The 10 best Toronto albums of 2016
In 2016, Toronto musicians pumped out quirky jazz numbers, carefree punk-rock anthems, steamy R&B gems and some ubiquitous pop tunes that dominated American pop charts. In other words, it was a good year for the local soundtrack. Here, the best 10 Toronto-bred albums of the past 12 months
Abel Tesfaye’s most fun, accessible album to date debuted at the top of the Billboard charts in both Canada and the U.S., making good on The Weeknd’s full-scale push for pop dominance. Multiple Daft Punk–produced singles readymade for radio? Check. Creative video treatments ready to go viral? Check. Requisite Saturday Night Live performance? Check. A mix of rock, dance and R&B jams to catch fans from all genres? Quadruple check.
Chillin’ high atop our city’s most iconic landmark, the 6’s most steadfast advocate dropped the most hyped record of the year. Views is not the perfect record the world had hoped for: it’s overlong, and the unreleased version “Pop Style” with Kanye West was better. But to ignore its sweet peaks and keep it off this list would be pompous. “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling” are certified global hits. “Controlla” taps the same island riddims that turned Rihanna’s “Work” into a sensation. And the mischievous “Child’s Play” and battle-ready “Hype” reinforce how good Drake is at doing Drake.
The Dream Is Over
Hailed by Rolling Stone as one of 2014’s “breakout rock acts,” the four-piece punk outfit PUP waited until 2016 to make some real noise, raking in a Polaris Prize nomination in the process. The Dream Is Over is apparently what lead singer Stefan Babcock’s doctor told him after looking at his damaged vocal chords. Babcock gets the last word, and it is frenzied and furious, sarcastic and smart.
Downie’s fifth solo album proves that—even in his 50s, at a time when Canada would have eaten up anything he released—the singer-songwriter refuses to rest on his Tragically Hip laurels. Secret Path, released by indie house Arts & Crafts, is a concept record about Charlie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Marten Falls First Nation who died trying to escape from residential school in 1966. Its acoustic ballads are heavy, but beautiful and brave.
DVSN arrived as a fully realized force in 2016, delivering expert R&B with a healthy dose of credibility: they’re on Drake’s label, OVO Sound. On Sept. 5th, singer Daniel Daley is never overbearing as he hovers over the production of his partner, Nineteen85, to simmering effect. Retro influences can be gleaned from tunes like “Try / Effortless,” but the record is no throwback. This is the ethereal music Aaliyah would make if she was two dudes in Toronto in 2016.
Brash, belligerent and moody, Jazz Cartier’s latest full-length project operates within our trap-rap times but adds a dose of musical and lyrical intelligence. Moods and tempos vary: the breakneck “Red Alert” rides and chirps with its head out the car window, while “Better When You Lie” paints a smooth, disillusioned romance.
The electro jazz outfit’s fourth LP throws a variety of sounds at the wall, and lucky for us, almost all of them stick. Pure instrumental jams, like opener “And That, Too,” are spiked by fresh collaborations with saxophonist Colin Stetson, Chicago MC Mick Jenkins, singer-songwriter Charlotte Day Wilson, Montreal producer Kaytranada and Future Islands frontman Sam Herring. Little ties IV’s 50 minutes together, but that only allows each track to deliver new surprises. It’s the perfect way to lure new ears to the genre.
Weaves’ self-described “bent pop” whisks you away with its energy and originality. The four-piece band, buoyed by the unique vocals of Jasmyn Burke, knows how to write and execute infectious tunes, like “Tick” and the manic “One More,” that hook you and leave you wanting more. The album is a refreshing reminder that rock can be fun.
Etobicoke-raised indie-folk singer Basia Bulat followed up her excellent Polaris Prize–shortlisted Tall Tall Shadow with a dose of Good Advice. This record made the list, too, for good reason: it’s a stunning glimpse into Bulat’s beautifully tormented world. This time, a cold breakup is the catalyst for simple yet cutting lyrics that would be so much sadder were it not for the warm production of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
Clairmont the Second
Quest for Milk and Honey
Clairmont the Second, a motivated youngster from Weston Road, flexes wisdom and beat mastery well beyond his teenage years on Quest for Milk and Honey, an album that should see him jump from high school student to the city’s next buzzworthy hip-hop act. The self-produced, 13-track effort (available free on his Soundcloud page) mashes melody with hard drums, throwing in flourishes of jazz, gospel and soul. There’s a hint of Chance the Rapper, too—and that’s a good thing.