Musical moments that moved us in 2016

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      Best concerts


      (At the Vogue Theatre on May 12)

      Santi White peppers her performances with potent commentary on consumer culture and narcissism in the age of the selfie, but mostly she puts on one hell of an entertaining pop concert.

      Mark Farina

      (At the Imperial on October 14)

      Although Mark Farina is known for spinning sets over eight hours long, his Vancouver performance distilled his jazz, hip-hop, and house selections into a concentrated two-and-a-half-hour burst, mixing everything from 1960s virtuoso drum solos to European acid sounds. Earning his title as a DJ’s DJ, Farina refused to pull the plug when the Imperial lights came on, instead dropping an extended instrumental of Erik B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” until ushered off the stage. A consummate professional.


      (At the Imperial on May 27)

      The craziest thing about Savages totally flooring Vancouver on a hot pre-summer night was that no one saw it coming. It’s not like the London-spawned four-piece arrived in town with a reputation as a must-see live act. And its 2016 triumph Adore Life wasn’t exactly packed with dance-floor anthems. But goddamn if Savages didn’t have every single awed person in one of Vancouver’s best clubs transfixed by the second number, to the point where no one dared go to the bar lest they miss a second of the magic. As tightly wound as the group was, singer Jehnny Beth was its deadliest weapon, the cloaked-in-black frontwoman spending the bulk of the show in the audience, literally standing on the outstretched hands of the faithful. Think riveting postpunk messiah, magnetically tending to a flock that couldn’t look away.

      Pleasant surprises

      Kanye West.

      Kanye West

      The Life of Pablo As usual, Kanye West’s outsized ego overshadowed his musical output in 2016. Let’s face it, the man makes himself hard to love—even his alleged friend Beyoncé reportedly capped the year by calling West “talentless and pathetic”. But if the sonically adventurous The Life of Pablo proves anything, it’s that you can love the art without loving the artist.

      Young Thug.

      Young Thug

      Jeffery Why does all trap music sound like a high-school music project? Because it’s about as hard to make as a shit sandwich. Loop a few sub-bass notes with fast snares, add a three-note descending melody, get an Auto-Tuned rapper to complain about “purple drank”, and you’ve just perfected a Top 10 hit. Young Thug, though, has finally done something original with the genre. Famed for his unconventional vocal techniques, the artist shuns traditional lyrical content on Jeffery in favour of yelped or obscure sounds blended into his eccentric flow—and, more importantly, he’s challenged hip-hop’s definition of masculinity by choosing to be photographed for the album cover in women’s clothing.

      The Heavy

      Hurt & the Merciless With the genre-jumping exorcism that is Hurt & the Merciless, the Heavy finally proved itself to be something more than the “How You Like Me Now?” band from The Late Show With David Letterman. Inspired by an imploded relationship (singer Kelvin Swaby’s marriage), the English four-piece tackled everything from four-on-the-floor punk to turbocharged swing. Lest long-time fans be disappointed, the Heavy didn’t forget about the sound that made it famous, with “What Happened to the Love?” serving up classic soul at its most brutally thumping. The answer to the question “How do you like it now?” is “More than we ever would have dreamed.”

      Best videos



      “Burn the Witch” Director Chris Hopewell’s animated homage to British children’s TV programs from the 1960s (search for “Trumpton” on YouTube to see how perfectly he nails the style) takes a dark turn into The Wicker Man territory for a tale of rural pagan horror, albeit one with adorable little stop-motion songbirds.

      OK Go

      “The One Moment” Sure, it might pale in comparison to the 2,722,639,800 YouTube views of Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, but “The One Moment” has managed to garner over 16 million plays in little more than a month—and in our book, that’s pretty impressive. The four-minute-long video captures bursting balloons, shattering guitars, and flurries of paint, but—and here’s the impressive bit—the whole thing was filmed in just over four seconds. Perfectly stringing out the action to fit with the song’s lyrics and beats in postproduction, the captivating video is testament to the fact that terrible tracks can be elevated to international acclaim with a little visual creativity, and a lot of advertising money from the Morton Salt company.

      Kanye West

      “Famous” Even though the job comes with its fair share of problems (mental breakdowns, Twitter wars, Kim Kardashian’s disturbingly bulbous ass in your face all day), who among us wouldn’t love to be Kanye West, if only for a night? “Famous” gave us a good idea of what to expect, the video showing Yeezy relaxing—seemingly post-orgy—in a massive bed beside the completely naked likes of Taylor Swift, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Amber Rose, and Caitlyn Jenner. Bill Cosby and Donald Trump are also among those nestled in the satin sheets, making one think that—even if all the depicted celebrities are actually hyper-realistic mannequins—being Kanye isn’t always easy.

      Best singles

      Angel Olsen.

      Angel Olsen

      “Shut Up Kiss Me” Angel Olsen’s convincing stab at old-school girl-group pop is the catchiest tune she’s ever written, but don’t be fooled by its bubble-gum veneer. In the vein of, say, “Every Breath You Take”, this is a portrait of borderline-psychotic romantic obsession thinly veiled as true love. “Stop pretending I’m not there/When it’s clear I’m not going anywhere” are the words of someone who ought to be subject to a restraining order.

      Mac Miller.

      Mac Miller feat. Anderson .Paak

      “Dang!” True, young frat-rapping white boy Mac Miller would normally be the last person to grace any Straight “best of” list, but with Anderson .Paak’s creamy vocals and local boy Pomo’s tight, funky production underscoring his rhymes, “Dang!” somehow transforms Miller’s needy pleas to reunite with his girlfriend into an infectious and upbeat summer jam.

      You won't

      “1-4-5” A perfect road-trip mix tape is all about the opening song, and you won’t—pardon the pun—find a better jam for hitting the highway than You Won’t’s driving folk-pop gem “1-4-5”. Hitting the sweet spot between the Flaming Lips and Violent Femmes, the Boston two-piece will have you cranking the stereo one past 11 right from the world-beating opening lines, “I was standing there broken down wanting to cry/Like a Santa Claus drunk on the 4th of July.”

      Guilty pleasures

      Red Hot Chili Peppers

      Red Hot Chili peppers

      “Go Robot” Sure, it’s fashionable to hate on the Peppers, and with good reason. Viewed through the lens of good taste, “Go Robot” is an emphatically terrible song, its employment of disco-funk grooves a second-rate rehash of Daft Punk’s b. Anthony Kiedis isn’t the most profound lyricist at the best of times, but “Go Robot” clumsily plumbs new depths of inanity. (“I want to thank you and spank you upon your silver skin/Robots don’t care where I’ve been.”) It also happens to be an insidious earworm that will put itself on repeat in what’s left of your brain. Good work, boys!

      Justin Bieber

      “Sorry” Not sorry.

      Miranda Lambert

      “Nice” Nashville isn’t supposed to sound this ground-down and gritty, but then again, country badass Miranda Lambert doesn’t play by anyone’s goddamn rules but her own. A slow-burning throwback to country’s golden years—right down to the vinyl-like pops and hisses—“Nice” gets maximum emotional impact out of lines like “Another vice, another call/Another bed I shouldn’t crawl out of”. Lock up your sons, not to mention your husbands.

      Best quotes

      “It’s definitely a feminist album, but it’s decidedly written by guys. I can’t speak for women, I can’t speak for female feminists, but I hope they don’t mind us putting out an album like this. When I talk to my friends in town who are politically active, they’re mostly women. The people who give a shit about the world and want to make changes—in my group of friends, it’s mostly women. But that’s not the stereotype. I wanted to make a fun record about something that I felt passionately about, and ‘Molotov Girls’ is basically saying, ‘No, girls don’t just want to have fun.’ You just have to open your eyes and read the news to figure that out.” —Zachary Gray on the Zolas’ latest album, Swooner

      “I feel like it’s almost a Renaissance thing, a painting—a modern version of a painting. I think it’s important for Kim to have her figure. To not show it would be like Adele not singing.” —Kanye West on wife Kim Kardashian’s penchant for posting naked selfies on the Internet

      “By the time we got to the venue, it had turned into a bear nightclub. I didn’t know what a bear nightclub was, but it ended up being a really fun bunch of bearded gay guys. I remember playing ping-pong and then getting twirled around the dance floor by this really big fellow. I don’t remember what his name was, but hopefully, he’ll be coming to the show this time.” —Danny Beusa of the Dune Rats on playing Vancouver’s now-defunct Electric Owl