Thursday, December 30, 2010

What a Year for a New Year

Bye Bye, 2010. With all of the failures and successes of this extremely eventful year, I like to think I've come out a little bit wiser, a little bit more carefree and with a little bit sunnier of a disposition.  Let's hope 2011 continues to be filled with happiness, love, adventures and mistakes - and may the music continue to be plentiful, pretty and loud.

I'll leave this classic New Year's ballad with you, because after all the years of hearing this song soar across the universe as the ball drops, it still brings a girly little tear to my eye. If not because of the enchanting melody, then definitely because of it's association with the meaning of a New Year's Eve - 365 days reflected upon, a whole pile of resolutions to hope for, and an overall fresh start.

I hope you all find what you're looking for - tonight, next year, forever and always.

The Twilight Zone

The current vampire craze is psychotic. True Blood, New Blood, New Moon, True Moon, whatever - they all flew right over my head in their early stages. I had no idea people had such an underlying obsession with all things blood-sucking and pale-skinned, but apparently Hollywood has cracked into a widespread unearthly human obsession with these (at times extremely attractive, ahem, Pattinson) creatures of the night.

Of all the new vampire genre which come to mind, of course, the Twilight obsession is the most obvious epidemic. Perhaps the jolting suspense, the sexy shirtless male vamps (gone are the days of cloaks and coffins), or maybe the undeniable chemistry between on-screen and real-life lovers Bella and Edward are some of the tickets to this box-office phenomenon. Either way, the yearly Twilight film emergence has sent people of all ages into a frenzy.

My interest minorly sparked when it came to these films, only because I wanted to know what the hoopla was all about. After one viewing of each film, my curiosity was satisfied and I wouldn't become a return viewer. But something else drew me in; something else caused me to come back each year for the latest flick. Which brings me to the obvious reason for writing about this teeny-tot saga.

Have you ever thought to listen to the soundtracks? Well, if you haven't (and you probably haven't, I didn't at first) - then you should. Right away. The ingenious music direction of Alexandra Patsavas was set to match the hype and craze of it's equally major film component. The soundtracks for all three consecutive films - Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse - have so far proved to be the most fascinatingly perfect original soundtracks in the past five years. Both the New Moon and Eclipse soundtracks were rightfully nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture, most likely because the various artists mixes are jam-packed with anything and everyone rising in the music world. Original cuts over the past three years from the likes of Muse, Metric, Iron and Wine, Band of Horses, Editors, Lykke Li, Cee Lo Green and Brandon Flowers have become the musical equivalent to the stormy and romantic plot lines of the famous saga.

It's clear on the first Twilight soundtrack that the music supervision team were trying to find their musical footing, see if the entire series would bomb, and stick to their basic pop-rock hits and touches of instrumental score. The first right note was hit with "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," which quickly became a household Iron & Wine lullaby after teens everywhere watched Edward dance the delicate Bella across a starlit gazebo with it in the background (music credit goes to lead actress Kristen Stewart for suggesting the song to filmmakers). After seeing the grandiose success of all things Edward Cullen (the brooding fang-bearing male protagonist), the New Moon soundtrack was the perfect opportunity to go wild - plucking a bit of everything up-and-coming from each musical genre and blowing the whole operation out of the water. The New Moon soundtrack samples the rising fame of Swedish indie star Lykke Li on "Possibility", a haunting piano-driven tale of a desperate, longing sort of love that will bring even the proudest to their knees. Another slow and powerful track is heard in the acoustic breakdown of Editors' "No Sound But The Wind" - a courageous, booming baritone fit to tell the story of the film's famous romance. An electric thump was heard with "Friends" by Band of Skulls, a cool and sleek jam suited to the strut of the mythical sex symbols.

Emily Haines of Metric
Eclipse, the latest addition to the soundtrack line-up was even more so a home run - taking big strides with the help of homegrown-Canadian indie-poppers Metric on the first track "All Yours," which was also stripped down to a tinkering lyricless score that threaded throughout the film. The upbeat rock-pop of The Bravery and Vampire Weekend provide some colourful light within the dark cave of Eclipse, making the whole compilation not overly morbid and much more well-rounded. However, it wouldn't be a vampire soundtrack without the saga's classically enchanting and tender moments - showcased nicely in the cowboy strums and harmonies of "Life on Earth" by the Band of Horses boys and the eerily heartbroken croons of Sia on her track "My Love."

Probably the most interesting use of track space on the newest soundtrack are my favourite bad-to-the-bone rockers The Black Keys, who were asked to contribute the blazing beat of "Chop and Change", a ghost town jam resembling tempos past such as in "Riders on the Storm." Another stand-out moment was one of the first signs of electro-trance in the soundtrack saga, with Beck and Bat For Lashes combining on "Let's Get Lost," an airy, floating ballad that's both new age and reminiscent of early 2000s trance-instrumental bands like The Album Leaf and Massive Attack.

Take a bite out of this collection. Do it whether you have any intention of diving into the film saga or not - because like me, you'll not only find yourself surprised at the new favourites you've acquired, but also the sudden common ground you'll have gained with the pre-teens of today.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little Taste of Love

Merry Christmas Eve to you and yours. I'm not entirely sure why, but every Christmas, this commercial is something I think of first. Aside from the video's majestic imagery and message, it uses a song that means so much to me. The lyrics of this song are the definition of simplistic beauty, and if this Christmas season you're looking for a way to send a signal to someone while unable to muster the courage to say it yourself - here is your ticket. The song is "Coffee Shop" by Landon Pigg, and something about the magical acoustic guitar, softhearted vocals and serene composition make it the only thing on earth I wish to share with you tonight.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas.

Coffee Shop - Landon Pigg (the full song and music video)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rounding Out The Top 15

Because a top ten just isn't enough...

2010 has proved to be an exciting and high-energy year for music. Lady Gaga got weirder, Justin Bieber’s hair got silkier, Rihanna became empowered, Lil’ Wayne became more criminal, and Miley Cyrus tripped out. Among all of those juicy and gossip-heavy happenings were a lot of other important musical moments that got the town talking. Artists we all know and love became better, tried new things and continued to open our eyes to the possibilities hidden within an instrument and the song-writing process.

Looking back on 2010, many things stood out to me musically. There were several points in time this year when I was buzzing with anticipation for a new album or restless to know how an artist’s personal trials would translate into their next release. Xylophones chimed, guitar licks seared and pensive voices floated like ghosts atop clever melodies. Needless to say, I was infrequently disappointed and repeatedly intrigued by the additions to my beloved collection and number of times that my heart pitter-pattered when first listening to novel treasures.

I'll let you in on the singles that I loved, but for the most part, these singles were part of larger and equally as thrilling compilations. In no particular order, here is what sent me soaring in 2010, and what I will carry over to the next chapter:

1. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire: Off the rightfully-acclaimed The Suburbs, female protagonist RĂ©gine Chassagne shows her bouncy and powerful pipes on this Blondie-reminiscent taste of youthful jubilation. Chassagne accurately encapsulates the dubious feelings of a lighthearted adolescent soul who is forced to grow up and survive in the “sprawl” (which is creatively described as “dead shopping malls that rise like mountains beyond mountains”). The 80s dance-pop feel of this song perfectly straddles the line between the beauty and harsh reality of adult life.

2. What’s My Name? – Rihanna featuring Drake – The urban beat of one of this year’s hottest rap ballads is infectious, with Rihanna spitting out conviction against Drake’s monotone rhymes. It’s catchy and well-suited to any West Side Story love affair in a modern-day metropolis, as it can be spun happily on a dance floor or intimately in the confines of your home.

Free Energy
3. Something in Common – Free Energy: This group of hopping and bopping hippies represent exactly the words of their name. They are naively happy young boys who dance to the beat of their own drum. On this track, their drum is like a groovy side-step, boogying alongside a likeable bassline and dance guitar. Give in to their pleasant advice and just shake it when they say, “Beginning tonight/ Well you can change your mind/ You know it's never too late, you're gonna be alright/ We can trust there's something in common between us.”

4. Laredo - Band of Horses: Off their third studio release, this country-rock piece of Americana goodness was pinpointed as a great moment in the Infinite Arms line-up. In all honesty, despite them being one of my favourite bands, I can admit that this album didn’t fare in comparison to their first two releases. It was a lot of mediocre and this track came out on top. It’s scorching guitar and twanging Texan story is essential for that voyage on down the baking countryside dirt roads.

5. Awake My Soul – Mumford and Sons: Despite adoring their debut upon it’s release in 2009, London-born Mumford and Sons' Sigh No More has only recently been uncovered by the masses as absolute musical gold from start to finish. Building momentum and both gentle and hurried indie-folk instruments are the signature facets of this mature-beyond-their-years quartet. This modestly meaningful and eclectic compilation includes my personal favourite “Awake My Soul,” a weighty poem that expands into howling harmonies and a beautiful bluegrass pace.

Florence, sans Machine.
6. Cosmic Love – Florence and The Machine: It’s about time that Florence Welch, the operatic indie redhead that has only released one album yet was nominated last year for a Mercury Prize, is exploding at new heights. Her 2009 album Lungs sent her like a shooting star into the wavelengths in the latter half of 2010 – with hits like “Dog Days Are Over” and “You’ve Got The Love” finally garnering some airtime. “Cosmic Love” is without a doubt the most stand-out track of the album – as it pulls off one of (in my mind) the most special musical feats. When I hear this song, I really do hear what a cosmic love (or Florence’s definition of it) would sound like. I start to feel starry-eyed, light and full of love. The picks of the majestic harp strings and the way her big, fiery voice epically builds to scream over the crashing drums and is absolutely inspiring and difficult to exhaust.

7. 11th Dimension – Julian Casablancas: The Strokes’ raspy-voiced front-man pulled off quite the pop-rock dance party this year with his solo debut Phrazes for the Young. The spacey, ultra-80s rock release takes notes from both The Cure and his own group’s garage-pop. Most likely, you'll find the most fun within the contagious “11th Dimension,” a bottled remedy for those who don’t like dancing.

8. Sweetest Kill – Broken Social Scene: This mellow indie ballad is one of Kevin Drew’s finer moments, even semi-resembling his own crackly croons from the 2002 single “Lover’s Spit”. This ever-changing and legendary Canadian collective created a memorably ambient beat with “Sweetest Kill”, which slides in nicely amongst the other tracks on the equal parts jacked-up and soothing Forgiveness Rock Record. Other winning tracks include “Sentimental X’s” and “Texico Bitches.”

9. Nothin’ On You – Bruno Mars feat. B.O.B.: It’s only right that this song was such a smash, seeing as two break-out stars like this should mathematically amount to something else. This city-strollin' love song consists of all the right ingredients – B.O.B.’s conversational rapping and Bruno Mars’ boyishly pure serenading. The drumkit percussion and sweet piano melody made women everywhere swoon, as if these two charmers were speaking right to us.

10. Sorrow – The National:  High Violet was without a doubt the most gorgeously perfect album of 2010, featuring fascinating confessions like “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” “Runaway” and “England.” This song is a profoundly frank and melancholy tale for the unfortunate in which Matt Berninger’s deep resonance is eerie and beautiful. There isn’t much to discuss surrounding this song, as it all lies in the haunting instruments, hollow beat and brutal honesty. “Sorrow found me when I was young/ Don’t leave my hyper heart alone on the water/ Cover me in rag and bone sympathy/ ‘Cause I don't wanna get over you.”
Janelle Monae

11. Tightrope – Janelle Monae: Well, this little firecracker sure put some spice on the scene this year. Monae, a pint-sized, James Brown-footed, suit-wearing powerhouse, is without a doubt ready to take over the Billboard and hold it to herself. In every way part of the next installation of R&B superstars, Monae and her “Tightrope”-walking (as well as the impossibly wicked music video) stole the show.

12. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear: Grizzly Bear, a seemingly inaccurately-named foursome of respectable young men, struck excellence with this waltzy piano-driven track. The marching-band drums and layered Beach Boys-esque harmonies made for (in my mind) one of the most wonderfully addictive tracks of the year. A truly “day in the life” tune made for everyday exploration. For some extra bump, check out the mash-up of this and Dead Prez's "Hip Hop."

The Keys
13. Never Gonna Give You Up - Black Keys: This soulful snack of Jerry Butler's original motown-blues is confirmation that the Black Keys are emerging as legendary leaders who channel forefathers of theirs like Led Zeppelin and Clapton. This well-rounded rock duo mixes thick, bluesy guitar with clanging percussion and sweltering smooth vocals - a merger that has steadily nudged them into the limelight this past year. The Keys' breakthrough album Brothers is full of these sort of classics-to-be, so I insist you jump in on this bit of history-in-the-making to see what I'm talking about.

14. Devil in a New Dress - Kanye West: The clash of the old-school drum, sampling and electric interjections mixed with Kanye's romantic preach-hop rhymes make this track one of the highlights off 2010's critically-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The trump-all compilation was needed by Yay, and is notably a huge step up from the shallow autotune of most of 808 and Heartbreak. This nutty album features bluntly offensive but clever lyrics, innovative melodies (he samples Bon Iver's "Wolves")  and everything else possible to re-affirm to his fans that although he is egotistical and entirely bonkers, he is larger than life.

15. Easy - Dragonette + Mary - KOL – Previously mentioned, but by no means less important. See past posts for info on why I love this Canadian electro-princess and group of Tennesee Kings.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fashionably 2010

In this shrunken world of new media, interconnectedness and accessibility - the various trends and fads stick out like a sore thumb nowadays. We can so easily notice what is the hot piece to be wearing, playing or listening to because we are most often bombarded with it from every media angle, to the point of giving in and taking part. It's also easy to see the ripple effect amongst the latest trends - and how everything, in some way or another, inevitably ends up tying into each other. Let's take a trip down short-term memory lane, and see how the fashion and music trends of 2010 had a serious and smooth-sailing relationship.

What the gals were wearing while galavanting around town in 2010, and the gems that accompanied the glitter:

3.1 Philip Lim
1. Lace: Everything from dainty little touches of lace overtop more subdued fabrics to full-on lace body-suits became all the rage this year, leaving little to the male imagination. Staying feminine and classy while still exposing sexy undertones was the 2010 girl-about-town's most popular tactic - and suddenly Grandma's dining room table cloth wasn't looking so hideous to young women everywhere. What played into this? Dragonette, a tiny but mighty Canadian electropop group headed by former folk-singer Martina Sorbara, released a charmingly girly track called "Easy" that had all of the same features. This sweet-toothed, vulnerable tell-all about staying with a difficult man despite his faults is adorable and honest amongst the rest of the revved up tracks off this year's Fixin' To Thrill. Without a doubt, one of my top five favourite songs of this year.

2. Mixed Prints and Florals: Vintage duds ruled the school this year, and suddenly (and thankfully), unbranded hidden gems were the best find on a grueling day of shopping. Effortless, breezy and creative, spurts of garden-scenes and wild prints became one of 2010's essential components of a fun outfit. Florals and prints scream individuality and free-spirited fun, so it's only natural that an equally as effortless song be matched with them. British Columbia neo folk-rock daydreamers Teen Daze wrote an jolly, echoey track this year called "Let's Fall Asleep Together" that I'm sure was recorded in the midst of many floral patterns. This happy-go-lucky 70s anthem is meant for summer evenings spent blowing dandelion fuzz into the air, underneath the setting glow.

Banana Republic Fall 2010
3. Utilitarian: The modern gal's wardrobe was re-vamped in 2010 after the utilitarian trends undeniably swept the runway. The working woman and city-girl alike should be elated at the emergence of this strict but chic professional appearance, as it revolutionizes our look to exude casual control and sophistication. Also taking control of the airwaves (again) these days is our old buddy Robyn (remember, the Swedish platinum-headed teen dream?) who is spitting out hot electronica at every chance. Her banging, addictive track "Fembot" is appropriate under the utilitarian reign, as it discusses the common combination of a take-action female mentality that leaks tiny little hints of insecurity and emotion.

4. Sheer or See-Through: Peek-a-boo! I saw more of women's bodies (that I never signed up to see) in 2010 than any year of my short-lived female life. Perhaps even more than during the popular grade eight phase of wearing upsettingly low pants and sporting bare lower midriffs. It seems like every girl at the club has the urge to appear naked, but in an attempt to satisfy the dress codes, agreed to putting on a completely see-through piece of "clothing." This steamy trend definitely was a showstopper this year, and of course, many fabulous women managed to pull it off in classy and hardly overbearing ways. Who other than regular ol' tomcat Hugo to provide the soundtrack for this one, with his scorching blues-rock hit "Bread and Butter," which makes no effort in hiding the overtly sexual storyline. Hugo's piping hot moans sing about a girl he wants to...well, do things I suppose a male might want to do with a stick of butter and a nice loaf of rye.

What the boys were wearing while being boys, and the beats they blared:

Burberry's Army
1. Military:  Attention! This evolving trend was here in full-force again this year, with plenty of clean-cut lines and stiff, powerful statements on the men's fashion side of things. Double-breasted and high-collared jackets, aviator sunglasses, brass buttons and tough boots continued to make an appearance along with slick and elegant haircuts on the working men. Both the leisurely and professional aspect of this trend resembles that of men in the early to mid-20th century wartime - cool, casual and excited to get their coiff a little messy after a hard day in the assembly line. A 2010 goody that showcases both the sensitive and hard-edged life of a military man is the beautiful and dark "Bloodbuzz, Ohio" off the best album of 2010, The National's High Violet. This song is layered with crashing percussion and heartrending piano, and topped with the bottomless baritone of Matt Berringer. "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ I never thought about love when I thought about home/ I'm on a bloodbuzz, God I am/."

2. Rustic: Ah, the undying power of plaid. I have a memory of wearing plaid in early high school, and to this day I can still hear the lumberjack taunts in my dreams. But, that's neither here nor there because we're talking about the lads here, and - plaid is in, baby! Along with chunky corduroy and leather outerware, torn denim and festive knits. Men are all over the latest outdoorsy and rural vibes, which makes me think - when we forced Sex and The City on our boyfriends each season, did they pick up on pointers from the loveable countryman Aidan Shaw? To accompany us on the ride down the backroads to the woods, it's only necessary we leave the music selection to our favourite down and dirty men, The Black Keys. One of my most-enjoyed gritty love songs of this year is the thumping, knee-hammering "Everlasting Light" off the Keys' 2010 masterpiece Brothers. This down and dirty plea for love has a gospel resonance about it and sounds like it's out of a neighbourhood backyard bash, where there isn't an idle instrument or motionless foot for miles.

3. Slim Suits: Men everywhere have bitten the bullet this year and come to the obvious realization that they can look good, squeaky-fresh and well put-together without it meaning anything. I've loved looking left and right this year to discover men so wonderfully composed in their sleek, classic suits and dressware, skinny ties, shiny shoes and 1950s-inspired glasses. They look fit for a photo shoot or straight off the pages of The Great Gatsby, and frankly, it works. An equally as modern track for the modern man who's out on the town, drink in hand and swagger in place is the flashy "Skeleton Boy" by my elected electro-dance duo of the year, Friendly Fires. This robotic slice of Brit-pop is high energy, weirdly gorgeous and unbelievably catchy - the perfect song for a strut across a crowded room armed with confidence and a few undone shirt buttons.
*Note: This also has such a bananas music video.

4. Nautical: In my opinion, there are few things more classic than nautical. Hard to imagine it ever going out of style, nautical-themed clothing can easily give off the vacationing All-American vibe or the romantic lovers-at-sea vibe. Vibrant colours or plain whites, nautical is everywhere in everyday settings. Stripes, blue jeans and white deck shoes are a constant fixture in each season and are even more appropriate on twinkle-eyed boys coasting along blue waters on a summer afternoon. This sort of style undoubtedly deserves an equally carefree, golden ditty - most appropriately the warm summer sounds of "Brides Song" by Yukon Blonde. This harmonic indie-rock group of shaggy-haired Canadians succeed in pulling off the dreamy, 60s-reminiscent jams. This one is particularly sunny and has the most atmospheric and beautiful instrumental interjection at 3:10 into the song, that starts off sublimely gentle and then proceeds to rock your boat. This is meant to be listened to in your swimming trunks while the sun bounces off the waves below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful...

Ellie Enchanted
...Cover girl. Ah, the power of the cover song: simulated or twisted re-recordings of Billboard favourites and indie rarities that morph our love for old pieces of music into new and profound understandings of what we thought we knew. We can easily hate them and even more easily adore them. But the truth is, we rarely know a piece of music in only one way. Because true artists all over the world with their own vision and musical prophecy are always finding ways to tear the so-called carpet out from underneath us with how they believe music should be heard and how they believe meaning should be interpreted.

The key with all music is to have an open mind, and hear what they have to say.

Ellie Goulding, an indie-Brit Tinkerbell from Hereford, has quite a few interesting things to say. Just a baby out of the year 1986, Goulding has already made a splash on the indie electropop and "folktronica" scene in Europe. She's also poked her head into North America with her funky synth songs and sparkly-eyed trance-pop - but to be completely honest, I haven't really been sold on any of it. Until now.

The truth is, my newfound fascination with Goulding hardly lies in the synth-beats and auto-tune vocal alterations of her mainstream hits. It lies in her incredible ability to grab a classic indie or pop hit, plop it on her lap along with her acoustic guitar, and turn the whole thing upside down.

Why it is that this creamy Celtic-voiced 23-year-old is skipping readily down the electropop neon-brick-road, is beyond me. She has a riveting knack for melting down some of the most famous pop and rock songs with her acrobatic yodels, harmonic abilities and plucking guitar - but these only seem to make the cut during live radio sessions or intimate coffeehouse performances. I would much rather be a loyal listener of Ellie's if her originals were as creative and innovative as some her re-recordings. Her voice rolls like the hills of her homeland, and I would rather be fixated on that than any showy sound effects or glam shoulder pads.

Easily the most breathtaking of the bunch is her spin on The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition". What begins as a folk guitar progression into the song is beautiful, but holds no candle once Goulding's Gaelic-sounding vocal riffs enter and pierce the quiet air of the strings and keyboard. I haven't heard a cover quite this haunting in some time - and it can be attributed to Goulding's experimentation with stripping away all of the frill and letting the purity of her vocal deliverance stand alone. Another shining example is Ellie's cover of Elton John's "Your Song," which is commendable in it's textbook honouring of the original - but gets kicked up a sassier notch when remixed by DJ Blackmill Dubstep. This remix allows for the enjoyment of her magical yelps but with a harder-hitting beat and pretty electronica composition. Lastly, how can I not love the girl who covers one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Rihanna's pop anthem "Only Girl in The World". Ellie's sultry proclamation is insistent-sounding, similar to Rihanna's, and doesn't fall short in getting the girl-power message across. The added string arrangement, bobbing piano and aggressive harmonies certainly gang up on any male listeners, urging them to cut the crap and do what she says.

For more goodies out of the Ellie jar, feel free to grab ahold of the equally as great (but not as polished in terms of what you'll find online) covers of "The Cave" originally by Mumford and Sons and "Don't Panic" by Coldplay. Each will amaze and hopefully inspire you to root for this bright young star to soften her sound and showcase her pipes, only next time with a little less cover - and a little more Ellie.

And so it begins!

My view this morning
Was I right or was I right? Today, the sky opened up and dumped an unexpected amount of powder on us. And as much as it’s a real chore to trudge through, boy, does it ever look pretty! Tucked away in my cozy office I can’t help but admire the early morning crew kicking tufts of dust from their path and the gridlocked cars moving at a snail’s pace. Not that I’m reveling in their frustration – but it is winter after all! This is what it’s supposed to look like. If it’s going to be this bloody freezing, there might as well be some snow spit out into the mix.

Some great temperature appropriate songs for your winter wandering today are:

  1. Winter Wonderland – Phantom Planet: This amusing hipster spin on a traditional holiday carol will keep your spirits up and touque bobbing.
  2. It’s Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Tom! Sing it to me while sprint to catch the bus, tripping over my mitten strings and inappropriately-sized snow boots.
  3. It’s Christmas Time – Diana Krall: Krall’s jazzy purr will lull you into a yuletide trance on your commute home tonight, making the whole experience semi-worthwhile.
Good luck!

Monday, December 13, 2010

We ain't seen nothin' yet...

Winter Streets Vancouver by Brian Simons
So, we haven't exactly seen the fluffiest and most picturesque introduction to the winter season yet. We've had more of the sleety, ugly stuff that doesn't moderate the plunging temperatures and makes it easy to despise the month of December. But, I refuse! I remain optimistic that the times will change, Mother Nature will beautify the city streets, and soon enough I won't want to hop the next plane to Aruba every morning when I set foot outside at the outrageous hour of 7:00 am.

My first installation of winter songs were essential, but only a mere warm-up (ironic word choice) to what everyone needs to be playing this season. I've got my winter song collection on full blast at this point, and have learned that it's a grand help when trying to persevere through the dark mornings and brisk evenings at this nippy time of year. The songs I mention may seem to follow a warm and lovey pattern, but, despite the universe's attempt to make me otherwise, I can't help it - I'm just a big ball of love who feels that these glowing songs can light up even the darkest and coldest of times.

I hope you get the chance to light a fire beneath your inclement little abode with more of this winter playlist, and survive the worst that is yet to come!

 1. I Love You 'Till The End - The Pogues: No explanation needed really. One of my favourite and most timeless songs from the vault, it says everything us cold-blooded humans sometimes aren't able to say - except with an irish accent and breathtaking instrumental simplicity.

Paris lights
2. Paris - Friendly Fires (featuring Au Revoir Simone): I realize it's an unlikely track for this frigid time of year, because it sounds like it's fit for a night at a European rave, but nonetheless I highly associate this song with the cold weather. It's glam and sparkling persona resembles that of the Eiffel Tower alit, office tower lights shining in the cold night sky, and flashy New Years dresses swaying against snowy white legs on a Friday night. Au Revoir Simone's juvenile moan against the pumped-up trance beat of Friendly Fire's original is incredible. The empowering, neon build-up is enough to make any woman out there brave the dastardly cold with lips painted red and sky-high heels crushing the snow of the weekend winter streets.

3. Baby, You're My Light - Richard Hawley: A precious sweetheart croon meant for some sort of 1960's snow ball, this lovely ditty is straight off a snowflake covered cobblestone path. The chiming bells and swaying guitar alongside Hawley's happy words will literally warm your heart as you hang your lights, and for just a second, life will be as easy as pie.

4. Blood Bank - Bon Iver: A darker and more honest piece, Justin Vernon's lyrics stall time with his words hanging like the fog of your breath in the still air of a stalled car. The reminiscent, questioning tone in Vernon's voice is unlike many others, and will raise individual questions in all that listen. "I'm in love with your honour/ I'm in love with your cheeks," he aches in this acoustic guitar-driven blend of harmonies.

5. Skinny Boy - Amy Millan: Stars female front Millan lays it out on the table with this recording off her solo debut Honey from the Tombs. A mixture of waltzing acoustics and echoey vocals make up this starry-eyed track about a school girl longing for someone unattainable, despite knowing that when it's done she'll "drink champagne to the lonely."

6. Colours - Hot Chip: "Colours are what keep me alive," chirps quirky electropop lead singer Alexis Taylor before The Cure's "Close to Me" beat kicks in with the fluorescent finger-snapping melody. This song is light-hearted and fun, exactly what you need when you're hopping snowbanks and dodging snow plows.

7. The Ghost in You - Counting Crows: One of my favourite Counting Crows songs of all time (which many people oddly seem to have never heard), this song is like an acoustic candelight poetry reading, progressing from verse to chorus and back again with complete ease. Originally an 80s pop hit by The Psychelic Furs, Adam Duritz's pained cries will strike a chord in any lump of coal heart, because the incredible lyrical revelations read like classic English literature: "All the papers lie tonight/ Falling over you is the news of the day."

8. Real Love - Regina Spektor: Our favourite Russian-New Yorker builds the beauty of this gorgeous John Lennon classic with a broadway-ballad voice and angelic classical piano. Without bells, whistles or any copycat agenda, Spektor honours the heavier original with her pixie voice and elegant keys, fitting it for any introspective walk in an empty, snow-covered park.

London City Lights
9. Babylon - David Gray: This track is an instant smile, a blast from the past, a claim of clarity. "The love that I was giving you was never in doubt/ Let go in your heart/ Let go in your head/ And feel it now". Gray's London drawl and twinkling acoustic guitar build a case near this time of year - inspiring all of us to let failures be forgotten and resolutions be kept.

10. I Hear The Bells - Mike Doughty: Let this fun and triumphant one march you across the city as the first signs of winter set in. Doughty's falsetto story recognizes the onset of the season, calling out for the girl of his dreams in a candid and upbeat manner that calls for people everywhere to join him for a party in the streets.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Plan in Action

Great live music in the nation's capital is certainly not lacking. Whether it's a jazz trio downtown, bluesgrass jamming uptown or the typical music venues hosting small and big names alike - there's always a means of furthering your musical appreciation and expanding your taste. I try to check out the live music calendar around town each week to see if anyone sparks my interest - and this week I was lucky to find that one of my new favourite local bands, The Murder Plans, were playing in the Byward Market. Between the word of mouth and pretty post-punk songs that are hosted by their Myspace page, they're a captivating blend of The National's new romantic instrument-use and Pilate-sounding (Pilot Speed, whatever) vocals.

They don't thrash in your face, dance through the crowd or wear things that make you question if they are even capable of owning a simple pair of pajama's - they boil down to four talented (and refreshingly friendly, if you get to meet them) and dedicated musicians. Experienced and driven in the field of social media and keeping their hefty local fan base up to date, they are accessible and rightfully interested in starting a much-deserved Murder Plan movement.

 Their latest EP, Good Omens, is full of meaningful wording and aerial instrumentals. The shy but suave, annunciated utterances of Connor McGuire are fascinating because his in-person demeanor is modest and anything but overpowering. The building tempo of the sinful-sounding late night confession "Tell Me A Lie" make it a prized tale of ambivalence. "A Minefield" has a pretty resonance about it, but with more of McGuire's breathy rasps and dusk-walking thought processes. One of my favourites, "Chorus Girls," lets us in on the secret of co-lead Michael Simon's purely innocent voice and the band's casually insightful vibe.

This crew of mature, well-dressed professionals are worth a large listen. Not because they're local and all local things need to be pumped up, but because they play the familiar role of the solemn, kind men next door who may hold their words close - but once the dialogue begins, you'll promptly hear their genius potential.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Strike While It's Hot

Sometimes it feels like everyone and their Aunt is in a band they want you to hear, come out and watch live, or buy the album of. This is all fine and dandy, because all music is worth a shot and all friends deserve the support. But, every now and again – one of those bands really blows you away. And, instead of plugging in the headphones in front of your friend and faking thumbs-up as you listen to them awkwardly trip around their instruments and fumble notes, you look to that friend of yours in awe and say, “Holy s**t. It’s actually so good.”

That’s the category Toronto-based Wildlife fell into. My best male friend and tether ball rival since the age of 11 has an equally artistically-inclined older brother named Tim, who became part of their cousin’s band only a few years ago. The hype grew, the songs developed – and from first listen, it was obvious that their sound and dynamic was really something else. They didn’t reek of immaturity and artistic confusion – they had a musical notion, a particular noise about them, something that would inevitably set them aside from other bands attempting desperately to sound just like the rest.

Although they’ve been performing, recording and songwriting since their inception, their debut EP was released this week. This Arcade Fire-sounding compilation and set list have become actual tangible entities that get stuck in listener's heads – and I couldn’t be more proud. Everything from the look and attitude of the band to the album artwork says they’re ready. They’re ready to stop being modest.

On the debut album Strike Hard, Young Diamond, the opening song "Stand in the Water" is absolutely my favourite track. It’s punchy, hurried garage guitar lays the foundation for the equal parts playful and compelling indie melody. The youthful urgency in lead singer Dean Povinsky’s voice was meant for this mighty and romantic tune. Make what you will of the meaning, but one thing is for sure, you won’t be able to get the repetition of the line “Well, just as long as you’re looking for me,” out of your head for days. An anthem for young lovers and rebels everywhere, the collective sing-a-long and jumpy instruments strike me as more on the beautiful side than anything else.

A mixture of the summer fun of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the young-at-heart angst of The Cure, Wildlife's sugary 1980s resemblances layered overtop pumped-up rock performances will leave you wanting more. An optimistic-sounding concoction of choir-esque moments and indie-pop breakdowns in “Move to the City” and “When I Get Home” flawlessly reveal the vocal abilities and instrumental energy that brews inside each member. Similarly, if you ever get the chance to check out a Wildlife show, you’ll discover this yourself – they won’t rest until everyone is sweating, until we’ve all learned the words and until the venue is coated in a thick fog of liveliness and feelings of youthful self-rule.

They even had the nerve to send me into a state of comatose nirvana when they played a live pop-punky spin on The Boss’ “Dancing in the Dark,” which is easily one of my favourite songs of all time. What were they trying to do to me? Kill me? I had already sweat out everything in my system and almost lost my voice, and then that cover happened to close out the show – a moment of psychotic jumping and scream-singing I will never forget.

So, with that – I urge you to go for a walk on the Wildlife side of things. You’ll feel young, happy, and part of the next big thing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Christmas All Over Again.

The countdown is on until the most beautiful day of the birthday. Kidding! That's on it's way also, but I'm talking about the 25th, the day big ol' St. Nick pays us a visit, Christmas. A day of family, (hopefully) billowy white snow, friends, food, happiness, love, etc. If you can't do or say it at Christmas, when can you?

Now, I love the classic Christmas hits and carols as much as the next gooey, obsessed Christmas lover. However, I prefer my own spin on the top 40 Christmas playlist. I like it all, combined into one Christmas-cake sized music conglomerate that has bits and pieces of all sorts of holiday sounds. It's like Christmas dinner - your best bet to make the most of your extravagant meal experience is to fork a little piece of it all,  and enjoy the big bite.

Here are my absolute favourite Christmas essentials - I highly suggest you get ahold of each one pronto to accompany you through your holidays:

1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Death Cab for Cutie: This beautiful re-make is full of all the right things - Ben Gibbard's sweetheart croons alongside an atmospheric guitar, powerful piano and percussion ensemble. The upbeat classic is turned into a slower and more memorable heartwarming plea, to be sung to the special person in your life this season.

2. White Christmas - Otis Redding: A personal favourite of mine, this Motown Christmas jewel shines the brightest during the weeks leading up to the big day. It will illuminate your home with each organ key drone and soulful word sung. When this is played, I smell holly, see lights and feel at home. Like everything he sings, you can picture Otis twitching and squirming as the horns build and sway together, cueing him to howl: "May your days/ may your days be so merry, merry and bright/ And darlin' may all your Christmases be white."

3. The Christmas Song - The Raveonettes: Meant for 1950s sweethearts dancing in front of the fireplace, this sleighbell dialogue between boy/girl lead singers Sune Wagner and Sharon Foo of the Raveonettes is delect. Cozy up with the swooping guitar twangs and doo wop rhythm, and you'll immediately sympathize while they sing "I wish that I could walk you home."

4. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Coldplay: Coldplay's dinner jazz piano is both soft and romantic in this old-time lullaby. Chris Martin's gentle Brit-pop voice is soothing and genuine, making this modern-day take on a Frank Sinatra serenade up to par.

5. Merry Christmas Baby - Bruce Springsteen: This song here is just about the most fun you'll have this holiday season. Put this on as you decorate the house, dance around in Christmas-themed underpants, and before long you'll find you've a) baked enough Christmas goods to feed a small country and b) drank your weight in spiked eggnog. THAT is how much fun this song is. Something about The Boss taunting the impatient, screaming crowd with his sultry rasp while Clarence Clemons honks his sax at them is about as addictive as it gets.

6. Just Like Christmas - Low: The second most fun you'll have this holiday season. This is a Christmas travellin' tale, your roadtripping ditty of the year - a tune that's perfect for a snowy car ride to the relatives with presents piled high on your bundled lap. The jangling sleighbell punctuation and marching band percussion quaintly matches singer Mimi Parker's falsetto storytelling. Listen to this to feel warm, young, happy - as if it was just like Christmas.

7. Donna and Blitzen - Badly Drawn Boy: Put this on your indie-hipster friends' Christmas mix, and you'll have them hooked. A beautiful jukebox beat dotted with sporadic finger-snapping and snatches of shrill violin, this piano-driven story is sweet and uppity. Damon Gough (the boy that is badly drawn) has the voice of a perfect Lancaster gentleman narrating an adorable reindeer love story.

8. Please Come Home For Christmas - The Eagles: A bluesy ballad of melancholy and longing, put this on if you desperately feel the need to stare out a frosted window pane on Christmas eve, willing your lover to make it home.

9. Maybe This Christmas - Ron Sexsmith: If you haven't already caught on, I never leave unimportant song suggestions to the end. In fact, this is one of the most important of them all. If you ever need a Christmas pick-me-up, this is sure to do the trick. The message in this song is exactly what the season is about, and the truth and good will spoken in Sexsmith's hum is something everyone can stand to take in at this time of year. The pretty acoustic melody and xylophone chimes manage to put a little cheer and hope in my heart every year.

"Snowy Drive" - Peter Harris

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Although it's been wiped away by fluctuating temperatures and rain these past few days, we've seen our first snow fall. And thus begins my favourite month of the year! With December in toe, and many frosty, snowflake-filled days ahead of us - something has to keep us going. This time of year - whether you're a student, in the working world, or anywhere else - can be notoriously trying at times. Trudging through snow, financial quams and a hefty workload proves to be discouraging, which is why I try to keep my favourite winter ditties on hand. The fact of the matter is, winter and it's plunging temperatures can be entirely pleasant if you're sporting the right coat and the right playlist. Suddenly, your chilly cheeks aren't the end of the world and the soft heaps of snow seem a lot prettier.

I make a note of re-vamping my iPod each year after the first snowfall, because let's face it - Camera Obscura doesn't sound so good when it's not a blistering day on the beach. The Black Keys aren't as perfect of a companion without a golden rural roadtrip in the summer heat. Similarly, the cooler, tinkering tunes make for a great backdrop to the lights and whites of the holidays. Some songs have been in closeted Rubbermaid bins for the past seven months, and here they are, happily resurrected for the winter! Here's a starter list of what will calm those winter woes, expect more to come...

1. I Love NYE - Badly Drawn Boy: THE winter essential. As soon as you see a little white flake stick to your coat, flip this track on immediately. This BDB instrumental is perfectly quaint and breathtaking from start to finish. Whether it's the floating orchestra, calm acoustic guitar or sweet-as-pie xylophone melody, this song captivates you through each of it's building phases. When you listen to it, don't be alarmed if you begin having visions of bright twinkle lights and a untouched winter streets - it's a natural symptom of the song.

Ingrid and Sara
2. Winter Song - Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles: Whoever advised these two indie power-females to join and record a haunting and unforgettable winter anthem is a genius. This song is truly powerful. Bareille and Michaelson's exquisite vocal abilities make for heavenly harmonies and the words they sing are equally as profound. These two ladies cause an infectious adoration and I find it hard to believe anyone could not fall in love with such beauty - "Ill be your harvester of light/ And send it out tonight/ So we can start again/ Is love alive?"

3. Faded from the Winter - Iron & Wine: A favourite from my past, Sam Beam can put me to sleep any day. This song tells an eerie but beautiful story worth listening to, and it's gentle redundance is one of a kind. His voice against a rustic acoustic loop is soothing to the ear and perfect for a calm winter stroll on your own, or a night spent in front of a cabin fire while the snow blows outside. Listen for the uppity country transition at the end, it will pick you up from the serenity of the song and carry you right into your bed. "Spoken words like moonlight, you're the voice that I like."

Strumming the Fisherman's Blues
4. Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys: An odd choice, you're thinking. Well, hear me out. You know those opening scenes in the old flicks where the camera starts out on a quiet, blizzardy town street and then wanders inside the doors of the local watering hole, only to find that noisy debauchery and rowdy music fills the indoors? That's what I'm going for with this one. Go have a dark pint or hot special coffee in the front of an old pub and request this song while you're at it. It's a true Scottish jig lead by Mike Scott's passionate howls and the band's hopping strums, and although only a few words ago I advised you to sit in a window and take it all in, I immediately take it back. Stand up and dance wildly to this one, because after all these years, the Waterboys would want still want you to.

5. It's The Nighttime Baby - Josh Rouse: This one would go great with a leisurely ride around town (with your snow tires on, of course). Draw a few things on the foggy windows, enjoy the decorated city and let the narration of this happy little track do what it may. Rouse, who I always can pinpoint as a fairly blunt storyteller, will croon the words alongside a bouncy acoustic and country tempo to set the mood. It's a cute snowy sound, so snuggle up to your sweetie in the front seat and take a spin down the road.