Demo’s Best Albums of 2016

By Demo, Feature Photo via Rolling Stone

2016 may have sucked in pretty much every single regard, but music this year did have a silver lining. Big-name releases from Rihanna to Frank Ocean (finally) had us buzzing, to new favourites, Mitski, and modern legends, Radiohead. Here’s how some of these releases, and more, faired in our Demo compilation of the “Ten Best Albums of 2016.”

10. Mitski – Puberty 2 [Dead Oceans]

Mitski is one of those rare artists that can embody emotions I feel into music without making it neither overcomplicated or cliche. Puberty 2 is Mitski’s best manifestation of this ability. Unpretentious, accessible, catchy, and witty, she manages to offer a little something for everyone. Ayla Shiblaq

Within our intensely westernized society, lasting love, and cultural suicide are seldom exclusive of one another. “Your Best American Girl” is an aching and tentative account of a love that falls apart when cultures collide. Hardly the stuff of movies, Mitski solemnly reflects on life and love in “White America,” never quite sure if she is making the right decision, before ultimately giving up on “the one” and exploding into a beautiful and cathartic affirmation. As it turns out, finding and letting go of that “perfect” American love may be one of the greatest acts of rebellion there is.—Jennifer Hyc

10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool [XL Recordings]

Radiohead’s 9th album is easily their saddest and most reflective. Separation is a topic that Thom Yorke has touched on previous albums, but he really delves into his divorce on A Moon-Shaped Pool. Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral arrangements are pure magic, as the album strays from the more electronic approach Radiohead has taken in the past in favour of live instrumentation. This album feels alive, as the strings seem to breathe and flow alongside Yorke’s voice. A Moon-Shaped Pool feels like the complete opposite of 2011’s The King of Limbs, and is a welcome addition to Radiohead’s ever-evolving discography.—Keshav Sharma-Jaitly

9. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo [GOOD Music]

Kanye West is a man that battles with his inner demons, and for better or for worse, they’re all here. His grand 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is often considered his masterpiece, a project on which  Kanye raps, “The plan was to drink until the pain over, but what’s worse? The pain, or the hangover?” The Life of Pablo is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s hangover, it’s worse, however; it has a sense of tortured breathlessness in the way it paces itself, making it one of the most polarizing and interesting hip-hop releases of the year. Keshav Sharma-Jaitly

I was listening to the live stream while on my way home from a gathering, and buried my face in my hands when “Pt. 2” transitioned into the Desiigner sample. I’m not going to lie, there were tears. Kanye though disappointing fans in various regards from cancelling shows on a consistent basis, to his questionable friendship with President-elect Donald Trump, I find myself still motivated to engage in his lyricism. His method of sampling, his personable play on subject matter, and the controversial one-liners is unparalleled in the hip-hop genre and The Life of Pablo is a manifestation of that. Say what you want about Kanye, but he’s an artistic genius.—Ayla Shiblaq

8. Beyonce – Lemonade [Columbia Records]

“Lemonade is a huge leap from Beyonce’s previous visual album release. The tracks, linked together by prose and stunning imagery that elevates the messages and meaning of her album, as Beyoncé presents maybe her most honest lyrical album yet. [..] I want you to sit there and enjoy your discomfort as Beyonce sings her black female story loud and proud. I hope everyone in the world watches Lemonade. I hope people wonder why it moves some people, and why some people can’t seem to find its impact. I hope people look at the black women in this film and see their beauty. I hope they realize Beyonce’s feminist message being specifically for the black women is okay. I hope those who are uncomfortable with this film ask themselves why. I hope people wonder why audiences more comfortable discussing Jay Z’s infidelity than black womanhood and the oppression of black lives. I hope people question why an album and film about womanhood has been largely boiled down to a conversation about the man. I hope Beyonce’s blackness generates conversations, because that’s the point of art like this. Its these conversations that open up these narratives, makes them possible, and moves us forward. With this album and film, Beyonce has taken her life’s lemons and made a glass of lemonade.”—Excerpt from a review by Savana James

7. Solange – A Seat at the Table [Columbia Records]

Solange in A Seat at the Table does what she does best: merging her beautifully crafted ensembles and powerful messaging to create and artistic work disproving the assumption that “graceful” and “powerful” are opposing elements. Her voice smooth like butter, her beats, assertive, Solange journeys through politics and identity. Though at first not evidently heavy topically, the album is emotional and digs deep into Solange’s past, pain, and joy of black womanhood all worth investigating. Solange combines my personal interest of politics with beautiful compositions to all in all make A Seat at the Table a work of art. A Seat at the Table has longevity that will keep me grooving through 2017.—Ayla Shiblaq

6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book [Self-Released]

Released in May 2016, Coloring Book a record I kept coming back to and truly the album of the year. Chance released the mixtape independently and for free yet again, showing that it is possible to achieve success in the music business without the support of big name labels. He is nominated with seven Grammy nominations: three for Coloring Book, three for his contributions to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and one for “Best New Artist” – a feat well-deserved for this standout album. What Chance does best is channelling millennial nostalgia in his music to evoke emotion. Alongside the Harry Potter and The Lion King references on “How Great,” and the memories of summers past on “Summer Friends,” Chance taps into the collective memory of our childhoods. This album in both imagery and technical ability is a testament to this young 23-year-old’s hard earned wisdom and growth.—Angelo Gio Mateo

5. Anderson .Paak – Malibu [Steel Wool Records]

Malibu is the artistic manifestation of a success story. Anderson .Paak, much like his West Coast counterparts in the genre, has experienced a lot making his rise a true “started from the bottom.” An celebration and expression of his story, Malibu is a colorful journey through, who is .Paak? A time machine through the decades, .Paak in Malibu curates most fitting elements of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to accessorize his tracks. In addition to these elements, the foundations of clever lyricism and dynamite features make .Paak’s effort both objectively a solid hip-hop album and uniquely his. Fun and powerful, Anderson .Paak in Malibu put some much needed light into a very difficult year.—Ayla Shiblaq

4. David Bowie – Blackstar [Columbia Records]

“Marrying left-field synthesizers with brass jazz, Bowie once again delivers his genius in Blackstar, an album that is powerfully contemporary, yet instantaneously classic. His death came as shockingly as his musical impact. Blackstar proves to be a haunting and oddly comforting goodbye gift to fans. It may be his last incarnation but this Lazarus will live on for generations to come. Bowie has truly sculpted an album designed to outlive the creator. Legendary is not a grand enough word to describe this man. Bowie will live on, this is one thing I am not afraid of. Because, after all, “look out your window, I can see his light.””—Excerpt from a review by Emily Powers

3. Angel Olsen – My Woman [Jagjaguwar]

In a continuation from her 2014 effort, Burn Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen embodies her identity to the fullest in her musical manfestations – bold, loud, tender, and self-possessed – in My Woman. Loud and proud, My Woman is the perfect mix of sing-a-long car jams, cheesy school slow-dancing moods, and feminist anthems. Though it initially seems like My Woman is not as melancholic as her previous releases, the melancholy is sly, reminding us that nothing lasts forever. Both a developing stage presence and lyrical connoisseur Angel Olsen consistently has us swooning. Melancholic and witty, Angel Olsen tells us like it is, and tells us what she wants. And here we are, begging for more.—Ayla Shiblaq

2. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service [Epic Records]

Rather than conforming to hip-hop’s new school, A Tribe Called Quest uses their latest project as a way to prove the relevance of jazzy production and poetic lyrics, while also handing over responsibility to younger artists who can carry on their legacy. This album also pays homage to Phife Dawg, who passed away earlier this year. We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a fitting send-off to one of the most influential groups of the last 20 years, a passing of the torch to new artists, and a farewell to a friend that was taken too soon.—Keshav Sharma-Jaitly

1. Frank Ocean – Blond [Boys Don’t Cry]

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Blond somehow manages to be well worth the wait. Frank Ocean’s second album takes a more stripped back, acoustic approach to production, giving Frank’s vocals and lyrics a sense of raw power and exposure, as he sings about love, consumerism, and politics. It’s paced erratically, with short interludes, and strange song transitions, yet it all works. Blond is proof that Frank Ocean has staying power (as if we needed anymore of that). I’m sure we won’t hear from him again for a while, but if his next project is anywhere as successful as this, he can take all the time he wants. Keshav Sharma-Jaitly

Frank Ocean paired the release of Blonde with a visual album and a list of his 100 favourite films. It included everything from familiar favourites by Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick to the arthouse experimentalism of Andrei Tarkovsky and Kenneth Anger. That kind of eclecticism shines through on Ocean’s sophomore album – which features his pop sensibilities and experimental tendencies in equal measure. After fans waited years for pop music’s greatest hermit to come out of his shell, Ocean draws even further inward on Blond, result in his most raw and intimate work yet. Blond is R&B without the R – weightless and endless.—James Li

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