While last year a lot of my bubbling under listens were from the hardcore, thrash and heavy metal world, most of my not-quite-core records this year were, for jurisdictional reason, ineligible for Top 10 album consideration.
My local record store and a place I’ve patronized for years, Vortex Records, closed shop forever yesterday and in the last few months leading up to this dark day I’ve been stocking up on discounted classic rock CDs. We’re talking old AC/DC, Boston, Guns n’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne and the like. These were all records I owned on cassette back when I was a teenager but never chose to replace in the compact disc era when I had moved on to that “alternative” music. Revisiting these old records has been a blast — it’s easy to forget how rock ‘n’ roll early AC/DC were until you actually go back and listen to Powerage. Unfortunately, with Vortex gone it may be a while before I buy another record in a real store.
As for my Top 10 list, it was surprisingly, overwhelmingly Canadian this year. Well, I guess that’s not that surprising, though a number of international acts like JD McPherson, ASAP Rocky, My Morning Jacket, The Arcs and Vince Staples all made records I considered long and hard before deciding they didn’t quite make the cut.
Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2015:
10) Jazz Cartier Marauding In Paradise
Yes, 2015 was the year of Drake, but I’ll never really be moved by his upward grasping/world building. For me Marauding In Paradise was a far more intriguing “Toronto” statement. Jazz Cartier’s Toronto is just a little darker, a little heavier and a little deeper than Drake’s and it’s one that feels far more familiar to me.
Watch “Wake Me Up When It’s Over”
9) Peaches Rub
I used to get teased mercilessly in the Chart office for liking Peaches. The Ladies Of Chart™ would be all, like, “You only like her because she talks about tits and has photos of her crotch on her website…” And sure, I did like those things, but what I liked more was the actual music. It was bold, unique and completely without compromise. There are at least two songs on Rub — “Dick In The Air” and “Rub” — that are on the ultimate wild party playlist that’s rolling around in my head.
Watch “Dick In The Air”
8) Pusha T King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
To me the best rap acts of the last few years have been Pusha T, Run The Jewels and Ghostface Killah, all men of “a certain age.” It’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit. Do I like them because I’m old and they’re old, and therefore I intuitively understand them? Is this where rap starts to enter its Carlsberg years? Does liking them mean I’m out of touch? I’ll ask these questions but when I put on Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude the answers come pretty quick. I like these acts because they still rap, they still rhyme and they still sound righteous. There’s narrative, there’s purpose and there’s brilliant execution.
Watch “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”
7) Yacht I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler
Maybe it’s a barely sublimated longing for the return of LCD Soundsystem, or a secret yearning to commune with people who text message exclusively in emojis, but this Yacht record really hits some of my dance pop pleasure points.
Watch “I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler”
6) The Dears Times Infinity Volume One
I’m proper friends with approximately three bands. Everyone else either hates me, or I hate them. It’s one of the side effects of steadfastly refusing to be a musical jock sniffer despite its (obvious) career advantages. The Dears are one of the bands I would consider friends. This, of course, adds a layer of complexity to scrutinizing whatever new music they put out. Especially when the turbulent, emotional records they made 15 years ago mirror the turbulent, emotional rollercoaster I experienced in my own life 15 years ago and any music The Dears put out now has to compete against that slurry of sentiment. It’s good then, that there are songs like “Hell Hath Frozen In Your Eyes” to lead the way. That song is a long was from the screaming, tortured, bombastic Dears of yore, but it’s a Dears I can appreciate just as much.
Watch “Here’s To The Death Of All The Romance”
5) Michelle McAdorey Into Her Future
Crash Vegas’ 1990 album Red Earth was and is perfect. I consider it a foundational album, as important to Canadian music as, say, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It’s also set a bar that Crash Vegas and its lead singer Michelle McAdorey never quite matched with various spotty recordings in the 25 years since then. Into Her Future goes a long way to fixing that. Filled with gossamer, introspective country-psych, Into Her Future returns McAdorey to her rightful place among this country’s most beguiling voices.
Watch “Into Her Future”
4) The Souljazz Orchestra Resistance
Whether it’s The Clash, Public Enemy or Bob Dylan, I’ve always been partial to rebel music. These acts, noble and amazing all, are decidedly “western” sounding, though. It’s music from the cities and streets that I know and understand intimately. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started to see and understand that the same rebel spirit can be found in lots of other musics from around the world. Souljazz Orchestra may be nominally a Montreal band, but their dizzying amalgam of soul, jazz, funk, afrobeat and Latin is exactly the sort of world-spanning music that exemplifies this. That they’re fighting all the same fights I want to fight has opened up a thrilling new world.
Watch “Shock And Awe”
3) DRALMS Shook
Sad bedroom poets aren’t necessarily my jam, but Christopher Smith’s rebirth as the turbulent electro act DRALMS had a magnetic hold on me this year. In particular the song “Gang Of Pricks” has left me mesmerized. What it’s about, I have no idea. It could be diary notes about particularly violent video game, it could be sketches for a dystopian young adult novel, or it could be an extended metaphor for life that I haven’t pieced together yet. Whatever it it, I’m going to keep listening until I figure it out.
Watch “Pillars & Pyre”
2) Etiquette Reminisce
Part of what appealed to me about Reminisce, the dream electro project from Julie Fader and Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh, was the nostalgia. There’s a stolen New Order bass sound on “Brown & Blue,” a thumpy Death In Vegas thing to “Twinkling Stars,” and a dramatic Everything But The Girl vibe to “Promises.” It all feels like a captured moment in time from the mid-90s: The scene’s some nameless waterfront warehouse space. The headliner’s long done spinning, the chill out room has been shut down, and all there is left is that exhausted-but-a-little-bit-euphoric walk back to the car and the drive home with the sun coming up.
Watch “Attention Seeker”
1) SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart
To call Montreal rockers SUUNS collab with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (stage name Jerusalem In My Heart) my “top” album or my “#1” is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, technically it fills the first spot on my year-end listicle, but its place in my universe is far more… metaphysical. Sonically, the album’s combination of propulsive psych rock, traditional Arabic rhythms, fractured electronics and ghostly vocals courtesy of Moumneh sounds like virtually nothing I’ve ever heard before. That “filling a spot,” the uniqueness, has a certain undeniable value to a music fan like myself. But I encounter unique sounds every day so that’s not enough to propel a record to the top for me. What does, though, is the particular imagination-flaring effect listening to SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart has. Songs like “2amoutu I7tirakan” and “Seif” send my mind on wild journeys. In some spots I’m dizzily twirling around the same coliseum Pink Floyd used to film Live At Pompeii, in others I’m hurdling through the time warping “star gate” from 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s when I’m not tripping balls on an Arrakis sand dune having just taken the water of life. These are sensations that only one album was able to give me this year.
Watch “Gazelles In Flight”
Other album lists…
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart 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