Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #2 and #1

While I sit here by the fire with the snow blowing outside, I have to say - I'm a little excited for 2013 to hit the road, and 2014 to ring on in. This year was one filled with a whole lot of magic, but, it's time to begin what I think just might be the best. year. ever. And, what better way to send off 2013 than with two songs that made a gigantic impact. One album-less single, featuring the golden boy from hip-hop, stopped the rap game dead in its tracks - scratching their head about where this bloodthirsty voice came from. Our number one, a standout symbol of maturity off one of this year's best albums, had all the fixings of a classic - coined sounds from the band's past, mixed in with every bit of evidence that their ready for their prime.
Have a wonderful end to 2013, a special New Year's eve, and cheers to the many good things to come tomorrow. Happy New Year!

#2. Control - Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica
You see, the last thing Kendrick Lamar wanted was anyone thinking he peaked during his 2012 debut. Big Sean asked K-dot and Jay Electronica to cameo on "Control (HOF)" for his new album, before the single got scrapped from the listing due to clearance issues. Nonetheless, the single was released and within hours of the track dropping, the internet erupted in response to the groundbreaking second verse. Don't get me wrong, Big Sean and Jay show up on this track - but Kendrick's uncharacteristic declarations of supremacy and growling attacks on just about every other MC (including his pals) sent everyone into either a knee-slapping or wall-punching fit. While his whiny peers attempted rebuttals in their own right, nothing topped the brilliant shock of hearing Compton's "good kid" explode onto a verse in a way he hadn't previously with his concept storytelling debut. It's safe to say we saw a mind-blowing, and welcome, side of K-dot when he barked:"...And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha-T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller/ I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you n***as/ Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n***as/ They don't wanna hear one more noun or verb from you n***as." That's what we're talking about.

#1. Hannah Hunt - Vampire Weekend:
From one of the best albums of this year, Modern Vampires of the City, "Hannah Hunt" embodies everything that I love about music. For one, this song really symbolizes how Vampire Weekend - a band I was never thrilled about before this release - have grown to become seasoned, purposeful musicians with an understanding of thoughtful songwriting and melodies. But, more importantly - everything about this song feels right. These dazzling four minutes, like so many others from the rich collection, timelessly grabs your undivided attention with its dainty Paul Simon-style introduction and Ezra Koenig's precious pronunciation - talking about growing up - before rising and crashing all around you. A musical crash like this one washes you over. And then, more than ever, do we totally listen to and understand the searching and transformation Vampire Weekend's talking about. This whole album, about religion, relationships and just trying to actually grow up, is so utterly believable because of songs like this. Their vulnerability - often painted through honest admissions and Ezra's sweet coo - is fine by them, because they challenge it right back with big, enchanting moments like the one that ends "Hannah Hunt." Even if their lyrics modestly claim they're still figuring "it all" out, along with characters like Hannah, expansive revelations like this one really convince us they're closer to getting there than they think.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #4 & #3

As we get down to it, the magic is about to happen. We really start dabbling in different ends of the genre spectrum. From here on out, the pairs of songs I've chosen couldn't be anything less alike - save for the fact that they were all exceptional additions to music in 2013. With my third and fourth place choices, we've got one of hip-hop's most influential (and psychotic) players, and one surprisingly veteran Americana cowboy who shacked up in dusty, small-town Mexico to write his best album yet.

#4. Black Skinhead - Kanye West:
Off Yeezus, the most recent, most fiery installation of boundary-pushing hip-hop that materialized from Kanye West's increasingly cynical psyche this year, "Black Skinhead" is the prime example of West's fierce approach to political and social commentary. Or industry commentary. Or both. Either way, one thing is clear: similar to the more recent Batmans, and perhaps in response to the blossoming hip-hop game around him, Yeezy has gotten a lot growlier, and a lot angrier. Despite his then-pregnant girlfriend, West still used parts of Yeezus to contest conformity and boast misogyny - the kinds he trained us to stomach with 2010's brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Antagonizing, making everyone uncomfortable and increasingly rejecting the mainstream - while claiming he is a God - have become expected symptoms of the guy's genius. Coupled with his thumping beats, gutteral scream and the impossibly ear-catching sample heard on "Skinhead" - it's hard not to start believing that West really isn't making it all up.

#3. Song for Zula - Phosphorescent:
Some of what Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck has done in the pursuit of peace and musical ingenuity might seem cliché; a tired singer-songwriter takes a hiatus after his few albums under the moniker Phosphorescent, to hide away in Tulum, Mexico and pen a collection of heartfelt drifter's anthems about redemption and the road. However, nothing about Houck's latest Americana endeavour, or his process, turned out the same way the other booze-blued, rambling men's have in the past. Muchacho was everything and more - a moving collection of achy, soul-searching hymnals ("Terror in the Canyons" and "The Quotidian Beasts") and rousing, woop-filled country-rock stomps ("A Charm/A Blade" and "Ride On/Right On") that paint this expansive picture of a broken man's journey towards salvation. Most notably was the uncharacteristic (and stand-out) revelation called "Song for Zula" - a magical synth and violin-backed number in which Houck's trembling yodel whispers in and around the romantic instrumentation. His vulnerability, yet his conviction, are stunning when his voice rises to croak "See honey I am not some broken thing/ I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee," making it clear Houck has found his sound, and himself, on this one.

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #6 & #5

Here are two songs from two albums that I easily consider to be two of the best releases 2013 hosted. A Danish/Canadian neo-soul duo released one of the smoothest, most accessible tastes of R&B I've ever heard (if I've listened to it once, I've listened to it 1000 times), while the forefathers of American indie-rock released their sixth eclectic collection to (more) critical acclaim.

#6. I Need My Girl - The National:
What more is there really to say about The National. The Matt Berninger-fronted group has wowed audiences with their extensive collection of honest indie since they were underdogs in the early millennium, only to stick with their unique concoctions to now effortlessly rule the genre in their middle age. With "I Need My Girl," one of those heart wrenching National ballads that reveals a challenging or impossible kind of love, the flickering guitar loop and Berninger's coined baritone are totally arresting as the beat of the song marches forward into classic National territory.

#5. The Fall - Rhye:
With what I would describe as one of my most overplayed songs of 2013, "The Fall" perfectly embodies everything that allowed Rhye to mysteriously slide onto the scene this year and bring everything around them to a screeching halt. In a year over-saturated with pop-infused everything, the Canadian-bred/L.A.-based duo quietly released Woman, a blend of minimalist funk and soothing soul numbers, to widespread acclaim - keeping everything (including their faces and stories) other than their music out of the spotlight. Confused over the sex of Sade-soundalike lead singer Mike Milosh and where he came from, the industry had nothing to do but sit back and soak in the tender soul classics heard on Woman, ultimately determining that singles like this one are rare diamonds in the indie rough.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #8 & #7

On a particularly celebratory day, I couldn't be more jazzed that these are the two songs I get to share. One of these, dreamed up by a budding Canadian indie duo, was undoubtedly a part of my staple soundtrack this year; I still can listen to it anytime, anywhere with a smile on. And while we're talking smiles, this other track from one of the decade's greatest rock contributors is just about the happiest thing we came across all year.

#8. What That Was - Majical Cloudz:
Majical Cloudz came out of nowhere. When I first heard "What That Was," the stunning ode to friendship that appeared on his Turn Turn Turn EP, it felt as if the Montrealer's distinctive bellow and gorgeous synth were polished enough to have been around for years. However, save for some work with Grimes and a quiet debut release, Welsh and his partner Matthew Otto flew relatively under the radar up until now. Something happened with 2013's Impersonator; the duo found their voices, and a way to tell poignant stories over some of the most emotive electro-pop out of Canada in ages.

#7. Wakin' On A Pretty Day - Kurt Vile:
With so many things, I believe that minimalism is key. While Vile's low-fi rock is rich in feeling and melody, his easygoing drone and sublimely chill chords seem like the bare minimum ingredients for feeling good. When the former War on Drugs band member and critically-acclaimed indie rocker released his fourth solo LP (and the follow-up to his doozy of a record Smoke Ring for My Halo) this year, his overall contentedness was blissfully apparent on this cathartic 10-minute package of sunny strums and easy drawls.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #10 & #9

As we edge into the top ten of the countdown, I'm going to toss out two huge moments in music this year - one which should likely be everyone's cup of tea (who can resist that voice?), and one that might only appeal to a small portion of the music-loving population. In either case, both blew the industry away. Lezgo.

#10. New You - My Bloody Valentine:
In February, My Bloody Valentine crashed the internet with the release of mbv - their first album in 22 years. Following the 1991 release of MBV's seminal shoegaze album Loveless, some of the world's greatest musicians (ranging from Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan) credited the band with forever shaping their approach to alternative-rock music. MBV's famously distorted vocals and droning guitars are only one piece of the puzzle - their dreamy rock melodies (and this uncharacteristically accessible track) are what made coming back to them after two decades simple. For more Loveless reminiscent MBV, download "Only Tomorrow" or "She Found Now."

#9. Retrograde - James Blake:
Let's face it, James Blake is already one of the classics. That effortlessly creamy croon (which doesn't seem like it could possibly belt out of the 25 year-old's frame) has skyrocketed the experimental producer into collaborations with some of the world's reigning musical acts, and led to his exceptional album Overgrown winning the coveted 2013 British Mercury Prize. On "Retrograde," the gloomy, downtempo production is softened by Blake's vocal acrobatics, but don't be fooled - his music has as many challenging dark corners as it does soulful glimmers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #12 & #11

I would imagine everyone needs a big ol' drink after the Boxing Day chaos, so let's kick back with a full glass and two hip-hop/R&B jams that made quite the splash in 2013. Whether it was released late enough to throw a wrench in everyone's end of year listography, or continued to define our new golden age of young gun hip-hop, both of these songs deserve to be right on the cusp of the top ten.

#12. Favorite Song (feat. Childish Gambino) - Chance the Rapper:
On yet another release that proved hip-hop has officially entered a new era, this 19 year-old's jazzy samples and distinctive croak work hand-in-hand to reassure the next generation of MCs have no problem dabbling in successful recipes of decades past, without sacrificing an ounce of their own originality. On "Favorite Song," the bouncy melody is the perfect undertone for both Chance and (the equally talented) Gambino's witty spits, and similar to the playful blend De La Soul and Naughty By Nature pioneered, this mindful hip-hop feels so good for the soul.

#11. XO - Beyoncé:
You know, I've had a lot of people ask me my opinion on Beyoncé's self-titled visual album - thinking that, as a music writer, it's my obligation to shit on anything mainstream. Well, I'm not sure where anyone got that idea, and, if you visit any of the critics' "best of" lists this year - you'll find a plethora of feel-good, boundary-pushing pop mentions. And, that was exactly the feedback I had to give about Beyoncé announcing and releasing 14 new songs with accompanying music videos - exactly what everyone else (critic or not) was already thinking. It's inventive. It has depth. And, with songs like this expansive pop anthem, it feels pretty damn good. They don't call her the Queen for nothing, and if you're discouraged by what might appear to be her least accessible, hook-filled album yet, you haven't yet let this love song's unequivocally moving melody, and Queen Bey's growly declarations, soar at full volume. PS. I consider myself lucky I had the chance to include part of this album on this list - considering her late December release threw off everyone else's countdown.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #14 & #13

On the most festive day of the year, I'm happy to give you the gift of ultimate feel-good music. Two songs, in particular: one that will transport you from the snowy stretches of wherever you (most likely) are to the botany-lined beaches of summer, and one that, in a decade saturated with meaningless dance music, reminded us how powerful a genius, thoughtful beat can be. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and these guys.

#14. You and Me - Disclosure (Flume remix):
With what I've already mentioned is quite possibly the best remix of 2013, we were gifted a combination of two of the year's youngest, yet most influential, rising electronic producers. On the Disclosure side of things, the barely-drinking-age Lawrence brothers' debut album Settle was a breakthrough game-changer; a fresh, accessible smorgasbord of both up and downtempo beats for any audience. Then there's 22 year-old Flume, the Australian beatsmith who twisted the original into what he calls this "orchestral crunkwave" anthem, proving he and the Disclosure boys - combined or apart - are in this for the long run.

#13. It All Feels Right - Washed Out: 
If this was a 'best albums of 2013' list, Washed Out's Paracosm would have easily been in my top ten. I felt this album in my bones. Ernest Greene, the mastermind "chillwave" pioneer behind Washed Out, practices the musical equivalent of the mantra "act how you want to feel." He paints his paracosm for us with sunny streaks of synth and psychedelic keyboard, resulting in a lush, utopian dreamworld that feels within reach after one song. As his nonchalant vocal sways beside the soaring melody on "It All Feels Right," Greene builds us a glimpse of the minimalistic, romantic daydream he calls home - where the sun always shines and music never stops. To watch a beautiful short video about Greene's music, check this out.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #16 & #15

On one of the merriest eves of the year, let's listen to two very important ends of the music spectrum: the sweet, harmonic croons of a modern-day girl group and the nasty rap of one of this year's youngest (and most influential) hip-hop artists.

#16. Sunday - Earl Sweatshirt featuring Frank Ocean:
With an all-star song credit like this one, it's hard to disagree that this single from Sweatshirt's acclaimed 2013 release, Doris, was bound for critical attention. While lyrically, the album is sometimes as much cringeworthy as it is mindblowing, "Sunday" and its ominous-turned-triumphant melody is impossible to turn off. Not only because hanging off the dribble of the 19 year-old's lethargic rhymes is easy, but because the anticipation of Ocean's cameo is palpable right before last year's breakout R&B star swings in with his simplistic declaration over that twinkling sample.

#15. Until We Get There - Lucius: 
Although undoubtedly beautiful, this single might sound (to some) like nothing to write home about. But, if you listen a little closer - to the trained harmonies of female leads Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, and the piles of instruments working together to create the whimsical melody - you'll hear just how talented and hard-working this contemporary Brooklyn girl-group is. If you're still not sold, I can guarantee you also haven't relished in Lucius' fascinating live show - one filled with the female leads' bouffant hair-dos, their explosive vocal collaborations and the backing band's ambitious instrumental experimentation. See that, and not a shred of convincing will be necessary.

Best 25 Songs of 2013! #25-#17

OK, SO. This has been a bit of a ridiculous week, considering I slept in three cities in four days and then was without power during the days I had scheduled myself to start counting down my annual list of noteworthy songs. Normally I would say that's no excuse for a delay in beginning my favourite series of the year - but, anyone in Ontario who's been a victim of this ice storm, knows that it's actually the best excuse.

Anyway. The power is back. My Christmas shopping is done. My glass of wine is full. And, most importantly, my speakers are happily cranked and ready to recount this year's most incredible singles. Since missing three days of counting means that time is no longer exactly on my side, I'm going to simply list the bottom of the list in brief - and continue from here on out in detail. Deal? Deal! Here we go:

25. Instant Crush - Daft Punk ft. Julian Casablancas

24. Beautiful War - Kings of Leon  (see here for previous ITR article)

23. Hold On We're Going Home - Drake  

22. Reflektor - Arcade Fire  (see here for previous ITR article)

21. Royals - Lorde

20. Southern Sun - Boy & Bear  (see here for previous ITR article)

19. Even If We Try - Night Beds  (see here for previous ITR article)

18. Strong - London Grammar  (see here for previous ITR article)

17. Chamakay - Blood Orange (see here for previous ITR article)

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Favourite Christmas Song: Otis Redding's "White Christmas"

Back when I was a wee tot, I began demanding the classics around the house. I wanted The Big Chill. I wanted Aretha. I always wanted Otis.

And, to this day, I still want Otis in any way I can get him. So, as the holidays quickly approach (and I currently sit in the air, in a bright white cloud) nothing sounds better than Otis in all of his soulful Christmas glory. Although he's spun a number of holiday classics into his own, it's his oh-so-perfect rendition of "White Christmas" that's my absolute all-time favourite Christmas ditty. That perfectly strained howl and the shaky doo-wop organs are all I need to be suckered into an impromptu slow dance.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Countdown: My Morning Jacket's "Xmas Curtain"

It's the most wonderful time of the year! And, what better way to start my holiday countdown than with some festive favourites. More specifically, what better way to kick off a holiday countdown than with one of the greatest rock bands of our time and "Xmas Curtain" - their tasty little treat of a contemporary Christmas classic.

PS. Fun fact: Jim James is my favourite live performer. He puts on a show like no other. (Well, other than the Queen Bey, who I saw live last night and who sort of changed life as I know it).

Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 Cover & Remix Week: Disclosure vs. Flume

There isn't much to say about this remix other than the fact that it was one of the best ones I've heard in years. English duo Disclosure's debut album Settle was undoubtedly one of the most influential electronic albums of 2013 (in my mind, one of the best dance albums of the decade) - and, when its release was celebrated with the birth of this explosive Flume remix, their stock rose even higher. Beginning with a pulsing, melodic synth before a body-heaving beat drops under Eliza Doolittle's soulful wail - this experimental "You and Me" remix set the bar for inspiring new spins in years to come.

(The Mix)

(The Original)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013 Cover & Remix Week: The Acorn vs. The Flamingos

Since it's Thursday, the day of the throwbacks, but I'm dedicated to celebrating new covers and remixes all week - I think it's best to blend the two and share a contemporary cover of an old-school jazzy classic.

The heartfelt ballad “I Only Have Eyes for You” was written in the mid-30s, before skyrocketing to soul standard fame thanks to 1950s versions from hit-makers The Flamingos and Peggy Lee. Recently, Ottawa indie-folk group The Acorn tried their hand at the oldie, spinning it into a slow-churning, melancholy ode that chugs along via downtempo strums and Rolf Klausener's lovelorn croon.

(The Cover)

(The Original)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013 Cover & Remix Week: Phosphorescent vs. Vampire Weekend

This is easily one of my favourite covers of this year, simply because it combines two of my favourite things from 2013: the brilliant Phosphorescent and this song off Vampire Weekend's latest, and greatest, album yet.

Although I've always had a soft spot for Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck, he completely stole my heart in 2013 with his sixth album, Muchacho - comprised of new age country-rock hymnals penned from a small town in Mexico. And, while I haven't always been thrilled by Vampire Weekend in years past, they won me over with just about every song on this year's eclectic and lush Modern Vampires of the City. Put the two together, and boom - you've got a twinkling and bare-bones Americana take on Vampire Weekend's indie lullaby "Ya Hey."

PS. If you want more of the beauty that is Phosphorescent - check out his "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" cover. Swoon.

(The Cover)

(The Original)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013 Cover & Remix Week: Caveman vs. Vacationer

I love a good cover song, I love a good remix, I love any excuse to hear a song I love (or haven't previously loved, for that matter) twisted and turned into something completely different. It helps the music come alive again.

This week, I thought I would look back on some of the shiniest covers and remixes of 2013; the songs that were borrowed by industry peers, only to be transformed into new little pieces of musical magic. Whether added beats, some imposter sax or newly voiced by the opposite sex  - a re-vamped tune doubles the life of the original.

The first of the week goes to New York indie-rock outfit Caveman, whose striking single "In The City" was recently mixed by Vacationer - a band who shared the bill with Caveman while playing Bowery Ballroom last week. Vacationer's summery spin hardly resembles the original, but is the perfect soundtrack to a snowbird's escape from the throngs of cold winter and onto a white sand beach. Enjoy the jazzy take, from a fittingly titled crew, below.

PS. I had the pleasure of chatting with Caveman earlier in the year - and their dispositions are just as lovely as their songs.

(The Mix)

(The Original)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Farewell (for now) to The Walkmen

"I don’t think any of us wanted to write another Walkmen record. Maybe that will change down the line, maybe it won’t, maybe we’ll play shows. I think it’s weird to make a hubbub about something if there’s nothing to really make a hubbub about. At the same time, I don’t think we’ve been a gang properly for a long time, so there’s not much to break up, I guess…
It’s been almost 14 years now. I think that’s enough, you know?"

While that's one of the most lackluster goodbyes I've ever received, I still have nothing but big, beautiful love in my heart for my very favourite band, who yesterday announced an "extreme hiatus." For over a decade, I have loved The Walkmen through every album, every song and every single one of the eight times I've seen them live.

The New York City indie-rock outfit have, essentially, guided me through my exploration of contemporary rock for as long as I can remember; releasing eclectic compilations bursting with grungy garage, waltzing keys and soulful balladry that all sample the endless rainbow of real rock 'n roll sounds. All led by lead singer Hamilton Leithauser's skilled croon, their seven stacked LPs were a classic model of a band's progression and maturation - beginning with messy post-punk bites and ending on the cohesive, reflective rock notes heard on Heaven. From the 2012 release (their best yet), the title track and "We Can't Be Beat" exuded an endearing contentedness - which maybe should have foreshadowed their rather nonchalant conclusion  yesterday - materializing after 14 years of touring, marriage and children. In the end, I guess they've just been had.

That being said, I'm hanging my hat on the hope of a reunion (as we've called the bluff of many so-called breakups before), and can look forward to the solo albums three of the bandmates (including Leithauser) plan to release in the coming year.

For now, farewell to the band I loved the most.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Winter Throwback Thursday: Lord Huron

Although not an extremely far throwback, moving forward, this 2012 single will always be one worth mentioning at the beginning of each winter. Lord Huron's gorgeous indie-folk album Lonesome Dreams is likely the best medicine to soothe any winter blues you might be having - and will forever remain part of my gift-giving list for those who haven't heard it. A poetic folk journey alongside a wanderer who's pursuing organic love and adventure, each song revolves around travels to "the ends of the earth" (heard below) to live the fullest. With howling harmonies and rolling chords that evoke memories of Fleet Foxes' first release, Ben Schneider memorably chants, "What good is livin' this life you've been given, if all you do is stand in one place." How lovely.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Avett Brothers: "Apart from Me"

Whenever the temperature starts to drop, all I crave is some Americana music to go with frosted windows and a toasty fireplace. It's those rustic, heartfelt melodies that sound perfect this time of year.

Lately, my playlists have consisted of Lord Huron (Lonesome Dreams will forever be my staple winter album), Norah Jones, Boy & Bear, The Staves and these guys. The Avett Brothers are undoubtedly one of my very favourite bands - and their most recent roots-rock album, Magpie and the Dandelion, sent me right over the moon this past fall. "Apart from Me," which tells the story of life on the road through Scott Avett's handsome vocals and a band of plucked guitars, has quickly become a cozy winter classic that's bound to make the season just that much more special.

Friday, November 29, 2013

TGIF: Guilty Pleasure Cover

All of my close friends find my so-called music "knowledge" questionable, because although I try to keep my finger on the pulse of as much music as possible, I'm usually the last person to hear an overplayed Top 40 hit. I wouldn't say I avoid Top 40, but I don't seek it out the way that I seek out other, more obscure and eclectic types of music. My friend recently walked away from me in frustration as I explained this pumped-up "new" Katy Perry song ("Roar"). I always discover the addictive Rihanna hits one year after they sweep the Grammys. I heard my first aggressive Avicii song maybe a month ago.

With the (slightly degrading) Billboard smash "Blurred Lines," I only first heard it the night of the infamous Miley twerk. And, as I'm sure everyone realized long before me, it's just catchy as hell. I'm the first person to shamelessly two-step to it, which is why I was thrilled to find that one of my favourite bands, Vampire Weekend (who bred one of my favourite lead singers), put their own funky spin on the mainstream hit - making it that much more acceptable for me to love it.

Who doesn't love a little Ezra on a Friday night?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Twin Shadow Covers "With Or Without You"

I've previously endorsed Brooklyn's George Lewis Jr., AKA Twin Shadow, and his amazing online series of live covers called UNDR THE CVRS - and I'm happy to say that his latest instalment might be one of the best spins yet. While all of the songs (ranging from Lou Reed, 10CC and Springsteen singles) have so far possessed a similar atmospheric undertone to them - his moody synth and vocals sound bang-right-on when infused into U2's classic heartfelt ballad.

Have a listen/look:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Röyksopp Releases "Running to the Sea" on Arts & Crafts


Accomplished Toronto record label Arts & Crafts has acquired the talent of longstanding Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp, who have sold more than two million albums worldwide, earned Grammy and BRIT award nominations and scored three entries on Pitchfork’s list of the Top 500 tracks of the last decade. Experimenting with innovative sounds since 1998, Royksopp released their breathtaking single (featuring acclaimed Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør) "Running to the Sea" on A&C yesterday. The song, which has already topped the charts in their native land, boasts an arresting combination of Sundfør's piercing howl and a sparkling beat that quickly pulses into anthemic electronic territory.

Congratulations to my favourite Canadian label and their new addition - what a huge accomplishment.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Billy Jo and Norah: Foreverly


While I've never been overly partial to Green Day's Billy Jo Armstrong, and have at times lost track of Norah Jones' work, their recent (and unexpected) pairing to cover Everly Brothers' country classics is something I can get very on board with. Their first album together, Foreverly, is a compilation entirely comprised of songs from the Everly Brothers 1958 album Songs My Daddy Taught Me. Between Jones' famously jazzy rasp and Armstrong's boyish pipes, the harmonies come across as crisp, but soulful, throughout the collection of twangy Americana classics. Like a modern Johnny and June, the superstars' voices effortlessly sway together while the piano and guitar waltz behind them - leading initial skeptics like me to admit it sounds just fine after all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

TGIF: Doses and Mimosas

Three cheers to the glittering years#stockholmsparklingvodka #stockholm #sparkling #vodka
Happy Friday! This song is equal parts addictive and ridiculous. Perfect for all types of weekend dance parties, "Doses and Mimosas" is also provoking some serious office chair grooving right now.

I hope you and your pals choose to two-step your worries away to some of this electropop ear candy soon; it sounds like the soundtrack to one of those unavoidable all nighters.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Last Night: Jadea Kelly Live at Hugh's Room

There are some artists that just deserve to be so much bigger than they are. While Canadian folk singer-songwriter Jadea Kelly has been picking up steam with her 2013 release Clover, she most certainly deserves to be heard much louder, and much farther, than she's already been.

The Whitby native has been making her way across Canada since the spring release of her astounding third album and landed at the intimate Hugh's Room in Toronto last night to celebrate Clover's vinyl release. Although the set was carried by Kelly's achingly sweet vocals (which pack much more punch than her small frame suggests), her precious guitar and piano melodies go hand-in-hand to complete the charming folk repertoire. Throughout her set, the live audience was completely awestruck and hushed while Jadea's effortless pipes and sweet strums washed over the dimly lit room, providing the best kind of warmth from the cold outside.

Pick up a copy of Jadea's Clover today - I can safely that this record has something for everyone.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Case You Haven't Heard: Eleanor Friedberger's "Personal Record"

Although indie-rock goddess (and former one-half of The Fiery Furnaces) Eleanor Friedberger recently stepped into the limelight with her chic Gap clothing campaign, I've been totally enthralled with her refreshing demeanor, wordplay and musicality since her solo inception a few years back. While her 70s-reminiscent enunciated vocals fall somewhere between Patti Smith's grungeless side and Joni Mitchell's spoken word - it's her clever lyricism and and diverse melodies that are so effortlessly fabulous, and worthy of a re-visit.

Friedberger's gracefulness and shockingly sub-radar songwriting aptitude have easily secured her as one of my contemporary female music obsessions. I just can't get enough. And, with this past summer's (more accessible) release, Personal Record - an album that ranges from blue-skied, groovy balladry ("Stare at the Sun" and "She's A Mirror") to the insightfully wordsmithed confessionals ("I Don't Want to Bother You", "I'll Never Be Happy Again" and "You'll Never Know Me") - her cool stock skyrocketed in my books.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We Are Scientists Cover "Take My Breath Away"

Tom Cruise was one of my first crushes (shameful), Kenny Loggins' "Playing with the Boys" is still a treasured classic, and Goose has been the long-decided, widely accepted name of my future weiner dog. It's safe to say I'm a big fan of Top Gun.

I also feel like the "birds and the bees" conversation with my parents might have been prompted by the film's famous love scene in which this 80s ballad played. Needless to say, I was pretty pumped to hear that one of my favourite New York indie-rock bands We Are Scientists decided to put their spin on Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" - a slow dance classic that the group apparently held in just as high a regard as I did during my cassette days. Not surprisingly, the boys did it every bit justice; keeping the pretty melody in tact and trading the 80s-cheese elements for their handsome vocals and the long twangs of a pedal steel guitar.

Read what led to their covering the Top Gun hit (as described to Paste Magazine). I don't agree with their opinions of Clapton, but it's hilarious nonetheless:

“We had Top Gun on VHS when I was a kid — we’d watch it three or four times a week. My dad would always play tasteful pedal steel whenever Kelly McGillis was on-screen. That’s kind of where the idea for it started,” says Chris.

Keith continues: “Chris and I first watched Top Gun together on the tour bus a few years ago, and I remember Chris kept singing these really lovely ambling pedal steel parts under his breath when Kelly McGillis was on-screen — well, I thought he was doing a trumpet at the time.”

Later, in the spring of 2013, the band decided to record a cover along with several other tracks that would ultimately land on the forthcoming Business Casual EP (Oct. 14). Chris volunteered that he had always wanted to do a version of “Wonderful Tonight,” by Eric Clapton.

“Man, that song’s a total piece of shit,” Keith told him.

“Ha. I guess you’re right,” said Chris. Then, as was his habit during moments of tension, he began quietly humming an improvised pedal steel part for “Take My Breath Away.”

“Wait, you realize that’s pretty much the same chord structure as "Wonderful Tonight," right?” Keith said.

“I… huh?”

“That Top Gun sex song — it’s pretty much just Wonderful Tonight without awful Eric Clapton. Let’s just cover that.”

They had found a solution that would let everybody win except Eric Clapton. The next day, they brought in multi-instrumentalist and occasional Scientist Max Hart, whose extemporized pedal steel part — both lilting and playfully reminiscent of Top Gun’s brazen sensuality — outdid even Chris’s gilded memory of those childhood recitals. When Andy Burrows’s pounding drums drop into the mix, the evocation of blasting jet engines and throbbing adult desire is unmistakeable and timeless.

“Everybody wins except Eric Clapton,” says Keith, “which of course is what everybody except Eric Clapton wanted.”


Monday, November 18, 2013

Pretty Beats: Goldroom's "Embrace"

When asked which genre is my favourite, it's obviously fairly easy for me (or anyone who reads In The Round) to pinpoint the ones I dabble in most (hip-hop, indie-rock, neo-soul, etc.), but to be honest - I hate answering that question, because I love bits and pieces of them all. There are so few, if any, that I won't even touch.

EDM, or electronic dance music, is one that people constantly assume I'll pass on. I suppose I don't always subtly scoff at the crowds of glowstick-waving, Molly-popping kids who've encouraged mass-produced, candy EDM - sometimes bringing a once fascinating underground culture to a seemingly less meaningful (above ground) place. But, that's not all of it - and that that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the good stuff.

This disco-dance track from LA producer and DJ Goldroom is clearly far from anything resembling contemporary trance-heavy EDM hits, but it's glimmering, emotive melody are exactly what I would want to hear blared from stadium-sized speakers. In my opinion, it's the kind of accessible, contagious dance sound that brings people together. Guest singer Ariela Jacobs' delicate vocals, paired with the lasery effects, soaring synth and feel-good beat are all the right things of a lively festival or dance floor anthem - and if they commit to ditching the glowsticks and white tanks, I think the kids could get on board.


Friday, November 15, 2013

TGIF: Magic Man's "Paris"

Magic Man - Paris

Good luck listening to this song just once. In the jungle of synth-pop, it's not uncommon to feel like all of the sounds and new outfits blend together - breeding little-to-no originality and becoming quickly forgettable after their five minutes of Pitchfork fame. A sunny melody, however, and a grand beat - can go a long, long way. Which is why, during one of my scans of the blogosphere, I was so happy to stumble across Providence's Magic Man and their shiny new single "Paris," which is completely irresistible in its Passion Pit meets Fitz and the Tantrum anthemic dance sound.

Have an excellent weekend! This tune is a great way to start it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hannah Georgas Covers Rihanna's "Stay"

There's something really special about the universe throwing you a bone. Especially when it's in the form of one of the most respectable Canadian female artists taking a favourite guilty pleasure hit and making it her own; therefore, making you suddenly feel unabashedly comfortable when blaring the sugary gem on repeat.

In this case, Rihanna's popular sob anthem "Stay" was recently twisted and re-recorded by the lovely Hannah Georgas during her iTunes session - taking what has been one of the BC native's live staples to a really gorgeous and polished place. Since hearing about the studio recorded cover, I've been relishing in the heart-melting glory of the new beat-induced version and eating up every second of Georgas' milky vocals.

Have a shameless listen below.

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Music: Wise Blood's "Alarm"

As I've mentioned before, there are a few elements of a song, musical twists and instruments that always manage to tickle my fancy and secure my allegiance to a song or band. Often, you don't hear them enough - like a good whistle solo, a little xylophone or a hand clap. In the case of this groovy, infectious single from Pittsburgh artist Chris Laufman (aka Wise Blood), I was immediately hooked when I heard the kick-ass saxophone loop that punctuates the woozy electro-pop track. You just don't get enough saxophone tossed into the mix anymore, and I love a hearty sax solo.

Off Wise Blood's debut album id, which was released this past summer, "Alarm" is my new favourite bit of working background noise that I've so far had a hard time taking off repeat. I'm not yet sure if the rest of his LP would be my cup of tea, but this one's a scorcher.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Bruce Cockburn

If you read this blog often, you know I'm always more excited to talk about Canadian artists than any other kind of artist. Of course I appreciate the beauty and talent in all artists, but I have a strong allegiance to my own folk and the sounds they produce - and therefore, they win, always.

On the first day this week that it hasn't looked like midnight in the middle of the morning, let's throw back to a cheery folk-rock classic from legend (and Ottawa-native) Bruce Cockburn and his 1979 Billboard hit "Wondering Where The Lions Are." Similar to all of Paul Simon's Graceland and America's Heart, Cockburn's album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws is a friendly folk staple in my music collection, always managing to insert a tiny bit of sunshine into otherwise gloomy days.

Enjoy the happy strums and Cockburn's gentle croon - they're made for golden Thursdays like this.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Music: Three Neo-Soul and R&B Goodies

Torontohenge: Photos from Twitter #GTA #weather #sunset #city
After moving and nesting all weekend, I’ve spent the beginning of this week in the most glorious of slow motions – strolling home slowly from work, writing from underneath my covers, drinking hot drinks and getting full night’s sleeps. During all of this, I’ve learned exactly how dreamy my new home and neighbourhood are when explored at this pace. As I’ve mentioned one hundred times before, I’m such an advocate of the resurgence of the whole neo-soul movement; the slow-cooked, jazzy balladry that’s made its way back into the indie spotlight via talented artists like Quadron, James Blake, Blood Orange and Rhye. This week, my playlist has been loaded with glimmering soulful goodies, namely Michael Milosh’s (of Rhye) solo singles and music from Israel’s Garden City Movement and Sydney trio Movement. These sultry, barely-there tracks are exactly the recipe for winding down a good day.


(Milosh's new album is apparently all about his love for his wife -
this is her in the video. Sweet, right?)

(The original is better) 
Photo c/o The Toronto Star

Monday, November 4, 2013

New Broken Bells: "Holding on for Life"

Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse and The Shins' James Mercer are back as Broken Bells with "Holding on for Life"- the first of the duo's groovy, highly anticipated follow-up to their critically praised 2010 debut self-titled. In what might be Mercer's most falsetto, Bee Gees-akin vocal yet, the new track is a welcome psychedelic instalment in their experimental indie-rock repertoire, and is fittingly part of a new release titled After The Disco. The mid-tempo first listen ends the hiatus that both halves of Broken Bells took after the wild success of their first concerted effort; one that saw Danger Mouse collaborate with Black Keys and Jack White (to name only a few) and Mercer return to his faithful Shins family with the release of last year's Port of Morrow.

If the rest of the January 14 album sounds anything like this sexy little disco number - I'm even more on the Broken Bells bandwagon than I was three years ago. (I was very on board three years ago).


Friday, November 1, 2013

TGIF: New Dum Dum Girls

Channeling Heart, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a dash of mid-90s Veruca Salt, the Dum Dum Girls have teamed with H&M to release their newest single and video for "Lost Boys and Girls Club." The girls, who are easily one of my very favourite groups of lady rockers, normally favour more drone-caked dream pop, but on the latest have swayed towards an anthemic rock 'n roll sound that buzzes its way into more user-friendly, stadium-ready territory. Regardless of this more mainstream experimentation, however - Dee Dee Penny's voice is flawlessly in the same league as longstanding female rock legends and the gothy leather-clad girl posse still rock harder than most of the boys. I dig it.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

One of the Best Kings of Leon Songs Ever Written

I remember listening to Kings of Leon – a bunch of rowdy Southern-rock cowboys and Pentecostal church breakaways – when I was barely a teenager. The drunken, rebellious and soulful rock anthems found on earlier albums like Youth and Young Manhood were unlike anything I had heard before; unlike anything I had heard in the millennium, at least. Caleb Followill’s voice was quickly secured as the embodiment of contemporary rock talent for me, and since, despite their downfalls, I’ve measured all contenders against that raspy howl. Over the years, however, with age and commercial influence, the band slowly chopped their biker manes and experimented with more melodic, mainstream-friendly rock that was accessible to both new and old converts – at times losing their way in the chaos of their personal rehabilitation, marriages, kids and rapid fire albums and tours. 

When I first listened to 2010’s Come Around Sundown, decked with a few entirely likable Kings tracks, I felt a little slanted by the once fearless Tennessee brood and their seemingly safe dip into radio-rock. But, every great band has one of these worrisome albums, and every devoted follower has to suck it up and wait for a revival. Especially with Kings; I felt it was such a cop-out to become surly and declare their decline. Sticking around out of loyalty and curiosity was a wise decision, because it’s my personal belief that Mechanical Bull brought the boys back to life – via a hybrid of evocative Kings tracks (“Supersoaker” and “Rock City”) and the friendlier Only By The Night flavour (“Wait for Me” and “Temple”).

Siding more so with the latter, “Beautiful War” has quickly restored my faith in the band’s songwriting capabilities – and has already become one of my favourite songs of 2013. Written the same night as “Use Somebody,” on the same sheet of paper, the song was recorded in a drunken mess and dropped back in 2008 – before, in one of their wiser moments, they thoughtfully re-recorded the piece for release on Mechanical Bull. Something about this song – the heartsick, lyrically gorgeous U2 or Springsteen kind of rock balladry – I’ve found to be just a little bit life-changing. As if I wasn’t already convinced, I knew the Kings were back the first time I heard the song march forward, gospel choir and Caleb’s aching croon swaying side by side ("I said love don't mean nothing/ unless there's something worth fighting for"), and that anthemic chorus crash in. Just an instant classic – and proof they haven’t lost a thing.

If you haven't picked up Mechanical Bull yet, do it immediately.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hip-Hop Hump Day: Danny Brown, Pusha T, Sweatshirt & Chance The Rapper

Whenever I'm on the grind - whether because of work, social engagements or (in this week's case) moving - I require my music selections to consist primarily of good beats. Hip-hop, electro or some sort of dance-rock is normally all I can handle to keep my eyes open and feet moving when I feel like everything's a flurry of commotion and that one lazy hour will result in a ball dropped.

This week, with cardboard boxes and piles of work on my mind, my neighbours have become accustomed to my constantly blaring beats. Lucky for me (and them, I like to think), there are a few heated new hip-hop tracks that have beefed up my regular Kendrick, Wu-Tang, Tribe and Kanye-laden rotations to make it an even heavier, sharper-witted apartment set list.

Here are some ferocious new tracks that should keep you thinking and moving.

PS How good is the Nosetalgia video?




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Artist to Watch: Hozier

Um, let's take a minute to talk about this voice.

Holy smokes. I have a feeling I'm catching wind of Hozier on his upswing into notoriety, because it seems as if he went from relatively unknown (dabbled in poppy earlier works and still has a live LinkedIn profile) to viral. In under a month, the modest singer-songwriter garnered hundreds of thousands of views on his excellent, but raw, debut music video.

An Ireland native and music school dropout, Andrew Hozier Byrne is already a force to be reckoned with. His soulful, effortless bellow is easily in the same vocal class as James Blake or alt-J’s Joe Newman, his “Take Me To Church” songwriting is chilling and politically-charged, and his music video vision is clearly fearless (the single’s dark video portrays homophobic attacks in Russia).

Check out the video for "Take Me To Church" here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stream the new Arcade Fire album

...In a 1 hour and 25 minute YouTube video. However you slice it, what an exciting way to end the week. I'll have this puppy on repeat all weekend long; from what I can tell, Reflektor is already a contemporary disco-rock masterpiece. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Johnny Flynn: "The Lady is Risen"


So, two quick and important things to note here. First, I'm aware this has been a major alt-country and folk week over here. I really can't help that - fall just brings it out in me. Secondly, I completely admit that I've only just jumped on this seasoned artist's bandwagon in recent weeks, and I'm a little embarrassed about that, because he's such a pleasure to listen to. Not hard on the eyes, either.

I'd heard the name Johnny Flynn tossed around in years past, but never actually stumbled upon a song, and therefore didn't do any further investigation into his sound. Only recently, following the release of his September 30 third album Country Mile, did I perk up and take the chance to listen - before becoming completely hooked on some of his newest tracks. As an actor, poet, songwriter and musician, Johnny Flynn's songs are filled with simple tales of tea, journeying and love - needless to say, sometimes completely satisfying the British folk performer stereotype. Lyrics aside, the music is rich and, at times, really powerful. With likable chord progressions under his accent-heavy growl, you can't help but think of fellow Londoners Mumford & Sons - but, that comparison feels a little cheap considering Flynn's been crafting the same sort of rootsy melodies since 2008 (Rolling Stone's David Fricke praised his debut that year).

The first single from Country Mile, "The Lady is Risen," is anything but lyrically or instrumentally lackluster. Flynn's handsome vibrato marches like old prose over the acrobatic guitar chords and a nice band of brass, rising up and down throughout the song with impressive momentum.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Arcade Fire: "Afterlife"

Arcade Fire played a secret Brooklyn warehouse show last week (photo c/o Rolling Stone)

With the release of their highly-anticipated forthcoming album around the corner and a handful of promotional performances as alter egos The Reflektors under their belt, Arcade Fire just dropped the second studio single from their fourth release, Reflektor. "Afterlife," a sunny, synth-laden track that samples the accessible dance-rock flavour Neon Bible and The Suburbs were doused in, poses more existential questions under layers of feel-good sparkle. The single, which was premiered by Zane Low on BBC Radio 1, isn't a particularly challenging track, but is unequivocally infectious as an energized, harmonic full group effort. Although they now paint their faces while toying with a new live moniker, "Afterlife" is happy evidence that there are still remnants of the reigning indie collective underneath.

Reflektor drops October 29 via Merge Records.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Head and The Heart's "Let's be Still"

Continuing their trickle of fresh songs on a less jangly note, folk-rock collective The Head and the Heart's new title track "Let's Be Still" has been a welcome addition to my rotation since their album hit shelves last week. While "Shake," the first end-of-summer taste of their recently released second album, was an uppity Americana anthem - this sweet ballad has a calming sway that feels fitting, considering its name. Alternating between Josiah Johnson and Charity Rose Thielen's soft vocals, the tune's simple keyboard and melodic guitar have me thinking that the alt-country gem was just made for the last call slow dance at the roadside bar.

Photo c/o Dylan Priest

Friday, October 18, 2013

TGIF: Loving The Strumbellas

On Wednesday night, I was lucky to be a part of Toronto alt-country band The Strumbellas' album launch party. I'm slightly biased in my trumpeting their talent, because I know and like their management (and, as a result, the band members) very much and am therefore completely rooting for their widespread success. But, all of that aside, I genuinely believe that the music of The Strumbellas is music people need to hear. 

Taking notes from The Lumineers, Guthries and Ryan Adams - this six-person collective perform their feel-good folk with heaps of energy and cheer that are fueled by a beautiful mess of everything from tambourines and banjos to strings, keys and horns. "In This Life," the first single off their second album We Still Move on Dance Floors, is a universally contagious and uplifting alt-country anthem that's bound to stay with audiences long after the Strumbellas live experience or slew of repeat album listens. Frontman Simon Ward's handsome vocals are bettered by the harmonic support of his band's enthusiastic guy/girl choir, especially when the chorus ("I know there's something for you out there in this life") crashes in to put us at ease.

For more on the Juno-nominated band, visit their website or pick up their latest today.


And a few other gorgeous tracks:

Photo c/o Heather Pollock