Pretty Great Albums that came out in 2016
At the end of every year, editors at music publications across the globe sit down and try and create some sort of list that sums up that year in music. You can organize it by genre, by sales, by influence or any number of factors. Yet no matter how you add, subtract, multiply or divide it, the list you organize will always face criticism and disappointment: it’s difficult when everyone thinks their favourite album was the best.
The thing about music criticism is that everyone brings their own flare (or bias) to it. Music resounds with different people for different reasons. Maybe a certain album encompasses a moment in time for you, maybe the lyrics speak to very essential moments in your past year or maybe your favourite artist finally came back to you when you needed them the most. The idea of a “best” album is so difficult and so inconsequential.
Nonetheless, we rallied up the newspaper team and voted on the albums that we thought were pretty great. Read about them below.
- Chantel Ouellet, Music Editor
Blonde (Boys Don't Cry)
Four years after the release of his highly regarded debut album Channel Orange (2012), Frank Ocean has finally released his much-anticipated follow up album in the form of the enigmatic Blonde (2016). While Channel Orange saw Frank Ocean as a masterful storyteller relaying themes of unrequited love, identity, self-indulgence and class through the use of several characters. Frank Ocean’s Blonde see’s his ability to craft vivid stories into powerful ballades take a new form, in which he is now the main character.
Although a frustrating wait for fans, the four year gap between Frank Ocean’s albums have proven to be an important aspect in the creation of the nuanced and self-reflective Blonde. The album explores Frank’s lived-in experiences that reflects the experiences of many millennials in the digital-age. Themes of young love, sexuality, drug-use, technology and longing strongly resonate to listeners. The very stripped down instrumentals emphasizes Ocean’s emotive vocals ultimately allowing for a very personal experience. The exploration of the human condition and the journey of self-discovery that Frank Ocean shares on this album allows for sense of relatability and healing that makes it one of the most noteworthy albums of the year.
- Russell Canceran
untitled unmastered. (Aftermath Entertainment)
After Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar released an album of unreleased songs titled untitled unmastered. (2016). Though the album is made up of unused and discarded tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly, it is a completely different beast. Lamar manages to use every one of the 35-minutes that the album occupies to its fullest; imbuing it with the lyric, beats, and jazz-influences that listeners have learned to associate with King Kendrick.
Lamar’s choice to forego all titles and descriptions, instead choosing to title songs “untitled 01” and so on, forces listeners to approach untitled unmastered. on its own terms. Though the music begs for a deeper listen and closer read, Lamar doesn’t provide listeners with any direction, he allows the music to speak for itself and breathe.
Though untitled unmastered. is not as socially conscious or as sonically influential as its predecessor, it’s a quiet statement about the power of music; one doesn’t need direction to understand it or connect deeply to it.
- Rebecca Gao
Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
Mitski made the strongest indie record of the year. This isn’t because it’s a political indictment of the year like Anohni’s Hopelessness (2016) or Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound (2016). This isn’t even because Puberty 2 (2016) is a rebuttal to the idea that indie is dead (although this is definitely a good descriptor of this album). No: Puberty 2 is the strongest indie record of the year because Mitski Miyawaki can write about a vast array of topics and tie sound and composition to the feeling like no one else. Her power is in the details, such as the synthetic clatter that sounds like subway trains on “Happy,” the crescendo of synths in the choruses of “Fireworks,” and the quiet bellow floats below Mitski's voice on album closer “A Burning Hill.” Mitski takes everything out of you until there is no other choice but to sit with your feelings; not necessarily until they are resolved but so that you are forced to bear witness to your pain.
- Charlie Westrick
The Life of Pablo (GOOD Music)
Kanye West is the biggest rockstar on the planet. His latest album The Life Of Pablo (2016), which he released in February of this year to waves of enthusiasm only serves to prove this claim. The album has been one of the biggest talking points of the year in the music world; from the controversy surrounding the lyrics and video of the album’s best song, ‘Famous,’ to his revolutionary tour supporting the LP, which saw him suspended above audiences in arenas across North America, and ended in cancellation at its midpoint. Barely a week has gone by where Kanye hasn’t been in the headlines.
However, the album proves his worth as an artist; Kanye’s raw talent continues to outweigh his often grotesque public persona. It is one of the best produced albums of the year, utilizing incredible sampling across its twenty tracks (check out the Life of Paul rework of the album by reddit user Dorian Ye for an extended experience.) When combined with some brilliant guest spots from the likes of Rihanna, the Weeknd and more, and tied together by Kanye himself, we are left with an album that stands up to his best material. We all knew of Yeezy’s might, but this album cements him up there with the greatest.
- Jordan Balls
A Seat at the Table Album (Saint Records/Columbia)
She’s most recognized as Beyoncé’s younger sister, but Solange Knowles has become a force on her own and her latest masterpiece, A Seat at the Table (2016), proves this. Released four years after her EP True (2012), A Seat at the Table is the neo-soul album we have all been waiting for, inspired by police shootings of young African-Americans, Black womanhood, her recent marriage to music video director Alan Ferguson, and protests about racial and gender inequality throughout the United States and Canada.
A Seat at the Table encapsulates the pain and the joys of what it means to be Black in America, in particular what it means to be a Black woman in a White America. With tracks like “F.U.B.U” and “Don’t Touch my Hair,” Solange brings the Black experience to the forefront, no longer wanting to be silenced about her hair and the unequal treatment she’s received throughout the years as an artist. Despite the fact that 2016 saw the release of two both ‘pro-Black’ albums by two sisters, A Seat at the Table is not a “watered-down” version of LEMONADE (2016) and Solange is not Beyoncé. In fact, these two albums showcase the sisters’ artistic differences and their personal objections against the deconstruction of their culture for the sake of fast-fashion and Instagram-based aesthetics. While LEMONADE is some of Beyoncé’s best work to date, A Seat at the Table is beautifully constructed and deserves to be understood as an intensely personal work of art by an artist who continuously pushes boundaries and encapsulates the carefree spirit many aspire to live by.
- M. Émeraude Mbuku
Malibu (Steel Wool Records)
Malibu (2016) is California based rapper/singer/songwriter’s third album and one of his most personal to date. The album launches into its hazy beach R&B with the reflective opening track “The Bird”. Right from the start Anderson .Paak’s lyrics are riddled with philosophical reflections and personal anecdotes. He observes and relays tales of his family, his childhood and his rise to fame from a storytellers distance. The west coast 70s influence is littered throughout with soundbites from 70s surf films finding metaphoric meaning out of their original context and when placed in conjecture with his poetic lyricism.
Once again Anderson .Paak proves that he can’t be boxed in. He raps and sings with equal confidence and talent. Malibu highlights the increasingly prominent need for artists to be multi-talented. His talents as a songwriter are alluded to on the album cover where he plays piano in an ocean filled with instruments and influences. Anderson .Paak is willing to play around sonically using different musical devices such as feedback on “The Season” or applause on “The Waters.” Malibu proves that R&B and hip hop are open to interpretation and can be used to create beautiful self-reflective albums worthy of critical reception.
- Chantel Ouellet