As the year closes and I look back on all of the events and all my travels, my memories are coloured by music. Flying home from Honduras listening to Local Natives’ Airplanes. Hanging out on my friend Shehani‘s balcony listening to Zaz’s bohemian Paris anthem Je Veux while drinking too much Spanish wine. Racing along Texas highways with Tazim at what seemed like hundreds of miles an hour propelled by M83′s “Midnight Cities.” The city is my church | It wraps me in the sparkling twilight . . . so perfectly incongruous with the dessert we were driving through.
I think travel is better with a soundtrack. Here are my top tracks/albums from 2011:
1 ) Diamond Rings : “Pre-owned Heart”
From the Casio synth sounding drumbeats to the glam-rock get up, Diamond Rings rocks my world. It’s like a trip back to a parallel universe where the eighties were actually great, or a trip to the future a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, where the music that heals the world isn’t the product of low-talent hack Keanu Reeves. My own heart is so pre-owned and well worn that it aches in sympathy when he sings:
and when the night falls / don’t be making house calls / on a pre-owned heart stalled dead in the dark | ’cause I’ve been burned out / by the way you turned out / living with my own doubt / trying to start / a pre-owned heart
2 ) M83 : “Midnight City”
I can’t believe that M83 has actually gotten even better with time, but this year’s release from one of my favourite bands was well worth all the years of waiting. And this track, especially with it’s creepy sci-fi video blows my mind. It makes me feel like I have ESPN or something. I feel like this band has gotten so much hype lately that I don’t need to add to the chatter—but seriously, get the album if you haven’t. Then go for a night-drive or an early morning run. I swear the experience will be transcendental.
3 ) Washed Out :
I spent a week this summer out with my entire family at my parent’s summer home in the Okanagan. Parts of it were incredible, others stressful, but for some reason the memory that crosses my mind most often is running along the highway side with my big bro, Washed Out blaring on my headphones. It was a hazy morning with a faint fog roiling off the lake, and the air smelt like coniferous trees—and all the romantic cascading melodies made me feel like I could run forever. I know dude is usually singing about loving his lover, but for me, this album is all about my romance with the environment over the last year. I Love You Earth.
4 ) Tuneyards : “Bizness”
I find Tuneyards so intense that I find it difficult to listen to multiple tracks in a row. The syncopating rhythms mask and reveal lyrics that sometimes seems nonsensical but that weave into hard and fast truths. It’s urgent and driving, and you only hope that in and among all the sound and noise, and the hype and popularity, there are people really listening.
5 ) Junip : “In Every Direction”
This is straight up perfect road trip music. The acoustic meets lo-fi fuzz vibe, and the atmosphere lent by José González’ folk inflected vocals have the same reverberating wonder of fast trains or car wheels on asphalt and taking corners too fast. The whole album furls and unfolds like smoke rings. It’s like a basement suite house-party pressed into vinyl.
6) Puritiy Rings: “Belispeak”
There are so many single releases and YouTube memes that none of them hardly every catch my attention. I just can’t cope with or organize the deluge. But when I heard the first track from Purity Rings, something about the sweet rich tone of the girlish vocals set against this hugely epic sound stage made me listen over and over and over again. I can’t wait for the album. . . If it ever happens, and if it doesn’t the LP (co-released with Braids, another great act), will just get worn out and thrashed on my turntable all on its lonesome.
7 ) Austra : “The Beat and the Pulse”
I really like Austra—but I can’t help but wish the whole of Feel It Break lived up to the promise of this track. It’s straightforward, almost old-school house—and it’s the understated nature of the track that’s so refreshing. The metronomic beat with subtle chord changes and ethereal voice-overs take me back to busting up my knees climbing on the Chief, and laying next to the ocean at Crab beach sneaking sips of hooch on picnics with friends. It sneaks up behind you and the lyrics take a listen or two to penetrate, though from the first whisper their like the soothing murmur of a lover: Elevate your fingers / Motion makes it hard to write / Still, words are abrasive / Yours are making me feel right / Feel right / Feel it break.
P.S. Austra is effing amazing off album, check out AUSTRA ‘Lose It’ [Paper Bag Session 005 / Pt.1] for an example of just how clear and fine it gets.
8 ) Ty Segall : “Comfortable Home”
Ty Segall’s Goodbye Bread album is full of succinct lyrics and punk whinging that walk a fine line between didacticism and psychedelia. It’s a recent discovery for me, but it sort of sums up for me where garage-punk is right now. I feel like the current state of affairs, from Occupy to Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord needs a punk soundtrack and where I’ve been despairing the lack of a current gen CRASS, Ty Segall suggests a way forward. P.S. If anyone thinks there’s is a current day CRASS out there, please send me a link.
9 ) EMA : “The Grey Ship”
Sometimes I turn into a musical curmudgeon, and realize I’m really old. I start ragging on how Liz Phair used to be really great, and all wondering what a suburban teenager could possibly find on today’s radio to save their souls and soothe their amygdala driven brains. EMA’s “The Grey Ship,” took me back and put me in touch with that crazy teenaged passion to create and to obsess. I love the way the roiling wall of guitar sound just slaps you across the face. A lot of the music I like is a little obtuse, and I feel like where my favourite Octopus Project track Circling is a drawn out French movie that’s brilliant but an acquired taste, EMA is like the Hollywood version of the same thing—maybe a little narcissistic and gauche, but immediately accessible.
10 ) WEEKND :
Living in Vancouver I may or may not have partied more than was wise, but it was never with the level of debauchery that the Weeknd records (honest!). Their album has all the tragedy and drama of an after-school special. It’s a cautionary tale whispered in falsetto over a pungent groove, that calls to mind all the stupid things you’ve done and the life lessons you have learned. To me the whole album is packed with a subtle Canadian vibe—like old-school Degrassi they go places they’re afraid to south of the border. Don’t let the fact that Drake likes it turn you off.
The Most Frustrating Album of the Last Year
The Rural Alberta Advantage : Departing
This band is so great live, but if I’m honest, this album falls a little flat—even though it tops my iTunes most played count. The drums are quieted down, and it feels like the treble on the lead vocal has been amped up. The whole album really feels like it was recorded from a room next door to where it was actually happening. It’s a shame, because it’s still one of my favourite releases, and I absolutely love the lyrics. Seeing them live left me jonesing for the release, and I pre-ordered it on vinyl. When it landed I hit the Internet to abuse reviewers who panned it, in every Internet forum I could. But nearly a year on, I sort of wonder if I ought to take back some of my vitriol. Still: to all the haters: why do you guys suck so much?
And, please release a live version so I can stop going to YouTube for crappy cams. And if you don’t believe me re the clarity, just check out the paperbag session with the lead vocalist and a piano, and compare it to the official vid for muscle relaxents—then insert rad drums under it.
The Song I’m Most Ashamed to Admit I Love:
Kelly Rowland : Motivation
In High School I was all about Hole and local punk—but I also had a soft spot for my buddies R&B collections. I’d borrow people’s Destiny’s Child CDs and hide them in the bottom of my backpack like pornography. I feel sort of the same conflicted shame as an adult, admitting that I both watch the (UK) X-Factor, and after googling Kelly Rowland, fell in love with this track. Both the sheer sensuality of this woman, and the slow pace of the groove really get to me.
Best Release From a Band I Loved in High School:
Foo Fighters : A Matter of Time
It’s strange to hear the bands that you grew up with taking up places in rotation from the likes of AC/DC and Rush. It’s even more tragic when a band you loved has a new release and it’s either a collection of B-sides dressed up as new material, or a turgidly rotten reenactment of what was hot decades ago. Which was why I was pretty impressed with “Wasting Light.” Tracks like “A Matter of Time,” show how maturity can enrich and enliven lyrics.
Best Classical Release:
Hilary Hahn and Vaentina Lisitsa “Charles Ives: Four Sonatas”
This recording is an absolutely fantastic rendering of the vision of American Modernist composer Charles Ives. Dude was sampling way back in the day, and weaves hymns and spirituals into melody and abstraction. It’s a beautiful example of polyphony. I wish there were longer snippets on YouTube, but check it out on iTunes if you have the chance or an iTunes gift card to burn.