2016 was a year full of great music, explosive live shows, dynamic music festivals, and a full list of noteworthy releases.
Once again we’ve asked all the Indie88 announcers to pick their favourites from the year, including favourite songs, albums, live shows, underrated music, and new artists.
Take a read below!
Westside Gunn – FLYGOD
I had a really hard time choosing a release from the crew at Griselda Records, as they’ve released about 8 projects this year, but this one is the most varied. If you like grimy, violent New York rap this will be your favourite new crew (they hail from Buffalo). This is a great starting point for the Griselda crew as is GxFR Don’t Get Scared Now, which features WSG’s brother Conway just after he had been shot in the head 3 times (seriously. He’s OK now though).
St. Lucia – “Dancing On Glass”
This is infectious 80s nostalgia at its finest. The track has an enormous chorus and a vocal sample reminiscent of Nu Shooz’ classic “I Can’t Wait.” I could easily see this playing during the closing credits of Problem Child 4 or something.
Tame Impala – Bestival, June 11
This was mind melting for so many reasons; the band sounded perfect, the weather had finally cooled off, and the setting of Woodbine Park was a nice change from Toronto’s default festival venue Fort York. Their album Currents was also in my top 10, as it is pretty much flawless.
The Avalanches – Wildflower
I know this was a well-received album, but I’m shocked at how few people are singing its praises. 2001’s Since I Left You was one of the best albums of that decade, and having new Avalanches music felt like a hug from an old friend you hadn’t seen in 15 years.
Runner up: Empire Of The Sun – Two Vines
Marker Starling and Jessy Lanza
These bands aren’t new but might be new to you. Jessy Lanza was nominated for the Polaris Prize but is still relatively unknown, despite releasing one of the best albums of the year, Oh No. Marker Starling is a Toronto fixture, but his last release Rosy Maze is criminally unknown. He is hands down Canada’s best songwriter.
PUP – Phoenix Concert Theatre, May 26
I’ve been a PUP fan since long before that was even their band name, back when there would be about 20 people at some sketchy, shitty bar watching their set. To watch them play a sold-out show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre — their biggest headlining set ever — was incredible. So much energy, such a positive, fun and loving crowd, so many surfs, it was a sweaty mess and all around LIT.
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – “A 1000 Times”
This is one of those songs that I fell in love with immediately — it’s absolutely beautiful. It was a song that got me through some rough patches this year and a song I’d listen to when things were going well too. I think it’s a song I’ll show my kids one day if I ever end up accidentally having children for some reason.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
The evolution of Childish Gambino’s sound legit astounds me. Watching him go from a young man with a four-song mixtape with catchy hooks and strong, yet funny punchlines to what sounds like the new Prince has been amazing. For people that wanted another record like Camp or even a more experimental hip hop album like Because the Internet, this is not the same. It’s filled with the same passion but it’has more soul behind it. His vocals are raw, they are unique and they catchy AF, from start to finish this record is a jam sammich and I can’t wait to listen to it on a beach with my toezies in the sand.
The Growlers – City Club
I’m forever bummed that I missed their show at Opera house this year. It had been awhile since we had new music from this group of beach goths, but it was well worth the wait. Brooks Nielsen has one of my favourite voices right now and if you pair that with their groovy riffs and laid back sound, it hard to find something better. In addition to all of that, it’s one of those albums you listen to and you think to yourself “DID THEY WRITE THESE SONGS SPECIFICALLY ABOUT MY LIFE?!”
I’ve been friends with these ladies for a while now, and over the last year they’ve taken a massive step forward. Their stage show is booming with confidence, but in an incredibly charming way and they definitely have the power to steal the show as an opening act. They continue to impress me more and more every time I get to their shows and I’m super amped to hear their debut record, which looks like it will come out sometime around mid 2017. Do yourself a favour and listen to this goddamn band.
Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
30 years and nine albums since their debut, Gary Louris has written a set of personal songs that jangles and jingles in a way not heard since 1995’s Tomorrow The Green Grass and paves their way to the alt-country hall of fame.
July Talk – Touch
The sensational follow-up to their debut finds the band flexing its muscles with a deft touch that produces a sound that is unique in today’s music world.
Tuns – “Mixed Messages”
The three-headed monster of Mike O’Neill (Inbreds) Matt Murphy (Super Friendz) and Chris Murphy (Sloan) combine their talents on this classic slice of Canadiana powerful pop!
Metric/Death Cab For Cutie – Air Canada Centre, March 23
While Death Cab showed how cohesive their new five-piece lineup has gelled in the 10 months since multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla’s departure, Metric shook the stage with a magnificent set of hits that exuded power, poise, and the confidence of a world class back band taking a home town bow!
John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
The former Weakerthans man continues to show why he is on the short list of the most passionate, insightful, and creative songwriters this country has produced.
Boreal Sons – You & Everyone
This Calgary band created the most unique album of the year with just the use of keyboards. Challenging, soothing, and satisfying.
Brooklyn three-piece have put out a 60s sounding gem of an album High In Place. Its swirling guitars remind one of New Jersey band Real Estate.
Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada’s 99.9% really came of out nowhere and blew me away, it also made me think (and dance). There was something so memorable about Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool; I love how a band from when I was a kid has continued to evolve to new territory.
Radiohead’s – “Burn the Witch”
The strings are anxious, Thom Yorke’s vocals soar, it has a stunning build, and it was the perfect, gorgeously full song to combat the synth-heavy last few years.
The Tragically Hip – Air Canada Centre, Aug. 10, 12, 14
When you get a ticket to the most coveted show of the year, you definitely get immersed in the experience of it all. At The Tragically Hip’s third show at the ACC, you could feel the crowd’s excitement, gratitude, sorrow, and intensity all at once. The show was incredible and gracious. Gord Downie is a consummate frontman (but you already knew that).
Arkells – Massey Hall, Nov. 4
Never have I been to a show at Massey Hall where the crowd was on their feet first song to last, singing along to every tune. It was a heartfelt and energetic show, complete with surprises (like live, on the spot, Springsteen trivia/karaoke with Frank Turner).
Dolly Parton – Molson Canadian Amphitheater, Sept. 9
I got to see my hero live. It was the best.
Underrated / Overlooked Album
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
It’s a magically crafted electro album with influences that span sounds and decades, but she makes it her own. So good, so very, very good.
Would you ask a parent to pick their favourite child? I don’t think so.
TOP 3 SONGS
Japandroids – “Near To The Wild Heart of Life”
Japandroids’ second album Celebration Rock from 2012 will be ranked as one of the best of the decade when we’re looking back in a few years, and with their latest single “Near To The Wild Heart of Life”, they picked up right where they left off. It has that careless, in your face, youthful vibe that they have perfected and own. I can’t wait for the album that this single belongs to that’s coming out in January.
James Blake – “I Need A Forest Fire”
Put some headphones on, sit back, and prepare yourself for some chills. James Blake is the king of manipulating samples and mixing them with his unique voice and subtle drums to make something beautiful. This song features Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, and it has so much to be appreciated and discovered every time you re-listen to it.
The 1975 – “The Sound”
I wanted to hate this album because of how pretentious the name is (I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It), but it is honestly outstanding. I know they won’t get the recognition they deserve because their fan base is a bunch of screaming teenagers, but the whole record is full of smart, gigantic hooks. My personal favorite song on the whole thing is “The Sound”. One of the best pop albums in a long time.
Arkells – Morning Report
It’s amazing to see how big Arkells are getting, and it feels like they are on the cusp of hitting another level. That is why I’m calling this my underrated album. They put out Morning Report two years to the day their previous album came out, and while it builds off of their signature anthemic and spirited sound, they also took some chances, doing something completely different with songs like “Drakes Dad” and “Private School.” My favourite parts of the whole album, though, are the tender love/break up songs. Check out “Making Due” and “And Then Some.” “A Little Rain (Song For Pete)” is also special because it encapsulates the fun, sing-a-long sound many of their songs have, and is the reason many of us fell in love with this band.
Everything Everything – Time, Aug. 6
Everything Everything played the middle of the afternoon at TIME festival and were a pleasant surprise. I think they said it was their first time playing in Canada, too. Their frontman has a very unique singing style, but they also have a very talented bass player who is fun to watch. Overall, a dynamic sound that is different and really fun to experience live.
Lapsley is only 20 years old, and she already knows how to put ample amounts of emotion into her music. She put out her debut album this year and it gained her lots of traction and fans all over the world. She will have a long career if she keeps making music like this.
The Strumbellas – Hope
True story, I have never heard a Strumbellas album I didn’t like, and Hope is no exception. The six-piece from Lindsay, Ontario, who have been together for 8 years, finally struck gold with their fourth LP which came out in April. You’ll find everything on this album – a banjo, a fiddle, horns – and it’s teeming with heart.
July Talk – “Beck + Call”
My favourite song of the year is accompanied by one of my favourite videos of the year. July Talk’s “Beck + Call,” featuring Polaris Prize-winning throat singer Tanya Tagaq, is just smart. The rolling drums and Tagaq’s vocals act as the beating heart of the song, the contrasting lyrics are sweet and saucy, and the video, which stays true to July Talk’s black and white aesthetic, is full of punchy, yet graceful choreography. And I am a complete sucker for choreography.
Bob Moses – Time, Aug. 6
My favourite live show has a lot to do with the venue. I went to Time, my first festival at Fort York this summer. A hot, hazy night in August, the CN Tower looming in the background, the Fort is turned into a little hippie commune with great bands around every corner. And tucked away in the trees, on a small, twinkling stage was Bob Moses and a perfect blend of grungy, yet delicate electro.
Have you heard of Lizzo? She is fierce, fun, and fly, and you may not have heard, but the American hip hop artist released her first solo EP, Coconut Oil, in October. She also performed “Good As Hell” on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee the day after the US election, and it just proved that sisters are doin’ it for themselves.
Alaska Thunderfuck – Poundcake
If you know me, you know I love drag. Honourable mention for best underrated album this year is Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner, Alaska, with Poundcake. It’s definitely NSFW, and it’ll teach you that anus-thing is possible.
Stay tuned to Indie88.com over the holidays for our entire Best of 2016 series.
Up next: The Best Toronto Shows of 2016 (Thursday, December 16)