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CBC Music's 25 best albums of 2016 so far | Musique Non Stop

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

CBC Music's 25 best albums of 2016 so far

We are not even six months into the year and 2016 has already yielded a cavalcade of stellar Canadian music. Following up on the pop domination Canadians enjoyed internationally as well as at home in 2015, through artists like Drake, the Weeknd and Justin Bieber, as well as the kudos directed towards the likes of Grimes, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Lindi Ortega, the country's musicians have continued to find widespread critical and commercial acceptance.

Groups like the Strumbellas have found significant traction since 2016 began and as of this writing, Drake has been topping the Billboard album and singles chart for weeks in a row. And soon, another indicator of the quality Canadian music has to offer will be on display when the Polaris Long List is unveiled in Whitehorse, Yukon on June 15. 

In the meantime, we polled our staffers here at CBC Music to chime in on their favourite releases of 2016 so far. You will find their picks in alphabetical order below. 

What are your favourite Canadian albums of 2016 so far? Which albums do you think should make the long list? Let us know by tweeting us at @cbcmusic or commenting on the CBC Music Facebook page.

 

Album: A Coliseum Complex Museum
Artist: The Besnard Lakes 

Psychedelic rock is a tough genre to pull off, but the Besnard Lakes have it down to a pure art form. A Coliseum Complex Museum gives me the same feeling I get reading an epic novel. From the ebbs and flows of "The Bray Road Beast," to the blistering solos of "Tungsten 4 - The Refugee," this album has conflict, climax and resolution, sometimes all within one song. Also, frontman Jace Lasek told q that the solos at the end of the album are inspired by the Eagles, which is just amazing. — Kerry Martin

Album: IV
Artist: Black Mountain

Every music note cast by Black Mountain instantly turns to gold and no, this is not a statement that is up for debate. Very few bands can start their album with an eight-and-a-half minute song and keep you completely glued to it for every last millisecond of this album’s 56 minutes. Songs like "Florian Saucer Attack" possesses a sound that countless bands are trying to emulate, but none of them can do it justice quite like Black Mountain. It's a testament to what they are: a true rock band, through and through. — KM 

Album: II
Artist: Jean-Michel Blais

Jean-Michel Blais’ album II is as beautiful an album as you will find. It crosses so many barriers of what it means to be a pianist. Blais does not actually identify with many of the conservatory-driven philosophies of classical music, and because of this, he has distanced himself from that school of thought and classical practices altogether. You can hear this on every track of II. Blais has the hands of a pianist, but the heart of a punk. — KM

Album: Good Advice
Artist: Basia Bulat

Every song has elements of wild abandon, as if Basia Bulat’s shaking something free, and pushing herself at every turn. Lyrically, Bulat is still exploring darkness, and still wrestling with some kind of heartbreak and grief — the very things that made her last album, Tall Tall Shadow, so compelling and resonant — but she’s reframing these themes through pop. Good Advice is the sound of Bulat at her most daring while still being true to herself. — Andrea Warner

Album: Somewhere We Will Find Our Place
Artist: Jim Bryson 

When Jim Bryson stopped by the CBC Music offices a few weeks ago, he told us that Kathleen Edwards proclaimed his song "Breathe" the best he's ever written. There are so many gems on this record I'm surprised Edwards could make such a claim. For this record, Bryson recruited Charles Spearin from Broken Social Scene to record with him, resulting in songs that have complex and compelling arrangements, interesting layers and beautiful poetry. There's something new revealed in every listen. My favourite lyric is from the sunny "Changing Scenery" where Bryson sings, "It became you against me instead of you and me against the world," which has lingered in my mind. Other standouts include the dichotomous "The Depression Dance" and an ode to a province "Ontario." — Jeanette Cabral

Album: Hotel Paranoia
Artist: Jazz Cartier

Over the span of just two mixtapes in less than 12 months, Toronto rapper Jazz Cartier and his producer Lantz have managed to make their imprint in city lorded over by Drake. What’s more impressive is that they’ve managed this all without the coveted co-sign from the self-proclaimed “6 God.” “I am the prince of the city, I am the talk of the town,” Cartier boasts right off the top of his latest album, Paranoia Hotel, his eyes clearly on the throne. The 22-year-old rapper used the existing “Toronto sound” as a jumping off point, but has made his own lane with a combination of melodic hooks, fierce vocals and cinematic trap production. Unlike on their 2015 debut, Marauding in Paradise, the pair are less worried about making even remotely pop-friendly songs and have packed Hotel Paranoia with straight bangers.  Jesse Kinos-Goodin 

Album: Soul Run 
Artist: Tanika Charles

The fact that it’s taken a while for Toronto singer Tanika Charles to follow up her 2010 What!What?What!? EP has helped her immensely. Not only does she deliver an infectiously timeless brand of ‘60s and ‘70s-influenced soul, but the intervening time has allowed Charles the time to fine-tune and hone her charismatic stage presence as well as justifiably develop an ever-growing audience. Featuring production from top-notch talents like Slakah the Beatchild and notable assists from Canadian R&B singers Divine Brown and Zaki Ibrahim, Soul Run underlines why Charles’s impressive vocals demand a captive audience. Featuring the dusty grooves of the immediately catchy title track, the foot-stomping “Love Fool” and current single “Two Steps” — among many other standouts — Soul Run is further proof of the adage the best things come to those who wait. — Del F. Cowie 

Album: Song and Dance Man
Artist: Jason Collett

Jason Collett, the well respected Troubadour & paterfamilias of Toronto singer-songwriters, might have released his sixth solo album in the winter of 2016, but Song and Dance Man is a lazy summer sounding record. Listening to its 13 songs feels like a warm summer evening spent with an old friend. The record was produced by Afie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, and his production style is refreshing like a cool breeze cutting through that summer night. This record mines classic sounds of the late '60s and early '70s. Song and Dance Man has the melody of Abbey Road's second side, the catchy hooks of Jackson Browne's debut, mixed with the country snarl of Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones. The album art also has a perfect vintage feel. In a world where most digital music you buy is an intangible mess of zeroes and ones, sometimes it is nice to own a record that looks and sounds like it belongs to another time. — Pete Morey

Album: Views
Artist: Drake 

More than any other Drake album, Views suffered from unrealistically high expectations. It was officially announced almost a full year ago, and the on-the ground campaign in Toronto, in which “Views” and talk of the “6 God” were plastered on billboards and at airports, made it feel as if this was going to be his undisputed magnum opus. When it was released, critics said it was too bloated, too self-absorbed, even too wintery for a summer release. And it is all those things, because that’s what Drake does best. Drake and his producer Noah "40" Shebib have defined an entire sound around just that. More so than any other rapper, Drake’s turned his moody solipsism into success. Self-absorbed, overly confident albums from successful artists have a history of being met with negative reviews, only to be completely re-evaluated decades later (think Pet Sounds, The White Album). And at 20 songs, the one thing Views truly suffers from is having too much filler. But just like the Beatles’ White Album, editing down the tracklist (as many have, including me) reveals a rapper confidently at the top of his game and doing what he does best. His album’s record-breaking sales back me up there. Plus, I challenge anyone to come up with a better one-two punch than “Controlla”/“One Dance” released this year. Either song make a strong contender for 2016’s song of the summer. — JKG

Album: Sept. 5th
Artist: dvsn
The latest artist to come out of Drake’s inner circle of OVO Sound, dvsn is the project of producer Nineteen85 and vocalist Daniel Daley. Together with Drake’s right-hand man Noah “40” Shebib, dvsn put together Sept. 5th, one of the label’s best R&B releases. Shrouded in the same sense of mystery as the Weeknd when he first surfaced, the members of dvsn maintain a low profile and instead let their music do the speaking. Sept. 5th is a sensual and minimal work that oozes with the soul and sexuality of predecessors like D’Angelo or Usher – one of the most confident debuts of the year. — Melody Lau

Album: I Wanna Make It With You
Artist: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald 

Calgary's Michael Bernard Fitzgerald calls this record, "music to get a speeding ticket to." It's also music to fall in love to. Music to take off all your clothes and dance around your kitchen to. Music to curl up with a pile of Kleenex and recover a broken heart to. It's no small feat to inspire all that and more in one tight album, but then again Fitzgerald is no small talent. — Talia Schlanger

Album: 99.9%
Artist: Kaytranada

Over the past few years, Montreal's Kaytranada has graduated from redefining the dance floor with his cool-breeze remixes into a bonafide go-to producer for cutting-edge, high-profile acts like the Internet, Mick Jenkins and Katy B. 99.9% impressively showcases the evolution in an assured affair that's is turning heads worldwide. The album features a stellar lineup of progressive left-field stalwarts like Little Dragon, 2016 critical darling Anderson .Paak and Toronto's BadBadNotGood. 99.9% also exhibits Kaytranada's most notable trait of bringing attention to the overlooked, coaxing standout performances by Toronto rising artist River Tiber and comeback kid Craig David. — DFC

Album: Oh No
Artist: Jessy Lanza

Much like fellow Canadian Grimes, Jessy Lanza has developed a serious strength in crafting pop gems using electronic instruments. On her sophomore release, Oh No, Lanza is a dance floor whiz on hyper-energized tracks like “VV Violence” and “It Means I Love You,” but she also highlights her R&B flair on more downtempo moments like the simmering take, “I Talk BB.” On the surface, Oh No may not appear to be a huge leap from her Polaris Prize shortlisted debut Pull My Hair Back, but there’s a subtle boost in confidence that makes this new set of songs even more alluring than before. — ML

Album: Cult Following
Artist: Little Scream

If the only new track you’ve listened to from Little Scream, a.k.a. Laurel Sprengelmeyer, is the ultra danceable “Love as a Weapon,” you’d be forgiven — it is a definite summer jam. But you’d also be missing out on the beautiful, twisted collection that is Cult Following, the Iowa-born, Montreal-based songwriter’s sophomore release. “Every disaster has a beautiful start,” sings Sprengelmeyer on “The Kissing,” a track that features the vocals of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, and a layered standout among songs that feature Sufjan Stevens and Sharon Van Etten. Mary Margaret O’Hara’s vocals make an appearance on the haunting “Wishing Well,” and the full project was produced by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. No one’s calling it a concept album, but Cult Following contains 12 seamless tracks that have collected some dedicated followers. — Holly Gordon

Album: Majid Jordan
Artist: Majid Jordan

If you're looking for soulful vocals and a fresh sound, then look no further. From slow jam tunes “King City” and “Love is Always There” to dance-floor grooves “Something About You,” and “Every Step of the Way,” Majid Jordan’s debut album has a song that caters to whatever mood you may be in. The record has a psychedelic R&B feel laced with a drum kit and delicate electronic piano. Together the Toronto duo compliment each other, making innovative music that’ll have you nodding your head with every beat. Majid Jordan is definitely making strides, molding their own sound. I can’t wait to see what other projects they have in store. – Kiah Welsh

Album: The Dream is Over
Artist: Pup

Punk rock is to hear a doctor diagnose you with a haemorrhaged cyst on your vocal chords, tell you "the dream is over" and then you ignore their medical advice completely. That reckless spirit (and true story) fuels the thrilling sophomore record from Pup. An album full of self-loathing, self-destruction, and enough finger shredding guitar and ear splitting wails to destroy any other punk record released this year. Here's hoping the doctor hears the record. After all, her poor choice of words became the title. — Mitch Pollock



Album: All Lit Up
Artist: Repartee

What makes a great pop record in 2016? Two things: slick hooks and strong statements. St. John's synth-pop group Repartee went above and beyond in their April debut, All Lit Up, packing in irresistibly catchy beats alongside real-talk lyrics that you might mistake for your own thoughts. Case in point: in the standout single "Dukes," lead singer Meg Warren lays out the self-effacing mantras we pick up and repeat to ourselves, and obliterates them with her powerful, upbeat voice: "They tell us when we're little/ it's better to be quiet and to not cause trouble/ sit pretty, keep everybody happy/ and don't speak up, you don't wanna be bossy." Bossy be damned: Warren’s voice steers this sparkling record and compels you to nod along, not just because you can’t stop moving to the beat, but because you know — and feel — exactly what she’s talking about. — Emma Godmere

Album: Mosey
Artist: Daniel Romano

The most challenging thing about Daniel Romano's new album is how uncategorizable it is. Daniel's past records could be seen in many ways as genre-studies – mind you, heartbreaking, genius, emotional and honest genre studies, but albums that explored worlds of punk, folk, and Atkins-era Nashville country. With Mosey, he's made one of the finest yet strangest albums ever from this country. It comes out as a fusion of country music, '60s psychedelia, the first two Leonard Cohen records, and even snippets of minuets that could be owed to Bach. However, as always, he never lets the form dictate the meaning. His song are honest, plaintive, playful, severe and quite brilliant. Regardless of your favourite genre, you'll find something to love in Mosey – they're kind of all in there. — Tom Power

Album: The Party
Artist: Andy Shauf 

It came as no surprise when Shauf's new album The Party was released that it would be so much more than just a group of songs put out to be listened to. As the genius songwriter that he is, he created each song as a character at The Party. I've said it before and I'll say it again; this album is a masterpiece that will ring out for years to come as we all come to realize we are dealing with one of the next true greats of song writing in Canada. — Matt Fisher 

Album: Sorrow
Artist: Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson's experimental saxophone records appeal to a niche audience. While he occupies a space somewhere between experimental classical music and indie rock, the music itself will never approach a pop tune. With Sorrow, Stetson goes head-first down the rabbit hole. The album is a reinterpretation of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony featuring key collaborators from Stetson's musical life. While Stetson benefits from some of the lightness of the arrangement in moments, he also accentuates its heavy moments with the addition of the deep bass of his sax and black metal guitar parts (which fit bizarrely well with the operatic singing of Stetson's sister). This is a large-scale art piece that requires to be listened to in full. It demands a great deal of its audience in many ways. But when the needle stops, this is the greatest piece of art Colin Stetson has had a hand in creating. — Alex Redekop



Album: Hope
Artist: The Strumbellas

Hope is not a subtle record. It’s bold and big, polished to perfection by L.A. producer/engineer Dave Schiffman (Johnny Cash, Haim, Weezer). This is the most nakedly focused we’ve ever heard the Strumbellas before. It’s a determined, ambitious sound, but never flattened or formulaic. In fact, it’s downright thrilling to hear a vision articulated so clearly and with each listen, Hope reveals itself as a record of substance and real staying power.  — AW

Album: Hold/Still 
Artist: Suuns 

Suuns latest record is dissonant and challenging. It moves from near silence to distorted noise on a dime. The percussion moves at a rhythm that feels aggressive without resorting to being excessively loud. It's passive aggressive. These songs are minimalistic while still feeling impossibly full and immediate. This is electronic music and rock music while being neither of those things at all. This is a fresh voice in music that tears through the carefully refined pop-rock taking over the musical landscape. — AR

Album: Love You to Death
Artist: Tegan and Sara

Building off of the success of 2013’s Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara double down on their synth-pop sound on Love You to Death, surely one of the best pop albums this year so far. From the infectious hook of lead single “Boyfriend” to the more personal ballads, “100x” and “White Knuckles,” Tegan and Sara have found the perfect balance between their past and future sounds on this record. If Heartthrob became the blueprint for artists such as Taylor Swift (1989) and Carly Rae Jepsen (Emotion), we can’t wait to see what Love You to Death inspires in the coming months and years. — ML

Album: Paradise
Artist: White Lung 

It can be tough to grow musically within the tight-knit space of punk and hardcore, but White Lung’s latest release Paradise is a graceful evolution that embraces the band’s pop sensibilities without sacrificing any of the punch they’ve been known to pack. Here, songwriter Mish Barber-Way expands her songwriting to new perspectives and attitudes to explore vicious killers and blissful lovers. On the title track, Barber-Way sweetly shouts one of the most romantic lines she has ever written over a pummelling soundscape (“I’m all about you/ You’re all about me too”). “Below” is perhaps the band’s biggest sonic departure, but a shimmering glimpse into all the promising spaces they have yet to explore. Paradise is an exciting look into the possibilities that still lie ahead for White Lung. By the end of the album you’ll be left begging for what’s next. — ML

Album: The Great Detachment
Artist: Wintersleep

With the Great Detachment, Wintersleep’s sixth studio album, the Yarmouth-bred, Montreal-based five-piece is tighter than ever, delivering 11 new songs that err on the bigger, brasher side of a sound the band has honed for more than a decade. “So gimme the night, tonight/ I’m going to prove to you/ give me some time,” Paul Murphy pleads on standout single “Santa Fe,” but he doesn’t need the length of that nearly four-minute song to hook you: Wintersleep is back, and bolder than ever. — HG

 

 

 


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