Deluxe albums are not a risk worth taking

Adding a few more tracks and repackaging an album is often a gamble

The deluxe album trend has seen an increase in popularity in popular music over the last couple of years. It’s a way for artists to extend an album’s length by adding some tracks later after the initial release. Some artists have profited from releasing a deluxe album while others have seen their record affected negatively, but at the end of the day it’s more of a gamble than people think.

When deluxe albums were first around, artists were releasing special editions of their albums, which contained other recordings and live versions of songs. Nowadays, you have artists, especially in the hip hop field, that have been re-releasing full records just days or weeks after the initial release, calling them deluxe albums. Usually, a deluxe album contains two to four bonus tracks, which is a reasonable amount of added songs. However, artists like Lil Uzi Vert and NAV have both released 14-track deluxe albums following up the release of their 18 track album.

An argument can be made that this is just too much music. For example, listening to a NAV record on its own is painful, but he should be locked up in jail for dropping another horrible album a couple of days after the release of Good Intentions. Unless you’re a stan of the artist, I don’t understand why someone would release another project right after dropping a long-awaited album.

A reason as to why artists are leaning towards dropping deluxe albums is that releasing more tracks equals more money in their pockets. By releasing a deluxe album, it creates an opportunity for artists to have two album-release sale weeks instead of one, which can be a good way for them to generate more money off of streams and to give more visibility to the initial record as well. With shows being cancelled due to COVID-19, artists have struggled a bit more with making money since performing live is usually their main source of income. The solution to this is to release additional tracks to their records in order to make a little bit more money. Whether it’s Pop Smoke with Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon and Faith, Lil Baby with My Turn or even Aminé with Limbo, they all benefited financially by releasing longer deluxe albums.

An important point to keep in mind about deluxe albums is that when an artist releases one, it will likely have a negative influence on the overall quality of the record. Some songs don’t make the final product for a reason. They might not have been as strong as other tracks or maybe didn’t fit the overall aesthetic or theme of the album; other times the tracklist was already bloated. If the bonus songs added to the record don’t add much to the overall experience, it will sadly drag the quality of the project down.

While it is fun for fans to have additional music from artists they enjoy, it is also fun for artists to financially profit even more from their music. Releasing a deluxe version of your album is always a gamble since it can severely alter your record’s perception and drag the quality down by a fair amount. In the end, it’s not a risk worth taking for artists because overall, it will have little to no effect on how the album will be remembered.


Graphic by James Fay

Student Life

Jad Does Things! One album a day

Hi! I’m Jad Abukasm, News Editor at The Concordian, and in this segment, Kayla runs my life!

[Upbeat music] 

Before you rant on how this is no challenge, let me explain. I never listen to full albums. I spot the only song I like and play it on repeat, hence my list of Spotify-liked songs including Oum Kalsoum, Joe Dassin, Billie Eilish and Pop Smoke. I never feel the need to go through a whole album if I don’t hardcore love all the songs. I’m also that detestable person that skips songs after three minutes, NO MATTER WHAT.

So without further ado, here are the albums I listened to.

Day 1: African Giant by Burna Boy

Day 2: Black Messiah by D’Angelo

Day 3: Negro Swan by Blood Orange

Day 4: I Had a Dream that You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser

Day 5: Blonde by Frank Ocean

I initially thought I was going to get bored really fast. I feel that listening to a 50-minute album seems different than listening to 10 five-minute songs—but I was quickly proven wrong.

The fact that I was listening to new albums I never even heard of made me want to stick to my headphones and get the most out of the experience. I was so surprised by African Giant that I listened to the album a second time before going to bed.

Now, not all albums necessarily fit in with my type of music, but I still really loved exploring new genres. And yes, I added many songs to my Spotify-liked list.

I learned two things from this challenge. Firstly, only listening to your favourite songs from an artist will quickly make you lose interest in them. Secondly, artists offer albums with songs in a specific order for a reason. Okay, call me Mr. Oblivious, but I hadn’t realized it before. At the end of the day, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I will definitely start listening to full albums from now on. I think this will make me explore the potential of every artist. I also really look forward to listening to albums from artists I already listen to, with the exception of Oum Kalsoum…my Arabic friends will understand the reference.

Graphic by @sundaeghost


How album sequels have changed over the years in rap

Can album sequels contribute to a greater legacy or tarnish a masterpiece?

Album sequels are often a dice-roll. Sometimes, an artist will bounce off the momentum of their previous album and deliver a worthy follow-up. Other times, though, they’ll be a lazy cash grab to capitalize on the success of the first entry just to boost first-week album sales.

The purpose of a direct sequel is to revitalize the themes explored in the first entry and create a unique body of work that both echoes its predecessor and pushes it forward in an innovative way.

JAY-Z’s classic The Blueprint became its namesake for a lengthy series in which its sequels became watered-down versions of what made the original so good. The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse was a far lengthier album than the first, while The Blueprint 3 might be one of the worst of his career. The albums came out within a few years of each other so neither of the sequels was considered to be overdue or absolutely necessary; they just came to be.

Conversely, an artist like Raekwon can drop one of the best albums of the ‘90s in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and then drop its sequel a decade later. In this case, it can certainly be argued that the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 was better than the first.

But what separates JAY-Z’s sequels from Raekwon’s?

Well, it depends on what the series is based on.

Cuban Linx is a mafia-inspired album, where the themes and lyrics are heavily lifted from the lifestyles of those involved in organized crime. The sequel was no different. When comparing the creative processes of both albums, they couldn’t be more different.

In the first entry, Raekwon only used RZA-produced beats while the second featured production from 15 different producers. However, when listening to them back-to-back, it’s clear that the albums are similar in concept.

These days, sequels are different. They come faster and they don’t necessarily represent the same idea they once did. Roddy Ricch’s Feed Tha Streets series came out within a year of each other. They sound similar only because Roddy’s hunger never left. His newest release, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, is a clear step away from that series in favour of sounding more like Future and Young Thug.

Kanye West is also teasing the release of Jesus is King II, the potential follow-up to his Christian-rap album from 2019, and if his statement is true, we’ll be getting it sooner rather than later.

Then there’s also Wiz Khalifa who dropped Rolling Papers 2 far too late, when no one cared about Wiz Khalifa in the same way anymore.

Rappers aren’t trying to make movies with their albums anymore. Now more than ever, the sequels feel less like a narrative follow-up and more like a successor used to bank on the momentum and popularity the first entry created. 


Graphic by @sundaeghost.


The most anticipated albums of 2020

2019 was an excellent year for music – can these 2020 releases top it?

Drake – TBD

As expected, the chart-topping king will return in 2020 after a fairly quiet 2019. Scorpion came and went in 2018 and despite its long run in Billboard’s charts, failed to resonate with most of its listeners. It was too long, too safe, and the number of bad songs outweighed the number of good ones. The year 2020 represents an opportunity to return to form. No longer shadowed by a deadly beef that kept criticisms of the rapper high, Drake can release an album on his terms with his own promotion.

“War,” the first new bit of Drake we’ve seen in a while, borrows elements from Chicago’s drill music and the UK’s grime scene, but ultimately wound up being just another passable moment in his lengthy discography. Let’s just hope the new album is less filler and more killer.


Frank Ocean – TBD

The elusive Frank Ocean has been confirmed to headline 2020’s Coachella after releasing two singles (and a few other snippets) in 2019. When Blonde came out, the R&B singer was difficult to track. Now, it seems he’s ready to embrace the fame a little bit more as he’s been sneaking in new songs at various events he’s hosted throughout the year. “In My Room” and “DHL” weren’t as well-received as his previous songs, but perhaps they’ll sound better in the context of the album.

We still have no indication of when the album will drop, but we do know it’s coming (eventually).


Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush will end a five-year drought from the Australian music project, Tame Impala. Backed by a few singles like “Borderline” and “Posthumous Forgiveness,” the fourth studio album from Tame Impala is shaping up to be another strong entry to their already proven discography. Thankfully, the wait is almost over.


Rihanna – TBD

Look, this one’s been floating around since Anti dropped, and the hype for Rihanna’s newest album keeps growing as every Instagram post of hers has a wave of comments imploring her to release new music. Anti was stellar and whatever kind of project Rihanna decides to drop, we’ll be accepting it with open arms. Twenty-twenty needs this.


Kendrick Lamar – TBD

We all knew this one would be on the list. I mean, it’s been three years since DAMN. and we want more. The Black Panther soundtrack was passable and Lamar’s features continue to be subpar but we can all agree he has yet to release a bad album. His follow-up to the acclaimed 2017 project is expected to be an Album of the Year contender across the board. There is absolutely zero confirmation that an album is on the way this year, but one can only hope.

Lana Del Rey – White Hot Forever (tentative)

Immediately after releasing her best album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey announced she had another project in the works with an expected release in Fall 2020. The tentative title is White Hot Forever but she also stated that it could change. Del Rey reached new heights with NFR and expectations will undoubtedly be sky-high for this new record.


Our albums of the year

We decided to make a list of our staff’s favourite albums of 2019 — here they are!

With 2019 coming to an end, we at The Concordian wants to share our favourite albums from the past year, before Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey (rightfully so) take over playlists for the month.

Here are The Concordian staff’s Albums of The Year:


Immanuel Matthews: The Lost Boy by YBN Cordae

  • “This was a tough choice for me, but I had to go with this project — and no, I promise you it’s not because of its Grammy nomination. This project introduced me to Cordae, and there was something about its beautiful, creative musical production, lyrical complexity, and overall honesty, that gave me goosebumps during my first listen-through. While it might not have the same replay value as other projects this year (cue Posty’s Hollywood’s Bleeding and Jack Harlow’s Confetti), The Lost Boy’s overall quality and vibe is one I’d expect of an artist much older than 22.

Jacob Carey: So Much Fun by Young Thug

  • “While none of the albums that came out this year completely blew me away, I think that Young Thug’s album lives up to its name. While it may not be his best project (that goes to Barter 6), the album’s a fun collection of classic Atlanta Thug sounds and various features that will be most satisfactory when heard in the late clubbing hours of the night for years to come.”

Alex Hutchins: Ginger by Brockhampton

  • “It was my first time really getting into Brockhampton. I ended up getting really into them, as artists and a collective. I also just felt like Ginger was made for me. Like, they took all of my feelings and poured them into an album just for me.”

Katelyn Thomas: Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend

  • “I feel really bad that I’m not saying the Jonas Brothers, but this album is the first in a really long time where I don’t feel like I have to press ‘skip’ at all. There are also a few Danielle Haim features and to be honest, go Haim or go home.”

Matthew Coyte: Pony by Orville Peck

  • “Finally, a voice in country music with something different to say. I’m not a big fan of stadium country, so Pony was perfect for me. It’s a more low-key take on the genre. His take on the genre grabs your ear from the first song. I also got to say that I had no idea that “cowboy chic” could work as a style, but Peck kills it. My favourite track on it is “Dead of Night,” it’s a great story about two travellers walking through the desert. Orville Peck is one of the most interesting artists of the year, every song on this album is unskippable.”

Mackenzie Lad: Igor by Tyler, the Creator.

  • Some albums come into your life at the right time, and Igor did just that for me. There’s a lot I’d like to say about this project (and I don’t think I’ve really stopped talking about it since it came out this spring), but I think Tyler’s disclaimer sums it up pretty well: “Don’t go into this album expecting a rap album. Don’t go into this album expecting any album. Just go, jump into it.”

Matthew Ohayon: Show Some Teeth by Sullivan King

  • “Move over ‘peanut butter and jelly,’ you’ve officially been pushed aside to the second most iconic duo in the world. Taking the reigns is the combo of dubstep and metal. This is Sullivan King’s first album, and I expect many more great ones to come. I listen to the same artists all the time, so for me it was either that or Illenium’s ASCEND; those are the only 2019 albums I’ve listened to. ASCEND is also fantastic, definitely worth a listen as well.”

Kayla-Marie Turriciano: Hollywood’s Bleeding by Post Malone

  • “I’ve never been super into Post Malone but I did love some of his songs off previous albums so I was excited to see what Hollywood’s Bleeding was all about. The name itself was intriguing and something about Post’s voice along with the different styles of songs on the record are hypnotizing.”

Youmna El Halabi: When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go by Billie Eilish

  • “To be honest, I was always putting off listening to Billie Eilish in general, just because of the general buzz around her. Kinda like when people wouldn’t watch Game of Thrones because it’s so popular. But then, on a roadtrip with some friends, we blasted her latest album and ever since, I’ve been addicted. I guess I just associate it with one of the best moments of my life with some of my favourite people.”

Callie Giaccone: The Big Day by Chance the Rapper

  • “I liked the narrative of the album, it was funky and it was different than his other stuff. It included other artists too.”

Virginie Ann: Amadjar by Tinariwen

  • “I discovered Tinariwen while on my way to the Sahara Desert last April and listening to this new album brings me back instantly. Amadjar means “foreign traveller” – It’s a slow mix of traditional and electric guitar which feels equally ancient and dreamy. Get high, have some tea and listen to these desert blues.”

Jad Abukasm: Brol la Suite by Angèle

  • “The album Brol came out in 2018. Already full of amazing songs, Angèle added seven new songs last November to her album now renamed Brol la Suite. I just feel like I can listen to that album at any given point and mood and still relate to at least three songs at a time. It’s so unfortunate that I can’t go to her concert next week.”

Chloë Lalonde: Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana del Rey

  • “I’m the kind of person that really sticks to my artists, I have listened to the same albums over and over again for years. So if I am being honest with myself, the only albums I’ve actually listened to repeatedly this year are Outer Peace by Toro y Moi, Clairo’s Immunity, Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Blink-182’s NINE, Cashmere Cat’s Princess Catgirl, FKA Twig’s Magdalene and Tei Shi’s La Linda.  Lana wins. Lana always wins. Big fat cancer 2019 mood.”

Lorenza Mezzapelle: ARIZONA BABY by Kevin Abstract 

  • “It was really hard choosing between this and Apollo XXI by Steve Lacy but ultimately, the honest lyricism made the difference. With numerous references to his past and personal experiences, the album possesses a certain vulnerability that is comforting to listen to. This, alongside the diverse instrumentals, allows for an introspective listening experience that will leave you feeling nostalgic but not over-emotional.”

Fatima Día: Amir by Tamino 

  • “Although the album came out at the end of 2018, it really took off at the beginning of this year. I first heard it in Barcelona when I had gone to stay with my family— it was a bit of a tough time for me and Tamino’s transcendental voice helped me keep my faith in the universe. Yes, I mean it. His voice has an incredible range, and when he reaches that falsetto in his song “Habibi,” you just know that faith is worthy. He’s Egyptian-Belgian, and incorporates Arabic harmonies and melodies into all his music. Amir means prince in Arabic, and it’s also his middle name— makes me very giddy.  He’s become the Amir of my heart.”

Maggie Morris: Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

  • “Sorry, I’m not even a little bit sorry.  Lizzo is iconic and I’ve been playing her songs on repeat for the better part of a year now.  There isn’t a single bad mood that this album can’t pull me out of.”

Nicole Proano: Run Fast Sleep Naked by Nick Murphy 

  • “Montreal in the summer always feels like epic freedom and this album is the epitome of that. Nick Murphy’s live performance of “Sanity” at the Montreal Jazz Festival was even better than his recorded version, if that’s even possible.”

Britanny Clarke: MŪN by Chilla

  • “I have family living abroad in Switzerland and I remember my cousin posting about this up-and-coming rap artist in France. I checked out Chilla’s music on Spotify and, woah. Her album MŪN is complete fire. She is such a versatile artist which really shines through in this album. I never skip a track when I listen to MŪN. As an artist myself, I thought she was such a badass artist, for all the girls out there looking to make it. I definitely recommend her tracks “Pour la Vie,” and “Oulala.””

Arianna Randjbar: Gece by Altın Gün

  • “Altın Gün resurrects Turkish classics in Gece, turning folk tunes your grandpa knows into a psychedelic séance you can dance to.”



Changing your opinion about an album

How reviewing albums can make you jaded towards music you actually like

When discussing our music tastes, the phrase “art is subjective” tends to come up a lot. I mean, why shouldn’t it? We all like what we like, and there is really nothing we can do to change that except open our minds to new types of art and let our tastes evolve.

Although art is subjective, when it comes to reviewing music, there is pressure to critique it from an objective perspective and explain why a piece is good or bad. However, your opinion of a song, album or artist will always differ from someone else’s. The sky is blue is an objective fact. Metallica being the best metal band of the 80s is not a fact, it’s just my opinion.

This idea of being objective brings me to how the pressure to “get it right” when reviewing albums has made me overly critical of songs and artists I actually enjoy. I realized this about myself while listening to Lil Uzi Vert’s album Luv Is Rage 2. I initially gave the album a 4/10 rating in a review I wrote for The Concordian.

At the time, I was stuck in the mindset of trying to use objective criteria to review albums. I would look at lyrical complexity, diversity of tracks and other factors that, for the most part, are actually subjective. Sure, some albums have more production value and took more time to create, but that doesn’t mean one is more enjoyable than the other—that really comes down to taste.

For example, I compared Lil Uzi Vert to Kendrick Lamar. These two artists operate in the same genre, but with completely different styles that can’t be compared. Yet, when I reviewed Luv Is Rage 2, I rated it in comparison to Lamar’s DAMN, an album I would easily give a 9/10. This method of reviewing is not only misguided, but can lead you to develop a bad first impression of an album.

As mentioned above, I recently revisited Luv Is Rage 2 because of a song Lil Uzi Vert did with The Weeknd called “Unfazed,” which I stumbled upon on YouTube. With my review of the album long gone from my memory, I thoroughly enjoyed the song and went back to the album. As I went through each track, it was as if I was listening to the album for the first time. Instead of trying to dissect it, I came away with a whole new opinion on the album. To be honest, it might be one of my top-five albums of the year.

In the last month or so, I have been making a more conscious effort to critique music on a subjective basis, something I should have been doing from the beginning. Ultimately, it has led me to enjoy more albums because I am less likely to make unwarranted criticisms. Not to mention there are a plethora of other albums I have changed my mind about.

One such example is this summer’s collaborative mixtape between Toronto producer-artist NAV and Metro Boomin’. Although I never wrote a formal review for the album, I remember hating it initially because I was looking at it as an album that just came out after DAMN. This ultimately made me critique the lyrics hardly and not appreciate it for what it was. Listening to it now, however, I like it a lot and have realized the album has a ton of content I relate to.

If it weren’t for giving the album a second chance and ridding myself of the pressure to look at music critically, I would have missed out on one of my favourite projects of the year.

The same thing can be said about DAMN, oddly enough. I loved the album when it came out. However, I was also looking at it from a critical perspective. I was trying to rate it based on criteria about what makes a “rap” album great, rather than determining whether or not I enjoyed it. While I did enjoy DAMN. and still think it’s a great piece of art, I just don’t like it as much as other albums. It’s almost as if I forced myself to give the album a good score because Lamar is such a respected artist.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, when critiquing a piece of music, just go with your gut and how it makes you feel. Don’t judge it based on some “good album” criteria that doesn’t exist. It’s cliché, but art really is subjective and, if you keep looking for objective reasons to like or dislike something, you’re taking away from your enjoyment of that art.

At the end of the day, it’s important not to be ashamed of your tastes. As listeners with individual preferences, we shouldn’t give in to the pressure of liking or disliking something just because critics do.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Best albums of the summer

The summer heat has reached peak levels, but these albums can withstand the warmth. Here are the best albums released this summer

Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Armageddon Record Shop)

On Reflections of a Floating World, Boston stoner metal outfit Elder encompasses cinematic grandiosity with a tightly-wound, six-song barrage. The result is an album which encapsulates boundless creativity through a refined sense of mood and composition.

Opening tracks “Sanctuary” and “The Falling Veil” counteract bullet-proof guitar riffs with ethereal post-rock fingerpicking. The sounds that echo throughout the album transport listeners to sonic realms where nothing is familiar, but the surrounding environment nonetheless begs observation.

SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg Entertainment)

SZA’s remarkable second outing with Top Dawg Entertainment shines like a beam from heaven. At its core, Ctrl is an R&B album. Upon closer listening, however, subtle embellishments are revealed that draw nods from all genres of music. Tinges of neo soul and guitar pop permeate these tracks about love and loss. Sonically, the album channels a pristine quality of its own, but really, it’s SZA’s disarming and ever-confident vocals that take centre stage.

Billy Woods – Known Unknowns (Backwoodz Studioz)

Known Unknowns is a bleak exploration of the black American experience. A New York native, Billy Woods’s strident honesty regarding the history of grief in black America is akin to Kendrick Lamar’s masterful To Pimp A Butterfly. But whereas the latter album relies on empathy, the unmitigated expressionism of Known Unknowns feels strikingly tangible. For Woods, it’s not enough for the listener to experience his anguish. He wants you to feel dejection. The album plays into the fact that every generation of artists in every medium tries to be more authentic than the artists before them. And in hip hop, that loosely translates into whose experiences hold more validity and weight. This, in addition to the rhythmic staccato Woods raps with, results in a brutally sincere and accomplished album.

DJ Sports – Modern Species (Firecracker)

Modern Species is a hotchpotch of enigmatic sounds coupled with a devout reverence for 90s house music. What really ties these influences together, though, is the laser-sharp production savvy of Milán Zaks and his brother, Central. Don’t be fooled — Modern Species is more than just a charming throwback. The album harnesses familiar motifs, but its tracks are executed with a varied sonic palette that combines equal parts from the past and not-so-distant future. These guys are tinkering their fingers to the proverbial bone.

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up­ (Nonesuch Records Inc.)

After a six-year hiatus, Fleet Foxes return with its most ambitious statement yet. Crack-Up is equal parts challenging and engrossing, but still serves as a welcome addition to the Fleet Foxes canon. The album delves into experimental territory by way of long-winding guitar noodling that usually finishes with a lofty crescendo. Sure, these moments are pretentious, but the Seattle band tackles this messy splendor with natural finesse. This is thanks to the album’s sprawling instrumentation, which is beefed up by gorgeously ornate strings and woodwinds. Yet, despite all its over-inflated moments, Crack-Up manages to establish a newfound artistic maturity in Fleet Foxes.


Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Def Jam Recordings)

Synthesizing U.K. electronic textures with his singular rap flow, Vince Staples’ triumphant Big Fish Theory chronicles the ennui that comes with transcending amateur status — specifically in the rap game. Enlisting the warped stylings of producers Sophie and Flume, as well as feature spots from Juicy J and Kendrick Lamar, Big Fish Theory just goes to show that Vince Staples is the most hopeful nihilist working in the industry.

Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub)

Laurel Halo’s Dust defies classification but distills her diverse gamut of influences with seamless precision. While her electro-centric sound remains intact, there’s a free-for-all attitude to Dust that feels completely organic. Dexterous-free jazz freakouts and funk instrumentation intermingle on these tracks like peanut butter and jelly. Halo’s electronic flourishes still manage to navigate the album with ease, which really come through in the album’s production.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (ATO Records)

Murder of the Universe is a concept album divided into three epics. Each story is tied together by an idiosyncratic narrative that’s read aloud by a lethal female cyborg. The album’s fried-out progressive rock aesthetic is augmented by the raw and disjointed psych-rock King Gizz is known for.

Jay-Z – 4:44 (ROC Nation LLC)

Jay-Z’s 13th studio album reads like a comprehensive confession. In 2016, Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé released her breakthrough masterwork, Lemonade. In a lot of ways, 4:44 is a response to Lemonade. On it, Jay-Z laments his personal faults while addressing intergenerational friction in modern hip hop. The album draws its power from Jay-Z’s dissatisfaction with the artificiality of mainstream rappers. It’s an intensely personal effort, but at the same time, the artist’s bars feel like anecdotes finding redemption in vulnerability. 4:44 is very much an ode to marital fidelity, but Jay-Z doesn’t leave room for listeners to scrutinize his mistakes. He already did it for us.

Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder (Arts & Crafts)

On Broken Social Scene’s first album in seven years, the band condenses their best attributes into a titan-sized album. Hug Of Thunder, like its name implies, is replete with infectious hooks and sparkling neon synths. It’s a surprisingly solid effort, especially for a band that hit its stride in the midst of the early 2000s indie wars between contemporaries such as Arcade Fire and Interpol. The album bleeds confidence and is bulletproof indie pop at its best. I guess you have to reinvent the wheel every once in a while to find new artistic essence.

Graphics by ZeZé Le Lin


The best albums of 2016

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.



Allah-Las – Worship the Sun (Innovative Leisure, 2014)
by Mia Pearson

Worship the Sun (Innovative Leisure, 2014)

Worship the Sun? More like worship this album. It seemed like an impossible task for Allah-Las to follow their incredible self-titled debut, but the band’s perfect sound seems to shine eternally. Worship the Sun has a nostalgic sound that burns back to ‘60s grime and glamour. The album elegantly weaves in Miles Michaud’s soft vocal harmonies, backed by waves of twangy guitars slowly reverberating, while the drums whisper warmly throughout.

It’s as if each song was filtered through circa 1960s thick gold jewels, dug-up on the beach and spit-polished by a pool-side model. Their tunes are so sharply unique that you’d think band members leave a trail of glitter and sand wherever they walk. The album begins by blaring “De Vida Voz” which travels fast into a listless chant. Further unravelling, “Had It All” could be a slowed-down Kink’s song, had The Kinks grown-up lounging on SoCal beaches. The album peaks midway with “Follow you Down”– a catchy tune with a cute pop chorus. The sun sets on the song, “Every Girl,” with a few ‘ya ya ya ya’s…

Trial Track: De Vida Voz
Rating: 11/10


Sondre Lerche – Please (Mona Records; 2014)
by Paul Traunero

Please (Mona Records; 2014)

Please is not your typical break-up record. Conceived during the sudden divorce from his eight-year marriage, the Norwegian singer-songwriter expands on his signature corky indie-pop style, with a sonically-adventurous interpretation of his heartbreak.

Though never a stranger to eccentricities and catchy pop hooks, Lerche’s bold new direction often creates a feeling of distance from the listener. Not only are most of the tracks on his seventh studio album structurally disjointed and riddled with askew breakdowns of yelping guitar and strobing electronics, they also suffer from over-production, which often drown his voice in the chaotic soundscape throughout.

Perhaps, if Lerche had dealt with his heartache and loss, instead of evading his feelings in the studio, Please would have sounded more like a gratifying assertion, rather than a desperate plea.

Tria Track: “Sentimentalist”
Rating: 7/10

John Southworth –  Niagara – (Tin Angel Records, 2014)
by Lan Thockchom

John Southworth definitely has the capacity to surprise us with the wide range of musical styles on his latest album, Niagara. However, despite his efforts and talent for many music genres, the album itself lacks cohesion. It sounds more like a collection of music that aims to put you in a state of relaxation than like a complete work. Some tracks stand out, such as “Fiddler Crossed the Border” or “Folk Art Cathedral.” The album would have benefitted from sounding like those songs, with their folk/blues rock sound and Leonard Cohen-inspired female backing vocals. Southworth is well respected for his his ability to recreate the sounds of some legendary folk artists, but he still needs to work on making an LP sound complete. There were some tracks that sounded really genuine and dynamic, but there were some throw-off tracks such as “Ode to Morning” and the opening track, “Niagara Falls.” Those songs fell short because of their generic structure and uncreative lyrics.

Trial Track: “Fiddler Crossed the Border”

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love (Atlantic; 2014)

by Paul Traunero

Already one of the fastest-selling albums of 2014 on the UK charts, with 109,000 copies sold in its first week, Caustic Love, is a masterpiece. The 27-year-old, Scottish-Italian singer-songwriter rose to fame alongside Amy Winehouse, yet never achieved her credibility—until now.

With his signature raspy vocals and retro-soul swagger, Nutini exudes confidence and maturity beyond his years with his third album. Though steeped in vintage sound and channelling R&B legends like Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Bill Withers, this album displays a tasteful level of restraint and contemporary pop sensibility that transcends its retro labeling.

Caustic Love is more than a collection of chart-topping singles: it is a coherent and innovative album for its genre, by an artist who has finally found his identity and the critical success he deserves.

Trail Track: “Iron Sky”
Rating: 9/10


Quickspins + Retroview

Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour (Electric Blues Records; 2012)

Sweet Sour is the second studio album from British trio Band of Skulls. Their sophomore effort brings back the gritty guitar riffs and smooth vocal harmonies that put Baby Darling Doll Face Honey on the alt-rock map, but fails to fully live up to the debut’s promise. The first half of Sweet Sour groups together all the heavy songs, which results in a feeling of “where did the album go?” as the second half closes with one meandering, slow number after another. As a whole, the album lacks expected creativity and plays on the safe side of the music industry, seemingly vying for a single on MTV and a radio hit.  But its shortcomings don’t mean that it isn’t an enjoyable album. Stomp rock track “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” easily steals the spotlight as the best showcase of Russell Marsden’s catchy, dirty guitar riffing. It just never finds the breakthrough originality it needs.

Rating: 7.0/10

Trial track: “Wanderluster”

– Lindsay Rempel

Young Liars – Homesick Future (Self-released; 2012)

Electro-indie group Young Liars will have you bobbing your head and swaying your hips along to their rhythmic tracks from their latest EP Homesick Future. The Vancouver-based band released their first EP in early 2011 and have plans to make their full-length album debut sometime in 2012, but have released both EPs to tide listeners over until then.
All seven songs on Homesick Future have lengthy instrumentals that encompass you in the music. In contrast to the verses, the choruses have simple, repetitive lyrics, allowing the listener to pick them up in no time.
Unfortunately, at times the music seems to overpower the vocals, creating a cacophony of sound that breaks the melodic flow. The songs on Homesick Future are catchy but easily forgotten, with the exception of the song “Colours” where the electronica background music, guitar riffs and fresh vocals mesh together perfectly.
Overall, Homesick Future is good without being great.

Rating: 6.8/10

Trial track: “Colours”

– Natasha Taggart

Tennis – Young & Old (Fat Possum; 2012)

A little over a year after disembarking from Cape Dory, husband-and-wife duo Tennis are landlocked and ready to release their sophomore album, Young & Old.
Teaming up with The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney to oversee the production, the album reveals an obvious divergence from Tennis’ previous songwriting with a more polished sound. A welcomed addition, Carney seems to lend a much needed structure to the songs. He is likely also responsible for a tinge of sass in lead vocalist Alaina Moore’s crooning vocals, especially demonstrated in R&B-inspired “My Better Self” and “Petition.” Despite the occasional quirk, the 10 tracks follow the same brisk-paced urgency, rendering the album monotonous.
My main concern with Tennis is that they don’t seem to be able to find their voice. Remaining true to their kitschy sea-shanty act would become tiresome, but too big a change in any direction would cause fans to question their sincerity.

Rating: 6.0/10

Trail track: “My Better Self”

– Paul Traunero

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (Warner Bros. Records; 1970)

There aren’t too many people who can say they’ve mastered composing, poetry, songwriting, piano, banjo, guitar, pedal steel guitar, painting and drawing, all while missing a key digit from their right hand, but The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia did, and American Beauty exemplifies his prowess. The classic jam band’s fifth studio album further cemented the Dead as one of America’s great, iconic jam bands with timeless hits like “Ripple,” “Box of Rain,” “Truckin’” and “Sugar Magnolia.” Building upon the country and folk styles of their previous albums, American Beauty epitomizes easy listening and pure audio delight. The album takes you on a voyage through 1960s America. All of the usual suspects are there: freedom, love, music, travel, luck, and of course, drugs. Anyone who hasn’t heard this album multiple times from beginning to end is doing a disservice to themselves, and possibly even the world.
So, go make yourself a headband out of daisies, put on your tie-dye, and let this album move you in ways you never knew possible.

Trial track: “Till the Morning Comes”

– Allie Mason

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