Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Countdown: #1

HAPPY (almost) NEW YEAR! Thank you to those who stuck with me throughout the whole 2011 countdown - 15 days of rhyming off what I thought were the most breathtaking albums of the year. And now here we are, with less than 12 hours left of the year, down to the wire, and ready to celebrate three phenomenal artists who blew me away in 2011. All of them on their way to being seasoned musicians with memorable albums under their wings and a hefty amount of coverage to speak to their talent - and all of them artists we can expect to see blossom immensely as the years go on, the tunes are churned out and the masses fall even more in love. So, cheers to a fabulous year filled with wonderful sounds and beautiful new pieces of writing - and cheers to what I consider to be one of the most fascinating eras that music has ever seen.

Florence Welch

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE - Ceremonials: This powerful, booming-voiced firecracker stormed onto the scene in 2009 with her debut album Lungs - a collection of gigantic, passionate songs that were laced with both obscurity and mainstream magic. She certainly hasn't retired or fizzled from the hype since then; especially after her most recent release - an all-encompassing collection of massive and triumphant anthems that would make even the most unaware listener scoff upon hearing the singer is only 25 years-old. Her pure and rich vocal chords crooning emotional prose alongside layers of unexpected instruments and harmonious choirs are all ingredients to make this one of the most flawless and mind blowing female soloist albums I've heard in years. Highlight songs: "Never Let Me Go", "Only For The Night", "No Light, No Light", "Shake it Out", "What The Water Gave Me"

Anthony Gonzalez of M83
M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming: If there was a special category for my apartment's most overplayed album of the year - this would win. This breathtaking double album was everything I could have asked for and more when it comes to a collection of music. The French electro-rock band delivered the perfect mix of crashing instrumentals, 80s-reminiscent pop-rock, atmospheric transition songs and heartwarming ballads. There isn't one song I would gladly skip over, because each creative gem in this mixed bag of music was impossible to ignore. Frontman Anthony Gonzalez says he created the album while keeping in mind the theme of dreaming, at any age, and the heartbreak and wonder that accompanies that process. With one listen, you'll hear every bit of that. Highlight songs: "Midnight City", "Wait", "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire", "Echoes of Mine", "Steve McQueen", "Intro"


ADELE - 21: Well, here we are with the last woman standing - or maybe more appropriately - the one and only. Adele - the young adult who "turned her sorrow into treasured gold" and then proceeded to chuckle all the way to the bank and Grammy's - has successfully pulled off something unheard of at her age. After suffering heartbreak and consequent vulnerability, the shining British star crafted her forlorn and angry emotions into classic-sounding melodies and soul and groove-caked love songs -with her hearty, enormous vocals orchestrating it all. What was the plain and simple result of 21? She blew everyone, at any age or level of experience, completely out of the water in comparison. She translated very real and relatable emotions into a handful of timeless classics that the world will  cherish for years, and as a result has secured herself as a musical genius who, after only her sophomore release, is one of the brightest stars the music world has ever seen. Whether or not it's your type of music, Adele undoubtedly wrote the best album of this year. Highlight songs: "Rolling in the Deep", "Someone Like You", "One and Only", "Set Fire to the Rain"

Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve - and we'll see each other in 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Countdown: #2

Well, isn't this exciting! We're nearing the end of my counting down what I consider to be the best albums of this musically diverse year. Some albums are highly influential, some artists were fascinating creatures to profile - and some simply deserved recognition for the overall hype they and their music created. Two of those kind of artists I'm going to delve into today; two people who have certainly put forward game-changing concepts and artistic originality over the past twelve months, and two who have a constant buzz soaring over their heads wherever they go. Although different in sound and maturity, these two figures will inevitably continue to have the industry like putty in their hands - as they continue to grow their cult followings and do things that, really, no one else is.

Lana Del Rey

LANA DEL REY - Video Games: Although only having released a few singles, this emerging star is someone who is going to do things we can't even imagine. In my previous article about Del Rey, born Lizzy Grant in New York state, I mention that her creative concept - this "gangster Nancy Sinatra" and Hollywood pop/sadcore genre breeder - is literally something no one else has cultivated. Her played-up pout, sultry cat eyes and glamour-meets-costume style is almost jarring at first; she's undeniably beautiful, but with a bellowing and melancholy-filled voice that delivers - in what I consider to be a new genre that she will be credited for - these nostalgic-sounding and epic indie pop anthems that are so big, so beyond her age and almost eery to the point of sending chills through her listeners and the music world. In every way, Del Rey is this strange musical specimen, unworldly and out of nowhere who has appeared to change the face and sound or female-driven dramatic pop. Her fascination with fame, old hollywood, sex, sadness and truth are ultimately what will bring this new star to the forefront of everything. Look out for her new album on January 31st, something tells me she's going to change everything for good. Highlight songs: Blue Jeans, Video Games, Born to Die

"I know a lot of different people. When they are drunk, in the dark of the night they all want the same thing. They all want to be famous. It's innately human to want other people to bear witness to your life. It's important for people to be watched. They don't want to be alone. I don't want to be alone." - Lana Del Rey 

Image of Bon Iver
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver

BON IVER - Bon Iver: The Grammy-nominated favourite of mine took his woodsy art-rock album For Emma, Forever Ago - an instant classic in each music library - and piled on rhythmic, mature and innovative ideas to make this absolute gem of an album during their greatest musical year yet. Justin Vernon, the mastermind behind the revolutionary indie and folk-rock band, did unbelievable things in 2011; between dipping his toe into hip-hop waters, collaborating with other up-and-coming artists and adding unlikely but genius musical elements into his most recent release - he's been secured as one of our generation's most musically memorable leaders. Also, the live show I caught four months ago was life-changing. Highlight songs: "Michicant", "Perth", "Towers", "Calgary"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Countdown: #3

The real deals are very hard to come across in all genres of music; artists who will sustain, consistently make mindblowing music and raise the  bar for all younger generations of artists looking to make their mark. Which is why, as we ease into the final days of the countdown, it's necessary to pay homage to two of the greatest generational artists we are lucky to still be very well-acquainted with despite their decade-plus runs at making hit albums. They both have near cult followings, their both acclaimed performers who tour avidly to this day, and they're both the definition of the real thing - going absolutely nowhere anytime soon. Two of my favourites, two of my main leading men, and two rock 'n rollers who have stood the test of time.

My Morning Jacket
MY MORNING JACKET - Circuital: Debuting at #5 on the Billboard 200? Nearly enough said when describing the unbelievable genius of leading man Jim James and his brood of quirky rockers. Having been on the indie and psychedelic rock scene since 1998, these confident rock veterans literally changed my life during their live show. You could feel the weighty percussion and bass beating through your chest, Jim James' classic howl stretched for miles, and the instrumental explosions and camaraderie were all so shocking that I found it hard to believe the band could ever play two nights in a row. Which they, of course, do - and have for 15 years. How they create such profound rock is beyond me - and this ghostly, Americana-driven and booming album is just another batch of searing songs to add to their already influential repertoire. Listen to it - that's all I can suggest in order for you to truly feel the musical wrath of what I feel will be one of the most important bands of our time. Jim James will be one of those rock legends.  Highlight songs: "Circuital", "Holdin' On To Black Metal", "Wonderful", "Victory Dance"

Ryan Adams
RYAN ADAMS - Ashes and Fire: Where do I begin? If you ask me who my favourite artist is, after I ramble on about The Boss and his greatest musical achievements for awhile, I'll then go on to a similar argument for why Ryan Adams is the tying artist in that number one spot. And that's a loaded question to ask me. But I am very confident, after years of Bruce obsession and only a few less years of Ryan infatuation, that he is one of the greatest performers on earth. His diverse discography of both Southern-prepped upbeat country-rock and peaceful soft balladry is something not many artists can maintain after twenty years. In a time when country-rock music often means cowboy hats, Nashville, bright lights and a big head of blonde hair - Adams did something significant and different. His raw voice, englightened storytelling and infinitely beautiful country melodies are not easy things to deliver in an everlasting and superior manner since 1991. 1991! He hasn't yet tired of making the consistent quality of relaxed alt-country, timeless folk-rock or golden love anthems to which we all grew up with. He still writes of ideas that are new to me, has the crispest croons in the game and manages to pull collections of notes together from unknown places to make, what I consider to be, pure magic. And this album is no different. Classic, heartwarming, soothing, perfect. Highlight songs: "Do I Wait", "Invisible Riverside", "Dirty Rain", "I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say"

My favourite song off the new album.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Countdown - #4

Well, well, well. Now isn't it fitting that on this day, my birthday, the 2011 countdown contains:
a) the #4 - my favourite and luckiest number
b) two of my favourite Americana-savvy artists who make near-perfect sounding rock 'n roll.

So, Happy Birthday to me! I don't think I need to introduce these guys any further than those two fun tidbits of news on an otherwise very fun day.

Fleet Foxes
FLEET FOXES - Helplessness Blues: As some of my favourite group of Seattle (music hub) folk-rockers, the Foxes really struck gold with this chilly rustic compilation of yesteryear-sounding Americana hymns. Visions of rolling hills, setting sun and crowds of flower children are inevitable after a one-through of this Simon and Garfunkel-meet-America classic rock beauty - and amidst the "find yourself" lyrics and howling harmonies, you will fall in love with folk and rock all over again. Highlight songs: "The Shrine/An Argument", "Helplessness Blues", "Someone You'd Admire", "Grown Ocean"


 WILCO - The Whole Love:  We can always trust that Jeff Tweedy, who's been called the "Dad" of contemporary alt-rock based on his 15 years as a touring vet and collaborator, will deliver us with something entirely worthwhile. In between buzzing guitars, new punkier moments and catchy hooks - bits and pieces of novel Wilco sounds will appear right beside the classic strumming, slide guitars and storytelling drawl we can expect out of the seasoned alternative-rock musician and his band. His voice, melodies, and beautifully dependable songwriting genius make this collection one of this best yet. Highlight songs: "Black Moon", "Capitol City", "One Sunday Morning"(beautiful song)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Countdown: #5

5 ,4, 3, 2....1! Happy New Year. That's how it will five days. So, the big five countdown begins today and is one that will include some of what I consider to be the most top-notch releases of this magical music year. To take us into the big five, final four, then tasty three, here are two artists - one relatively new and one veteran group who I could see likely combining one day, because they are both refreshing and timeless. There are so many thrilling things about new music, but catching word of a new duet or unlikely pairing in music is easily near the top of my list. Maybe I'll write a thoughtful note to both of them and suggest they think about a little collab. They'll probably write back, thanking me for the worthwhile suggestion, because they don't often get people trying to tell them how to make their music in the midst of their busy creative careers. Right? Right. Anyway, in the words of Chris "I refuse to forgive you despite your impressive dance moves" Brown - le'go:

Annie Clark aka St. Vincent
ST. VINCENT - Strange Mercy: I'm sure I'm not the only one asking this, but - Annie Clark, where exactly did you come from? Above? Tulsa, Oklahoma? Both answers are true - and either way, I don't care, I'm just happy we have her. Apparently kicking around since her debut in 2007, Annie Clark - these days known as St. Vincent - is one quirky and fascinating musical sprite. As a sultry singer, songwriter and instrumentalist who crowds funky and original concepts into her artsy albums - Clark isn't afraid to weird up an album with thumping, grungy guitars stacked right beside feminine, twinkling melodies. She's one of those girls who on the playground who, if instead of kickball was being judged on her ability to shred a guitar and bring down a crowd, the menacing bullies would agree she wasn't just "good for a girl" - she's good for anybody. And to be fair, since I make note of this for the male portion of the artists I cover, she's undeniably stunning as well. Don't let the rouge lips and tiny frame fool you, this girl can rock with the best of them - and will for quite some time. Highlight songs: "Cruel", Northern Lights", "Surgeon", "Strange Mercy", Dillettante"


COLDPLAY - Mylo Xyloto: We have a lot to compare to when it comes to this iconic contemporary British pop-rock clan, and inevitably in the eyes of some an album can never measure up to earlier works. But, in my opinion at least, an artist's new attempts and whacks at musical growth should always be appreciated. And, despite the newest Coldplay release hardly resembling A Rush of Blood to the Head or Parachutes, it sure was interesting to hear their cultured and crafty new tracks - which featured an array of robust sonic sounds, guest stars and maturity beyond acoustic love songs and typical chord progression. It was futuristic, it sparkled in a new way and it was different; something that's always off-putting, but often needed, in any part of anything. I think it was great, and between Chris Martin's stellar vocal performance, some synth spells and even a few songs to appease our old-school Coldplay appetite (Charlie Brown and U.F.O.) - there should at least be a little something for everyone. Way to go, boys. Highlight songs: "Hurts Like Heaven", "Paradise", "Princess of China", "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall"

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Countdown: #6

We're in the home stretch! Welcome back to the final week of In The Round's 2011 countdown of best albums. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas yesterday and is about to hit the pavement today for some sales and post-holiday gorging exercise. This countdown has been a wonderful opportunity for me to re-visit some of the golden soundtracks to my life during a very interesting year, and hopefully you've been able to secure a few new purchases out of the mess of musical reflection too. The two artists who are going to kick off the final week were without a doubt on most people's wishlists these years - with their innovative contemporary rock, heaps of instruments, memorable vocals and cute front men. Coincidentally, they proved to be a real problem for me at this past summer`s Bluesfest - when they both played at the same time. Very upsetting moment. Here we go:

Hey Rosetta!

HEY ROSETTA! - Seeds: Newfoundland indie rockers Hey Rosetta!'s third studio album, a product featuring their coined layers of instruments behind Tim Baker's heartwarming voice - brought something a little different to the table this time around. It was equally as genius as their previous releases which won them places in every Canadian's hearts, but it was older, wiser and spoke profound lessons about growing up (hence the title) which seemed beyond their years. Comforting coming-of-age messages about a sometimes nasty world and paintings of silver linings throughout the melodic and orchestral collection make this one of the most beautiful albums of the year, in my mind - which is probably why it was shortlisted for the coveted 2011 Polaris Prize. Highlight songs: "Welcome", "Bandages" and "Yer Spring"

This is also one of my favourite videos of the year.

The Keys

THE BLACK KEYS - El Camino: As definitely the most recent release mentioned in the countdown, The Keys tossed this flashy blues gem on to the airwaves less than two months ago. As the seventh studio album from Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach, everyone`s favourite sweaty blues-rock pair on the market, El Camino not only has the coolest album title since sliced bread, but it consistently delivers the same quality of scorching and upbeat getaway songs we fell in love with during Attack and Release and Brothers. Rapid fire percussion, glamorously soulful guitar riffs and pop vocals that could sear the rubber off an El Camino`s tires - this album is another taste of bluesy garage-rock rarity that we really (really) can't get anywhere else. Highlight songs: "Run Right Back", "Little Black Submarine", "Sister"

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Countdown - #7

Closing out the second week of the 201 countdown – how exciting! It’s been (for me) a great two weeks of wonderful artists and their exceptional 2011 albums. Today's pair, although completely different, have three very important things in common: 1) They had phenomenally huge years b) They will be around for decades (and decades) to come c) They can break hearts with their voices, words and natural talent. So, that being said, let’s explore their unrelated – but magical – talents.

Eddie Vedder

EDDIE VEDDER – Ukelele Songs: Vedder’s stripped-down vault of uke songs that he’s had up his sleeve for over a decade proved to be one of the more refreshing compilations of the year – just so long as you didn’t go into it expecting any Pearl Jam. Save for “Can’t Keep”, a barebones PJ track, the rest of the album is a compilation of heartbreak ballads, love songs, duets with talents like Cat Power and Glen Hansard, and other quiet strumming moments with the famous front man. Featuring obvious elements of Into The Wild’s (Vedder’s other recent solo project) romanticism, the album is thoughtful, mature and a wonderful wind-down from Pearl Jam’s nonstop touring, film release, and height of glory. Highlight songs: “Tonight You Belong To Me”, “Longing to Belong”, “Sleeping By Myself”


BEYONCE – 4: OK, let’s kick it up a notch with this babe. This album is one of the pop and R&B Queen Bee’s most well-rounded yet. A balance of powerful love songs, quirkily mixed dance tracks and old-school diva numbers make this all-star-studded compilation a meticulously produced coming-of-age album for her, and each of its listeners. In the colourful assortment of influences that includes 90s soft jams, Motown, contemporary electro-dance and everything in between – Beyonce conducts the direction more confidently and ahead of her game than ever. Resembling nothing else currently topping the charts, Knowles looks and sounds like she has moreso secured herself as the reigning superstar and performer of our generation after releasing this sparkling gem. Also, I think most girls really do feel like they can “Run The World” when that song rolls on – so, well done, B.  Highlight songs: “I Miss You”, “Run The World”, “Love On Top”, "1+1"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Countdown - #8

Today we're going to take a little glance into what's hip and what's hip-hop. This year, the twosome rap conglomerate that assembled Watch The Throne - one of the most highly anticipated albums of the  year - as well as the hipster nation's favourite dance/thrash/ride bicycles compilation of the year were two major music takeovers that had people moving, grooving, bouncing and vibing all through the summer of 2011. Let's take a listen:

Hov and Ye

JAY-Z AND KANYE WEST - Watch  The Throne: This Grammy-nominated album, regardless of how spectacular the final product was, wins the obvious award for most hype surrounding a hip-hop album or tour in many, many years. The collaboration between these two rap geniuses was lyrically predictable yet powerful - the result of two fame-hungry, big beat-savvy, successful players who boast being a percentage of "bazillionaires." It's tough for the friendly but rivalling hip-hop empires to balance each other throughout the album - sometimes sounding a little in disarray - but the mere spectacle of the collaboration sparkled so bright it was impossible to ignore as a huge moment in hip hop. They're visionaries - so anything they do, separate or together - I find fascinating. Highlight songs: "Lift Off", "Otis", "N**gas in Paris"

The Naked and Famous

THE NAKED AND FAMOUS - Passive Me, Aggressive You: It really is difficult to say whether or not this five-piece indie pop band will make it past the first album and into a wave of further success - but for the time being, they've sure made some enjoyable tunes that were completely akin with the upbeat dream pop we heard so much of in 2011. Rhythmic, danceable punky melodies, as well as sombre sonic beats and the dueling boy/girl vocals of Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers are all a load of fun - and perfectly represented in the (naked and) famous smash hit "Young Blood". Highlight songs: "All of This", "Punching in a Dream", "Young Blood", "Girls Like You"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Countdown - #9

cool/koŌl/: Slang: a. Excellent; first-rate. b. Acceptable; satisfactory. These artists are cool. Both of them - very much so. One surfaced into my life about four years ago, captivating my attention with his eccentric melodies, massive instrumental backing and grandiose indie yodel. The other popped up a little over a year ago, and has now been played so painfully to death, I'm currently in the middle of "cool"-ing off from them. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve a large mention for making this year very, very pumped up.

BEIRUT - The Rip Tide: Faithful to Beirut's coined caravan-jam classics- this album is a sunny glance into his awesomely obscure American indie-pop, orchestrated by a barrel of instruments ranging from giant horns to his famous ukulele to jolly piano. The album was just perfect as a June release;  it's like one giant dreamy summer voyage that stretches across a heartwarming collection of coming-of-age concepts. Zach Condon, or Beirut, is a 25 year-old indie sensation who has proved his music is here to stay - only getting better, older and happier. This is my favourite album from this little star; it really does make me so happy when I listen all the way through. I suggest you do the same.. Highlight songs: "Santa Fe", "Goshen", "The Rip Tide", "Vagabond"


Foster The People

FOSTER THE PEOPLE - Torches: My article from back in October of 2010 cited these guys as a band that would make a "head-turning" splash in 2011 - and I have to say, I told you so. Between the popular and wildly overplayed "Pumped Up Kicks", the band whipped out "Helena Beat" mid-year - a funky downtown jam pulled together by their laid-back, young voices and futuristic melody. They could be a fad, or they could be a stylish addition to the dance-indie wave that we'll see kick around for several more albums. To be determined; but in the mean time, I have FTP to thank for helping me improve my "cool" walking strut over the course of the past year. Try not to strut when "Pumped Up Kicks" is playing, regardless of how sick of it you are. Also, did I mention they're undeniably handsome? Bonus points... Highlight songs: "Helena Beat", "Don't stop (Color on the Walls)", "Waste", "Miss You"


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Countdown - #10

When I say hip, you say hop. Hip! Hop! No? Can't pull that off? Didn't think so...

Either way, contrary to the sounds you primarily hear on this blog...I love hip-hop. Always have. I grew up with Jurassic 5, Black Star, A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstarr and Big L. Those were my party jams, my walking tunes, and a big part of my understanding of words and how they pair together. And then there's a new kind of beat in town. Despite not having released a full-length album this year, Skrillex deserves an unbelievable shout-out; his contribution to dubstep takeover, his participation in international electro-house festivals that fill cities, and his bizarro stage style are something 2011 became very familiarized with.


DRAKE - Take Care: The ambient and subdued vibe of this honest recent release from the Toronto-born rap superstar is easily my favourite from him yet. Sensual beats, melancholy singing, R&B, and scattered keyboard effects underneath Drake's lazy cool rhymes secure him as one of the most unique young guns of the decade. The album follows a fairly typical theme of shouting out to past loves, as well as dealing with conflicts and confusion surrounding his rapid rise to rap fame, but all in a raw and sometimes forlorn state - the star who has it all, but struggles. It's easy to say, "Yeah, yeah - poor millionaire pop star," but one listen through of this autobiographically moody and vulnerable spin on arrogance - and you might think twice. Highlight songs: "Take Care", "Shot For Me", "Marvin's Room", "Lord Knows"



SKRILLEX - More Monsters and Sprites: Well, this is not everyones cup of tea - I'll say that up front. However, if you try for one second to convince anyone that the international dance, party and rave scene hasn't made an undeniable and vast resurgence - you're nuts. Skrillex, born Sonny Moore in 1988 (a good year...), took his years of musical experience as a member of post-hardcore and metal bands, his familiarity with a laptop and his undeniable on-stage energy and became who he is today: one of the top selling artists on the charts who has managed magazine covers, 1 billion cartons of cigarettes and the weirdest hairstyle in years. I'll just say, I've seen the kid live...and wow, that's a party. Dubstep -which is electronic dance music infused with massive bass beats, sampling and hyperactive percussion - came back to play this year because of artists like this, and whether or not it's here to stay, that's something we'll have to watch for. Highlight songs: "First of the Year (Equinox)", "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (Kaskade remix)"

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 Countdown - #11

Welcome back to the second week of In The Round’s countdown to 2012. Let’s get right down to enjoying two amazing artists who released stellar artists in the past year – both acclaimed, both rocking and both going absolutely nowhere anytime soon.

TV on the Radio

TV ON THE RADIO – Nine Types of Light: As one of my favourite art rock bands, I was pretty overwhelmed at the undeniable coolness and diverseness of this April release. Experimental and making its way in 100 directions over the course of the song list – the album’s buzzing electric undertones, lead Tunde Adebimpe’s plain growling holler and sporadic rock detonations make this one of the most acclaimed TVOTR releases yet. Heartwarming lyrics that are paired with equally sweet and atmospheric chords rival funkier rhythms and edgier messages – and this band completely deserves the "Universal" that music criticism website Metacritic gave it. Sometimes, I think that TV On The Radio are just a little bit wiser than the rest of us.  Highlight songs: “Will Do”, “Killer Crane”, “Caffeinated Consciousness”



DESTROYER – Kaputt: Dan Bejar’s most recent project with Destroyer - his follow-up project to years contributing music to The New Pornographers - is a big melting pot of all sorts of musical influences; a crafty concoction that made this one of the most popular indie rock albums of the year. Bits of 80s-sounding A-ha moments can be heard in synth-based songs, French Riviera appropriate lounging-in-love ballads and even explosive bouts of soft-rock saxophone are heard throughout the rollercoaster work of art. But Bejar’s creamy soft lullaby is the common piece of each puzzling, but pretty, track. Highlight songs: “Blue Eyes”, “Poor in Love”, “Kaputt” 

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Countdown - #12

In the words of the wise and great Rebecca Black, it’s Friday, Friday, Friday – and this post will conclude the countdown mentions for this week! After chatting about two of today’s new-age crooners, cool guys and trendy tunemakers, we’ll take (as they say) a brief hiatus and return after the weekend with the second week of 2011 favourites. So, enjoy your weekend – reflect on a week of delicious albums that this wonderful year spawned, relax with a new playlist and celebrate the sounds. Glass of wine, cup of coffee, decadent Christmas dessert optional and encouraged.

Happy Friday, songbirds! Here are the new kids on the block that we couldn’t get enough of this year:

Raphael Saadiq
RAPHAEL SAADIQ – Stone Rollin’: Charles Jay Wiggins, born in ’66 to a hard knock life in Oakland, presumably was a neo-soul star even before he transformed into his alter-ego Saadiq – the multi-Grammy nominated funk brother and producer who has performed on some of the most influential international stages alongside names like Stevie Wonder. Despite being in the business for over two decades, popular airwaves might have only heard his resurgence in 2008 with the single “Big Easy” and the groovy impossible-not-to-dance “100 Yard Dash”. His newest album, however, was critically acclaimed by almost every tough-to-please publication. It’s the definition of classic soul revival – packed with two-stepping Motown throwbacks like the title track, which tosses in some dangerously heated harmonica and enough instruments to break the tip off a stage. And then there’s the phenomenal “Good Man”, a song decorated with sultry female back-up and a soulful kickdrum; a song that could part crowds for a hip-swaying slow dance between too pasted together bodies, just like the good ol’ days. Highlight songs: “Stone Rollin’”, “Good Man”, “Just Don’t”, and “Heart Attack”.

James Blake
JAMES BLAKE – James Blake: James, baby – sing another one. This electro-producer and closeted milky-voiced singer-songwriter only emerged from the background of production in 2010 with a shot at Feist’s swanky “Limit to Your Love”, before releasing his highly anticipated eletro-soul debut this year. His ability to seamlessly blend suave electronic beats with throaty old-souled vocal ability is breathtaking for a 23 year-old – one whose established music career and unique producing abilities already prove he’s far beyond his age – and I can only imagine what will be next from this breakthrough star. Featured on tracks with Bon Iver, having covered timeless Joni Mitchell classics and nabbed the position of runner-up to BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll – something tells me this old soul is going to get better with age. Highlight songs: “The Wilhelm Scream”, “A Case of You”, “Lindisfarne II”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Countdown - #13

Third time has been said to be charming, so on the third day of my 2011 countdown, and in the 13th mention of great albums - I thought I would feature two very charming artists at this time and place in music history. One, a quirky fairy princess who took the world by storm less than three years ago with her obscure beats and pre-pubescent sweet croons; the other, a Canadian indie rock rising phenomenon nominated for this year’s Polaris prize and gaining steam with each sold out show. Here are the charmers:

Lykke Li

LYKKE LI – Wounded Rhymes: As a winter staple that I readily gave two thumbs up, the singles from the Swedish sprite’s coming-of-age album are still popping out of the woodwork even after I’ve retired them from my regular rotation. The retro go-go beats and organs swirling around her youthful, undecorated voice go perfectly with Li’s signature style – wide cat eyes, glamorous fur, and long model locks. Packed with doo wop last dance numbers as well as sassy femme fatale theme songs – Lykke’s proved she’s no longer the sweetheart in the shadows from Youth Novels. Nobody puts baby in the corner. Highlight songs: “I Follow Rivers”, “Love Out of Lust”, “I Know Places”, ‘Get Some”


The Rural Alberta Advantage
RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE – Departing: The follow-up to the Toronto band’s widely received freshman album, which drew big time comparisons to other great Canadian acts like Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire, Nils Edenloff’s effortless Neutral Milk Hotel-reminiscent howl overtop of beautifully rustic-sounding jams is ever-so-heartwarming. Each of the chilly, folk-rock jams are buried beneath just enough romance and sparkle, creating a diverse yet comforting theme throughout the album which would entice even the most reluctant of listeners. The pretty touches to each honest, woodsy track hardly take away the edge of the album – but just show that their open-road musical journey to fame is going to show us many different sides. Highlight songs: “Two Lovers”, “Stamp”, “Barnes’ Yard”, “Coldest Days”, “Good Night”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Countdown - #14

Welcome back to Day 2 of the 2011 Countdown – glad you came back for a few more! This year of music, like every one – was an exciting one filled with oddities, ups, downs, complete transitions, new sounds and trends we’re going to have to settle with for some time. Every year, the old comes back, new unexpected music style emerges and sounds die before they even take off. It’s a tough game, but the two bands mentioned today have sustained over the years – showing us that their own evolutions are still far from over.

Cut Copy
CUT COPY - Take Me Over: As a band that formed in the early millennium as an Aussie electro-project, their 80s reminiscent pop beats haven’t retreated over a decade later – although they may have dusted away a lot of the electro glitter of previous albums and thrown further back to a more rock-influenced retro sound, they’re still masters of that indietronica flavour. Some of the songs I’m most drawn to feature an underlying Smiths-reminiscent taste of rock beneath the catchy hooks and loop-laden flow. The album, like their other fantastic ones, is a time machine in itself; the untrained ear wouldn’t be able to determine whether it was authentic 80s strobe light anthems or newly churned electro-indie. Highlight songs: “Where I’m Going”, “Need You Now” and “This is All We’ve Got.”

RADIOHEAD – The King of Limbs: The cult-classic group of new rock godfathers experiment heavily on this short album; a compilation of stranger-than-In Rainbows songs which boast more awesomely unique pots-and-pan sounding clangs then a group of toddlers on a playdate. Mixing the sonic, chilled-out rock strings coined by the esteemed musicians, with those eccentric rhythms, turntable tricks and Thom Yorke’s gentle howl – it’s of their more atmospheric and peculiar albums to date. Coming from Radiohead, an ever-changing band who we a) aren’t meant to fully understand and b) will never fail to push us out of our ‘Radiohead comfort zone’ – that says a lot. Highlight songs: “Lotus Flower”, “Codex” and “Give Up The Ghost”.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Countdown - #15

There are only a few weeks left of the year before that magical (let’s act like it’s magical and not always a large fail of a night) evening when we dress up, toast to the last twelve months and count down to midnight while shimmering confetti flies through the air and our fresh slate is at our fingertips.

Therefore, I figured it’s only natural that we take this time to celebrate the fabulous year of music behind us. Now, of course the next few weeks will tick through what I considered to be exemplary 2011 tunes and may not reflect every critic's opinion – but if you’re reading, I can only hope you are a little curious what my choices are. By all means, leave comments telling me what albums really stood out to you – I’m excited to hear!

Shall we get moving? The sooner we get  moving, the sooner we get down to the final hours! Here are two goodies to start the two week count:

Gary Clarke Jr. – The Bright Lights EP: Coined the “Best Young Gun” in rock by Rolling Stone in April 2011, this scorching bluesman absolutely deserves the title as the newest kid on the block – taking the spot of other guitar-savvy soulsters like Lenny Kravitz and John Mayer. This old school sounding EP, as well as the fact he’s been compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan and has a day named after him in Austin, Texas, are all items that prove he’s an artist to watch blossom. Highlight songs: "Bright Lights" and "Don’t Owe You A Thing".

The Decemberists – The King is Dead: The band’s most folk-laden whack at Americana turned out sublimely listenable, more so than I ever would have expected after some of their quirkier indie albums that featured rambling 8 minute anthems and goofy narrative. Lead Colin Meloy’s rustic twang, fluttering guitar strings and countryside instrument experimentation give this organic sound a Fleet Foxes or Neil Young picturesque perfection. Highlight songs: "Don’t Carry It All", "June Hymns", and "Down By The Water".

...More to come!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweet Disposition


I went through a phase of heavy Temper Trap obsession last year (rightfully so), but since the Aussie indie-rockers haven't released anything particularly fresh recently - I find myself in love with this recently discovered spin of their 2010 jam "Love Lost". The funky Keljet remix certainly has a new vibe without upheaving the original goodness of the gorgeous rock concept; the re-vamped mix has fostered a flashy kind of beat, a brand new and cheerfully melodic guitar riff mid-song and awesome build-up to an end of song electro throwdown.

Whether I'm bouncing around my apartment, trying not to dance on the treadmill, or strolling through the city lit-up with winter - this song is just a little piece of magic on an otherwise dull day. I also have bitten the bullet and gotten a new laptop, and so slowly but surely the music library is being built back with little gems like this making it better. I hope you enjoy this, and wish me luck with my re-entry into the digital (music) world.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seasonal Smokey

Well, kids - I'm a sad, sad gal. My home laptop is completely toast. Not one single thing can be recovered from it. So, aside from losing countless memories, important information, and MY ENTIRE DIGITAL MUSIC LIBRARY (which let's just say, could have lasted me on a trip around the world) - I am currently computerless. Meaning I've been going to the public library (where you shockingly have to book far in advance), using friends' computers and coming into work at ungodly hours of the morning and night.

Where to begin? It's all fairly terrible. But, there's nothing I can do, life goes on, and as Smokey Robinson says below - it's Christmas time. So, nothing can really be that bad. Things are looking up from here - I'm hoping! Enjoy this creamy croon and tickity beat, and light a little Christmas candle for my computer to magically return to me like the Ghost of Christmas Computer past. Sounds silly - but I'll take anything I can get at this point.

(I wish it would snow fluffy flurries and city speakers would be installed to blast this into the streets during rush hour. How gorgeous would that be? I think a Motown Christmas can solve a lot of problems.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy December Friday

The first weekend of December calls for one man and one man only - Mr. Gaye. Sing that smooth, sultry soul for us, Marvin. Tonight I'm going for a glass of wine with my girlfriend at one of the trendiest wine bars in town. The windows will be frosted, the indoor atmosphere will be radiant, succulent wines will be tasted and the music will be fabulous I'm sure. Most of all, and most weirdly - I can't wait to walk home after, maybe with a few pretty purple snowflakes falling. Sure, it will be cold - but who cares! It's that gorgeous, bundled time of year when music, just like this, sounds so much more magnificent as my heeled boots click along the frozen pavement.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas with She and Him

2011 Christmas Choice

I went on a wee bit of an album splurge last week (something I can never really be mad about), which led to me trotting home overexcited at the thought of tossing on the new A Very She and Him Christmas album for the holiday decorating upheaval my apartment was about to undergo. The day was grey, my living room was toasty and as the silver and white touches spread across the rooms - Zooey Deschanel's sultry holiday croons, M.Ward's facile instrumental accompaniment and a happy collection of old classics really brought the scene to life.

Everyone's favourite old soul duo made a very wise (and as always, hip) choice in releasing this classy compilation for those Christmas-obsessed music lovers (ahem) wanting a taste of something new, red and white. It's always wonderful to hear what will be released around the holidays, but considering the usual Michael Buble Christmas balladry or yucky teen punk holiday roast -  it's easy to feel like we've seen so much of it before. I remember the period of time when Merry Mixmas came out, along with the sweetly quirky Christmas series Maybe This Christmas, and for a moment in time, the same old holiday tunes had been given a refreshing yuletide twist. From the multiple plays the trendy twosome's darling renditions have received - I can say with confidence, that time has arrived, again.

Their quietly adorable version of "The Christmas Waltz" is the perfect fireplace-sitting ditty, along with some of the other subdued holiday anthems like "The Christmas Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - which features a gorgeously mellow jazz guitar and nearly mute organ behind the lady songbird's soulful vocals. "I'll Be Home For Christmas", its uppity twang and shaky tambourine are fit for a holiday down South, along with the typically Beach Boys-reminiscent version of the harmonic and jangly "Little Saint Nick", songs that throw but the slightest boost into the mellow mix. Polish your best martini glasses and splash a spike into your eggnog when "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" rolls on - a swinging cocktail party staple meant to sway behind clinking champagne flutes, sequins and sky-high hairdos. 

Many of the album's most charming moments are when her porcelain pipes are paired only with his peaceful acoustic - and this favourite of mine fits the bill sublimely. The pair's delicate ukelele spin on "Silver Bells", which I've been humming all week, is a little slice of smooth Christmas pie in itself.  Deschanel's hushed vocals singing what I consider to be the most glorious Christmas lyrics around (maybe because they're happy, don't include a hint of longing and are packed with the feeling of anticipation) next to the tiny string backing are just a match made in heaven. I can only hope it will be played right at that perfectly lit-up, snow-covered and sparkling holiday moment we're all bound to have at least once this December.

So, as the greatest month of the year commences, I really wish you all the most holiday love and joy possible. Regardless of where you are, what you're doing or how you celebrate, it's only right that you have lighthearted and comforting songs of any sort to see you through. This Christmas, She and Him have left an effortlessly timeless mark on the year. And regardless of what other mawkish holiday typicals get thrown our way - I think it's safe to say we'll be set for quite a few more to come.