British trio The xx formed back in 2005, and first came onto the scene in 2009 with their debut album, xx. Romy Madley Croft provides vocals and guitar; Oliver Sim, vocals and bass; Jamie Smith, beats and production. They followed up with 2012’s sublime, Coexist, and most recently 2016’s work of art, I See You. Here’s why you need them in your life.

The Sound: It’s subtle, nuanced, echoing each and every feeling they express, without being distracting. It perfectly sets up the mood for each track, knowing when to quiet down, and when to pick things up. It’s so meticulously and purposefully placed in each track, such that each note, each strum, each pluck of a string, each inflection, each beat has a specific place in the song; nothing is superfluous. It doesn’t fit in any particular genre, having flecks of indie rock and dance; hints of pop and electronic; plenty of confessional tones. The beats, guitar and bass shimmer so brightly together, the resulting music comes off in such a way that, no other version of the song will ever make sense. Their sound is incomparable, inimitable, and frankly deserves to be a genre all on its own.

The Lyrics: One thing to note about The xx, you can’t just have them on in the background. You have to listen to them, and you’ll thank me because what you’ll hear will take you to a place you’ve never been before. You’ll find yourself deep in thought, ruminating over some life event in ways you never have. Each word, each phrase, is so well thought out. Every syllable is in there for a reason, and has a role to play in unfolding the inner workings of Croft and Sim’s minds. They know exactly what to say, and how to say it, and only say what’s necessary to convey their mood; nothing more, nothing less. Like true poets.

The Vocals. There’s nothing outwardly spectacular about their vocals; they don’t do runs, they’re not power houses, they don’t show anything off. They exude just the right amount of force when singing, perfectly exercising control, and not getting carried away. They can be haunting, moving, playful, emotional, thoughtful, on the verge of tears, confident, confused, and everything else you can imagine. They’re honest and vulnerable, and sometimes a total mess on the inside – and it all translates perfectly through their delivery.

The Albums. When you combine their sound, their lyrics and their vocals, this is what you get: a masterpiece that grabs your soul and breaks it apart piece by piece, leaving you empty and broken inside. Then out of nowhere, breathes life right back into you, reviving your soul and making you feel things far beyond what you ever thought possible. I’m not being hyperbolic, they’re just that good. It’s not just a one-off either. Each of their albums is unique in its own way, but still manages to evoke the same senses. If you’ve never seen them live, please do – it’s an experience you’ll  never forget.

 

There’s a lot to be said about 2016, good or bad. Personally, I had a great 2016, one of the best years ever. Musically, however, I did not.

Aside from this blog, I’ve also been contributing to an online entertainment site, examiner.com for about 4 years. Anything from album reviews, concert reviews, new releases, etc. More of an objective journalistic approach to music writing compared to the much more subjective stuff I write here. The site got bought out by axs.com, and was going to shut down mid-2016. I assumed everything would be the same, just under a different banner. Obviously I was wrong, and by the time I figured it out, it was too late. Over 100 articles I wrote, vanished into thin air; gone, just like that, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

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Over the last 6 years or so, I’ve been taking guitar lessons. First on an acoustic, then gradually switched over to electric (which is way more fun/easy to play.) I started at a music school, then when my instructor had to move, we still managed to keep it up, even resorting to sessions over Skype. That lasted a while, but as life goes, the time for it on both our ends became less and less, and towards the tail end of 2016, I had to throw in the towel, which disconnected me from a part of music that had been in my life for some time. Now my guitars just sit in the corner of the living room, as decoration.

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My musical game also took a dive: my ear wasn’t as close to the ground as it has been in the past, and I’ve fallen behind on new music. During 2016, Torrent sites were constantly being shut down, so it was hard to get and sample any new music. If I heard a song I liked, my routine used to be: download the album, listen to it on repeat for a couple of weeks. Then go back and download earlier albums of the same artist (if applicable,) to create a well-informed opinion. Nowadays, singles drop left, right and centre. Some are on albums, some are bonus tracks, some are B-sides. It’s becoming more difficult to get everything in one place. Spotify is great, but like the mind of today’s younger generation, it also has no attention span. There’s no time to really fall in love with an artist, because every day, new ones pop up out of nowhere.

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Then there were all the musician deaths, particularly the ones that hit me most. David Bowie’s came first, in January, and it stung. I was never a huge fan, but I did know his music. His persona was also something to be admired because he was different; eccentric; fearless. Prince’s passing followed in April, and that hit much closer to home. I’d seen Prince live a few years ago, during a show where he played at least 7 encores. He was incredible in all aspects of his musicianship and artistry. Even my mom was even a huge fan.

On Christmas Day, there was George Michael, and I was stunned. I’ve had the privilege of growing up with older cousins and an older sibling, so in the 80s, I was always in tune with great music. I learned about U2, INXS, and Duran Duran; plus, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and George Michael. He was practically a household name. In fact, my brothers and I used to dance around the house, air-guitaring and  lip singing to “Faith.” I’m also pretty sure George Michael was the first sex symbol I knew (before actually knowing what a sex symbol was.)

When I got older, I found out he was also part of Wham!, and the genius behind “Careless Whisper.” He disappeared for a while from the music scene in the late 90s, but resurfaced with Patience in 2004, and this hit single – he was unstoppable. I don’t know a life without George Michael. I don’t know a music industry without George Michael.

If the musical chaos of 2016 is evidence of anything, it’s that everything changes. Leaders change, people change, life changes. Relationships change, work changes, you change. The lesson is: act now (well, after you finish reading this.) Don’t wait for the timing to be right, because it will never be “right.” You just never know what the future holds, so why wait?

Okay, so 2016 has been quite the year. We’re all aware of all the genuine musical talent we’ve lost, so I’m not going to dwell on that. I also have to admit, I’ve been a little distracted this year, and feel like I’ve fallen behind in my musical game, so I apologize for that. All that aside, it’s time to pay due to that music that did get us through this roller coaster of a year (note: as always, I haven’t listened to every single album released this year, so keep that in mind.)

Best New Artist – Banners

Hailing from the UK, Banners (aka Michael Joseph Nelson) dropped his debut EP this year, and it was soulful, thoughtful and proved how he can use his words to shed a beautiful on love.

Best Live Show – The Tragically Hip: Man Machine Poem Tour

The entire country was in shock when we heard of lead singer Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer. After everything this band has done for music, for Canadians, it’s hard to imagine world where they don’t exist. However, The Hip didn’t hold back from putting on one helluva live show. Downie was on fire, the crowd was on cloud nine, and it was one of the best concert atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of.

Best Collaboration – “I Need a Forest Fire” James Blake feat. Bon Iver

Two of indie music’s geniuses came together and made some wonderful music. Sublime.

Worst Collaboration -“I Hate You, I Love You” by Gnash feat. Olivia O’Brien

There’s no love here for this track, just haterade. It’s such a cliché, teen angst attempt at being “deep.” Also what’s with the leather jacket in the blazing heat while walking through the forest?

Guiltiest Pleasure – “Pillowtalk” by Zayn

It’s so bad, but I can’t help it.

Coolest Artist – Alessia Cara

She’s only 20 years old, she’s Canadian and signed to Def Jam. She’s mature, gracious and writes music with real meaning. She’s everything other female singers in her age group aren’t. Let’s be friends, k?

Best Canadian Album – 99% by Kaytranada

A breakthrough in the Canadian hip-hop scene, Kaytranada brings all kinds of sounds together and tops it all off with tight vocals. Truly a unique album, and one everyone should hear.

Best 90s Comeback – Temple of the Dog

They reunited on the 25th anniversary of the release of their one and only album, for one last tour. There is nothing more 90s than Chris Cornell and Eddie Veddie making music together again.

 

Saddest 90s Comeback – Britney Spears

It’s Britney, bitch. And apparently she’s back. I think. Except it looks like she’s trying to use the same tricks she used back in the day, just with more botox. Don’t get me wrong, I want to root for her, I do. It’s just time for her to throw in the towel (and get rid of her figure skating costumes.)

Best Song feat. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills” by Sia feat. Sean Paul

This right here, is my jam.

Best Folk Album – Cleopatra by The Lumineers

There’s something to eloquent and peaceful about this band. Every track on this album is a story full of emotion, and displays the kind of musicianship that says so much, by doing so little. I also saw them perform in the rain, and couldn’t stop swooning. So there’s that.

Best Break Up Album – This is What the Truth Feels Like by Gwen Stefani

The best thing to come out of her very public split from Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, was this album. It’s part screw you, part self-reflection, and all Team Gwen. Plus, her live show game is phenomenal.

Best Dance Track – “Let Me Love You” DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber

Hate on Biebs all you want, but you can’t deny this song gets you up on the dance floor (even if that dance floor is your living room.)

Most Overrated Artist – Chainsmokers

I just can’t with these guys. They’re wannabe hipster douchebags, whose first single was entitled “#Selfie.” They claim to be DJs, but I’m pretty sure their egos just like being on a stage with big headphones. Also, smoking isn’t cool.

Most Underrated Artist – Solange

Solange (ie Beyoncé’s younger sister) definitely gets a lot of critical acclaim, but I don’t think the general masses really understand her talent. She’s full of soul, heart, and has a voice that makes her a Queen in her own right.

Best Video of the Year – “Wow” by Beck

This track is several steps away from anything Beck has ever done. It’s rock, but synth, but kind of hip-hop, with tints of indie. And the video has everything you could ever want, including Beck dancing in the middle of the street.

Worst Video of the Year – “7 Years” by Lukas Graham

Truth be told, there are probably worse videos out there, but this one wins because it’s trying so hard to be something, but no one understands what. Not to mention, “Lukas Graham” refers to the 3-person band, not just the lead singer whose name is also Lukas. I’m confused.

 

Worst Album of the Year – Following My Intuition by Craig David

He tried to come back after years off the map, and it was horribly bad. Just so so bad (I swear I tried really hard to like it!)

Album of the Year – Lemonade by Beyoncé

This album is Bey at her Queenest, bringing her A+ of A games, while simultaneously slaying everyone in her path. She collaborates with artists of all genres, including Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and Diplo. All hail Queen Bey.

 

Most Disappointing Song of the Year – “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

It’s disappointing because we all know JT can do so much better. It’s a sad attempt at a very poor man’s “Happy” and falls totally flat.

Worst Song of the Year – “Treat You Better” by Shawn Mendes

I never enjoy knocking down Canadian artists, but Mendes gave me no choice. When I hear this song, it sounds like nails going down a chalkboard, and my ears bleed. His voice is so nasal/whiny, the lyrics are so cheesy (yes, I know he’s only 18) and it just needs to stop.

Song of the Year – “River” by Bishop Briggs

Anything you could ever want in a track, and then some. Love, love, love.