Top 10 albums of 2013

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s follow-up album to their Grammy-award winning album, The Suburbs, is dark yet surprisingly danceable. The band knows how to take risks and challenge themselves all while keeping with their signature style. Reflektor is Arcade Fire’s most musically complex effort to date.

2. HAIM- Days Are Gone

The debut album from the California sister-trio is the perfect mix of nostalgia and modernity. It’s refreshingly bold yet familiar, boasting influences from Stevie Nicks and Wilson Philips. Days Are Gone is melodic and a real treat for any ’90s child.

3. Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild

Pulling inspiration from jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, Salvant offers something fresh and original all while steeped in tradition. Her technical ability, tempo and charisma displayed in WomanChild are evidence that she is far from a novelty act, but a true original in a re-emerging genre.

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

With their third album, Vampire Weekend have finally shed their ivy-league peppiness and demonstrated their full potential. Modern Vampires of the City is their most concise work and displays a sense of confidence and playful sophistication that was lacking from their previous albums.

5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories was well worth the eight years since the last studio album from French electronic duo, Daft Punk. Boasting a mix of dance, electronic, soul and disco, the lead single, “Get Lucky,” was in heavy rotation all summer.

6. James Blake – Overgrown

With his sophomore release, James Blake is stepping out of his electronic shell and revealing his humanity. Overgrown showcases a raw and soulful side to the minimalist post-dubstep sweetheart. With several tracks produced by Brian Eno and a strong focus on songwriting and melody, Blake’s sophomore release is experimental yet accessible.

7. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

In between writing songs for Sky Ferreira, Solange and Britney Spears, the Essex born street punk turned Brooklyn hipster recorded his sophomore album. With a clear influence from early ‘90s Prince, new wave, dance and R&B, Cupid Deluxe was inspired by the alienation and heartbreak of the New York underground LGBT community.

8. Emilíana Torrini – Tookah

Tookah showcases the essence of who Emilíana Torrini wants to be as an artist. Atmospheric synthesizers soar over her folky indie pop melodies to create a richly layered, evocative experience.

9. M.I.A. – Matangi

Initially reworked because it was deemed “too positive,” the fourth studio album from the outspoken English-Sri Lankan is creative and playful. The songs are chaotic and fly by at a brisk pace, creating the sense of excitement and exoticism that we’ve come to expect from M.I.A..

10. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Having previously worked with Coldplay, Imogen Heap and Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins certainly knows a thing or two about versatility. With his fourth studio album, we are immersed in Hopkins’ intriguing fusion of modern classical, techno and ambient musical styles. Immunity is both energetic and contemplative.


Pauline Marois’ electoral gamble will amount to a loss

It would be untrue to say that Quebec’s political scene isn’t wildly entertaining. This zoo we call our political system has been embarrassingly inadequate for the past few years, no matter who has been running it.

Graphic Jenny Kwan

When it came time to hit the polls last year, it was none other than Pauline Marois, infamous leader of the Parti Québécois, that took the vote by a mere one per cent, ousting the corruption-laden Liberal Party.

After over a year of watching Pauline Marois and her minority government struggle to make any valuable contribution to Quebec, Quebecers were eagerly awaiting to see whether she would call an election at the end of this year.

The answer is a resounding no. It seems 2014 will be the next time we’ll be choosing a provincial leader.

“The government doesn’t want general elections in 2013,” Marois told the press on Oct. 26. “The population gave us a mandate and we will continue to assume it. In the next few days, we will present our governmental orientations for solidarity because we think a responsible government must take care of people. We will also present our electrification strategy in transportation because we want Quebec to be a leader in that technology.”

Most importantly for Marois, it gives her a bit more time to convince voters to let her stay, no matter how unlikely that seems when you look at the facts.

Marois’ time in office has been a laughing affair. All the good she’s done politically has been almost completely shunned and overshadowed by a few major stunts that changed her reputation from separatist leader to separatist wacko.

Regardless of when the elections are held  the hole Marois and the Parti Québécois have dug themselves will barter the same result:  a change of heart politically for Quebecers. Whether it’s the reformed liberals, with Pierre Couillard now holding the reins, or the newly formed Coalition Avenir Quebec, it is highly unlikely that Marois will ever lead this province again.

QMI Agency political analyst Jean Lapierre said the PQ realized it didn’t have the poll numbers to win a majority government.

“Marois got spooked,” Lapierre said, according to The Toronto Sun. “Marois has been preparing for months to open a window for an election, and she choked.”

The truth is that as a province this isn’t what we need at the moment. Like the rest of the world, Quebecers all over the province have real issues that need fixing.

Our education system is in debt and needs more funding, our construction system is a mess, and our province is falling apart economically, mirrored by the economic plan the Parti Québécois announced last week.

“The economic plan announced last week signals a shift away from fiscal austerity, along with a hefty dose of interventionism in industrial policy that is destined to be rejected by the opposition parties at the first possible opportunity,” said Pierre Martin, a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, in an article for The Toronto Star.

We took a gamble when we gave a separatist party a chance, and we lost our chips. Truth is, Quebec is a diverse province with an amazing population, and preserving the French language is an incredibly important issue. That being said, the party in place is simply too immature to lead. You cannot focus all of your attention and energy to language and “identity issues,” and ignore other pressing matters. It’s especially disconcerting that the one issue they are focusing on is being handled incorrectly.

The people in this province need to be united, and all the Parti Québécois has done is create issues to separate us. It’s time for a change.


Bringing synth and psychedelia to POP Montreal

Photo by Jessica Romera.

As part of this year’s POP Montreal festivities, local indie rockers How Sad took the stage at the spacious Corona Virgin Mobile Theatre last Thursday night. The Montreal quartet played a short but enthralling set to a surprisingly packed room -most concert goers usually hang loosely around the venue- which can only be a testament to the band’s strength as musicians and entertainers.

After several jacked up, amped up toe-tapping synth-pop songs, How Sad toned it down to reveal a slower mellow side; like a mass music sponge, the crowd absorbed every note they dished out. Once the song was over, they quickly reverted back to upbeat crowd pleasers and revved up their amps almost one million per cent. The softer melodies were quickly replaced by a constant steady drumming and wild synthy guitar riffs.

The lights switched from the standard yellow to a vibrant red and blue to reflect the dynamic nature of the rest of their performance. How Sad closed their 35-minute set with their infectiously catchy single “Indian Summer,” which coincided perfectly with the last few warm days of September. How Sad had the crowd clapping and dancing throughout the set, thanks mainly to the lead vocalist’s endearing twitchiness that left people moving and grooving well into the intermission period.

Portugal.The Man

After half an hour of intermission and set-up, Portugal. The Man slid out onto the stage to an already electrified screaming crowd. Without hesitation, the psychedelic indie five-piece kicked off their set with their crowd-pleasing hit single “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue” off their latest album Evil Friends from notorious producer Danger Mouse. The audience was immediately intoxicated by the eye-popping flashing lights to match the colourful song and equally trippy backdrop: a sequence of seemingly irrelevant images of the ocean, trees and just plain weird visuals, projected onto a giant cut out in the shape of a mountain with several peaks.

Halfway through, lead singer John Gourley ditched his beanie and glasses and things got seriously trippy. The band mainly played tracks from their latest album, but dished out fan favourite goodies like “People Say” off 2009’s The Satanic Satanist. Throughout the medley of psychedelic guitar licks and riffs, “Sea of Air” permeated soothing acoustic waves then dove in and out of crashing drums and heavy guitar for the next few songs.

The psychedelic nature of the music was mirrored by the fantastically odd projected images. The backdrop displayed interchangeable scenes of trees with ghoulish green hands adorned with red claws projectile vomiting rainbows during “The Sun.” In these rare subdued moments, Portugal. The Man continued to rouse excitement in the already lively crowd. After playing for almost an hour, the band exited the stage, but returned within 10 minutes to offer up a hair-raising 20-minute encore. Bassist Zach Carothers praised Montreal for “starting the tour off right,” and for the beauty of the city and its people. The band played “The Devil” which quickly transitioned into a cover of The Beatles “Helter Skelter.” The backdrop during this mash-up reflected the intensity of the song with images that resembled something like an apocalyptic descent into chaos. This was quickly followed by a face-melting musical interlude fueled by a heavy bassline and creeping drumming beat. Portugal.The Man closed their almost 90-minute set with “Sleep Forever” and Beatles inspired “Hey Jude” chants to crystallize their place in the ever-expanding psychedelic indie pop scene.



The Dodos celebrate life and loss on their new album


The Dodo bird might be long extinct, but these guys are certainly not. Indie-rock duo The Dodos are here, happening, and have even sprouted some wings and taken flight to promote their new album Carrier. They’ve laid out some new songs that are brilliantly smooth, and even slightly exotic.

Meric Long’s exultant pop vocals and guitar picking are punctuated by Logan Kroeber’s kicking up-rhythms and fluid bass with lots of rim shots. The unfolding of any track on the album does not nest in one distinct sound, but will saunter from powerful pop, to sharp rock, and will often exit with dreamlike guitar melodies.

The key to The Dodos’ sound is in their rhythm, which flies out of your stereo so quick and sweet you hardly notice how often you’ve pressed repeat. “It’s a rhythm-driven music, that’s the distinct feature about a Dodos’ song,” said Long.

Long cites inspiration from dipping into the study of West African Ewe drumming and acoustic blues guitar. “Both broke down my understanding of rhythm. For a Western pop-culture suburban kid, they completely flipped my world, how I understood rhythm, and how I heard it,” said Long.

The musician’s unique ear for jolting out odd-tempo guitar riffs shapes the band’s songs in an inimitable way. “In the beginning guitar part of our song “Good”, most people would clap their hands in a different spot than where I’m hearing where the hand clapping should be,” he said. This still applies for those joining the band as touring members. Long explains how “there’s always this weird learning curve. There are certain things about learning our songs that they get twisted about and it’s always this sense of rhythm.”

Their distinct cadence is heard on Carrier, their fifth album released last month under Dine Alone Records. Carrier is an album fueled by the life and passing of former Dodos’ touring guitarist Christopher Reimer in February 2012. The album is both an accolade to the character and talent of their friend, and a medium for revitalizing what techniques and new sounds Long learned from Reimer, or the material Long had been eager to show him.

“[Reimer] was an awesome dude and an amazing musician. His influence would have been on the record whether he passed away or not. I wanted to write guitar parts and lyrics that he would be stoked on. “

Long and Reimer were brought together partially because of how distinctly different both musicians are in songwriting and guitar playing. It was Reimer’s ability to mimic styles and create a fierce wall of sound that complemented Long’s staccato chord playing and picking. Long was motivated to approach music from a new angle, greatly prompted by Reimer’s feel for music.

“Carrier feels like a step forward. I think in the past I started to develop habits or expectations of what I thought a Dodos song should be. Coming at it from a different angle was a way of getting more connected to it. The song is dictating what gets decided rather than expectations or habits or identity.”

Long focused on writing songs for Carrier by beginning with new elements, like starting with just words. This was a way of “feeling more connected to the song. Writing lyrics that I stand by and that actually mean something; I didn’t want to cut corners. I needed to tackle the things that I want to improve upon, or feel good about.”

The lyrics resulting from the band’s new musical approach and experience with hard-hitting tragedies are appropriately powerful, without delving too deeply into woefulness. The song “Confidence” begins with soft strumming and vocals, and eventually grows into a powerful electric chant of “Who has it all/ has nothing!”

“Confidence” is a mellow song from musicians who’ve been doing this for a while — they’ve shed the party-frenzied touring band persona as they head off on a jam-packed tour this fall.  Long no longer misbehaves like he did as a child, which then would have been followed by his mother telling him in French to “fait dodo” — go to sleep — words that would later inspire the band’s name. “She would either say that or say something in Chinese when I’d misbehave,” he added.

The San Francisco duo return to Montreal for this year’s edition of POP Montreal and recall fondly their time here in the city several years ago. “Everyone was super nice and super attractive. It seemed like Montreal was this paradise of really friendly, beautiful people,” said Long,  “J’espère que vous venez à notre concert!”

The Dodos play Sala Rossa Thursday, Sept. 26.

photo caption: The Dodos will be performing at this year’s edition of POP Montreal to promote their latest album Carrier.

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