“Now, I’m-a let you finish, but…”

What a year. I almost lost my mother.  Twice. I lost my grandmother at Christmas.  I stepped down from a management job to focus on music.  My dreams of love and art were battered even more beyond recognition.  They watch the backs of one another as we soldier on.  There’s water on that horizon and I WILL drink my fill.  This city broke me down and then sewed me up.  Over and over again.  I chose to wear my heart on my sleeve for as many people as possible.  “Just bein’ real.”  Right, Kanye?

Jeff Hanson (tragic and too young), Vic Chesnutt (tragic and fucked up), and Lux Interior (tragic and too soon) passed away.  I will never see The Cramps.  Ever.  Sad, that.  A lot of great records came out.  I actually spent a good chunk of the year listening to fabulous reissues by Karen Dalton, Kraftwerk and Sarolta Zalatnay as well as stuff on the Numero Group and Soul Jazz labels.  Check it.

There are some artists who, perennially, make my top ten.  This year, for various reasons, they didn’t.  Wilco – bored me to tears, sadly. Being simple is no longer innovative or a fresh approach.  Paul Westerberg – beautiful, but quit fucking around and make a proper record already.  David Bazan – so brilliant and so painful for me.  Akin to Nick Hornby’s assessment of Suicide’s brilliant “Frankie Teardrop”.

“Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then We’ll Begin.”  -Platinum Blonde, It Doesn’t Really Matter

10. Spinnerette // Spinnerette (Anthem)

A few years back, Brody Dalle left her post in the band The Distillers, married QOTSA’s Josh Homme, and became a mother.  That seemed to be the end of her.  This record was a huge surprise.  Aggressive, angry, sexy, and supremely addictive.  I played this record LOUD all year long.

9. Richard Hawley // Truelove’s Gutter (Mute US)

Having honed his guitar skills with the likes of the Longpigs, Pulp, and Robbie Williams, we all knew Richard Hawley was a supreme talent. As a guitarist, he is, no less, a peer to the great work of Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, and Graham Coxon.  What a surprise it was to discover that he was such a writing talent and had a voice that has earned him the accolade “the next Scott Walker”.  Even Scott Walker loves him.

8. Richmond Fontaine // We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like The River (Arena Rock)

Willy Vlautin is a fantastic author, whose haunting books (Northline, The Motel Life) about the violence within blood ties and the constant hell of heartbroken men are a close cousin to the work of playwright Sam Shepard.  He also happens to head one of the finest bands in the history of the No Depression scene.

Each song is like a southern novel,  written while Vlautin was bedridden (due to an injury) and mourning the passing of his mother.  This somewhat made up for feeling embarrassed to be a Dylan fan; several times over.

7. Halloween, Alaska // Champagne Downtown (East Side Digital)

Hailing from Minneapolis and sharing a drummer with The Bad Plus.  I discovered them when their second album was used as the house music for a Sun Kil Moon concert at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.  Thank you, sound man.  They continue to make slick and earnest electro-new-wave pop, but there is more muscle and funk this time around.

This RECORD should have been playing loud in clubs everywhere (as opposed to overrated SINGLES by people who interrupt acceptance speeches, those who win or don’t win awards at glorified and televised high school “talent” shows with out-of-work celebrities as judges, and bubble-dressed attention seekers who sing really awkward medleys on SNL and rip off their look and style from Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio).

6. St. Vincent // Actor (4ad)

AKA Annie Clark, began her genius with Glenn Branca, Joan As Policewoman, and Sufjan Stevens.  No wonder she’s so good.  A record chock full of incredibly creative arrangements, Actor rewards tenfold; listen after listen after listen.  There is such a feast of innovation on this record and, yet, it is so wonderfully pop.  The video for Marrow (see link below) is a masterpiece. Annie Clark, will you marry me?

5. El Perro Del Mar // Love Is Not Pop (Control Group/Tcg)

Since her perfect debut, Sarah Assbring has been making celestial pop records. God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get) would have ruled Motown in its day.  This new record slipped in quietly.  It didn’t make much noise.  In fact, it got a couple of plays on my MP3 player and then was forgotten.  I received it on vinyl as a gift from my sister.  Thanks, Hev.  Suddenly, it had new life.  Wow.  Change Of Heart, my favorite song of the year, would have been a huge hit had The English Beat, Grace Jones, or Laura Branigan recorded it in their day.

4. Phoenix // Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)

Most of us have Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation) and Erlend Oye (DJ Kicks) to thank for this gem of a band.  One of the catchiest records of the year.  They debuted “Lisztomania” on SNL well before the record came out.  Such an addictive rhythm. When singer Thomas Mars (AKA Mr. Sofia Coppola) sang the infectious line “Do let do let do let jugulate…”, I knew this was going to be their best record yet.  It is.  1901 was used so much in advertising this year and, yet, I still want to listen to it.  Very durable pop.  Pinch me.  Let’s dance the floor to pieces.

3. Bat For Lashes // Two Suns (Astralwerks)

Natasha Khan created a woman named Pearl for this record and lived in her world.  The result is a collection of lush pop that would make Kate Bush proud.  Not to mention, she does it all herself. Daniel is a modern classic.  There’s even a duet with Scott Walker!  She has so much good work ahead of her.  Stunning.

2. Wendy & Lisa // White Flags Of Winter Chimneys (W. Melvoin/L. Coleman)

Lisa Coleman joined Prince’s Revolution and then brought in her friend Wendy Melvoin.  Some of the best pop of the eighties was made with that band.  When Prince ended the revolution, they went on as Wendy & Lisa.  They recorded some beautiful records, became sought after for studio work, and then became an absolutely killer production team.  In recent years, their work can be heard on albums by Neil Finn, Sheryl Crow and Victoria Williams as well as their scoring work on film and television (Heroes, Dangerous Minds, Snoops, etc.).

Their last record, the brilliant Girl Bros., was quite a while ago.  Thankfully the new record appeared this year.  Whether it is due to limited distribution or being slightly brain-dead, the college radio and mainstream media people seemed to miss out on this record.    Whatever the case, I LOVED LOVED LOVED it.

1. Asobi Seksu // Hush (Polyvinyl)

One of the most anticipated records of the year.  Reminds me of stuff like Curve and the magic 4ad sounds of Lush, Cocteau Twins, and Pale Saints.  Remember 4ad?  They’re still going strong, mind you, but their truly golden era was the 1990’s.  Hush takes all that magic and carries on.  Yuki Chikudate has such a pure voice that soars above the insatiable grooves of drummer Larry Gorman and the heavenly swirl of James Hanna’s tower of guitars.  The ending of Glacially is glorious and sweet like a cinnamon kiss.  Destined for dreamy, noise pop glory. 


10. Silver Starling // s|t

I may be a little biased.  But Marcus Paquin’s songwriting is full of grace, spaciousness and honesty.  This slow-burner will burrow deep into your heart.

9. Patrick Watson // Wooden Arms

Beautiful.  Personal.  Sublime.

8. Nestor Wynrush // Trinnipeg !78

Take that Bon Jovi shit off the stereo and go buy Nestor’s album.  Indie hip hop at its finest.

7. Handome Furs // Face Control

The Boss + drum machines = the best part of Wolf Parade makes good.

6. Mos Def // The Ecstatic

The album title sums it up.

5. Grizzly Bear // Veckatimest

Its like the Beach Boys doing Morrissey’s acid.

4. Dan Deacon // Bromst

I swear he is modern music’s closest thing to Einstein.  Or Bach.  Such brilliance.   (ps: DanDeacon.com is now password protected?  What?)

3. Savath & Savalas // La Llama

Another long overdue album by one of my favorite artists.  Prefuse 73’s Catalan-psych-folk side project with Eva Puyuelo Muns.

2. Anti-Pop Consortium // Fluorescent Black

Comeback album of ever.  Damn I love these guys.   Topping off my year of hip hop.

1. We Were Promised Jetpacks // These Four Walls

Four energetic young lads from Scotland that are gonna bust your brain open.  So epic.  So personal.  So hopeful.

10. Wilco // The Album:

Not their best but still a step up from from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and a step sideways from 2004’s A Ghost is born.

9. The Gossip // Music for Men:

Chunky guitars, danceable drum beats, heavy disco influences (in a good way). Beth Ditto is a vocal goddess. Standout Tracks: Dimestore Diamond & 8th Wonder.

8. Jenn Grant // Echoes:

Jenn has a truly beautiful voice and this album shows that she knows heartache personally. Like she lived next door to it as a teenager and awkwardly dated it briefly in college. Stand out tracks: Sailing by Silverships & Blue Mountains.

7. Dog Day // Concentration:

Indie rock is alive and well and (still) living in Halifax. Fantastic album – if you ever get a chance to see them live do it.

6. Handsome Furs // Face Control:

Dan Boekner (also of Wolf Parade) can do no wrong. Everything he touches turns to musical gold. Love the song Evangeline

5. Patrick Watson // Wooden Arms:

Magnificently moody.  This is a great album worth getting lost in.

4. Grizzly Bear // Veckatimest:

Jason introduced me to them, and I’m so glad he did. Wonderful layered melodies that completely draw you in.

3. Japandroids // Post Nothing:

This Vancouver garage rock duo created an album of fuzzy guitar riffs & fuzzy vocals that left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. Standout tracks: Young Hearts Spark Fire, The Boys Are Leaving Town & Wet hair.

2. Chad VanGaalen // Soft Airplane:

This Calgary based musician/artist’s most polished and consistent album to date. He seems to keep getting better with every new outing. Stand out tracks: Willow tree, Phantom Anthills & especially Bare Feet on Wet Griptape.

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs // It’s Blitz:

Karen O has still got it! As if there was any doubt. Hopefully this isn’t their last album

An Horse - Rearrange Beds

An Horse - Rearrange Beds

Mere hours before the first of their two Winnipeg shows opening for Tegan & Sara, my copy of An Horse‘s Rearrange Beds arrived in the post.  I’ve had the good fortune of seeing them twice already — opening for Wintersleep in Edmonton, and a few months ago when I mixed their show at the Lo Pub.

After a bit of good luck being at the right place at the right time, the tide seems to be breaking for this Australian duo.  While there are some melodic similarities to Tegan & Sara, Kate’s delivery is more deliberate and forceful and Damon’s drumming powerfully and skillfully fills any arrangement holes left by the absence of a bass player.

Thanks to An Horse’s raw energy, their debut album succeeds on these same terms.  A great drummer and great melodies dominate throughout, never letting down, never letting go, and always pushing forward.  Urgently calling out the trials of the heart and the desire for more meaningful connections, Rearrange Beds is a bullet of honesty shot from the streets of Brisbane.

Lyrically, Kate explores the heart’s successes and failures, as set against a physical world, with the steady combination of self-effacing wit and wry poetic slight of hand.  Fans of author Jan Braun’s novel “Somewhere Else” will appreciate a similar sensibility.

There are no frills on this album.  No gimmicks, no studio bullshit, and no letdowns.  Its refreshing — and kind of amazing actually — that so much vitality can come from such simplicity.