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Julia Jacklin’s ‘Crushing’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2019

Julia Jacklin Crushing

Julia Jacklin Crushing

Doing an annual top albums list for as long as I have one starts to see the true value in the exercise. It’s not the ranking, codifying or picking the “best” things so much as it’s about stitching together a tapestry of one’s year and seeing the patterns that emerged.

Much like in 2018, a lot of my personal music listening energy was devoted to my Before They Die list — a meticulously curated list of musical acts I need to see before, well, y’know — and I ended up catching 12 on-the-list and 17 list-adjacent acts on top of whatever other concert-going I did.

That meant a little less energy spent on discovery. It also meant if one pattern emerged it was that there was lots of leaning on the past. I don’t mean that in the Rolling Stone Magazine-will-always-give-Dylan/Springsteen/Stones-perfect-reviews leaning on the past kinda way. What it did mean, though, was there were a lot of albums that could be argued represent new forms of things I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Read below to see the patterns that emerged.

Bubbling under for 2019: Abjects, Geoff Berner, Sondra Sun-Odeon, Mimico, Jacques Greene, King Gizzard, De la Noche, PUP, Wargirl. (Also, Thus Owls’ The Mountain That We Live Upon probably would have been my #3 but it came out in Sept. 2018 and that was just too 2018.)

10) Mercury Rev — Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

The best part of an album isn’t always the album itself, so much as the sense of discovery around the album. Mercury Rev redoing Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete with a cast of guest vocalists not only serves as a wonderful intro to Gentry, but also makes a wonderful entry point for contributors like Margo Price, Carice van Houten (Melisandre from Game of Thrones can sing?) and Phoebe Bridgers.

Hear “Sermon” ft Margo Price

9) Angel Olsen — All Mirrors

Sometimes when I play Fantasy A&R Man the best idea I can come up with is “a new Connie Francis… but goth.” There are points on Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors where she comes this close.

Watch “All Mirrors”

8) Murray Lightburn — Hear Me Out

I’m a firm Dears loyalist and might consider them my favourite Canadian band. However, my acceptance of their transition from an early days chaotic bombast machine to something with more dignity and refinement has been hard won. So it was a touch surprising that Lightburn lead singer Murray Lightburn’s bombast-free second solo album would strike so deep. What Lightburn gives us — “I Give Up” is a soul ballad from another time, “I’m Not Broken” has knowing gospel touches — paints with just enough different colours to enthrall.

Watch “Changed My Ways”

7) Rustin Man — Drift Code

This record is quite literally the output of a wobbly old weirdo who spent two decades building a science project in his back shed. Read my full review here.

Watch “Judgement Train”

6) Tallies — Tallies

It’s been a slow and not absolute process, but I’m on my way to divesting from Morrissey because of his terrible politics and worldview and middling late-period music. Having an act like Tallies and songs like the jangle gem “Midnight” help soften this transition.

Watch “Midnight”

5) Deadbeat Beat — How Far

If you like Sloan’s Jay songs you’ll love Deadbeat Beat’s How Far. I’m particularly partial to “Dim Bulbs.”

Watch “You Lift Me Up”

4) Michael Kiwanuka — Kiwanuka

This new Kiwanuka album is exquisite — a majestic, soaring, hands-held-high sermon from Mt. Soul. The brilliance of the individual bits of this record are only half the story, though. The other half comes from basking in the glow of the brilliant craftsmanship. Kiwanuka is a master of his domain and to be able to witness such excellence is its own type of reward.

Watch “You Ain’t The Problem”

3) Moonface — This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet

Technically, this was a late 2018 release, but I didn’t really tweak to it until well into 2019. And yes, I realize that it’s near hypocritical to endorse Moonface while disqualifying Thus Owls, but it’s my list and my rules, so suck it.

This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet is a fascinator. It’s two separate projects — half a delayed keyboard treatment audio experiment, and half songs sung from the perspective of the Minotaur of Greek mythology — woven together to create something otherworldly and unique. The Minotaur songs strike particularly deeply. For a giant, blood-thirsty, bull-headed beast, the Minotaur’s journey forgiving all those who’ve hurt it is one of the most genuine, better and human set of stories I’ve heard put to song.

Watch “Minotaur Forgiving Knossos”

2) Hawksley Workman — Median Age Wasteland

In the year 2019 I was not expecting to a) rate a Hawksley Workman album so highly, and b) to feel it so deeply. And yet here we are.

To be fair, I’ve always been casually fond of Workman’s dandy woodsman idiosyncrasy, but with Median Age Wasteland he seems optimized. Having the above-mentioned Murray Lightburn on production probably helped. Certainly Workman’s vocals are both torqued up and focused in ways they may not have been in the past. Where Median Age Wasteland truly stands out, though, is in the storytelling. Whether it’s the mythologizing of a snowmobile (“Snowmobile”), the joyful BMX bike gang journeying (“Battlefords”), the tributes to forgotten figure skaters (“Oksana”) or even the outwardly ludicrous (“Stoners Never Dream”), Workman takes us to fantastical places with each and every song.

Watch “Italy”

1) Julia Jacklin — Crushing

At the 4:27 mark of Jacklin’s “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” she delivers a series of repeated “don’t. know. how. to. keep. loving. you” lines so charged, so gut-wrenching you can’t help but worry if Jacklin will ever find her way. The entire Crushing album is filled with these emotion-charged bombs as Jacklin explores unraveling relationships, personal agency, hurt and self-healing in an unflinchingly beautiful way.

Watch “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You”

Other album lists…

2018 Top Ten — Idles’ Joy As An Act Of Resistance. is #1
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

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Idles’ ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance.’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2018

Idles' 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance.'

Idles’ ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance.’

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.”

Watch “FUN!”

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.”

Watch “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.

Watch “Colossus”

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

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Land Of Talk’s ‘Life After Youth’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2017

Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Another year deep into pursuing my Before They Die concert list meant hunting down another batch of classic artists (Bettye Lavette, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Nazareth, Neil Diamond) as well as reunited acts I never thought I’d get to see live (Crash Vegas, Front 242, Midnight Oil, Northern Pikes, X).

While this was wonderful for my concert diary, it left me further adrift than ever from the contemporary music critic zeitgeist when it came to 2017 albums. I never heard the Jlin or SZA records, Vince Staples and LCD Soundsystem have done better in the past, The National, The xx and Father John Misty didn’t move me at all, and I’m starting to suspect everyone has been tricked by St. Vincent.

That said, as always, there remained a lot of good music to consume this year.

While rock music, or at least what a lot of mainstream music outlets consider “rock” music is increasingly terrible, the rich underground realm of rawk-to-hard rock remains ripping and vibrant, perhaps moreso because of its underdog status. I gave a lot of time this year to records from Mothership, Bloodclot, Danko Jones, Dead Quiet, Municipal Waste and Ruby The Hatchet. There are a lot of bands out there who still know how to rock. Don’t accept knock-offs.

I has some interesting bubbling under records this year, too. The duet covers record from Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White was pretty compelling and almost made my top ten until I realized I didn’t like any of the White-fronted songs. In somewhat similar circumstances, I realized I really only liked two or three songs from each of the Kendrick Lamar and Kacy & Clayton records, which kept them bubbling under.

In another thematic group, the Charlotte Gainsbourg was a surprising mood piece that had a hold on me for awhile. Her album sonically complimented a pair of dance records from Quebec by Le Couleur and Marie Davidson that absolutely would have made my 2017 list if they hadn’t been released in October 2016, making them just too far out of the ’17 window for me to feel comfortable including them.

While all these albums were great, the ones below I enjoyed even more.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2017:

10) Michael Nau — The Load

To put how I came to appreciate The Load in context one has to first understand how I consume new music. One of the ways is to put new albums on my phone to listen to when I walk to work each day. At one point this fall I had The Load in rotation along with a Pop Goes The ’70s box set full of hit songs from that era. When I punched through these songs on random I could almost not tell the difference between the Nau songs and the deeper cuts from the 70s box. That’s not to say The Load is some anachronistic retro project so much as it’s one that the best moments — “Diamond Anyway,” “Big Wind No Sail” — have a timeless quality that pushes them above something simply in the now.

Listen to “Big Wind, No Sail”

9) The Dears — Times Infinity Volume Two

Sometimes I over-correct for my loyalties. The Dears are probably the band I’ve seen perform most live, they probably officially qualify as “friends” (in 20+ years of doing this I only have about a dozen proper musician friends), and in general I consider them musically above reproach. The result of this often means I’m particularly tough on The Dears when it comes to exercises like year-end lists and such. After all, if they’re friends, that’s a strong bias against rational analysis. But fuck all that. Times Infinity Volume Two is a quality record. Sure it’s a little less turbulent and dramatic than those early Dears albums everyone loves, but “Guns Or Knives,” “All The Hail Marys” and “Taking It To The Grave” ably match anything the band has done in the past.

Listen to “Guns Or Knives”

8) Doom Side Of The Moon — Doom Side Of The Moon

The best part about Doom Side Of The Moon’s stoner rock reimagining of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon isn’t the actual recording (which is a fine, slightly beefed up, and very faithful series of covers), it’s the perspective it brought. I abandoned Dark Side Of The Moon long ago, a casualty of classic rock radio overplaying and relentless anniversary edition reissues making me reflexively turn elsewhere. What these things did was cause me to ignore the actual thematic and conceptual quality of Dark Side‘s songs. “Money,” “Time,” “Us And Them,” those are all deep, brilliant songs, and it took someone else doing them for me to truly realize this. Propelled in part by this record I ended up going on a bit of a Pink Floyd jag this year. I checked out the righteous Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and I spent a whole lot of time with The Early Years 1965-1972 box set. A lot of that journey can be attributed to a dude from The Sword and his buddies deciding they needed to record a heavier version of “Brain Damage.”

Watch “Time”

7) RF Shannon — Jaguar Palace

When I initially tweaked to Jaguar Palace it was because I thought it sounded like an early album from The Verve mixed in with some On The Beach-era Neil Young and maybe some Calexico. None of that has changed and it remains a wicked, dry desert heat of a trip.

Watch “Hotevilla”

6) The Black Angels — Death Song

The Black Angels are probably to 2017 what Jane’s Addiction were to 1990 what with the band’s festival/community building in the psych rock scene being comparable to the coming together of tribes Perry Farrell created in the alt era. That’s all noble stuff, but sometimes it means we take for granted the most important attribute of The Black Angels — the music. Death Song refines the band’s sound somewhat. There are a few less trance rock rumbles made for highway driving and less time travel indignations about the Vietnam War and Nixon and whatever, but the core of what makes The Black Angels great, the shimmering textures and dark menace of songs like “Estimate” and “Comanche Moon” remains.

Watch “Half Believing”

5) Run The Jewels — RTJ3

I know Run The Jewels appeal to me because of an age thing. Run The Jewels are old (like me). And they still rap (remember that?). With rhymes and lyrics and insightful observations and such. How they’ve managed to trick the kids into liking them in genre that, with a few exceptions, has been reduced to grunting, dumb catchphrases and Soundcloud beats that make no sense, is beyond me. But I’m there for ’em.

Watch “Legend Has It”

4) Tennis — Yours Conditionally

The last thing I expected from 2017 was to be thoroughly enamoured by Tennis’ Yours Conditionally. And yet, here we are. Yours Conditionally wonderfully navigates Fleetwood Mac-ian pop and girl group soul with a savvy and groove that’s hard to turn away from. Highlights: “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” “Modern Woman,” “Baby Don’t Believe.”

Watch “Modern Woman”

3) The Horrors — V

The Horrors continue their inscrutable ways on V. Are they goth? Electro? Brit pop? Psych? New wave? I don’t know. But what I do know is that whatever it is it’s mighty compelling. “Press Enter To Exit,” “Point Of No Reply” and the oddly buoyant “Something To Remember Me By” rise above the moodier moments on the rest of the album.

Watch “Something To Remember Me By”

2) King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard — Flying Microtonal Banana

2017 was the year my deep name-based bias against King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was broken and it was all because of Flying Microtonal Banana. Sure, the band released something like 18 other concept albums/sonic exercises this year, but it was this album that struck me the hardest. Feature track “Rattlesnake” has the best groove of any rock song this year, “Billabong Valley” is an exotic adventure, and “Open Water,” a rather dark jam about drowning, could be the perfect theme song for speed boat racing if nobody paid close attention to the lyrics.

Watch “Rattlesnake”

1) Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Life After Youth was the only album I kept on my phone for the entire year, a rare feat considering how quickly I churn through records when listening that way. One of the great joys I took from LOT leader Elizabeth Powell’s new album was in not knowing what the record was about. I didn’t read any interviews or liner notes or lyric sheets, but just dove in. I knew it was a bit of a comeback album, seven years on from her last record. And I knew that “life,” with all its chaotic speed bumps, was the reason why it took so long to become a reality. But beyond that it was a blank slate. What I found were layers of intrigue. In not knowing exactly what the songs were about, I was able to form my own narratives, contemplate my own plots behind these songs and the whole listening experience felt like a throwback to a simpler time.

Oddly, there’s no single song or couple of songs I can point to and go this makes the album. “Heartcore” is certainly compelling indie romance rock, “What Was I Thinking” has a universal life lesson quality, and iTunes says I listened to “This Time” 26 times. These could all represent highlight moments, but it’s really more about the whole. What Powell has created is a musical meditation on life which reveals something new each and every listen.

Watch “This Time”

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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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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