As always, I will start my list with the reminder that I don’t create these with the idea that the albums here are the “best” or have been pitted against one-another and compared; instead, I compile these lists based off my listening statistics as well as my time spent with each album. I generally lean towards albums I couldn’t put down, rather than whether or not I believe they are “better than” albums that don’t appear on the list.
So, yeah, the new A Tribe Called Quest album is awesome, I loved the David Bowie record, and many more, but I didn’t find myself coming back to them to listen over-and-over the way I did with these records.
And with that, here are 45 of my absolute favourite records of the year – they’re records I was addicted to, records that I played on repeat, records I felt some kind of connection to, and ultimately records I think you should listen to.
Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
Jeff Rosenstock’s WE COOL? from 2015 may be a more consistent album on the whole, but there’s a case to be made that his latest album WORRY. is Rosenstock’s Abbey Road. What starts texturally similar to last year’s record gets busted at seams into a suite-cycle featuring genre-hopping madness that Rosenstock inched away from on the aforementioned 2015 album. While upon first glance it seems less-than, it’s no doubt a satisfying and well-deserved victory lap for Jeff and seeing his star finally get the recognition it deserves this year has been a major highlight.
Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus
Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus is a dynamite groove-laden record that skips from funky-jazz to jazzy-funk all while toying with hip-hop head-nodding beats, virtuosic keyboard runs and deep-as-hell basslines. Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams have crafted one of the most inherently satisfying albums of the year with Black Focus.
Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere
Swet Shop Boys consists of rappers Heems (of Das Racist fame) and MC Riz (actor Riz Ahmed, of HBO’s The Night Of and Rogue One) and their album Cashmere is at once politically-charged and an absolute blast of party-jams. Humor and insight rub against one another at every turn; “T5” focuses on traveling as minorities (“Oh no, we’re in trouble / TSA always wanna burst my bubble / always get a random check, when I rock the stubble.”) and “Shottin'” focuses on mosque surveillance by the NYPD (“He wasn’t doing nothin’ / but they shot him.”) But, as serious as some of these moments are, they’re wrapped inside sneaky punchline-raps that will have you laughing before doing a double-take.
Tyler Daniel Bean – On Days Soon To Pass
Vermont-based Tyler Daniel Bean’s On Days Soon To Pass landed on my radar thanks to comparisons to David Bazan & Pedro The Lion, and it’s easy to see why these comparisons are apt; this is cathartic indie-rock that verges on 90s-emo in just the right ways. On Days Soon To Pass is a vulnerable and emotionally raw yet instrumentally varied record that toys with post-rock, alt-country, and more – all the while remaining melodically satisfying.
Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
On their two previous EPs, New York’s Crying took chiptune-programmed synths and fused them with driving indie-rock to brew up one of the most addictive combinations that I had heard in years; they were instantly one of my favourite new acts and I knew even bigger things were on the horizon. Cut to 2016’s Beyond the Fleeting Gales, which finds the band dosing their potent style with a heavy slice of 80s prog-rock bombast. Here’s a band who are taking the un-cool and making it fucking cool as shit again. All of this culminating on “There Was a Door,” which was released on National Coming Out day and is a soaring, chill-inducing piece of important pop-songwriting. When Crying kick into overdrive and sing “All I’ve wanted for the place I live / is respect for this vessel I’m in / A body of water, wild, immense, untamed” it sends shivers down my spine.
As Pitchfork aptly put it in their review: “[it’s] a surprisingly-radical suggestion that a sweep-picked guitar solo can be for everyone, not just for oversexed cis dudes with big hair.” Fuckin’ A.
Peaer – Peaer
Brooklyn’s Peaer dropped their self-titled second-album on Tiny Engines this year, and similarly to Tyler Daniel Bean they’re taking guitar-led indie-rock and injecting it with a serious amount of dynamics; tension builds and recedes through these tracks while maintaining intriguing guitar-lines and solid hooks. It makes for the kind of album that might just sneak up on you, and the next thing you know you’ve got it on repeat.
The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini
Icelandic songwriter Emiliana Torrini has long-since been one of my favourite vocalists of all time; her latest record is a collaboration with Belgian ensemble The Colorist Orchestra and is a rare beast indeed: a live-record that can serve as an introduction to new listeners as well as an essential listen for long-time fans. Nine of Emiliana’s previous works are re-arranged here by The Colorist, alongside two brand-new tracks; for fans, hearing “Today Has Been OK” off Fisherman’s Woman arranged with classical adornments, jazzy-vibes and skittering percussion will be a delight. Me and Armini’s sultry, reverb-soaked “Gun” appears here and blends organic instrumentation with subtle electronic moments and a downright brilliant piano break-down. Easily one of this year’s most instantly effective albums; with a release date of December 9th this album rocketed onto my year-end list faster than any other record in 2016.
Taken By Savages – Sleepaway Cramp
I’m a big fan of Joseph A. Ziemba’s work through Bleeding Skull! and AGFA (American Genre Film Archive.) I was also a big fan of the band The Like Young back when they were active. Then, one day I realized Ziemba was the same Joseph from the aforementioned band, and my mind exploded. Alongside Annie Choi, he’s got a new record out this year as Taken By Savages; It’s really great, slightly dark-n-moody, but still super-catchy fuzz-rock. Absolutely worth looking into for fans of The Thermals, Flin Fon, et al.
Joyce Manor – Cody
Joyce Manor put out incredibly consistent albums, and this year’s Cody is no different. Clocking in at 24 minutes (their longest full-length yet), it features one of their most addictive tracks ever in “The Last You Heard Of Me” – which I just could not put down this year. If you’re not into Joyce Manor, Cody’s growth proves that it’s about time you check in with this phenomenal band.
Shy Layers – 2
One of my most trusted source of music for many years now has been Will Miller of Tiny Engines; back when he blogged under the Sound As Language moniker, he absolutely tipped me off to many bands that became some of my all-time favourites and helped me rediscover my love of the punk/emo genre. I reached out to him on Twitter this year for recommendations and – among others – he got me listening to Shy Layers’ new album 2. An intriguing album, 2 is very hard to pin down; is it an electronic avant-pop record? Is it a tropical influenced guitar-pop record? Basically, it’s all of the above and more, and it’s pretty wonderful. Thanks Will!
Whores. – Gold
Whores’ Gold is a punishing slab of heavy-as-hell, Melvins-indebted rock-and-roll, and goddamn, it’s the shit. There’s not much else to say about this record except that you should play it as loud as you can.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
The new one from Cymbals Eat Guitars has a pinch of Springsteen-esque songwriting in here, with songs as hazy as the smoke on the album’s cover; it’s not a total re-working for the band, but if any album cover this year accurately represents the songs within, it’s Pretty Years’. Dark, yet neon-y and technical, these songs are some of the best the band have written in their already-terrific career.
Cowtown – Paranormal Romance
Cowtown’s Paranormal Romance sounds like caffeinated worshipers at the throne of DEVO cranking their amps up to 11 and just going for it; they may be a bit derivative from moment to moment (they’re as much The Marked Men as they are DEVO,) but when you’re having this much fun and your hooks are this catchy, does it really matter? I say: no.
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
I enjoyed Kate Tempest’s new album Let Them Eat Chaos from afar before I finally sat down on the TTC and listened to the album start-to-finish with headphones on; this is where the album fully bloomed, a hugely impressive album of beat-poem raps that is absolutely immediate and pertinent to our times. This is stunning stuff, and there’s a case to be made that it’s one of the most important albums of the year, in my opinion; absolutely potent and staggering.
Counterfeit Jeans’ album is one of the most slept-on Canadian releases of the year, and I can’t understand why; noisy indie-rock with hooks from top-to-bottom, this is one of the best debut full-lengths of the year. You should expect major waves to be made by this Edmonton act in the next couple of years. Get in on the ground floor while you still can.
Pro Teens – Accidentally
Pro Teens’ record Accidentally is a welcomely retro affair that sounds unlike anything else in the independent scene right now; there’s some Costello hiding in here, that’s for sure, but their moody pop songs are as likely to segue into a hook as they are into an avant side-track. “Decoy” starts as an off-kilter, downtempo tune but builds to a thrilling finale while “Puberty” sparkles and shines with keyboards and shakers that could get any high school dance bopping.
Iji – Bubble
Iji return for the second year in a row with this year’s Bubble; here’s another band, like Pro Teens, that are doing their own thing and don’t seem to be getting their due. There’s no real way to pin down their sound, though it’s thoroughly eclectic and could be labeled as “art-pop” should the need arise. I really hope more listeners catch on to what they’re putting down out there, because it’s quite wonderful.
Yeesh – Confirmation Bias
Yeesh’s Confirmation Bias opens with a minute of noise, priming the listener for the 30 minutes that follow; playing indie-rock with post-hardcore energy, Yeesh aren’t afraid to toss some dissonance and unevenness into their songs, which are all the better for it. The unexpected nature of Confirmation Bias will certainly keep listeners on edge, which creates a thrilling atmosphere that had me coming back for more throughout the year.
Omni – Deluxe
Omni is a super-group of sorts, featuring members of Deerhunter and Carnivores; they play the kind of guitar-focused post-punk influenced rock that seems to be in high-demand, but they’ve got the songwriting chops to back up their stylistic indulgences. If you’re a fan of Josef K, Wire, The Clean and more, you’re going to find yourself comfortable in the layers of guitar-lines that Omni whip up throughout Deluxe.
Plow United – Three
Plow United were one of my favourite discoveries of the year, having heard their seminal early albums for the first time at the beginning of 2016. Thankfully for me, Plow United are one of the rare acts that have reformed and are continuing to put out fantastic records. This year’s Three is no exception, with a blast of punk-pop that comes-and-goes in under 30 minutes.
Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions
Mikey Erg – who has played in pretty much any pop-punk band that has mattered in the past decade – put out his first solo full-length this year, which takes his pop-punk influences and places them fully in vintage power-pop territory. Splitting the difference somewhere between Blue-era Weezer and acts like The Nerves or The Jam, Tentative Decisions contains some of the best songwriting of Erg’s entire career – and that’s certainly saying something.
Leapling – Suspended Animation
One word that comes to mind when listening to Leapling’s Suspended Animation is nuanced; while so many bands are content to bash-out their indie-rock, Leapling take a restrained approach to their second record, which makes this fantastic record seem more thoughtfully composed than your average indie-band. Tracks like “Shakin'” and “You Lemme Know” kick-and-fuss in that kind of way that sounds so perfectly constructed, despite their looseness. There’s also a hint of early Death Cab For Cutie in here, though they get louder than any of those records got. Exploding in Sound records have a live one in Leapling, and I am thoroughly interested in hearing what they cook up next.
Max Graef & Glenn Astro – The Yard Work Simulator
The first fully electronic record on my list so far, but not the last. Max Graef put out a terrific album two years ago, and this year he’s back and collaborating with Glenn Astro on their album The Yard Work Simulator – a funky, night-time album of instro-funk, hip-hop and disco influenced tracks that fit as snugly into your headphones as they do on the dance floor.
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
No one can deny that 2016 has been a particularly rough year for classic rock. With so many of the genre’s most seminal acts slipping away, there’s certainly something heartwarming to hear a brand new Paul Simon album on a sunny Friday morning.
Now 74, you might expect Stranger to Stranger to be a lacking affair, full of returning-to-roots snoozers, but the range of experimentation going on here will be unsurprising to those who checked in with 2011’s solid So Beautiful or So What. Simon has never been one to rest on his laurels — well, we’ll overlook 2006’s Surprise here for a moment — but his new album sees a thoroughly revitalized and engaged artist continuing to push dense and lush sonic bric-a-brac into gorgeous walls of melody. Outside of a few lesser moments, I’m starting to feel like this may just be his best record since 1990’s Rhythm of the Saints.
Lone – Levitate
Lone’s album Reality Testing was a phenomenal album of hip-hop influenced house music that absolutely blew me away — I couldn’t put the damn thing down for a large portion of 2015.
Now, with Levitate, Lone — aka Matt Cutler — has set his sights on jungle, rave and drum-n-bass music. Blending these fast, breakneck amen-influenced breaks with a decidedly modern touch that Lone is known for, he came up with Levitate — easily one of my favourite electronic releases of the year. The new energy is evident immediately from the opening track “Alpha Wheel” — his trademark melodic synth-stabs open the track, before pulsing into a head-spinning jungle beat before melodic sparkles open the track up; a futuristic take on some of the most fun throwback-vibes you’ll hear all year.
Attic Abasement – Dream News
Attic Abasement’s third album Dream News is an album with so many digital singles, I started to worry that it’d even get released at all.
Taking some stylistic cues from the K Records sound, as well as obvious reference points like Pavement/Malkmus, Dream News shuffles its way through eleven tracks of extremely high quality and emotionally affecting songwriting. Country bounce melds with Built To Spill’s momentum on tracks like “So Far,” while tracks like “Own Your Enemies” shows that band-leader Mike Rheinheimer is more likely to wipe away the dirt these days rather than swim through it. The updated sheen doesn’t dull the impact though, it just offers a clearer lens to view the shining talent at the center of the record.
Pup – The Dream is Over
What else is there to say about Pup’s new one, other than if you aren’t into these dudes yet, then I don’t know where you’ve been the past year. Toronto band done good, Pup’s huge songs are phenomenally catchy and I absolutely could not put this record down for the life of me.
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
I checked out a track or two from Car Seat Headrest when Will Toledo’s act released Teens of Style, and I have got to say that it didn’t really do much for me.
Now, with the release of a new record with an honest-to-goodness backing band, Toledo seems poised for a breakthrough; the last time I was this excited about an indie-rock release, it was when Cloud Nothings stretched their legs out on Attack on Memory.
And boy, does Teens of Denial stretch out; three tracks alone make it past the six-minute mark, with extended jams and atmospheric passages abound. It never comes off as pretentious or unneeded though, as it’s always fused together with Toledo’s emotionally honest songwriting that reminds me a pinch of Young Man as well. Definitely an album that has year-end potential written all over it, in my books.
Elliot Lipp – Come To Life
A glance at the slick font treatment with forestry behind it on the cover of Come To Life should give you an idea of the sounds that can be found within; organic instrumentals and electronic dance-vibes elbow for the spotlight among seventies-funk, dancefloor beats, jazzy percussion, synth-swaths and more. On this, his 9th (!!!) album, Lipp forgoes many of the featured-vocalists from his previous album for a chill-out record of epic proportions. Forget the coffee-house, this is a headphone trip all the way. Whether your tastes skew towards downtempo, hip-hop or avant-garde, Eliot Lipp has proven yet again that he’s masterfully adept at juggling genres and themes throughout his albums — all while giving the listener a two-sided front-to-back listening experience that makes it hard to resist reaching for that repeat button.
Mock Orange – Put The Kid on the Sleepy Horse
Continuing their streak of re-sparking interest in legendary yet oft-forgotten bands (see also: The Velveteen, Braid, The Jazz June,) Top Shelf Records have teamed up with emo-turned-indie-rock act Mock Orange for their first album in five years.
Splitting the difference between their exuberantly produced indie-rock affairs and over-driven guitar-rock vibes, Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse is a great place to start for the uninitiated — provided you can overlook the album’s kind of silly title. I’ve long sang the praises of Mock Orange — from their phenomenal drummer and beginnings as one of the most overlooked bands of the independant emo era, to their re-emergence as full-on Modest Mouse and Malkmus indebted indie-rock band — and I’m extremely happy that a whole new generation of listeners (or even new listeners that had previously written them off) have a new chance to sample their sounds.
David Bazan – Blanco
David Bazan returns to the textural quality of 2005’s Headphones release. While Blanco shares the keys-n-drums sound of that album, this is definitely a more varied and modern sounding affair in comparison; dark synth stabs on tracks like “Oblivion” are bleaker than even the most sinister songs on the former album, while the acoustic guitar and distorted-drums of “Kept Secrets” wouldn’t sound too out of place on Strange Negotiations or Curse Your Branches. While the songs here were originally a part of Bazan’s monthly vinyl series Bazan Monthly, Volume 1 and Volume 2, the album definitely doesn’t feel like a compilation.
Outer Spaces – A Shedding Snake
Outer Spaces’ album A Shedding Snake is such a comfortable sounding record; it’s like a favourite chair you ease into when reading a great book. There’s a real lived-in quality to their music, which I resist to call easy-rock or downtempo, not only because they do pick things up throughout the record, but also because it betrays how great their songs really are. All I can say is that you certainly should give this great album a try.
Aloha – Little Windows Cut Right Through
Aloha – like Crying – are another act that took some very un-cool influences and made them cool again; there’s a real 80s synth-pop vibe going on in their new album Little Windows Cut Right Through. Like, the way “Faraway Eyes'” electronic snare-drum kicks in at just the right times is the kind of moment that feels straight out of the past, but when acoustic strums and vibes pop into view, there’s a modern kick to it. Only a band like Aloha could pull Little Windows Cut Right Through, and that should be taken as a high compliment.
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Aesop Rock’s The Impossible Kid might just be his most personal record to date; here, he waxes nostalgic about his foray into visual arts years ago, sings a song for his brothers, and even celebrates the therapeutic nature of owning a cat on “Kirby.” For an artist known for insane and indecipherable vocabulary, it’s exhilarating to hear this door creak open, allow some light to shine in on himself.
Tenement – Bruised Music, Vol. 2
Tenement are one of the hardest working and most consistent band going right now, with at least two albums dropped in 2016 on the heels of a double-album in 2015. Bruised Music Vol. 2 (a collection of singles and transitional tunes) just goes to show you that they aren’t slowing down any time soon.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
2016 is the year that Parquet Courts finally put out a record that I got behind one-hundred percent. The digital only single “Already Dead” that leads off the album is likely my favourite track they’ve ever put out.
Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale
Another slept-on Canadian album from 2016 is Nap Eyes’ Thought Rock Fish Scale. A confident entry into the slacker-rock cannon, Nap Eyes’ album feel rich in its storytelling abilities of frontman Nigel Chapman; these songs unfurl slowly, like sipping on a fine whiskey. Thought Rock Fish Scale is the kind of album that you want to live inside; a thoughtful and imaginitively introverted record of guitar-based indie-rock.
The Goon Sax – Up To Anything
The Goon Sax’s Up To Anything play indie-pop so well, it’s unsurprising to learn that one of the member’s father played in The Go-Betweens. What is surprising, is how fully-formed and mature these songs are for a band of teenagers; make no mistake though, their songs are full of adolescent worry and angst – they’re named after a bag of alcohol after all – but they attack these themes with the humour of old souls.
Tancred – Out of the Garden
Tancred’s Out of the Garden follows up Jess Abbott’s self-titled album from 2013; Garden finds Abbott leaning into her alt-rock influences with a decidedly more driving record, with less atmospherics and more hook-laden riffery – this is a far cry from the downtempo folk of her 2011 album Capes, but with Anna Waronker on production the album almost feels like a collection of long-lost that dog. tracks in the best way possible.
Weezer – White Album
Speaking of 90s power-pop, Weezer put out a new record this year and capitalized on the promise they showed on Everything Will Be Alright In The End. As usual, there are some lyrical flubs here and there, but the instrumentation and melodies are vintage Weez. Unlike past attempts to pull a comeback-special, every track on the white album satisfies, with the falsetto of “Jacked Up” and huge chorus of “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dory” being particular highlights for me. Welcome back, Weezer, it may have been a long road but the white album is definitely worth the wait.
Half Japanese – Perfect
Half Japanese’s new record Perfect out on Joyful Noise is the bands fifteenth (!!!) album, and surprisingly, one of their best. A far cry from their low-fi beginnings, Perfect retains the excitement and skewed sensibilities of their earlier albums while remaining eminently listenable. For me, this is one of their most accessable and listenable collection of tunes.
Kal Marks – Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies
Kal Mark’s Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies is going to be a hard sell for a lot of listeners; front man Carl Shane’s vocals are unlike anything you’ve likely heard before, and their pummeling sludge instrumentation can be disorienting. Yet, these songs somehow invite you in rather than push away; Life Is Alright is bleak without wallowing, and features pockets of absolute empathy and comes highly recommended by me.
Washer – Here Comes Washer
Another record that plays with 90s vibes that I couldn’t put down this year is Washer’s record Here Comes Washer. Here’s a guitar and drums duo that won’t have you wondering where the rest of the band wandered off to; their tone is thick and heavy, and while they are fairly straightforward as far as influences go, they break things up wonderfully with some truly unexpected left-turns. Washer are not just another 90s-influenced album for the dollar bins, that’s for sure.
Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice.
This year, Rob Crow – of Pinback – sobered up and dropped You’re Doomed. Be Nice., and boy does the world need an album with this sentiment right now. Crow sounds reinvigorated and excited on You’re Doomed., which is likely the most eclectic album he’s been involved in throughout his long and varied career. It’s good to have him back too.
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Pinegrove’s Cardinal is another record that we really needed in 2016; it’s an album about friendships and relationships, featuring some of the most potently emotional moments set to music. On album opener “Old Friends,” Evan Stephens Hall muses “I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them” after remembering a past-encounter with a friend who has recently passed away. It’s the kind of plain-faced moment of honesty that resonates thanks to its artful simplicity. Much of the album follows suit, and it’s no surprise that it has shown up on a number of year-end lists this year.