Monday, December 31, 2018

Shanies: Album of the Year

Here we go again. This year was a tremendous year of music, if only for the sheer quantity of noteworthy new albums that came out. That said, no fucks left to give for "noteworthy"... who made the top 10?

10. All Them Witches - ATW
Doubly impressive considering that ATW has been pumping out a new album almost every year, but their first self-title finds them continuing to explore bluesy, drawn-out, progified track after track. The perfect companion for Canada's new laws or just a great way to lose yourself in music, check out Harvest Feast.


9. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - With Animals
I've always adored Lanegan's voice from his early days with Screaming Trees or guesting on a QOTSA album, however, in Garwood, he seems to have found a muse for his older years. His body has finally caught up to his soul and the two now seem to be writing deeply introspective music that both haunts and delights.


8. Fantastic Negrito - Please Don't Be Dead
FN's breakthrough first album was a tough act to follow, however, Please Don't Be Dead was up to the challenge. Though not as ambitious, the album is still chalk-full of gospel-laden rock n roll, all centered around a man who seems to be an unstoppable ball of energy.

7. Everything is Recorded - Everything is Recorded
This album was a sleeper for me, however, when I caught news of the fact that Richard Russel, long-time founder and owner of XL records, would be putting his money where his mouth was and releasing his own album, excitement was the obvious choice. Russel seems to have taken inspiration from his favourite XL artists (as well as taken their guest spots) and the resulting album is an absolute diverse masterpiece. Check out Close But Not Quite below, as well as Bloodshot Red Eyes.


6. A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant
We should no longer be surprised by anything in the life of Maynard Keenan, especially as it pertains to long hauls between albums, however this last 10 year-plus APC break even puts Tool to shame. Still, the album was worth the wait and the global and political climate could not have been better for a "you're fucking everything up again, people" album from Howerdel and Keenan. The album ventures through a number of harder and softer tracks, but for my money, Delicious takes the cake for it's infectious chorus.


5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food
Though I loathe one of the early singles off this album, Honeybee, UMO still managed to produce an absolute gem, even in spite of a weak track or two. In addition to their usual, soulful sound and dark, piercing lyrics, this album also featured some of the most aggressive songwriting of UMO's career in tracks like American Guilt.


4. Temperance Movement - A Deeper Cut
Let's be honest; these guys could shit on a piece of vinyl and the ensuing bumps would likely still make my top 10. I adore this band and while this album is nothing overly ambitious (and does feature a song that I want to kill someone when I hear the opening 10 seconds), the album is still overall a polished, thoughtful, harmony-laden, guitar rich, motherfucking rock album. That's enough for a simple boy like me.


3. White Denim - Performance
I heard a rumor that the White Denim crew has been ghost writing for Leon Bridges. While that may explain their slight delay in releasing Performance, it doesn't explain the fact that this album was a return to young form for the band, likely coming off as one of their weirdest bodies of work since their first two albums. Performance is every bit the guitar masterpiece you expect, however, gets super weird in a super incredible way, that I can only urge you to listen to, start to finish. If you're in a rush, check out Double Death, but when you have the time, give the full LP a spin.


2. Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
Khruangbin has been on my radar for years, however, I never totally fell for their sound as it always seemed to be lacking something and even unique projects like History of Flight just seemed to fall short of my expectations. Con Todo El Mundo, however, has well exceeded my expectations and found the band crafting one of the most melodically-laden, catchy albums you can imagine for a group that avoids vocals. I still find myself singing along to this album... I'm just singing guitar and bass riffs.


1. The Dirty Nil - Master Volume
Holy fuck. While this needs to stand the test of time, I'm going to be a bit hyperbolic for a second: this albums is as important to saving rock n roll as was QOTSA's Songs for the Deaf. Our Canadian heroes broke through in a HUGE way this year, touring all over the continent and releasing their first major (A&C) led album. And they did not skimp on the toppings. The Nil can unquestionably rock your face off, however, this album proved that they can write lyrics that capture the realities of modern living, and still somehow manage to tell an entire crowd to go fuck themselves and have the crowd not only be ok with it, but lap that shit up. I can't pick a favourite off this album betwen Bathed in Light, Auf Wiedersehen, Pain of Infinity, That's What Heaven Feels like, I don't want that phone call... seriously... it's one of those albums. Enjoy this, dig into their back-catalog, and all hail the Nil.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Shanies: Song of the Year

Since the top 10 album of the year award is a bit of a pain to pull together, the song of the year is likely my favourite award. Laziness aside, it also pushes me to really deconstruct a song and consider it from so many angles and interpretations. Usually this is also one of the hardest awards to decide on since I'm comparing such dissimilar tracks, but almost inevitably, one song wins out, if only for the repeat factor of how frequently I listened to it in the past year.

A past shower on the album of the year award and previous runner up to song of the year, White Denim took this year's award with the masterfully funky Double Death. For me, what ultimately makes this song work is that it is a heavy, riff-rock track, only played in the styles of soul and funk. That description is basically WD's sound in a nutshell, however, for some tracks it just works more. From the saxophone jamming over the entire track to the infinitely head-bobbable beat to the uncontrollable hook matched by both guitar and bass to the joyfully macabre lyrics... Double Death is straight up my jam. It's the kind of song that without even trying puts you in a good move and gets your ass moving a bit.

Honourable mention goes to Dirty Nil's Auf Wiedersehen and to Unknown Mortal Orchestra's American Guilt, but for my money... drop this track and get yerself movin.

-And my body keeps on ticking back, in my vestigial heart

Friday, December 28, 2018

Shanies: EP of the Year

My favourite part of this award is that it often gives a chance for the little guy to shine. I don't believe in giving out participation awards, so I'm not about to pat the back of a friend's band just because they did good when I'm comparing them to some of the sonic genius this world has to offer. That said, as a form that lends itself more to independent bands, the EP often sees some fun moves.

And some years, even I surprise myself when I realize that major, signed bands didn't do as well as someone I know. This year's runner up, Nine Inch Nails' Bad Witch, is a perfect example of a great EP reminiscent of the early days of depressed, drugged out Trent. However, for my money, I still enjoyed monarch's The Memory of Trees more.

This EP is a fascinating evolution of monarch's signature early 00s post-rock infused, progressive sound. It does well what I respect ambitious albums for doing by combining flavours of prog, hardcore, punk, and post-rock, but also has its own unique signature. Alternating between spacey, guitar-led stoneresque explorations and deep, unified, heavy head-bobbing sessions, the album demands attention but gives back what it takes. The musicianship of each member of the band is undeniable, as is their ability to take exceptionally complex and challenging music and present it in a way that sounds easy and accessible. I constantly found myself playing the "what time signature is this" game, however, when turning my nerd-brain off, was still able to sit back and enjoy the groove that each instrument seemed to contribute their own chaotic piece to the peaceful whole.

I love listening to this album, but I think even moreso, I respect this album for how ambitious it is and how seamlessly it seems to have come together. The whole album deserves a spin, but if you're in a hurry, take a listen to my favourite track, Chrysalis, to get a sense of what I'm talking about.

-Addicted to pain and I've got more where that came from

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Shanies: Concert of the Year

As I get older, this awards gets trickier every year, because I have to be able to dig back into my memory and recall which shows I actually went to in the last year. My calendar has become a fairly reliable source of verifying that it was indeed in 2018, however, given that I'm not always even following my calendar's orders and getting a healthy dose of rock n roll at least once a week, even some of those entries are suspect.

However, fortunately, there is usually at least one or two stand-outs that jump to mind quite quickly, and this year was no different. A great find of a band from a few years back - Unknown Mortal Orchestra - finally came to Toronto this year to play the Danforth Music Hall in support of their new album, Sex & Food. While previous years of this award have found me headbanging along to epic riffs, what drew me into the UMO show this year was how infectious their tunes were and the uncontrollable urge by me, and everyone in the audience, to want to dance. I recall bumping and grinding to the melodies of Ruban Nielson, all set to a strange backdrop of their stage setup that seemed to involve actual living plants.

Perhaps most beautifully about the show, when I searched YouTube, I was only able to find 3 videos that were published. My hope (and belief for my enjoyment) was that this meant that maybe, for once, a group of people simply lost themselves in the music and were having such a good time that they forgot to pull out their fucking phones. :-)

-So I'll give you more than I got; try so hard and refuse to stop

Monday, December 24, 2018

Shanies: Video of the Year

Historically one of two types of videos have usually won this award: they are either hilarious or dark and mysterious. This year is unquestionably the former.

Anderson .Paak released his third full-length this year (not including Breezy Lovejoy or NxWorries), Oxnard. The true tragedy of this was that the best song on the album, and my pick for video of the year, wasn't even on the album. Bubblin was released as a teaser single a few months ahead of Oxnard to build hype and have me in stitches on the ground.

The video follows a relatively simple question of "what would you do with all the money in the world" through a hilarious mechanic of an ATM that won't stop spitting out money. It sees Paak going through pretty much every single ridiculous hip hop stereotype in the book and somehow both simultaneously mocking it and paying homage to it. This is likely due to the most important differentiator of the video: Paak himself. His spastic, confident, happy, and in-your-face energy is infectious even through 560 pixels, and one can't help but find themselves glued to this man's every move as he shuffles from one ridiculous context to the next.

-Error on line 85, you said you want to be alive but you never really tried.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Shanies: Rookie of the Year

Is this thing on? Oh good... it still works even when I leave it dormant for a full year.

Anyhoo, pretense be damned, let's talk about music in 2018. It was a pretty incredible year, if not for quality then at minimum for quantity. Usually when pulling these annual awards together, I consider and re-listen to around 25-30 albums, and this year I had almost 50 make the long list.

The rookie award is always a bit of a tricky one, since in this day and age, defining a "rookie" is a bit of a creative exercise, what with people releasing singles and teasers on the internet all the time. Still, as an old man, I hold the LP in highest regard, so that's where we draw the line.

This year, my friend Jamie introduced me to Tash Sultana. In addition to Sultana's fascinating and incredible life story (read: never eat pizza without knowing the toppings) Tash legit plays the guitar like Prince. Flow State is a full length followup to an earlier EP and features all kinds of reverb-heavy guitar led tracks with gloriously tormented vocals riding the sonic waves behind.

Guitar chops shine on tracks like Blackbird, grooves dig on Salvation, pop hooks dig on Murder to the Mind, but for my money, Big Smoke is the haymaker song.

-Senorita, pour my margarita, lick it with salt and make it so much sweeter