Personal Top 10 Favourites of 2016

By chrisspurr chrisspurr
updated about 20 hours ago

An ordered list of my favourite albums from 2016, accompanied by an explanation as to why consisting of content from reviews published by various sources.


  1. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

    8 For Sale from $22.50

    Release Date: September 30, 2016
    Genre: Art Rock
    Favourite Track: 29 #Strafford Apts

    22, A Million is certainly Bon Iver’s most difficult record; it’s the work of a songwriter who seems to have lost interest in established, easily deciphered forms, a possibility Vernon has been hinting at for nearly all of his career. Bon Iver’s first album in five years takes an unexpected turn toward the strange and experimental, but behind the arranged glitches and processed voices are deeply felt songs about uncertainty. This is a record about the perpetually dissatisfying search for the divine, or really anything to hang one’s hat on, within an overwhelming, constantly regenerating digital present. With song titles written in code, inscrutable lyrics and eclectic instrumentation, 22, A Million is Bon Iver’s most enigmatic album so far. Still, like the previous two, it is in some far-reaching way about a coming to terms. Here, Vernon sounds as though he is rediscovering – or maybe recreating – his own identity in the context of what Bon Iver has become, sifting through the dysfunction, demands, and general weirdness of a public life in search of what is real and tangible, at least to himself.

  2. Mutual Benefit - Skip A Sinking Stone

    Release Date: May 20, 2016
    Genre: Folk
    Favourite Track: The Hereafter

    Skipping stones is an activity for the young, appealing to the reflective and contemplative, but it’s a futile endeavor; the stones will sink after creating but a momentary disruption in the water. Yet the simple act is relaxing, and for the navel-gazers among us, bears a quiet beauty. The solemn meditation of this act, which serves as the cornerstone of Mutual Benefit’s latest album, mirrors the dreamy haze that Jordan Lee’s music creates. Hopeful optimism ties into the thematic through line of the album and the recurring metaphor of a skipping stone. By the final track, not only does the stone sink, but Lee’s falsetto strains as he admits it always does. It is an album that begins with optimism ends in resignation, but Lee’s resolute calm prevents a reading that would see him losing any of that initial optimism by the end. The circular nature of Skip a Sinking Stone has an even greater impact given Lee’s ultimate revelation. The interval between skipping that stone and watching it inevitably sink comes to truly represent Lee’s meditation on the demise of his relationship and his slow march toward acceptance.

  3. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo

    Release Date: February 14, 2016 / April 1, 2016
    Genre: Rap
    Favourite Track: Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1

    In advance of its release, Kanye West logged onto Twitter and promised the world that his next record – then titled Waves – wouldn’t just be the album of the year, but the album of life. The Life of Pablo, West’s highly anticipated seventh studio album, falls short of that outsize pronouncement, but as a beautiful, messy, mixed-up collection of songs, it’s a brilliant document. It feels far different from any of the tightly constructed, singular works of West’s past, and from a sonic standpoint, it sounds almost like a greatest-hits collection of nearly every sound and musical idea that he’s cultivated up to this moment. Even with all the varied elements from his past that show up on The Life of Pablo, it’s surprising how much this album feels of a piece with West’s previous release, 2013’s Yeezus. From the sound of it, he enjoyed the time he spent in 2013 playing around with his carefully reduced array of grating, aggressive textures, and he employs them to beautiful effect once again here. Perhaps the greatest difference between that record and this one, however, is where Yeezus was all about rage and self-aggrandizement, Pablo is imbued with a softer emotional core. The Life of Pablo explores the concept and reality of Kanye West being an outcast: the egotistical, self-caring celebrity who is misunderstood. Kanye is a father and a husband now and here he is struggling to adapt to societal expectations of him, his responsibilities as a multimillion dollar phenomenon, and his role in life as a caring father and loving husband with a strong religious background. Despite becoming the infamous caricature that most people who don't listen to his music know him as, Kanye takes his image into question and puts his personal issues out front on this album.

  4. Whitney (8) - Light Upon The Lake

    19 For Sale from $3.95

    Release Date: June 3, 2016
    Genre: Indie Rock
    Favourite Track: Golden Days

    Light Upon the Lake, their debut LP, is a short collection of short songs; half of them are made up of easygoing guitar flourishes, the other half feature woozy strings and slurred brass. When writing these songs together, Max Kakaceck and Julien Ehrlich developed a persona: Whitney is a lonely guy who drinks too much and lives alone. It was probably a pretty easy idea to embody and both are quick to admit that the songs were written in the midst of consecutive breakups and the dissolution of their former band. However, the weird thing about labeling this record as a breakup album is that it’s both accurate, and paradoxically, widely off-base. It’s not angsty, or hastily prepared in a few drunken nights off of some fit of red-eyed nostalgia. This indie classic begins with an ode to loneliness, but it quickly transitions into something more hopeful, the search for golden days on the open road with nowhere to go. The duo revels in the unknown, finding happiness in spontaneity. Light Upon the Lake operates in a universe of endlessly repeatable joy, with a touch of melancholy to keep it interesting.

  5. Dance Gavin Dance - Mothership

    Release Date: October 7, 2016
    Genre: Post-Hardcore
    Favourite Track: Flossie Dickey Bounce

    There are are a handful of bands that somehow always manage to top their previous output with their latest output. With each album release it’s becoming apparent that Dance Gavin Dance are a part of this laudable group. After their last album, Instant Gratification, Dance Gavin Dance could have gone anywhere and it more than likely would have been well received. However, they chose to go above and beyond and release one of the best albums of their career. Mothership takes the pop elements that made Instant Gratification stand out and put them alongside some of their heaviest material to date. Not only will you have heavier songs scattered among the more melodically inclined tunes, but you’ll also see these melodic tracks have sections that seem to be much heavier than prior records; the overall incorporation of soulful vocal melodies paired with unclean screams and funky guitar riffs takes the genre to new heights. The California-based band’s seventh full-length redefines the limits of post-hardcore with this experimental yet cohesive release, surprisingly coming off as one of the most well-constructed albums of 2016.

  6. Frank Ocean - Blond

    18 For Sale from $407.89

    Release Date: August 20, 2016
    Genre: Rhythm & Blues
    Favourite Track: Self Control

    On its surface, Blonde seems tremendously insular. Its spareness suggests a person in a small apartment with only a keyboard, a guitar, and thoughts for company, but it isn’t just anyone emoting from the abyss, it’s Frank Ocean. In his hands, such intimacy attracts the ear, bubbles the brain, raises the flesh. Throughout the album, Ocean flits in and out of memories and relationships, replacing the set pieces of his previous album with slipstream vignettes. On Blonde past and present are nonexistent: time is blurred into oblivion, everything happening at once. There’s an acute loneliness at the heart of all these vocal tweaks and flighty exploits. What makes this loneliness so powerful is Ocean’s dogged refusal to embrace it. He's determined to find a way to reconcile his alienation from his peers with his need to belong. It’s such an ordinary concern, but Ocean elevates it to cosmic heights. For Ocean, loneliness and its various antidotes – drugs, women, men, nostalgia – aren’t some destructive cycle: they’re just life unfolding. The only thing he regrets is how quickly it all unravels.

  7. Blink-182 - California

    31 For Sale from $10.61

    Release Date: July 1, 2016
    Genre: Pop-Punk
    Favourite Track: California

    After a stretch of uncertainty and stagnation, Blink-182 returned with their eighth album, California, and their best in 10 years. California is Blink-182’s home state and their state of mind. For more than two decades, this band has made gleaming pop-punk about life without complications or consequences that could only truly grow in sunshine. That they named their new album California feels like the sort of summation statement a band makes as it’s nearing its conclusion: here we were born, here we raged, here we will rage until the sun is no more. So it’s notable that this album’s title track is more or less a dirge, a low-key almost-ballad buried near the end of the album with a chorus that paints California as a prison. Middle age hasn’t brought about a reassessment of ambition for Blink-182 – there is no Broadway rock opera, no easing into politically charged waters. On this pleasantly familiar if not especially imaginative album, the band’s subject matter is bittersweet nostalgia for the state they were raised. Blink-182 are growing up, a decade and a half after anyone asked them to, finding their seemingly carefree surroundings to be increasingly gloomy. The things that once felt like a release to them eventually became cages and so a little bit of melancholy was inevitable as freedom gives way to responsibility and ambition begets regret.

  8. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

    Release Date: May 8, 2016
    Genre: Art Rock
    Favourite Track: Burn the Witch

    By 2011, Radiohead had seemingly run out of reinventions. During the sessions for 2011’s patchy King of Limbs, the world’s most innovative rock band hunkered behind sequencers and turntables, splicing together fragmented loops into droning collages. Released with a lackluster reception, Radiohead appeared to be winding down. Side projects were proliferating; four year breaks between albums had become the norm. Arguably the greatest rock band of the past twenty years seemed to have written themselves into a gray, glitchy corner. When more than four years passed without word that a new album was in the works, it became easier and easier to believe The King of Limbs might be Radiohead’s farewell. After years of waiting, A Moon Shaped Pool arrived and like all the best Radiohead albums, it echoes moments from throughout the band’s history but has no clear precursor in their discography. If Radiohead had made the dehumanizing effects of technology their great theme, A Moon Shaped Pool is the first record in which, musically, they kick their way out of the machine, or at least make their cyborg soul more vestigial. Where Kid A was defined by electronic music vernacular, this record in contrast is defined by its orchestral arrangements. In the past, Thom Yorke has sharply peppered his lyrics with everyday cliches to suggest a mind consumed by meaningless data, but on the new album, he largely moves beyond cynicism. He is now considering simpler truths in a heretofore-unexplored register: wonder and amazement. It sounds like the most cloistered and isolated soul in modern rock music opening up and admitting a helplessness far more personal than he’s ever dared. The melodic sweetness and sometimes gentle ambience of A Moon Shaped Pool represent Radiohead at their least bloodthirsty and most accessible in a decade.

  9. Justice (3) - Woman

    Release Date: November 18, 2016
    Genre: Electronic
    Favourite Track: Randy

    Collectively known as Justice, French electronic musicians Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay had laid relatively low for the five years following the release of their sophomore effort, Audio, Video, Disco. In that time, though, it would seem that Augé and de Rosnay have learned some crucial life lessons. The lyrical content of Woman moves past that long time away and instead brims with hope for the future. The pressure to craft another Cross, their outstanding debut, likely weighed heavy and could have left Justice endlessly experimenting in an effort to find something just as powerful. Instead, they stick with the formulas that’s always worked for them to begin with. On their third proper full-length, Woman, Justice recapture their seminal sound with an eighties tinge; risks are kept to a minimum and the Parisian pair deliver exactly what one might hope for from them. While Justice avoided breaking new ground with Woman, the tracks still manage to remind us why we fell in love with them in the first place.

  10. Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denial

    Release Date: May 20, 2016
    Genre: Indie Rock
    Favourite Track: (Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem)

    Will Toledo has been making music at an unrelenting pace for the better part of the last six years. In that time, he’s self-released eleven albums under the moniker Car Seat Headrest on Bandcamp. That’s an impressive output considering most of his catalog was recorded in a dorm room, and occasionally the backseat of the family car. Toledo is yet another shining example of the skilled songwriters that have begun to emerge from bedrooms and Bandcamp to big stages and major labels. Last year saw the release of Teens of Style in which old songs were re-imagined for a compilation record on Matador Records. Teens of Denial is Car Seat Headrest’s full length debut of new material on Matador, and his first foray into a proper recording studio. The album follows the narrative of a fictional character/alter-ego named Joe. These are clearly personal songs – the protagonist feels like a vehicle for sentiments from a certain time in Toledo’s life – but the songs are also about the big, scary questions that we’re all asking ourselves. Although Toledo doesn’t claim to have the answers, you still end up feeling empowered as a listener. The record captures the all too familiar sense of emptiness and uncertainty that comes with the start of adulthood, and it will fiercely resonate with people who are trying to figure out how to live in a world that feels like it's falling apart more every day.