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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Shanies: Concert of the Year

2015 was a bit of a sad year for me. I say this, because I likely went to fewer than 50 shows this year... which is really something of an end of an era. Time pressures, late nights getting harder, work getting more involved... in short, I'm getting old.

Still, I tried to get out and rock out whenever possible and had some incredible nights all the same. That said, one night in particular always seems to shine through and this year, much in line with me complaining about being old, my night was a bit of a throwback. It was one of those rare lineups that made very little sense on paper - sleazy-smooth Belgian rockers and Canadian rasta-bluesmen - but executed so well, all under the high roof and expensive beers of the Danforth music hall.

Triggerfinger opened up the night and, while I love my local boys, kinda stole the show. Their drummer loomed in the background on the kit like a flesh-and-blood Animal - bashing drums with his head, eating the cymbals, having to visibly contain his energy during quiet parts - but the spotlight was clearly on frontman Ruben Block. Even though the man looks like he could be in his late 40s or early 50s (though I'm admittedly completely guessing), I don't think I've ever seen a frontman with more smooth, sexy, and fun presence. He danced across the stage while grinding out licks on his guitar that mystified the crowd. However, what impressed me the most about this set was the band's integrity. Instead of simply rifling through three minute, crowd-friendly hit after hit, the band mixed up hard rockers with slow blues burns and some long, twisted, anticipatory tracks like my personal favourite, Baby's Got a Gun. This was the best set I saw all year, hands down.

Big Sugar, being the local heroes, obviously headlined in the evening. In just under an hour and a half set, I don't think I've ever seen any band pack in more songs, and in particular, singles. As any band would, they really wanted to play and share some of their newer music, however, knowing their crowd, still had to get through their extensive back catalogue. They solved this by storming through single after single of verse & chorus... playing 2m versions of nearly every song that had ever been on the radio to make sure they whole crowd was engaged. They cut up the hit-fest with long sessions of their latest Reggae-fusion, hyping the crowd about the Liberal's impending legalization of weed. And of course, no night would be complete without Gordie's signature rock version of Oh Canada.

The night ended with an incredible encore that saw both bands on stage producing a veritable wall of sound. Eddy and I walked out of the venue, ears ringing and smiles on our face.

-May my ears ring forever

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Shanies: Video of the Year

And continuing into Day 2, today we're tolling out the award for all those A/V geeks. Never meant to belittle the quality of the music, the video award is given to, usually the video that either blows my mind a little or makes me laugh my ass off.

This year, it would be the former, and said chortles were provided by those east coast heroes in The Motorleague. Their video for The Boards captures the essence of ridiculous Canadiana perfectly and depicts an incredible clash between two bubble-hockey titans. They truly thought of every detail, from the rousing anthem at the start, to the blind ref, to (expectedly) a hockey fight.

Sit back and enjoy.

-Try to keep my eyes on the prizefighter who's got no fight left.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Shanies: Rookie of the Year

I'm about to spend the next week telling you all about how you're incredibly wrong, I'm incredibly right, the music you listen to is terrible, and that my music is infinitely better... but know that I feel terrible about it. I feel this way, because while I inherently know that I'm right in my stance, I've done a terrible job this year of keeping the world informed of my superior ears and opinion and as such, this week and these posts will truly come as a shock to you.

But bear with with me... Evil Shananigans is not dead... just bloodied in a gutter somewhere.

Still, that's never stopped me from dusting off the 'ol keyboard and proclaiming my auditory superiority over all of you. In short, happy holidays, and enjoy the tunes.

As is tradition, the first Shanie of 2015 goes to our Rookie of the year. While there were a ton of great albums that came out this year, the rookie was a no-brainer. Normally, while I love to give this award to some up and coming band to highlight them, 2015 will be the year of the juggernaut.

Dan Auerbach's latest side project The Arcs put forth the kind of album that I've been missing from the Keys since Brothers, but also went in a very different direction. While The Black Keys are typically a riff on the blues, Yours, Dreamily was essentially a soul album. It had some unquestionably trademark Auerbach feels to it, however, showed the kind of songwriting and recording progression of a seasoned vet. You could just as easily take Dan's signature, sweet vocals off this record and give these backs to the likes of Leon Bridges or Aloe Blacc and it would fit like a glove.

A few of the tracks definitely pull out more of the rocker feel that we know and love the Keys for, however, others like Put a Flower in Your Pocket or the album's first single Stay in my Corner are beautiful, slow burns that feature weighty bass lines that pull your ears in and snuggle you close. It's an album that got saw a ridiculous amount of play this fall and that was fitting for countless different moods and moments.

-Try to keep my lies of the whitest white, rolling words I write off this surrenderer's tongue