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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 2014

The end of the year is a time to reflect and make lists. It’s no secret that I’m a big music fan and attend a lot of live shows. As I do most years (I forgot last year, for some reason, even though I saw some stellar performances), I’m going to post my favourites here.

Tanya Tagaq
National Arts Centre
Ottawa
November 7

Tagaq @ NAC November 7

Tagaq is one of the most important musicians in the world right now and she proved it with this transcendental 75-minute set. It was a non-stop, mostly improvised performance that riveted us all in that small, intimate room. I am still struggling to effectively put into words what I experienced that night.

Propagandhi
Ritual
Ottawa
August 13

Propagandhi @ Ritual August 13

It had been five years since I last saw these punk/thrash legends live, so I was long overdue to have my face melted. They’re tighter than ever and showcased their brilliance with an awesome career-spanning set. Hopefully it’s not another five years before I get to see them again.

Queens of the Stone Age
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 8

QOTSA @ Bluesfest July 8

Next to the day I got married, this was my favourite day of the summer. Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal at the World Cup, and soon after the whistle blew I got to see one of my all-time favourite bands live for the first time since they released their great …Like Clockwork album. I wish they could have played a little longer.

Jack White
Parc Jean Drapeau, Osheaga Festival
Montreal
August 2

Jack White @ Osheaga August 2

While I enjoyed hearing the new songs live (which are a big step up from the tunes on his first solo album, in my opinion) the best part about seeing Jack White will always be experiencing a set list that draws from the catalogues of his various bands, including The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and The Raconteurs. This performance showcased many of those classics, and as usual, the White Stripes songs were way better with a full band.

The Sword/Big Business
Foufounes
Montreal
February 26

Big Business @ Foufounes February 26

These are two of the most unique bands in rock/metal, so seeing them on a double bill was really killer. Both were touring on solid recent albums that were among my favourite releases of the previous year. Big Business is strangely melodic and rhythmically powerful; while The Sword is an electric guitar player’s dream band with a loud, crushing throwback riff-based sound.

The Great Sabatini
Pressed Cafe
Ottawa
January 11

The Great Sabatini @ Pressed January 11

This Montreal metal quartet is one of those bands that is impressive just to watch. Their riffs and beats pound together and against each other in a loud, burly display. Tapping your toe or bobbing your head along is nearly impossible.

A Tribe Called Red
Sault College
Sault Ste. Marie
May 3

ATCR @ Soo College May 3

I’m used to seeing ATCR either in clubs or on big stages at festivals, so it was a nice contrast to experience an all-ages show in a big community gym. Regardless, their music transcends venues in its ability to bring people together and make them dance.

Against Me!
Parc Jean Drapeau
Montreal
August 2

Against Me! @ Osheaga August 2

The last time I saw this band was at Bonnaroo 2010 when the frontman was known as Tom Gabel. Now, she’s Laura Jane Grace, and seeing her perform as herself was both intense and heartwarming.

George Leach
Westfest
Ottawa
June 13

George Leach @ Westfest June 13

Very few others out there slay the guitar like George can. I’ve seen him many times over the years, and his stage presence only gets bigger and bigger. Don’t miss him when he plays in your town.

Lady Gaga
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 5

Lady Gaga @ Bluesfest July 5

I loved her show. So what?

Top Ten Albums of 2012

If anything, the conclusion of the calendar year gives everyone on the internet all kinds of opportunities to narcissistically try to prove how obscure/refined their tastes in the arts are. Well, I’m getting old and I don’t fancy myself cool or distinguished, so I don’t have anything to prove. But I do love music and I enjoy talking about it, so as I do every year, I’ll list my favourite albums of 2012 here:

PropagandhiFailed States

The top spot always goes to the album I listened to the most. These musical activists have progressed well beyond their traditional punk roots over their last few albums, and Failed States is no exception. Incorporating elements of thrash metal and melodic vocal hooks and leads, it’s a compelling listen from start to finish.

Die AntwoordTen$ion

The songs are catchy and weird, and for me that’s the basic allure of these South Africans. But the whole package goes a lot deeper artistically. As I saw Kinnie Starr aptly state on Facebook, they creatively embody tension in everything they do. They’re the white faces of rap music from an African country. He’s trashy and she’s sexy. They rap over electronic dance music. And their unique songs complement a powerful visual element.

A Tribe Called Red

This is the soundtrack to the modern urban Aboriginal experience. By successfully marrying traditional powwow music with contemporary dance music, these Ottawa-based DJs have been on a meteoric rise in 2012. Their music is exciting, innovative, comfortable, and hopeful. And most importantly, it’s bringing people together to a degree never seen before.

High on FireDe Vermis Mysteriis

You can always count on High on Fire to deliver jaw-dropping heavy metal. The ferocious brutality is here as usual, but so is a slower, epic stoner metal groove found on some of guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike’s other work. If any band proves that any tempo can be heavy, it’s these guys.

Bison b.c. – Lovelessness

This modern metal masterpiece is made up of six massively epic songs that are raw, dark, and very emotional. This Vancouver four-piece is well known for its complex riffs and sprawling songs, but this album takes on a dominantly intense grim character that was only hinted at on previous albums. It’s a harsh, complex journey, but a fulfilling one both musically and emotionally.

Death GripsThe Money Store

Unfortunately the controversy surrounding this group (largely created by the members themselves) overshadowed the great music they released this year. The Money Store is their major-label debut, and it’s one of the coolest rap albums I’ve ever heard. It’s also very punk rock, and that explains the spirit of everything that happened after it came out.

TorcheHarmonicraft

Rock fans can rejoice that there are still bands committed to putting out heavy music with great melodies and lyrics. This is my favourite rock album of 2012. It’s fun, loud, and catchy.

The Melvins (Lite)Freak Puke

The musical concept of this album was to strip everything down while maintaining the usual heavy Melvins sound. Sonically, it’s quite the departure from their last few studio albums, but it works. They gave the Big Business guys on rhythm this album off (hence “Melvins Lite”), and brought in bass legend Trevor Dunn to play an upright. The end result is a collection of really cool sounding rock tunes.

Jack WhiteBlunderbuss

It’s basically The White Stripes with more instruments and advanced percussion, and therefore better.

The SwordApocryphon

I love this band, but I wasn’t sure this album would make my list because it really pales in comparison to the last one. Still, they basically stick to the formula, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a treat for the ears of any rock guitar player.

What were your favourite albums in 2012?

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