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.