2016’s Most Glorious, Best Albums So Far!

early 2016 best albums collage copy

We have listened to 282 albums from Canadian artists released from January 1 to June 30, 2016, and settled upon our 18 picks for the best. We add reviews of each of them below sorted alphabetically by title. Before we do this, we would like to list some honourable mentions: Armour by Rae Spoon, Cimetière d’avions by Antoine Lachance, Hard Sail by Chantal Kreviazuk, The Hills by Nicholas Krgovich, Ideas of Order by Adam Strangler, Love You To Death by Tegan and Sara, Palace Blues by JF Robitaille, and II by Jean-Michel Blais.

Complete with flowing copper curls, she’s all dolled up and ready to sing. Finalist of The Voice, Season 1, Canadian recording artist Alexe Gaudreault released her debut, self-titled album in 2016. It follows a three-track EP that spawned the big Franco radio hit “Placebo”. The album is a pop tour de force with catchy beats, peppy swagger, sonorous choruses, and a fabulous, creamy voice leading it all. “Mirage” and “Couleurs” had us hooked immediately. The delicately played “Éclat” is currently glowing its way up the charts. Staff over at iTunes Canada have praised the atmospheric “Tempête” for Alexe’s “breathy coo piercing through like a ray of sunshine”. With this gem of an LP, Alexe Gaudreault has the front-runner for album of the year, across all genres, across all provinces of origin.

With Meg on vocals, Josh on keys, Robbie on guitar, and Nick on drums, St. John’s quartet Repartee launched debut, pop album All Lit Up. Showcased at Canadian Music Week, featured at Halifax Pop Explosion, and highlighted at the East Coast Music Awards, the apt little unit of clever crafters is named by The Newfoundland Herald as the band to watch and by The Scope as the best new band and best pop band. Repartee is Atlantic Canada’s answer to Toronto’s Dragonette, Calgary’s Tegan and Sara, and Vancouver’s Carly Rae Jepsen. In 2012, the band won all five Music Newfoundland and Labrador awards for which it was nominated. With a tightly kneaded album, the group is set to electrify crowds across the country and around the world. The title-track opener immediately had us hooked, and by the time our ears worked their way to lead single, “Dukes”, we were sold!

Alternative music that swings from the dreamy subdued side to the driving upbeats of cool comes to us from Granby, QC’s Marie-Eve Roy and album Bleu Nelson. She was a member of Vulgaires Machins, a popular band which announced an “indefinite break”. That group performed a punky style of indie rock, so it stands to reason that Roy’s album harbours some new waves of post-punk. Bleu Nelson is so good, we wonder why she waiting so long to go solo! The album title was inspired by a city in New Zealand by the blue ocean where she began writing the tracks.

Having attracted a pair of JUNO nominations and scored a pair of gold albums, France d’Amour is back with the second disc in her jazz-themed Bubble Bath and Champagne project. The bilingual (mostly English) album is just beautiful, and most impressive is that all tracks are original compositions. France co-produced the album and played all guitars. This is the perfect album to unwind after work to fill an evening with soothing romantic, mind-clearing sparkle. Not too many singers are gifted with a voice so alluring.

We couldn’t get enough of the beautiful self-titled singer-songwriter album from Montreal’s Catherine Servedio. The gentle but rich music does a fine job in underscoring her fabulous vocals, and there are unexpected twists in the instrumentation which keep the ears engaged. The album effectively elicits a nostalgic mood with its delicate melancholy.

Canadian adult contemporary wouldn’t be the same without a Rankin at the helm. Mabou, NS’s Heather released A Fine Line which is wonderful. Amidst the finely-crafted originals performed with the sweetest of voices, find an impressive cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. The album is very strong from start to finish.

This is a gorgeous folk album by award winning London, ON duo Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy who have crafted very catchy melodic tunes that even those not into the folk kingdom can sink their teeth into. Wonderful writing and delivery make this easily one of the best albums of 2016.

Toronto singer-songwriter Jadea Kelly has bounced from providing vocals to metal group Protest the Hero to charming critics with her previous folk albums. Her latest, Love & Lust, ups the ante boasting a legion of some of the finest songwriters and musicians in the business, as well as expert production. Jadea co-wrote these beautiful songs with Jeremy Fisher, Peter Katz, and Robyn Dell’Unto. She co-produced the disc with Stew Crookes (Hawksley Workman) and Tom Juhas (Royal Wood) and spent a long time perfecting the recordings at Noble Street Studios and The Woodshed in Toronto. The recording process was done live off the floor which nicely complements the lyrical intimacy and adds a sense of genuineness to the expressive sentiment of her vocals.

Vancouver JUNO award winner Tim Hecker is one of the world leaders in experimental electronica. He released album Love Streams in 2016. Characteristically, he not only reinvents the genre but his own style at it. The album sculpts ethereal soundscapes with enough detail that we are taken through a fresh experience with each listen.

Toronto’s Megan Bonnell released a very impressive sophomore LP, Magnolia, following her getting hooked by Maple Music (now Cadence). On the production side are Chris Stringer (the Wooden Sky, Holly McNarland, Timber Timbre) and Josh Van Tassel (David Myles, Christine Bougie). She is essentially a roots artist, though the detailed writing, neo-trad instrumentation, and production coatings on these songs are so strong that give the finished product a very wide appeal. The work is as soft as clouds, flowing as water, and detailed as a landscaped garden.

Montreal’s 70s-style progressive rock outfit Huis is assuredly one of the best in the world at the genre. The band name is Dutch for house. Find complex musicianship, keyboard and guitar solos, sampled sounds of nature and civilization, classic moog, Hammond, and Mellotron keys, luxurious textures, unpredictable tempo and chord changes, pleasing vocals, and a music the moves along very naturally from the subdued to the theatrical and back again.

Clothes Off”, now certified gold, spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 from early August to mid-December 2015, reaching a peak position of #31 on August 31. It gave Halifax’s Ria Mae breakout success and a JUNO nomination, a singer who had turned to her first love of writing songs after a brief postsecondary stint at construction management. Ria released independent music, an EP in 2009 and debut LP Under My Skin two years later. Her talents were profound enough to attract attention from Sony Music Entertainment who signed her. This is her first major label album. The disc provides a welcome balance between her folky roots and modern electro-tinged funk pop. The overall effect is one of earthy wholesomeness and catchy riffs carried by a very pleasant voice. There are lots and lots of good songs on this one!

Toronto has an exciting new post-punk duo that effectively licks the champions of mediocrity. Rites and Ritual is the album from Traitrs, one whose penned verses explore the dark gallows and shambled stone shacks of witch trials, youth cults, and burnt offerings. Musically, the duo presents a sound that echoes The Chameleons UK and composition on par with The Spoons. The post-punk cold wave, with atmospheric guitars, boldly sashays itself in with a great wall of sound that will fill your spine with a delicious cacophony of shivers. Rites and Ritual packs an impressive bite and is a welcome addition to the best works of 2016.

This country album by BC’s Aaron Pritchett, who has two JUNO nominations to his credit, stands from our perspective as one of the finest country music releases of the year. A side note is that when we heard Keith Urban’s “Wasted Time” (#1 on the Canadian country charts), we thought it would be neat for some Canadian artists to try their hand at progressive country. Aaron’s song “Love On” from the album answers our thought. There are plenty of more standard and traditional country tracks on the album as well to give a nice variety of atmospherics.

Montreal’s Ariane Brunet floored us with her previous album and provided a wonderful followup in 2016 called Stella, a fusion of sizzling electro and acoustic groove. As always, she concocts a fun adult contemporary work that charmed the folks at iTunes Canada into giving it a big thumbs up review. Our thumbs are up as well.

We weren’t sure what to make of the album cover, but putting on this savoury synthpop made our own mouths drool. Montreal alt-rock band Islands has grown in popularity and accomplished an awesome feat this year, releasing not one but two albums at the same time. Should I Remain Here at Sea is more guitar oriented while Taste is more synth heavy. Both are great but we dig Taste best.

Jason Bajada launched album number 6, Volcano. The music is rich, well-written, and brilliantly executed. We love how he tenses up the verses to burst into eruptive choruses, not so much in terms of noise and fury, but rather dreamy, hair-raising gleams of infectious melodies. His soothing vocals take us on a pleasant ride through the disc with the perfect tempo to keep our ears perked, and he throws in some molten hot guitar solos that flow like lava, most notably in opener “Pékin (les amitiés)”; we haven’t heard a jam that good in quite some time. Other standouts for us include “Si je craque” which begins with folky, flat-plain guitar strums combined with bouncy vocal notes and then bursts into a gorgeous chorus. “Busky” begins with minimalist keys and a funky bass and then yields to an irresistibly delicious wall of sound. Yup, Jason Bajada got our wow factor on automatic repeat with Volcano.

Abbotsford, BC post-punk / new wave group You Say Party released its self-titled LP on February 12, 2016, which is album #4 since debuting in 2005. Members are Krista Loewen, Becky Ninkovic, Stephen O’Shea, and Derek Adam. Sadly, the band’s drummer Devon Clifford is no longer with us. Dealing with the tragedy, You Say Party went on hiatus from 2011. The eponymous disc is the band’s first in six years. Rather than hire a new drummer, the core four decided to go with drum machines, which effectively give the music a more emotionally drained sound, as the album tries to make sense out of loss and uncertainty. The cover is an accurate reflection of the gloomy atmospherics the disc explores. It’s an honest and authentic representation of the dark detour the band was forced to take, slightly experimental, as the four players explored unfamiliar terrain but emerged with an impressive work of art.