Of all the overwrought bullshit surrounding the inherently pretentious ‘art’ that is music writing, nothing is quite as contrived as the opening paragraph to the End of Year list. While most of the other hacks who take this shit way too seriously will end up writing the exact same introductory paragraph as literally every other website along the lines of ‘2016 sucked…but music was good’, I’m going to skip right to the good stuff.
Folks, as with the Phil’s Phive entries from this year, this list is ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE. Just like every other list out there! Despite any claims to the contrary. So if you have any gripes with it, guess what! I really don’t care! Write your own list, I’ll be happy to read it and make mental notes about your bad taste. Moving on!
20. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Jeez they really nailed it on the head with that title, didn’t they? We certainly don’t deserve happiness, and we certainly won’t be getting any any time soon, the way things are going in the world right now. There was a lot of talk thrown around about No One Deserves Happiness was The Body’s ‘pop’ record, which…makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Okay, yeah, there were prominent female vocals, and some piano and strings popped up here and there, but this record is every bit as devastatingly heavy as any other in their canon. Reductive genre tags…yet another reason no one deserves happiness.
19. Lorenzo Senni – Persona
Look at that album art. A CGI face, steeped in the uncanny valley, peers with wonder through a hole at…something. We’ll never know for sure just what it is, but a glance at the track titles, specifically Rave Voyeur gives us a pretty good indication. Rarely is album artwork so ambiguously representative of the music held within as with Persona. With this record, as with his previous LPs before it, Senni places us into the perspective of the figure on the cover, as we peer into his otherworldly vision of trance. Persona is capital-A Art built off of rave music, one of the most unlikely mediums for something so high brow. But instead of veering into pretension, Senni’s sense of melody and faithfulness to the all encompassing dopamine releasing enjoyment of the genre makes Person as listenable as it is subject to study.
18. Zao – The Well-Intentioned Virus
Despite dropping less than three weeks ago, well into December, The Well-Intentioned Virus is easily among my most listened to records of 2016. You see, when it dropped, I was in the midst of one of the most frustrating, draining work situations I had ever been in, and the sludgy rage of this record was the perfect outlet. Metalcore is an inherently bad genre, but what Zao do is beyond such simplistic distinctions, melding melody and sludge and noise into a cacophony they can only call their own, even after seven long years. And yeah, ‘intentioned’ isn’t a word, but you get the idea. THIS IS WHY YOU WAIT UNTIL THE END OF DECEMBER TO MAKE YOUR YEAR END LISTS.
17. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
I’ve never bought into the Golden Age of hip hop bullshit. What makes hip hop so exciting is how new it is, relatively speaking, and how ripe with innovation it has consistently been. Sonic boundaries get pushed time and time again, and I would argue hip hop has never been more interesting than it is right now. So, when I heard Tribe were dropping a new record, honestly, I didn’t really give a shit. Comfort food for the oldheads, nothing really for me. But due to consistently stellar reviews, I decided to give it a listen, and was blown away. This record has something for everyone, the staunch traditionalists as well as the forward thinkers. I’m fine admitting that I was wrong about this one.
16. O’Brother – Endless Light
Shouts out my B.G.M. fam for putting me on to these guys. O’Brother is massively underrated, probably because they’re actually doing something interesting with rock music, and generally, people that still actively listen to rock are boring and hate things that are exciting and fresh.
15. Gojira – Magma
Despite the graytone album artwork (cover art of the year, if we’re being real), Magma is an extremely colourful record. Each track features vastly different tones and textures, and the liberal usage of clean vocals has led to one of the most pleasantly varied metal records of the year, impressive considering its also one of the shortest. People have compared Magma to Metallica’s Black Album, which is totally unfair because Gojira will never not rule. I think I used this exact line in my Phil’s Phive write up of this record. Oh well, no one reads those anyway.
14. True Widow – AVVOLGERE
Another band, along with O’Brother, that I find are really keeping rock music a viable, interesting genre. True Widow’s ‘stonegaze’ (lol) sound has never sounded more energetic and alive than on AVVOLGERE, a somewhat risky move considering how their distinctive sound is rooted in being murky, slow, and dark as hell. ‘Sante’ is probably the most kickass song of the year.
13. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
When it FINALLY dropped in February, TLOP managed to predict the year Kanye would end up having; flashes of utter genius, but overall, a HUGE mess. It’s crazy how every year Kanye manages to outdo himself in terms of newsworthy chaos, but 2016 certainly takes the cake. We saw him at the highest of the highs (the Saint Pablo tour, for those lucky enough to see it before he completely went off the rails, was the greatest concert experience of all time) and the lowest of the lows (hospitalization, Drumpf endorsement…you pick which is worse). And throughout it all we had The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s craziest album fittingly serving as the soundtrack to Kanye’s craziest year. With this record in conjunction with everything he did this year, Kanye West remains the most fascinating person on the planet.
12. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
The most devastating record of the year, and possibly that I have ever heard. There’s a saying that goes ‘a parent should never have to bury their child’, and the emotion running through this record proves just how poignant that expression is. Skeleton Tree is difficult to listen to, yet absolutely vital, not only as a document of extreme grief, but for the incredibly achievement of a band 30+ years old making their most experimental, and possibly best, record yet.
11. David Bowie – ★
When Jon sent around the email letting everyone on the B.G.M. team know that ★ was going to be our pick for album of the year, no one uttered a word of disagreement. While not my personal pick, this record is an absolutely incredible achievement, even outside of the context of Bowie’s death. I will never forget watching the video for the title track for the first time, just as I will never forget the realization that Bowie was prepping us for his death with this record the whole time. For a man whose life was one art project after another, it only seems fitting that his death was as well.
10. Young Thug – I’m Up/Slime Season 3/Jeffery
I know this is technically cheating, but I also know that I technically don’t give a fuck. Last year’s Slime Seasons were collectively my favourite releases of the year, and while Thugger’s output this year didn’t quite reach the glorious highs of last year’s, his new streamlined approach to releasing music bodes extraordinarily well for the future. If you want to call releasing three mixtapes in a year streamlined, anyway. I’ve said it before a thousand times, I’ll say it again a thousand times, Young Thug, aka Jeffery Williams, is the greatest artist of our generation, and is currently on the single best mixtape run of all time (yes, greater than Wayne’s), starting with 1017 Thug in 2014 and ending with August’s Jeffery. The most incredible part of all this being that is still feels like he’s just getting started.
9. Huerco S. – For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Only mildly exaggerating here; this record saved my life. I was working way too much this year and going through lots of personal stuff that was affecting my already fucked up sleeping habits, and if not for this album’s therapeutic qualities, I may have never gotten the sleep I so desperately needed this year. But every night, at the end of whatever disaster I was dealing with that day, FTOYWHN(AATWH) was there to soothe my exhausted mind and lull me away so that I may get a bit of reprieve. Until I had to wake up and do it all over again, anyway.
8. The-Dream – Genesis
There’s no doubt in my mind that Genesis is the most underrated record of the year. Especially considering it WASN’T RATED AT ALL. Seriously. I have yet to find a single review of this album, which is highly bizarre considering a. The-Dream is one of the most acclaimed songwriting talents of our time and b. Genesis is probably the best thing he’s put out since 2010’s Love King. In the vein of 1979’d moody, minor key R&B, Genesis is a streamlined take on this newer, darker version of The-Dream we’ve seen since his messy divorce from Christina Milian. But again, being underrated is nothing new for Terius Nash.
7. Jessy Lanza – Oh No
In my Phil’s Phive Album of the Month review of Oh No, I mentioned that Lanza comes across as a less pretentious FKA Twigs mixed with a less obnoxious Grimes helmed by DJ rashad on the 808s. Indeed, Oh No is the most exciting pop music to come out of this year, melding the forward thinking rhythms of footwork with exquisite, imaginative R&B-pop songwriting. All the more impressive considering the majority of songwriting and production was handled by Lanza herself. Already having made quite the name for herself in the electronic music world, Oh No signals the beginning of Lanza’s impending mainstream domination.
6. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Every now and then, a record comes along that ends up defining a genre. Värähtelijä is that record for psychedelic black metal. There simply hasn’t been an album as all-encompassing and definitive for the genre as this one is, and there likely won’t be another one for a long time. Few records released this year have been as challenging, and rewarding, as Värähtelijä, to the point where I was convinced for months that this would end up being the album of the year. Just…listen to the build up and release on standout track ‘Vasemman Käden Hierarkia’ and you’ll see where I was coming from. While not quite taking that spot, this record still stands as the most important metal release we saw in 2016.
5. Deftones – Gore
That feeling when one of your all time favourite bands releases their best record in almost a decade, you get to see them live for the first time in 13 years, and they claim to be revitalized to the point of being excited about the prospect of making more music for the first time in, fucking, forever. 2016 was a great year to be a Deftones fan.
4. Ian William Craig – Centres
Ian William Craig makes fascinating music, the likes of which I’ve never really heard before, something I can only really describe as ambient singer-songwriter tape loops. It’s mesmerizing and utterly hypnotic, yet Craig’s airy vocals and melodic sensibilities keep it engaging enough to keep your attention instead of blending into the background like most ambient music. Centres was another go to record on those nights when it felt like everything was falling apart (most nights) and lead off track ‘Contain’, which acted as an auditory cradle rocking me to sleep, is hands down my song of the year for 2016.
3. Solange – A Seat at the Table
This record is, ostensibly, not for me. So I’m not going to talk too much about it, since its not really for me to discuss. But this record is a monumental achievement on a purely musical level, as well as culturally and politically, so even a Canadian white guy like me has absolutely no problem putting in my top 5 of the year. Not that it matters at all, and so it shouldn’t. Solange > Beyonce any day.
2. Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
I know I prefaced this article by saying that this list was all about subjectivity, but, fuck it. Objectively speaking, I’m positive that Blonde is the best album of 2016. In terms of pure emotional resonance, this is one of the most affecting records I have ever heard in my entire life. When this album dropped, I was in the midst of some very striking personal turmoil, and Frank’s pain seemed to speak on my own on many different levels. There were times when I couldn’t even listen to this record. But having moved past that, in a much better place personally, I go back to this record almost daily, so that I can actually appreciate it for what it is instead of just breaking out into tears every time I hear it. I always thought Channel Orange was kind of overrated, but even now, seeing Blonde extremely high up on many year-end lists, at the top of many of them, I still think this record is underrated. It’ll be years before we get to the level Frank was at when he created this masterpiece, but every listen we give this record to attempt to figure it out will be more rewarding than the last.
1. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
Along with Deftones, the Dillinger Escape Plan are my all time favourite band. Dissociation is their last record ever. It’s also probably their best. Of course this is my album of the year. If you were me it’d be yours too.
- The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
- Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
- Solange – A Seat at the Table
- Ian William Craig – Centres
- Deftones – Gore
- Oranssi Pazuzu: Värähtelijä
- Jessy Lanza – Oh No
- The-Dream – Genesis
- Huerco S. – For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
- Young Thug – I’m Up/Slime Season 3/Jeffery
- David Bowie – Blackstar
- Nick Cave & the Black Seeds – Skeleton Tree
- Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
- True Widow – AVVOLGERE
- Gojira – Magma
- O’Brother – Endless Light
- A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from here…Thank you 4 your Service
- Zao – The Well-Intended Virus
- Lorenzo Senni – Persona
- The Body – No One Deserves Happiness