Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Unless you are accessing this page from heaven which I hear has great wifi.
Speaking of being alive, the music industry isn’t. It’s a massive trainwreck. But let’s save the really fun stuff for later and get right down to what you’re here for: this list.
The Top 25 Songs of 2016
25.Somebody Else– The 1975— The 1975 are weird. Just very weird. They’re an unexplainable anomaly in any music climate, but especially this one. They’re simultaneously an overnight success with millions of fans and yet…still kind of nobodies. They don’t have any breakthrough hits, and you’d be hard pressed to find a casual radio listener who knows of their existence. But when they come to town they play arenas, not clubs. And then they play a mix of jangly funk pop and…ambient instrumental interludes??? Shoegaze jams??? It’s actually kind of comforting to see a band that is unabashedly reaching for the limelight and yet refuses to ditch the more ethereal parts of their catalogue. Like this weepy 5 minute electro ballad that (audible gasp!) acknowledges that sadness and jealousy still happen in relationships in 2016. And that takes guts.
24.LMHY– Plaitum— Imagine if Marilyn Manson and Lana Del Rey had stayed together and had a child, and then that child quickly grew up so she was a young adult in 2016. In this bizarre scenario, that child’s music would sound like Plaitum. A neon-lit, sometimes garish take on Del Rey’s soul-noir, it also resembles what Sleigh Bells might sound like in 2016 if they’d stayed relevant.
23.Red Earth & Pouring Rain– Bear’s Den— You’ve gotta be careful when approaching bands with animals in their name, but especially bears. Because a lot of the time you get bands like Bear Hands or Bear Mountain. Both of whom take the most overused, gaudy parts of the 80s to fashion their sound. Bear’s Den on the other hand, take the best parts. New wave’s sweeping melodrama, the heavy reverb, the sunset-drenched guitars- that’s what you’ll find in the title track of their latest album.
22.The Hermit– T.O.L.D— A cursory listen to this band gives one the impression it’s yet another zeitgeist-grabbing pastiche of soul, pop and dance. But then, nestled deep in the album there’s this black-as-night anthem about some sort of nightmarish river. It’s entirely unexpected and kind of terrifying, drawing on both the power of a massive gospel choir and subtle accoutrements like conga drum flourishes. It’s bleak and harrowing and totally deserving of the unsettling album art.
21.He The Colossus– Wild Beasts— Imagine an R-rated take on Muse‘s hit “Madness” and you’ve got an idea of what this song is like. The lyrics and message are a little muddled, being cloaked in layers of irony and subversive intent; in the end you really don’t know what the actual point the band is trying to get across is. If you can get past that though, you get a swaggering monster of a song with one of the best outros in recent years.
20.715 – CR??KS– Bon Iver— Oh man, the lyrics guys, the lyrics. There are so few people nowadays who write with the same eloquence as Justin Vernon, and it’s an absolute treat to hear the man play around with folk poetry and A-Team references. It’s like Imogen Heap‘s “Hide and Seek” for a new generation.
19.New Atmosphere– NZCA Lines— Chillwave is back! Except probably not. But it’s so good to hear that familiar rhythm and tempo, and it’s still baffling as to why the genre’s prominence was so short lived. It’s the quintessential sound of summer all wrapped up into one hazy, Balearic package.
18.Save Your Breath– Finger Eleven— If you’d told me in high school that Finger Eleven would be on my year-end BEST OF list, I’d be like “Yeah man of course they are! They ROCK! Nu-metal forever!!” If you’d told me the same thing anytime after 2010, I’d scoff and dismiss you as some sort of philistine. It’s come to the point where bands that were once the most likely to show up on these countdowns are now the least likely bands to show up, unless it’s on the “regrettable music” list. But I’ve gotta give credit where it’s due- Finger Eleven have written a great song. It’s miles away from their 2010 AOR stinker of an album, a throwback to the aggro-riffs that made them huge. And the band smartly realizes that the haunting pre-chorus is the best part of this song, blowing it up for a suitably huge conclusion.
17.Conrad– SOHN— If crossover breakthroughs were still a thing that happened in the music world, it would be SOHN‘s turn. But they’re not, so we’re just gonna have to be satisfied with this song for what it is: a big, hook-based electro-stomp anthem that recalls the best of Peter Gabriel‘s work in the 80’s.
16.Hard– So Below— It’s almost as if fellow New Zealander Madeline North got tired of waiting for a new Lorde album and said “hey, I’m gonna make my own music, and it’s gonna be even better!” A dark, skittering take on goth pop, the song goes big in all the right ways and sets the stage for a (hopefully) massive debut album in 2017.
15.The Winds of Change– St.Lucia— A song that goes above 120 BPM! In 2016? Yes we have a uptempo jam here, and it’s another new wave revival that mines all the right influences to create a sound that’s simultaneously an ode to 80s production and unmistakably modern.
14.We Stay Together– Kaiser Chiefs— It’s crazy to think that this band’s heyday was over a decade ago now, and the garage/mod scene they sprung out of is long gone. Fortunately they’ve been quietly amassing quite the catalogue in the ten years since, and although they haven’t been in the spotlight they’ve still managed to write consistently solid records. This time around they completely ditched their old sound, but traded it for a massive set of hooks in every part of the song. The intro, the verses, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge- they’re all loaded with so many earworms it’s almost too much of a good thing.
13.Drunk– Viola Beach— How do you respectfully write about an up-and-coming band with a strong debut album…who all tragically died in a car accident before this album was even released? It’s a sad situation, and it’s not hard to imagine them making it big alongside Catfish & The Bottlemen or Two Door Cinema Club based on this solid, prickly, four-to-the-floor jam. It’s a major loss for the UK guitar revivalist scene.
12.Do it, Try it– M83— The new record from Gonzalez and co. was a complicated affair. It was bizarre, and sometimes aggressively uncool. But at the same time it had a lot of strong, strong moments, including this lead single. For all the talk about the band’s changing direction, this is still undeniably an M83 song. It’s steeped in pitch-shifted vocals, popping funk bass, and ragtime piano, but at it’s core is still very much a banger in the vein of “Midnight City”. It’s like that song thrown into a room of silly string, play-doh, and lasers.
11.Lost on You– LP— If Gwen Stefani turned folk troubadour, or if Elle King actually wrote a good song, it might sound like this big city take on a decidedly rural genre. Laura Pergolizzi takes the feel of her hometown New York and perfectly distills it in this sweeping, orchestral ballad.
Lissie‘s been kicking around for a while, and it’s surprising (and strangely comforting) that she didn’t make the jump to electro pop alongside everyone else. That’s not a slight against that genre, but the fact that she stuck to her country-pop roots while her peers all jumped on the more popular bandwagon shows strong resolve. It paid off, as this song really only works as a wistful country pop track. Equal parts Shania Twain and Neko Case, Lissie splits the difference between the two singers’ style and combines the former’s pep with the latter’s plaintive mood. It’s tonally dissonant, but results in a classic pop hit that begs for more recognition.
It seems like every three years Ra Ra Riot become exponentially better songwriters. This time around the New Yorkers grab a rickety drum track and adorn it with the sort of soaring chorus alternative radio hasn’t heard in years. It’s the very definition of an indie gem, a brazenly big tune that demands to be on top 10 lists. Well, here you go, Ra Ra Riot. In 2019 I expect to see you chart even higher.
Anthony Gonzalez relays lead vocal duties to guitarist Jordan Lawlor on this sneakily powerful track that turns 80s lite-rock into a force to be reckoned with. What initially sounds like a cross between ELO and George Michael gradually transforms into a darker, more confident tune, and culminates in a theatrical, world-shaking guitar solo that plays the song out.
Thrice’s career trajectory is a strange one. They started off big in the emo/screamo scene of the early 2000s. Released an absolutely amazing album in 2005. Released an ill-advised QUADRUPLE album in 2008. Followed it up with a series of increasingly poor releases. Broke up. Got back together. Released a really, really good comeback album out of nowhere, with this devastatingly crushing beast of a hard rock tune as a highlight. Singer Dustin Kensrue‘s voice has become tough and grizzled, and when he launches into a vicious chorus the new tone accentuates the anger behind the song. Who’d have thought that environmental issues would be the catalyst for reinvigorating an old hardcore act?
6. Bring me the Head– Operators—
Dan Boeckner is a busy man. He’s got like…a lot of bands, and they’re all good. He doesn’t treat any of them like side projects, and you can always count on him to bring his A-game to the table. Not only did he reform Wolf Parade this year, but he went into full frontman mode with Operators and neither project suffered from the split attention. In fact, Operators’ debut record Blue Wave was kind of really great. This track is a particular standout, with its queasy synth line slowly morphing into a full-fledged hook over the course of the song. The motorik beat changes too, hitting full stride during the chorus and along with the keyboards and Boeckner’s singular voice turning into a dark, confident strut by the time the final refrain rolls around.
You’d think Electric Guest were aiming for some sort of stardom with this song, right? This is one of the most well-written melodies in recent memory, and the song has all the ingredients of an instant classic. And then you’ve got the talented and buzzworthy Haim sisters on the hook. And this is just the promo single! So hey, music industry, maybe you should kind of pay attention to what’s going on right here. If 2017 doesn’t see this band turning into a household name, music industry, we’ll know you’re really actively trying to destroy yourselves.
4. Lost Youth / Lost You– How to Dress Well—
There’s a heartbreaking plainspoken nature to this song, and whether frontman Tom Krell intended it that way or not, it entirely makes the track. From the deceptively simple but intensely specific lyrics to the almost sardonic attitude Krell has towards his experiences, the song manages to stay heartfelt but realistic. It’s melodramatic yes, but it doesn’t lose itself in starry platitudes. It’s actually three words at the very end that sum up his juxtaposition of blind optimism and grounded realism. After singing “I guess there’s no peace / ’til I’m in my grave”, Krell follows it up with a spoken, sarcastic “well that’s great!”. An audible shrug as he realizes that after all the big cinematic moments, life goes on.
Last year Grimes surprised everyone when the album version of “Realiti” ended up taking everything good about the critically acclaimed demo and improving on it in every way, resulting in a sigh of relief from her fans.
It’s sort of the reverse situation here, but one that also has a great result. The album version of “Factory Flaws” was decent, but it sounded weak and underfed. It didn’t have any sort of drive, and for something on an official album was woefully underproduced. The single version of it though- now here’s a song.
From the first five seconds of the song you can tell it’s been fully realized. It pops in all the right moments, it’s clean, it’s concise. It sounds like an indie interpolation of Carly Rae Jepsen‘s “Call Me Maybe”. And it makes you wonder why the band didn’t put this version on their album. Regardless, the fact that it even exists is a boon, and we’re all the better for it.
If you’re gonna be a corporately produced and owned multi-million dollar popstar, you ought to have some pretty great content to back it up. It hasn’t seemed like that lately (more on that later), with very few singers-including Grande– delivering any sort of memorable product. On this track, however, the Grande and co. pull it off. The hooks are platinum plated, the production immaculate. The aesthetic is fairly unique too; a dark pop song with no atonal dance bass, and an actual melody (!) in 2016 is a rare thing. I’ll forgive them for blatantly cribbing Kate Boy‘s style, but only because they put it to good use. It begs the question though- if this kind of straight up old school type of pop song can still be written….why aren’t there more of them???
The iTunes “review” section above every album is very seldom a useful tool. In 90% of cases it’s just bland PR, empty bits of positive fluff with no real value that are most likely written by Apple‘s interns. However there was a line in the write-up for Ivory that compared Colours to “Drake meets Deftones“, and it’s a description so apt that I feel compelled to mention it. This song is essentially if Drake had real actual woes and joined an electronic Deftones cover band.
Pairing ethereal, moody verses with thunderous wall-of-sound choruses with a strictly electronic palette, it’s a fresh new breed of EDM-rock that earns the top spot not for being the most melodic or most well-written song but because it’s so sonically different from everything else out there. If there’s any justice in the world, this sound will spawn imitators and we’ll finally get some sort of new dark electronic genre to shake up a scene that desperately needs shaking.
The 5 Best Albums of 2016 –
Here are the most well-rounded efforts taken into consideration as a whole piece of work:
(Choice Cuts: “Bring Me the Head”, “Space Needle”, “True”)
3. [Integrity Blues]- Jimmy Eat World
(Choice Cuts: “Get Right”, “You With Me”, “It Matters”)
2. [Boy King]- Wild Beasts
(Choice Cuts: “He the Colossus, “Dreamliner”, “Ponytail”)
1. [These Systems are Failing]- Moby & the Void Pacific Choir
(Choice Cuts: “A Simple Love”, “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?”, “Erupt and Matter”)
It’s strange that in a musical climate where anything goes and nearly everyone is taking a polyglot approach to their craft that there’s any sound that would remain unused or rare. But the truth is you don’t hear too many industrial techno acts around, in any capacity. So that’s why hearing former new age/dance dabbler/Bourne franchise mainstay Moby going super hard is kind of funny, very WTF, and pretty awesome. It’s not the most fully realized of concepts, but it’s a creative risk that pays off simple just because Moby goes all in.
THE WORST OF 2016
My favorite part!
I feel like I’ve said this same statement for the past five years, but here it is again: how can I criticize what’s not there? It feels like now that the music industry is effectively dead, pop acts have nearly stopped trying altogether. Bands can get massive cult followings (see: The 1975, Five Seconds of Summer) without any hits. The biggest names in music are rappers who have made their careers on association alone, with radio success not even factoring in to their aspirations. It’s about branding now more than ever, and legacy artists are the only valuable commodity in the broader world. But how do you make legacy artists for future generations when nobody’s developing a legacy?? Who’s gonna headline Coachella 2026?
Let’s drive this thing home. Every year there’s about 5-10 massive pop hits that grab everyone by the ears. Here are last year’s:
Uptown Funk– Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
What Do You Mean?– Justin Bieber
Can’t Feel My Face– The Weeknd
Hotline Bling– Drake
I was surprised last year that there were only five– imagine my shock when this year we had ONE!!!!!
ONE big hit.
Nothing else from any corner came close to the ubiquity of that song…except for a few novelty viral hits about Pandas and Pineapple Pens (??).
But okay, let’s delve a little deeper and look at some charting songs that weren’t necessarily huge definitive hits but still made some sort of impact. Usually we get about 20-30 of these a year. This year we had:
This Is What You Came For- Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna
Let Me Love You- DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber
Closer- Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
Treat You Better- Shawn Mendes
Into You- Ariana Grande
One Dance- Drake feat. Rihanna
Starboy- The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk
Work From Home- Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign (note- lol ripoff of Rihanna)
And there you go! In total about ten second-tier songs (not even monster hit singles), and I’m being extra generous. The average person is not going to be able to tell you who Fifth Harmony or DJ Snake are. And every other pop song from this year, regardless of quality, was disposable filler that’s already forgotten. Did you know that oneRepublic released an album this year???
But hey, let’s SAY I’m some sort of out of touch buffoon that doesn’t know what’s actually hip and trending (note: I’m not). Isn’t it pop music’s ONE JOB to make sure that us plebs know the big names?! They are paid billions to shove them and their songs in my ears so that, even if I absolutely loathe them, I still get that they’re a big deal.
Yet, after 4 years I still have no idea wtf Rita Ora is, what she does, what she sings, or what she looks like?
It’s almost as if we’re supposed to take the pundits’ word that these artists are huge just because they say they are huge so they must be huge. It’s the logical extension of the piggyback method used to launch Nicki Minaj and Charlie Puth (and unsuccessfully launch massive failure Skylar Grey).
We’re being forced to like songs by proxy. They’re just there, might as well take them at face value and accept them as hits because there’s nothing else. It’s the same attitude hipsters employ when they say this year was great for music just because a bunch of legacy artists all released albums. Never mind that all those albums were utter trash, but the fact that all these long-awaited “gems” finally dropped means they were good by default!
So, was there anything at all that music in 2016 can be remembered for? Other than werk werk werk werk werk?
Well, the sound-du-jour seemed to be dancehall; everyone wanted in on the Caribbean vibe this year. In second place there was a mix of old school soul, indie-R&B, and low-key electronics, although that sound is already a few years in the making. Analog and back-to-basics recording annoyingly loomed over a lot of releases- hey guys it’s 2016, use good equipment.
Oh, what’s that? You’re going to do the opposite? You’re going to make your instruments sound really bad??
Yeah, that was a trend. The overblown, almost unlistenable- and shockingly intentional- method of recording instruments really hot and dry. See the drums in this Temper Trap song. Or the acoustic guitar lead in Local Natives‘ “Masters”. It literally hurts to listen to in headphones. It’s the residual effect of Kanye West‘s excessively raw Yeezus, and it’s self-sabotage that ruins some otherwise decent songs.
The anti-chorus, my least favorite thing ever, was less prevalent but still around. “This is What You Came For” uses the technique, building up the song only to reward the listener with a wimpy “BUT SHE’S LOOKING AT……….you ouuu ouuu ouuu ouuu ouu”.
But really the worst thing was just the lack of things. Lazy lazy artists. Let’s call them out. Tool. Taylor Swift. Lorde. Brand New. Neverending White Lights. HAIM. If you guys don’t all have albums out by next year, you’re banned from being listened to forever. okay. the end.
if you have a different opinion please feel free to fight me. okay. the end.
It was Summer 2016’s last hurrah; the final music festival in Toronto before the seasons change and the shorts get put away. It was TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Festival) at Toronto’s Historic Fort York, and it did not disappoint. With a roster of acts from all over the spectrum of alternative music, the weekend was one the historians can add to the vast number of significant events that have happened at Fort York.
Friday started off intensely sunny, but local act Modern Space were prepared with the whole band wearing cool shades. The act has had a pretty busy year, gaining buzz and being introduced to rock radio. They’ve still got a fairly slim catalogue, so they supplemented their set with a series of covers. In the mix were Beck‘s “Loser”, Lana Del Rey‘s “High By The Beach”, and Arctic Monkey‘s “Fake Tales of San Francisco”. They also threw a snippet of Arcade Fire‘s “Wake Up” into their own hit single, “Pen to Paper”.
It took about half a song before The Hives‘ frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist ran off the stage and into the crowd, where he would visit many times throughout the band’s intensely energetic set. The Swedish crew were an unstoppable force on the East Stage, blazing through a decade-and-a-half’s worth of explosive garage rock bangers. The biggest hits were all played, from “Hate to Say I Told You So” to “Tick Tick Boom”. All the while Almqvist commanded the crowd’s attention with his playful bravado, peppering the set with declarations of dominance.
“The boys are back”, the Dropkick Murphys sang on the West Stage, and they came back with a roar. The hooligans kicked off their set with a triumphant curtain drop, and launched into a scathing set of their unique blend of hardcore punk, traditional Celtic music, and drunken bar sing-a-longs. Complete with a bagpiper, the crew played a very appropriate collection of songs for a Friday night; high octane chants like “Rose Tattoo” and “Shipping Back to Boston” had everyone swaying imaginary beer mugs in their hands.
Sometime in the past year and a half, folksy troubadour James Bay became an internationally renowned heartthrob, as the crowd of swooning ladies at TURF can attest. With his all-black outfit (and iconic hat), the lanky 26-year old belted out a series of heart wrenching ballads that delighted every admirer of his. Songs like “If You Ever Want to Be in Love” and “Let it Go” benefited greatly from a twinkling starry backdrop and had the audience taking their lighters out again and again. It wasn’t all saccharine love songs though; Bay is also proficient in bluesy licks and extended guitar solos. The British songwriter teased the audience clamouring for his massive hit “Hold Back The River”. Instead of going straight into the song, he played Creedence Clearwater Revivial‘s “Proud Mary” (featuring the lyrics “rollin’ on the river”) before playing the hit single.
Saskatoon’s Sheepdogs are five years into their career in the spotlight but are basically rock heroes at this point. Although the second day of TURF started out with intense rain, the power of rock n roll brought the sun out in the middle of the boys’ set. With a stable of hits under their belts now, the band kept the crowd excited as they dropped singles like “I Don’t Know”, “Feeling Good” and “Bad Lieutenant”. One fun moment was when frontman Ewan Currie took to the keyboard for a track and allowed his brother Seamus to play trombone on the lead mic, with the audience chanting his name like a champion.
Married duo Whitehorse commanded their small stage with their modern twist on folk roots music. The Hamilton couple occupy a very cool niche in indie music, and brought that unique sound to the crowd on Saturday evening. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland kicked things off with “Devil’s Got a Gun”, a melodic tune that combined twangy guitar with looping effects. Hit single “Downtown” made for an energetic dance party at the Battle of York stage that night!
Barenaked Ladies are a veritable institution of Canadian alternative rock, and with over two decades of experience they know exactly how to put on an entertaining show. The first half of their set was largely newer material, with the odd impromptu rap performance thrown in. The hits came next, with “Pinch Me” and “One Week” overjoying the audience. The band’s hilarious rapport eventually crossed into the music itself, when the band played their theme song for The Big Bang Theory and followed it with a medley of various hits such as Drake‘s “Hotline Bling”, Celine Dion‘s “My Heart Will Go On” and the Imperial March from Star Wars.
Day 2 finished off with a performance from eclectic jam-rockers Ween. Backed with the ever-present image of their mascot Boognish, the band played a set filled with the sort of left turns expected of them. Incorporating elements from nearly every genre known to humanity (that’s only a slight exaggeration), it wasn’t uncommon to hear a pounding post-rocker followed by a Randy Newman-esque cut of ragtime blues. Gene and Dean Ween look and sound reinvigorated after their brief hiatus, and the energy transferred out into the crowd.
Day 3 kicked off with brawny indie crew The New Pornographers. Although frontman A.C. Newman wasn’t a fan of the intense sun, the group powered through their collection of indie pop with aplomb. With their very distinct, muscled-up take on sweetly melodic songs, the west coast band heated up an already sweaty crowd. A lot of material was from the group’s most recent album Brill Bruisers, but the older hits were there too, from “Mass Romantic” to “Use It”.
Fellow countryman Matthew Good didn’t like the sun too much either, and unfortunately had his sunglasses broken just that day. But after a few songs of enduring the intense glare the sun set and the alternative rock icon could play on. There wasn’t any messing around- Good got right to the hits right away. A double shot of “Load Me Up” and “Carmelina” was followed by “Hello Time Bomb”, and a bit later with the sweeping “Apparitions”, which featured an extended outro due to the crowd’s enthusiasm for it. The stark, haunting “Weapon” also made an appearance.
Emo legends Jimmy Eat World closed out the West stage with a blistering set filled with fan favourites. The hits were all there, yes, but the band knows their devoted listeners well, and included plenty of unexpected surprises. The majestic 7-minute “23” was one of these, as was the furious 2007 cut “Let it Happen”. A handful of newer songs from the upcoming Integrity Blues made their way into the set as well- opener “Get Right” with its grungy undertones and the latest single “Sure and Certain”. The band finished off their performance with a double-dose of 2001 hits: “Sweetness” and “The Middle”.
Death Cab for Cutie brought the festival to an end on an appropriately bittersweet note, with songs like “Black Sun” and “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” matching the vibes of the warm summer evening perfectly. The pensive melancholy was balanced with more upbeat offerings like “Crooked Teeth” and “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”, but the band’s at their best when they’re plaintive. “Soul Meets Body” and “You Are a Tourist”, both played, are great examples of their prime cuts, blending that yearning spirit with buoyant melodies. And so under a clear sky and full moon, TURF 2016 ended with Ben Gibbard‘s wistful voice heralding the start of autumn.
Let’s pour out a cold tall glass of maple syrup for all the Canadian bands that at one point were poised to be superstars, but have since faded from our collective skies. Here’s a pretty thorough list of one-time hitmakers from this great country.
Grimes- Art Angels— [It’s hard to begin describing how good this album is, but the key point
to take away here is that nearly every single song is listenable. This is a true front-to-back
record, which is unthinkable in 2015. Where other albums struggle to have 50% good songs,
this one easily goes past 90%. Claire Boucher has crafted an instantly recognizable sound with
meticulous production, but more importantly, she has written good melodies to back up all that
production. You can throw all the patches, samples, and augmented chords you want into a
track, but it will amount to nothing if the song doesn’t have a catchy hook. This album has
hooks in spades, outclassing not only every album this year, but possibly every album from the
past 5 years. It’s a big middle finger to all the MOR indie-alternative acts trying to be
experimental and failing miserably.]– A+ The Decemberists- What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World— [Although it’s lacking in classic Decemberist motifs, it’s still a solid collection of radio singles]– A Kate Boy- ONE— [Probably one of the darkest pop records of recent years. A fascinating
aesthetic that is buttressed by excellent melodies.]– A Purity Ring- Another Eternity— [Proving to be one of the most exciting new Canadian bands, Purity Ring deliver a hook-filled sophomore album]– A Silversun Pickups- Better Nature— [Yes, it’s missing the dark mystery and intrigue of their first two releases. But it’s also a step up from their last album, and over half of it is comprised of solid, listenable, radio-ready alt-rock singles. In 2015, that’s a rare feat to accomplish.] — A Carly Rae Jepsen- E-MO-TION— [This album is effectively two records in one, bouncing
between cutting edge electro-pop and generic late 80s filler. Fortunately the former is very,
very good, providing enough big hooks to dismiss the derivative moments]– A Florence + The Machine- How Big How Blue How Beautiful— [Though there are a few clunkers on here- namely the plodding concert bait of a first single- there are also a lot of great songs to balance the missteps]– A !!!- As If— [It’s weird that one of the year’s best records comes from a band whose name I
don’t even know how to pronounce, but this collection of dark, concise pop-funk songs is
definitely a solid album]– A- Death Cab for Cutie- Kintsugi— [It’s very front loaded, but those first four tracks are as strong as anything in the band’s catalogue]– A- Metric- Pagans in Vegas— [Much more cohesive than their previous album, and a solid effort
overall. Of course includes requisite big pop single in “Celebrate”.]– A-
Brandon Flowers- The Desired Effect— [Incredibly front-loaded and drastically drops in quality around the halfway mark, but the first half is pretty great]– B+ Family of the Year- S/T— [It’s a little too precious at times, but a strong second half pushes this album into solid territory]– B+ Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds- Chasing Yesterday— [Noel proves he’s got the tunes to back up his brash personality, delivering a respectable if occasionally joyless sophomore album]– B+ The Airborne Toxic Event- Dope Machines— [It won’t win any critical respect, but it’s markedly more enjoyable than their past two albums]– B+ Matthew Good- Chaotic Neutral— [Long gone are the days of angry anthem maker Matthew
Good, but there’s still something comforting about his trembling voice and compositional
style]– B+ Youth Lagoon- Savage Hills Ballroom— [There are hints of greatness scattered throughout this
album, but Trevor Power seems determined to stop himself from creating a true masterpiece]–
B+ Lana Del Rey- Honeymoon— [On the one hand, you have to admit it’s admirable that Del Rey
has stuck to the same template for nearly every single song. On the other hand, it’s getting
incredibly grating. Enough with the slow motion wannabe James Bond themes]– B+ Smashing Pumpkins- Monuments to an Elegy— [Billy Corgan continues to prove that he is a great songwriter, even if some of his experiments come off as cheesy]– B+ Autre Ne Veut- Age of Transparency— [Thankfully it’s not as weird as one might expect, and
there’s even an actual old-fashioned straightforward song (“Switch Hitter”), which is pretty rare
in this day and age]– B+ Foals- What Went Down— [It’s decent, but one can’t help but feel that the band peaked two albums ago and are now just coasting.]– B The Weeknd- Beauty Behind the Madness— [There are a few cloying moments, but overall this is a big, interesting step towards stardom for the former king of art-damaged R&B]– B Madeon- Adventure— [It’s a step above the melodic EDM vibe Porter Robinson tried to nail last year, but is still missing a sense of purpose amongst the electronic bombast]– B WATERS- What’s Real— [The “Cage the Elephant meets pop-punk” approach works for the most part, but the band too often descends into indie pop tropes (anti-climactic chorus, synth overload)]– B Walk the Moon- Talking is Hard— [It’s a shameless grasp at the pop charts, and mostly succeeds, even if it is often rote]– B Sufjan Stevens- Carrie & Lowell— [Intensely personal to the point where it become difficult to listen to, but at the same time fascinating]– B CHVRCHES- Every Open Eye— [The songs are for the most part enjoyable, but they all sound
similar and eventually start to blend together]– B MuteMath- Vitals— [There’s not much that distinguishes this album from the glut of late-80s
cribbing indie poppers dominating rock radio right now, but at least the songwriting is fairly
decent. Strange considering their past two albums have fallen very short in that department.
Strong improvement]– B AWOLNATION- Run— [Slightly disappointing after a four year wait, but with some hooks buried in the experimentation]– B The Darkness- Last of our Kind— [It’s The Darkness. You know what you’re getting.]– B Beirut- No No No— [A charming, honest effort from the always reliable Zach Condon, even if it is a bit slight]– B Modest Mouse- Strangers to Ourselves— [Moderately disappointing after an eight year wait, with two to three average songs along with some incredibly bizarre tracks]– B- New Order- Music Complete— [For a band that’s been together for over three decades, it’s
listenable enough, even if it doesn’t have another “True Faith” or “Blue Monday”.]– B- The Subways- S/T— [Occasionally catchy garage rock]– B- San Fermin- Jackrabbit— [Moments of inspiration are tempered by attempts at unconventional song structure and ruin what could have been great songs if the band had played it straight]– B- Blur- The Magic Whip— [Very much sounds like Blur, but lacks a sense of urgency]– B- Waxahatchee- Ivy Tripp— [Crutchfield still has trouble singing and hits some off notes, but there are hints on this record that she has potential in the big leagues]– B- Wavves- V— [Nicely cleaned up and filled with tighter hooks than anything Nathan Williams
has done before]– B-
Big Talk- Straight In No Kissin’— [It’s not great, but you can hear that the band is having fun doing their own thing]– C+ The Most Serene Republic- Mediac— [A little scattershot at times, but a fairly interesting listen
overall]– C+ Young Galaxy- Falsework— [At one time a unique Canadian electronic prospect, they’ve
grown increasingly bland and generic, though they do retain some interesting traits]– C+ Coheed and Cambria- The Color Before the Sun— [Being freed from the narrative concept of
all their other albums does help a little, but this album is mostly bereft of new ideas. Also the
song “Ghost” is a straight-up rip-off of Brand New’s “Jesus”.]– C+ Mini Mansions- The Great Pretenders— [Unfocused and corny at times, with a few good songs]– C+ Total Makeover- S/T— [There’s potential, but a lot of work needs to be done to stand out.]– C+ The Mountain Goats- Beat the Champ— [It’s an acquired taste. At this point, John Darnielle isn’t changing and if you don’t like his style of lit-rock, don’t bother listening]– C+ The Go! Team- The Scene Between— [A step back from 2011’s Rolling Blackouts, lacking hooks and overly relying on a sound that’s no longer novel]– C+ Calexico- Edge of the Sun— [Dependable but mostly filled with tired tropes]– C+ Titus Andronicus- The Most Lamentable Tragedy— [Incredibly ambitious and occasionally
silly, this punk rock opera is interesting but flawed– C+ Dave Gahan & Soulsavers— [The Depeche Mode singer finally has some concise songs to lend
his pipes to, but the arrangements veer a little too close to lite-blues]– C+ Coldplay- A Head Full of Dreams— [You know, as a pop album, it’s not even “that bad”. But
this is not a Coldplay album. There is almost zero resemblance to the band that made all the
previous records and the accompanying signature sound of that band. There are also some
seriously cringeworthy lyrics scattered throughout the thing and Chris Martin being an
embarrassing wannabe millennial, which isn’t a good look for anyone, but especially not Chris
Martin.]– C The Decemberists- Florasongs EP— [Only one song on this release can be considered in any
way “essential” or “memorable”]– C Line & Circle- Split Figure— [It’s nice to hear some straightforward guitar rock with verses and
choruses, but the songwriting is a little too simple and the Replacements-soundalike gimmick
gets really stale after a few flat tracks. More dynamic range needed.]– C The Soft Moon- Deeper— [A promising step towards listenability, but the relentless bleakness may turn people off]– C Tame Impala- Currents— [The supposed “pop crossover hit” record is strangely light on legitimate pop hooks.]– C Twin Shadow- Eclipse— [Two great songs salvage what is otherwise one of the biggest major-label-jump trainwrecks in history]– C Young Empires- The Gates— [A mostly predictable step forward. They were once electro synth based alt rock, now they’ve incorporated big drums and R&B stylings. Wow, how innovative.]– C Old Hundred- Let in the Light— [Pleasant folk-punk hybrid that could become something more with future releases]– C Turnover- Peripheral Vision— [A few pleasant melodies don’t make up for the excessive Cure-copping and soundalike songs]– C Boots- Aquaria— [Unique sound in 2015, although kind of derivative of Massive Attack and
mixed annoyingly dry]– C Imagine Dragons- Smoke + Mirrors— [As always with Imagine Dragons, a few good songs buried in a sea of four-chord garbage. Although this time, the good songs aren’t even that good]– C Girl Band- Holding Hands With Jamie— [It’s kind of a mess, but it’s interesting and unhinged
and hints at a potentially promising future in hardcore]– C Ivadell-Maybe Tomorrow— [Could use some glossier production, but there are some good
melodies here]– C ON AN ON- And The Wave Has Two Sides— [Sounds like two bands- an avant-pop outfit and an 80s revival band- fighting each other for control of the direction. Uneven.]– C The Dreaming- Rise Again— [Modern production values make up for embarrassing lyrics]– C Five Finger Death Punch- Got Your Six— [It’s a FFDP album. You know what you’re getting,
and you’re getting more of it here]– C City and Colour- If I Should Go Before You— [Dallas needs to take a break from this project,
as he’s become a parody of himself and clearly run out of interesting ideas.]– C Pictureplane- Technomancer— [A disappointing sophomore slump record that is largely a grey,
lifeless experience. Only a few moderately interesting bright spots]– C Jeff Lynne’s ELO- Alone in the Universe— [It’s both endearing and cheesy. It’s clear that Lynne
is a master of his craft but the material here gets extremely saccharine at times, and is often an
echo of his former work. The production also leaves a lot to be desired.]– C Mew- + – — [The first genuinely disappointing album from the Danish prog-poppers]– C- Chad Valley- Entirely New Blue— [There are some neat production tricks, especially on the
vocals, but the lacklustre songwriting sinks most of the songs]– C- Editors- In Dream— [Cribbing style and sound from contemporary pop (notably, Imagine
Dragons) doesn’t work all that well here, and a lot of this record is a boring slog. The once
promising band is now a write-off.]– C- Saintseneca- Such Things— [You can throw sitars and synths everywhere all you want, but it’s
not going to matter if there’s nothing at the core, which is the case with this incredibly one-note
album]– C- Man Without Country- Maximum Entropy— [Glimmers of interesting new sounds are lost amongst poor songwriting choices]– C- Au.Ra- Jane’s Lament— [An interesting debut, but doesn’t offer any insight as to how the band will evolve]– C- Title Fight- Hyperview— [Another example of the generic slog that makes up the new wave of emo bands]– C- Lieutenant- If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going To Eat for a Week— [Although it has unexpected surprises, they’re not enough to make this release memorable]– C- The Prodigy- The Day is My Enemy— [Mostly meat-head hard rock, replete with “evil” synth riffs]– C- Bandit- Of Life— [It’s decidedly more interesting than what their emo peers are releasing, but it’s still lacking any form of hook]– C- Built to Spill- Untethered Moon— [Poor production value and frustratingly upbeat songs mar Built to Spill’s formerly great discography]– C- Tallest Man on Earth- Dark Bird is Home— [There’s not really much to this album once you get past the down-to-earth country vibe]– C- Other Lives- Rituals— [This record is proof that too much time with Thom Yorke will lead you astray. Other Lives have dropped their dark folk leanings and become an acolyte of the Radiohead frontman’s experimental tendencies…in all the worst ways]– C- EL VY- Return to the Moon— [A scattershot affair, with a lot of different ideas that don’t
always gel. It’d be interesting to hear these guys go the heavier route they hint at on a few
tracks]– C- mewithoutyou- Pale Horses— [There are a few legitimately exciting moments on this record…but only a few]– C- Gardens & Villa- Music for Dogs— [Interesting at times, but favours style over substance] — C- Cold Showers- Matter of Choice— [Drawing from a slightly gloomier pool of 80’s influences doesn’t mask the lack of interesting songwriting ideas]– C-
HEALTH- Death Magic— [We waited 5 years for this? All that talk about new sounds and pop crossover hits for a half-baked, unfocused filler album?]– D+ Majical Cloudz- Are You Alone— [Way overhyped. The main conceit works for about two to
three songs and then gets incredibly boring. During the title track when the beat actually picks
up it ends up being an anti-climactic disappointment]– D+ Ducktails- St. Catherine— [This project seems to be spinning its wheels]– D+ Vennart- The Demon Joke— [Poor, amateur production undermines the ferocity the record is going for]– D+ Oscar- Beautiful Words EP— [One good song surrounded by a whole lot of filler]– D+ Fall Out Boy- American Beauty/ American Psycho— [Mind-numbingly lazy hooks]– D+ Muse- Drones— [Muse have almost completely devolved into total meathead rock]– D+ Passion Pit- Kindred— [Lacking the emotional core of their previous album, Kindred displays Passion Pit as a shell of their former selves]– D+ Big Data- 2.0— [A good example of the bland genre-hoppers that populate the “modern rock” charts in the 2010s]– D+ Destroyer- Poison Season— [This is some straight up goofy pretentious hipster nonsense]– D+ Best Coast- California Nights— [Bethany Cosentino faces her second failed attempt at stardom with songs that are almost good but then aren’t]– D Charli XCX- Sucker— [An unimaginative bid at the big time that mostly falls flat]– D Hot Chip- Why Make Sense?— [I’ve never liked these guys and their dry, smooth vibe, and I’m not going to start now.]– D Joywave- How Do You Feel Now?— [Another solid example of highly disposable, interchangeable modern rock]– D The Velvet Teen- All is Illusory— [Yet another band from the “emo revival” that fails to deliver anything interesting]– D My Morning Jacket- The Waterfall— [Meandering, tuneless folk]– D The Chemical Bros- Born in the Echoes— [You’d think the electronic music veterans would be above following modern tropes, but nope, they do and it’s pretty unfortunate]– D Lord Huron- Strange Trails— [Slightly more genuine than the Lumineers and Vance Joy, but no more distinctive]– D Neon Indian- VEGA INTL. Night School— [A hot, funky piece of garbage that is saved from being a total write-off by the penultimate track]– D Civil Twilight- Story of an Immigrant— [Mostly generic, forgettable filler music]– D Deerhunter- Fading Frontier— [The addition of synthesizers is kind of cool, but a lot of this just
sounds like adult contemporary soft rock]– D Half Moon Run- Sun Leads Me On— [Wimpy, easily forgettable jazzy alternative. Expect to be
saying “who?” in about a year’s time]– D Small Black- Best Blues— [There’s something incredibly unsubstantial about both this album
and the lead singer’s voice. It’s just there, and then it quickly blows away like a wisp of
cotton]– D Atlas Genius- Inanimate Objects— [The definitive “forgettable MOR indie pop” record]– D The Neighbourhood- Wiped Out!— [Once again the band ruins incredibly interesting sonic
textures with embarrassing lyrics and flat, meandering melodies. Title track is a total mess
too.]– D Mumford & Sons- Wilder Mind— [Ditching the banjos is one thing, but aping every “big indie” act on the radio is another, leading this album into mostly disposable MOR rock]– D- Circa Survive- Descensus— [A sad reminder that nearly all hard rock bands from the 2000s are now long past their prime]– D- of Montreal- Aureate Gloom— [Kevin Barnes is stuck in a spiral of increasingly diminishing returns as he continues to do the same thing over and over and over.]– D- Twerps- Range Anxiety— [The upbeat whimsy is nearly unbearable]– D- Tanlines- Highlights— [An incredibly disappointing sophomore release that trades in the duo’s wistful new-wave influence for experiments in “what’s big in 2015”]– D- The Helio Sequence- S/T— [A nearly completely pointless, genreless disposable record.] — D- The Vaccines- English Graffiti— [All progress made by their last album is thrown out the window with this breezy, lighthearted effort.]– D- Skylar Spence- Prom King— [trendhopping 80’s funk BS]– D- The Dears- Times Infinity, Vol. One— [Yes, CBC-core still exists]– D- Stereophonics- Keep the Village Alive— [This sounds like a UK version of the Goo Goo
Dolls. The boring, post-2000 Goo Goo Dolls]– D- JR JR.- S/T— [Unfortunately, a new name and a headfirst dive into pop has done nothing to
help the band. Where they brushed with genuine greatness before, now they sound like every
single other electro-funk act out there]– D- Indian Handcrafts- Creeps— [It’s more polished than their debut, but the production upgrade
comes at the cost of a decrease in songwriting skill. They’ve become generic stoner rock.]– D- Beach House- Depression Cherry— [Incredibly boring music]– D- Beach House- Thank Your Lucky Stars— [Still incredibly boring music]– D- Cage the Elephant- Tell Me I’m Pretty— [Opting to focus on an outdated sound rather than
actual songs, this album is a write-off. What’s next Cage, a ragtime record?]– D-
Panda Bear- Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper— [An unlistenable mess that seems intent on proving Panda Bear hates writing enjoyable music]– F The Maccabees- Marks to Prove It— [There’s usually one good song on every Maccabees record. Not the case here- just soft rock filler]– F Great Lake Swimmers- A Forest of Arms— [The most generic filler folk one can find, seemingly engineered to be passed out for free in public places]– F Lightning Bolt- Fantasy Empire— [Tuneless noise]– F Torche- Restarter— [A huge misstep for a band that could have been a more interesting update on Foo Fighters melodic hard rock]– F Urban Cone- Polaroid Memories— [Relentlessly peppy with no original melodies to back up the vigour, and an annoying cat-like keyboard that pops up in a few songs. Fails as a pop record, comes off as secondhand Passion Pit crossed with a no-name New York jangle-rock band]– F Toro y Moi- What For?— [Cheesy, derivative pastiche of 70’s music]– F The Wombats- Glitterbug— [Like the similarly unoriginal The 1975, The Wombats are the quintessential “style without substance” band]– F Unknown Mortal Orchestra- Multi-Love— [Not one memorable song on the whole album]– F Son Lux- Bones— [You’d think being in a Gillette commercial would give him the idea that making music people like to listen to is a good thing, but nope, Ryan Lott prefers to self-sabotage every single song and turn it into an incoherent mess]– F Active Child- Mercy— [It’s sad to see the progenitor of many contemporary trends fall victim to contemporary blandness]– F Night Beds- Ivywild— [This guy seems aggressively determined to write the least catchy music possible, dealing only in contemporary tropes. No songwriting talent whatsoever]– F
Painted Palms- Horizons– [I thought these guys were a complete write-off after their last album, but was willing to give them another chance. Nope. Still a completely inessential band.]– F Tamaryn- Cranekiss— [Casting off everything that made her unique, Tamaryn now sounds like
every other reductive act cribbing from the late 80’s]– F Mercury Rev- The Light in You— [Having never listened to this band before but seeing the
name everywhere, I expected something a little more…mature? This is laughably bad at times,
like orchestral Disney songs with a cartoonish voice to match]– F Diamond Youth- Nothing Matters— F Cheatahs- Mythologies— [Fails in every aspect. Poorly produced, directionless, tuneless.]– F Mates of State- The Rumperbutts — F Beliefs- Leaper— [Why did I have this in my “listen-to” list? I’m genuinely confused as there is
not one single song on here that would merit a bookmark for further investigation. Derivative
90s sludgy garage rock with hints of shoegaze.]– F Triathalon- Nothing Bothers Me— Another album that strangely slipped into my bookmark list,
despite there being nothing of value of here to catch my attention in the first place. Poorly
produced, annoyingly twee, eminently forgettable.]– F Everything Everything- Get to Heaven— [Just, really bad]– F-