Since I devoted most of the year to promoting my new book, Bad Singer, perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking I spent more time talking about music than actually listening to it. But it only felt that way. In fact, when I look back, I listened to a lot of great music this year.
I also burned a mix CD for the first time in a while. I regularly made them for my friends Rick and Nini, but while we were on a canoe trip in the Yukon this summer, Rick reminded me that I hadn’t given him one in a few years. Recently, I asked him what he thought of Taylor’s Mix 2016 and he said, “There are a lot of women on it.”
Yes, I suppose there were and I am not sure if that says more about my musical tastes these days or who’s making the best music. Maybe both.
One artist who wasn’t on that mix CD, because she snuck up on me later, was Mitski. I have a Recent Additions playlist on my computer that I typically listen to on shuffle. Again and again, I’d hear a song, like it and when I checked, it would be something from Puberty 2. “Your Best American Girl” ended up being one of my favourite songs of the year.
Like that album, Angel Olsen’s My Woman deservedly made a lot of best-of lists — here’s “Sister” — but several other records were unfairly overlooked, including Laura Gibson’s Empire Builder and Esmé Patterson’s We Were Wild. And Thao Nguyen of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down never gets the credit she deserves. She always makes my year-end picks when she releases an album and this year’s A Man Alive is no exception. Produced by Merrill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs), it features songs such as “Nobody Dies.”
Of course, nobody who follows music missed case/lang/veirs. I guess you could put that much talent together and screw it up, but Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs delivered a lovely album, including the opening track, “Atomic Number.”
I also enjoyed No Burden by Lucy Dacus; Emotions and Math from Margaret Glasby; Good Advice from Basia Bulat, who blew me away with her performance on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Banff; Strange Little Birds, a fine return to form from Shirley Manson and Garbage; and Tanya Tagaq’s fascinating Retribution.
And while it’s a little too polished and produced to be the type of music I’d listen to a lot, Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, is certainly impressive and probably deserves all the accolades it’s receiving.
Guys didn’t disappear from my listening, though a couple of great men recorded their last albums. Both You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen and Blackstar by David Bowie are stunning self-delivered eulogies, as the two legends showed us how to make an exit.
Death also loomed large in Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Cave had already started working on the album when his 15-year-old son died after falling off a cliff. The result, including “I Need You,” is powerful and moving.
Meanwhile, Wilco put out Schmilco, a much gentler album that last year’s Star Wars and one that demanded a few careful listens before it revealed all its charms. By contrast, “Hey, Lucinda” from The Waiting Room by the Tindersticks grabbed me the first time I heard it.
Finally, my favourite discovery of the year was Car Seat Headrest. I started with Teens of Style, an album I’d missed when it came out in 2015. Then I moved on to this year’s Teens of Denial. (Check out “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” or “Vincent.”) Both albums are fabulous, though the latter is denser and more complex and probably more brilliant.