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TOP TEN: Best Albums of 2012

10. Death Grips – The Money Store

By no means is The Money Store one of 2012’s most pleasing albums to the ear. However, it’s earned its stripes with its uniqueness; it houses the kind of thrashing, raw and ridiculous noise that would make your grandparents cover their ears. Death Grips brings unparallelled intensity to the table, like a car horn, or war, or tin cans being dragged behind a moving vehicle.

 

9. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d City

Kendrick Lamar’s debut album is a lesson to artists everywhere in storytelling, precision and attention to detail. While riding a wave of fluid, pulsing beats, the listener follows the artist deep into the trials and tribulations of his upbringing, personal life and rise to fame. Personal touches include segments of voicemails left by his parents from when he was young that punctuate the album and ease the plot along.

 

8. Snowblink – Inner Classics

Snowblink’s Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman have long floated beneath the CBC Radio 3 – Canadiana indie mainstream. After appearing as Feist’s backing band at this year’s Polaris Prize ceremony, the duo continues to gain recognition. Inner Classic, their second studio album, plays like the 10-day meditation retreat it was inspired by. Gesundheit’s pure, perfectly rounded-out voice glides over Goldman’s harmonies, track after track.

 

7. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Although British rock band Alt-J stepped onto the scene in 2007, it took them five years to release their debut album. An Awesome Wave boasts harmonic vocals occasionally akin to a barbershop quartet paired with obscure, often nonsensical lyrics against a backdrop of punchy, ringing, resonating melodies. This album wins the quirky award – alongside Britain’s legitimate Barclaycard Mercury Prize – for 2012.

 

6. Feist – Metals

Though the album was officially released at the close of 2011, Metals’  2012 acquisition of the Polaris Prize lands it safely on this list. The album plays out like her most recently released music video: intimately. “Graveyard,” like Metals, was produced entirely in California’s Big Sur region. Feist and her backing band are shot from the distance in the desert, but it feels as if it is all for an audience of one.

 

5. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

The appearance of any Brooklyn-hailing band on a ‘top ten’ list may sound trite, but Here We Go Magic have paid their dues. Now touring off their fourth album, the band has successfully covered all the bases. A Different Ship keeps your toes tapping, encourages your date to drink a few more beers and is the perfect travel companion. After catching the band’s Glastonbury performance, Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich signed on to produce the album. Godrich’s production is heavily apparent in the album’s first single, “Make Up Your Mind.”

 

4. Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard

A Montreal staple, it’s not often that Patrick Watson skips out on any list of local music favourites. In his downtime, the composer-singer-songwriter hides out in Plateau with his family, but he has been touring relentlessly for most of 2012. As the title suggests, Adventures In Your Own Backyard is an experience. Though it was released just last spring, the album has brought Watson across the continent multiple times. Adventures features lyrics, vocals, full band and strings that will tease the wildest of imaginations.

 

3. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Melodic, layered, folky and seemingly emanating from deep inside a forest, Shields gives the modern-day music maven something simple yet lovely to digest. What has the potential to slip through the cracks into the abyss of mediocre ‘hipster jams’ is instead spun into a full-bodied masterpiece of an album. Powerful vocal work, rolling drums, and ambient undertones allow Shields to fill your soul.

 

2. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Tramp stands out as the most surprising album of 2012, yet its tracks play out as familiarly as the lines around your lover’s smile. The album is the story of girl setting aside anyone and anything that stood in her way in the quest for inner satisfaction. In the two albums released prior to Tramp, Van Etten’s voice was a whisper. This time around, Van Etten confidently puts down the college boyfriend who hid her guitar, told her she was shit and could never make it as a singer. Not one track on this album disappoints.

 

1. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE

Channel ORANGE will undoubtedly provoke listeners to frantically feel around for the nearest bottle of expensive champagne. Ocean’s sultry voice oozes glamour against delightfully chilling bass lines, evoking class and elegance. Riddled with social commentary and refreshing depth, this monolith of an album is more than a pretty face — beneath the surface lies more wisdom than you can shake a stick at.

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Music

Weekly Mixtape: M for Montreal festival preview

It might be called M for Montreal, but besides the main event running from Nov. 14 -17 and hosted on home ground, this local festival’s influence extends around the world – with musical showcases from Toronto, Austin, Brighton, Paris, and Reykjavik, among others. This week, homegrown artists are getting some seriously well-deserved international recognition.

Although the festival reels in artists from all corners of the globe (such as France’s Danger and Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men) festival goers will still experience a heavily Montreal/Canadian-centric scene.

On side A you’ll find an amalgamation of M for Montreal artists from outside Canada, from Bliss’s smooth ambience to Death Grip’s thrashing weapon of a street vibe. Side B features musicians hailing from Canada, including French tracks, electronic sounds, a Latin appearance and some local rap. Kick back, grab a poutine and have a listen.

 

SIDE A: From afar

1. “11:30” – Danger – 09/14/2007 EP

2. “You Are the One” – A Place To Bury Strangers – Worship

3. “Pink Ruff” – Bleeding Rainbow – Yeah Right

4. “Guillotine (It Goes Yah) – Death Grips – Exmilitary

5. “Mountain Sound” – Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal

6. “Breathe” – Bliss – Buddha Bar

7. “Wavvy” – Mykki Blanco – Single

8. “Waiting On You” – Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

9. “We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat” – We Are the Union – Who We Are

10. “Pretty Face” – Sóley – We sink

 

SIDE B: Homegrown

11. “Light Show” – Plants and Animals – The End of That

12. “You Are Never Alone” – Socalled – Single

13. “Armed for Peace” – SUUNS – Zeroes QC

14. “Plus qu’il en faut” – Alexandre Desilets – La garde

15. “I Don’t Lie” – Chic Gamine – Chic Gamine

16. “Astounded” – Bran Van 3000 – Discosis

17. “Conditioning” – Cadence Weapon – Hope In Dirt City

18. “Full Circle” – Half Moon Run – Dark Eyes

19. “Don’t Leave It To Me” – Mozart’s Sister – Dear Fear

20. “Que Voy Hacer” – Heavy Soundz – Tumba Parlantes

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Music

Quickspins: Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, Chad Valley, Minnesota

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die: Paradise Edition (2012; Interscope)

Lana Del Rey, Born to Die: The Paradise Edition

With the voice of a ‘50s singer and the persona of a ‘60s actress, Lana Del Rey continues to capture listeners with her meaningful songs in her upcoming album, Born To Die: Paradise Edition.

Del Rey’s next album is an eight-track extension of her second studio album, Born to Die. A dark tone matched with expressive lyrics, Paradise Edition has Del Rey offering a powerful performance in each song. The howling guitars in “Gods and Monsters”, the ghostly piano in “Bel Air” and the haunting mixture of strings and hard drum beats in “Body Electric” are the darkest of the whole album.

Her first single off the album, “Ride”, indeed takes you on a mellow road trip. The down-tempo piano ballad has the essence of a great classic movie theme. However, if you’re looking for an album full of upbeat songs, you won’t find it here. The album is set for release on Nov. 12.

Trial track: “Ride”

Rating: 8.8/10

 

– Sabrina Walker

 

Taylor Swift – Red (2012; Big Machine)

Taylor Swift, Red

Best known for her ‘thank you for breaking my heart, I’m gonna go write a song about you now’ attitude, Swift is celebrating the release of her fourth album, Red.

The album’s 16 tracks include everything from confessional ballads like “I Almost Do” to ‘dance like an insane person’ tempos as heard in “22”. Tracks also feature collaborations with brit-pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and the lead vocalist of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody.

Swift has a multitude of personalities and instead of hiding them, she brings them all out and features a different trait in each of her songs. The tunes are relatable, and that is why she has gathered such a strong fanbase.

“Red” is about the semi-toxic, tumultuous relationships that we go through at one point or another. Whether you’re experiencing intense love or intense confusion, this album — along with some Ben & Jerry’s — is definitely something worth picking up.

Trial track: “All Too Well”

Rating: 9.5/10

– Maria Alexia Hinoporos

 

 

Chad Valley – Young Hunger (2012; Cascine)

Chad Valley, Young Hunger

Hailing from the United Kingdom, electro-pop artist Chad Valley’s persona is one of retro simplicity, muted rainbows and shiny innocence, all of which are distinctly channeled in Young Hunger.

Intermittent twinkling keyboards punctuate “Up and Down”, a bright track that alternates between sweeping and punchy rhythms. It’s the ideal backdrop to an adventure at dusk in an open field beside a highway.

“Manimals” features vocals reminiscent of an ‘80s high school dance —think “Forever Young” filling a room full of powder blue tuxedos. Luminous undertones quickly morph into a full-bodied lounge beat that evokes warm rain. The same hearty vocals can be found on “Fall 4 U”. This time, irritating high-pitched keyboard notes ring in the background. A characteristic rolling beat makes it pleasant, but the retro keyboard shoots stress levels through the roof.

“I Owe You This” is an easily digestible sound with a nighttime feel to it. Halfway through, guest vocals by Twin Shadow seem overly soulful, but they are short-lived; the song therefore preserves its dignity.

 

Trial track: “Manimals”

Rating: 6/10

– Stephanie Ullman

 

Minnesota – Are You There (2012; Hymn and Holler)

Minnesota, Are You There

Peter Himmelman of Sussman Lawrence fame has released another solo record, this time under the moniker of Minnesota, entitled Are You There.

Himmelman, a Minnesota native, makes use of a collection of styles from acoustic to rock, folk and blues, presenting listeners with an eclectic experience. This comes as no surprise, as Himmelman is the son-in-law of legendary singer-songwriter and ‘60s icon Bob Dylan.

The artist, along with several musical collaborators, plays with the heavy use of dynamics throughout the 13-track record, mixing from loud choruses to soft interludes. Thematically, the album revolves heavily around human emotion, specifically love.

Fans of Americana-styled music will enjoy the new additions to their library, while listeners outside of the genre will find that the album experience contains too many tracks with too many similarities. In addition, the slightly higher price tag of $16 will make for a difficult sell.

 

Trial track: “Death by Snakebite”

Rating: 7.4 / 10

– A.J. Cordeiro

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Music

Quickspins: Sinkane, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kendrick Lamar, Boys Noize

Sinkane – Mars (2012; DFA Records)

Former of Montreal member and current Yeasayer member Ahmed Gallab debuted his solo electro-pop project Sinkane with the album Mars. The album is a soulful collection of world beats, vocals and sounds effects, resulting in a mélange of genres —from electro-soul, to hip-hop and afro-beat. Prominent in almost every song is the use of funk guitar. The sonic textures and fabrics that Gallab patches together are truly unique, in that they are able to introduce unusual sounds yet simultaneously seem familiar to the listener.

At just 34 minutes and 11 seconds in length, the album definitely leaves the listener yearning for more, which may be one of the few drawbacks to this album. Sinkane will perform on Nov. 8 at Cabaret du Mile End, alongside Yeasayer.

Trial track: “Runnin’”

Rating: 9.1 / 10

-A.J. Cordeiro

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2012; Constellation)

 Ten years later, GY!BE sparked back to life releasing an album just days after announcing it.

Those fortunate to have caught one of Godspeed’s five, near-consecutive concerts in Montreal last year may be familiar with two of the album’s four tracks, “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire”. The other two tracks are new offerings, and a clear nod to the Maple Spring protests, with “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable”.

“Their Helicopters’ Sing” runs with a hiss and a haunting undertone; it’s eerie, invasive, and certainly meant to take you out of your comfort zone. The track is reminiscent of the nightly helicopter patrols, used by Montreal police to intimidate and dissuade protesters during the 100 days of nightly student marches last spring. The song’s tones eventually converge with a cacophony of sounds, a chaotic situation that cannot be controlled until it eventually subsides and lulls into nothingness.

Trial track: “Mladic”

Rating: 9/10

-Jamie Klinger

 

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2013; Interscope)

Produced by rap mastermind Dr. Dre, good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar’s second studio album released on October 22, has undoubtedly earned the Compton native the respect he deserves.  Making his major label debut, Kendrick draws inspiration from his profoundly troubled adolescent life. The result; nothing less than sheer lyrical genius from beginning to end.

Differentiating himself from most other artists in the rap game, Kendrick takes hip hop back to its origins, going back to the art of storytelling as he gives a vivid, emotional account of his adolescence. His struggles with gangs, drugs, and violence experienced in his 25 years are evident throughout the 12 tracks, his diction and complex, descriptive choice of words. The original, captivating sound of the album makes it one of the best hip hop albums of the year. The highly anticipated good kid, m.A.A.d city certainly delivers and earns Kendrick Lamar a spot alongside the rap legends he once could only dream of becoming. “What more can I say?/Welcome to L.A.”

Trial track: “m. A. A. d city”

Rating: 9/10

– Sabrina Curiale

 

Boys Noize – Out of the Black (2012; INgrooves)

Listening to Out of the Black, Alexander Ridha a.k.a. Boys Noize’s third full-length album, is like rocketing through deep space in black latex hot pants with a mug of tequila in your right hand and a grenade in the left. From beginning to end, each track sounds as if blenders and machine guns are being artfully played as instruments, all to the rhythm of a choppy yet pleasantly consistent backdrop.

“Rocky 2” and “Stop”, among others, feature variations of Boys Noize’s signature robotic voice interspersing each pulsing track with a droning mantra. “Missile”, a slow-building song reminiscent of gunfire, is sure to coax the biggest of downers out of their housecoats and onto the raunchiest of dance floors. Look for Snoop Dogg’s sultry pipes on “Got It”, a successful union of smooth rap and gritty synth beats. For your hard-hitting electro fix, Out of the Black surely delivers.

Trial track: “Missile”

Rating: 7.3/10

-Stephanie Ullman

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Music

Wintersleep mesmerizes in bone rattling performance

Press photo.

Donning variations of the casual button-up long-sleeve, Wintersleep sent reverberations through each concert goer’s sneakers from the floorboards up, buzzing with guitar distortion and crashing cymbals. The quintet kicked off the show with “Hum,” off their latest album Hello Hum, released this June. The energy onstage was instantly evident, with each group member wholly absorbed in their instruments and engrossed in their craft. With the final note of each track, frontman Paul Murphy would transform in seconds from spirited rock maven to endearingly shy boy-next-door, smiling inwardly and murmuring a satisfied “merci” into the microphone. As per usual in Montreal, the crowd went wild at the slightest note of French.

Cruising through a set list comprised of favourites old and new, each tune was more polished than the next, flawlessly producing sound akin to that found on their albums. Remarkable performances included “Weighty Ghost,” a crowd favourite of The Late Show with David Letterman fame that begs for a sing-along, the sunny and smooth “Resuscitate”, distortion-heavy “Drunk on Aluminum”, and “Laser Beams”, appropriately accompanied by blinding, flashing and strobe-like white lights.

Monolithic rock ballad “Nerves Normal, Breath Normal” closed the show. The face-melting, multi-layered, heavily instrumental piece had the whole house wide-eyed and slack-jawed, especially during an intense drum solo courtesy of Loel Campbell. With the cymbal’s cry of the final note, Wintersleep was escorted offstage by a ringing, resonating outro emanating from their synth machine, sending the audience off with one last earful of magic for the road.

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Wintersleep, from small-town Canada to big-stage fame

Wintersleep. Photo by Scott Munn

The year was 2001. Four Nova Scotia natives frequently gathered to jam on the fifteenth floor of a decrepit and somewhat forbidding high-rise apartment building. “The architect actually jumped off the top,” recalled Loel Campbell, who mans the drums. “He put a pool on top of the building that couldn’t actually hold water. If you put water in it, it would compromise the entire structure.” It was this underwhelming fixer-upper was to be the birthplace of arguably one of the most successful musical groups to hail from the Maritimes: Wintersleep.

Wintersleep, which also consists of Michael Bigelow, Tim D’Eon, Jon Samuel, and Paul Murphy, is recognized as an indie-rock band — however, Campbell disagrees with the notion of limiting their musical spectrum to one category.

“I think we definitely drift around in terms of style,” Campbell said, recalling one instance in which the band was pegged as Celtic post-rock. Their Myspace page brands their genre, equally obscurely, as German pop/soul. “I just call us a rock band, simple,” said Campbell.

The group’s name stems from the German translation of ‘hibernation.’ “The band started as a side project, so we thought that it was an apt title, because [Wintersleep] was something that we were doing on the side,” Campbell said. Originally, the moniker was meant to be a metaphor; however, while their sound has evolved since the band’s inception, Campbell claims “it still feels like a proper image to attach to the music.”

From emotion-heavy slow jams to dynamic up-tempo tunes, Wintersleep has touched on countless areas of the rock scene. The band’s self-titled first record is “very stripped down” and raw, according to Campbell— a reflection of each member’s progressive-rock background and the first step towards finding a collective voice. On Untitled, the band’s second album, the same heavy sound resonates, this time interspersed with “longer, punchier rock songs.”

Welcome to the Night Sky saw the addition of producer Tony Doogan — known for creating rock-heavy material — as well as a resulting sense of balance, power, and consistency in Wintersleep’s sound. Their fourth record, New Inheritors, is “definitely a rock band kind of record,” Campbell said. Written quickly on the road in the confines of a dingy rehearsal space, the limited resources set the tone for the resulting sound.

Hello Hum, released in June 2012, is the most vibrant and energetic album yet, thanks to the hiring on of co-producer Dave Fridmann of MGMT and Flaming Lips fame. “He was always the one who said, ‘play it faster,’” Campbell recalled. “I’m very happy with the result. It’s been this natural progression. We’ve become better musicians over time.”

As a band rooted in Canada’s East coast, Wintersleep effortlessly puts forth a human edge. “We were making music because we didn’t want to play sports,” Campbell said, compared to groups originating in the big city with “the industry side of music in mind.” Not having grown up in an atmosphere where bright lights and loud sounds are paramount, Wintersleep exudes a band-next-door feel. You can take Campbell’s word for it — they’ll never have pyrotechnics onstage.

 

Channeling Wintersleep’s humble nature, he asserts that there is no pivotal moment during which the band felt it safe to declare itself wholly successful.

“It’s always a struggle,” said Campbell. “Every night that we play a show, I think, ‘This is where I should be.’ But I constantly self-doubt and worry. I don’t think that, in today’s climate, you can make it to some sort of [invincible] place. I don’t even want that.” If anything, the release of Welcome to the Night Sky, the band’s third studio album, marked a monumental time in Wintersleep’s career. Ever since the album came out in 2007, touring has become a full-time commitment, and the performers haven’t looked back.

The 2008 Juno Awards saw a win for the band in the “New Group of the Year” category, placing them among the ranks of past winners likes of Bedouin Soundclash and Alexisonfire. While having a Juno under their belt allowed Wintersleep to gain publicity, “the main thing was that it validated what we were all doing for our parents,” said Campbell. “They were really proud of us.”

Despite its deceiving facade, Wintersleep has since opened for many household names, such as Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam.

What does Wintersleep have in mind for its listeners? “I hope people can relate to [the music],” said Campbell. “We try to keep things ambiguous when it comes to explaining meanings behind songs, because it’s always awesome when people take away their own interpretation. It can instantly change my day, always for the better. I hope that people can have similar experiences with some of our music. And hopefully they can dance to it sometimes,” he said with a laugh. “Dancing is good.”

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