Jan 2, 2014

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The Best Albums of 2013

Added note: Okay. I’ve had enough. I’ve held back on publishing my picks for the top albums of 2013 because I wanted to do a writeup on each one. But writing up ten albums was going to take forever, and it turns out that even writing up five of them just isn’t happening in a timely fashion. So I’m going simple. Here’s a list. I will do mini-reviews of several of these albums throughout January, because one of my resolutions is to actually populate this blog with more than just track lists.

When I state my picks for the best albums of the year, they’re entirely dependent on my own personal response, as well as what I’ve had a chance to listen to. Furthermore, this list ranks the albums that I’ve enjoyed as a whole unit; there are plenty more releases from this year which had a handful of brilliant songs, but otherwise didn’t grab me. So here’s my list for the top albums of 2013, #10-2:

10: MS MR – Secondhand Rapture

9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight; The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

8. The Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves

7. OneOhTrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

6. Jordan Klassen – Repentance

5. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

4. Janelle Monaé – The Electric Lady

3. For Esmé – For Esmé

 2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

 

And my number one pick for best album of 2013: Bastille – Bad Blood.

220px-BadBloodBastillealbum

In a year that saw a new release from Boards of Canada, Janelle Monae, OneOhTrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, and The Naked and Famous, among many many others, it is Bastille that I keep going back to, again and again. The songs of Bad Blood have racked up hundreds of listens on my phone, and I purchased them back in April. While other releases this year may be more artistic (Virgins), more momentous (Tomorrow’s Harvest), or more universally acclaimed, none of them have had the magnetism of Dan Smith’s synthpop premiere. Bad Blood is an album about the end of a relationship, but it’s far from sad; it’s angry, it’s confused, it’s nostalgic, it’s giddy. It captures not only the hurt at losing the one you love, but also the tenderness you continue to feel even after that person has broken your heart. While Smith hasn’t confirmed or denied that the album has a distinct narrative, it’s impossible to deny the themes and subjects which arise from listening to the album as a unit.

The gloriously catchy tunes of songs like “These Streets” and the lead single “Pompeii” sweep you up, and it’s a few listens before you realize the pain behind the lyrics. Music is, of course, always up for interpretation; but my impression of Bad Blood describes the aftermath of an incredibly powerful but ultimately doomed love story, the kind of tragedy that hits you right in the gut. There’s betrayal (“Daniel in the Den”, lamenting “Felled in the night/By the ones you think you love/They will come for you”); there’s remorse (“Things We Lost in the Fire”); there’s sheer nastiness (the title track); and there’s that horrible feeling of seeing your ex’s face in every passerby (“These Streets”). In the softer moments of the album there’s a song in which the narrator questions if his partner is truly meant to be with him in the long run, and another which acknowledges that both parties are flawed but asks if each can fix the other. These are all things that happen in real life; they’re part of what happens when two people with mental illnesses are in love, and when partners know deep down that they will not be together forever but can’t quite bear to let go just yet.

The extra material released around Bad Blood–which includes some of Bastille’s best songs–flesh out the details. “Laughter Lines” depicts a classically youthful promise to stay with a loved one forever (“I’ll see you in the future when we’re older/and we are full of stories to be told./Cross my heart and hope to die,/I’ll see you with your laughter lines.”) and “Poet” is an update of Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet (“I have written you down/Now you will live forever”).

Like another quasi-breakup album I love–The Zolas’ Ancient MarsBad Blood ends with the acknowledgement that despite all the pain, the anger, the compassion, and every other emotional swerve in the journey, we’ll still end up doing this dance again with another partner. The finale of the album, “The Weight of Living Pt I” (Pt II is the midpoint track) references an albatross and encourages the song’s subject to “Let it go”; the penultimate song asks “how am I going to get myself back home?” Reversing the play order of the Weight of Living songs is a reminder that the journey of love and heartbreak is cyclical, and it will be until you find the One.

This analysis might be totally nuts, but Bad Blood resonated with me in a way that no other album did in 2013. It is bombastic, unashamed, emotional, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Dec 4, 2013

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December 2013: Excuses, Excuses

December 2013: Excuses, Excuses

I started to do an Arbitrary Album of the Month review, but realized that it would run smack up into my “Best of 2013” list, so in lieu of repeating myself I am going to wait on doing an AAotM and instead release a whole bunch of posts later in the month talking about the albums I think won the year. I promise that Arcade Fire isn’t anywhere on the list. 

So watch this space, dudes and dudettes.

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Nov 18, 2013

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Track List – November 16th (The Royal Oui Live)

It’s super late, but here’s the track list for this past weekend’s show. I was humbled and intimidated and so, so honoured to be able to have The Royal Oui come perform on my show and hang out for a conversation; Ari Shine and Adrienne Pierce are both just incredible musicians and generally fantastic people.

In a lot of ways, radio is a little like shouting into a void; you don’t get a lot of feedback that anyone is listening, so it’s easy to assume you’re just talking to the wind. But every so often you get to interview some guests who are genuinely thrilled to be on the air, and make you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something each week. Ari and Adrienne made me feel like I was really becoming part of the music community here on the island, and that my dinky little weekly playlist of songs I love may be something people would listen to and perform on. Needless to say I was thrilled at this show; I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever done. I hope to do more like this in the future.

You can find more about The Royal Oui at http://theroyaloui.com/, and they’re on Twitter at @the_royal_oui.

Anyhow, here’s the track list:

Janelle Monae – Given’ Em What they Love (The Electric Lady)
Neko Case – Calling Card (The Worse Things Get…)
Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow (Tall Tall Shadow)
The Polyphonic Spree – Carefully Try (Yes It’s True)
The Royal Oui – When You Lose Your Mind
The Royal Oui – Dirty Snow
The Royal Oui – True
The Royal Oui – Give Up the Ghost
The Arcade Fire – You Already Know (Reflektor)
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark – Enola Gay (Left of the Dial)
Flight of the Conchords – The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room (Live)
John Williams – Cantina Band Theme (Star Wars: Episode IV)
Ryan Adams – Answering Bell (Gold)
Kids on TV – We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off (Mixing Business With Pleasure)
Library Voices – If Raymond Carver Were Born in the 90’s (Summer of Lust)
Man or Astro-Man? – Baby’s First Spacewalk (45 Single)
John Vanderslice – A Better Whirlpool (Vanderslice Plays Diamond Dogs)
Lonesome Animals – Soft Light (Soft Light EP)

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Oct 28, 2013

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Radio is a Learning Process

In which your marvelous hostess shoots herself in the foot by admitting that she’s not quite perfect yet.

So I’m three shows into Particles and Waves, and am currently listening to the stream of Saturday’s show. It might seem self-possessed, but I like to think it’s also to help me hone my craft now that this is a regular gig for me. And also because I really do learn things from listening to a piece of work that 1) could be rehearsed, but usually isn’t, 2) is never going to be editable no matter how much I want it to be, and 3) therefore requires the development of certain oratory and improvisational skills which haven’t been worked on since I was a drama nerd in high school.

I tried to look for an image to fit a “Cunning Linguist” joke but the result was exactly as you’d expect.

I really liked this past show. The song selection was a lot of fun and I got to play some really neat vinyl. That said, I wouldn’t be a creative type if I wasn’t self-critical, so there are two things I’m noticing: first, that I can do a lot better in reducing my filler words; and second, that the sound board is a filthy goddamn liar about quality levels. There are one or two spots where things kinda got blown out into muddyville this week, for which I apologize. The BoC song sounds fucking gorgeous, though. Because BoC is magic.

On the subject of filler words: I am loathe to realize that I do use them, and it’s a conscious work in progress to eliminate them. Just as I had to train myself off of using scripts while in studio in my first year of hosting, I am also re-training myself to just shut the fuck up when I run into a mental roadblock. I think I’m a lot better than I used to be (there are some Big Broad Casts that I’m very glad are gone to the sands of time), but as I spend more and more time in front of the microphone I aim to end up sounding like I know exactly what I’m doing. Someday.

So that’s my takeaway. This is the sort of post that would completely bewilder my mother, because why on earth would you point all this out to your audience, bubbeleh? But better I call myself out on these things and aim to improve them as time goes on, rather than have some people think it but silently judge. So next week will kick even more ass than this week did, and will continue until we reach the asymptotic limit of asskickery.

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Oct 23, 2013

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I think this is what Christmas feels like.

LOOK!

BoC Records

 

A few months ago I ordered these two re-releases on vinyl and they got delivered to my office today. GUESS WHAT I’M PLAYING ON THE SHOW THIS SATURDAY.

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Oct 22, 2013

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Angel Haze Does ‘Same Love’ Justice

For most of the summer, I resisted the pull of Macklemore; partly it’s because I suffer from debilitating hype aversion, and partly it’s because at the time I was exploring queer and underground rap for the first time and was far more impressed with the socially conscious rappers who were taking the medium and returning it to its culturally critical roots. I was even enjoying Eminem–like, old school Eminem–for the first time ever, able to appreciate his flow and lyrical talent and weird twisted shades of sex positivity. I mean, it was cis, hetero, probably white-centered sex positivity wrapped in layers of Slim Shady insanity, but, y’know, the guy called people on their shit.

But I digress; we’re talking about Macklemore and his album The Heist. One day I relented, and posted the following to Facebook:
Capture

Outside of the runaway hit “Thrift Shop,” the standout track on The Heist is the heartfelt track ‘Same Love,’ a pro-gay rights anthem that tries to address the very real issues of homophobia and sexism in the hip-hop industry and elsewhere. Macklemore went on to perform the song at the VMAs and win an MTV Video Award for “Best Video With a Social Message”–apparently those exist, who knew?–and as people piled on the praise, many members of the LGBTQ community and their allies ended up feeling that their experiences were only coming into the limelight when voiced by a white, cis, heterosexual man. Again.

Enter Angel Haze, an underground rapper from Detroit who’s quickly climbing the charts as one of the most talented female rappers of the 21st century. She’s already known for her mercilessly clever flow and devastatingly powerful songs–her cover of Eminem’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ is absolutely harrowing. She’s got a cover of Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Bitch Bad’ that, rightfully, tells the story from a female perspective. And today she released a freestyle over Same Love’s instrumentals. And it’s fucking incredible.

Haze, who describes herself as pansexual, has claimed the track for her own and shown Macklemore, and the rest of us, the true power of a pro-gay rap song. Not only does Haze speak from her own point of view, but she also pays homage to queer poet Andrea Gibson’s poem ‘Andrew’, and the result is chilling and beautiful and absolutely nails what Macklemore was trying to accomplish. Go listen to it, and then listen to more of Angel Haze in general, because she’s hands down some of the most promising talent in the rap scene right now.

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