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Top Ten Albums of 2015

As I do every year, I’m posting my favourite albums from the past 12 months. What music did you enjoy in 2015?

Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly

Epic in almost every sense of the word, this compelling tour de force from one of the most important musicians of our time will be a critical cultural and artistic reference point for generations to come. Through his rap, soul, funk, and above all, the spirit of his words, Kendrick Lamar has made me believe once again in the revolutionary power of music.

Sleater-KinneyNo Cities to Love

Musical reunions are a dime a dozen these days, and so rarely does actual new music accompany those nostalgic tours. After a hiatus of nearly a decade, this powerful rock trio returned in 2015 and surprised everyone with a record that I believe is their best ever.

High on FireLuminiferous

Every High on Fire album is deadly. Some are deadlier than others. This is their deadliest since Blessed Black Wings, in my opinion. If you like speed, heavy bass, and blazin’ solos in your heavy metal, this album is for you.

METZII

The second album from this Toronto/Ottawa three-piece is fierce, dirty, and loud, just like the first. They wear their punk/hardcore influences proudly on their sleeves to create a fervent sound. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the formula, if it works and it slays.

KEN modeSuccess

When the guy who produced In Utero gets behind the boards for the new album from one of the most unique metal bands in the world, that’s a surefire recipe for success! I’ll see myself out.

Faith No MoreSol Invictus

When I heard one of my favourite bands from my youth was putting out an album of new material after years of reunion tours, I set pretty low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to hear interesting, original songs that take steps in a few different directions, while staying true to the band’s roots in rock and weirdness.

TorcheRestarter

Torche is the band for metal fans who like loud, crushing guitars paired with catchy, melodic vocals. The riffs are huge on this one, as usual, but there’s a harder edge to the tunes that’s a slight departure from the soaring harmonies that highlight their previous albums. As such, an already heavy band sounds even heavier.

Buffy Sainte-MariePower in the Blood

Speaking of revolution, she’s been leading it for five decades. Our hero came through this year and delivered a masterpiece that’s incredibly timely and vital. It transcends genre and culture, and managed to unify a collective of notorious critics who granted it the Polaris.

SlayerRepentless

I choose to believe that Jeff Hanneman had more to do with this than he gets credit for. RIP.

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface KillahSour Soul

The foundation of music here is pretty good, but it’s really Ghostface and his guests that make this record exceptional. He could rap over the ambient sound of a construction site and yield something enjoyable.

Honourable Mentions:
Cris DerksenOrchestral Powwow
The Dead WeatherDodge and Burn
BaronessPurple
Eagles of Death MetalZipper Down
My Morning JacketThe Waterfall

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?

Less is More: The Power of the Rock/Metal Three-Piece

I was hanging out with a couple of musician friends last night, and after talking about our RRSPs and Ottawa’s best hot yoga studios, the discussion eventually turned to music. One of them is in the process of putting a new band together with himself on guitar/vocals, a bassist, and a drummer. So we started talking about the virtues of the three-piece band in hard rock and heavy metal. Some of the biggest and best tunes in the history of heavy music came from the smallest bands. There’s something to be said about creating loud, intricate, and monumental music from the barest of bones: one guitar, one bass, a drum kit, and voices. So I got to thinking about my favourite three-pieces and decided to list some of them here:

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Hendrix is, of course, the greatest guitar player who ever lived, but he needed a larger-than-life rhythm section to complement his tremendous riffs and solos. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding (and later Billy Cox) matched that revolutionary guitar work with powerfully epic beats and bass lines.

Cream
Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce added a harder edge to the psychedelic rock sound of the late 1960s and inspired generations of musicians to pick up guitars, basses and drumsticks. Cream made some of the funnest riffs to play.

Motörhead
One of the most influential pioneering heavy metal bands was also one of the most stripped-down. While the genre itself has evolved into diverse musical styles, Motörhead is the essence of that original loud, raw, fast, and unrelenting spirit.

The Police
They’re by no means a “heavy” band (they’re actually barely “rock”), but I was fortunate enough to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing them live about six years ago in Toronto, and was mostly blown away by the fact that it was just the three of them (along with the obligatory backup singers) on stage for the whole show.

Nirvana
Although I’m a little tired of hearing some of their hit songs overplayed on the radio to this day, it would be a disservice to leave Nirvana off of this list.

Primus
Les Claypool is the Hendrix of the bass, and Primus is one of the most unique three-pieces in rock history because they made a traditionally rhythmic instrument the cornerstone of the band’s sound. That also made them one of the heaviest bands of their era.

Dinosaur Jr.
The second-loudest concert I ever saw was a Dinosaur Jr. concert at the Garrick Theatre in Winnipeg.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The loudest concert I ever saw was a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion concert at the Kool Haus in Toronto.

KEN Mode
I rave enough about these guys, but I think they’re the most exciting heavy band in Canada and I’m really stoked to hear their new album coming out soon. This three-piece from Winnipeg creates some of the loudest and most interesting sounds out there.

I know I left off a few (hold your fire Rush fans), but that’s where you come in. What are some of your favourite three-piece rock/metal bands?

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