Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What I enjoyed listening to in 2013

Greetings all,

2013 was a year, huh? Miley twerked, we found out what the fox said, we all shook it like we were in Harlem, and a number of artists put out some amazing music which broke through the noise coming from the mainstream.

It was such a good year that any of these albums, depending on the mood I am in, could be my favourite album. It's tough to put together a ranking, but I think I did alright.

Here are the albums I enjoyed the most from 2013.

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
 There wasn’t a better album which was dropped this year than the third album of this New York band. Continuing the influences which brought them success (African rhythms and strong pop-harmonies), the band matures significantly with this release.

Exra Koening, lead singer, said the album was the end of a trilogy. If Vampire Weekend was the first year of college record and Contra was the record as college was coming to an end, Modern Vampires is the album for making your way in the world. Dealing with jobs, the passage of time and adult fears. Here are some of the lyrics he sings
“Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth,” –Step

"Ah you outta spare your face the razor
Because no one’s gonna spare the time for you
You outta spare the world your labor
It’s been 20 years and no one’s told the truth" – Obvious Bicycle

Despite the heavy subject matter, musically, it’s the most accomplished. Tracks like Diane Young, a Buddy Holly by way of The Clash scorcher, show how the band have perfectly honed their influences, and are probably the most fun you can hear live. They sound less like a band aping Afrobeat and indie rock, but their own sound.

The future is looking bright for these kids. I wonder what is next.

Key tracks: Unbelievers, Step, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, Ya Hey,

2. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

There is a reason Daft Punk are probably the only electronic act I’ll ever enjoy. They’re forward thinking They don’t follow trends; they make the new ones. Consider electronic music before Homework and Discovery, and look at it after. It takes a while, but eventually the mainstream catches on.

When Random Access Memories was dropped, the reaction from EDM bros was hilarious to see. Daft Punk don’t make music based on the popular formula of “drops,” “bangers” and whatever else is popular. They strive to make inhuman music…well human after all.

The album sees the duo pay tribute to those who paved the way for their music (Giogio Moroder, Nile Rodgers), those who they love in the present O9Pharrel, Julian Casablancas) and the artists of the future (Panda Bear). The music evokes the coolest club in the 1970’s, the most chill atmosphere in your living room, and the best party where everyone feels welcome.

Plus, it contained Get Lucky, which in my opinion, was the song of the year.

Key tracks: Giorgio by Moroder, Get Lucky, Instant Crush, Doin’ it Right, Contact.

3. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

I loved seeing the hipster backlash to this album, trying to find reasons. It had been brewing since The Suburbs won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2011, and was expected. Shouldn’t you want to see a band succeed, rather than not be recognized for their great music?

Admittedly, I was skeptical at first when I heard the album was going to be a double album (even the best ones are bloated), and that they incorporated the dance rock every indie band and their mother has incorporated in the past year (could be the James Murphy/LCD Soundsystem influence), but when I finally opened the package and heard the album, I was blown away.

For a double album, it just flies right by when listening to it. I love the Talking Heads and Haitian music influence throughout, I love the albums lyrics about the modern age, and it is just…fun to listen to.
Those knocking this album can keep their tuneless lo-fi garbage recorded in the Albert’s bathroom. I’ll be sitting here enjoying this.

Key Tracks: Reflektor, Flashbulb Eyes, Here Comes the Night time, Afterlife, Supersymmetry.

4. Paul McCartney – NEW

Paul has been on a creative high since the late 1990’s, and despite a misstep (last year’s dull standards collection Kisses on the Bottom), his work has been top notch. NEW continues this tradition. It’s pop perfection, harkening back to The Beatles in several spots, but also charting new territory. Even his experimental electronic tracks are interesting; it feels more like he is using electronics to enhance ideas, and not like 71 year old man trying to be hip to what the kids like. Plus, he’s dabbled in electronic before (The Firemen)

The thing I enjoy the most about listening to McCartney is the sheer optimism of his music. It makes me feel good, and I regret getting into him late.

Key tracks: Alligator, On My Way to Work, Early Days, New

5. David Bowie – The Next Day

David Bowie has not released a full length album of new material since 2003. He has not performed since a one-off appearance in 2007. Then, on his 66th birthday, he announces he has recorded an album in secret to be released in March.

It’s a good one. Bowie sounds lively and engergized, which is great, considering the rumours regarding his health over the past few years. It’s spacey, atmospheric, and Bowie’s voice is still strong after 10 years out of the spotlight. There’s a reflective nature in several of the tracks, and if it ends up being Bowie’s last album, it’s a great way to go out.

We need to appreciate guys like Bowie, McCartney, the late Lou Reed, and other older rock stars. These guys are once in a lifetime, and are very hard to replace.

Key tracks: The Stars are out Tonight, Where are we Now?, Valentine’s Day, Heat.

6. Kanye West – Yeezus

I bet this one will be a little controversial for sure;

What can be said about Kanye West that hasn’t already been said? Yes, he’s egotistical, narcissistic, and every other descriptor you can mention. He also is the one artist in hip-hop who pushes it ahead with almost every album.

808’s and Heartbreak? After it was released, every rapper went through a instrospective auto-tuned phase. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, although I feel it’s overrated, has incredible production, and is a unique album for sure. Yeezus is harsh, distorted, dark in places. It simultaneously pushes you away and draws you in closer with each listen. In a year, we’ll be seeing more rap albums which sound like this.

Yeezus isn’t perfect. There’s still a number of cringeworthy lines, and it sort of falls apart after Blood on the Leaves. If he stopped after that song, the highpoint of the album, Yeezus would probably be the best EP of the year. It’s still one of the best, especially production wise, but not THE best. Sorry Mr. West. Deal with it as you count your millions and build a mountain in an arena.

Key Tracks: Black skinhead, New Slaves, Hold my liquor, Blood on the Leaves.

7. Neko Case -The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,

Case returns with a collection of music perfect for a lonely night, driving around the city at 11 p.m., nursing a broken heart. Her earthy voice aches through twelve tracks of longing, loneliness, heartbreak, backed with sparse arrangements which showcase her skills as a musician, but when she let’s loose, she’s incredible.
Key tracks:  Night Still Comes, Man, City Swans, Afraid

8 Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I love this band, and was ecstatic to hear they’d be putting out a new album. It’s the sound of a more mature artist, with evidence of work from his Academy award winning film scores, rewarding repeats listens. Less harsh than his past output, more cerebral, and a nice blend of rhythm and groove. Sounds amazing on headphones. NIN Version 2.0 is here
Key Tracks: Copy of A, Came Back Haunted, Satellite, In Two

9. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
The title is ironic, as several factors delayed the release of the album. However, Clockwork is worth the wait. Heavy, hypnotic hard rock that is so well-done, it puts almost everything else on rock radio to shame.
Key tracks: Keep your eyes peeled, The Vampyre of Time and Memory, My God is the Sun, I Appear Missing

10. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

The grunge legends are no slouches when it comes to making a great rock album, but while 2009’s Backspacer was a little slight, Lightning Bolt feels urgent, energetic, reminding listeners of what Eddie Vedder and company are still capable of.
Key Tracks: Mind your Manners, Sirens, Lightning Bolt, Let the Records Play

11. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National have been remarkable consistent since the release of Alligator, and trouble will find me continues their strong showcase of gloomy rock that reveals more with each listen. A great winter album, though I am wondering how much longer they can keep it up.
Key Tracks: I Should Live in Salt, Don't Swallow the Cap, This is the Last Time, Graceless

12. Matthew Good – Arrows of Desire
Canadian rock stand-by, after a pair of experimental; albums, gets back to basics on his sixth solo album. Good told me in an interview the album was inspired by music he listen to in his youth, like The Pixies, and it shows.
Key Tracks: Arrows of Desire, Had it Coming, Guns of Carolina, Letters in Wartime.

Honourable mentions: 
Atoms for Peace – AMOK, 
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady, 
Phoenix – Bankrupt, 
Lorde- Pure Heroine, 
The Strokes – Comedown Machine, 
The Perpetrators- Stick ‘em Up

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Music Shelf: Introduction

Greetings again.

I know I'm not regular with this blog in any way, shape or form, but I hope I can start soon.

An idea popped into my head after playing "Thriller" on my turntable. Why don't I start going through my vinyl collection, reviewing my albums and talking about their impact they have on me? It could be fun.

I have been a vinyl enthusiast and collector since 2010, and have amassed more than 100 albums. Some highlights of my collection include the aforementioned "Thriller," "Back in Black," "Led Zeppelin IV," and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." I am always on the lookout for interesting and unique items for my  collection.

Although a niche market, vinyl records have made a comeback, and sales have been growing since 2008. There were 4.6 million vinyl records sold in 2012.

So why has a seemingly dead format returned? There are a few reasons.

For starters, you’re more involved in the album compared to MP3's, from removing it from the sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and putting the needle on the record. Also, while listening, you have album art, and liner notes (in some cases) to get lost in while listening.  In some cases, you can find little surpises in albums that you didn’t expect to find, such as posters that originally came with the album, as was the case with my copy of "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers.

In addition, vinyl records have a sound quality that MP3’s and even CD’s cannot compare with. Most recording is done in analog format, even when it is converted to digital. Digital recordings feel colder than the warmer analog sound. Also, because there is a limit to the levels of recording, you don’t get albums that are too loud like you do today. 

Plus, it forces you to listen to the entire work, discovering some hidden gems. We don't have that anymore.

My plan is to review "Thriller" in the next couple of days, and then select an album from my shelf and go from there. I still plan to talk about other elements of media if the motivation strikes me.


Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012: A List

Greetings all who are reading this.
The musical year that was 2012 has come to a close, and what a year it was. One of the better years of albums for sure, both underground and mainstream. I wonder if the supposed 2012 Apocalypse was the reason for this?

I have compiled 13 of my favourites for you in this list. Some of these may not necessarily be the best albums of the year, but they are the ones I enjoyed listening to the most. If I am missing anything, let me know in the comments section.

Onto the list;

13. The Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania

    After more than a decade of mediocre material, and a few years of alienating a large chunk of his fanbase with a large chunk of his actions (replacing every band member, general douchiness), Billy corgan and his band put out their best album since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I love the use of keyboards throughout the album, and the songs actually feel like Smashing Pumpkins songs, and not “Billy Corgan punishing you for being a Smashing Pumpkins fan.”  Key Tracks: Quasar, The Celestials, Pale Horse
    12. John K. Samson- Provincial


    Samson is brilliant, and I did enjoy his first full-length solo album quite a bit. It plays to his strengths and sounds like a collection of Weakerthans B-Sides, however, half of the songs I’ve heard already on his two solo EPs, and some of the arrangements on this album I wasn’t a fan of (Stop Error). However, it is very strong lyrically and definitely worth a listen in that regard.
    Key Tracks: Heart of the Continent, When I Write My Master’s Thesis, Letter In Icelandic From The Ninette San.

    11. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls

      A debut album which quickly establishes The Shakes as a rock force to be reckoned with. It has actually managed to make its way onto several major rock stations, which is always good to see, and proves rock radio can be open to new things. The album is solid, no-frills, southern rock with a soulful edge, and I want to hear more from them. 
       Key Tracks: Hold On, I Found You, Hang Loose.

    10. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
          It’s an album sympathizing with the struggles of the working man, sung by a multi-millionaire rock star! All kidding aside, Bruce is consistently good, and he’s sounds motivated and passionate while singing about economic inequality, the financial crisis, the struggles of the middle class, and the hope the crisis will eventually be over. mixing genres as diverse as folk (We Are Alive), Celtic (Death to my Hometown), arena rock (title track) and even hip-hop (the end of Rocky Ground), it's probably Bruce's most ambitious album to date, in addition to being his most timely album since The Rising.Wrecking Ball is also his last album to feature the late Clarence Clemons, and his saxophone adds a presence to the two songs he is featured on. A great way for The Big Man to be remembered.

          Key Tracks: We Take Care Of Our Own, Death to My Hometown, Wrecking Ball, Land of Hope and Dreams

          9. Titus Andronicus- Local Business


            In 2010, Titus Andronicus put out my favourite album of 2010 (The Monitor), a sprawling, ambitious album with a Civil War theme. Their third album, Local Business, is less ambitious than The Monitor, but it isn’t a bad album in any stretch. It’s actually quite enjoyable. Taking more influence from their debut “The Airing of Grievances,” Titus Andronicus powers through a compact album, ten songs of easily digestible “Heartland punk” for the cynical and jaded among us. I also love the fact that despite being compact, they still managed to throw in two songs longer than eight minutes like their previous album. A good album, just adjust your expectations.
          Key Tracks: Ecce Homo, Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter, In A Big City, Tried to Quit Smoking.  

          8. The Heavy - The Glorious Dead


            I see this album as a counterpoint to Japandroids. Both are tremendous rock albums that went unnoticed by the mainstream, but both rock in different ways. While Japandroids are fast, furious and in your face, The Heavy is a more soulful band, taking influence from early British Invasion bands, mainly The Animals, and 1970’s soul. Listen to the horns on the album, and tell me you don’t agree. An album you want to nod along to in your headphones, and one you’ll want to turn up in your car.
          Key Tracks: Can’t Play Dead, What Makes A Good Man?, Same Ol’, Blood Dirt Love Stop.
          7. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, M.A.A.D. City


            I’m not a huge fan of modern day hip-hop (prefer old school stuff like Tribe Called Quest), but Lamar’s album was recommended to me by a friend. I’m happy for the recommendation. Lamar raps throughout the album about life in Compton, the trials and tribulations he can face in the span of a single day in a dangerous neighbourhood. The album is described by Lamar as a “film,” and you have to listen to it straight through to appreciate it. His production is solid, his rhymes and flow are impeccable, and this is probably the first hip-hop album where the skits have a purpose for the album, rather than just a space-filler. Highly recommended.

          Key Tracks: Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter , Backseat Freestyle, Swimming Pools, Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.
          6. Grizzly Bear - Shields

        I think this album should end the argument that hipster bands do not know how to rock. On their fourth album, the New York art-rockers lead listeners through a series of carefully constructed, layered tracks which grab the listener and take them on a journey, getting them lost in the melody. I get a strong Radiohead vibe from several points in the album (a few songs would’ve fit in on In Rainbows or OK Computer), and the guitar work is some of the best I’ve heard this year.  Key Tracks: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again, The Hunt, Gun Shy

        5. Corb Lund - Cabin Fever

          Lund’s seventh album, though only his second released through a U.S. label, this finds him going through some darker territory than the preceding Losin’ Lately Gambler, which is set up through the first two tracks, the survivalist anthem “Getting’ Down on the Mountain” and the stomp along “Dig Gravedigger Dig.” Even his lighter songs have a bit of a sarcastic edge to them and deal with more black humour. Musically, Lund’s style of country leans more to the alternative side, taking influence from roots rock, 1950’s honky-tonk and rockabilly at several points.  This would be a country album I would recommend to people who aren’t into country, to show them that there’s more to the genre than the Nashville establishment.
          Key Tracks: Getting’ Down on the Mountain, Mein Deutchse Motterad, The Gothest Girl I Can, Pour ‘em Kinda Strong.
          4. Bob Dylan - Tempest


          2012 was also the year I fully made the leap into becoming a Bob Dylan fan, after only dabbling in him over the years. The man has hit a creative streak since 1997’s Time Out of Mind, and though not everything has been great (Together Through Life), more often than not, you’re going to get an interesting listening experience with a few standout tracks. Tempest continues the trend of Dylan’s recent albums being inspired by early rock and roll, folk and blues traditions, and lyrically, he has darkness on his mind and his rasp only accentuates it (Listen to Pay in Blood or Early Roman Kings and you know what I mean). This could very easily be Dylan’s last album, and if so, it’s a strong way to close his career.

          Key Tracks: Duquesne Whistle, Soon After Midnight, Pay in Blood, Roll on John

          3. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

            Easily one of the most talked about albums this year for a variety of reasons. Before its release, Ocean released a letter, revealing a not-straight sexuality (he never came out, but he revealed his first love was a male), practically unheard of for a hip-hop/R&B artist. In addition, he moved up the release a week to prevent leaks. Channel Orange was released to widespread critical acclaim and has been recognized with multiple Grammy nominations and it’s very likely Ocean could sweep this year. It’s easy to see why. Ocean plays with the R&B and Soul genres throughout the album, blending and twisting them to his own vision. His songs about love, heartache and decadence speak to a wide- range of people, and is easily best listened to at night in order to properly absorb the themes. If Ocean can keep up his ambition through his next album, the sky’s the limit for him
          Key Tracks: Thinkin’ Bout You, Super Rich Kids, Pyramids, Bad Religion.
          2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
            It’s fast. It’s loud. It’s triumphant. It makes a statement. It grabs a hold of you from the first notes. It’s full of life. It’s a call to arms. It’s amazing. Rock music may be experiencing dark days, but this Vancouver duo proves it will never die or go out of style. Among its reverb soaked eight tracks, Japandroids build upon their 2009 debut Post-Nothing and make listeners want to crank their stereos up to 11 and truly enjoy this. This album will reaffirm your faith in what pure, unadulterated, rock music can do.
          Key Tracks: Nights of Wine and Roses, Adrenaline Nightshift, The House That Heaven Built, Continuous Thunder.
          1. Jack White - Blunderbuss
          Jack White has been around music since the White Stripes stopped making music in 2007. But, despite putting out decent material with the Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, he never truly seemed to be engaged with he was writing and performing. However, with his first solo album, White cuts loose, truly showing why he was a musical force to be reckoned with in the 2000’s. The trademarks of The White Stripes are still there (fuzzed out guitar, raw though polished sound), but the album also allows him to continue to experiment with the musical ideas he has in his head (country touches, piano, etc.).Everything about this album just works on every level, and the backing band he has assembled is probably the best he’s been involved with. I still find myself lost in the grooves of this album months after its release, so it’s my pick of the year.
          Key Tracks: Sixteen Saltines, Love Interruption, I’m Shakin’, Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy.



    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

    (Writer's note: Back from the dead. This thing has been resurrected more times than Lazarus. Had some motivation last night,and here's what came from it)

    Oh, mild spoilers ahead. Read at own caution)

    I think it would be an understatement to say that I am a huge Spider-Man fan.

    My future. Source: Wikipedia.
    He’s probably my favourite comic book hero (next to Batman). I’ve read the comics (I have reprints of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Spider-Man #50), grew up with the 90’s animated series, and saw the movies in theatres (Spider-Man 2 was a family movie night and some of the most fun I’ve had at the theatre). Heck, it’s a running gag among my family that I will end up as J. Jonah Jameson, demanding pictures of Spider-Man.

    I could relate a lot to Parker in the comics. A regular guy, given powers, not sure what to do with them; He struggled to pay the rent. His social life was lacking. He didn’t get any respect from the media. But, he still soldiered on. Great message. I love Batman, but I can’t relate to Bruce Wayne. He has unlimited money, access to great equipment and a cool car. He’s wish-fulfillment, escapism.

    Like most people, I watched the Sam Raimi movies and thought that Spider-Man 3 was lousy, especially coming off the greatness of Spider-Man 2. Too many plots, an unnecessary retcon, misuse of Venom and that goddamn dance scene in the middle. And Spider-Man 4 sounded worse in the planning stages (I sound biased, but early plans were to have the Vulture as the villain, and Anne Hathaway playing his daughter The Vultress. Even as a kid, I always found the Vulture a lame villain. A man in a bird suit is not a villain; it’s a mid-life crisis). Raimi and Sony butted heads over the direction of the project, and eventually Raimi left. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst followed suit. Sony then announced plans to hire a new director and reboot the series from the beginning, to keep the movie rights from reverting back to Marvel.

    Reboot. One of the two dirty R words in modern day Hollywood (remake is the other one). It has become a symbol of the lack of creativity that people complain about in movies these days. Considering that this reboot would be released five years after Spider-Man 3, many people were not looking forward to it, me included. But, hey, open mind and whatnot.

    Sony owns the rights to this poster.
    I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man about a week ago and left the theatre impressed. Although there were flaws, I felt that it was an interesting take on the character and actually better than the original Spider-Man film released in 2002.

    Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) portrays Peter Parker, raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents mysteriously die when he was a kid.  Although intelligent, Peter is a loner at high school and a target for bullies. He harbours a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a popular student who shares a similar passion for science, working as an intern at OsCorp for Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors worked with Peter’s father, and it is on a trip to OsCorp to see Connors that he gets bitten by a genetically engineer spider which causes many changes to him.

    The biggest flaw in the movie we have to sit through the origin story again. If you asked someone how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, they could probably tell you exactly how it happened. Have a little respect for the audience Hollywood. Also, this version brings in Peter’s parents, has them die at the beginning, but then kind of drops it halfway through the movie (though in a post-credits scene, it is brought up again). However, the movie does pick-up significantly after the spider-bite, and several of the origin points were handled better in this version, such as Uncle Ben’s death.

    I liked Garfield’s take on Peter Parker, portraying him as a socially-awkward loner but with a little bit of an edge present. It’s a more realistic (as realistic as you can get with a comic book character) and modern interpretation of Spider-Man. And once he gets the costume, he moves far ahead of Tobey. As far as I’m concerned, Garfield is Spider-Man. The main reason: his wit. Tobey was humourless. Garfield actually cracked jokes in the costume like Spider-Man would in the comics.

    As for other performances, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was a highlight of the film, portraying a strong love-interest who is not a damsel-in-distress like other comic characters. She has tremendous chemistry with Garfield, which adds to their scenes together. Ifans’ portrayal of Connors and his villainous alter-ego The Lizard was also a strong performance. He’s not a true villain, just a guy who makes the wrong choice. However, Denis Leary, in his small screen-time, nearly stole the show as Gwen’s father George, a police captain who does not approve of Spider-Man methods. It is in fact, his scene with Peter at dinner that helps set him on the path to being a hero.

    The theme of responsibility is one of the key themes of Spider-Man (I think we can all recite the famous phrase from the comics) and I liked how the movie handles it with Parker. The entire movie, even before he gets his powers, builds to him accepting responsibility for his actions as both Parker and Spider-Man.

    The action in the movie, performed with a lot of wire-work, was also better than the 2002 movie, which has not aged well visually. During Spider-man’s fights with the Lizard, it feels like watching one of the comics come to life with the way he moves and dodges attacks, throwing in his webs for good measure.

    In addition, this movie features the best Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie.

    The Amazing Spider-Man was a better movie than it had any right to be, considering the reasons for it being made. Despite a retelling of the origin story, the movie picks up significantly from there, with strong performances and action keeping it from becoming a cynical, mediocre cash-in, like many feared it would be. I hope that the sequel adds to the strong foundation that this movie built.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    How Adele Saved The Music Industry

    2011 has come and gone, and it’ll hereon be known as the year where Adele Adkins conquered the charts.

    Her sophomore album, 21, has been a steady presence on the charts since its release in the U.S. in February. It has been in the top five for 49 out of its 50 weeks on the chart, and has reached number one 19 times. This album was everywhere. You couldn’t turn on a radio, walk into a store, or watch a TV talent show without hearing one of her songs.

     When the year was over, the album was certified platinum with sales of 5.82 million, managing to sell double her nearest competitor. As of Feb. 8, the album has sold over 6 million copies and shows no signs of letting up.   Adele herself has been nominated for six Grammy awards, and will likely win in every category she is nominated in.

    With these numbers, the album became the best selling album in a calendar year since 2004, and the music industry is rejoicing.  There are many lessons that can be learned from Adele’s year and they are lessons that can determine the future of the music industry.

    I’ve listened to the album, and enjoyed it enough to put it on my favourite albums of the past year, and determined three reasons why the album was so popular.

    First of all, the themes are universal.  Throughout the album, Adele sings about relationships, heartbreak and revenge, which is something that almost everyone can relate to. Who hasn’t had their heart broken or wished that they could get back at a partner that wronged them? The album, according to Adele, was inspired by a relationship that failed during the production, and she channeled her feelings into the songs. Real emotion will always strike a chord with listeners.

    Another reason I felt the album was successful was due to the music itself appealing to multiple generations of listeners. 21 is largely a soul/R&B album, with a strong Etta James influence, but contains strong pop sensibilities and even a little bit of country influence on several songs (“Don’t You Remember?” and "Hiding My Heart” especially). It was poppy enough for the younger crowd, but was grounded in the style of music that appealed strongly to adult listeners. Adults are probably the key reason for why the album was so successful. They didn’t feel alienated by it, like they would with some of the artists the young crowd is listening to.

    Finally, Adele stands out in a music industry that emphasizes style over substance. Almost every female pop singer today has a gimmick. Lady Gaga has her weird outfits; Katy Perry relies strongly on sexuality; Britney Spears is now part of the old guard (at 30 years old). Adele’s gimmick is that she has no gimmick. She goes out on stage in a dress and just sings.  It’s a breath of fresh air among a sea of Autotuned vocals and unusual outfits.

    Adele had one of the best years in music last year, and the music industry should pay attention to her success moving forward. Talent will always win out over showmanship.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    My Favourite Albums of 2011: A List

    Merry Christmas Everyone!

    It’s that time of the year again: Time for me to list my favourite albums of the year. These are not necessarily the best albums, but the ones I’ve enjoyed the most this year.

    Compared to 2010, 2011 was kind of a quiet year in music. It was a year that didn’t have any overt great albums (like my number 1 &2 last year, Titus Andronicus' The Monitor & Arcade Fire's The Suburbs), but had some pleasant surprises that rewarded patience in the listener.

    I decided to do a top 15 list this year because I had trouble narrowing my list down to ten. Give all of these albums a listen. They are all quite enjoyable in their own ways.

    Some Honourable Mentions:

    Destroyer - Kaputt
    F**ked Up - David Comes to Life
    Fruit Bats - Tripper
    My Morning Jacket - Circuital

    Here is the List

    15. (tie) Foo Fighters- Wasting Light/R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

    I started off with a tie, because I wanted to include both albums on this list, and I had trouble ranking them. They are both pretty similar. Both were albums that rejuvenated a band after a brief period of stagnation.

    The Foo Fighters recorded this album in Dave Grohl’s garage, trying to get that raw sound. As a result, Wasting Light is more lively and urgent than previous Foo fighter albums, and shows that Grohl and the band still have some good albums left in them.

    REM ended up breaking up this year after 30 years together, but what a high note to go out on. Collapse Into Now, I’d argue, is REM’s best album in over a decade. Tightly constructed, with great lyrics and hooks. I wanted to hear more from them.

    Key Tracks on Wasting Light: Rope, Walk, These Days

    Key Tracks onto Collapse into Now: Discoverer, Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter

    14. Drive By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

    One of the more consistent bands in the past decade, Drive-By Truckers released another solid album. Recorded around the same tame as 2010’s The Big To Do (Number 7 last year for me), this album is more soul and country inspired, compared to the southern rock found on The Big To Do. The band are great musicians and songwriters, and that alone makes this album worth listening to. In addition, the production on this album is amazing. It feels like they are performing in the same room as you.

    Key tracks: Go-Go Boots, Used to be a Cop, Everybody Needs Love.

    13. Bon Iver- Bon Iver

     I’m not as high on Bon Iver, and its front man Justin Vernon, as some people are. I’m not happy with the many artists they have inspired, who think that recording some boring ass folk tunes on old recorders in the middle of nowhere constitutes great art, and I don’t like the people who prop these milquetoast musicians up as the emotional voices of our generation. I’m pretty sure I could do the same thing. Nevertheless, open mind and whatnot. I listened to this album, and there is some stuff to be impressed about. The album is built around strong soundscapes that take the listener away, and the songs have a semblance of structure, which a lot of the followers lack. A good album and I can appreciate the talent Vernon and his band have, but it's  not a top ten album for me. I see it as the “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” of 2011. Good album, but not the best as critics claim.

    Key Tracks: Holocene, Wash., Calgary

    12. Dawes – Nothing is Wrong

    The sophomore album from Dawes was a pleasant surprise. More urgent than their sleepy debut North Hills, the band turns up their amps, writing an album that feels like Neil Young could have released it as a follow-up to Harvest. I love good songwriting and lyrics, and they’re here in abundance on this album. Plus this album has a pulse, unlike North Hills. 

    (Disclaimer: As much as I make fun of the album, North Hills is quite good, suitable for a lazy afternoon or early evening out in the desert. This is an album for an evening in the city).

    However, I need to throw this out here: I like Dawes. I really do. I love their folk sound inspired by the legacy their hometown left (Laurel Canyon, where Crosby Stills, Nash and Young started), their harmonies are strong, and they work really well together as a band. But there’s something that I feel is holding them back from being a great band, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it is because there are so many folk rock bands out there that they are lost in the shuffle, or they haven’t quite found their voice yet, but right now, they have to settle for being good.

    Key tracks: Time Spent in Los Angeles, If I Wanted Someone,  My Way Back Home, How Far We’ve Come.

    11. This Hisses – Surf Noir

    One of the better albums to come out of Winnipeg this year (I will always love my hometown, and my campus radio station), and it shows that there is still some life in the punk scene, which I long stopped paying attention to. It’s different, a sinister surf record. 8 Tracks of well-constructed songs, which rocks from start to finish. Can’t ask for anymore than that.

    Key Tracks: Lycanthrope, Gold on Fire, Swagger, Snakewine

    10. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

    This album was released for free on the Canadian R&B artist’s website,  and garnered attention when Drake mentioned them on his Twitter. And this album, the first of three mixtapes released throughout 2011, I feel is their best. This album is what I feel R&B and hip hop needs; a little grit, rather than glam. Minimalist, sparse production that creates a mood of loneliness, combined with lyrics about the dark side of hedonism, allows the Weeknd to make the top ten. This could be one of the most influential albums released this decade. Check it out on their official website.

    Key Tracks: High for This, The Morning, Wicked Games, Coming Down

    9. Real Estate – Days

    I really enjoyed this album. It's pleasant and soothing to the soul, and boasts some incredible guitar work. Similar in ways to my Dr. Dog pick last year, this album has a very 60’s guitar pop influence. The album brings out strong feelings of warmth and nostalgia as I listened to it. Yes, this album is very hipster-ish, and some would call it inoffensive, but inoffensive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I find myself listening to this album in the car quite frequently.

     Key Tracks: Green Aisles, It’s Real, Municipality, Younger than Yesterday

    8. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

    I loved this album when it was released at the beginning of the year. Compared to In Ghost Colours, I felt that it was tighter and more concise, with none of the wasteful transitions that bogged down that album. I loved the world music influence throughout the album, and the sound that somehow feels organic, despite being mostly electronic. This was the best dance record of 2011, enjoyable both being blasted through speakers, or listened to on your bed in headphones and zoning out.

     Plus, it has the best album art of 2011. How can you not love that?

    Key Tracks: Need You Now, Take Me Over, Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution, Sun God

    7. Adele – 21

    I think this could be the most surprising pick on my list, but this album was impossible to ignore. The best-selling album of 2011, it has spent 42 out of 43 weeks in the top five on the charts, and sold at last count, almost 5 million copies. The runner-up*, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, has sold close to two million copies as of this writing.  Why has the public gravitated towards Adele? Is it because the pop market is so saturated with acts that are more spectacle, and she has a semblance of actual talent?

    Adele isn’t a perfect artist by any means. Nobody is. But she was good. And in an era where talent is scarce, she’s a beacon of hope. Her voice is amazing and filled with emotion. Not many pop artists have that talent. Besides, you can’t hate on Rolling in the Deep; a perfect pop song. And it’s been stuck in my head. Adele is one of those artists that not only lived up to her hype, but managed to exceed it. I want more from her in the future.

     Key Tracks: Rolling in the Deep, Hiding My Heart (UK edition track), Someone Like You, Take It All.

    6. The Black Keys – El Camino

    I hate clichés, but here is one that could have some truth to it: The Black Keys could save rock. Not bad for a band consisting of only a drummer and a guitarist.

    Much like The White Stripes, The Black Keys write and perform blues inspired rock music that has managed to catapult them from indie darlings to headlining arena acts. Unlike other bands, The Keys have managed to keep their trademark sound basically the same, and haven’t pandered to a mass audience. El Camino follows up their breakthrough album Brothers with 11 tracks or pure, unadulterated, garage rock bliss. Every song on this album I can hear being played on the radio (cliché number 2). What makes the Black Keys special is their ability to make every song feel distinct, despite having only two members.  I love this album, and you should too.

    (Note: This album came out in December. I felt that if I ranked it higher, it wouldn’t be right. If it came out earlier in the year, it would be in the top 2).

    Key Tracks: Lonely Boy, Little Black Submarines, Money Maker, Run Right Back

    5. The Strokes - Angles

    After five years away from music, one of my favourite bands returned and showed people that they still had what it took. This was one of my most re-listened to albums of the year. I’ll link to the review I did when it came out.

    Key Tracks: Under Cover of Darkness, Two Kinds of Happiness, Taken for a Fool, Life is Simple in The Moonlight.

    4. Tom Waits – Bad as Me

     The legendary Tom Waits returns with his first album of new material in 7 years, and it feels like a compilation of what makes him one of the more unique artists ever.. Booze soaked rockers, some atmospheric folky stuff, and even a few touching ballads. Waits’ growl is refined and still as perfect as ever. Bad as me is a thirteen song collection that takes bits and pieces from Waits career pre- and post Swordfishtrombones, and refines into an album that is pleasant to listen to. I would use this album as an entry into Waits for new fans. It also reminds veteran listeners of how good he truly is.

    Key Tracks: Chicago, Kiss Me, Bad as Me, Satisfied.

    3. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

    Before recording this album, the genre defying Brooklyn group TV on the Radio went on hiatus. It seems to have re-energized them. The band had a touch act to follow: 2008’s Dear Science was considered by many publications to be the best album of that year. A lesser band could have delivered a disappointing follow-up, but they managed to refine their sound further.

    Nine Types of Light has more emphasis on groove and soul throughout the album. There is still a healthy amount of experimenting on this album, with songs bouncing from glitch, to industrial, and finally closing on a straight up rocker. Chaotic, yet controlled, this is one of the best albums of the year, and a worthy companion to Dear Science.

    Key Tracks: Second Song, You, Caffeinated Consciousness, Will Do.

    2. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
    This will be contentious, I’m sure.

    Radiohead fans put the band on a pedestal, and react negatively when an album is not an instant masterpiece. I remember when The King of Limbs was first released in February, the reaction was very mixed, bordering on negative. As the year went on, I’ve noticed the reception changing a bit, but many still consider it a misstep in the band.

    Radiohead are a great band. In my opinion, they are the best band since Pink Floyd. They push the boundaries in their genre, and many bands today cite them as an influence. Look at the British music scene before OK Computer was released, and look at the music scene after the album.You can do the same thing for the follow-up masterpiece, Kid A; every band that came around after those albums are trying to sound like Radiohead. Their albums are not instantaneous masterpieces, but reward patience and dedication. I’ll bring up Kid A again. When it was first released, it was very polarizing; now it’s considered the best album of the 2000’s. Will The King of Limbs be the best album of the decade? It’s too soon to tell. We’ll check in a few years.

    Anyways, back to the album. High quality album from start to finish. Only one track I skip over (Feral). Easily the best headphone record of the year, and I still notice little details on each listen. The best use of electronics by any band today. The album sounds great performed live (even better than the studio album), and the extra tracks from these sessions (Supercollider/The Butcher & The Daily Mail/Staircase) that have been released are all well done (the latter two especially).

    That is why The King of Limbs is my second favourite album of the year.

     Key Tracks: Morning Mr. Magpie, Lotus Flower, Codex, Separator.

    1. Wilco – The Whole Love

    I’m going to quote from my column that I wrote about this album for The Endeavour, dated November 30, 2011.

    ". . . The Whole Love is Wilco’s eighth album, and also the first release from their own label, dBpm. Compared to Wilco (The Album)’s more standard sound, this album is best described as a cross between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth. It is also their best album since Yankee hotel Foxtrot.
    Wilco’s strength is their ability to merge the unconventional elements of music with strong songwriting and traditional hooks.  Their songs are carefully constructed, and quite catchy. Each song is unique, from the jazzy shuffle of "Capitol City," to the folk rock of "Black Moon," and the jangly guitars of “Born Alone.” Despite shifting genres, no song feels out of place on the album. It’s a skill that few bands can master. In addition, I believe that this incarnation of the band, who have been together since 2004, is their best lineup yet. They’ve really gelled together in the albums they have played on.
    The Whole Love is bookended by two experimental tracks. “Art of Almost” last seven minutes, beginning with some distorted bass, moving towards a simple rhythmic main section, and drives to the finish with one of the best two minute guitar solos you’ll hear this year.
    The album closer, “One Sunday Morning,” is about 12 minutes long.  It’s a simple, almost Dylan-esque song, built around Tweedy’s guitar playing and pained vocals. It is one of the saddest songs that Wilco has ever written.
    You’d be hard pressed to find a better album this year.  I give it the highest possible recommendation."
    Key Tracks: Art of Almost, Born Alone, Capitol City, One Sunday Morning

    *Editor's Note: At the time of this writing,  Born This Way was the number 2 selling album of the year but has since slipped to number 3. Michael Buble's Christmas album is the new second best seller.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    My first column- 20 years later, why Nevermind still matters

    Here is a clipping of my first column for The Endeavour, the campus newspaper at Lethbridge College.

    Originally appeared Sept. 28, 2011 Vol. 47 Issue 01

    Check it out! Text may be a little too small to read. Let me know, and I'll fix it.