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Best Music of 2015

It’s that time of year again, for list-making and looking back. As per usual, I crammed a lot of new music into the last month of the year, and two of my top 10 releases for this list actually snuck in within the last week.

My top three records were pretty much cemented by September. Although Beach House surprised us with a second full album just months after Depression Cherry, nothing dislodged these songs from top spot for me. I’ll have to admit that it has a little bit to do with a girl. This record and Lower DensEscape from Evil were the stuff I was marinating in when I found out my heart was still working this summer. Although my romantic resurrection was quickly followed by some tiny heartbreak, these songs will always remind me of someone special and new. Also, after having waited since 2012 for new material from both bands, I was exceptionally happy with the results.

I was delighted with the new direction from Belfast’s Girls Names. While Arms Around a Vision doesn’t have the infectious groove of 2013’s The New Life, the songwriting is bolder and feels more personal. If you like jagged post-punk with echoes of Nick Cave and Ian Curtis, you owe yourself a listen.

Tribulation‘s The Children of the Night came out of nowhere very late to knock me out. Deliriously theatrical from start to finish, this will appeal to fans of early atmospheric horror films like Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The scary (though intelligible) vocals are a necessary counterpoint to some really melodic guitar work.

Grimes may be accused of going more commercial with her new record Art Angels, but really there is nobody else doing what she’s doing. I’m very happy to see her in full control of her considerable talents on this very versatile collection of songs.

Having discovered some of Tamaryn‘s older releases this year, I was a bit surprised by the direction Cranekiss takes. While her older material was more soulful and shoegazey (reminiscent of Mazzy Star), this new one is very upbeat and danceable in places. If you ever liked Curve, you’ll like this.

Droid are a metal band from Brampton, one of Toronto’s western exurbs. I’d seen them live a few times over the past year, and this EP, recorded almost two years ago, finally saw the light of day in 2015. The recording and mixing isn’t great, but it gives some sense of what this three-piece are capable of. Thrashy space rock, reminiscent of Voivod. They’re a tremendous band live, and I hope 2016 will see them playing more shows, and maybe putting out a full-length.

The Dears are one of my favourite Canadian bands, and they continue an amazing streak of putting out consistently great records. I describe their sound as “music for underdogs played by underdogs” since they always seem criminally underappreciated. But I can truthfully say that a new listener could dig in anywhere and get a good sense of their quality.

Immortal Bird were a pretty random discovery, but I was blown away by the power of this Chicago metal group and their fierce frontwoman Rae Amitay. Not for the metalphobe/faint of heart, but it’s catharsis at 100 decibels.

Fuzz is one of Ty Segall’s many side projects. I went to see them live on a whim and ended up really enjoying the retro fuzzed out sound. There’s a very ’60s vibe to the guitars, the drumming, and even the way the vocals are mixed.

There are a bunch more that I simply didn’t have time to really listen to enough, so a few of those are listed (unranked) as Honourable Mentions.

A theme for the year might be my rediscovery of my love for live shows. I attended lots more this year than in the recent past, and when I could ignore the pretty girls and the beardy shitbags (and the people who can’t hold their booze), often found myself with happy tears wetting my cheeks. I mentioned in last year’s post how much music has meant to me lately, through some very difficult circumstances, and in a live setting my emotions are even closer to the surface than usual. I’m reminded of a ridiculous quote from one of my favourite films. In Bruce Robinson’s 1987 classic Withnail and I, Uncle Monty (played by Richard Griffiths) speaks of “weeping in butcher shops” and now I’m the guy who weeps at metal shows. So be it. Music brings me joy like almost nothing else does, even when things are otherwise pretty bleak. I hope it does the same for you.

Beach House - Depression Cherry
Girls Names - Arms Around a VisionLower Dens - Escape from Evil
Tribulation - The Children of the NightGrimes - Art AngelsTamaryn - Cranekiss
Droid - Disconnected (EP)The Dears - Times Infinity Volume OneImmortal Bird - Empress/AbscessFuzz - II

In list form, if you’re not visually inclined:

  1. Beach House – Depression Cherry
  2. Girls Names – Arms Around a Vision
  3. Lower Dens – Escape from Evil
  4. Tribulation – The Children of the Night
  5. Grimes – Art Angels
  6. Tamaryn – Crane Kiss
  7. Droid – Disconnected (EP)
  8. The Dears – Times Infinity Volume One
  9. Immortal Bird – Empress/Abscess
  10. Fuzz – II

Honourable Mentions (unranked):

  • Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
  • High On Fire – Luminiferous
  • Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
  • Black Fast – Terms of Surrender
  • Battlecross – Rise to Power
  • Destroyer – Poison Season
  • Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
  • Max Richter – from Sleep
  • La Luz – Weirdo Shrine
  • Life in Film – Here It Comes

Just for fun, here are some of my previous lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?

P.S. If you still haven’t caught up on all of 2015’s music (and there’s no way to actually do that), I’d recommend downloading this massive 183-song annual collection from Fluxblog.

Best Music of 2014

These days, when December arrives, I begin scrambling to listen to as much music from the current year as I can. Although I hear a few things throughout the year, I’m always scrambling to make my Top Ten a fair list and not just the only ten new records I heard that year. I think I did a good job this year, although five of my top ten are year-end discoveries.

As soon as I heard the first notes of Alvvays’ “Adult Diversion,” I knew I was onto a good thing. Their first album is filler-free, nine perfectly-polished pop gems that will stick in your head immediately. I was also privileged to see them live twice this year (once opening for hardcore act Fucked Up, which was adorable). I’m also immensely proud to be putting a Toronto band top of my list for maybe the first time ever. And I’m excited that there are a few other local bands tilling the same dreampop ground that may make it onto my list next year (WISH, Moon King, The Lonely Parade, Iris).

And I have to mention being knocked out by First Aid Kit’s record Stay Gold quite late in the year. If you’ve read this blog this year, you’ll know that I’d be all over a record with that title, and lyrically and musically, it’s been a balm (yes, maybe a literal first aid kit) for my battered heart even as I find myself crying while listening to it.

Spoon made another solid record this year, but as with all of their more recent stuff, it’s taken me a while to let it settle in. Amazing that I’ve been listening to them for more than 15 years now.

My love affair with metal continues unabated, although I find a bit too many “doom” bands are stretching the songs to absurd lengths. That being said, Pallbearer’s excellent record cannot be denied its rightful place in my list. And nice to see another comeback record (At The Gates) to rival last year’s Carcass release.

The biggest surprise on the list is a band called The Bilinda Butchers, who have made a wildly ambitious concept album based on a 19th-century Japanese love story. With a band name that references one of my all-time ladyrock crushes, I was bound to give them a chance, but the record (which you can actually download and name your own price) is musically eclectic but always compelling. Check it out.

So another year of semi-random music listening, but that’s the way I like it. If I find myself listening to something a lot, it’s going to make my year-end list, and so without further ado, here are my favourite releases of the past year.

Alvvays - Alvvays
First Aid Kit - Stay GoldSpoon - They Want My Soul
The Bilinda Butchers - HEAVENPallbearer - Foundation of BurdenWhite Lung - Deep Fantasy
Parquet Courts - Sunbathing AnimalAt The Gates - At War With RealityAgainst Me! - Transgender Dysphoria BluesLiterature - Chorus

In list form, if you’re not visually inclined:

  1. Alvvays – Alvvays
  2. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  3. Spoon – They Want My Soul
  4. The Bilinda Butchers – HEAVEN
  5. Pallbearer – Foundation of Burden
  6. White Lung – Deep Fantasy
  7. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
  8. At The Gates – At War With Reality
  9. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  10. Literature – Chorus

Honourable Mentions:

  • The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
  • Nothing – Guilty of Everything
  • Army Navy – The Wilderness Inside
  • The Raveonettes – Pe’ahi
  • Exodus – Blood In Blood Out

Just for fun, here are some of my previous lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?

P.S. If you still haven’t caught up on all of 2014’s music (and there’s no way to actually do that), I’d recommend downloading this massive 10-disc annual collection from Fluxblog.

Best Music of 2013

So here again is my totally haphazard selection of the best music released in 2013. As always, I find just as much joy in discovering old music that’s new to me as I do in keeping up with actually new music, so I listened to a shockingly small number of new releases this year. It’s interesting that my method of discovery has evolved over the years. I’ve long since stopped listening to radio, so my musical discoveries now usually come from friends or even just random Internet excursions.

One of the most interesting things that happened to me this year was being invited to a metal show by my friend Tom Hall while on a trip to New York this summer. An old high school friend of his from Michigan manages an up-and-coming band called Battlecross. I can’t remember having such a great time at a live show. The band played with such an amazing sense of joy, even if the music might seem aggressive. And I found the sincerity and work ethic of the band inspiring, too. It’s since led to a new appreciation of the metal music I had pretty much dismissed since I discovered punk in the late 1970s, and it’s been a lot of fun to “find my place” among all of metal’s subgenres.

But I haven’t abandoned my love of shoegaze and post-punk and it’s great to find more bands mining that territory, even if some of it sounds just a bit too familiar. I can’t be too critical, though. If I find myself listening to something a lot, it’s going to make my year-end list, and so without further ado, here are my favourite releases of the past year.

Beach Fossils - Clash The Truth
Girls Names - The New LifeHolograms - Forever
Carcass - Surgical SteelSuede - BloodsportsSmith Westerns - Soft Will
Battlecross - War of WillOkkervil River - The Silver GymnasiumSin Fang - FlowersArctic Monkeys - AM

In list form, if you’re not visually inclined:

  1. Beach Fossils – Clash the Truth
  2. Girls Names – The New Life
  3. Holograms – Forever
  4. Carcass – Surgical Steel
  5. Suede – Bloodsports
  6. Smith Westerns – Soft Will
  7. Battlecross – War of Will
  8. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium
  9. Sin Fang – Flowers
  10. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Honourable Mentions:

  • Wax Idols – Discipline & Desire
  • Sebadoh – Defend Yourself
  • Jim Guthrie – Takes Time
  • The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
  • Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood
  • Local Natives – Hummingbird

Just for fun, here are some of my previous lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?

P.S. If you still haven’t caught up on all of 2013’s music (and I definitely haven’t), I’d recommend downloading this massive 184-song annual collection from Fluxblog.

Best Music of 2009


The xx - xx
My album of 2009

This was a tough year for me to compile a list. Although, as always, there was great music released this year, I found myself mostly buying older stuff. In fact, my discovery of the year was probably Delta 5, who made music from 1979-1981. That being said, I’ll rank every complete album and EP I bought this year (a few physically, most through eMusic. Entries marked with asterisks were downloaded either free or at a significant discount (ie. the Fanfarlo album was given away for $1)

  1. The xx – xx
  2. Handsome Furs – Face Control
  3. múm – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know
  4. Years – Years
  5. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
  6. Fanfarlo – Reservoir*
  7. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
  8. Wilco – Wilco (the album)
  9. Metric – Fantasies

Not ranked because I haven’t listened to them enough:

  • Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre*
  • Do Make Say Think – Other Truths
  • The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning*

I thought I’d rank EPs separately:

  1. Ume – Sunshower
  2. Suburban Kids with Biblical Names – #4

Here are some of the “pro’s” lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?