Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shanies: Album of the Year

Time for the big one... so without further adieu, here's what I saw as the best of the year.

10. Mutoid Man / Bleeder
Their sophomore release is just under 30m of sheer insanity, as one should come to expect from this powerhouse trio. Given that this is a side project, my only hope is that they keep making records together, otherwise the world will have a very large gap of noise.

9. Leon Bridges / Coming Home
Following in the footsteps of guys like Michael Kiwnuka, Leon Bridges reminded us that soul music is alive and well. This album is a modern take on a throwback sound that gets executed so incredibly well from both a songwriting and performance perspective.

8. Baroness / Purple 
I've already sang this band's praises for painstakingly producing this album after a couple of years of struggle and lineup change post a major accident, however, we also need to remind ourselves that Purple is an incredible album - loud, deep, dark, and complex, just like we've come to expect from the Baroness sound.

7. Dan Mangan & Blacksmith / Club Meds
I've always been a huge fan of Mangan's fun, acoustic sound, however, this album took a very different, but hugely successful turn. Darker, more intricate layering, greater use of synths, and a harder sound may seem atypical for this acoustic boy from BC, but it fits so damned well.

6. All Them Witches / Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
Though not as heavy and intense as 2013's Lightning at the Door, this album was so perfectly crafted. It pulls together some very tight, soulful tracks that seem to creep along the edge of explosion, but contain themselves and such a warm energy inside a perfectly wrapped sonic blanket.

5. Kendrick Lamar / To Pimp a Butterfly
Just wow. While I'll be the first to acknowledge my limited history and expertise with hip hop, I don't think it's at all a stretch to say that this album is actively redefining the genre. A brilliantly written piece that is simultaneously a celebration of life and a harsh wake up call amidst the racially charged environment south of the border, this was Lamar establishing himself as one of the best in the game.

4. Refused / Freedom
Was this album worth the 17 year wait? Shit no... I wish they were making music that entire time, however, Freedom was still an exceptional album that managed to both connect to their seminal Shape of Punk to Come, evolve into a sound that fit the times, and still push the envelope forward on what heavy music can be.

3. Tricky Woo / The Children Of...

2. The Arcs / Yours, Dreamily, 
Dan Auerbach just seems to have my number and know how to make music I like. Needing a bit of a departure from the Black Keys, The Arcs seemed to have been the perfect outlet that still sounds very much like Auerbach's signature Akron sound, but also highlights how he's grown as a musician and his ability to write in multiple genres with different feels, lyrical explorations, and with a whole new cast of villains.

1. Alabama Shakes / Sound & Color
I was a fan of the Shakes when Boys & Girls was first released, for their signature bluesy, doo-wap sound. However, if you would have tried to tell me that their 2015 release would sound like whatever Sound & Color is... I don't think myself or anyone would have totally believed you. This band didn't so much evolve as they did completely metamorphisize and emerge to write one of the most diverse, complex, catchy, heartfelt and intense albums I've heard in ages. This is a rock album, and for 2015, this is the album that is helping to define what rock is and will become.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shanies: Song of the Year

While tomorrow's breakdown of the album of the year is always the big one, there's a reason I save the song of the year for second last. Individual songs always have the ability to connect and hit me in a way that can be a difficult venture for full albums (particularly in the day and age of the single). Some perfect combination of melody, lyrics, rhythm, and harmony blend together to create a sonic euphoria that is irresistible.

2015 was a weird year on a lot of fronts, and these seemed to manifest in my song selection. Usually, one of the first things I do when deciding this award is to look at my most played songs off my various audio players. While I wasn't blown away by Mutemath's 2015 release, Vitals, one song off that album still seemed to creep up very high in my rotation.

Composed is a strange one. It's an exceptionally stripped down piece with none of the typical trademarks of what one would consider a "Shane song." The track starts, and maintains, with a droning, oscillating synth that bounced between two simple chords for the bulk of the song. The rhythm comes in with little more than some basic finger snaps that evolve to not much above a kick & snare. The bulk of frontman Paul Meany's vocals are in falsetto. The lyrics are stripped away, distant, and non-comital. The whole arrangement is little more than 2 verses and 2 choruses and clocks in just under three minutes. Nothing about things song makes any sense individually, which I think is why I love it so much.

This is an example of a perfect arrangement. Different swells of tracks fade in and out of the foreground in a way that forces the song to grow on you - both as you're listening to it, and with each successive listen. This is a musical expression of the value of blank space; the notes that aren't played. It's easy to find calmness in this track, or just as easily, allow your mind to wander and build your own version of complexity. It truly does give an old man hope. :-)

I'd also be remiss to not announce a runner up for this award to Kendrick Lamar's, frantic masterpiece, I. Anyone that can seamlessly blend spoken-word slam poetry, funk, hip hop,  R&B, and soul into one song that clocks in just over five minutes, has done something right.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Shanies: Artist of the Year

Typically, this award goes to whoever's been absolutely killing it for the past year. While that claim could still hold true, perhaps a better descriptor of this year's winner is the group that was able to overcome the most adversity; in fact, more than most bands go through in their lifetime.

On August 15, 2012, a bus carrying Baroness crashed near Bath, UK, injuring three of four members and seriously injuring two (Blickle and Maggioni who both suffered fractured vertebrae). Frontman John Baizley would walk away with a broken arm and leg and undergo months of rehab before beginning to play some acoustic shows.

In 2013, it was announced that Blickle and Maggioni would be leaving the band. The epic rhythm section would soon be replaced and Baroness would hit the road again in late 2013, touring into much of 2014. With two new members rapidly working into the fold of the group, the next major obstacle would have to be overcome: recording.

By creating a video log around the entire recording process, one can tell that it was not a simple jaunt in the park. While the new foursome had formed a solid bond on the road, the recording process is a different beast altogether. After nearly a year in a basement of writing and rehearsing, this prog-force returned to the studio to lay down their fourth LP, Purple, continuing their theme of the colour series.

In short, Purple, is fucking awesome, and a beautiful return to the Baroness sound for anyone who loves their slow, stoner-metal sound, alongside an obvious evolution in songwriting, lineup, and personal struggle. After what this band has been through, it the least you can do to take a listen.

-No, I can't being different versions of me... as far as the eye can see

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shanies: EP of the Year

A couple of years back, Jesse introduced me an incredible band known as All Them Witches. Almost immediately, I fell in love with this group's slow-moving, progressive, layered rock developments that typically give way to a burst of guitar-riff euphoria. They were some sort of strange stoner-rock meets blues, meets funk, meets double-the-fuck-triple-yeah. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Thus, when said band decided that in the past 2 years, the group decided to release a full length LP, 2 EPs, 1 properly mastered live album, and countless bootleg live recordings... it sat perfectly well with me. And beyond sheer quantity, these guys delivered the goods every time. Thus, without hesitation, my EP of the year went to their 2015 EP release, A Sweet Release.

Sweet indeed, but hardly an EP. Granted the release only contained 5 tracks, but still clocked in at over 55 minutes of music (I did mention the words prog and stoner, no?). With minimal vocals, it's the kind of album that you can throw on in the background and lose yourself within. Sounding almost more like a post-rock album a-la Godspeed, this simple little EP highlights the diversity and musicianship of this talented, Nashville-based quartet.

And like so many bands I love, the best way to get into this is to stop reading my tripe words and listen:

-Always push my mind to the darkest place so that I feel disgraced by things I haven't even done

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Shanies: Lifetime Achievement Award

No matter how much things change, they still stay the same.

For almost 20 years now, my listening has gravitated around one, earth-shattering sound. That sound is some sort of blistering, high-energy, blues-infused, grab-you-by-the-ears-and-pull, rock n fucking roll. That sound was perfected by one band, and so many others that I have listened to over the years, have simply been copies and reimaginings of that band.

That band is the mighty Tricky Woo. This year, somewhat post-prophetically and echoing my sentiments above, the group released a compilation of b-sides aptly titled The Children of Tricky Woo. It features tracks from the early days in the 90s all the way up to some of their final recordings in the mid 2000s. Though you can tell a jump in songwriting and technology from song to song, the album still hangs together as a cohesive piece that stands as a reminder of how good this band is - these were the fucking b-sides.

And with this album being released this year, I felt it as good a time as any to bestow my first, and possibly only ever, Lifetime Achievement award to Mr. Dickson and his little dog, Tricky Woo. The disciples of this band are countless and while they achieved little more than moderate Canadian success, their sound echos through every Marshall stack that graces venues far too small for such as thunderous sound like Sala Rosa or the Hideout.

So, respect your past, give a nod to the giant's upon who's shoulders you stand, buy a copy of The Children of..., and for god's sake, listen to this fucking track:

-Try to keep my feet pinned to the floor, it's a tug of war since my insides are flying