I continue to contribute to the charitably-minded entertainment site Samaritanmag.
Here are some pieces I contributed awhile back:
I continue to contribute to the charitably-minded entertainment site Samaritanmag.
Here are some pieces I contributed awhile back:
Episode 22 of the Polaris Podcast was one of a four-part series dedicated to albums that received Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize designation — hall of fame, basically.
For this episode we talked about Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and then had an interview with Quebec legend Jean-Pierre Ferland about his album Jaune.
Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:
There’s a vacancy for the Queen of Sad Songs Throne™ now that Lykki Li is all sexy and Sharon Van Etten has become a late-period Depeche Mode tribute act and few people are better positioned to ascend to this royal role than Australian singer Julia Jacklin. Wrapped it an efficient alt-pop/country package, the 10 songs on Jacklin’s second album Crushing mine an inconsolability so deep even the act of listening to it could leave one fetal on the floor. Yet to simply call Jacklin a peddler of “sad” songs is a gross disservice. Her obsessing and catastrophizing over heartbreaks and the minutiae of relationships gone awry is filled with observations so pointed and so gut-wrenching they reveal Jacklin as a master observer of the human condition. It all starts with standout slow-burning “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You,” which circles around and around as Jacklin comes to terms with a love that has reached its end. Jacklin goes deeper from there. “Pressure To Party” may end up being an introvert call to arms with its tale of locking oneself in their room and a promise to “try to to love again soon.” Its companion piece “When The Family Flies In,” meanwhile, captures the rock-bottom of emotional hurt, cinematically evoking listless, shuffling parents hovering around bachelor apartments without a clue what to do. Crushing isn’t just relentlessly self-involved either. Jacklin also points her lens outward to great effect on songs like the character-assessing “Good Guy,” and “Comfort,” the album closer that hopefully makes peace with everything. Taken as a whole, Crushing hurts. It’s heavy, painful and raw stuff of the heart. Mostly though it’ll make you wish only that Jacklin will learn to love again soon.
Watch “Pressure To Party”
In the endless war against “rock is dead” trendpieces it’s important to secure one’s ammunition wherever one can. Abjects new album Never Give Up is a beautifully nasty weapon to use for the cause. Build around a cutting garage rock base, this international trio — singer/guitarist Noemi from Spain, bassist Yuki from Japan and drummer Alice from Italy — throw down a musical viciousness that’d make the “The” revival bands of the early 00s wilt in fear. Signature song “Fuck Brexit” is as unsubtle in its politics as it is ruthless as a bass-rumbling jam. “The Secret” and “The Storm,” additionally, are the sort of stompers that Little Steven plays on his radio show to ward off death for yet another week. There are some deft stylistic diversions as well. The title track made this reviewer doublecheck to make sure Abjects wasn’t a pumped up version of Lush recording under a different name, “Surf” is an aptly-names San Fran car chase soundtrack waiting to happen, and the dreamscape of “A Long Way To Go” shows there’s a more studied other side to Abjects should they ever want to explore it. In the meantime, we’ll be in the streets hurling bottles for the cause with Never Give Up playing through our headphones.
Watch the “Never Give Up” video
It’s early yet in 2019 but the arrival of Rustin Man’s Drift Code could very well carry the year as the surprise you didn’t know you needed, but you’re sure glad it’s here. Rustin Man is the long-dormant nom de plume for former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb. Last seen in 2002 co-authoring Beth Gibbons from Portishead’s Out Of Season album, Webb’s 17 years since then have been spent crafting the wobbly magic of Drift Code. Drift Code manages to nudge up to the edges of numerous rock-pop worlds while maintaining something uniquely all its own. Webb’s vocal delivery is uncannily Bowie… if Bowie had semi-retired to a wilderness preserve after 1976. The music, meticulously pieced together by Webb himself in a converted studio barn, hints of Pink Floyd or Moody Blues stripped of their high drama for something more gently psilocybic. Leadoff track “Vanishing Heart” sets the tone admirably as an anachronistic mediation on mockingbirds and a certain sort of summertime sadness. It’s “Our Tomorrows,” however, which may be the high mark for Drift Code. Punctuated by purposeful horns and threaded with a certain existential angst, it represents all of Drift Code‘s most transportive qualities. More than anything else, these songs take you places and this is Drift Code‘s best asset. Where those place may be is up to the individual listener, but it’s a journey worth pursuing.
Watch Rustin Man’s “Vanishing Heart”
Dig!, the scene-defining documentary that captures the rise and fall and rise and fall of West Coast psych rockers Brian Jonestown Massacre and their frenemies The Dandy Warhols is now officially 15 years old. Perhaps the best gift that film gave us — besides firsthand insight into the madness and smarm that would eventually cause the two bands to plateau — is a whole generation of paisley-shirted crate diggers who figure a trip with both The Byrds and The Creation as well as Cast and The La’s is exactly the kind of magic carpet ride they want to be on.
Portland, Oregon’s Shadowgraphs certainly do their part to let the sound take us away on latest album Another Time. This kaleidoscopic 11-song collection isn’t so much for individual spots, though the particular melancholy “Sun Is Rising” and “Before The Time” shimmer brightest. No, where Another Time is most successful is in capturing the ever-elusive thing known as “vibe.” There’s a sway and swirl here that’s just as effective if you’re dancing under a forest canopy or beneath a wave of laser lights. Or, in a perfect scenario, both.
Watch the “Another Time” video
This was the year that I came to the realization that I’m so far removed from whatever the culture-music zeitgeist is that I’m not even bothered about it.
I dove deep into numerous Best Of 2018 lists (Pitchfork, Guardian, NPR, Metacritic, etc) and what I found there left me mostly unmoved. A certain amount of this was from a weary I’ve-heard-this-all-before cynicism. It’s a music writer position I try to fight against constantly, but I’ve been around long enough, seen enough trends and have a deep enough collection and knowledge base that the ol’ “I liked this band better back when they were called [insert era appropriate punchline]” isn’t just a lazy criticism, it’s often also a real truth.
I won’t admit to being jaded just yet. After all, if your rap record sounds like something from 1998 and it reminds me of the best of 1998, I’m still here for it. It’s the lesser versions of a thing I can’t abide by. And it felt like I heard a lot of those this year.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of my music listening capital trying to witness the greats perform live in recent years, but my interest in anything less than the masters of their craft in any given genre/scene/trend is rapidly disappearing.
At this point I’m mostly chasing the unique, the unusual and the just-that-much-different than what’s normal. The good news is there’s still lots of that to go around and I still found tons of great new music to listen to this year.
Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2018:
10) Sol Invictus — Necropolis
I had a lot difficulties with this album and none of them were because of the music itself. Necropolis is a fascinating album, a collection of spoken word prog-folk story-songs exploring the dark, murderous corners of London and the Thames River. It’s a penny dreadful in musical form and a fascinating concept and listen. No, the problem is with band leader/sole official Sol Invictus member Tony Wakeford. Having known little about the band before this album, some cursory reading reveals that Wakeford has had past flirtations with the far-right fascists of the National Front in addition to some flirtations with far-left ideologies as well. I can’t tell if he’s a radical, a searcher, a confused hippie, or something in-between (officially he says he’s “unequivocally opposed to fascism, racism, anti-semitism and homophobia”), but that uncertainty about Wakeford himself casts an uncertain shadow on what is otherwise a genuinely intriguing album.
Watch “Old Father Thames”
9) Spain — Mandala Brush
The standard by which I judge all freak-folk-jazz is Tim Buckley’s Starsailor album. It’s insane and perfect because it’s insane. Spain’s Mandala Brush is kinda like what would happen if someone smuggled a copy of Starsailor into a Christian summer camp and all the kids listened to bootleg tape copies at night after their lessons on how dinosaurs are only 5,000 years old.
Watch “Maya In The Summer”
8) Phantastic Ferniture — Phantastic Ferniture
It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that Australian three-piece Phantastic Ferniture are on the same label as Alvvays (Polyvinyl). But where Alvvays are for bedroom headphoned introverts, Phantastic Ferniture rep an extroverted flipside. The band’s self-titled record is a bit of a grower but “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin” is a straight anthem and “Uncomfortable Teenager” and “Dark Corner Dance Floor” tap into some pretty universal feelings.
Watch “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin”
7) Vince Staples — FM!
Vince Staples is my favourite rapper under the age of 40. That might be a backhanded compliment, or a self-own maybe, but it’s not meant to be. He’s consistently intriguing, he’s always going for it production-wise and most of all he seems to be actually trying to “art.” Yes, the idea of an album as a faux radio station is a little bit corny, but there’s a lot to like here, including “FUN!,” “Feels Like Summer” and “Don’t Get Chipped.”
6) The Myrrors — Borderlands
So, this year I found out this thing I’ve been listening to for years, nay, decades, actually has its own genre — “psych drone.” Arizona’s The Myrrors would qualify as charter members in this genus. Propelled by heat shimmers, Borderlands pokes at the imagination and takes you to places more conventional desert rockers aren’t brave enough to go.
Watch “The Blood That Runs the Border”
5) Marie Davidson — Working Class Woman
Remember how I was saying that if you’re gonna sound like the past you better be amazing at it? Well, Marie Davidson is that. Her acid house/techno/electro/whateverthekidshaverebrandeditthesedays takes me back to having to call hotlines on flyers on Saturday nights so I could figure out where the shuttle bus was going to pick us up and take us to some dank rave in some dank warehouse/studio space. Now that I think about it, that was a pretty sketchy time.
Watch “Work It”
4) Young Galaxy — Down Time
If Young Galaxy have indeed packed it in for the foreseeable future, they’ve gone out on their shield. Down Time is a defiant, beautiful electronic record that takes the band to places one could have never predicted during their early-2000s Montreal indie scene rise. There’s a not-particularly-subtle undercurrent of fuck you to Down Time, complete with allusions to the sinister machinations of the music industry and the band’s new status as a fully independent recording act. Yet Down Time never gets bogged down in boring biz-related bitterness, instead offering up a shimmering we’re-above-it-all best heard on the entrancing “River” and flag-planting “Frontier.”
3) Avulsions — Expanding Program
If you had told me at the start of the year that some Cure tribute band from Saskatoon was turning Blade Runner fan fiction into songs — and that they would be ice cold amazing — I would have eaten a bullet from Deckard’s blaster. And yet here we are.
Watch “The End”
2) Woolworm — Deserve To Die
There’s only a very narrow sliver of ’90s-style “alternative” rock that I truly care about. If I were to fence it in it’d include the shoegaze of Catherine Wheel, Sonic Youth’s mid-period “sellout” DGC albums, PJ Harvey catsuit rock and all the Jesus & Mary Chain records they made once everyone stopped caring. I have no idea if members of Vancouver’s Woolworm give a shit about any of these acts, but listening to Deserve To Die fits in a very complimentary way next to them. There are strong doses of self-loathing and an eerie preoccupation with death and loneliness about Deserve To Die that feels particularly on the nose if we’re playing the time travel game. I listened to this record more than any other this year. Which may say a bit too much, but its noise and grind felt cathartic.
Watch “Deserve To Die”
1) Idles — Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
It’s been a long time since I felt a new band as deeply as I have since discovering Idles. Joy As An Act Of Resistance. is like a blinding, violent beam of angry light setting the darkness aflame with its personal politics. This Bristol band’s post-punk/rock/hardcore/whatever is like a musical shield for anyone who feels “other” in any way. Their ultimate act of resistance has been to make fight songs for the misfits of the world to scream along to.
Other album lists…
2017 Top Ten — Land Of Talk’s Life After Youth is #1
2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart’s SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1