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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?

Less is More: The Power of the Rock/Metal Three-Piece

I was hanging out with a couple of musician friends last night, and after talking about our RRSPs and Ottawa’s best hot yoga studios, the discussion eventually turned to music. One of them is in the process of putting a new band together with himself on guitar/vocals, a bassist, and a drummer. So we started talking about the virtues of the three-piece band in hard rock and heavy metal. Some of the biggest and best tunes in the history of heavy music came from the smallest bands. There’s something to be said about creating loud, intricate, and monumental music from the barest of bones: one guitar, one bass, a drum kit, and voices. So I got to thinking about my favourite three-pieces and decided to list some of them here:

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Hendrix is, of course, the greatest guitar player who ever lived, but he needed a larger-than-life rhythm section to complement his tremendous riffs and solos. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding (and later Billy Cox) matched that revolutionary guitar work with powerfully epic beats and bass lines.

Cream
Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce added a harder edge to the psychedelic rock sound of the late 1960s and inspired generations of musicians to pick up guitars, basses and drumsticks. Cream made some of the funnest riffs to play.

Motörhead
One of the most influential pioneering heavy metal bands was also one of the most stripped-down. While the genre itself has evolved into diverse musical styles, Motörhead is the essence of that original loud, raw, fast, and unrelenting spirit.

The Police
They’re by no means a “heavy” band (they’re actually barely “rock”), but I was fortunate enough to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing them live about six years ago in Toronto, and was mostly blown away by the fact that it was just the three of them (along with the obligatory backup singers) on stage for the whole show.

Nirvana
Although I’m a little tired of hearing some of their hit songs overplayed on the radio to this day, it would be a disservice to leave Nirvana off of this list.

Primus
Les Claypool is the Hendrix of the bass, and Primus is one of the most unique three-pieces in rock history because they made a traditionally rhythmic instrument the cornerstone of the band’s sound. That also made them one of the heaviest bands of their era.

Dinosaur Jr.
The second-loudest concert I ever saw was a Dinosaur Jr. concert at the Garrick Theatre in Winnipeg.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The loudest concert I ever saw was a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion concert at the Kool Haus in Toronto.

KEN Mode
I rave enough about these guys, but I think they’re the most exciting heavy band in Canada and I’m really stoked to hear their new album coming out soon. This three-piece from Winnipeg creates some of the loudest and most interesting sounds out there.

I know I left off a few (hold your fire Rush fans), but that’s where you come in. What are some of your favourite three-piece rock/metal bands?

“The coldest winter that I ever saw…”

A few days ago I drove through the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen in my life. The wind was practically blowing the car off the icy road and the colossal wall of falling snow before me was blinding. It was the first time I ever felt fear while driving. A constantly sweaty brow, white knuckles, and empty coffee cups full of sunflower seed shells were proof.

The five-hour drive from Ottawa to Parry Sound started well enough. It was 11 degrees C and sunny in the nation’s capital that afternoon. But an hour outside of the city the weather took a disgusting turn. And that didn’t bode well for the route I was about to take:


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Anyone who’s driven Highway 60 knows it’s a winding and treacherous road, especially when the weather’s bad. But when it’s nice it’s a really pleasant tour. I reduced my speed to about 40 km/h for a good chunk of the trip, so I had lots of time to think. Staring death in the face in the bleakest of seasons, I pondered some of my favourite music to listen to in winter. Not the kind of stuff to make you feel warm and upbeat to cope with the cold and snow, but the tunes that help you relate to and understand the desperate and dangerous environment around you. So I came up with this short list of my favourite winter albums:

RadioheadKid A
It could have been because they released this in the fall of 2000 and I listened to it constantly throughout the following winter, but the songs on this album always invoke vast, bleak landscapes for me. It’s almost like the music is meant to fill those great and barren voids. At the time Kid A was revolutionary and it hasn’t really been matched since.

ISISPanopticon

This is a unique band that plays epic, ambient metal that can sweep you right across the emotional spectrum. Anything that’s long, slow, and heavy is perfect for a backdrop of white-capped mountains surrounding a frozen river and bare trees. This album makes me want to strap on some snowshoes.

TrickyMaxinquaye

Tricky helped define that terrible term of “trip-hop” in the 1990s. It’s a narrow label that always sells the songs short. I always thought the music he and the dudes from Massive Attack played had the perfect layers of psychedelic musical elements and mesmerizing rhythms that would make you feel at home in a snowed-in cabin.

Sigur Ros()

They’re from Iceland. Enough said.

Joanna NewsomYs

Winter is probably the most legendary of seasons so it deserves songs that are sagas. She writes tunes that are sweeping fables about mythical creatures, set on top of ancient instruments like the harp. If you have time to kill on one of these cold, isolated nights, throw this album on.

Bonnie Prince BillyI See a Darkness

I won’t sugarcoat it – a lot of the songs on this album are pretty depressing and some deal with death. No one said winter was a happy time.

Deltron 3030

Towards the tail end of that epic drive last week I was hard-pressed to think of a hip-hop album that would suit this particular list. The only one that came to mind was this particular gem about life in the distant dystopian future.

PJ HarveyTo Bring You My Love

A commanding and powerful voice needs to tame the fiercest of seasons, and she has it. Couple that with songs about isolation and loss – produced in the guitar-heavy mid-1990s – and you have the perfect recipe for blizzard listening.

The SwordAge of Winters

Sometimes in winter you just gotta crank it to 11 and prepare for battle.

I’m sure if I was trapped in another highway blizzard I could think of some more. What’s your favourite winter music?

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