To say that it has been a crazy year would be an understatement. It’s no secret that 2016 has left many people feeling defeated and drained. Even the music world has had more than its share of tragedy. But in the dark clouds there is a silver lining. Musical giants that have sadly left us have bid farewell with music that brought true closure to their magnificent careers, while many young artists have shown us just how much promise there is in today’s music. After 2015 seemed impossibly stacked with great albums, I cannot believe how strong this year has been.
My musical comfort zone tends to sit in the genres of rock and folk. When 2015 saw releases from many of my favourite artists in that canon, I figured 2016 would be a relatively down year. Lo and behold, 2016 yielded an incredible number of tremendous records, many of which had me exploring some of my less-frequented musical areas. The rules for this list are simple: The album must be released on an independent label or from an unsigned band, and they are quite simply the albums that I enjoyed the most this year. There are far too many records released each year for me to pretend to know every one, and I’m sure there are many that I have missed entirely, so if you want to let me know what albums had you hooked this year, feel free to let me know!
10. Family Dinner Volume 2 – Snarky Puppy
A big reason why this album, which consists of Snarky Puppy rearranging original compositions from other artists in collaboration with those artists, is on this list is the number of musicians that I was introduced to through this record. Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier, Charlie Hunter, Vasen, and a few others are all on my radar thanks to this album. Read the full review here.
9. The Wilderness – Explosions in the Sky
Once again, Explosions in the Sky delivered an emotionally charged album definitive of post-rock. When listening to this record, I felt transported into the frantic and unpredictable wild, and for that, it comes in at number 9. Read the full review here.
8. In My Room – Jacob Collier
A debut album released completely independently and in which every instrument and voice is played by one person is an accomplishment. To do so in a way that makes it sound like that person had access to the greatest team of producers and sound engineers the world has to offer is yet another feat. To fill that album with complex, evocative, and moving music is astounding. Read the full review here.
7. Schmilco – Wilco
Between last year’s Star Wars and 2016’s Schmilco, Wilco has demonstrated that they still have a ton left in the tank after a 20-year career. They have once again reinvented their sound and released an album that pays tribute to the old while bringing in something new. This record may seem to contain relatively simple songwriting, but there is more under the surface than there appears. Read the full review here.
6. Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit – Royal Canoe
The anticipated follow-up to their 2013 break-through, Today We’re Believers, showed a band that was not content making more of the same. Something Got Lost shows a maturing band that seems to be refining their craft and searching for new sonic ground. Now with two exceptional albums under their belt, Royal Canoe has shown that they are the real deal. Read the full review here.
5. Mushroom Jazz Volume 8 – Mark Farina
This was a record that I had been waiting for a long time, and it was far better than I could have hoped. Taking his acclaimed series of smooth compilations back to a more instrumental sound was exactly what I wanted from the next installment of the Mushroom Jazz series. After listening to it many times, I can firmly say that it is one of my favourites in the series, and a top album of the year. Read the full review here.
4. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
This album had everyone talking, and for damn good reason. Radiohead delivered another album with incredible depth and intricacy. While I wouldn’t say they were stepping too far away from their usual sound, A Moon Shaped Pool certainly has its own place in Radiohead’s catalog. It managed to live up to the hype, and that is no easy task. Read the full review here.
3. Culcha Vulcha – Snarky Puppy
Would you look at that, Snarky Puppy finds themselves in my top 10 twice. To me, this band is one of the giants of current music. They seem to have an unstoppable momentum at this point, which was punctuated by this masterful studio album. It’s funky, fierce, soulful, and boasts an overwhelming amount of talent. Read the full review here.
2. 99.9% – Kaytranada
What a debut! Once Kaytranada’s first record entered my brain, it refused to quit. A plethora of different voices woven together by a beatmaker who has made the music world take notice. Every track on this album stands on its own, works incredibly as part of the whole, and is infectiously good. Read the full review here.
1. Waltzed in From the Rumbling – Plants and Animals
Finally, my absolute favourite album of the year. When this album came out, I must have been listening to it three times every day. I couldn’t get enough of it, and although my initial infatuation has died down, every time I revisit it I am pulled right back in. Plants and Animals have once again shown their ability to change direction and still produce exquisite songwriting. This is a record that I will be returning to for a long, long time, and holds the number one spot without hesitation. Read the full review here.
Major Label Honourable Mentions
The past couple of years, I have felt that the major labels have not released much that really stuck with me, but this year there are three albums that would be high on my top 10.
Blackstar – David Bowie: The undeniable legend left us with a strong farewell and a parting gift. It was an album that said goodbye by celebrating the life of an incredible force in music. I think that Bowie left us knowing that the future of music is in good hands. Blackstar is a record that is Bowie to the core, but embraces the style of modern music in a way that encapsulates how he was able to constantly innovate. He somehow managed to remain at the forefront of music for decades, and his legacy will endure forever. “Something happened on the day he died / Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside / Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried / I’m a Blackstar, I’m a Blackstar”.
Wildflower – The Avalanches: 16 years after this band took the world of electronic music by storm, they finally returned with another album. Once again, they have released something completely unlike anything heard before, and I found a deep connection with it. Countless interwoven layers bring out a sense of joy that leaves me refreshed with every listen. It’s a piece of music that you won’t soon find anywhere else.
Malibu – Anderson .Paak: This total blend of R&B and hip-hop is about as good as it gets. It’s rhythmically unmatched, poetically moving, and just oozing with soul. It should be required listening for hip-hop fans and naysayers alike.
And there you have it, a list of glorious music that leaves me feeling pretty damn lucky. To those who disparage current music, take a look at this list, and the lists compiled by so many other outlets that don’t have a single album in common with mine, and open your ears. Now we look forward to what will be coming in 2017.