Even though 2017 is still more than a week away, I’m already making a resolution: I want to dedicate more time listening to new music and new releases in the New Year.
For the record, it’s nothing I intentionally avoid. Rather, it is often simply just the by-product of working a full-time job, writing in my spare time and raising two kids.
Not that I’m complaining about any of those things.
And so, without further ado, here in alphabetical order is a look back at five of my favourite albums from 2016.
Blue Rodeo – 1000 Arms (Warner Music Canada)
If bands are supposed to grow increasingly less relevant as they age, Blue Rodeo, a veritable Canadian institution in its own right, didn’t get the memo. “By conception, we set out to make a British pub rock, late ‘70’s type of album in the vein of Brinsley Schwarz and Nick Lowe,” Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy told me last week about the making of 1000 Arms. From album opener “Hard To Remember” through to album closer “The Flame,” Blue Rodeo delivered a thoroughly cohesive masterpiece that I feel is their most energetic work since their turn of the century release The Days In Between, while also crafting some of their most compelling material since 2009’s The Things We Left Behind.
The Cult – Hidden City (Dine Alone Records)
Released in early February, The Cult’s 10th studio effort Hidden City is, without a doubt, one of the year’s best rock albums. Now more than three decades into their career, The Cult is clearly playing as though they still have something to prove. Don’t believe me? Take a listen to “GOAT,” “Dance The Night” or “Deeply Ordered Chaos” and try to argue the group has grown complacent with their songwriting. There is, in my opinion, no such argument to be made. “We are the kind of band that is going to prove to be a late bloomer,” vocalist Ian Astbury told me in an interview at the outset of the year. “[Hidden City] is the kind of record that, as you spend time with it, [listeners will find] there are many different layers to peel away.”
Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis (New West)
Following up the utter brilliance of his 2014 album The Lights From The Chemical Plant was not going to be an easy task, but Robert Ellis rose to the challenge and then some with his latest effort. On his self-titled release, Ellis paints with a multitude of musical colours, embracing orchestral arrangements (“You’re Not The One”), pop (“How I Love You,” “Perfect Strangers”), muted bossa nova (“Amanda Jane”), and Motown-inspired soul (“Couples Skate”) while still holding true to his country roots on tracks like “Drivin’.” Even as he laments the state of the music business on “The High Road,” the confessional nature of Ellis’ songs is sure to keep you coming back for more.
The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood (4AD)
Inspired by musical greats including (but not limited to) The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Queen, and heralded by the likes of Elton John and Alice Cooper, what solidifies The Lemon Twigs’ Do Hollywood as one of my favourites of the year is the distinct personality brought to each of the album’s 10 songs. For every relatively straightforward pop song like “Hi+Lo,” “How Lucky Am I?” “These Words” and album opener “I Wanna Prove To You,” the teenaged siblings that conceived the group express a willingness to not be musically pigeon-holed, offering up rollicking hints of tongue-in-cheek fun on “Those Days Is Comin’ Soon” and horn-accented prog rock on “Haroomata.”
Andy Shauf – The Party (Arts & Crafts)
The introspective, sombre songwriting genius featured on The Party points to bigger things being in store for Saskatchewan’s Andy Shauf. Inspired by classic songwriters including Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, The Party provides an insider’s perspective of the highs, lows and drama that seemingly go hand-in-hand with the time-honoured tradition of the high school house party. From the baroque pop influence heard on “Twist Your Ankle” and album opener “The Magician,” through the ominous “Alexander All Alone” and majestic album closer “Martha Sways,” Shauf’s astute observations of the world around him are nothing short of fascinating.