Monday, December 31, 2012

Shanies: Album of the Year

2012 was never expected to be some incredible year for music, but taking the time to look back, it sure as hell ended up that way. Interestingly, this was a year that saw me escaping my norms more than usual and venturing into new musical styles and artists. That said, we can't all be winners, so keep reading below to see which 10 artists I felt produced the best material this year.  It wasn't an easy decision, however, I assure you that I am correct and the list below is infallible.

10. Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour
Just making the cut was the sophomore release from Band of Skulls. After their first album drew me in, the release of Sweet Sour was precisely what I needed to drive home this band as a force of rock n roll. While the title track and The Devil Takes Care of His Own got high rotation on my ears, the album plays well from start to finish.

9. Every Time I Die - Ex Lives
I mean, at this point, you should really just expect that whenever ETID puts out a new album, it is going to make my top 10. Ex Lives was no different and showed the band's ongoing evolution, housing both insanity-gripped driving songs such as Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space as well as dark, drawn out tracks like Revival Mode.

8. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - The Heist
In addition to having the most incredible video of the year, this entire album stands up exceptionally well. From songs about baseball to exceptionally heart-on-sleeve tracks about Mack's battles with substance abuse, this 18 track epic blends the two artists perfectly: Lewis painting incredible backdrops for Macklemore to spit his naked lyrics overtop.

7. Jack White - Blunderbuss
What should be surprising about Blunderbuss is the fact that it only lives at #7 on my list. White has now proven that he can survive under just about any musical configuration after conquering the solo hill. The antics and gimmics surrounding this album were innovative and awe-inspiring and while I fell in love with a number of tracks, this album left me a little unsatisfied & wanting more from Jack.

6. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
Already being heralded as a soul revival after only a couple of EPs, Kiwanuka had set big expectations for his debut LP and would not disappoint. Pouring his heart out with genuine, human words that told simple yet powerful stories, this entire album simultaneously transforms the listener back to the 70s, while pulling your forward to remind you that the future still has some hope too.

5. Quakers - Quakers
For a rock-head like me, it's rare that two hip hop albums would crack my list, however, if you take the time to listen to Quakers 41-track self-titled debut, you'll understand and appreciate that this album is much more than hip hop. Pulling together a team of over 30 DJs, MCs, producers and instrumentalists, this disc feels more like a dope-beat all-star game than an album.

4. DZ Deathrays - Bloodstreams
5 years ago, I may have hated this band, however, my tastes have evolved and this Brisbane two-piece has found an incredible way of meshing hard rock, dance, electronica, blues and hardcore. Truly a unique sound, Bloodstreams stands as an incredible step forward not just for DZ, but for music.

3. Rival Sons - Head Down
If you know anything about me, than you should have expected that at least one straight-up rock album would sneak into my list. For 2012, this was as good as it gets. After 3 full albums together, the Sons just keep getting tighter and more sure of themselves and their sound. Head Down seems to be a reminder to the band that as their popularity continues to grow, they must maintain their humility and never loose sight of the roots that make their blaring rock n roll sound so incredible.

2. Indian Handcrafts - Civil Disobedience for Losers
I'll never forget the first time I stumbled into an IH show at the Elmo. I was skeptical given how idiotic their name sounded, but quickly shut my mouth and listened the awesome noise emanating from two of the most intense musicians I'd ever seen live. If you like riffs, intensity and loud fucking music, buy this album already.

1. Kid Koala - 12 Bit Blues
Let it go down in the history books: for the first time, probably ever, my album of the year is not a rock album, but something pieced together by an absolute genius on the turntables. While the Kid's Slew project made me fall in love with him, it was ultimately the merger of the blues with electronic beats and samples that would create one of the most unique, enjoyable albums I've had the opportunity to lose myself to in years.

Each track on 12-Bit tells, or should I say re-tells, a story of the blues through a different lens. Still, the album flows from track to track so seamlessly that this is the perfect album to drop on and just experience. I'm not sure if this formula could be repeated with the same success, but for Kid Koala, he managed to find in this album one of the most innovative concepts for an album that I've seen - and better yet, it sounds incredible.

And that's it.  2012 has been a fun and amazing year of music and I only hope 2013 can live up! If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions for the blog in the new year - take the time to tell me now. I'm feeling festive and jolly, so tell me quickly before I go back to being a totalitarian asshole in the New Year.

-I'm not raising hell, going to tame it, and give hell to someone else

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Shanies: Asshole of the Year

New this year, the asshole award goes to the individual or group who made their best efforts to piss me,  the remainder of the music community and hell, society at large, right the fuck off. After spending previous years reporting on musical news that really had little to nothing to do with music, I realized there was an important space open for this award.

And may I extend a heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips for being our first ever recipient. I'll preface this rant by saying that I've never been a Lips fan, so there isn't even going to be a redeeming 'but' at the end of this. Mr. Coyne, you started off with so much promise by enlisting an impressive list (Bon Iver, Tame Impala, Ke$ha, Chris Martin) for a collaboration album, however, things went downhill pretty drastically for me when you:
  • Sold limited editions of your album with artist's blood in it for $2500 a piece
  • Pissed off the Badu sisters by massively misrepresenting them in a video that you deemed 'art' (but we all know was just softcore porn)
  • Made a shitty radio drama that you had no business making. Seriously, the internet was pissed.
  • Fucked over thousands of people in Oklahoma City Airport by "accidentally" bringing a toy hand grenade into your carry on and shutting down the airport for hours
Yeah... so congrats. Even though I'm not a huge fan of your at, enough people seem to be for me to offer this simple suggestion: stick to making music. It seems to do well for you. Your diversions, however, fail miserably.

-Album of the year tomorrow! Predictions / suggestions welcome, however, as you know, I won't be listening.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Shanies: Song of the Year

This award is always my least favourite to decide upon because it is such a difficult thing to narrow in on. Whereas other awards like album of the year, artist of the year or even video of the year contain much larger bodies of work to compare against, the song award must be decided with a 3-6 minute audio clip that ideally, holds brilliant music together in a inspiring, progressive, experimental and still accessible way.

While past years have seen this award go to a rather eclectic bunch of epic songs, this year, what really caught my ear was a delicate, minimalist track by How to Destroy Angels. After being rather underwhelmed by their first EP, I was happy to see that Reznor, Ross, Mariqueen Maandig and Rob Sheridan had finally found their groove together, particularly on tracks like Ice Age. The song starts with a simple, awkward interaction between two plucked string instruments. This sets the stage for Maandig's beautiful, yet fragile voice to tell a tale of intrigue much like a muse of the old world. Elements of electronica creep in and out of the track to build intensity and emotion, however, never enough to distract from what is at the core, a frail, beautiful flower in the middle of a snowstorm. As pretentious as it sounds, it is the pieces of this song that were not recorded, but that the song allows your mind to drift towards, that make it beautiful. Some of my favourite music songs are those to which I hear a greater score in my mind than ever saw the inside of the studio.

Honourable mention goes to Gary Clark Jr. for his head-bobbing, smooth blues number, Bright Lights.

-Sing along to words that were never mine

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shanies: Artist of the Year

This award is always a bit tricky in terms of being able to differentiate it from other awards and define exactly what makes a winner. If I look on past examples (Foo Fighters, The Black Keys), it would appear that this award is designed to recognize hard working bands that have poured their blood, sweat and tears into their music for the past 12 months.

As such, my unquestionable pick for this award is Indian Handcrafts. After riding the success of their epic, independantly released freshman album in the local scene, IH decided that 2012 was going to be their year to step to the plate. Recording their first label release, Civil Disobedience for Losers, under Sargent House and with members of Big Business and The Melvins, one could quickly tell that this was a band that had no intention of staying local/indie – Barrie simply wasn’t big enough for their sound. Getting opening slots with the likes of Red Fang and Billy Talent, it very quickly became apparent that hard work pays off and for IH 2012 could be just the beginning.

Honourable mention goes to riff kings Monster Truck – who also had a phenomenal year and who I’ll be keeping a very close eye on in 2013.

-Promise me you'll feel how I feel, or at least that you'll try

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shanies: EP of the Year

A new award this year, I wanted to create the EP nod so that newer, indie bands who were still in their infancy but already doing incredible things could get a bit of acknowledgement. That, and there were a ridiculous number of EPs that I fell in love with this year, and I simply couldn’t let them go unrecognized.  Sharing is caring, afterall.

A rare thing happened this year – I actually started getting solicitations from labels and artists requesting reviews. Some of the reviews may have been a bit unappreciated, however, when a band like The Blue Stones fell in my inbox, I considered myself lucky. Somewhat skeptical of being pushed an album, I listened to the opening track from their 2012 EP, How's That Sound?, with a lot of reluctance. However, my walls were broken down within 30 seconds of the opening track and I was sold. This Windsor two-piece hits a great balance between writing songs that are graspable and comfortable, while still pushing the envelope just enough to make for interesting, dynamic and original tracks.

 I can’t wait to see this band live, however, in the meantime, I’m happy to keep listening to the recording of my EP of the year. Granted, at 7 tracks, I may be stretching the definition of EP, but blow it out your ass... this is my blog.

Honourable mention must go to sludge masters, The Great Sabatini, for their epic (and free!) release The Royal We.

-Keep my head above the water, but never let me climb too high

Monday, December 24, 2012

Shanies: Concert of the Year

2012 was an absolute wrecking ball of a year in terms of live shows. I dropped a ridiculous amount of money on tickets and saw even more shows for free through playing a ton with the Rogues before we split. This was the year that solidified Toronto as one of the best music scenes I've ever experienced. We still need to work on surgically removing the pole from most audience member's asses, however, in terms of the line ups and the venues in this city, she can't be beat.

NXNE is always a fun time, partially for the ability to putz around downtown TO, peeking into random bars and stumbling across interesting new bands.  However, this past year, I went against tradition on a Saturday night and parked myself at the Bovine for what I can now definitively state was one of the best shows of my life, surpassing a 2007 Pop Montreal line-up that I thought would never be toppled. This show also helped push the Bovine past the Hideout as my favourite TO venue (the upgraded sound system & new layout this year made all the difference).

The line-up was unquestionably a huge element of the incredible night, piecing together some of my favourite local bands (Romeo Liquor Store, Organ Thieves, The Mercy Now, Little Foot Long Foot & Flash Lightnin'). Add in a dash of some of my favourite friends in the world, a healthy dose of beer and a Toronto crowd that was stacked with people wanting to let loose and have some fun... and we've got a party. The night would be the first time I saw Romeo (a band I'd been tracking for 3 or 4 years) live, the last time I would see LFLF play with Caitlin, my introduction to the Organ Thieves, and an always-fun opportunity to see Darren from Flash Lightnin peel paint off the walls as he strutted across the bar.

It was one of those perfect nights, and just like after the 2007 Pop Montreal BSL show, I don't know if I'll ever see anything like it again.

Honourable mention goes to Refused @ Sound Academy - after waiting a decade, it was worth every second of the wait.

-You don't have to love me, but you've got to love this lullaby.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shanies: Video of the Year

Now into day 2 of my 5th annual shoot-my-mouth-off-about-music-because-I-can-fest, today we'll be talking about my favourite music video of the year.  There were a lot of really cool clips this year, however, near the end of 2012, one obvious frontrunner began to shine through.

I am, of course, referring to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, with their positively genius, ab-hurtingly hilarious video for Thrift Shop. Part of the brilliance of this video is in how joyous and tongue-in-cheek the song itself is - Macklemore spitting about thrifting and the larger implications of a materialistic, status-driven culture. Part of the brilliance also lies in the incredible work of Jon Jon Augustavo for being able to convey Mack & Lewis' fun, carefree and high-energy style (just watch some of their live videos to get a hint of what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen the video below, you've likely been living under a rock.

Honourable mentions to Kid Koala for his clever, simplistic, coordination video on 8 bit blues.

-Perfect craftsmanship from the imperfections of his craft

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shanies: Rookie of the Year

It's that time again... time for me to spread my unwanted and unnecessary opinion about the state of music in 2012 all over the internet. As usual, my annual awards, the Shanies, are based entirely on my own opinion, follow a loosely defined and often changing set of rules and should be taken with the tiniest of grains of salt. If you believe me (which I wouldn't) this is remarkably the 5th annual instalment of these awards. I say that not to impress you or make you think that this gives me some form of credence, but to help you realize that I'm not going anywhere, anytime soon, so get used to it.

The rookie of the year award is always a difficult one, since there is much ambiguity around the word 'rookie'. Last year, for example, the recipients were 3 old rockers who cumulatively, had probably won more awards than most of the rock community. However, they were doing a new project. This year, I chose to define the award by a group's first LP release.

And that is because it allows me to give the award to Brisbane's DZ Deathrays. While having 3 EPs dating back to 2009, this was their breakthrough year with the release of their incredible LP, Bloodstreams. This grungy, dance-beat rock-duo recorded a groundbreaking album, toured the world and just ended their year with a annual home-town tradition concert.

Honourable mention goes to Failure Epics (Jon Epworth), who really should have won for hitting all the criteria for rookie.

-Hangman's neckties and words that sting like black flies

Monday, December 17, 2012

Action Packed

This will be my last share before we hit the 5th annual (I know... I'm surprised I lasted 5 years at this too) Shanies: my awards for the best and brightest of music from the past year. I'll be starting on December 22 and be posting an award every day until New Years. Since I'm probably going to be writing a lot during that week, I figured I'd take it kind of easy for today's post.

READ: I couldn't find much on this band, but they're pretty freaking cool.

With a small dose of shame, I'll admit that I found this band while watching a TV show.  Paul recently turned me onto watching House of Lies and in addition to being packed-full of Don Cheadle awesomeness, the show has a great soundtrack with a lot of obscure bands. In particular, one episode ended with a track from Oakland's own Scene of Action.

While they've got a pretty scattered online presence, I was able to track down their songs on iTunes and was pleased at my reaping. Sounding at times like a more groovy Muse and other times like a 6-speed rock band with a digital edge, this band is definitely worth a listen for anyone who appreciates subtle modern takes on the rock genre.  Check the rhyme, yo:

-Keep my head above the water but never let me climb too high

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Austin's Son

While I'm always amazed by musicians that achieve success at a young age, I'm often quickly reminded by the fact that it wasn't any easier for them to get there - they just started earlier and worked harder. This mantra, I would call core to the career of Gary Clark Jr.
An Austin native, Clark wasn't born with a guitar in his hand, however, once he picked it up at the age of 12, I don't think he was ever willing to let go. Heralded by some as the future of the blues, his style combines elements of blues, jazz, country, R&B and hip hop. He's performed alongside some of the Gods of rock n roll and finally, after years of hard work, 3 LPs and 2 EPs, it is starting to feel like he may have made his break. He just released his latest full-length, Blak and Blu, on Warner Bros. and is starting to make splashes that I hope, and predict, will ripple out into tidal waves. He's smooth, he's stylish, his voice is like velvet and his fingers run like claws up and down a guitar neck.

He's the real deal. See for yourself:

-Deliver me in chains; stitch my heart to my sleeve but it just won't stay

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Harpoon Murder

A quickie from the road today.  I'm in Chicago and listening to a lot of blues, so it's only fitting that I share. Interestingly, my share has nothing to do with Chicago though.

All the way from the mean streets of Vancouver, may I introduce The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer. This duo's head-bobbing bluesy tone and interesting instrumentation (a harmonica and a guitar... hence the punny name) gives a cool combination of old-school blues feel with new school style. Minimalist and gritty, these talented gentlemen rock a wide range of the blues, throwing homage to the old crown and pushing the envelope on the new.

So, you know... check it out and stuff.

-Poetry written in words that don't rhyme was how you told me no