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As the year comes to a close, we’ve been in a constant state of reflection—rounding up the best videos of the year, everything that lit up the internet, the best covers, the best pop culture gifts and so much more. Now we’ve come together—the people who live and breathe music, talk about it constantly and work to make sure the best new sounds make it your way—to each pick which 2016 album we think deserves the highest kudos.
Check out our Much staff picks for best albums of the 2016.
Societally, 2016 was a rotten year. Musically, it was outstanding—especially when looking back at all the standout pieces in the hip hop, soul and R&B space. Through the surprise releases, comeback albums and all. the. drama—Chance The Rapper glimmered as the blinding ultralight beam who uplifted the masses and reminded us the power of music. It would have been easy to choose albums from Anderson .Paak, Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest or Kanye (had he not recently crashed onto my naughty list). But it was Lil Chano, Chicago’s hardest working, happiest, already-prolific rhymesmith who assembled an eclectic hip hop masterpiece that left rap’s laziest players looking fifty shades of grey. Whether the coming-of-age “Same Drugs,” the confident banger “No Problems” or the gospel of “Blessings,” this risk-taker did way more than a “good-ass job on Chance 3” (as promised to ‘Ye). Via streams (only) and unwavering optimism, he changed it all. Jess Huddleston, Producer
Japanese-born Mitski Miyawaki reduces all the hardships that come with growing older and more independent down to one word: Puberty. But unlike whatever your first puberty looked like (braces, awkward crushes, etc.), Puberty 2, Mitski’s fourth studio album, explores darker and more poignant conflicts like self versus self, head versus heart, what you feel versus what you say. On “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski wails over fuzzy guitars about the impossibility of a relationship because of irrevocable differences, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do.” Accepting defeat and realizing that actually no, love doesn’t conquer all carries over onto “A Burning Hill,” with lyrics like “I’m tired of wanting more / I think I’m finally worn.” Though the themes may seem unique to her own Asian-American experience, Puberty 2 illustrates a lot of universal truths about maturing. It’s about straddling the line of youth and modern womanhood and accepting everything that comes with it—love, heartbreak, vulnerability and confusion—with open arms. Celina Torrijos, Writer
Not only was Beyoncé’s Lemonade one of the best of the best musically, its influence is even stronger because of what it stands for. The album’s raw, relevant and honest storytelling brings listeners stories of insecurities, infidelity, sexuality, self-love, freedom, equality and adds further to the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. The pairing of soft soulful ballads like “Pray You Catch Me,” “Sandcastles” and “Forward” alongside heavier tracks like “Freedom” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” show the spectrum of Beyoncé’s range and diverse taste in music. But, the focal track of the record is easily “Formation.” The song is an absolute banger, and the accompanying politically-charged video is a celebration of race, femininity, sexual empowerment, and how to be a confident boss lady in 2016. Plus, no great album is complete without that line you can’t get out of your head: “I got hot sauce in my bag. Swag.” Liz Trinnear, host
The 17th (17th!) studio album from frontman John Dwyer’s jittery psych-rock outfit Thee Oh Sees, A Weird Exits is in fact the ideal entry point for newcomers who feel a tad overwhelmed by the band’s prolific output (they put out three records just this year, if you count July’s Live in San Francisco). Featuring some of their hookiest riffs since 2011’s absurdly rocking Carrion Crawler/The Dream, A Weird Exits’ unhurried final moments are actually where things get really weird and wonderful. 2016 had no shortage of memorable sonic experimentation, but nothing hit quite as hard as A Weird Exits’ slow-burning final track, “The Axis.” If you dig the album’s mellower psychedelic departures, earlier this month, they dropped An Odd Entrances, a more restrained companion LP that further explores the fuzzed-out magnificence A Weird Exits so brilliantly builds to. Neil Karassik, Senior Producer
At a point in his career when he’s been on top for so long that people have become hesitant to say he’s won again, Drake drops an album that starts a new wave. A wave that introduces sounds from around the world, including African, Caribbean and funk, to name a few. But it’s not so different that we don’t recognize the guy; this album does include “Hotline Bling,” as well as a fresh taste and feel that kept us smiling and dancing through summer sixteen. The 20-song album clocks in at 81 minutes, and included great visual aids to complement the music—and, while we know Rihanna and Drake make hits and “Hotline Bling” was pop gold— “Still Here” takes the cake for me. The line, “How did I finesse all of this shit from Jane & Weston” did it for me, connecting where we are from and where we stand now. Tyrone Edwards, host
Long before the January 8 release of Blackstar, David Bowie embraced the outer-worldly and made us think outside of our atmosphere. From Starman to Space Oddity, he reminded us of our insignificance on terra firma. Bowie has been sending us messages for years. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky / He’d like to come and meet us / But he thinks he’d blow our minds.” Two days after the release of Blackstar, the legendary artist left this earth—for real this time—and got another prodigious last word in. Blowing our minds once again by tossing aside rock and roll for influences of jazz and experimental rock, Bowie heartbreakingly sings to us, “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen / I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen / Everybody knows me now.” Oh, but we were just starting to get to know you. Jen Lord, Manager, Digital Content
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first plugged in to listen to Mac Miller’s newest album, but I know I wasn’t expecting to be as instantly addicted as I was. From start to finish, The Divine Feminine is a smooth and perfect flowing journey through the highs and lows of love (which, ironically, is never smooth and perfectly flowing). Miller’s toned down blend of rapping and singing pairs perfectly with everyone featured on the album (my personal favourite is “We” feat. Ce-Lo Green). Pop on this album for: a chill night in with friends, the first time you have a boy over to your place, or while you’re cooking an intricate pasta dish by yourself. All in all, The Divine Feminine is totally divine. Thanks Mac. Hilary Allan, Producer
The Hamilton Mixtape deserves to be on this list for the pure audacity of its existence. It’s an album that consists of some of the greatest hip hop legends of the past three decades remixing songs from a Broadway musical that is based on the lives of the American founding fathers. It’s a little insane, but somehow, it works. From Queen Latifiah’s comeback rap verse on “Satisfied” to Ashanti and Ja Rule’s duet on “Helpless,” this album is weird, wonderful and a little nostalgic. Plus we get we get the most poignant 2016 anthem that we desperately needed with Immigrants (We Get the Job Done). At 23 songs, The Hamilton Mixtape is a non-stop journey through the power of hip hop, transcending genre and making musicals actually seem cool. Julia White, Intern
“If you’re not trying, you’re dying.” That’s what Arkells preached back in May when they released “Private School,” the lead single from their fourth studio album. The “fucking strange tune” (their words, not mine) lived up to that mission statement, as did others; 2014’s High Noon offered no hints that “Drake’s Dad”—with its gospel choir and 808 drums—was on the way. “Passenger Seat” is similarly rich in production with heavy reverb and a string arrangement. There are also flashes of falsetto, vocoder call-and-response verses and plenty of horns. (You’ll know it’s time for horns when Max declares, “Bring in those horns.”) It’s inspiring when artists I love do something unexpected, and Arkells did that in 2016. Sure, the Electric Circus reference on “Round and Round” may sail over international heads, but Morning Report is otherwise an ambitious pop-rock gem that sees a Canadian band refusing to be painted into a CanCon corner. Dan Carruthers, Marketing Coordinator
Most of my love for Vancouver’s White Lung is generated from the sharp, intricate riffage of guitarist Kenneth William, whose shredibility is set to ‘Maximum’ on 2016’s tremendous Paradise. But one cannot count on riffs alone—it’d be like relying solely on grade A beef for your next hamburger only to realize all you’ve got for buns is a couple pieces of cardboard. Thankfully the band is all premium ingredients, filled out by the relentless rhythm section of drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou and bassist Lindsey Troy, and fully evolved vocalist Mish Way, who took major steps as a wailer and lyricist between 2014’s Deep Fantasy and Paradise. Her contributions to the record have turned the band from scrappy into beautifully scrappy, maintaining its hard interior while subtly softening the edges. The result is an very satisfying listen from front to back, making for a suitable soundtrack for today’s trying times. Glenn Macaulay, Producer
Fresh off a three-year jail stint, the undisputed Trap God of Atlanta returned many pounds lighter, sober and just as hungry on the mic. Gucci Mane is arguably the most prolific, relevant rapper of the past decade. His first album single “First Day Out The Feds” sets the tone for an LP of *bangers*, including “Guwop Home” (feat. Young Thug), “Pussy Print” (feat. Kanye West), “At Least a M,” “All My Children” and “Pick Up The Pieces.” All gold from the Trap God. #BurrBurrBurr. Greg “Gee Wunder” Baptiste, Senior Music Programmer
Country music tends to ebb and flow with Top 40 radio, with the Dixie Chicks making people reevaluate this dislike for twang one year, while another decade passes until an artist like Taylor Swift comes along and does the same bridging of the gap between pop and country. While a country takeover is always simmering, this year with tracks like Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” and Gwen Stefani’s duet with country beau Blake Shelton on “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” in 2016 the top of the pops was largely run by, well, pop artists. One artist that is in no way looking to produce a crossover album is Margo Price. The Illinois native moved to Nashville over a decade ago and along the way pawned her wedding ring, her car, worked every job from tap dance instructor to roofer, and came out the other end with one of the best albums of the year. After signing to Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Price’s debut solo album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was released this past March and earned the singer a spot performing on SNL. Full of songs of heartbreak, loss, triumph and acceptance, Price’s writing and vocals are reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. Grab a drink, a few tissues and your dancing boots and turn up Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Allison Bowsher, Writer
This album is an indie-dance/pop masterpiece full of catchy melodies and grooves—start to finish. I first discovered Roosevelt in 2013 with his single “Elliot” (also a masterpiece), and while his style as a songwriter and producer has developed a lot since then, pulling from more pop and disco influences, it’s brilliant in all the right ways. He has produced some fantastic remixes for other artists this year as well. I got the chance to see he and his band perform live this summer and it was hands down the best show I’ve been to in some time. If you’re into indie-dance and haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Roosevelt perform, do yourself a favour and get on it. Rob Bakker, MuchFACT Program Coordinator
This album was an instant classic for me. It’s a full body of work that grabs you right out of the gate on the title track, through to “Spring Fever” on the tail end. The full album clocks in at a mere 49 minutes—which is just enough time to escape daydreaming the way I imagine the band hoped you would. It’s sonically beautiful and goes way deeper than the band’s previous releases. There are glimmers of The Beatles in their I Am The Walrus phase—coupled with ambient ’90s Brit pop and hints of INXS in their deep pronounced bass lines. The stand out track for me is “Roll With The Spirits.” Gregg Stewart, Associate Director, Music Marketing Strategy & MuchFACT
If you listened to This Is Acting and felt like you were being fed a plethora of hits, well, that’s because you were. Sia’s seventh studio album was in fact, a collection of throwaway singles originally intended for artists like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele, to name a few. The “Cheap Thrills” singer was criticized in a review on Billboard for her “hack work” on the album. Hack work? Sia is one of the most talented song writers in the biz. Artists choosing to reject her work doesn’t amount to a lack of effort on her part. These songs are hits, people. And rather than looking at them and feeling copious amounts of rejection, Sia turned them into a collection of anthems for 2016. At the end of the day, whether Sia made money selling her music to artists, or selling it to fans, she turned a profit and saw her name at the top of the charts more than once this year. That makes her a #GirlBoss in my books. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cheap thrills to attend to… Cherylann Nesbitt, Producer
Barbara Hannigan is the soprano of our time, and her recording of Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons is the most fearless and spellbindingly beautiful vocal-orchestral works I’ve heard in years. Hannigan portrays the Shakespearean Ophelia in this luminous song cycle, which shuffles the character’s words into an extended meditation on the past, present and future. Her Ophelia is intense and fragile; her phrasing elastic and tasteful, and orchestrally, the passage is spare and wintry. Abrahamsen, who authored the Grawemeyer Award-winning work for Hannigan, modestly claims “his music is simply a landscape for Ophelia to wander through,” but his finely spun orchestration becomes a companion personality, elucidating Ophelia’s despair and hope. Andris Nelsons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra provide a darker, more lush and more bristling painted scenes of sunlight, shattered glass and, ultimately, the gentlest of snowfalls, wherein Hannigan releases, out of the frosty air, one of the most beautiful high Cs on record. A masterpiece. Tyson Parker, Head of Artist and Music Industry Relations
I really liked Travis Scott’s last release Rodeo but… I love McKnight. It’s the production (which includes contributions from five Canadians!) that puts it over the top, not to mention many more of my favourite artists being featured (André 3000, Kid Cudi, Cassie, The Weeknd, etc). The two tracks that take the cake for me feature new voices in 21 Savage (“Outside”) and Young Thug (“Pick Up The Phone”). In terms of “Waves,” the huge Miguel remix which Scott was featured on, this album is a tsunami, and can be summed up in two words: It’s lit. Darren Bourne, Music Programmer