Sunday, December 8, 2019

Top 30 of the '10s

As was the case 10 years ago when these sorts of lists were making the rounds, it has been fun to reflect on the music I've enjoyed most over the last decade. For reasons that would be obvious to anyone keeping track of my life, I was a lot more up on new music in the years 2010-2013. After that, I was either playing catch-up or discovering the scattered new thing. Frankly too, I still like discovering music through recording shopping, and with the price of new albums often being a bit cost-prohibitive, I find myself more often purchasing used albums from decades long past.
Below you'll find a list of my 30 favourite recordings from the 2010s. They're alphabetical, and I avoided allowing bands to have two albums in the list (some people do sneak in here more than once via collaborations).

Oren Ambarchi - Hubris (Editions Mego, 2016)
Rhythmically fun and densely packed with sound. The third track is a delightful racket.

Battles - La Di Da Di (Warp, 2015)
The album that came before this was also great. Battles consistently gives me a head rush with their sonic creations.

B. (aka Blu) - Jesus (Nature Sounds, 2011)
Blu is a great rapper who has a strong knack for finding the right beats to suit his rhymes. The "No York" and "Good To Be Home" albums were other highlights of his from the past decade.

Clear Soul Forces - Detroit Revolution(s) (Vinyl Digital, 2012)
A rare find these days: a hip-hop group featuring four equally strong (and young) MCs with with a taste for boom-bap style beats. Their first release remains the best of the bunch ("Gold PP7s" is quite good too).

Danny Brown - XXX (Fool's Gold, 2011)
Danny Brown has a bit of a say-anything attitude that might rub some the wrong way. He's an extremely versatile MC and doesn't really sound like anyone else to my ears. Coin toss between listing this or 2016's "Atrocity Exhibition."

Ensemble Pearl - S/T (Drag City, 2013)
Stephen O'Malley project that interestingly bears a striking resemblance to the 21st century incarnation of Earth (whereas his main gig Sunn O))) sounds more like the 1990s version of Earth). Awesome guitars leads on this from Michio Kurahara.

Ex-Cult - S/T (Goner, 2012)
Vocalist Chris Shaw is what makes Ex-Cult special to me. His collaboration with Ty Segall (who produced this Ex-Cult album) in Groggs is well worth checking out too.

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (Warp, 2010)
A spacey joy from Steven Ellison, who has released a lot of great music in the 2010s (including his rap album under the Captain Murphy alias).

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata (Madlib Invazion, 2014)
Freddie Gibbs is a fantastic rapper with effortless flow, and he melds supremely well with Madlib on this record and the 2019 collaboration "Bandana."  

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact (4AD, 2011)
Gang Gang Dance's evolution from an experimental act to an increasingly eclectic electronic pop group paid off nicely with this release. Lot of aural joys to be found here.

Gangrene - Vodka & Ayahuasca (Decon, 2012)
Oh No and Alchemist make a great team for rapping about getting high and taking turns delivering sick beats. Alchemist's "Russian Roulette" was a contender too for this list.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation, 2012)
It was a delight to see my favourite Canadian band return to active duty. All three albums released since phase 2.0 was intiated have been strong.

Golden Teacher - The First 3 EPs (Golden Teacher, 2015)
Fun electronic music from Scotland with disco and dub influences proudly mixed up to create funky sounds.

Hunx and His Punx - Too Young To Be In Love (Hardly Art, 2011)
These songs are super catchy and captured quite nicely on this album. A really fun listen and good for sticking on with company around. Hunx gave me some affectionate attention mid-performance at a show in Montreal years ago (Jay Reatard was also on the bill).

Jonwayne - Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape (Stones Throw, 2013)
Jonwayne is an excellent rapper, and this cassette release is packed with great tracks (better than the proper solo album he later put out through Stones Throw).

KA - Grief Pedigree (Iron Works, 2012)
KA is a great wordsmith who paints pictures with his rhymes and perfectly accompanies them with understated, low-key beats. Anything he creates is worth seeking out.

Knxwledge - Hud Dreems (Stones Throw, 2015)
Knxwledge is probably my favourite new beat maker of the decade. Look forward to the results of his next Stones Throw release due to come out in 2020.

La Luz - It's Alive (Hardly Art, 2013)
La Luz are equally skilled at delivering dreamy pop and somewhat-surfy rock. Good songs throughout on this one.

Mac DeMarco - 2 (Captured Tracks, 2012)
I was semi-obsessed with Mac DeMarco for a spell. He has a real way with layering breezy riffs over catchy tunes.

NxWorries - Yes Lawd! (Stones Throw, 2016)
Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak team up on an excellent soul album. Would love to see these two collaborate again at some point.

Oh No - Dr. No's Ethiopium (Disruption Productions, 2010)
Madlib's brother made my favourite instrumental hip-hop album of the decade. He made great use of the source material from Ethiopia.

Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffins (Castle Face, 2013)
One of my favourite bands. Delivered a lot of great albums this decade. This represents my peak enjoyment for the group. 

Peaking Lights - Lucifer (Mexican Summer, 2012)
Peaking Lights are probably my favourite duo of the past decade. Experts at producing dreamy, dubby pop music.

Karriem Riggins - Alone Together (Stones Throw, 2012)
Diana Krall's live drummer is also a great beatmaker. Followup "Headknod Suite" is just as good as the first album, hard to choose one over the other here.

Roc Marciano - Rosebud's Revenge (Marci Enterprises, 2017)
Favourite MC of the decade. Hard choice between this, debut album "Marcberg" and "Reloaded." Deadly flow and tight bars. Generally, the albums with fewer guest MCs are his best ones (exception being when KA shows up to share the mic with Roc).

Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse (In The Red, 2012)
Ty Segall had a great decade. He's prolific, but also full of ideas that deserve to be shared. The two Fuzz albums were great, as were the Groggs records and his two full-length collaborations with White Fence. This record is just a full on banger.

Shannon & The Clams - Dreams in the Rat House (Hardly Art, 2013)
Shannon Shaw was also one of the driving forces behind the Hunx and the Punx album that appeared earlier in this list. This album is equally strong in balancing the 60s aesthetic it goes for with solid songwriting. Fun listen.

Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson (Stones Throw, 2010)
Madlib's arsenal of beats help Strong Arm Steady reach otherwise unseen heights on what's a sleeper favourite for me within the great Stones Throw Records catalogue.

Sunn O))) - Life Metal (Southern Lord, 2019)
"Life Metal" captures my favourite band at full throttle. Definitely an improvement over their last full-length record "Kannon" and a great elongated-note to ends the 2010s on.

The White Wires - II (Dirtnap, 2010)
A great Canadian pop-punk album. Catchy songs, tight performances, charming vocals. Makes me feel warm inside.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Favourite tracks of 2013

These are a few songs released or reissued in 2013 that I enjoyed. Find the mix here.

Ensemble Pearl – Ghost Parade (S/T)
Xander Harris – Karakuri (Chrysalid)
Wild Nothing – Ocean Repeating [Big-eyed Girl] (Empty Estate EP)
Toro Y Moi – Say That (Anything in Return)
Shuggie Otis – Special (Inspiration Information/Wings of Love)
William Onyeabor – Love is Blind (Who is William Onyeabor?)
Thee Oh Sees – Toe Cutter–Thumb Buster (Floating Coffin)
White Fence – White Cat (Cyclops Reap)
Shannon and the Clams – Bed Rock (Dreams in the Rat House)
The Number 1s – Sharon Shouldn't (7” single)
Popstrangers – In Some Ways (Antipodes)
Window Twins – Others (Wish)
La Luz – Call Me in the Day (Damp Face EP)
Adrian Yonge & The Delfonics – Enemies (Adrian Yonge Presents The Delfonics)
Charles Bradley – Love Bug Blues (Victim of Love)
Yo La Tengo – Well You Better (Fade)
Herbcraft – Mother's Gate [Shambala] (The Astral Body Electric)
My Bloody Valentine – Who Sees You (MBV)
Beach Fossils – Careless (Clash the Truth)
Fuzz – HazeMaze (S/T)
Melt-Banana – Lefty Dog [run, caper, run] (Fetch)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Favourite hip-hip tracks 2013

Here's the track-list for my mix of 2013 hip-hop jams (the Dilla one is an old song, but only released officially last year).

Quasimoto – Planned Attack (Yessir Whatever)
Madlib – Track 3 (Rock Konducta Vol. 1)
Oh No – Same Shit feat. Rapsody & Psalm 1 (Disrupted Ads)
Jonwayne – The Come Up Pt. 2 (Rap Album One)
Captain Murphy – Between Villains feat. Viktor Vaughn, Earl Sweatshirt and Thundercat (Adult Swim single)
A$AP Rocky – Hell feat. Santigold (Long Live A$AP)
Lilacs & Champagne – Sour/Sweet (Danish & Blue)
Oliver & Jae – BulkProtein (RawHyde)
Knx – kaveman (Anthology)
Ghostface & Adrian Yonge – Rise of the Black Suits (Twelve Reasons to Die)
Cypria – Let's Go (The Sunday Soul Sessions)
Jonwayne – Blaq Cowboy (Cassette 3: Marion Morrison Mixtape)
Knxledge – Ladibrd feat. Quelle Chris (Kauliflower EP)
Ka – Jungle (The Night's Gambit)
Ahnnu – Non2 (World Music)
Roc Marciano – Take Me Over (The Pimpire Strikes Back)
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Deeper (Deeper EP)
Blu and MED – Belly Full feat. Black Spade (Burgundy EP)
J Dilla – Diamonds: The Shining Pt. 1 (Diamonds and Ice EP)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Favourite Records of 2010

1. Thee Oh Sees - Warm Slime (In The Red)

2. Women - Public Strain (Flemish Eye)

3. Mark McGuire - Tidings/Amesthyst Waves (Weird Forest)

4. Madlib - Medicine Show #5: The History of the Loop Digga 1990-2000 (Madlib Invazion)

5. Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson (Stones Throw)

6. Pocahaunted - Make It Real (Not Not Fun)

7. Guilty Simpson - OJ Simpson (Stones Throw)

8. LA Vampires/Psychic Reality split EP (Not Not Fun)

9. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here? (Editions Mego)

10. Tyvek - Nothing Fits (In The Red)

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 30 of the '00s

I've enjoyed looking at all the "Best of the Decade" lists popping out there. This decade was hugely influential as far as musical experiences go - started playing in bands, started DJing on campus-community radio, got drunk at loads of shows, and made some great friends who opened my ears to lots of cool sounds.

The list I've put together gives a fairly even count of what I've enjoyed over the last decade. It's in alphabetical, cause ranking seems to hard and a tad unnecessary.

!!! – Louden Up Now (Touch and Go, 2004)
Lyrics might not always be the best, but the grooves on this album still get me, and the guitars are fun and klangy.

Bardo Pond – On The Ellipse (ATP Recordings, 2003)
A killer slab of modern psych-rock.

Battles – Mirrored (Warp, 2007)
Well-acclaimed album, and rightfully so.

Broadcast – Tender Buttons (Warp, 2005)
Gorgeous collection of buzzy pop.

Caribou – The Milk of Human Kindness (Domino, 2005)
The album that helped me get Dan Snaith. I don't think he'll ever top this. Barnowl is the best jam Can never wrote.

Do Make Say Think - & Yet & Yet (Constellation, 2002)
One of the few band that can take post-rock cliches and make them sound refreshed and entirely their own.

Don Caballero – American Don (Touch and Go, 2000)
Good last effort before Ian Williams bolted for Battles.

Erase Errata – At Crystal Palace (Troubleman Unlimited, 2003)
First album is great too, but I give the edge to this album, if only for keeping the rhythms tight without sacrificing the band's penchant for chaos.

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles (Warp, 2008)
No band jams here. Great electronic album, and one where I can still find new elements to appreciate within.

Fugazi – The Argument (Dischord, 2001)
The first side is classic, and the second is only a smidgen behind it in quality.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to the Heavens (Contellation, 2000)
See my entry on Do Make. Pivotal band for me.

Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (Warp, 2006)
Beautiful, delicate record.

Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow (Load, 2001)
The way "Assassins" just hits you when it comes on will never grow old.

Madlib – Shades of Blue (Blue Note, 2003)
Man is a genius.

Madvillain – Madvillainy (Stones Throw, 2004)
MF Doom and Madlib made for a wicked pair.

Mogwai – My Father, My King (Matador, 2001)
This might be my favourite song of the decade. Some parts in this song just swell up in my head when I hear them. This song should maybe play as I'm cremated - the process would have to drag out so I burn around the nine-minute mark.

Juana Molina – Son (Domino, 2006)
One of my favourite discoveries from my years at CHMR in St. John's.

Out Hud – Street Dad (Kranky, 2002)
Good spacey grooves.

Panda Bear – Person Pitch (Paw Tracks, 2007)
I think this will always be my favourite Animal Collective related recording.

Sandro Perri – Tiny Mirrors (Constellation, 2007)
I became really obsessed with this album in 2008. Sandro Perri is an incredibly talented man.

Pocahaunted – Island Diamonds (Not Not Fun, 2008)
So dubby and strange. I want to marry Pocahaunted - or at least share a joint with them.

Jay Reatard – Blood Visions (In the Red, 2006)
Thanks Jen Squires for sticking "Nightmares" on that mixtape you made me two years ago.

Scene Creamers – I Suck On That Emotion (Drag City, 2003)
Ian Svenonius was in fine form and backed quite well on this album. "Session Man" and "Wet Paint" are both riots.

Shellac – 1000 Hurts (Touch and Go, 2000)
Good, angry, macho fun.

Sleater-Kinney – The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005)
This album surprised me so much when I first heard it. Stuck it on during a car ride the other day, and was reminded of how great this is. I don't think Sleater-Kinney have ever put out a bad album.

Slim Twig – Vernacular Violence (Paper Bag, 2008)
This EP is so varied and scuzzy. Slim Twig is a star.

Sonic Youth – Sonic Nurse (Geffen, 2004)
They had a pretty good third decade. Hope the fourth finds some new inspiration.

Sunn O))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord, 2009)
I've become completely obsessed with this record. I don't think I can sleep in Gander without sticking this on.

Various – After Dark (Italians Do It Better, 2007)
Compilations always make the best dance albums.

Various – DFA Compilation #2 (DFA, 2004)
See above. Lots of great tracks on this - my favourite is "Casual Friday" by Black Leotard Front, my preferred dance tune of the decade.

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador, 2000)
The last great Yo La Tengo album. Probably their best period.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hey there, you're no square ...

Last week, I had the thrilling pleasure of watching my favourite singer perform in the flesh. Ian Svenonius is an indie underground wunderkind whose unique vocal stylings have graced several fantastic bands - I cherish them all, in fact.

In the late 1980s, he got his start playing spastic punk rock in the D.C. scene with Nation of Ulysses, following that with the rock 'n' soul flavours of Make Up, before moving on to the psychy sounds of Scene Creamers and Weird War.

Beyond music, he's also written for a variety of magazines, and had a collection of essays published as The Psychic Soviet. A true renaissance man, Svenonious also hosts the Vice webseries "Soft Focus," where he's held highly entertaining discussions with musicians ranging from Genesis P-Orridge and Cat Power to Calvin Johnson and Henry Rollins.

I saw his current group, Chain and the Gang, perform at this year's Pop Montreal festival. My expectations were high, and he met them with cool ease. Ian was spry, quick-witted, engaging, and highly entertaining. It was a rollicking time.

While all his bands have their own unique sound, Ian's presence is always a focal point. Lyrically, he often deals with issues of community, philosophy, ideology, commerce, identity, mortality, self-expression, and pop culture, just to name a few subjects he enjoys. It's a heavy agenda, but Ian tackles his work with raw gusto, and also makes use of a wicked sense of humour.

Vocally, he possesses a marvelous instrument in the most untraditional sense. His placement of words is always spot on, with the delivery ranging from low growls to squeaky squeals. When words won't do, a simple shriek suffices, often substituted by his trademark exclamation of "Yeah!"

Make Up's crowning achievement was undoubtedly 1999's Save Yourself, a nine-song recording that gave the band a chance to show off all its best assets. Svenonius shined particularly bright, whether delivering a gritty vocal to "White Belts" or handling an hilariously epic cover of "Hey Joe." It is a classic, and also the album that really got the ball rolling on my Ian Svenonius infatuation.

A low-key highlight of the album, "I Am Pentagon" is a slow burning soul number giving romance a mathematical representation. The musical accompaniment is stripped back and the exact opposite of flashy - which is really all that's necessary given the role of the group's singer, who unquestionably demands the listener's attention.

There is not a wasted line the whole song. Think of as many references to angles, geometric shapes – this song has lots of them. "Are you isosceles, or is your angle 90 degrees," he asks to start, trying to suss out his potential love partner. Elsewhere, he's "on a parallel plane," and "can't decide if you're on the same." Dreamy.

The chorus lays out the situation aptly - "I am pentagon, which side are you going to be on?"

It's a madly witty song, and one of many Ian has come up with over a career that'll soon enter it's fourth decade. Judging from some of the excellent new Chain and the Gang songs I heard at the show, I'm hopeful there's many more to come.

Make Up - "I Am Pentagon"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Boy

Men have not often come in a manlier package than the rugged actor/singer Richard Harris. A rowdy, occasionally boozy sort with a wicked flair for dramatics, Harris could invest himself fully in almost anything.

He was a walking firebomb in the angry-young-man British feature This Sporting Life playing a tough rugby star, and a more subdued sort in the Italian drama The Red Desert.

Prized by myself amongst his many acting roles is Harris’ portrayal of Captain Nolan, the fisherman unwilling to fight back at a vengeance-thirsty killer whale in the Jaws-inspired debacle that is Orca. It was filmed in the small fishing community of Petty Harbour, featuring actors making no real effort to come-off as authentic outport Newfoundlanders. And the whale blows up sheds! It’s a riot.

The musical career of Harris is commonly scorned as the byproduct of a vanity project devoid of any true value, beyond his insanely strange and enjoyable epic hit “MacArthur Park.”

His music’s appeal tends to rely heavily on kitsch value, which isn’t really a bad thing when you’re talking about a professionally made product lifted by a unique vocal presence. Harris had the latter in spades with his quivering, ragging bellow of a voice.

The Richard Harris Love Album collected a number of his more romantic moments for the Dunhill label, which includes his “MacArthur Park” era material. “What a Lot of Flowers” was a single released in 1969, the year after “MacArthur Park” hit big. This tune never reached the near-chart-topping heights of his most well loved number, which is a shame, because it deserves more.

Written by Leslie Bricusse and produced by Johnny Harris (who also worked with Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, and Tom Jones), “Flowers” is a top-notch, loungy pop song with an air of engaging ridiculousness.

The opening piano riff is a catchy starting point to warm up the listener for Harris’ swooping vocals, which get straight to the heart of the matter.

“What a lot of flowwwwwwweeeeeeerrrrrrrsssss. What a lot of sunnnnnnssshhhiiiinnnneeeee.”

Indeed Richard, there must be a lot of flowers, sunshine, and “music in the world today.” From there, he expresses his admiration for the many colours of the rainbow, and how they spread themselves through a cluster of flowers.

He gets excited about this, belting out the refrain of “VIOLETS! VIOLETS! VIOLETS!” several times before calming down again. It’s a particularly grand sort of flower, I reckon. The mellow conclusion is a nicely arranged coda, with reverberating woodwinds creating an almost spacey ambiance combined with Harris’ typically quivery voice.

A mixtape favourite of mine for a number of years now, “What a Lot of Flowers” is a song that’s hard to ignore while it plays. The forcefulness of Harris’ performance will grab you – maybe in a night-stalkerish way, hopefully though in a more suave-party-host fashion.

Richard Harris - "What a Lot of Flowers"