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Top Ten Albums of 2013

The end of the calendar year always allows me the indulgence of reflecting on my own musical tastes. So as usual, here’s the regular December post that lays out my favourite albums of the past year:

Queens of the Stone Age…Like Clockwork

The best rock n’ roll band in the world returns with an extraordinary effort that’s lighter, emotive, and extremely powerful. There are fewer bangers than on previous albums, but that’s made room for more beautifully complex, temperamental songs. It all makes sense given Josh Homme’s near-death experience since the last album.

Ghostface Killah and Adrian YoungeTwelve Reasons to Die

Ghostface has always been my favourite member of the Wu-tang Clan because of his uncanny ability to weave stories with his rhymes. This is a concept album about gang wars set in 1960s Italy that’s a compelling narrative from start to finish. The music and production by Adrian Younge make of the greatest foundations I’ve ever heard on a rap album.

A Tribe Called RedNation II Nation

The power of good music is evident in its ability to unify. By combining elements of traditional powwow music and modern electronic music, these Ottawa DJs have created a proud, innovative movement that Indigenous people are embracing. But they’re also drawing in fans from all walks of life under the banner of positivity, respect, and understanding.

Leonard Sumner’s Rez Poetry

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Where A Tribe Called Red provides the soundtrack to the urban Indigenous experience, Leonard Sumner tells the modern stories of the rez. From folk to country to rap, this heartfelt collection is a riveting portrayal of the unique struggles and triumphs of Anishinaabe people. It’s the album I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear.

Big BusinessBattlefields Forever

As one of the most unique bands in metal, Big Business has always created a successfully loud combination of heavy rhythm, intoxicating melody, and bewildering weirdness. A fuller, more dynamic sound on this new album has added to that enigmatic intrigue.

Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

There is so much about her to love.

KEN ModeEntrench

What I’ve always admired about this Winnipeg trio is their ability to make the most massive metal sound from the barest of bones. While that formula has been hugely effective for more than a decade, they added a couple more layers including piano and strings on some songs here. It’s still some of the heaviest music out there.

BiipiigwanSomething for Everyone; Nothing for Anyone

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Warrior music.

Nine Inch NailsHesitation Marks

I must be getting older, because this is another departure from loud and heavy that I really enjoyed. Trent Reznor reaches back to the electronic influences that kicked off his career and produces a polished, refined collection of songs that are like ear candy. This is the “headphone” album of the year.

Pearl JamLightning Bolt

There are three kinds of people in the world: hardcore Pearl Jam fans, Pearl Jam listeners who feel the need to justify their fandom, and Pearl Jam haters. Pearl Jam has been one of the only constants in my life and I take comfort in knowing that every few years, they’ll put out music that I’ll really like.

Although that’s ten, I’m breaking from personal form here to add a couple more:

The MelvinsTres Cabrones

They put out three albums this year, including a covers album, a live album, and this. While Live at Third Man Records was my favourite of the three, my personal rule is to keep this list to studio recordings of new originals. They broke once again from their usual modern lineup with the Big Business members and revisited their original 1983 lineup (as closely as possible) to create something fun and heavy.

How To Destroy AngelsWelcome Oblivion

This came out before Hesitation Marks, but it’s the perfect complement. Beautiful vocals soar above ambient, intricate compositions and rhythms that are both soothing and exciting.

Honourable mentions:
Danny BrownOld
TomahawkOddfellows
Craig BrownHysteresis
The BronxIV
Deltron 3030Event II

What were your favourite albums this year?

Top Ten Albums of 2010

As I do every year, I’m gonna list some albums here that kept my ears occupied more than others in 2010. It was a little harder this year coming up with ten, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year for music. As always, I’m looking for more great stuff to listen to, so please feel free to leave your own picks!

In high rotation on my iPod this year were:

The MelvinsThe Bride Screamed Murder

It seems a little weird putting one of the most peculiar yet uniquely charming metal bands of the past three decades in the top spot, but there’s no album I listened to more this year, and that’s always my primary criterion. This is their most accessible and best album in years, thanks again to the contribution of the Big Business dudes on rhythm and in harmony. Epic riffs, beautiful and haunting vocal melodies, and a sick dual drum assault.

The SwordWarp Riders

Every year there’s a “guitar album” I make sure to include, and this is it. The Sword have followed through again with another showcase of towering and intricate riff-rock. The smokin’ chops and blazing solos of Warp Riders are a delight for any guitar player. It makes me want to plug in and make myself even deafer.

Damian Marley & NasDistant Relatives

Anyone familiar with both of these artists should know what to expect from a collaboration. But this album is so much more than just fusion of rap and reggae. Each allows the other to flourish in the right spots on the right tracks, and when they come together it’s nothing short of stunning. Both are legends in their respective genres and they marry their talents beautifully on this album.

Blitzen TrapperDestroyer of the Void

On first listen this sounds like ’60s Dylan, ’70s Bowie, the Band and the Grateful Dead all crammed together. I wasn’t a fan of catchall classic rock homage bands before, but there’s a lot to be said for paying tribute to the legends all at once through your own original music. Many of their songs tell epic stories both lyrically and musically. Whenever I put this album on, I almost always find myself listening to it the whole way through.

BaronessThe Blue Record

This is probably “guitar album #2” on my list, but with a little more sauce. Baroness is the most under-appreciated band in modern metal, and it’s really a shame. Building off their last Red Album, this one carves out a deeper sound with more complicated guitar melodies and vocal ranges. Their songs are both sweet and brutal, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a band nowadays that can pull that off effectively.

The Dead WeatherSea of Cowards

Usually I’m all for anything Jack White puts his name on, but I was pretty disappointed with this band’s first album. But when he’s just the drummer in what sounds like a standard bar band, I guess expectations should be lowered slightly. On this one, he steps up a bit more with his voice and his guitar and it adds more value to the rock on this record. Not to take away at all from Alison Mosshart – she’s an amazing singer with a huge live presence. She saved my life at Bonnaroo.

High on FireSnakes for the Divine

Matt Pike. That’s all you need to know.

Blakroc

Everyone and their grandma loved the Black KeysBrothers album this year. It was pretty alright, but I thought this was their better recent effort. They basically made a hip hop album with the RZA and a whole bunch of other dudes (including a resurrected Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and it kicks ass. It’s only natural that a stripped-down band that specializes in rhythm and blues makes a foundation for some pretty enjoyable rap music.

Wab KinewMide Sun Music

While not his official follow-up to Live by the Drum, it’s a stellar mixtape featuring some of his greatest musician friends from Winnipeg and beyond. Wab embodies what it is to be a young, educated, and dedicated Anishinaabe in today’s Canada. The tracks on this collection are honest, heartfelt, powerful, and funny. I’m stoked for Die by the Drum in 2011.

Joanna NewsomHave One on Me

When I first heard she was putting out a triple album as a follow-up to the impeccable Ys, it made me a little uneasy. Her music is a little hard to digest at first, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure enough, I could only listen to one song at a time initially, but once I got through them all I remembered why she is a musical genius with the ability to shake you to the core.

Honorable Mentions:

Chic GamineCity City

Some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard in my live. Check it out for yourself.

BiipiigwanGod’s Hooks

They get to open up for big names in metal whenever they’re in town. They must be doing something right.

Rock on in 2011!

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