These are the best albums of 2016

Top 10 lists by six Cult MTL critics. PLUS: Best shows and biggest disappointments.

Anderson .Paak

It’s been another banner year for hip hop, with fresh and venerable artists alike emerging with sick LPs. R&B wasn’t far behind, with stellar records coming from the mainstream and the indie realms, while the rock world delivered some towering achievements, even if some of them were (to say the least) bittersweet.

Whether you’re looking for suggested listening or want to compare notes, check out these Top 10 Albums lists, as well as favourite concerts and biggest disappointments of the year, by six music writers at Cult MTL.

Donovan Burtan

Best Albums: frank-ocean-blonde-album-cover-628x628-1

1. Frank Ocean, Blond (Boys Don’t Cry)
2. Jessy Lanza, Oh No (Hyperdub)
3. Ida Toninato, Strangeness Is Gratitude (Kohlenstoff)
4. Mitski, Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
5.Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
6. Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman, Evan Parker, Ikue Mori, Miller’s Tale (Intakt)
7. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit (Harvest)
8. Solange, A Seat at the Table (Saint/Columbia)
9. Okkyung Lee and Christian Marklay, Amalgam (Northern Spy)
10. Aaron Lumley, Anabasis/Katabasis (Small Scale)

Best Show: Wadada Leo Smith, la Sala Rossa, June 2

Biggest Disappointment: clipping., Splendor and Misery (Sub Pop)

Wadada Leo Smith isn’t your average legacy musician. Although he’s been relevant since the ’70s, Smith’s most artistic period might just be the current decade. On one of the opening nights of the Suoni per il Popolo festival this summer, the trumpet legend’s astounding sense of space captured the entire room for his non-stop set. Besides witnessing a personal hero and figurehead of the free jazz community, my night was made even more stunning by the youthful Howl Arts Collective opening act featuring locals Kaie Kellough, Jason Sharp, Kevin Lo and Tanya Evanson. Presenting a piece entitled Intérro, the group combined spoken word stories of people being harassed at border crossings with stunning visuals from Lo and brooding soundscapes from saxophonist Jason Sharp. Considering Smith’s socially conscious tendencies, it was inspiring to hear how avant-garde communities will continue to promote social change in the future.

Lorraine Carpenter

Best Albums: Blackstar cover

1. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia)
2. Operators, Blue Wave (Last Gang)
3. Solange, A Seat at the Table (Saint)
4. Kaytranada, 99.9% (XL)
5. Savages, Adore Life (Matador)
6. Suede, Night Thoughts (Suede Ltd.)
7. Jessy Lanza, Oh No (Hyperdub)
8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)
9. Basia Bulat, Good Advice (Secret City)
10. Krief, Automanic (Culvert)

Best Show: Savages, Theatre Corona, April 2

Biggest Disappointment: David Bowie, RIP.

Given the impersonal professionalism of arena shows and the earnestness and humility of most indie acts who play smaller venues, it’s rare to witness that magic combination of passion, charisma and sonic ferocity on stage. Seeing Savages for the first time made me remember what real showmanship is. Not mere theatricality, not big-band force, not smarmy confidence, not emotional peaks via light show — this was an overwhelming combination of (post-) punk guitar grind, powerful rhythm and singer Jehnny Beth’s fabulous vocal style, not to mention her total domination of the adoring audience who pressed in up front to get close and grab at her when she extended her hand — she even walked on the crowd, Iggy Pop style.

I’ve rarely seen this magical exchange of energy and adulation between the band and the crowd, and I’ve been going to shows for over two decades. Next time Savages play Montreal, be there.

Johnson Cummins

Best Albums: swans-the-glowing-man

1. Swans, The Glowing Man (Young God)
2. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
3. Black Sabbath, Paranoid deluxe box set (Warner)
4. Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered (Top Dawg)
5. Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness (Temporary Residence)
6. The Body, No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)
7. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, Stranger Things soundtrack, Vol. 1 (Lakeshore)
8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)
9. Tim Hecker, Love Streams (4AD)
10. Angelo Badalamenti, Twin Peaks original score vinyl reissue (Death Waltz)

Best Show: Wolves in the Throne Room, la Sala Rossa, Sept. 25

Biggest Disappointment: No Means No retiring.

2016 was a major buzz hassle marked by loss. An old money generated reality TV star and textbook narcissist duping America’s blue-collar populace at the ballot box hardly comforted our grieving. With all of the true musical greats that saddled up for a ride into the great unknown in 2016, the biggest loss I felt personally was the announcement that Victoria experi-punks No Means No have finally put their Chuck Tailors up on the nail. After dutiful service dating back to the post-punk days of the late ’70s, NMN always remained progressive, truly unique and inspiring throughout the decades. One of the greatest unknown bands of all time. Fuck you 2016.

Erik Leijon

Best Albums: kaytranada-99-9

1. Kaytranada, 99.9% (XL)
2. Roosevelt, Roosevelt (City Slang)
3. Lorenzo Senni, Persona (Warp)
4. Dead Obies, Gesamtkunstwerk (Bonsound)
5. YG, Still Brazy (Def Jam)
6. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
7. Vesuvio Solo, Don’t Leave Me in the Dark (Banko Gotiti)
8. Glass Animals, How to Be a Human Being (Wolf Tone)
9. Bernardino Femminielli, Plaisirs Américains (MIND Records/Bethlehem XXX)
10. Helado Negro, Private Energy (Asthmatic Kitty)

Best Show: Kanye West, Bell Centre, Sept. 2

Biggest Disappointment: Future at Osheaga

A stellar year for shows. Could’ve listed Turbo Crunk or Wolf Parade’s respective reunions, or Egypt’s Islam Chipsy or Floating Points’ intense psychedelic jams, but when the dust settled all I could see was the ever-mercurial Mr. West, hovering above his lowly subjects on his illuminated moving platform. It was a draining show for the star, as he was tethered in place for two hours with no respite, and while performing it day in, day out ultimately led to an epic burnout, it also brought the consistently underwhelming arena concert experience to biblical new heights. The sprawling The Life of Pablo made perfect sense when West was shout-preaching it to his apostles below and reveling in its incredible sea-parting transitions. As a public figure, West can be tough to love sometimes, but this show rewarded those who put up patiently with Pablo’s roll-out.

Darcy MacDonald

Best Albums: anderson-park-malibu

1. Anderson .Paak, Malibu (Steel Wool)
2. Kaytranada, 99.9% (XL)
3. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book (independent)
4. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
5. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo (GOOD)
6. Dead Obies, Gesamkunstwerk (Bonsound)
7. J-Zone, Fish-n-Grits (Old Maid)
8. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibiton (Warp)
9. Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers)
10. Alaclair Ensemble, Les Frères Cueilleurs (7ème Ciel)

Best Show: Anderson .Paak, Fairmount Theatre, June 9

Biggest Disappointment: De La Soul, The Anonymous Nobody

On June 9 of this year, this hip hop reporter faced one of the most difficult decisions of his professional career, which is to say, “I guess I live a pretty fuckin’ breezy life, after all.”

But breezy, this choice was not. At Place Des Festivals, you had the Francofolies opening its main outdoor stage with four titans of Quebec hip hop and bands I frankly adore the privilege of covering — Brown, Loud Lary Ajust, Dead Obies and Alaclair Ensemble — on the same stage, sharing a historic moment in local history with tens of thousands of fans.

This was to be a highlight of my early summer, until it was announced mere days before that California wunderkind Anderson .Paak would make his live local debut with a free show, by lottery, at the Fairmount Theatre. As much as I love documenting local hip hop, I felt pretty confident that I should not miss this moment. Montreal rarely receives a hip hop up-comer of this caliber at the still-playing-smaller-rooms juncture of their career (though to be fair I’m sure .Paak was already filling much bigger U.S. venues at this point.)

I stand by my choice, assured by more than one artist playing the Francos opening that night that they, too, wished they could have seen the flurry of limbs, drumsticks and heard the smokey soul croonings and slick slick bar delivery of a legend-to-be in his the earliest stages of his prime. Yes, lawd!

Mr. Wavvy

Best Albums: a-tribe-called-quest-lp

1. Anderson .Paak, Malibu (Empire)
2. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia)
3. Kaytranada, 99.9% (XL)
4. Frank Ocean, Blond (Boys Don’t Cry)
5. River Tiber, Indigo (independant)
6. Beyoncé, Lemonade (Parkwood)
7. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
8. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
9. Solange, A Seat at the Table (Saint)
10. De La Soul, …And the Anonymous Nobody (Kobalt)

Best Show: Anderson .Paak, Fairmount Theatre, June 9

Biggest Disappointment: Messy album roll-outs

From Rihanna’s half-baked “surprise” Anti release, to Kanye West’s initially unfinished The Life of Pablo, to — perhaps most hilariously — French Montana shelving his entire album following Target releasing it despite a pushback, several overplayed marketing ploys are beginning to take away from the audience’s appreciation of albums they’ve been long anticipating. Besides, can we even truly consider some of these projects “surprises” anymore if everyone is doing it? Even Frank Ocean had people feeling abandoned with what became the increasingly elusive duo that is Endless and Blonde. To all artists dropping in 2017: the format the industry has been using for years works for a reason. No need to disappoint your fans by being pretentious, confusing and, ultimately, following what has now become one of music’s lamest trends.