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Top Ten Albums of 2011

It’s that time of year again, where music fans around the world compete to look hipper than others in list form. Taking a second look at my favourite albums of 2011, I appear to have grown much tamer since last year. Regardless, this is what I was listening to the most in the calendar year:

Feist – Metals

It’s dark, emotional, and catchy. Feist’s latest album has a massive, mostly orchestral sound that sucks you into an aural whirpool and throws you around from start to finish. I usually reserve my top spot for something heavier, but music doesn’t need down-tuned power chords and double-kick drums to be heavy.

KEN Mode – Venerable

On the other hand, a stripped-down three-piece from Winnipeg can make some of the loudest and most intense metal out there. I’m always blown away by just how powerful their songs are, and then I remember they’re only drums, a guitar, a bass, and vocals, and I’m even more flabbergasted. Flabbergasted!

Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole

With their last album entitled V is for Vagina, a lot of people had a hard time taking this band seriously. Others may have had higher or more serious expectations from Maynard James Keenan, whose other band is the “highbrow” metal outfit Tool. While musically, this album isn’t too much of a departure from the last one, it’s still solemn and groovy and thus very enjoyable.

Mastodon – The Hunter

Fanboys around the world cried when they heard more actual singing and catchier guitar hooks on this album. At the core it’s still the most intricate and sophisticated popular heavy music out there, and Mastodon still deserves a lot of credit for playing by their own rules all these years. They’ve done something different on every album, and I already can’t wait to hear what they’ll try next.

Saul Williams – Volcanic Sunlight

Like most fans, I fell in love with Saul’s spoken word, which eventually evolved into rap music, which has now evolved into an almost pop/R&B sound. Needless to say that kinda weirded me out at first, but in its essence this is a fun album held together by his always strong trademark lyrics.

Thrice – Major/Minor

This was my favourite rock album of the year. Over the years, the dudes in Thrice have carved out a very unique and heavy pop-rock sound that’s light years beyond that dreadful “emo” category they were pigeonholed as a decade ago. Why popular rock radio largely ignores them is beyond me, but their longevity speaks to their true talent.

Bon Iver

I drank the Kool-aid.

Wilco – The Whole Love

Honestly, whenever Wilco puts out a new album, I could either take it or leave it. Some of it I dig, some of it I don’t. I definitely dug this one so I took it. It’s louder and more aggressive (for a band like Wilco) than past outputs I’ve heard. Rock on Wilco!

Tom Waits – Bad as Me

Another confession: I’m not really that familiar with Tom Waits’ music. I know his hit songs, and someone left his Real Gone CD at my apartment in Toronto many years ago (if it’s yours, sorry, I think I traded it for a Billy Talent CD), but other than that I’m pretty green. My good friend Chunk sent me this one out of the blue as a gift and it’s been the nicest musical surprise of 2011 for me.

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

I first listened to this album on a sunny spring afternoon drive through Algonquin Park. I fell in love with it right away. But then I listened to it again after a shitty Tuesday at work and didn’t really like it. Now I like it again.

Rock on in 2012!

Top Ten Shows of 2011

It was a good year for concerts. I’ve now been in Ottawa for a little more than a year, and I’m very impressed with the calibre of acts that come through here. And I’ve learned that if bands skip over the capital, they’re usually playing in Montreal, which is only a two hour drive away. As I do every year, I’m gonna list the shows I dug the most here. While this year can’t compare to the awesomeness that was Bonnaroo last year, Ottawa still has this two-week deal called Bluesfest, which I very much enjoyed this past summer. So here are the best concerts I saw in the year of our lord, 2011:

My Morning Jacket
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 13

Jim James is a genius, and I truly believe his talent is muffled by his studio outputs. A My Morning Jacket show is something to truly behold. Circuital is a great new album, but hearing the songs live made me love it even more. Also, remembering hearing them play the classics “Dancefloors” and “One Big Holiday” to close the show still makes me shiver.

Metropolis, Montreal
November 23

Their new album is probably the most polarizing amongst fans. Some love it, some hate it. I’m in the former camp. While I really enjoyed the live versions of the new tunes, I was still blown away by the intricacies of their past gems. Mastodon is the most exciting band in hard rock/light metal, and I was thrilled to hear them play my favourite tune of theirs – “Megalodon” – at Metropolis.

Queens of the Stone Age
Metropolis, Montreal
March 27

This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m pretty happy I was there. Josh Homme announced prior to this tour they’d be playing their self-titled debut album the whole way through in each city. Ask any QOTSA fan and they’ll agree that’s their best album. Hearing it live from start to finish was a real treat, along with some deadly cuts like “Turning on the Screw” and “Song for the Dead” in the encore.

National Arts Centre, Ottawa
December 5

Metals is probably my favourite album of the year, but prior to this show I really wondered how she’d pull off the huge sound on that album live. I was even more skeptical when I saw only four backing musicians and three backup singers take the stage with her, but they quickly proved me wrong. They rearranged the songs on the album nicely to fit a stripped-down band, all the while filling a huge concert hall with epic sound.

Joel Plaskett Emergency
Stockey Centre, Parry Sound
March 19

I had never seen a concert in my quasi-hometown of Parry Sound until this one. I loved his Threes album and it was great to hear a lot of those tunes in the Stockey Centre, along with some of his other hits. He was a bona fide gentleman and seemed to appreciate the love a small central Ontario town gave him.

KEN Mode
Cafe Deckuf, Ottawa
August 5

Straight outta Winnipeg, they’re one of the most unique and innovative modern metal bands out there. While only a three-piece, they wrestle out some of the most monumental heavy music and launch it into the ether. Seeing them live, it’s hard to believe those songs come from just a guitar, a bass, drums, and a couple voices.

The Roots
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 6

I very much prefer these guys far away from Jimmy Fallon.

Pearl Jam
Bell Centre, Montreal
September 7

Nostalgia bubbled to the surface in many ways in 2011, and this was one of them. I hadn’t seen them since the last Canadian tour in 2005, so it was a treat to catch them in both Montreal and Ottawa. Ottawa had a better set list (including the elusive “Breath”) but thanks to my good buddy Bob we were up close in Montreal. Old dudes rocking out!

A Perfect Circle
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 10

I seem to see Maynard in some form almost every year. I don’t mind making him richer as long as he puts on shows like this one. Best APC show I’ve seen.

Ottawa Bluesfest
July 5

The first time I ever saw Soundgarden was in 1994 at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario on the Superunknown tour. Nine Inch Nails opened and obviously blew them out of the water. We left after “Spoonman”. I saw them a couple years later at Lollapalooza in the same venue. Chris Cornell’s voice sounded even worse at that show and they were pretty much booed off the stage. All these years later I finally saw them again and they actually really impressed me.

So those were my favourite shows this year. What are yours?

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