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Top Ten Albums of 2014

Here’s my annual year-end favourite albums post! 2014 was the most eventful year of my life, and music highlighted the great times and pulled me through the tough times. What were your favourites?

Tanya TagaqAnimism

Although my top pick usually goes to what I listened to the most by the numbers, this year, sheer importance and merit greatly overshadowed my customary criterion. This masterpiece combines powerful traditional and contemporary musical elements, created and fronted by a true visionary and genius who has an unwavering passion and dedication to her Inuit throat singing roots. The accolades and awards are well-deserved.

The New PornographersBrill Bruisers

This album was the nicest surprise of the year for me. I’ve been a fan since they first formed as a quasi-supergroup, and I believe this is their strongest effort since those early days. The songs are catchy, fun, and sometimes eerie. There are intriguing layers to hear, and the result is the feel-good album of 2014.

Ty SegallManipulator

A lot of bands these days try hard for that throwback, straight-up rock n’ roll sound, but few pull it off. Leave it to this young gun to do it properly and put his own stamp on it. When I hear albums like this, I know that rock n’ roll will never die.

Run the Jewels 2

Loud and fun enough to be a party album, but serious enough to relay some important messages. This power duo of rap put together some real bangers, and invited some pretty stellar guests on board, including one of my all-time favourites, Zack de la Rocha.

Antemasque

This is the latest branch in the At The Drive-In family tree, specifically off-shooting from The Mars Volta. Unlike that incarnation, this is straightforward rock music in powerful, conventional doses. I found that focus enjoyable and refreshing.

MastodonOnce More ‘Round the Sun

Yes, they are a changed band. But listening back to Remission, there are many underlying elements of rock music there, so a full departure from metal to rock shouldn’t be so surprising, in my opinion. The guitar work is as intricate and compelling as ever, and any player should appreciate this album.

Killer Be Killed

Metal fans either loved or hated this album. I’m in the former camp. This “supergroup” pulled together a pretty fun and heavy collection of songs that incorporates influences of each band from where they come – Sepultura, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Mastodon. It was my driving album of the year.

Jack WhiteLazaretto

In my eyes, he can do no wrong, and this was a huge step up from his first solo album (which I still really enjoyed). I think the White Stripes was just a gimmick to get attention so he could get to this point of musical freedom.

Death From Above 1979The Physical World

If this came out soon after their breakthrough album, we likely would have forgotten about it and them altogether. But because it’s been so long, I was interested. Although it’s nothing new or groundbreaking, it is their signature sound, which is just as compelling as it was a decade ago.

Digging RootsFor the Light

Soulful, serene, and sexy. They continue to make me proud to be a fan and a friend.

Honourable mentions:
Freeman
The Great SabatiniDog Years
The MelvinsHold It In

Top Ten Shows of 2012

Live music is one of the greatest experiences and I love going to shows. This was a good year for new music and I was fortunate to see and hear a lot of it live. As I do every year, I’ll list my favourite performances here. I missed out on two that I’m certain would have made the list: Radiohead in Toronto was cancelled due to tragedy, and I was in B.C. for a writers’ festival when Propagandhi came to Ottawa. Notwithstanding, I really enjoyed these sets:

Deltron 3030
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 10

Their self-titled debut is one of my favourite rap albums of all time, so I was excited when I heard they’d be playing Bluesfest. I wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off life, so I was even more stoked to see Del, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala take the stage with a full band including a chorus and string and horn sections. They took those already monumental songs into another dimension and I was totally blown away.

Jack White
L’Olympia
Montreal
October 2

Although I dig his new solo album, in all honesty I went to this show because I wanted to hear his old songs from other bands. He ended up devoting about half of the set to White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather material, much to my delight. The White Stripes tunes were especially phenomenal, thanks to the full electric band. They were way better than the original versions. I still get shivers when I recall the mighty opening version of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.

Die Antwoord
Metropolis
Montreal
November 3

This South African rap/electronic outfit is one of the most interesting acts out there. They bring the weird on their albums and videos, and their live show was no exception. This was a loud and powerful one-hour set in my current favourite venue. They had the sold-out crowd moving from start to finish, and I can’t wait to see them live again. I haven’t had that much fun at a show in a long time.

KEN mode, Biipiigwan, Vilipend, Kloven Hoofs
Daily Grind
Ottawa
November 15

Metal bills are often jammed with lots of bands with varying degrees of talent. Most of the time I can’t get into all of them, and find myself using one band’s set to socialize/use the washroom/check Twitter. But at this show I can honestly say I genuinely enjoyed all four acts from start to finish. It was in a fun, intimate venue with a great turnout from Ottawa’s vibrant metal community. Also, it doesn’t get much more intense than seeing KEN mode live.

The Melvins
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 4

They’re one of my favourite bands of all time and seeing them live is always a spectacle. This touring incarnation was called “Melvins Lite”, promoting their recent Freak Puke album with a much more stripped-down sound than usual. Down to one drummer and an unplugged bass, it was still louder and more robust than almost everything else at Bluesfest this year. Plus, Trevor Dunn is a bass legend, so any fan of the instrument could appreciate his expertise here.

Digging Roots, A Tribe Called Red, Daybi, Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen
National Arts Centre
Ottawa
March 21

CBC Ottawa hosted these four extremely talented acts in a special showcase at the National Arts Centre called Beat Tradition. The purpose was to feature some of the eclectic brilliance from the Aboriginal music community. The crowd here got a great taste of it all – from electronic dance music to hip hop to blues – for free. It was an honour to be involved, especially to be able to introduce my friends Digging Roots and A Tribe Called Red.

Mastodon
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 14

From an aural standpoint, this set actually started out pretty poorly. There were a lot of issues with the sound mix for the first few songs that eventually got ironed out. Despite that, the band was in fine form and conveyed truly great spirits. It wasn’t my favourite set of theirs – focussing heavily on material from their fan-polarizing-but-still-great recent album The Hunter – but they seemed genuinely into it and showed the Ottawa crowd a lot of love. Good effort and attitude go a long way in a live performance.

Barn Burner
Maverick’s
Ottawa
February 18

Somehow I’ve always just missed seeing these massive Montreal metal monsters live. I finally got a chance to catch them for the first time this year. Any guitar player can appreciate what they do live. Epic riffs, leads, and solos that harness the true spirit of metal are the centrepiece of their stunning live shows. They’re one of the best metal bands Canada has to offer and everyone should check ’em out in concert.

Anvil
Great Canadian Cabin
Ottawa
March 30

A buddy and I stumbled across this show as part of the JUNO festivities in Ottawa this spring. I haven’t seen the renowned documentary about these guys (I know, I know) so I didn’t have much of a frame of reference, but I had a blast. It was loud and their rowdy, dedicated fans around us made it a lot of fun.

Whitehorse
Hog’s Back Park
Ottawa Folk Festival
September 9

They play catchy, sweet folk music, and a big part of their allure is that the passion the married duo of Melissa McLelland and Luke Doucet share for each other carries over onto the stage. Whitehorse had hundreds in the crowd in the palms of their hands. The musical and emotional harmony they portray is really endearing.

What were some of your favourites? Stay tuned for the Top Ten Albums of 2012 coming in a couple weeks!

Memorable Concert Moments

The White Stripes on a bridge in WInnipeg

I’ve invested more time and money in experiencing live music than almost anything else in my life. All I have to show for it are damaged eardrums – and spectacular memories that span more than half of my time on this planet. I went to my first concert when I was 14 – the Black Crowes at Varsity Arena in Toronto – and was hooked on the concert experience. I’ve been to hundreds of shows on a variety of scales since, and it’s impossible to rate them against each other. People often ask me what’s the best concert I’ve ever seen, and I honestly can’t say. However, there are moments that resonate much longer than others, and I’ve attempted to list a few here.

But I’ve had to draw a line. These are all related to actual “concerts”. I’ve experienced live music moments better than most of these – provided by friends in my living room, street performers, at spiritual ceremonies, or at random clubs on the weekend. Here are the moments from traditional concerts that are burned onto my eyes and will always ring in my ears:

David Bowie mesmerizes 50,000 Germans with “Space Oddity”
When I was 17 my favourite band in the world was Rage Against the Machine. Shortly after they released Evil Empire in 1996 I left Canada to spend a year in northern Germany as an exchange student. As that year wrapped up I had a chance to see them live for the first time – at the Go Bang festival in Luebeck in June 1997. A couple of buddies and I got tickets and took the train there for a whole day of kickass bands (Helmet, the Prodigy, Korn, and others). But it was a living legend who stole the whole festival’s thunder. David Bowie played right after Rage’s blistering set. I don’t think anyone in that crowd believed an old man could follow up one of the most intense live bands in the world. He walked out all by himself as the sun set, a lone spotlight on him holding just an acoustic guitar. With ease, he strummed the opening chords to the classic “Space Oddity”, and 50,000 people gazed in awe. You could hear a pin drop. It was a simple, stripped down version of one of his monumental anthems and it almost made us all forget about that little band from Los Angeles who played before him.

Neil Young plays “Powderfinger”
One of the greatest people I’ve known is Dan Kearnes from Lakefield, Ontario. He was the dad of my good buddy Terry, who I met while studying at Ryerson. Kearnesy Sr. was a living legend in local rock n’ roll circles – a biker with a huge heart and keen ear for good music. One of his favourite songs was Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”. We went to see Neil in October of 2003 at the Air Canada Centre in TO and got to have a beer together while he played it in the first encore. It was a pretty cool moment. Little did we all know how special it was. Kearnesy Sr. passed away suddenly in 2006. Our good friend Craig Brown played “Powderfinger” at his memorial service. I’ve seen Neil live a couple times since, and that song will always bring tears to my eyes when I hear him play it.

Queens of the Stone Age fans drink the bar dry
In the summer of 2000 the hype was starting to build around QOTSA. They had just released Rated R and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” was getting lots of radio play. However, they already had a pretty solid fan base: people who heard their stellar debut album and fans of Kyuss (the band from which QOTSA emerged). Their Lee’s Palace show in Toronto was sold out well in advance. It was a killer set, and fans of good rock music like their booze. Shortly before the encore break frontman Josh Homme announced “They tell me you fuckers just drank this place dry!” Turns out, there was no beer or liquor left at the bar. So people rushed to buy up what was left. As a result, huge tattooed bikers and metal heads were left to drink white wine and coolers. He mentions this every time they’ve played Toronto since and I feel a bit of pride knowing I was there for it.

Michael Moore tries to “chill” Rage Against the Machine Fans
Kearnesy Jr. and I drove down to Detroit to see Rage on their opening tour for the Battle of Los Angeles album in the fall of 1999. The Palace of Auburn Hills was packed to the gills and there were people milling around on the concourse as Gang Starr and At the Drive-In opened. We got beers and t-shirts and chilled in our upper-level seats. Suddenly, all those milling fans rushed the stage. The floor became packed with thousands of people. It was clearly hazardous, and then some fat white dude came on stage to address everyone. It was Michael Moore telling everyone NOT to calm down.

Digging Roots play “Cut My Hair” on national TV
They’re one of my favourite bands in the world and I’ve probably seen them play at least 20 times. But at last year’s APCMAs they had a national audience, and they ripped through “Cut My Hair”. It chilled me to the bone and made my hair stand on end. These guys embody pure passion, and this was an epic performance.

Nine Inch Nails debut The Downward Spiral
In 1994 the best album on the planet was The Downward Spiral. Trent and company hadn’t played it live on a major North American tour yet, and his premiere was at Barrie’s Molson Park. NIN got on the bill for Soundgarden’s Superunknown tour. I’ll never forget the white curtains silhouetting the band before “Mr. Self Destruct”, and then getting a boot in the face that broke my nose in the mosh pit. Most people left because there was no way Soundgarden could follow that up.

The White Stripes play on a bridge
They toured Canada specifically three years ago and captured the hearts of the whole country. They played one-off shows in random spots in each city to the delight of their fans. They played on a bus in Winnipeg, but for those who couldn’t get on, they came back and played a few songs on the Provencher bridge. Pure dedication to their listeners that I will always love.

That’s it off the top of my head. As I think longer I’m sure more will come up. What are your favourite concert experiences?

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