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Daniel Romano’s ‘Mosey’ Is Aaron’s Top Album For 2016

Daniel Romano's Mosey

Daniel Romano’s Mosey

For a certain demo of music fans (mine) 2016 was a year defined by a number of the all-time greats dying — David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Glenn Frey, etc — which provided strong motivation to make sure I saw concerts from a number of elder musical statespeople like John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Robert Plant, Arthur Brown, Pagliaro and Bruce Springsteen.

It might be a by-product of pursuing this Before They Die list, but I definitely felt out of step with the music critic hegemony this year when it came to what the best records were. The kids these days all like the pop music and as much as I respect a more politicized Beyonce, this immaculately manufactured and marketed mega-pop world holds little sonic intrigue to me.

There were a number of bubbling under acts who did make music I found intriguing, though. Monomyth, American Lips, Elephant Stone, Fresh Snow, Doomsquad, LAL, EONS and U.S. Girls were just some of the Canucks who made fabulous albums. International acts James Hunter Six, The Avalanches, The Last Shadow Puppets and, surprisingly, The Rolling Stones, all made music of intrigue as well. There were also a couple wildly different compilations that really captured me, the Polyvinyl Plays Polyvinyl label tribute and Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959, an utterly fascinating curated collection of Moroccan street musicians recorded in 1959, were both exciting listens.

That said, there were other records that moved me more than these. Which I will explain further below.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2016:

10) Jim James — Eternally Even

On My Morning Jacket lead singer Jim James’ second solo album he goes all psych soul with a number of keyboard-y space outs that sound mighty good when you listen to them on headphones.

Watch “Here In Spirit”

9) Duotang — New Occupation

This album was quite a creeper hit for me. There’s a not-so-subtle theme to this record that revolves around aging and having to give up your rock ‘n’ roll dreams because you never made it. I’m not unaware of how such a theme can work its way into the subconscious of a modestly employed freelance writer of a certain age. The thing is, in making a record about having to give up and get a real job because the dream is dead, they’ve actually shown that the dream isn’t dead. Because they’re still making music. That’s a good lesson to take into 2017.

Watch “Karma Needs To Come Around”

8) Preoccupations — Preoccupations

It hasn’t been lost on me that Preoccupations, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, haven’t exactly been appearing on a lot of year-end best-of lists. I’ve noticed in part because I like Preoccupations‘ heavy post-rock a tad more than I liked the last Viet Cong record. And I suspect Preoccupations are getting punished politically for their bumbling navigation of the controversy around their old band name. Empirically, though, this is a really good record and anyone whose sartorial philosophy is “only wears black t-shirts” will find much to appreciate here.

Watch “Memory”

7) Vince Staples — Prima Donna

Chance The Rapper is wack. The best rap record this year was this half-record by Vince Staples.

Watch “Prima Donna”

6) Michael Kiwanuka — Love & Hate

I’ve got this thing about retro sounds and revivalists: basically, if you’re a half-decent imitator of a musical form I like, I’ll probably like your act. For example, if you’re a competent Black Sabbath surrogate or a Jesus And Mary Chain knock-off I’m all-in. But just because I’m all-in that doesn’t mean I think you’re actually good. It just means you’re a good copycat.

What I need from revivalists is something more. Michael Kiwanuka’s old school soul record Love & Hate is full of “more.” It’s a big symphonic throwback to the grandest moments of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield, but the focus and concerns in songs like “Black Man In A White World” and its title track are entirely now.

Watch “Love & Hate”

5) Charlotte Day Wilson — CDW

Charlotte Day Wilson was another one of my deep headphone trips this year. In her case it was all about her smoldering voice. It’s a truly wondrous instrument and her song “Work” is the perfect venue for it.

Watch “Work”

4) Drive-By Truckers — American Band

Before American Band I didn’t really understand the hype about Drive-By Truckers. My tolerance for roots rock is pretty low and even though I didn’t dislike DBT, they’d done very little that moved me. Then this album happened. A heavy narrative exploration of America’s ugliest features, American Band tackles topics like race and class with the same righteous zeal of a Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar or Tom Petty. That’s lofty company, but those are the people they match on this album.

Watch “Surrender Under Protest”

3) Casket Girls — The Night Machines

One of the most exciting, confounding, mysterious and wonderful albums I heard all year was Casket Girls’ The Night Machines. To the best I can figure they’re two sisters from Savannah, Georgia who play the sort of gloomy keyboard rock that Emily Strange would make if she bailed out of art college in her third year “because it’s all bullshit.” Whether it’s wistful (“Sixteen Forever”), surreal (“Mermaid College”) or bristling (“Tears Of A Clown”), The Night Machines makes for a deeply magical trip.

Watch “Tears Of A Clown”

2) Black Mountain — IV

Whenever I read one of those “rock is dead” thinkpieces one of the first things I always wonder about is “what rock music is this writer actually listening to?” Because if you’re judging “rock” based on, I dunno, the last Disturbed album, then sure, you probably have an argument. But if Disturbed are what you consider to be proper rock music in 2016, well, um, there’s some cognitive dissonance going on.

There was amazing rock music in 2016 and the best of it was Black Mountain’s IV album. When I first heard IV back in April I called it “a hurtling, mind-warping journey” that “investigates some of classic rock music’s most thrilling tropes, all with controls aimed straight towards the cosmos.” I stand by those words still. Let there be rock.

Watch “Mothers Of The Sun”

1) Daniel Romano — Mosey

In all my years of listening to and reviewing albums I’ve given out maybe a dozen perfect ratings for albums so beautiful, so unique and so unimpeachable that I know in my heart that in five, 10 or 20 years from now I’ll still feel the exact same way about them.

I don’t grade any reviews I write on Risky Fuel, but if I did Mosey would be one of those albums. Bob Dylan, Lee Hazlewood, Leonard Cohen… these are impossibly high benchmarks to match, and yet here we are. Daniel Romano’s Mosey was my favourite album of 2016.

Watch “Valerie Leon”

Other album lists…

2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
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

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SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart Is Aaron’s Top Album For 2015

SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart

SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart

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

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Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Are We There’ Is Aaron’s Top Album For 2014

Sharon Van Etten's Are We There

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There

Looking at my Top 10 for the year is revealing both for what’s on it and what isn’t. This year there were easily 20-30 “really good” records which bubbled under my eventual picks, including offerings from The Hidden Cameras, My Brightest Diamond, Ariel Pink, Prince Rupert’s Drops, Thus Owls, Budos Band and, rather shockingly, Robert Plant. This was also the year where I rediscovered my heavy music roots and spent a substantial amount of time with bangers from Lost Society, Judas Priest, Comet Control, Orchid, The Prophecy 23, Exodus, Accept, The Skull, Incite, and the improbable rap-metal of Rise Of The Northstar. That said, when it came down to it I didn’t feel that deeper connection with any of these albums.

In the realm of reissues and the like, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for The Velvet Underground thanks to those ultra-thorough deluxe reissues and took quite a trip by going through the complete Bob Dylan discography. Better, though, was my time with the 27-disc Fela Kuti complete works box set. That quite literally consumed about two month of my music-listening time.

Here is my official Top 10 album list for 2014:

10) Common Nobody’s Smiling

Not sure why it was that after 20 years and 10 albums this particular Common record stuck with me. Certainly Nobody’s Smiling‘s reflective, unflinchingly honest look-back quality had something to it. It also helped that “Out On Bond” and “Hustle Harder” are full of tough truth.

9) The Horrors Luminous

I frequently purge ‘n’ rebuild my iPhone’s music library throughout the year, often using it as a tool to listen to new records while I’m commuting. With that in mind, it wasn’t until I realized Luminous had survived numerous digital cullings that I became fully aware of how much I dug this collection of lysergic, broody synth rock.

8) Lykke Li I Never Learn

There’s a scene in an early Mad Men episode where Arthur Case says to January Jones’ Betty Draper character, “You’re profoundly sad.” She then responds, “No. My people are just Nordic.” I’m still trying to figure out whether Lykke Li is profoundly sad or just Nordic.

7) Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2

There’ve been at least a half-dozen instances where I second-guessed putting this album on the list as an inverse don’t-believe-the-hype reaction to all the praise it’s getting. Then I listen to it again and it’s BAM… like that song… BAM… dig that one, too… BAM… shit, that’s the best thing Zack De La Rocha’s ever done… and then I remember, “Yeah, this is pretty amazing.” Best of all, there’s actual rapping. Using words. And rhymes. And if we don’t support craftsmanship like this the world is just going to serve us up more Tyler, The Creator.

6) Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence

Ultraviolence may be prepackaged hipster lounge from a soulless coke zombie, but it’s also pretty much the platonic ideal of what prepackaged hipster lounge from a soulless coke zombie would sound like. When I listen to Ultraviolence I’m not sure if I should be sad for Lana Del Rey, if I should hate her, or if I’m supposed to be jealous of her. In fact, about the only thing I feel confident about when I listen to this album is the belief it’s secretly a concept album tribute to the movie version of Less Than Zero.

5) Paolo Nutini Caustic Love

Blue-eyed soul’s been taking a beating recently what with its Robin Thickes and Maroon 5s and the people who love them (and the need for them all to be set on fire). Thank Gaye, then, for Paolo Nutini’s Caustic Love. Things aren’t great when Nutini tries to funk below the belt (see “Numpty,” “Scream (Funk My Life Up)”), but the more earnest moments (“One Day,” “Better Man,” “Iron Sky,” “Let Me Down Easy”) are heart-sickeningly gorgeous.

4) Alvvays Alvvays

If you’re a human person and you don’t like at least three songs from this album there’s something wrong with you.

3) Guy Blakeslee Ophelia Slowly

Who knew that there were still musicians making records about heroin in 2014? But Guy Blakeslee, frontman for The Entrance Band, did just that with his Ophelia Slowly solo album. There’s less psychedelic sonic adventuring here than with Entrance and a greater focus on “songs,” the result of which is an incisive, uncomfortably bleak journey.

2) Lisa Leblanc Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted

Full of compulsively listenable stories from the struggle, I seriously contemplated making Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted the #1. Ultimately, what stopped me were the facts that it was an EP and I needed more, and the suspicion the instrumental title track exists mostly as padding.

1) Sharon Van Etten Are We There

I’m still not 100 per cent on this as my #1 pick and have no idea how I’ll feel about it in a few years. That said, the song “Your Love Is Killing Me” is perfect. As obvious as it sounds to most ears, the song’s a mystery to me, an inscrutable diary entry filled with an intense, poisoned passion my always-measured self can only ever look at through the lens of a curious outsider. Add songs like “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” and it’s clear Are We There ably speaks to the darkest parts of the soul.

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

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2010

The Black Angels' Phosphene Dream

The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2010:

10. Arcade Fire The Suburbs

This made the list at #10 because of a begrudging acknowledgement that, yes, technically it’s a very good album. I can’t, however, shake the notion that the subject matter (restless youth, suburban angst) is something that pop-punkers have been singing about for 25 years. Which makes it not nearly as brave and world-shattering a concept as many would suggest.

9. Band Of Horses Infinite Arms

I haven’t listened to this album since 2010 and I see no reason to do so now.

8. Gord Downie And The Country Miracles The Grand Bounce

I’ve always had a tremendous appreciation for Gord Downie’s solo records. After all, to eschew his easy cash register gig in The Tragically Hip to do something like record freak-out hash rock poetry with Dale Morningstar (Coke Machine Glow, 2001) is incredibly bold. The thing is, as Hip albums become increasingly infrequent, Downie’s complimentary solo records are regressing to the mean in terms of musical adventure. And while The Grand Bounce has its moments — “The Drowning Machine,” in particular, reveals Downie’s often hidden dark side — I can’t help but feel it’s the beginning of Downie’s solo output oscillating towards the bar blues he’s better known for.

7. Black Mountain Wilderness Heart

It’s vitally important that Black Mountain exist. After all, without them there’d be a generation of Broken Social Scene-weaned hipsters who’d never think to listen to their dad’s old Zeppelin, Sabbath and Deep Purple albums.

6. The Schomberg Fair Gospel

In truth, it’s the idea of The Schomberg Fair — a punk-powered, banjo-plucking, hallelujah-hollerin’ rock revival — that I appreciated more than the actual music they released. This #6 spot is probably more about hope than actual love for Gospel.

5. Sunfields Palace In The Sun

The subtle charms of this soft-ish rock album from sometimes-Dears member Jason Kent certainly won me over at the time. In the end though I mostly cared about a song called “Desert Son.” If I redid this list today the album would probably be lower.

4. The Black Keys Brothers

Over it.

3. Gorillaz Plastic Beach

It took me almost a decade to realize that Gorillaz — a joke band made up of cartoon characters — was just as good as (and perhaps even better than) Damon Albarn’s other band, Blur. Granted, it took an album with outsized cameos from Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack and Little Dragon to figure this out, but the fact I even got there is what really matters. “Stylo” is one of the best play-it-really-loud songs I’ve heard in ages and “Empire Ants,” my favourite from Plastic Beach, inflames the imagination.

2. The Besnard Lakes The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

The initial reason why I loved Are The Roaring Night was because my hockey team went on a huge winning streak when I’d listen to “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent” as a psyche up song before each game. Gifts like these from the Hockey Gods need to be supported, after all. More recently, though, I’ve been reading a lot of John le Carré books. And while this has given me a suspicious fear of the United States and the nagging sensation that everyone you look up to will invariably let you down, it’s also done a lot to romance the whole idea of Cold War spies and their “tradecraft.” So now when I listen to Are The Roaring Night I not only enjoy the music on it’s surface sonic level, but I can also dig deeper into the loose spy concept/narrative that’s going on in the record as I peruse German daily newspapers waiting for coded messages from Czech operatives.

 

1. The Black Angels Phosphene Dream

When I looked back at this list and saw the #1 my first instinct was, “Why?” So I listened to it again and reconfirmed that, yeah, this is one badass record. Now, my loyalty to the album isn’t so strong that I wouldn’t consider flipping it with the Besnard album if I redid this today, but “Entrance Song,” “Bad Vibrations” and “Phosphene Dream” all explore that darker, more dangerous side of psyche rock I find so exciting.

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

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2009

Gallows' Grey Britain

Gallows’ Grey Britain

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2009:

10. Bat For Lashes Two Suns

I pretty much only like the song “Daniel” from this album. And it’s not like an intense gut-deep like, either. It’s just a, “Yeah, that’s pretty good.” Really, I’m not sure how this made it onto the list.

9. Dan Auerbach Keep It Hid

The Black Keys hadn’t quite really become THE BLACK KEYS yet, so I didn’t really know the name “Dan Auerbach” and took this record in on first listen with little preconception. The result? I dug it. Funny, if this same record came out right now I probably wouldn’t be as open to diggin’ its blues rock. This is perhaps my own failing.

8. The Veils Sun Gangs

Only recently did I learn that former Suede pillar Bernard Butler produced part of this album. It makes sense. The Veils are a high drama band and the music on Sun Gangs is perfectly designed for those predisposed towards flinging themselves onto their day beds when they catch the vapors. “It Hits Deep” is pretty sublime.

7. Lhasa Lhasa

I burn with rage when I think of this album. Not because it’s bad — it’s truly, astoundingly, deeply beautiful — but because my peers on the Polaris Music Prize jury didn’t think enough of the album to vote it to the 2009 Short List. This, even with the shouldn’t-officially-matter-but-definitely-does narrative juice of Lhasa de Sela’s advanced cancer at the time.

6. The Flaming Lips Embryonic

This album was cool and all, but we’ve pretty much reached peak Wayne Coyne, right? A good decade-long time out for the Lips would probably be just about right for everyone.

5. D-Sisive Let The Children Die

There aren’t exactly a wealth of truly “classic” Canadian rap albums, but Let The Children Die might be one of them. If not full classic, then it’s at least a pioneering disc. Listen carefully to almost any hoser rap record released since then and when that inevitable heart-on-sleeve, song-about-the-struggle comes on you can fairly argue it exists as a direct lineal descendant of the songs on Let The Children Die.

4. K-Dot-O-Dot The Life And Times Of Lucha Lonely

Between this album and Let The Children Die I was convinced Canadian hip-hop was on the vanguard of some brilliant new mope-rap scene/sub-genre. It would be all about this inward-searching, deeply confessional personal insight and less about whatever worst case typecasting you’d want to assign to the worst bits of late-’00s urban music. I ended up being half right. There was a shift to this sort of intense, soul-bearing hip-hop… except it ended up manifesting itself in the much higher gloss form of Drake and all his subsequent shade-of-grey, marketshare-powered spinoffs (see The Weeknd). Apparently sad-sack raps from fat, drunk losers were not what the kids wanted to hear.

3. Alela Diane To Be Still

If we’re being dismissive, Alela Diane is just another in an endless line of School of Joni balladeers who are oh so common on the fringes of coffeehouse open mic nights. To do that, though, would be to miss out on a truly sublime voice. “The Ocean” in particular is a brilliant, melancholy exploration on what it means to sacrifice love for a dream.

2. Timber Timbre Timber Timbre

This was the other album I was super-furious about the Polaris jury not giving more love to. Sure they made up for it by short-listing the next Timber Timbre record, but that felt at least halfway a make-up call.

1. Gallows Grey Britain

It takes a lot for a heavy music record to affect me. I’ve got the requisite rage in my soul, but most of the time hard rock just doesn’t get it right. Not Grey Britain, though. This album speaks. And not just to me. It’s for the millennials left behind, the ones who aren’t cool enough to navigate Tumblr memes, whose parents can’t afford to let them go to school for seven years. It’s for those kids who get scheduled for 18 hours a week at work and when they ask for 40 hours they get laid off. It’s for the kids who’ve looked around, realized everything’s fucked and just want to set it all on fire.

The only reason I can think for Grey Britain not being as big as Nevermind is there’s too much truth for people to handle.

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

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2008

Portishead's Third

Portishead’s Third

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2008:

10. Sam Roberts Love At The End Of The World

I’ve long maintained that Sam Roberts doesn’t quite get the respect he deserves because of his adoption by the Kee To Bala set, but he does good work. Love At The End Of The World is a little bit more about “songs” than Chemical City‘s wicked cosmic jams, but “Them Kids” and “Detroit ’67” are where it’s at.

9. The Dears Missiles

This version of a radically reconstituted Dears painted with a far less bombastic brush than on previous albums, but there was still enough world-weariness to compliment the rest of their discography.

8. Lykke Li Youth Novels

Going to see Lykke Li live on this tour was an oddly awkward sociological experience. See, the audience for her show was a divided one. The front half, squished towards the stage and separated from the back by a very pronounced barrier was an all-ages crowd of teenage girls. On the opposite side of the barrier, in the licensed area, were me, a smattering of couples, and a bunch of solo old dudes. And, by virtue of my status as a no +1 reviewer, I too was a solo old dude. Which, by extension, meant I looked an old creeper leering after some Scandinavian pop star in a room full of teenage girls.

I wasn’t, though. Because I was — and am — much more interested in Lykke Li’s Bergman-ian worldview than what sort of hot pants she’s wearing. And songs like “The Trumpet In My Head” affect me in ways that have nothing to do with lurid intent.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

7. The Moondoggies Don’t Be A Stranger

The Moondoggies are a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t follow them, I don’t read about them and I don’t know much about them beyond the fact they’re from Washington and I think hippie types like them. This is probably for the best. Sometimes the more you know about a band, the less interesting they become.

6. David Vandervelde Waiting For The Sunrise

There’s an unofficial micro genre that exists these days where acts like Midlake and Fleet Foxes try capturing that Laurel Canyon sound from the late ’60s. Vandervelde’s Waiting For The Sunrise might be the best contemporary articulation of that vibe. When you listen to it you just want to throw on a poncho, grab some wine and hang out.

5. Graveyard Graveyard

Being a sucker for doom metal and pretty much everything that sounds like Black Sabbath meant I was already predisposed towards Sweden’s Graveyard. Thing is, Graveyard aren’t just rote Sabbath imitators. Their sinister blues rock feels like its own thing, and Joakim Nilsson’s vocals are more intense than most of what Ozzy’s ever committed to.

4. Cancer Bats Hail Destroyer

What I like about the Cancer Bats is that their improbable posi-hardcore never wavers into dork territory. Instead, it’s more about well-directed rage, which is something I can respect. Also, “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” rips.

3. D-Sisive The Book

This was D-Sisive’s back-from-the-dead album. Its intensely personal narrative, breadth of pop culture reference and sense of gravitas are things I now see getting bit hard by a legion of next gen graspers. I can see you, copycat bitches.

2. The Last Shadow Puppets The Age Of The Understatement

A grandiose, symphonic rock trip, The Age Of The Understatement felt like a series of lost Bond anthems come to life. I listened to this album endlessly when it came out and I haven’t really heard anything similar sounding since then.

1. Portishead Third

I’ve given out, max, a dozen 5/5 album reviews in all the years I’ve been writing about music and this is one of them. Intense, confounding, unique, sinister… Third is the articulation of some kind of sonic menace, a mad clanking machine that lumbers dangerously around your heels. It’s scary, dangerous and unquestioningly beautiful.

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

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2007

Joel Plaskett Emergency's Ashtray Rock

Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2007:

10. Magnolia Electric Co. The Black Ram

Picking just The Black Ram was a bit of a technical cheat as this record was part of the three-album, one-EP Sojourner box set Magnolia Electric Co. released that year. That said, of the four discs it’s definitely the one I listened to the most. In fact, the title track, “Will-O-The-Wisp” and “A Little At A Time” all rank in my Top 25 most played songs in iTunes. What this all probably means is that because I was pretty deep in my Magnolia fandom at the time, as a conscious act to not look like such a fanatic I ranked this album lower than I felt it deserved in my heart. In truth it’s probably a top five record.

9. Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare

If I’m to be completely honest, I still don’t feel I know this album all that well. I was mostly enamored with the song “505” and had approached the band with more open ears on this album because the hype train for the Monkeys had receded to the point it where wasn’t annoying anymore.

8. Two Hours Traffic Little Jabs

I listened to this record a lot for a month or two and it fits solidly in a Can-Rockpop lineage that includes Sloan, By Divine Right, Limblifter, Zuckerbaby and their ilk. Since then, though, Two Hours Traffic have become extremely irritating to me. This is because of the disproportionate amount of times iTunes tries to play their songs when I’m listening in “random” mode. I have thousands upon thousands of songs. I’ve got the full Neil Young and Bob Dylan discographies. And yet, with peculiar frequency iTunes tries to serve me up songs from this album. The only reason I can guess for this is that one of the band members had a computer engineer cousin who worked at Apple and was in the department that developed the iTunes random algorithm. It’s the only explanation and it’s definitely tempered my enjoyment.

7. Buck 65 Situation

Buck 65 seems to suffer from a bit of Rodney Dangerfield can’t-get-no-respect-ism and Situation is a pretty good example of this. A concept album focused roughly around the year 1957, the songs on Situation deftly traverse topics like crooked cops, Bogart and obscenity trials. The fact that the subject matter is so unlikely — not just for a rapper, but for any type of modern music maker — just makes Situation all the more intriguing.

6. Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971

This show may represent the most perfect version of “solo Neil.” It’s a historic document and a brilliant setlist. In cold scrutiny, though, it’s probably not a best of 2007 album. This ranking probably says more about how much I’m willing to jockey parameters because of my Neil love than anything else.

5. Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala

Night Falls Over Kortedala is an entirely fine album, but this #5 rank is almost entirely attributable to one song, “And I Remember Every Kiss.” A soaring orchestral ballad, the song captures all the fire, all the intensity, all the passion of that nervous, electric first kiss.

4. Cuff The Duke Sidelines Of The City

Someone recently told me Wayne Petti basically tries to copy The Inbreds’ Mike O’Neill when he’s singing. Fascinating, right? And it explains why I like Cuff The Duke. I don’t listen to this album anymore, though, and I don’t remember why I had it ranked so high.

3. Feist The Reminder

The sort of person who can remain unmoved by “My Moon My Man” is the sort of person I would look upon with great suspicion.

2. Amy Winehouse Back To Black

“Me & Mr. Jones” was really what hooked me on Back To Black. Here was this jazz singer going on about Slick Rick, plus ones and “fuckery” (which has since become a core swear word for me), all with an air of stumbling, drunken tragic romance. I was won over immediately.

A lot of the songs and albums and artists I love have something I’ll define as “turbulence of the soul.” The world, for them, is just a bit tougher, a bit more painful and a bit more difficult than it is for the normals. It was clear from the first listen of Back To Black that Winehouse was one of these people and it reflects beautifully/uncomfortably in these songs.

1. Joel Plaskett Emergency Ashtray Rock

A teenage love triangle that breaks up the band and breaks up a friendship. It seems like such a small narrative to build a concept album around, but Ashtray Rock, like a less morbid Quadrophenia, works perfectly. You feel there when the drunk teenagers party down at the Ashtray Rock and when you’ve got nothing more to say to these people… well, it’s like a grayscale closing scene capturing the back of the jean-jacketed protagonist walking down a slushy sidestreet. Alone.

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

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Filed under Music