10. Charli XCX—Pop 2
Part of the reason I don’t release my year-end list until January is that there always seems to be a mid-December release that doesn’t make people’s lists until the FOLLOWING year, when no one cares anymore. The second-best pop album of the year, Charli XCX had been on a bit of a downturn since her phenomenal debut, True Romance. Trying a lot of stuff that didn’t stick previously, this year Charli’s weird brand of electro-pop, rap, and her bizarre taste in collaborators(for example, this album features a dream collab with Carly Rae Jepsen and one with a Puerto Rican drag queen and YouTube star, Pabllo Vittar) all comes together brilliantly. Charli herself recently tweeted, “I’m underrated”, and she’s not wrong. If you’re a fan of unique pop music that bridges the gaps between a lot of genres, this is your bag.
Most of the time, it feels like when your favourite producers finally get around to releasing an album, it’s an embarrassing amalgam of all their worst ideas that pop stars wouldn’t buy. Luckily for us, Sampha is also an extremely interesting singer with a great ear for melodies, and a lot of these songs would lack the gravitas they have without him singing them. A lot has been made of “No One Knows Me Like the Piano”, but you wouldn’t have found a more exciting opening two songs for me this year than “Plastic 100ºC” and “Blood on Me”. An arresting debut.
8. Broken Social Scene—Hug of Thunder
You know, I felt like we didn’t need another Broken Social Scene album. I liked Forgiveness Rock Record, but it never really stuck with me, and with so many of the members putting out decent to above-average solo projects, it seemed like we weren’t getting another BSS album—and I was okay with that. But this return to form is better than you could expect. It has all the hallmarks of a BSS classic—huge, cascading jams and quiet, intimate moments—and everyone here feels energized. I think in a decade this has a chance of standing up as their best record.
7. The National—Sleep Well Beast
Speaking of bands I didn’t need another album from, we have The National, whose last album, Trouble Will Find Me, felt like a band that was out of ideas. Some people have argued that this album was also a display of a band out of ideas, but I strongly disagree. This album the band finally took its best weapon—drummer Bryan Devendorf—and mixed him to the forefront. Along with some glitchy electronics, they’ve made some of their most arresting songs in years. I’m not sure everyone needed another sad National record, but this one hit me in all the right ways and made it feel to me like this is a band we still need to have around.
6. Khalid—American Teen
Every year, there seems to be an album I come to months late, one that I didn’t hear a whole lot about when it got released and so it slid under the radar. This one additionally felt like one I could skip because a whole lot of my students were listening to it, and generally, their taste is garbage. But holy smokes is this an assured debut. This album was released shortly after his 19th birthday, and feels like the logical extension to the world of Frank Ocean, if Frank Ocean had a gravelly voice and finally acquiesced to everyone wanting him to make a pure pop record. This album has jams for days and couldn’t get off my stereo in the summertime.
In a year where pop stars couldn’t reinvent themselves for trying (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, etc. etc.), Lorde proved once again that her keen ear and ability to string a melody out of just about anything puts her in a pop class all her own. Jack Antonoff worked with just about everybody this year, but it was Lorde who made him the most relevant, making pure pop pleasures (“Green Light”, “The Louvre”) and unique bangers (“Homemade Dynamite”, which was Tove Lo’s best song this year, “Supercut”, etc.). Pop music sounds the best to me when the artists are attempting to reinvent it, and nothing from the pop world sounded as good as this.
4. Grizzly Bear—Painted Ruins
Grizzly Bear are one of the best bands in the world to see live. They’re not exciting or engaging, but they’re very nice boys who are very good at music, and it’s a treat just to see them recreate their music in a live setting. And their drummer, Christopher Bear, drives their music forward in a way that pushes it from uninteresting chamber pop to the groovy, funky mélange that has made them such a popular band. Much like The National, Bear’s drums were finally mixed to the forefront of the record, and it makes the record better for it. It’s weird to describe what is ultimately a collaboration between four music nerds as “funky”, but that’s what this record felt like to me: self-serious and yet somehow danceable. It shows a band at the height of their powers, and showed that Shields was only a brief misstep.
3. Jay Som—Everybody Works
My top 3 records this year are all by women, and no album was more completely made by a woman this year than this one, where Melina Duterte played every single note of every instrument on this album. So-called “bedroom pop” I generally find uninteresting and self-involved, but this is proof-of-concept for the entire genre. Skirting the edges of Ty Segall-like power-punk(“1 Billion Dogs”), slinky pop(“Remain”, “One More Time, Please”) and 80s-coloured guitar pop(“Baybee”, “Everybody Works”), it feels like a united concept that was one of the more eminently listenable albums I heard this year. I can’t imagine anyone hearing this and not finding something to like.
2. Alex Lahey—I Love You Like a Brother
I’ve been trying to tell everyone who will listen about Alex Lahey since I heard her B-Grade University EP at the start of the year. The comparisons to Courtney Barnett are inviting since they’re both Australians who like to play straight-ahead rock with a lean towards storytelling in their lyrics, but Lahey feels like Barnett’s more fun younger sister. The songs are more poppy, the stories more relatable, and this record was another ridiculously strong debut in a year of them. This sounds weird, but I can’t remember a record recently where the “oh-oh”’s were so good. An inviting singalong record and sometimes there’s absolutely nothing better.
1. Phoebe Bridgers—Stranger in the Alps
Goddamnit did this record hit me hard this year. All of my top-3 albums are by female artists, and they’re all under 25. Bridgers is 23, and despite being so young, seems to wear the world on her soul. Even seeing her live, you get the sense that these songs are coming from a very real place, someone who eminently feels what she’s written, and it made for one of the best shows I saw this year.
These are clichés, of course, but it gives her songs—already sad and dreary—additional meaning. That said, she also offers hope, with a beautiful voice that carries the songs along, no matter the content. The swiftly moving “Motion Sickness” tells the story of dating an older man, and “why do you sing with an English accent/I guess it’s too late to change it now” was one of the most scathing digs on record this year. “Scott Street” offers wistful nostalgia for growing up, and “Georgia” is a love song dedicated to a man’s mother. But that is balanced with the crippling sadness of “Funeral”, and “Killer”, where she compares herself to Jeffrey Dahmer. It was a debut album that was wise beyond its years and it came along at a time in my life where I needed it most. My undisputed favourite record this year.
I adore music, and I consume a lot of it. As with the last few years, I’m going to rank every album I’ve purchased, which this year came out to a nice, round 50. What this means is I listened to many more songs/records than these, but these are the ones I felt were good/intriguing enough to put on my phone and give dedicated time to. This year’s list is a little wordy, so I’m going to break it up into two posts. I’ve grouped the albums that were around each other, regardless of genre, and found some commonalities. I enjoyed doing this format last year, and think it makes for the best way to read this list. Thanks for checking it out.
Hoped For Better.
49. Vince Staples—Big Fish Theory
48. Japandroids—Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Last year’s list started in much the same way, where a lot of the stuff that populates the bottom are albums I got because I thought they’d be great, and they…weren’t. In Kehlani’s case, it was a few good singles and a lot of not good stuff. A lot of people really connected on the Vince Staples album but those beats were no good to me, and both the Japandroids and Feist albums were kinda boring. I mean, Feist’s is for sure. Japandroids just kinda did the same thing they’ve been doing, and this felt like the time where the formula ran out.
One Hit to Grab Ya.
Bad and Boujee. Mask Off. Illuminant. Probably couldn’t tell you any of the other songs on any of the albums, but goddamn those tracks were good enough to land these albums on my list.
43. Elder—Reflections of a Floating World
42. Movements—Feel Something
When I was younger, I was very into heavier music. That’ll still show up later in this countdown, but these were two albums that—while very different—spoke to that past. Elder put out a dreamy, stoner metal dreamscape of a record that was enjoyable for its musicianship and listenability. With Movements, I absolutely loved their “Outgrown Things” EP, it hearkened back to a time where music was overly emotive and I adored it. This new long-player isn’t nearly as good, but has flashes.
Hoped For Better Part II.
41. Taylor Swift—Reputation
40. Fleet Foxes—Crack-Up
People who had this FF record in their top 10 I just can’t believe are serious. It has nothing that made Fleet Foxes great and their first record in my top 10 of all-time. It’s dense and unlistenable, and people have a tendency to equate “challenging listen” with “good”. It is, in fact, not good. And Taylor’s album sounds like a desperate try-hard desperately trying hard. It has none of the cool effervescence of 1989 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she puts another album out in 2018 to make up for this one.
The Good Hip-Hop/Groove Run.
39. Young M.A—Herstory EP
38. Brockhampton—Saturation I, II, III
37. DJ Khaled—Grateful
36. Calvin Harris—Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1
35. Mike WiLL Made-It—Ransom 2
As I’ve said before, I’m a hip-hop fan but it’s never been my genre of choice, so usually I have a good deal of hip-hop albums I enjoy but don’t listen to all that often. In most of these cases, the album has 3-5 scorching tracks(Harris, Khaled, Mike WiLL), but Young M.A and Brockhampton are here because they’re two of the most promising artists(well, Brockhampton is like 3000 people) coming up. I just think both will be capable of better and more consistent stuff than we’re seeing here.
34. Future Islands—The Far Field
33. Circa Survive—The Amulet
32. Iron and Wine—Beast Epic
Hey, it’s three bands who have albums I absolutely adore and couldn’t imagine life without! (Singles, Juturna, and The Shepherd’s Dog, respectively). And hey, they all did pretty good this year! Three very different-sounding bands that maybe speak to my wide-ranging tastes, but these were all solid albums from solid bands that were tough not to enjoy. HOW MANY MORE TIMES CAN I SAY SOLID WHO KNOWS TUNE IN TO THE TOP TEN TO FIND OUT
The Real Good Hip-Hop Run.
31. Aminé—Good For You
30. Princess Nokia—1992 Deluxe
29. NERD—NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES
An indie-rap darling, a hard-as-hell lady rhyme-spitter from New York City, and two very fine returns to form after some very bad albums highlight a run of hip-hop albums I actually really liked. A lot of places had Jay-Z higher, but I think he’s done so much damage for me with his last few efforts I just can never take him seriously as a top-10 artist again. But 4:44 was good. “Lemon” is a top-10 track of the year, so is “Caroline”. And Nokia makes me scared to be alive, which I do love from my rappers.
Let’s Get Sad.
27. Weaves—Wide Open
26. Julien Baker—Turn Out the Lights
25. Big Thief—Capacity
2017 felt like a big year for sad music(which we’re gonna get to a lot more of ahead), or maybe it was just that we were all sad, all year. These are different levels of sad, mind. Weaves was sad in the “Canadian person of colour” way, shining a light on issues we seem to feel divorced from in our country (see Tanya Tagaq’s appearance on “Scream” for the most compelling evidence of this). Julien Baker and Big Thief were just good, old-fashioned sad-ass, beautiful vocal performances, and Slowdive was sad in the sense that it was the perfect record to throw on late at night while you were driving home and needed a good think. All very good records with different vibes, all of them sad.
The Best Hip-Hop Run.
23. Joey Bada$$—ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
22. Drake—More Life
21. Kendrick Lamar—DAMN.
For my money, the three best true hip-hop records that came out this year. Joey Bada$$’s record reminded me of mid-90’s hip-hop in all the best possible ways. Drake proved that you can release a 21-track record people WILL care about. And Kendrick is Kendrick. I’ve talked before about how I like Kendrick but don’t love him, as I find his flows often disruptive of the beats and the music less accessible as a result. But “DAMN.” was certainly as cohesive and consistent a record as Kung Fu Kenny has put together. I just think for me, he’s a better guest-verse rapper than album rapper. *shrug*
20. Phoenix—Ti Amo
19. Charly Bliss—Guppy
18. Julia Michaels—Nervous System.
I hate that heading as much as you do, but we can move past it. Three albums that are all pop-leaning (well, Julia Michaels’ record is as pop as you like), and three albums that got a LOT of play for me this year. I still never recovered from Phoenix doing a pre-release interview where they said the album was mostly about ice cream, and then discovering the album was ACTUALLY mostly about ice cream. THEY NAMED TWO SONGS AFTER GELATO FLAVOURS. I mean, COME ON. Charly Bliss’ record is what pop-punk is meant to sound like, and Julia Michaels had two top-10 songs on her phenomenal debut that proved songwriters can also be great artists.
Girls, Guitars, Hell Yeah.
17. Louise Burns—Young Mopes
15. HAIM—Something To Tell You
I’m a big sucker for great female voices(as you’ve seen already and will really see in my top 10), and I’m an even bigger sucker for a band fronted by a female guitar player who can shred. While none of these albums featured out-and-out shredding, all three were albums with perfectly constructed tunes that got me moving. I was especially surprised to see HAIM’s album not get much love on other year-end lists, because it was nearly perfect, but all three of these are worth your time.
Old Dudes Doing Well.
14. The War on Drugs—A Deeper Understanding
13. Elbow—Little Fictions
Elbow is my favourite band, so you know they’re gonna be on here no matter what, but their latest was as good as ever. They’ve been around forever, and there are so few bands that have the consistent catalogue they do. I wish more people loved them as much as me. The War on Drugs is a perfect driving album, and “Strangest Thing” is probably my song of the year. I’m not even sure the dude from WoD is that old, but he seems that way, so whatever.
Moves and Grooves.
12. Toro y Moi—Boo Boo
Chaz Bundick puts out so much music every year under so many different names it’s almost impossible to keep track of and that not all of it is that great. However, this Toro y Moi release is his best. It has a consistent mood palette, the beats are outstanding, and it features some of his finest songwriting. I feel it’s another record that really slid under the radar this year, and shouldn’t have. A bonafide standout. SZA’s record is the opposite, a record EVERYONE talked about, and for good reason. A powerful new voice in the scene.
2016 saw the most albums I’ve ever listened to, bought, seen tweeted about, heard talked about, it was an absolutely ludicrous year for music that, for anyone outside of a career in music, was nearly impossible to keep up with. I can’t think of a year where I had less full listens of albums as I struggled to stay on top of things, but rest assured, these were all the albums I thought worthy of mention in 2016, and here’s the definitive ranking of every album I purchased in 2016. For formatting, I decided to group albums together and talk about every few in turn, and I’ll singularly review every album in the top 10. May God have mercy on us all, as we use 2017 to catch up for this year.
The Worst of the Best.
55. Dawes—We’re All Gonna Die
54. The Hotelier—Goodness
53. Terrace Martin—Velvet Portraits
52. American Football—LP2
51. Joyce Manor—Cody
50. Pity Sex—White Hot Moon
The emo revival has been big in the last couple of years, but much like the emo era itself, making a great album in that genre is pretty difficult. While this group featured a few of the “standouts” from this revival, none of them did a whole lot for me. Terrace Martin—a frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator—is interesting because while I rated his album so low, it’s an album I’ll likely still listen to for years to come, as it makes very fine background music.
49. Vince Staples—Prima Donna EP
48. Weyes Blood—Front Row Seat to Earth
47. The Amazing—Ambulance
46. Daughter—Not to Disappear
45. For Everest—We Are at Home in the Body
44. Kings of Leon—Walls
43. Beach Slang—A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
42. Damien Jurado—Visions of Us on the Land
With the exception of the Weyes Blood album, which is an ode to the Carpenters and almost too sad to be enjoyed with any regularity, the rest of the albums on this list are all efforts from artists that have previously featured in my top 20 and didn’t quite put it together. Vince Staples has a questionable ear for beats at the best of times and doesn’t hit with these 5 tracks, The Amazing and Daughter got a little too shoegaze-y for me, and Kings of Leon, well…they’ve been bad forever.
Great Songs, Pretty Good Albums.
41. Blood Orange—Freetown Sound
40. Crying—Beyond the Fleeting Gales
39. Tokyo Police Club—Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness Pts. 1 & 2
38. The Weeknd—Starboy
37. Carly Rae Jepsen—Emotion Side B
In each case, these albums have great songs—“Best To You” is a top-10 track on the year, for instance—and in each case, the rest of the albums didn’t quite deliver to the hype. This was the year we learned that Carly Rae Jepsen has more hits than she knows what to do with, The Weeknd should write every song with Daft Punk(or maybe it’s just every band should write every song with Daft Punk), and Crying somehow made “video game revival punk” sound pretty cool.
Consistency is King.
35. James Blake—The Colour in Anything
34. Plants and Animals—Waltzed in From the Rumbling
I think Deftones are incapable of releasing a bad album, and following closely on their heels are James Blake and Plants and Animals. Blake’s album was another overlong collection of glitchy mood pieces that once again proved that he’s never going to release anything bad(though he may also never release anything great either). And Plants and Animals are a very typical Canadian band—always solid, always there, rarely truly remarkable, though the 3-song suite that opens this album is as good as the band has ever been.
The Hip-Hop Run.
32. D.R.A.M.—Big Baby D.R.A.M.
31. Danny Brown—Atrocity Exhibition
30. Kendrick Lamar—untitled unmastered.
29. NxWorries—Yes Lawd!
As someone who came to hip-hop later in life, it’s never been or going to be my favorite genre(though my top 10 may have you disagreeing). I typically really enjoy the best hip-hop albums in any given year, and after that, I don’t care much. That said, this was a watershed year for hip-hop and all 5 of these albums are quite good.
Punk is Alive and Canadian.
28. PUP—The Dream is Over
27. White Lung—Paradise
Two phenomenal punk albums and both by Canadian artists. It’s likely both groups’ ability to make their punk songs sound a little bit more like pop songs that make them stand out in a crowded genre, but these albums both slayed me this year.
One of These Things…
25. A Tribe Called Red—We Are the Halluci Nation
24. Bruno Mars—24k Magic
If any grouping on this list most accurately represents my eclectic taste in music, it’s these 4, with the genre-defying Kaytranada, the electronic/hip-hop/native sounds-inspired ATCR, Bruno Mars’ return to pop stardom, and a mellow AM-radio hit from three very accomplished female vocalists. All these albums would’ve made a case for top 20 in other years that weren’t this one.
22. Slow Mass—Treasure Pains EP
21. You Blew It!—Abendrot
20. Car Seat Headrest—Teens of Denial
19. Local Natives—Sunlit Youth
18. Nothing—Tired of Tomorrow
17. Hannah Epperson—Upsweep
With the exception of Car Seat Headrest, which was very, uhh, rated, the other 4 albums didn’t see much love from reviewers this year. It could be due to a drastic shift in sound(You Blew It!), being more independent artists to begin with(Nothing, Epperson), or being seen as a little too “the same” compared with their other releases(Local Natives). In any case, the turn of the top 20 starts to see albums that can reasonably be considered very strong from top to bottom, led by Epperson’s “Upsweep”, which is almost like a more accessible Joanna Newsom, blending looped strings with excellent vocal work.
The Critical Darlings.
16. Solange—A Seat at the Table
15. Radiohead—A Moon-Shaped Pool
14. Bon Iver—22, A Million
Almost the opposite of the previous 5 selections, these are three albums from heavy-hitters we knew we’d find on our year-end lists the second they were announced. And each are radically different—Solange’s all-encompassing statement on being a black woman in America was also delicately produced and an absolute stand-out in the genre. Radiohead got back to basics with this release, making something that felt very at home for the band, and Bon Iver decided to make an album that sounds something like deconstructing a computer piece by piece. In any case, all three made memorable music the world needed in 2016.
Different Kinds of Rock.
13. Arkells—Morning Report
12. Tiny Moving Parts—Celebrate
11. Wye Oak—Tween EP
With indie rock now fully entrenched in the mainstream, it becomes tougher and tougher to decipher exactly what “rock” is, though it’s still my preferred genre to listen to. These 3 albums all do something different: since Constantines retired, Arkells have become the most quintessentially “Canadian” band to me, making hard-working, radio-friendly rock; Tiny Moving Parts fall in that mathy, pop-punk space that hasn’t been done well in years; and Wye Oak are probably my favorite band and show that an EP of B-sides featuring soundscapes of guitar and synth can be as good as anything a band releases as their main effort.
The Top 10
10. Flock of Dimes—If You See Me, Say Yes
Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak is quite possibly my favorite vocalist in the world, on that “could sing a recipe and I would still love it” level. When she had earlier toyed with her solo project, Flock of Dimes, it never seemed like she was too serious about crafting actual songs with it. A movie soundtrack here, an AV Club Undercover there, but that’s about it. She did Dungeonesse, a regrettable dance side project, and I was beginning to wonder if she would ever pursue a solo album. I’m glad she did, because this record slays. A perfect blend of guitar and synth work, it stands out from her work in Wye Oak by being a bit more delicate and less driving, and certainly more beautiful. One of my favorite albums to listen to in headphones this year, and a hell of a live show to boot.
9. Balance and Composure—Light We Made
I don’t think really anyone is listening to this record, and I’m not even sure you should. However, I can’t in good conscience put a record I listened to so much any lower on my list. This was likely close to my most-played album of the year, simply because the combination of songwriting, tight grooves, and the alt-grunge-indie rock combo was irresistible to my ear. No one liked it outside of screamo/alt 90s kids like me, and you probably won’t either. But if you’re one of those kids and somehow hasn’t heard it…hear it.
8. Yellow Days—Harmless Melodies EP
Every year I feel like my constant digging for new music pays off with something that a lot of people wouldn’t have heard, and this EP from UK 17 year-old George van de Broek squarely falls into that category. He has only 530 Twitter followers, which is a shame because this EP is as good as it gets. The kid has an extremely soulful voice, and knows how to make the most of it, crafting it around airy instrumentals and letting it croak out. For my money, “Gap in the Clouds” was one of the best tracks of the year, and while his lyrics read a little bit like high school journal entries….uhh, he’s in high school.
7. Frank Ocean—Blond
This is such a difficult album to rank, because on the one hand: it’s fucking Frank Ocean. But on the other hand, it’s just kinda…Frank Ocean. Which is to say, it’s a beautiful record, but how often will we be revisiting it years from now? It’s tough to imagine an album that almost demands you play it front-to-back after the sun has gone down is going to be one that sticks long in the memory. But damn if it didn’t sound amazing the first 10 times you played it after all the waiting.
6. A Tribe Called Quest—We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
This is topping most year-end lists, and with good reason. It’s an album that has almost no business being this good, this relevant, and this meaningful in 2017. It has good to great verses from nearly everyone who hasn’t been good in years, the production is all Q-Tippian and lovely, and it sounds so tight for a 16-track epic. I can’t really think of a relevant reason why this didn’t top my list other than the fact that so many albums could’ve topped it this year.
What a difference a year makes. From a star-making turn on Dr. Dre’s return “Compton” to putting out two wildly-acclaimed albums in 2016, it’s been a good year to be Anderson.Paak. Which sort of makes it sound like his success is a fluke, though he’s an extremely talented man whose album gains more than most in a live setting, and that’s especially true when you factor in the banality of most hip-hop shows. While I worry he’s fallen into a bit of a “sound” already—as the NxWorries and this release sounded eerily similar despite being different projects—it was hard not to enjoy this one, and its lasting power on my stereo from January to December proves it was no fluke.
4. Chance the Rapper—Colouring Book
This album, like many hip-hop albums before it, suffers from some inconsistencies, but there was no other album this year that put a smile on my face like this one did. From the soulful “All We Got”, where Chance flexes on Kanye by giving him one line to yell in the chorus, to the slinky “Juke Jam” featuring Justin Bieber’s finest guest appearance of the year, to the late-night perfection of “Blessings”, this album had hits for days. It was what I had in my mind would be my #1 album for a good portion of the year, and with very good reason. Chance is possibly the most exciting artist on the planet right now and it feels like the sky is the limit.
3. Aidan Knight—Each Other
Victoria boy made good, Aidan Knight’s third effort is easily his most complete. While there were bright spots on his debut Versicolour, Small Reveal was a much weaker follow-up, and I wasn’t sure exactly where this album would head. Thankfully, and while it’s a cliché, this does feel like the culmination of life’s work, as Knight marries all of his most successful concepts to each other here. Memorable melodies, brilliant soundscapes, creative music videos—it’s all here. And it’s all very, very good. Some may tend to shy away from artists they view as “local”, but they shouldn’t.
2. Kanye West—The Life of Pablo
You won’t find a larger Kanye West apologist than myself, but even I began to question the man this year, and that was before the hospitalization. This album didn’t go down easy on the first few listens, he was constantly tearing it down, editing it, and putting it back up, and it felt somewhat unfinished. Now that we have what is a mostly finished version, it’s pretty clear to me just how great this album is. Some have complained it’s overlong, and perhaps that’s true, but the closing track, “Saint Pablo”, is some of Kanye and producer Sampha’s best work. It’s a true Kanye album in every sense—it has bombast(“Ultralight Beam”), it has quiet moments(“Wolves”), it has insane claims and lines(“Famous”), it made a star(Desiigner), and it gathers nearly every rapper and R&B star of note to make guest appearances, many for only 10-30 seconds. His genius continues to be unquestionable even in the face of everything else that’s happened and I think that at the end of it all, this album will rank among his best.
I like my songwriters wordy, and there’s no one who does it better this side of Isaac Brock than Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall. On “Old Friends”, he charges the seeing of (presumably) and ex-girlfriend’s new love with the setting, somehow perfectly capturing the awkwardness of the moment: “I saw your boyfriend at the Port Authority/sort of fucked up place/well so I averted my stride on a quick one/he’s coming back from going over to your place, huh?” He perfectly incapsulates how weird it is to see your ex’s new love, and also that you could see them in any place(like a port authority) and how that somehow makes it weirder.
The musicianship is there to back the wonderful vocal work too, a sort of grunge-esque indie rock that borrows some country elements to bring it all together in a rough and rambling package. I came to this album a little late in the year(it was released in February), and it blew everything else out of the water for me. The lyrics seemed to speak to me directly and the music was right up my alley. While I may not have spent as much time with this album as others this year, there’s no doubt this is the album from 2016 I’ll revisit the most in years to come.
I gotta get back to posting my writing on this website. As many of you know, Shnarped and I parted ways after they decided to move away from their “social media for athletes” platform towards a more “Instagram for Sports”-type thing. I had an awesome time writing Magical Question Fun Time for them, but they were moving away from written content, and so we parted ways amicably.
I didn’t want to stop doing this interview series that had become so much fun for me, so I decided to approach Curling Canada to see if they wanted me to do the interview series but with curlers instead of junior hockey players. They loved the idea, and here we are!
For my 4th edition of MQFT on Curling Canada’s website, I sat down with Joanne Courtney, second for Team Homan and all-around awesome person. We started out our phone call with Joanne telling me that she “interviewed horribly” and that she “wasn’t funny”. I told her that I was pretty sure neither of those things were true, and wouldn’t you know it? I was right.
Take a read here, and find out just how rad Joanne indeed is.
Alright, here we go. Take a read of #37-11 if you haven’t yet, and I’ll see you back here for my top 10!
10. Justin Bieber—Purpose
Every year, I put pop records on my list, and every year some dinkwad will say to me my list doesn’t count because I put so-and-so’s record on it, but to you I say, “grow up, son.” Deciding that I didn’t have to pretend to be cool and shit on popular music about 7 years ago was one of the best decisions I ever made, and this record is too good to be denied. Don’t get me wrong, this record still has some hideous garbage on it, I’m not NOT 30 years old and I can’t swallow shit where Bieber proselytizes over his own song or the one where he tries to rag on an ex by saying his Mom doesn’t like her in one of the softest moments on record in 2015. I’m not about to tell you how to live your life, either. But there are 7 unqualified volcano jams on this and if you can’t get into it that’s your problem and not mine.
9. Bandit—Of Life
While we are on the subject of revival records(or we were like, 4 albums ago or whatever), this is as good of a 90s alternative revival record as you’ll find. And these albums aren’t easy to write. People went apeshit over garbage by bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and other stuff that was just so blatant, and meanwhile bands like this have 900 twitter followers and play your local street corner to try and make money. This record is probably the one the least number of my friends have heard of, so just listen to it right now. Trust it. Believe it. Shake my hand later.
8. The Amazing—Picture You
This would be the album I would choose if I was trying to sound super cool and hipster-like. It was released in early February by a Swedish band with an egregious name and you’d be all, “Cullen doesn’t even like this record he just wants to be cool,” and to that I say, I’m not as cool as this record, but please don’t fault me for trying. This is a gorgeous record featuring some of the best drumming work of the year. It’s Explosions in the Sky if they were Swedish, which is to say a touch less melodramatic and a lot less wanky and just really great, guys. It also has singing, if you hate EITS for that reason. And it’s nice singing, too.
7. Drake—If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
I love Drake. What was purported to be a mixtape(and with the lack of features and beats sounding far less glossy than what we’re used to hearing from Drake, it makes sense) has no business being this good, with Drake absolutely going in from track 1 right until the end. It’s a bit overlong, but no one ever accused Drake of not trying hard. I don’t really know what else to say other than as a 30 year-old high school teacher I probably have no business telling people that if I die, I’m a motherfucking legend, but that happened and I feel no regret.
6. Dawes—All Your Favorite Bands
Okay yeah so every year there needs to be at least one album on the list that’s just a downright PLEASANT album to listen to, one you can put on any time, sing along, and love yourself while it’s on. This is that record for 2015. You can’t name catchier songs that came out this year than the title track, “Right on Time”, or “Things Happen”. Not possible. I can’t imagine anyone listening to this and not enjoying it. Seems like they would be soulless, or something.
5. Carly Rae Jepsen—E-MO-TION
So for some reason people that hate pop music and shit on me for having dope pop music on my list every year actually like this album, like this was the one pop album you could be on and still keep your street cred. So you can only imagine how good it got for a guy like me who loves pop anyway. All the critics are up on the internet being like “how didn’t this sell more?” and I’m sitting here like, “you’re serious, if I wanna see Carly Rae live I have to watch her open for HEDLEY?!” and nothing was more offensive in 2015 to me than that. I hope Jacob Hoggard or whatever that idiot’s name is(it’s Jacob Hoggard, I looked it up) watches a few of her sets, because dude stands to learn a few things. This album has bangers for DAYS.
4. Beach Slang—The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
Sometimes you turn 30 and you need records to make you feel like back when you were a teenager and you loved listening to music that made you feel awesome but also kind of like you were against everything at the same time. Beach Slang find that with this record, a sort of tossed-off vibe even though you can tell they do care quite a bit about what’s going on. It’s a grunge-y record that never sounds too same-y and you can tell the record is good because I just used two -y words in one sentence. Inspiring.
3. Pusha T—Darkest Before Dawn
Hip-hop records should sometimes scare you when you put them on. I’m really not quite sure if Pusha T still deals drugs, or if he’s actually killed anyone, but sometimes being scared is okay. And when he’s scaring you over these tip-top beats and with his trademark sneer, you feel like anything is possible, and that don’t bounce. (that last line is a reference to one of the lyrics on the record because I’m a good writer)
2. Vince Staples—Summertime ’06
It was a big year for hip-hop, and in related news, I’ll be seeing Vince Staples and Pusha T two days apart from each other in March and there’s a good chance I might die by the end of it, so it’s been a good run. This record reminded me a LOT of Clipse’s “Hell Hath No Fury” and seeing as that’s probably my favorite hip-hop record of all-time, that’s high praise. It’s got the same gritty production, the same vicious yet eager vocals, and the same tenacity that Clipse record had. Staples is in his early 20s, but his conscience is highly developed and that makes the record that much stronger. This guy will be showing up everywhere very soon(if he hasn’t already for you).
1. Jamie xx—In Colour
I don’t even like the xx, so I don’t know what the hell this is doing here, but I probably listened to this record more than any other in 2015, as I guess this seemed to me like Jamie xx figured out how to map emotions and then made them into soundscapes, or some other dreamy writing fluff like that. I don’t really know much, but I do know these songs are incredible in the car, in headphones, at a party, blaring at the beach, and in one of the verses of a song he gets a rapper to say he’s going to “ride that [woman’s part] like a stroller” and it’s probably the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve ever heard and let’s be honest that’s why this record is #1. No, but seriously. The songs are so good. They’re ridiculously good. This isn’t even a genre I enjoy. They’re that good. Get into it.
2015 was one of the best years for music that I can remember. I’m very bad at remembering what came out when, but music seems to run in alternating-year cycles for me, with one great year followed by one mediocre year, and then every 4 years or so, comes an Olympic Year, where the music is almost too good to keep up with. That was this year. So many great records, so many consistently good ones, the following is a list of my favourite music of 2015. These may not be the best records, as I’m not some expert who tries to tell you what one thing is better than something else, but just my favourites.
As per last year, I’m going to rank every album I BOUGHT. I listened to many more records than this, but these 37 records inspired me to purchase them, and here they are, ranked for your pleasure. So while #37 might seem like it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good! It’s just my least favourite of the records I liked enough to buy. I’ll only do write-ups for the top 20 because a) no one is paying me for this and b) you don’t give a shit anyway. Enjoy.
37. Modest Mouse—Strangers to Ourselves
36. Sleater-Kinney—No Cities to Love
34. Rick Ross—Black Market
33. Beach House—Depression Cherry
32. A$AP Rocky—AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
31. Earl Sweatshirt—I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
30. The Staves—If I Was
29. Alabama Shakes—Sound & Color
28. Tallest Man on Earth—The Dark Bird is Home
26. The Early November—Imbue
25. CHVRCHES—Every Open Eye
24. The Weeknd—Beauty Behind the Madness
23. Ty Dolla $ign—Free TC
22. Ryan Adams—1989
21. Drake and Future—What a Time to Be Alive
20. Purity Ring—another eternity
A lot of people said this wasn’t as good as their first record, but I didn’t like their first record, so I guess their shift in sound was directed at plebes like me. There is some filler here to be sure, but these two know what they’re good at(massive soundscapes and booming, lingering vocals) and do it very well here. Some absolute jams on this record.
19. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die—Harmlessness
A lot of people who write about music a lot more than me claimed this band was going to be leading the emo revival, except that You Blew It! has already done that, and better. There are some good songs on this record, but a lot of them fall short and the vocals and production both leave some to be desired. Bonus credit for writing a song about a Mexican woman who killed a bus driver for sexually assaulting other women, though. Seriously, look it up. Crazy story, great song.
18. Years & Years—Communion
I just realized I started my last two record reviews with “a lot of people”, and I promise I wasn’t trying to be contrarian. A lot of people will tell you this record isn’t as cool as some of the other “R&B by white boys” records that came out this year, but they would be wrong. This is catchy as all hell, and the opening tune, “Foundation”, is as good as you’ll get aping The Weeknd while being white and not dating underage models or singing about cocaine and/or having sex.
This was the record I thought I was promised when a lot of people were talking up the “World is a Beautiful Place…” record. It’s basically that record, but with better production, better vocals, and more interesting arrangements. Unfortunately, there’s a middle section of 3 songs that are plodding, boring attempts at being shoegaze-y and interesting and fail miserably. So in that sense, it was a very typical emo record with some weird attempts at doing stuff no one wanted their band to be about. If they just stuck to writing jams, this record would’ve been easily top 10.
16. Fetty Wap—Fetty Wap
I don’t even know how to explain this record. Every song sounds exactly the same, and yet, I’m still totally cool listening to all 17 of them. My girlfriend and I drove to Whistler this fall and played this album the whole way and it was about as good of a day as you could hope for.
15. Sufjan Stevens—Carrie and Lowell
This is quite clearly a very excellent record, but one that only plays well when you are either openly weeping or want to begin openly weeping. I tend to be biased against records I can’t enjoy at all times, and this falls in that category. It’s a gorgeously written record.
14. Hop Along—Painted Shut
If you have never listened to a Hop Along song, go to YouTube right now, listen to “Waitress”, and then you’ll probably get it. I have no idea how the lead girl, Frances, got a voice like that, but goddamnit I could listen to it all day. The music is very nice on some songs but fails to catch up to Frances’ emotive wailing on a few others, hence the #14 spot.
13. Kendrick Lamar—To Pimp a Butterfly
Okay so like everyone said this was the best record of the year, but I mean…is it, really? It’s not. It’s interesting, and Kendrick is quite clearly the best rapper alive right now, but I mean, come on. Before the year started, no one was saying “I hope the best rapper alive decides to release a record rapping almost exclusively over weird jazz fusion beats and inspires a trillion thinkpieces by people I don’t give a shit about”. This sounds like I am dumping on this record, and I’m not. It’s really, really good. But I mean, it’s not the best and certainly wasn’t my favorite. Maybe that makes me less of a human being, I don’t know. Whatever.
12. Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
If you had to describe this record, it sounds like nothing that should work. “Australian girl talk-sings over basic pop/rock/punk framework about her life as a queer female, and doing regular things like going swimming and buying a house” sounds like nothing you would want, but son of a bitch does it ever go good. Maybe I like the record even more as a comedian, because she has that thing where you’re listening along and then all of a sudden one line just smacks you right in your heart/throat/balls and the song is all of a sudden the greatest thing ever, and that’s every single song on this thing.
11. Tobias Jesso Jr.—Goon
“How Could You Babe” is a lifetime jam. That’s enough to put this record here on its own, but TJJ’s committal to a mid-00’s Adam Brody hairstyle, dating members of HAIM and kissing Taylor Swift and collaborating with Adele and then putting out a record that sounds like he’s Randy Newman and Michael McDonald’s lovechild is damn good enough for me. Before 2015 if you had said “Cullen you’re gonna put a piano jams record just outside your top 10” I’d have told you to go bang pots but you would’ve wrecked pots for nothing because here we are.
#10-1 will come at you live tomorrow!
I announced this a while ago on social media, but I’m excited to be performing at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal this summer. I was one of 9 comics across Canada who were selected to be in this year’s Homegrown competition.
It’s always a dream of any comedian when they start to perform on professional shows and get more established to be invited to perform at JFL. For me, Just For Laughs was one of the reasons why I got into stand-up comedy in the first place. I loved watching comedians on TV all the time, and being Canadian, JFL was one of the only consistent places to do just that.
The Homegrown line-up is absolutely stacked this year, so it’s going to be a phenomenal show. The line-up is also filled with friends, as Vancouver pals Chris James and Sean Emeny will both be joining me, and my friends Julia Hladkowicz from Ottawa(now Toronto) and Matt Wright from St. John’s will be there too. It’s going to be some type of party and I am super, super excited.
I’ll be performing a warm-up show on July 23rd for which details have yet to be announced, and then the Homegrown Competition itself is on July 24th at this awesome venue in Montreal called L’Astral. Shaun Majumder will be MC’ing, which is also great because he is one of my favorite Canadian comics and a guy I grew up watching on JFL.
If you’re going to be around Montreal this summer, tickets and pertinent info are all available here: http://www.hahaha.com/en/show/homegrown-comics-competition