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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!

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!

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