Year in Review - An unapologetic, imperfect, (but nevertheless fantastic) look at some of this year's best music
Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
You were expecting someone else? The problem with our contemporary sense of popular music (as it has existed since, say, 1955) is that we've so idolized its pioneers that we're often unable to see beyond nostalgia, and actually really appreciate the present moment as it's happening. Wolf Parade, to me, are as great as any Dylan or Bowie or Zeppelin or Springsteen. This is what rock and roll myths are made of, people. Enjoy it. You can read my full review of the album here.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Forget internet-blog hype and readers—rarely have I seen a band be so quickly embraced by uninitiated listeners. And that's how I felt the first time I heard it, as well. Sure you can hear New Order and Talking Heads. But how about Bob Dylan and Radiohead, too? Most importantly, at no time does the record feel like a tunnel-visioned rehash of any one sound. No, this was a record that burst out of nowhere and was accordingly welcomed with applause. Not groundbreaking, maybe, but still brilliant fun.
Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die
Party! Not the drunken debacuhery kind, the loot-bag kind. For orchestral indie-pop this album is suprisingly tight and dance-friendly at times. It also sounds fantastic, which is another welcome change from the low-fi status quo. Certainly a happy record, but also surprisingly versatile.
Bell Orchestre - Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light
What I love about this record is its patience—this one gets my 'most rewarding listen of the year' award. Here's the flip side to the Arcade Fire's cross-over appeal; jazz and classical lovers should find plenty to pour over here. There are sparse meditations and cacophonous celebrations alike, but by all means approach it one complete composition. You can read my review of one of their performances in Montreal this year here.
Fatlip - The Loneliest Punk
Most overlooked album of 2005, as far as I can tell. Who doesn't like a good comeback story? A good hip-hop come back story at that? Ex-Pharcyde's Fatlip finally delivers his long-awaited solo debut, and it's funky, funny, somehow fresh despite its retro sounds (maybe because hip hop's early nineties golden age just didn't last long enough...), and full of endearing heart. It's not often in hip-hop nowadays that you get to hear a man really put his vulnerable soul on the table for the public to dissect. Fatlip pulls it all off here, and it's musically tops, too. We're going to try and bring him to Pop Montreal 2006. He seems to have shitty distribution (not available in Canada on CD, what?), so go order it online from Amazon.
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
My favourite part on this album is during "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!" and that little twangy strum that happens right after that "Linus & Lucy" sounding piano that comes right after the "Close to Me" homage in the song's second movement. You know what I'm saying? Probably the most expansive and masterfully crafted album of the year. Layer upon layer of joyful sound, and also his most accessible record yet.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Naturally
Best dance album of the year. So sultry, so much soul. Lots of bands make a living out of reproducing old new wave and post-punk sounds, and many of them don't sound nearly as good as the first models. So why not some funk and soul that's just as good as any of its original masters? Instant classic; go get it.
Animal Collective - Feels
What I love about Animal Collective is that they sound like they're from the future, but they resonate like they're from a deeply ingrained distant past. Feels crashes open like lost childhood memory, and it's just as nourishing. I'm still listening to last year's Sung Tongs, and Feels shows every sign of enduring similarly.
Final Fantasy - Has a Good Home
Blocks / Tomlab
Not many people do what Owen Pallett does. Not with that kind of precision and dedication. If the simultaneous fragility and strength of this debut doesn't win you over immediately, go and see him perform. If you like music that resonates like literature, it doesn't get any better than this.
Stephen Malkmus - Face the Truth
I think Malkmus's solo releases have gotten progressively better. Ok, his best song as a solo artist is still "Dynamic Calories", which was released as a B-Side on 2003's Pig Lib, but Face the Truth has nary a weak moment. Variations abound, from Beck-like bleeping to guitar-god action to those Pavement yelps you know and love and still look to him for. I hope he just keeps putting records out forever.
Discoveries, darkhorses, debuts: The locals or neighbours who reared their lovely heads for more or less the first time this year, whether through EPs, self-released bebuts, or demos; whatever. They've been grouped here either by community and/or complementary sound—but mostly for sake of brevity; all of these artists deserve condiseration in their own right. Get the corresponding podcast here.
Friendship Cove and Friends - Think About Life, the Hot Springs, Telefauna
The mutant offspring of Donkey Heart (RIP) and the Electric Tractor (RIP), Think About Life went very quickly from being a band in jest, to opening for Wolf Parade on their first U.S. tour, to signing to local label Alien8. Their full length is being mixed as we speak. I expect similar things from the Hot Springs in '06, especially given the rapid maturation of their sound. The front-persons for both of these bands (Graham Van Pelt and Giselle Webber) reside at the new Friendship Cove, and you'll be able to catch their respective solo acts—Miracle Fortress and Giselle Numba One—at Pop Montreal's year-end benefit show on Wednesday the 21st at the Main Hall. If you dig either of these bands, you'll probably also like Telefauna, who are busying carrying the freaky-synth pop funk torch. Check out Their 1st EP (best release title of the year).
Scores and Circuses - Alden Penner, Torngat, Shoot the Moon
Ex-Unicorn Alden Penner very silently released a very beautiful 7" this year, as well as a score for the independent film, The Hamster Cage. A lot of his new material isn't unlike Montreal's Torngat, who this year released La Rouge (and who also shares at least one member with Bell Orchestre). Torgnat makes beautiful instrumental music with lots of French horn and accordion; antique but innovative. Shoot the Moon's Where Strangers Live, released this year, dips in and out of these melancholy sounds as well.
Social Arts Club - We're Marching On, Oh Bijou, Germans
Guelph / Toronto
I first caught wind of this collective out of Guelph when I caught We're Marching On open for Final Fantasy at the Casa del Popolo back in March. Between those boys and Oh Bijou lies everything I love about the next wave of great Canadian artists. Indie-pop collides with noise frenzy; orchestra intricacy meets rock n' roll authentcity. They've all got EPs floating around at shows and the like, all worth checking out.
Classic Rockers - The Adam Brown, Royal Mountain Band
Someone give these rock and roll heroes major record deals and an assload of radio play. Seriously, if accessible old fashioned rock and fucking roll (and I don't mean trendy, bad hair-cut, leather jacket no soul rock and roll; I mean down and dirty guitar-loving rockstars that are lovable because they love the simple joy of making that classic sound sound so good) is what people want, this right here is it.
Two great little record label saplings with East Coast roots and branches spreading quickly. Pick any Ships at Night act and you're bound to find the same members onstage in some kind of formation or another, but each has something unique to contribute. It's like Neil Young had children with the whole Chicago post-rock scene of the late nineties. Strong musicianship and recording sensibilities abound. Youth Club's the Museum Pieces proceed similarly, and their Philadelphia is my favourite unsung Canadian release floating around right now.
Major releases, 11-20:
Spoon - Gimme Fiction
Spoon always leaves me kind of speechless. You know how there are some bands that do everything right, but somehow end up being unfairly forgettable and forgotten? Yeah, Spoon isn't one of those bands. There's not a whole lot here that you haven't heard before, but damned if it doesn't stay with you. I recommend playing it LOUD.
Out Hud - Let Us Never Speak Of It Again
The title of this record may end up going down as a kind of ironic swan-song to the post-millenial funk-punk sound. I got bored of the Bloc Party record after two listens, but I still listen to this one. Maybe it's the female vocals, or a conscious effort on the band's part to not sound exactly like !!! (with whom they share a couple members), or maybe it's just dumb luck—but when the dust clears I think you'll see Let Us Never Speak Of It Again still standing.
Danger Doom - The Mouse and the Mask
I love listening to MF Doom rap, that's pretty much the sum of it. I like a good novelty moment as much as the next guy, too, so no complaints here about the skits. I'll take Aqua Teen Hunger Force over Kanye West's Broke-Flat-Broke crew any day. Danger Mouse is as solid a foil as Madlib was on last year's Madvillain, and the results are just as strong. These records are made for headphones and single-sitting listening-sessions. And check out that "Sofa King" remix on the 12" single ...
Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
As far as I can tell, this is not an album about March of the Penguins. It is, however, at least as charming, and just as likely to make you think about our planet in terms simultaneously greater and simpler than you normally would. There's a lot of hope on this record. You might not have a clue from whence the hope springs, but that doesn't make it any less welcome.
LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
It will be interesting to see how this one ages. I've included it here by virtue of a number of strengths that don't really complement one another. You've got the one or two big dancefloor numbers. You've got the charming Eno-esque tracks, and you've got the bonus disc with all the collected bomb tracks from years previous. Put them all together and you've got something worth praising, surely. Might not end up aging that well, but for now, it's still 2005. Also: that 7" B-side live version of "Step Into the Fire" is awesome.
Caribou - The Milk of Human Kindness
There's something about Dan Snaith's best songs that hit you everytime where others can't. It's like he's managed to combine the tension-release of dancefloor- targeted electronic music (who's novelty can wear out easily if you've heard the mix a million times, or aren't on any drugs, or both), with the enthusiasm and authenticity of rock and roll. Throw in some incredibly well-executed psychadelic throwbacks and you've got a tasty and unique gem on your hands. He'll probably have to change things up a bit more next time around, but this is a great record, anywhere.
Beck - Guero(lito)
Maybe the Dust Brothers weren't a good idea? Beck is still writing great songs, but Guero, granted, came out a little bit lazy. Too even? There are some great moments on Guero, but there are a handful of even greater ones on the remixed Guerolito. In this case I'm happy to ignore the weak spots and patch together the strong ones from both. Like his own little White Album, or something? Ok, maybe not quite ...
Buck 65 - Secret House Against the World
If you can get past the melodrama, there's a great album here waiting for multiple listens. Buck 65 is joined by all of Tortoise as the backing band on this record, and it shows. There are piano ballads and dirty galloping country sounds, the occasional buzzing beat, and a whole lot of sex. Buck 65's fiancee, Claire Berest, also appears on the album, the explicit Bardot to his Gainsbourg (as homage, of course). Just don't ask about the Barenaked Ladies Christmas tour ... My full review from July is available here.
Cadence Weapon - Breaking Kayfabe
I first came across Edmonton's Cadence Weapon when he submitted a few tracks to Pop Montreal this year from his mix CD, Cadence Weapon is the Black Hand. If you like hip hop, I dare you to not be impressed and excited by this debut. Not only does Cadence Weapon make amazing beats, complementing them with tight and staggeringly original electro-flourishes—he's got straight-up, no-bullshit conviction as a rapper, which is too much of a rarity these days. Respect!
Coco Rosie - Noah's Ark
Touch & Go
I'd probably give Coco Rosie the award of the year for album cover that most accurately represents the sounds therein. This is a dark, and at times even frightening collection of sounds and wispy dreams. But the world is a frightening collection sounds and dreams... Coco Rosie isn't about to let you forget that the reason Noah needed two of each animal on the Ark was so that they could fuck and make more animals. Noah's Ark may not be as strong as their debut from last year, La Maison de Mon Reve, but once you yield to its mood, it can be pretty amazing.