Whoa, kinda forgot about this site. Hmm.
To the zero people who read this site… your long, painful wait is over. Let’s fire this baby back up.
Whoa, kinda forgot about this site. Hmm.
To the zero people who read this site… your long, painful wait is over. Let’s fire this baby back up.
Take a listen to this song:
Now ask yourself, why would this song ever be considered important? What historical significance is there to flute covers from 1971? Who ever considered this an acceptable album cover?
A: It was the first album ever listened to on a portable music player.
The quest for portable music is only quite recent and the implications have been huge; how music is experienced now-a-days, what we use music for, not to mention the mass profit that created from portable music. The original inventor of the Walkman (or “stereobelt” as it was called) Andreas Pavel, is really a fascinating man. On building the first prototype, he claimed that the intent was to ”add a soundtrack to real life, purely aesthetic”. When he first listened to the soothing sounds of jazz flute, he remarked:
“I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains, the snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation.”
The rest of Pavel’s story usually goes on the protracted legal battle he had with Sony’s Walkman (a battle only recently put to rest in 2005). But few actually go further to ponder Pavel’s original reason for creating portable music. I have known many people to claim that iPod’s have become a mass nuisance, putting people into their own individual bubbles and putting another wall against public contact. While I believe there is certainly truth to this claim, I haven’t heard many people seriously discuss the personal aesthetic of listening to music; experiencing the city as a flaneur, creating a personal soundtrack to the movie of their life. I know I love this experience. Recently, while skiing in the mountains, the Faunts terrific song “Explain” clicked in randomly. And I just felt incredibly happy perched on the side of steep chute in Jasper (“Wendy’s Choice”). Each ski turn seemed to sync in with the rhythm of a song and for a moment you achieve this type of transcendence: as if you become a viewer of your own existence, watching a minute of your life from the outside.
Ipod’s have definitely changed how we experience the world and I’ll definitely be covering this topic with more detail down the road. But for now, enjoy the soothing flute of this sexy beast above…
Why don’t more places have honorary state trees? The Wye Oak was a really big tree located in the tiny state of Maryland (destroyed in 2002 by a thunderstorm). There’s something about big trees which is just so awesome. Which is likely why we think we need to climb them, drive cars through the trunks of them, build complicated tree villages in them, and clone them so that we can produce future races of frightening giant monster trees.
This is a song that seems to mimic a force of nature. Reminds me of the big slow rock songs like the Besnard Lakes or Raising the Fawn create. This is from the 2009 album “The Knot”.
2010 and female vocalists look like they’re off to a great start:
I don’t know much about Veirs, but this is a great sparse folk track, and the rest of the album “July Flame” is excellent. Here’s hoping she crosses through Edmonton sometime in the summer. I’ve seen a few live videos are her voice is exactly the same between live show and studio.
Is it alright to call these tracks “sundrenched” now? Beach House has a lock of whatever the hell that category means: I think somewhere hovering around dream-pop, reverb effects, mid-tempo, and crescendos. Does that make any sense? Meh, another great track from a really cool band.
It’s taken me way too long to attempt to put a list together. In truth, I have a top twenty albums for 2009, and originally I was going to start with 20-11, like most normal people. But then I thought, everyone’s top ten list ends up being more or less the same (with the sneering: “Your list is so Pitchforky”). That leaves me with two strategies: 1. I put on my “pretentious” hat and make a list of obscure bands, or 2. Stay true to my iPod play count and explain why exactly I like these albums. I’ve chosen the latter, and hopefully I give reasons good enough to justify why these albums make my top ten. Interestingly enough, my list seems to fall in line with the CRTC guidelines: 40% Canadian content! What can I say, maybe its national pride gearing up for the Vancouver Olympics.
10. Girls – Album:
Oh man. What a voice. This may be the most eclectic pop record of the year, taking on several linked but distinct genres: The brit poppy “Laura”, the Beach Boys-like “Ghost Mouth” and “Headache”, lo-fi folk “God Damned”, and the wavering shoegaze of “Summertime” and “Morning Light”. But what clearly makes the album is the mysterious character of Christopher Owen’s voice. It contains a volatility that seems to change characteristics three times within a lyrical line: punky, then reserved and vulnerable, then classic cool a la Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly. This voice, combined with genuinely disturbing lyrics, creates a fabulous tension with our memories of classic pop tunes: i.e. in God Damned: “obsession is my favourite drug/I know I just can’t get enough/Cause I want ya/and I’ll be goddamned if I give up at the start”. It’s not just the lyrics, but the delivery of the word goddamned that creates violence out of what would normally be a passable lyric in any other pop song. It’s the delivery and execution (see also: the abrupt, sudden end to the Surf Pop of Big Bad Mean Motherfucker) of the pop genre, taking sunny lyrics into a deeper and troubling terrain, that makes this a top album.
9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix:
Isn’t everyone in love with Phoenix this year? And they should be… this is the slickest album of the year. Impeccably produced with hooks at every stage of the song, usually manifested as spacy synth noise, this is the night driving album of the year. It oozes laid back cool, especially with repetitive lyrics like “So Sentimental, not sentimental enough” and “Don’t you know/Don’t do it what you do it/You should do to me”. Most impressively, lead singer Thomas Mars doesn’t come off cocky like other alt-rock lead singers, and really doesn’t really fall into the emo category either. It’s Phoenix’s ability to successfully ride the seam between these two stereotypical pitfalls that makes them interesting, and relevant, surely for years to come.
8. Carolyn Mark and N.Q. Arbuckle – Let’s Just Stay Here:
The Alt-Country album of the year, combining the talents of two fine Canadian acts, finding both at their finest efforts. Eschewing the usual rough rock mix as a way to make country “edgier”, both acts instead focus on the force of their voice and personality as a way of making alt-country new and relevant again. How many times will you hear a self-reflective lyric like “It’s hard to be a good man listening to the Drive-by Truckers” in any other alt-country release? But aside from the lyrics, its the ability for Carolyn Mark’s powerful voice to meld easily with the whisky and cigarettes voice of Neville Quinlan that makes it special. Just listen to them deliver the lines on Saskatoon Tonight: “Just ’cause you got chased by some bull, makes you an honourary cowboy/If you’re lucky, some Canadian farm girl will drag you back to her place”. And I love the waltz piano closer with Carolyn Mark taking it wistfully away into the romance of the night: “Awakening late just makes you more tired/It’s like showing up to work when you’re already fired/I know its late but is it ever too late… let’s just stay here.”
7. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion:
Definitely one of the most polarizing acts of the 2000′s: prior to this album you either loved or hated ‘em. But I wonder if this album is really as polarizing as their earlier releases. Definitely not accessible, and yet their easiest to digest, I think Animal Collective has struck a unique balance this year. Each song meanders, but with natural purpose, like the lead track “In the Flowers”: where the 4 beat bass drum slowly builds in just when you think the song shift has already occurred. The result is more revelatory than their earlier releases tendency to drone on for 10 minutes at a time. And you know it’s an especially strong album when the last two tracks are the best: No More Running combines modern, unique sampling with a naturalist drum/lyric combination: “No more runnin’, I’ve got to breathe/On back porches with the torch of a firefly lit tree/It’s what I hope for”. And no words can describe the energy blast of Brothersport: just listen.
6. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca:
I’m always impressed by bands that manage to take wild creativity and channel it into a focus: and this is how both Animal Collective and the Dirty Projectors found their stride this year. I can’t imagine the long days spent making this album. Whereas 2007′s Rise Above used explosions of punk noise to showcase their weirdness (perhaps aptly), you won’t hear the same thing here. With more attention based on crisp guitar licks and vocal layers, this album is more studio bound, without losing the strange character that made Rise Above so intriguing. They also haven’t given up mining old songs for resources: look at Two Doves take on Nico’s songs like These Days. It’s amazingly beautiful and musically fascinating, with quick time shifts in the guitar and swelling strings that cut in and out within a breath. No other album quite sounds like this one.
5. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains:
While Billy Corgan spent 2009 going about as gracefully as a plastered 18 year girl eating a donair on Whyte Avenue at 9 PM (a really funny sight if you haven’t experienced it), bands started to resurrect the Smashing Pumpkins big guitar alt-rock in new and exciting ways. The first stirrings seemed to come from Silversun Pickups, who seemed poised to fill the void with singles like Lazy Eye. But a band like Cymbals Eat Guitars comes along, and takes an influence like 90′s peak-and-valleys guitar rock and lets it rip into exciting new territories. This is definitely one of the most immediate and fun albums to come along this year, and it will remind us about why we got so excited about rock music when we were young. But this album isn’t just a throw back: that would make them more akin to Dinosaur Jr’s recent albums. Cymbals Eat Guitars have their own feel: Joseph D’Agostino’s vocals have a nice falsetto, but can also explode on songs like “And the Hazy Sea”. And musically, they include bouncy bass lines and horn sections on songs like “Wind Phoenix”. One thing I also enjoy about this album is that despite the long duration for many of the songs, it feels manageable and listenable, something which the longest Smashing Pumpkin albums could never do.
4. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns:
It seemed peculiar (and suspicious) to any Alberta music lover that a Toronto-based band writing purely on Alberta was attempting a gimmick to earn a spotlight at the expense of our oft-perceived cowboy mentality. This was further fueled by the basic fact that it took them 4 years to play their first show in Alberta (At the 2009 Sled Island Music Festival), despite the fact lead singer Nils Edenloff grew up in Lethbridge and attended the University of Alberta. This suspicion turned to affection with closer attention to the lyrics. Lyrics about longing, about remembering roots, about questioning where one grew up: “We invariably left the prairies in my heart/Since they never moved an inch/Does the love go home with the Wild Rose?” And I was simply stunned when traveling through Europe that people across the world knew and loved this band. It took me a while to realize there was much more beyond the constant Alberta references from Edmonton’s purple lights to the Oil Patch to the Frank Slide. There’s a over-arching theme of identity at play, perhaps best stated by Edenloff himself: (from See Magazine)
“The province had just retired the ‘Alberta Advantage’ slogan… and having grown up with that, I was inundated with ‘Yeah, oil and gas, this is the Alberta advantage.’ It wasn’t until [later] that I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s all of those quiet points, the non-industry things in Alberta, that I instantly remembered.’ At the time, that phrase struck a chord with me. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how much of an impact growing up in Alberta had on shaping the type of person I ended up being. You move away from your hometown and you end up getting closer to it, in a way. I think the rural Alberta advantage is embracing where you come from, and recognizing the things that you may have taken for granted.”
Traveling through Europe, this album became a companion to me. Highly charged folk songs with references that made me reconsider my province. I think it helped me realize more about who I was, not by peppering references to Alberta or waxing philosophical, but through precise contemplative catch phrases that asked questions… and waited for a well-spring of answers.
3. Joel Plaskett - Three:
I’m sure I’m not the only Plaskett fan to believe that things started to seem to go wrong after the release of 2006′s Nowhere With You. I mean, the song was featured in a freakin’ Zeller’s commercial. Whereas 2005′s terrific La De Da felt like a lo-fi folk confessional, 2007′s Ashtray Rock was a low point in an otherwise stellar career. I didn’t know what to expect out of a 3 CD, 27 song opus based on a peculiar obsession with the number 3… and I’m still a little puzzled about the muse. But who cares when the songwriting is so damn good? Three may very well be Plaskett’s finest outing. The production isn’t consistently flashy. Songs like opener “Every Time You Leave” could very well be recorded at home, whereas the incredibly infectious “Through & Through & Through” clearly wasn’t, with a bright horn section filling out the chorus. Sometimes, its a mixture of both. The song “Pine, Pine, Pine” starts with a simple strumming guitar, only to be filled out with a full country backing band halfway through the track. I could go on & on & on about this album, but I think this is the reason this album is on this list: I wouldn’t leave out a single track out of 27 on the entire album. And that says something now-a-days where 7 or 8 songs often suffices for an album.
2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone:
This album deserves to be on this list purely because of the cover. I mean, she’s riding on the hood of a freakin’ Mercury Cougar while wielding a sword. And yet, its a perfect fit for this album. It’s the juxtaposition between the feelings of vulnerability and uncontrollable power involved in love; the absolute highs (and more importantly here) the lows of all human relationships. A song like “People Got A Lot of Nerve” reveals this wonderfully: you can take it literally, about the impossibility of taming that which can’t be tamed (wild animals), or with a different angle, the impossibility of really “owning” another person in a relationship: the possibility of someone always breaking free. On my favorite track: “The Pharaohs”, Case both uses obtuse metaphors “Tornado’s phone” and direct heart breaking lines like “wandered the halls all the nighttime/my body burned, my legs ached/but you never came to bed/you just left me there awake”. The mixture is fascinating: just how Case’s voice can overpower all of its surroundings, she is also capable of conveying incredible brittleness. I’ve like Neko Case for a long time now, and she just gets better and better with every album. Not to mention, her 2009 performance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival was astounding: clad in a little black dress, swaying with her bright red hair, projecting well beyond her size, Neko Case proved she’s still a force to be reckoned with.
1. Japandroids – Post-Nothing:
Sometimes, when you write about music, you can talk yourself into liking almost any album. But other times, you gotta follow your heart… and your ears. By a long shot, this is the album I played the most this year. A looong shot. When asked “Why are Japandroids so popular?”, my only immediate response was “Have you listened to the album at all? What don’t you get?”. Blazing fast open-tuned guitar work, drum fills that seem nearly impossible, and lyrics repeated again and again which beg for a drunken drap-your-arm-across-your-friend-and-sing-along-to. What more do you need? See the thing is, there actually is much more to this album, if you really feel the need to dig deeper. Take for instance, the chorus of “Young Hearts Spark Fire”: “We used to dream/Now we worry about dying/I don’t wanna worry about dying/I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls”. These lines could easily be used in any sunny reggae single. But sung in a song that is absolutely drenched in rapid fire distortion, it speaks to something else: an urgency; an absolute yearning that is both exhilarating and exhausting. For me, the song is like a punch in the stomach: I love the simplicity of it all, but it makes me feel so nostalgic for the feeling of being free its painful as well. I can’t think of another album that combines big anthemic guitar riffs with the feelings of being exposed, lost, and defenceless. That is, until the absolute confidence of a song like “sovereignty”: “It’s raining in Vancouver/But I don’t give a fuck/’cause I’m far from home tonight/I’m in love with you tonight”. Its the high water mark of an album that blazes along, which ends on a fabulous quiet note with the lovely tongue in cheek “after this one, I quit girls”.
So why number one? It’s an album that came along that didn’t need to explain itself to anyone: both fun and serious, completely unironic and straightforward, and rocked harder than anything else this year. It takes confidence to make an album like this and be taken seriously. Plus, I met guitarist Brian King in Calgary and he was nice enough to take some time out of his day to chat with us and take some photos: a rarity among the all-too-common pompous attitudes of a disappointingly self-righteous indie scene these days. And that counts for something too.
I haven’t posted in a long while, and what better way to get back into the swing of things then a massive list of awesome songs for you all. Usually, when I do a list of songs, I disclude a lot of great tracks from the albums that I thought were the best of the year, so that the two lists don’t overlap. So with that in mind…
20. Akron/Family: Everyone is Guilty (From: Set ‘em Wild, Set ‘em Free)
A really groovy track that plows through everything in its path. Its also quite an exhausting listen compared to other jam tracks released this year (see below: Fool’s Gold), and that’s a really good thing in this case. These chords weren’t built to gel, they were made to provoke.
19. Future of the Left: Throwing Bricks at Trains (from: Travels with Myself and Another)
Welsh band, formely of the late and great McLusky, blast out with this great post-punk, campy song. Reminds me completely of Wire, but with a modern day indie rock feel. I absolutely love that simple fuzzed out guitar (?) riff that drives the melody. A beauty example of simplicity and working with rhythm to create energy, rather than as much noise as possible.
18. Converge: Dark Horse (from: Axe to Fall)
On the other hand, noise is just so awesome. Sometimes you just need an absolutely blazing track to get you in the mood (to fight? drive really fast? chug beer?). Converge are an amazingly tight band, and this 5/4 riff is so fast and precise it deserves a close listen.
17. Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Country Roads (from: Roadhouse Sun)
From the terrific Lost Highway label, Ryan Bingham’s voice is exactly what I love about alt-country (let that whisky show through). The guarded lyrics are also absolutely lovely for this type of track: It ain’t that I can’t see, Or find my way home, It’s just that I like to breath, Out on country roads.
16. Peace: I Forget (from: Slow Children)
This garage rock Vancouver indie band played an Edmonton bowling alley a while’s back. Man I wish I could have went. To throw a strike and walk in slow-mo to my victory Pilsner along those driving drums to start off the track: what a wonderful dream. And man I love that play between the stoner rock vocal/big alt-rock sound.
15. The Tragically Hip: Morning Moon (from: An album you really don’t need the name of)
Man. I almost didn’t choose this song because the album is so monumentally terrible. But this lead track is pretty excellent. On par with the good Hip stuff we’ve come to love as Canadians. And it’s a pretty dark song as a whole: Say those little things that don’t make anyone feel better…
14. Bill Callahan – Jim Cain (From: Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle)
This folk song starts out so simple that it can be easy to write off, to press “skip” and wait for something more exciting. Callahan takes his time, both lyrically and musically, to establish the chorus, but its worth the wait. I love the lyrics as well, but its perhaps the strangest musical take on hard boiled detective novels i’ve ever heard.
13. The Field: Yesterday and Today (From: Yesterday and Today)
I remember absolutely hating the Field. But I really came to love his last album, especially turned loud while walking late at night. This new album doesn’t disappoint, and this is another stellar, minimalist-but-intense, track.
12. Passion Pit: The Reeling (From: Manners)
Passion Pit may have been the absolute buzz act of this year, and while I didn’t looove their debut, this track is stunning. They played Sasquatch live and this was definitely their finest moment during the concert as well.
11. Two Hours Traffic: Noisemaker (From: Territory)
Charlottetown, PEI natives proved themselves terrific pop song writers on their last effort, and prove it once again with this nice power-pop track.
10. The Mountain Goats: Psalms 40:2 (From: Life of the World to Come)
An incredibly versatile song writers album, this is the second track and it really comes out in full force. What’s amazing is that its followed by two incredibly catchy pop tracks. Oh and just for reference, Psalms 40:2 actually reads: He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
9. Hayden: Let’s Break Up (From: The Place Where We Lived)
I’m not sure how other Hayden fans feel about his latest effort, but I thought this one was pretty flat compared to others (this might explain why Hayden usually requires 3-4 years to write his albums, as opposed to 1…). But this track may be one of his finest efforts. And a surprising “uplifting” break up song by Hayden, (If you’re going to mess up, give me a heads up, I need to make some plans…)
8. Bat For Lashes: Daniel (From: Two Suns)
A really eerie song, but beautiful. Bat For Lashes’ vocals are incredible in this track and its no surprise its showing up on best-of lists everywhere. A strong new voice on the indie scene, without ever being overpowering in the songs. Her voice seems to blend right into the grain of the track.
7. Miike Snow: Animal (From: Miike Snow)
A damn catchy dance tune, really built on the basics. I love the building riff that just adds a new synth after a new synth. Its fun as well as serious, and a great track to blast while you’re getting ready for that big night.
6. Washed Out: Feel it All Around (From: Life of Leisure EP)
By far the dreamiest song of the year, it sounds like it could have been part of a Sopia Coppola soundtrack. Just utterly beautiful production. I remember the last time I was listening to this song I was in a grocery in Berlin, and it just turned dark outside and the neon lights were streaking across the street, and I just felt so damn happy… any time a song becomes part of a memory like that you know its good.
5. Fool’s Gold: Surprise Hotel (From: Fool’s Gold)
This track is really dumb fun. An amazing guitar riff that could have been written by any Mali superstar, and a band that obviously really loves to play, this is a summer tune to blast out on the beach.
4. Atlas Sound: Walkabout (From: Logos)
Another dream pop masterpiece, this feels like the Beach Boys on major drugs. An absolute hipster wank-off this could have been (Deerhunter and Animal Collective, oh my!), but it turns out pitch perfect indeed.
3. Outdoor Miners: Twelve Hundred Dollars (From: Twelve Hundred Dollars 7″)
A new Edmonton indie rock masterpiece. Only 300 of these 7″ were pressed, but im sure countless more were downloaded (or will be very shortly). This is true lo-fi recording at its best. I love the instrumental outro which mixes brash cymbal hits with the sweet wavering tremolo of the lead guitar. Really takes this recording above and beyond.
2. Camera Obscura: French Navy (From: My Maudlin Career)
Speaking of masterpieces, this single from Camera Obscura is as good as it gets. Superbly produced (you can tell, the added strings could have just turned out awful, instead it fits in perfectly). The huge reverb sound from the drums and bass recall the best of Motown records and it all melds beautifully together. Bonus for the really cool video.
1. Bon Iver: Woods (From: Blood Bank EP)
The first time I heard this song I was in the kitchen talking to a friend, and it came onto shuffle without me hearing it before. Immediately, I was taken by the bizarre arrangement and delicately said “what the fuck is this?”. Upon reading “Bon Iver” on the little glowing screen, I was completely taken aback. Its a hell of a bold statement to make this one of your four songs released this year. It’s also pretty damn bold to take an instrument which is so hated in general (the autotune) and turn it into something productive, rather than just as a limiting factor. It’s also incredibly beautiful, and really deeply haunting. It’s not a track that you turn away from.
1. (tied) Still Flyin’: Good Thing it’s a Ghost Town Around Here (From: Never Going to Touch the Ground)
Ok, So I couldn’t just leave it on a dark note. Still Flyin’ is a rediculous but hard to hate band from San Francisco, and they really want to make you dance. They like to drink in alleys before the show and just all around want to hang out and jam brews with you. But in between all the glimmer and gimmicks, there’s damn fine music in here. This song is hooks galore, and they pour in all into one bowl. And they also pull off pretty interesting wordplay here… well ok, maybe not, here’s how they describe the song: Whoa here is the first thunderjam on the record. It’s about jamming it too hard and being hungover at work the next day. Was it all worth it? Probably. Besides, it’s a ghost town at work. No one’s around so it’s easy to just put my head down on the desk and rest.
On Monday, I’ll be taking off to Europe. I’ve had a good run at this blog so far, and look forward to continuing it down the line. But I’m not saavy enough to continue to write while I’m away, and there’s a good chance I won’t post until January. But that won’t stop my esteemed colleague from posting of course.
And so I have a few random thoughts before I depart:
Fresh Tracks: Megafaun – The Fade
I’ve been downloading without abandon since I’ve had access to high speed again. So I’m sorting through about 50 albums right now, but this one seems to stand out today. Bon Iver used to play with these guys, and that’s not a big surprise, other than Megafaun seem to be a bit more in touch with pop song mechanics. This is a terrific track, a ready-made single with terrific guitar work: both on the steady finger picked overdub, and that soothing reverbed out solo.
Wtf: Andrew WK is releasing two albums this year, both of which seem completely off the wall. A conceptual solo piano album called “55 Cadillac”, and a Japan only release of cover tracks from the anime series “Gundam” called “Gundam Rock”. Do I care? Not really. But on paper, its pretty funny.
Movies: Go watch Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino is a never miss kind of guy in my opinion, but if you enjoy his previous work in any shape or form, you won’t be disappointed.
Last but not least, if i never return from Europe, it’s because I’m held hostage/never leaving Heino’s cafe in Bad Munstereifel, Germany.
Peace and Love everybody. See you all soon. -C.