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Top Ten Albums of 2016

I’m a little late with the list for 2016, but I’m happy to once again post this annual exercise.

Sturgill SimpsonA Sailor’s Guide to Earth

The music is an interesting take on modern country music, and the lyrical concept is a love letter to his infant son. This came out the week I found out I was going to be a father for the first time. It became the soundtrack to that journey, up until my son was born in December. I will love this album for the rest of my life.

Iggy PopPost Pop Depression

He says his recording career is wrapping up, and I believe this is the perfect way to go out. He recruited Josh Homme – another of my all-time favourite musicians – to make this album, and the result is a rock n’ roll tour de force. Iggy at 69 is both raw and refined.

Tanya TagaqRetribution

When music defies all labels and the artist herself powerfully commands respect and space for her people in all realms, that’s revolutionary. Her last collection of songs took me places I never imagined music could, and this one took me even further.

A Tribe Called RedWe Are the Halluci Nation

They’ve gone from providing the soundtrack to the urban Indigenous experience to creating a global Indigenous movement that celebrates beauty, creativity, and positivity. The songs are a fun and exciting musical blend of electronic, powwow, and hip hop that follows a pretty compelling narrative.

MeshuggahThe Violent Sleep of Reason

No other band makes heavy metal as precise and powerful as Meshuggah does. These Swedish juggernauts have an unmistakable sound that’s complex and captivating, and decades into their dominant run, they’re stronger than ever.

Danny BrownAtrocity Exhibition

I’ve always appreciated how dark and weird Danny Brown can make hip hop, and this one goes deep on both fronts. His skillful eccentrics yield some pretty serious bangers, while going to some harsh and profound places in between.

Big BusinessCommand Your Weather

Going back to their roots as a two-piece has somehow created louder, stronger songs than on their last (also excellent) album. Some may consider it a stretch to call Big Business “metal”, but I think they’ve created some of the most unique and enjoyable music in the genre.

The MelvinsBasses Loaded

Their production pace is roughly an album a year, and while recent output has ranged from just okay to deadly, Basses Loaded lands on the deadlier end of that spectrum. It may seem like a gimmick, but using a different bass player for each song results in a pretty eclectic heavy sound.

PJ HarveyThe Hope Six Demolition Project

I really enjoyed her music back in the day, but she kind of fell off my radar in recent times. My buddy Chunk highly recommended this new one, and I was glad he did. Her beautifully commanding voice remains on a righteous pedestal, and the album’s mostly gloomy vibe is right up my alley.

Run the Jewels 3

I’m still getting to know this Christmas miracle, but I already like it more than Run the Jewels 2, which I didn’t think was possible. This hip hop powerhouse only seems to be getting better and better, making some of the most important music for our times.

And the rest of what I really enjoyed in 2016:

David BowieBlackstar
Nine Inch NailsNot the Actual Events
A Tribe Called QuestWe Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
WHOOP-szoCitizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio
Black MountainIV
TestamentBrotherhood of the Snake
Saul WilliamsMartyrLoserKing
Jim BrysonSomewhere We Will Find Our Place
BeyoncéLemonade
Aesop RockThe Impossible Kid
DeftonesGore
Dillinger Escape PlanDissociation
MetallicaHardwired…to Self Destruct
RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool

What was your favourite music from 2016?

He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line


As this decade progresses, 1990s sentimentalists will continue to wax nostalgic as 20-year milestones tick by. As someone who was a teenager for most of that decade, I am also prone to this, especially when it comes to music. I’ve already done so with the most influential album on my life. Today marks another such anniversary: 20 years since the release of Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral. It was an album that broadened my musical outlook and emotional scope at a crucial time in my life.

Musically, I had never heard anything like it. Some songs were loud and aggressive; others were ambient and introspective. The album spanned genres from metal to rock to techno, and I learned that critics had sorted it into the “industrial” genre, whatever that meant. I was a little familiar with NIN prior to this. A buddy had lent me the Broken EP a couple years earlier, and I liked it so much I bought my own copy. But it was just a slight taste of the power and range that was fulfilled with The Downward Spiral.

Some of its themes like isolation, struggle, and oppression really hit home. I was a month away from turning 15, living on the rez and confused about my place in the bigger picture. I connected emotionally with some of the lyrics, and it was through this album that I really learned how music could powerfully convey darker sentiments, and that those feelings were valid and common. I didn’t start wearing eyeliner or black nail polish, but I respected that.

Later that summer I saw NIN open for Soundgarden (who, coincidentally, released Superunknown on the same day as The Downward Spiral) at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario. The songs were even more immense live, and I was totally blown away by how Trent Reznor and his band played them. They were energetic and unrelenting, and it looked really fun. I remember walking out of that show feeling extremely happy; almost like I was part of a collective emotional purge and celebration. Music, as art, is a release, and we share to make ourselves and others feel.

I’ve seen various incarnations of NIN play four times since then over the past two decades, most recently last fall at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Each time it was a massive audio/visual spectacle. Their live show really is something to behold. While Trent’s sound has evolved, it’s always nostalgic to hear those songs that struck me to the core as a teen 20 years ago. And as these musical milestones emerge, I’ll continue to reflect proudly and unapologetically. Rock on!

Notorious Native Noise

I recently had the great pleasure of sitting in on an episode of CHUO’s The Circle to talk about Indigenous heavy metal from around the world. The Circle is a weekly hour-long show on the University of Ottawa’s campus radio station that features Indigenous music, arts, and current affairs. Airing every Tuesday at 9PM, it’s a great show that’s an integral part of Ottawa’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities. I’ve been a guest in the past with regular host Jocelyn Formsma, and summer host Darren Sutherland invited me back for a special all-metal edition.

I’m generally a fan of all kinds of music, and I’ve been into heavy metal since I was about 12 years old. It’s a diverse genre that embodies loud, passionate, and complex music that transcends cultures. Naturally, Indigenous people from around the world have embraced it as a way to showcase their traditions and stories with sheer force. While country and rap music are widely known as the most popular genres on the rez, Native people have been making compelling heavy music for decades. Darren had the idea of showcasing some of that talent for The Circle’s listeners, and asked me to come on the show to play some of my favourites. I was really stoked about the opportunity, and joined him on the air on August 27. Here’s what we played:

X-Status – “Warpath”
Sepultura – “Roots Bloody Roots”
Breach of Trust – “Who Am I?”
Biipiigwan – “Kingmaker”
Ethnic De Generation – “Blood Land”
Garden of Bedlam – “Sovereignty”
Rage Against the Machine – “People of the Sun”
Bruthers of Different Muthers – “Bows and Arrows”
Northern Cree – “Stay Red”

For more on the bands, their songs, and the importance of heavy metal in Indigenous communities, listen to the entire hour-long episode here:

Chi-miigwech to Darren and Jocelyn for having me on!

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