***UPDATE: I originally wrote this on December 1st. Since then I’ve had a chance to listen to some albums that passed my radar earlier in the year so I have modified my original list just a wee bit. I can’t believe I never listened to Regina punk pioneers The Extroverts’ new album until this week! It is crazy good. After seeing Maren Morris kill it on Saturday Night Live I had to check out her album, and it is pretty darn fantastic. And then The Rolling Stones released an off-the-cuff album of blues covers. Plus, senility must be kicking in because I just flat out forgot about some albums until the last few days. Better late than never. At any rate, here is my new and improved list of my 50 favourite albums of 2016. It’s non-GMO, gluten-free, and pairs well with a pint of Rebellion Lentil Cream.***
David Bowie. Leonard Cohen. Prince. Lemmy. Merle Haggard. Glenn Frey. Leon Russell. Sharon Jones. Phife Dawg. All… RIP. And when you add in Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer and John Mann’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease? Well, it was pretty heartbreaking being a music fan in 2016, to say the least. When music is such a vital part of your life it can feel like losing a friend or family member when one of your music idols dies because over the years their music becomes a part of the very fabric of your being, conjuring countless memories and feelings. There’s a reason why music is said to be the soundtrack to your life.
But at least everything else in the world went swimmingly in 2016, right? Right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Right… Donald Trump will be the next American President. A Simpsons joke is now becoming a reality. Most of the world is still scratching their heads and trying to process this. In Canada, lefties weren’t thrilled with Harper and now righties aren’t fans of Trudeau, but collectively us Canadians are counting are lucky stars we don’t live south of the border. However, the U.S. election just highlighted the fact that so many people are pissed off and fed up with the establishment. Americans were so disenfranchised with the system that they gave a free pass for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny by voting for any kind of change to shake things up.
Since Bernie Sanders was no longer in the running, Trump was the remaining option for people wanting radical change. And now the rest of the world has to deal with it. Add in ISIS, mass shooting after mass shooting, the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements, and Standing Rock, and it’s clear that the world is becoming even more volatile and turbulent. Oh… and don’t forget Harambe.
The one positive thing about the world going down the shitter is that artists have more material to work with and can rage against the machine. If the world was a utopia then Slayer might wind up recording an album of Air Supply covers. I’ve noticed the zeitgeist shifting this year, because 2016 has been the best year in music in recent memory, hands down. It just seems that lots of veteran artists regained their hunger and put out albums that can rub shoulders with their classic material. Local music guru Taron Cochrane and I recently had a discussion about how a swarm of punk bands will have some extra piss and vinegar when recording their next albums.
Anyhoo, enough death and politics. Let’s get to the music. 2016 was one hell of a year for tunes. The year was so stacked with amazing albums that any one of the ones that cracked my top 20 would have likely wound up in my top 10 last year.
When I heard that Iggy Pop was working with Josh Homme I figured it would be worth a couple of listens and then I’d set it aside and go back to listening to Raw Power and The Idiot. I certainly wasn’t expecting the resulting Post Pop Depression to rank up there with Iggy’s Stooges and David Bowie albums. To cement the fact, Iggy released a concert film and album from the tour and songs like “Sunday” and “Paraguay” fit in perfectly with “Lust For Life” and “The Passenger.” At 70 years old, Iggy has cemented his place in history.
Tegan and Sara followed up their commercial breakthrough Heartthrob by going into even more ‘80s pop mode with Love You to Death. They may have lost some older fans who miss their folkier, rockier material, but these twin sisters kept their trademark quirky melodies intact and produced a perfect pop album.
Leonard Cohen was not in good health when recording what will now be his final album, and it’s clear that mortality was on his mind when writing these songs. After a stunning late career renaissance, You Want It Darker gives fans one last reminder of the genius of one of the world’s songwriters and poets.
The Pack A.D. are a force of nature. This tenacious twosome rock hard and loud, and with Positive Thinking they have added some extra textures and dabbled in some psychedelia to produce their most well-rounded, and best, album to date. “Yes, I Know” is hands down my favourite song of the year.
Drive-By Truckers may have put out the most important album of 2016 with American Band. These veteran country rockers from Athens, GA haven’t sounded this urgent in years, with a batch of politically charged stompers. Album highlight “What It Means” contains the biting lyrics “If you say it wasn’t racial / when they shot him in his tracks / Well I guess that means that you ain’t black / It means you ain’t black.”
Brian Fallon put out his best batch of songs since The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound. July Talk’s formula of Tom Waits meets Grease meets modern rock works even better than ever. The Pixies found a permanent replacement for Kim Deal in Paz Lenchantin and now the Pixies 2.0 sound loose and recharged. Against Me! likely hit a career high with 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but Shape Shift With Me is still pretty close to perfect. Forever a critic’s darling, but under-appreciated by the masses, Alejandro Escovedo channeled T-Rex, the New York Dolls, and Neil Young with his stunning Burn Something Beautiful.
As for the rest of my list? It varies from metal to punk rock to singer/songwriter to country to pop to hip-hop and includes super talented YQR acts BELLE PLAINE, The Extroverts, Government Town, Nick Faye & The Deputies, The Dead South, The Dustin Ritter Band, and Newera.
If you want a sample of each album check out my Spotify playlist.
JJ’s Top 50 Albums of 2016
1. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
2. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
3. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
4. The Pack A.D. – Positive Thinking
5. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
6. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
7. July Talk – Touch
8. Pixies – Head Carrier
9. Against Me! – Shape Shift with Me
10. Alejandro Escovedo – Burn Something Beautiful
11. Green Day – Revolution Radio
12. The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab
13. Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck
14. Butch Walker – Stay Gold
15. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate
16. Ladyhawke – Wild Things
17. Savages – Adore Life
18. Lydia Loveless – Real
19. David Bowie – Blackstar
20. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
21. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle
22. The Strumbellas – Hope
23. Hannah Georgas – For Evelyn
25. The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
25. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
26. D Generation – Nothing is Anywhere
27. Eleanor Friedberger – New View
28. Blue Rodeo – 1000 Arms
29. BELLE PLAINE – The Unrequited Love
30. Basia Bulat – Good Advice
31. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky
32. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
33. Gord Downie – Secret Path
34. Nick Faye & The Deputies – Lambswool – EP
35. Garbage – Strange Little Birds
36. The Wind and The Wave – Happiness is Not a Place
37. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
38. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
39. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
40. Lera Lynn – Resistor
41. The Extroverts – Supple
42. The Dead South – Illusion & Doubt
43. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs
44. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
45. Maren Morris – HERO
46. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
47. Government Town – III
48. The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
49. The Dustin Ritter Band – Can’t Turn Back
50. Newera – Inner Demons