The Best Albums of 2016: An Introduction

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Well, then. 2016. The world continued to lose its collective marbles, some very important cultural figures died, America’s election campaign was a train wreck from start to ugly finish, and it’s all become so “agreed-upon” that 2016 sucked so hard that it’s become a trope, an excuse to make t-shirts.

Thing is, though, what about those of us who are able to look beyond celebrity deaths and the idiocy of terrorists, trolls, and Republican voters and admit that we actually had quite a good year? Personally 2016 was not ideal, as I am still desperately trying to find full time permanent work and leave the dying music writing business for good, but for me there was still plenty to smile about. Professionally, things were amazing: I got to interview Alex Lifeson from Rush and write one of my favourite articles I’ve ever written, for NPR. I got to vote for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame again (my picks: Yes, Bad Brains, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, MC5). I travelled to Montreal for Osheaga once again. Best of all, I was honoured to serve on the 11-member Grand Jury for the Polaris Music Prize, which was the single greatest experience of my music journalism career.

I saw some great live music, too. Top of the list was seeing my all-time favourites Iron Maiden in Vancouver, my fifth Maiden show in 32 years of following them. I finally saw Radiohead live, at Osheaga, and they were indeed as incredible in concert as I’ve heard them to be for the past 20-plus years. I got to see Swedish jazz greats The Thing play a tiny bar in Saskatoon, something I never, ever thought would happen. I covered the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival with my girlfriend (and supremely talented fellow writer) Stacey, which was a blast. The two of us saw stellar shows by Heart and Joan Jett, Andy Shauf, Coeur de Pirate, Tanya Tagaq, Black Mountain, Royal Thunder, Eagles of Death Metal, and my lovable Viking faves Amon Amarth. I saw Nightwish for the first time. I saw Lamb of God and Clutch, both for the umpteenth time. The Polaris gala in Toronto was an absolute blast. We witnessed an astonishing performance by Shooting Guns as they performed a live score to Nosferatu in a beautiful movie theatre.

On a personal note, Stacey and I moved in together at the end of October (what a birthday/first anniversary present!) and better yet, we will be moving into a much better apartment at the end of the year, one better suited to the both of us and incorrigible pom Eddie. I’m making good inroads on the work front, and have discovered I’m pretty good at certain jobs that I never thought I’d be good at. It’s been a year of change and discovery, with more than enough “good” to make up for any negative world news. Sure, the deaths of Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and Prince are all very, very sad, but that’s life: people get old, sick, or both. Some die before their time, some die when it’s time. As for the political arena, I’ll just say that I have never been prouder to be Canadian than I have been after the U.S. election.

To the actual music of 2016! It’s been a very fun year for the new tunes. A lot of darkness, of course, but plenty of life-affirming, joyous music too. Social commentary and escapism, lustfulness and sadness, performance art and storytelling, power and introspection. Metal had a very strong 2016, and I made that side of my life a lot more bearable by greatly decreasing the amount of death metal and black metal I listen to. Death metal is good for me in smaller doses, while I find that formulaic black metal has run its course. I needed more melody in my heavy music this year, and I got it in abundance.

This being the 31st year I’ve done this, and the 16th annual blog I’ve posted, the same 23-day format applies. Two days of reissues/live albums/etc., one day of my choices for honourable mentions, and then the big top 20 albums and singles countdown, to be posted daily until December 24, when my Album of the Year and Single of the Year will be revealed, with great fanfare, to all six of you who read this. As I always say, if I introduce you to one new favourite record in the next few weeks, then I’ve done my job. That’s the whole reason I do this. So here’s to a strange year that was, and here’s hoping 2017 is better for everyone!

My top ten albums of 2015:

1. Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls
2. Grimes, Art Angels
3. Holly Herndon, Platform
4. Gwenno, Y Dydd Olaf
5. Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie
6. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
7. Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors
8. Florence + the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
9. Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION
10. Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, girl

Past albums of the year (uh, please bear in mind I was sixteen when I started this):

1986: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
1987: Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
1989: Voivod – Nothingface
1990: Megadeth – Rust In Peace, Led Zeppelin Box Set (tie)
1991: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
1993: Nirvana – In Utero
1994: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1995: Elastica – Elastica
1996: Pulp – Different Class
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
1998: Monster Magnet – Powertrip
1999: Metallica – S & M
2000: Yo La Tengo – …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2001: Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, The Langley Schools Music Project – Innocence & Despair (tie)
2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2003: Manitoba – Up in Flames
2004: Arcade Fire – Funeral
2005: Opeth – Ghost Reveries
2006: Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2007: Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
2008: Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
2009: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
2010: Best Coast – Crazy For You
2011: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
2013: Paramore – Paramore
2014: fka twigs – LP1
2015: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

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