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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?

Top Ten Albums of 2010

As I do every year, I’m gonna list some albums here that kept my ears occupied more than others in 2010. It was a little harder this year coming up with ten, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year for music. As always, I’m looking for more great stuff to listen to, so please feel free to leave your own picks!

In high rotation on my iPod this year were:

The MelvinsThe Bride Screamed Murder

It seems a little weird putting one of the most peculiar yet uniquely charming metal bands of the past three decades in the top spot, but there’s no album I listened to more this year, and that’s always my primary criterion. This is their most accessible and best album in years, thanks again to the contribution of the Big Business dudes on rhythm and in harmony. Epic riffs, beautiful and haunting vocal melodies, and a sick dual drum assault.

The SwordWarp Riders

Every year there’s a “guitar album” I make sure to include, and this is it. The Sword have followed through again with another showcase of towering and intricate riff-rock. The smokin’ chops and blazing solos of Warp Riders are a delight for any guitar player. It makes me want to plug in and make myself even deafer.

Damian Marley & NasDistant Relatives

Anyone familiar with both of these artists should know what to expect from a collaboration. But this album is so much more than just fusion of rap and reggae. Each allows the other to flourish in the right spots on the right tracks, and when they come together it’s nothing short of stunning. Both are legends in their respective genres and they marry their talents beautifully on this album.

Blitzen TrapperDestroyer of the Void

On first listen this sounds like ’60s Dylan, ’70s Bowie, the Band and the Grateful Dead all crammed together. I wasn’t a fan of catchall classic rock homage bands before, but there’s a lot to be said for paying tribute to the legends all at once through your own original music. Many of their songs tell epic stories both lyrically and musically. Whenever I put this album on, I almost always find myself listening to it the whole way through.

BaronessThe Blue Record

This is probably “guitar album #2” on my list, but with a little more sauce. Baroness is the most under-appreciated band in modern metal, and it’s really a shame. Building off their last Red Album, this one carves out a deeper sound with more complicated guitar melodies and vocal ranges. Their songs are both sweet and brutal, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a band nowadays that can pull that off effectively.

The Dead WeatherSea of Cowards

Usually I’m all for anything Jack White puts his name on, but I was pretty disappointed with this band’s first album. But when he’s just the drummer in what sounds like a standard bar band, I guess expectations should be lowered slightly. On this one, he steps up a bit more with his voice and his guitar and it adds more value to the rock on this record. Not to take away at all from Alison Mosshart – she’s an amazing singer with a huge live presence. She saved my life at Bonnaroo.

High on FireSnakes for the Divine

Matt Pike. That’s all you need to know.

Blakroc

Everyone and their grandma loved the Black KeysBrothers album this year. It was pretty alright, but I thought this was their better recent effort. They basically made a hip hop album with the RZA and a whole bunch of other dudes (including a resurrected Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and it kicks ass. It’s only natural that a stripped-down band that specializes in rhythm and blues makes a foundation for some pretty enjoyable rap music.

Wab KinewMide Sun Music

While not his official follow-up to Live by the Drum, it’s a stellar mixtape featuring some of his greatest musician friends from Winnipeg and beyond. Wab embodies what it is to be a young, educated, and dedicated Anishinaabe in today’s Canada. The tracks on this collection are honest, heartfelt, powerful, and funny. I’m stoked for Die by the Drum in 2011.

Joanna NewsomHave One on Me

When I first heard she was putting out a triple album as a follow-up to the impeccable Ys, it made me a little uneasy. Her music is a little hard to digest at first, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure enough, I could only listen to one song at a time initially, but once I got through them all I remembered why she is a musical genius with the ability to shake you to the core.

Honorable Mentions:

Chic GamineCity City

Some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard in my live. Check it out for yourself.

BiipiigwanGod’s Hooks

They get to open up for big names in metal whenever they’re in town. They must be doing something right.

Rock on in 2011!

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