomplishment. On his previous records, Kanye seemed troubled and burdened by fame. On The Life of Pablo, he seems to have finally begun to enjoy himself a little, and as a result, we get the best production and beats to ever grace a Kanye West album. His lyricism hasn’t taken a hit either. “No More Parties In L.A.” and “30 Hours” showcase his rhyming prowess. Multiple listens to The Life of Pablo only make it better, with new details emerging every time.
Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots
I’m from Calgary, so I had to put at least one country album on this list. Florida Georgia Line has been at the forefront of the “bro country” movement. With Dig Your Roots, they tone down that frat boy mentality and deliver their most intimate material yet— all of this while still putting out some fun, light and classic tunes like “Life Is A Honeymoon” and “Summerland.” Musically, this album is not terribly original—it doesn’t need to be. Its familiarity is part of the charm, kind of like visiting your old favourite hangout spots. This is the kind of sunny country music that makes you want to kick back, shotgun some beers and tailgate with friends. No country album this year made me want to get up and dance more than Dig Your Roots.
Gord Downie – Secret Path
For those who don’t know, Gord Downie is the lead singer of one of the most respected rock bands of all time, The Tragically Hip. Secret Path is an obvious passion project for the terminally ill songwriter. Downie tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who died while escaping from a residential school 50 years ago. “This is Canada’s story,” Downie has told us in multiple interviews as well as on his website and in the foreword of the graphic novel that accompanies it. It is a dark corner of our past we rarely acknowledge, but is essential to our identities. The singer brings it all to life with haunting acoustic guitar riffs and ghostly vocals overlapped with subtle piano riffs. It brings Wenjack’s suffering out from the basement of Canadian history and into the spotlight. Pounding, unrelenting drums propel each song forward into the next, making the album a journey. The top-notch production is something to be expected at this point from Downie. With Downie, however, it is never just about the chords and beats. The story is what makes the album one of Canada’s most quintessential albums in years.