Grayowl Point’s Top 25 Releases of 2016

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by Staff

Aleem Khan – Urbana Champaign 

The first words Aleem Khan utters on Urbana Champaign are “simply stunning.” And that’s pretty much a summary of the album itself. Urbana Champaign is an intricate cocktail of Khan’s richly descriptive songwriting, r&b and pop, jazz and soul, and a splash of uncategorized weirdness. One sip and it’s clear that Khan is a bright new talent. – Laura Stanley

A Tribe Called Red – We Are Halluci Nation 

Oh boy, what to say about the remarkable A Tribe Called Red. Like the band’s previous albums, We Are Halluci Nation mixes elements of hip-hop, electronic music, and traditional powwow music into this hybrid music style that’s unrelentingly engaging. From John Trudell’s opening words, to Joseph Boyden’s narrative on Chanie Wenjack , to the all-star lineup of contributors (Tanya Tagaq, Shad, Yasiin Bey, Lido Pimienta, and so many more), We Are Halluci Nation is the loudest and fiercest ATCR record to date. It’s a political and artistic declaration that you cannot ignore and a landmark album in Canadian music. – LS

BADBADNOTGOOD – IV

Moving ever-further from the earlys of day hip hop-covering jam band excursions on YouTube, this group of Toronto jazz students have filtered their extensive period-correct bookworming through a swanky crystal decanter, but only after having consumed the smoky liquor inside, put on a couple Tyler the Creator records and gone a little bit rowdy. IV is a set of vintage R&B cuts that still exhibit some of the electronic-forward, J-Dilla-esque aesthetics that helped BBNG catch the attention of such luminaries as Ghostface Killah, but focuses more closely on the silky suave world of vintage curio cabinet funk. The band’s creativity takes on new shapes driven by the fleet-fingered work of new full-time saxophonist Leland Whitty, and collaborators like Colin Stetson and Polaris winner Kaytranada. There’s not really another group doing anything quite like what BADBADNOTGOOD do at the moment, and IV is their best fusion of modern experimentation with vintage soul yet. – Chris Matei

The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum

The Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek is nothing if not a sonic maximalist. His work with a diversely talented array of Canadian bands at Breakglass Studios in Montreal has pushed the limit of what the recording process itself can do to define unique sounds. Together with his wife and collaborator Olga Goreas, he embraces this idea to its fullest extent on A Coliseum Complex Museum, an album so packed with spinning star-fields of prog-rock and airy, reaching psychedelic harmonies that it sometimes strains at the seams. Lasek and Goreas have made a record so sonically rich that listeners can and should get lost inside it, preferably with a really great pair of headphones strapped solidly to their noggins. – CM

The Burning Hell – Public Library

Ever had dreams about Jean Baudrillard? Or have you met a stranger with a blood-soaked past? Where do you think Elvis and Michael Jackson are hanging out? If these sentences make no sense to you, please indulge yourself in some heavy reading, the kind provided by The Burning Hell’s latest record. It’s packed to the gills with references, but it’s also a delight through and through. It’ll be hard to pick your favourite lyrics. as Blimp Rock’s Peter Demakos found out earlier this year. –Michael Thomas

Casey Mecija – Psychic Materials

The Canadian public will never be over the end of Ohbijou, but we still have Casey Mecija continuing on, so there’s some hope left in the world. Psychic Materials was a surprise, but it’s nothing slapdash. It’s like stepping into a dream, but never being in the dream long enough to have a solid beginning, middle and end. Mecija describes the material as fragments, and altogether it creates a beautiful whole. Not to mention: a bunch of Ohbijou players are on this, but they help to complement Mecija’s unique, synth-oriented music. –MT

EONS – Long Walks

Long Walks is a walk around Toronto. It’s a walk through different styles of music. It’s also jaw-droppingly beautiful, as Matt Cully, Misha Bower and a slew of collaborators put together folk music that draws from both nature and the city alike. It ponders the universe in the same space as it reminisces on Scarborough and Leslie Spit. Toronto itself may as well have been a guest musician on this record. – MT

Frederick Squire – Spooky Action At A Distance

Spooky Action At A Distance is almost like a best-of collection of Frederick Squire’s masterful songcraft. The nine song collection features songs written within the last ten years, including familiar ones like “Spill Your Lungs and “Blue” (Julie Doiron) and “Sweetest May” (Calm Down It’s Monday). Altogether, the record is sad and happy, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, and some of Squire’s finest work. – LS

Ian William Craig – Centres

Ian William Craig has been making high class ambient records out of Vancouver for years now. It took me a while to get the swellings of tape delay and mood-drenched lyrics, but I’m there now. – Jack Derricourt

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq/Life

There’s one album that comes to mind when choosing a favourite for 2016, and it’s The Jerry Can’s Inuusiq/Life. Even though it wasn’t the most polished product of the year, there was something immediately gut-grabbing about the way the group seized on Canada’s numerous musical identities and found a way to fuse them into one. Throat-singing dog races melded in and out of rough-voiced folk songs sung in English and Inuktitut, rock and country danced around each other, and a northern record label was born. It was the lone album of 2016 to leap out at me—and one of a small handful I’ve felt deserved a full Hunting Call. – Eleni Armenakis

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat 

Earlier this year, John K. Samson did the unthinkable: he made me feel very emotional over a cat. But, of course, the final chapter of Virtute the cat (“Virtute at Rest”) is just a flash of Samson’s brilliance on Winter Wheat. He takes you by the hand and leads you around Winnipeg, through Alberta, and sits beside you on a Greyhound bound for Sudbury. He muses on technology’s dominance, the pains of academia, love and life. Capturing little moments like only Samson can. – LS

L CON – Moon Milk

It’s so easy to get swept up in Lisa Conway’s world, but it’s always impressive that with each successive release, her work gets better and better. L CON’s second album, Moon Milkis a beautiful, intense and chilling trip through the endless realm of space. If you don’t understand this description, it’s high time you take a listen and enter her world. – MT

Little Kid – Flowers

With every listen of Little Kid’s Flowers, I become enthralled with a different song. At first it was the acidic “Bastard,” then the climactic “Missionary,” and right now it’s the mournful closer “The Joke You Told” – an exhalation of acceptance. I’ve settled on the opinion that every song is great but altogether the bunch is as dazzling as spring’s first offerings.  – LS

LUKA – Summon Up The Monkey King

The Monkey King is a trickster character, but LUKA doesn’t kid around. Or maybe he does? Luke Kuplowsky has an uncanny ability to imbue every lyric with utmost sincerity, to the point where he can coo like a pigeon and mew like a cat in “Always the Same Bed” and it’s not silly, but a beautiful little moment, a pause in the music. Both Laura and I have gone on at length about why this album is so special, and you’ll do yourself a favour if you listen closely to everything he says. –MT

Majical Cloudz – Wait & See

I didn’t put Majical Cloudz’ album Are You Alone? on our 2015 year end list and I have regrets! Their EP Wait & See is a continuation of the album’s gorgeously restrained instrumentation and entrancing emotion but these songs are darker and even more anxious. Like they were Devon Welsh’s last scribbles before his notebook ran out of paper. “Heaven” is exactly that and “Let Me Lie” is the soundtrack to my daydreams. A few months after the release of Wait & See, Majical Cloudz announced their split. So I guess we really are left to wait and see what comes next. See you in the afterlife. – LS

Milk – Late Bloomer EP

Milk somehow made the most engaging-relaxed album of the year. “Funeral” has been the theme song of my happy moments since I heard it and “Marmalade” brings all the joy of a morning’s breakfast of nutritious pop music to life within your ears. – JD

Mulligrub – Soft Grudge 

Mulligrub’s long awaited debut album Soft Grudge is sour pop-punk that will wrap around your scared and sad little heart. I love how Mulligrub are tender and tough, loud and soft; because who says you can only be one. Lead singer Kelly Campbell is a force and her voice is unlike any you’ll hear this year. – LS

No Aloha – Deluxe

So much wonderful garage pop. The album was a real jump off from previous stuff, which shows maturity. Great guitars, more solo vocals, and relevant lyrics like I really didn’t hear from many other Canadian bands this year. I’ve got this weird ground rule for groups: if you can make three great albums in a row, you’re worth talking about. Deluxe proves that. Well done sirs, well done. – JD

ocean charter of values – no one who was good is good anymore

I still can’t get over how deeply, almost unsettingly sad this record in it, but the sadness is not exclusionary. It’s a deep wellspring that you can lose yourself in, the long ambient drones giving you all the space you need to sort out your feelings. This will come up more than once in this roundup, but 2016 has been a terrible year for many, and this is the kind of therapy we need. –MT

Royal Canoe – Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit

Royal Canoe should be an endless source of inspiration not just for people who need the kind of weird-as-fuck-but-also-insanely-catchy music they produce, but for other musicians to feel comfortable ignoring what they think music should sound like. This band has been on a winning streak since Extended Play, and this year, Something Got Lost shows the band boldly powering forward, embracing trip-hop to a greater degree but still remaining true to themselves. –MT

Shotgun Jimmie – Field of Trampolines

I don’t need to convince any of you that Shotgun Jimmie is a national treasure. His songs are effortless good fun, a ray of sunshine, or in this case, a Field of Trampolines. The album, though released early this year, is permeating summer, and all the good feelings that come with it. This album is so fucking good that hearing “Join the Band” will make you want to immediately form a musical group and go on tour, even if you’ve never touched an instrument in your life. –MT

Snowblink – Returning Current 

If Snowblink were a song, they’d be a timeless hymn, the kind of song that had its roots in religion but has since transgressed and become something purely inspirational, no matter what you believe in. The band’s “devotional pop” is a truly special thing, something that cannot be replicated, and Returning Current shows the group at the absolute top of their game. –MT

Tanya Tagaq – Retribution

Tanya Tagaq has this way of diving deep into your brain, scrambling your thoughts and emotions, and then organizing them in her own way. Retribution is so extordinarily emotional that you get lost for a long time when listening and then when it’s all over – after your heart has been smashed to a million pieces – you are angry and sad and ready to become part of a change that will see retribution.  – LS

Un Blonde – Good Will Come To You

The world was a terrible place in 2016 but Jean-Sebastien Audet’s (Un Blonde) Good Will Come To You reminded us that there can be good in the world too. Good Will Come To You is a genre-hopping celebration of life, love, and nature. Every song holds a message of positivity but Audet’s parting message is perhaps the strongest, “You can do anything and you control everything. Good will come to you.” – LS

White Lung – Paradise

White Lung made one of the year’s best rock records not by turning up louder or getting angrier – lord knows they’re more than capable of extraordinary levels of both volume and fury – but by exploring new vulnerabilities and exploring uncomfortable points of view. The band’s trademark, withering sonic attack is matched against a new focus on storytelling and melodic songcraft, exemplified by the lyrics that pour from fearless front-woman Mich Barber-Way like something stopped up for far too long. It’s a punk-rock Winter’s Bone, a picture of something bleak but powerful fighting to comprehend forces that it’s hungry to control. – CM

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