Monday, December 15, 2008

Best-of 2008:: Top 20 Canadian LPs



I always hear people saying this year was a bad one in terms of music. Not including some of the fantastic US releases (Kozalek, J. Tillman, Black Diamond Heavies, Micah P Hinson, the dual Centro-matic/South San Gabriel, Karl Blau, Neil Halstead, and the trend to showcase your Afro-centric influences all come to mind), the bounty from the Canadian scene in '08 was impressive and for me, picking my favorites was a challenging task. While some might think that is a sign of mediocrity, I think it shows the solid collection of albums available this year.

My list is not going to coincide with the rest of the blog world, but because we mostly cover small time, Canadian outfits on herohill, that's probably the way it should be. Music is so personal, and trying to wedge in the coolest kids only takes away from the fun of finding bands that really affect you. These 21 records might have framed a snapshot in my mind or fueled months at a time, but regardless each triggered a powerful emotion and reminded me that, like a wise man once said, "without music life would be a mistake."

There are a couple of Canadian bands that could have easily made the list. It really hurt me to drop Nick Zubeck from the list. I wish this was a Best-of 2008 with 22 entries, as he deserves some recognition. Tracker was a beautiful album, and for some reason it resonated with me and prompted me to look at the state of Canadian music and throw together one of those too long posts asking people to listen.

There were countless other songs, artists, records that inspired me, but here are some of the best of the rest. The classic arrangements
Jill Barber delivered on Chances, the amazing images Kathleen Edwards painted as she looked inside herself and the salt of the earth people that make up the country we all call home, the way Shad reminded people it was ok to like quality hip hop, the smoldering energy Liz delivers of Land of Talk and the intimate, orchestral folk of Woodpigeon all made a heavy impression on me this year.

Anyway, without further ado:

20.) Plants & Animals - Parc Avenue (review) || MP3:: Bye Bye Bye

"I truly believe if you listen to Parc Avenue you will appreciate how truly iconoclastic Plants & Animals really are. They've created songs that don't fit into any label and created a record that defies critics to like it; the whistle that starts Feedback In the Field or the quirky lyrics about the pom-pom girl from the Allouettes. These are normally red flags for fans and reviewers alike, but this young Montreal band manages to hook you with their originality and talent and you start to realize that you like the songs because of these things, not in spite if them."
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19.) The Speaking Tongues - Wild Sound (review) || MP3:: She Just Don't Care

"So, if you want some advice…. order that shit now. From the opening seconds of Wild Sound, you get what Pete and Aaron are about. Huge guitar riffs and crashing cymbals explode out of your speakers as the duo constantly jumps back and forth across the line that separates swampy blues and Detroit garage rock. Holier than thou blues fans would be best served staying away, because The Speaking Tongues really aren't trying to keep it clean. They like it loud, fast and rough."

Best moment of 2008:
Recording WILD SOUND.
Worst moment of 2008:
Selling no merch in Peterborough, but managing to leave it all there... Busting The Pack A.D.s kick drum only two songs into our set in Hamilton... And we'll throw in eating at White Castle at 3 a.m. in Detroit for good measure too.
Resolution for 2009:
Play more shows... and release a 7".
Favorite record of 2008:
Way too many to list. But let's just say when we hear 'The Black Diamond Heavies – A Touch of Someone Else’s Class' you better get out of our way.

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18.) The Sumner Brothers - self-titled (review) || MP3:: Pain

"The Sumner Brothers (Brian and Bob) do a remarkable job of bridging the gap between past and present. Even the most stringent Willie Nelson fan would be challenged to find fault in songs like Yea Blue and Say you'll always be mine and the steady as a freight train rhythm of Liar Liar certainly make a listener think of the man in black, but The Sumner Brothers are more than just a trip to the past. Like a precious few bands making great music today (The Avetts and The Felice Brothers come to mind), the Sumners are able to put their own spin on the sounds that influence their music. Replacing acoustic with electric guitar helps, but it the shots of well placed energy that help keep this album moving."

Best moment of 2008:
Marcus Naslund being traded from the Canucks
Worst moment of 2008:
One of our heaviest drinking fans winning a texas mickey at one of our coin tosses
Resolution for 2009:
I don't make promises I can't keep......hence I rarely make promises
Best record of 2008:
Stripmall Ballads - "Since Jimmy Died"

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17.) Snailhouse - Lies on the Prize (review) || MP3:: (Not) Superstitious

"His words still hit with the force of a tidal wave and the honesty of a religious man, but the tunes that carry them along are bursting with life. The record opens up with the delicate picked riff of Dollar Signs, but after the first verse the drums and backing instruments kick in and transform the gentle folk song into a much fuller affair. Beautiful strings, xylophone, and pedal steel dance alongside his words and you quickly realize this might not be your standard Snailhouse record... and the delightful double negative that is (Not) Superstitious confirms the fact."

Best moment of 2008:
The snailhouse church show at Sappy-Fest.
Worst moment of 2008:
Vocal cord surgery
Resolution for 2009:
No more Mr. Nice guy.
Favorite record of 2008:
Dirty Projectors "Rise Above"

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16.) Angela Desveaux & the Mighty Ship (review) || MP3:: Sure Enough

"This record was a complete surprise to me, sent to me by a friend and I'd heard nothing about it. Considering how naive I was to the listen, the immediate impact it had on me was pretty amazing. I'd highly recommend this record to anyone who usually falls in line with my tastes, and really to anyone who can appreciate a talented artist with a terrific voice and rock solid band. Basically, to anyone who likes music."

Best moment of 2008:
September 8th- after our Cd release show in Montreal,...good challenge to get out of the way!
Worst moment of 2008:
Every moment hear a close friend or family member having an encounter with cancer....
Resolution for 2009:
To work on a new album and enjoy it.
Favorite record of 2008:
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

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15.) Justin Rutledge - Man Descending (review) || MP3:: Greenwich Time

"Justin's arrangements are well thought out, and thanks to a huge collection of talented friends, each song feels complete. While it may seems obvious to listeners, taking the time to find the right sound is something most bands don't do. Throwing 15 layers onto a song doesn't make an arrangement work and it's not just the stable of musicians Justin uses that makes this record so nice. Sure they add great elements to the songs, but it's how Justin seems to find the exact texture (no matter how big or small) to complete the story that is so remarkable. Whether it's the long pedal steel notes that run up the melody of The Wire before retreating like waves on a beach or the chorus he adds on the standout track Greenwich Time, you know that Rutledge left everything he had in the studio."
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14.) The Maynards - Date and Destroy (review) || MP3:: Art Attack

"If I had to describe the band in one word, it would be lust. The songs are quick, hot and sweat inducing (almost every song comes in under two-minutes) and even though you know it's going to end with you holding what's left of your heart, you just don't care. The white-hot passion is worth the inevitable pain. Whether it’s the sing shout vocals of Art Attack, the Heath Matheson driven, cold war, spy theme In the City or the terrific, Mutant Pop style punk/garage rock (think Egghead if they had two female singers), it’s almost impossible to sit still when the band starts pummeling your senses."

Best moment of 2008:
I think the best moment was when a dude at "panic manual" proclaimed us unofficially the "sexiest band in Canada". It unofficially made me feel like a young Kevin Costner hanging out with a couple of young Margaret Trudeaus.
Worst moment of 2008:
By far and away the worst moment was when, between visiting Nackawic New Brunswicks's replica of Graceland and the world's biggest ax, we hit a cat with our car. Both those landmarks were no where near good enough to justify accidental cat death. We all vowed never to speak of it again, but honestly, it was totally the worst.
Resolution for 2009:
I think it's safe to say that, as a band, our resolution is to never again leave something dead on the snowbanks of rural New Brunswick.
Favorite record of 2008:
High Kicks by the Stolen Minks. I literally cried in the car at how awesome it was, but I'm emo like that.

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13.) Christina Martin - Two Hearts (review) || MP3:: Two Hearts

"Today, even the most fashionable of establishments sell "vintage" cowboys shirts and even the poppiest song writers are using pedal steel to add that bottom of the bottle feel to their efforts. That saturation results in an abundance of mediocre music, and ultimately helps an artist like Christina Martin stands out.

A cynic might look at her influences (Lucinda, Wilco, Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin) and the heart break and longing she sings about and assume she’s just another artist shifting to the hottest sound. In reality, the Halifax song writer cut her teeth in dingy bars in Austin, opening for terrific musicians and learning what being a song writer is all about and at the end of the day, the most heartfelt compliment I can give is that everything about her country fused, roots style is real and earned through experience."

Best moment of 2008:
Opening for Matt Mays & El Torpedo at The Marquee in Halifax, June 2008. They have an awesome crowd and there was a bottle of Jagermeister waiting for me back stage.
Worst moment of 2008:
There were many times when I reconciled my bank account and credit cards and realized just how broke I was. Those moments feel pretty shitty.
Resolution for 2009:
Tour in the US (Happening in April).
Favorite record of 2008:
Daniel Ledwell, Two Over Seven

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12.) Elliott Brood - Mountain Meadows (review) || MP3:: Write it all Down For You

"And that's probably the thing that grabs me on Mountain Meadow. Despite their previous critical successes (their debut LP - Ambassador - was nominated for a Juno), Elliott Brood is often described as a terrific live band that falls short on record. While I've never agreed with these sentiments, the trio has worked hard to make a record that has the spirit and swagger of a live show, but still allow for repeatable listens. Write it all Down For and Chuckwagon are sweaty stomps track that will fuel sets for years to come, but the band has learned how to transform energetic tracks destined for the stage into songs that reward the headphone listener as well."
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11.) Culture Reject - self-titled (review) || MP3:: Inside the Cinema

"For Michael O’Connell, the result is something special. The quirks and transitions he adds to his songs are like a sneak peak into an over active mind; one that is constantly embracing the world around it. Music is supposed to be derived from your influences and experiences, and with that being said, it's obvious he's lived a terrific life so far. Stepping out of the rock genre of his last band, his new project - Culture Reject - is a collection of smooth grooves, soul, looping guitars bursts and simple percussion that he's picked up while traveling the world."

Best moment of 2008:
Election of Barrack Obama
Worst moment of 2008:
Leaving all of my gear in Boston on tour
Resolution for 2009:
Spread the love for spontaneous music/learn to live without resolution
Favorite record of 2008:
Sandro Perri Tiny Mirrors

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10.) Adam & the Amethyst (review) || MP3:: Stupid Ocean

"The songs are drenched in reverb, and sparkle like sun kissed water. Stupid Ocean is nothing less than a lo-fi masterpiece as Waito's voice takes you to playful days on the beaches of the Pacific, but his lyrical content is centered in the middle of Ontario, making the effort distinctly Canadian fueled. Rocky route 17 really provides an anchor to the songs, keeping you grounded and intrigued."

Best moment of 2008:
Sitting in Icelandic hot spring during Iceland Airwaves.
Worst moment of 2008:
Economic crisis cramping my style in a big way.
Resolution for 2009:
Fitter, happier, more productive.
Best record of 2008:
Couldn't afford to buy records this year, lived under rock. My People Sleeping? Tune Yards? Amethyst Amulet?

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9.) Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Ten Thousand (review) || MP3:: Go Back Home

"Considering the place they call home, the authenticity of the Agnostics is hard to question. It’s become fashionable to pick up a banjo or attack a slide, but unlike a lot of the new blues outfits, AMGC has a sound that could have been unearthed from a dust covered, warped piece of vinyl. The crackling energy the deliver on the furious finger picked title track takes you back to the times where a musician's soul was left on every track and the spirited, heartfelt tip of the cap to Son House they offer with a terrific take on Empire Night Express shows their respect for the music they play."
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8.) Contrived - blank, blank, blank (review) || MP3:: The War to Settle the Score

"Over the course of 8 songs and 35 incredibly diverse minutes, the band manages to meld melodic sludge and classic rock into the inspired indie anthems and sonic explorations you’d expect from their other projects. They can hit you with a political post hardcore jam (The War to Settle the Score) or soften the blow as they add angelic vocals and spacey, dreamlike textures (Keepsake and Celebrate). Keepsake builds and builds, but instead of succumbing to melodramatic excesses, the band simply lets the song come to life until it courses through your veins."
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7a.) WOMEN - self-titled (review) || MP3:: BLACK RICE
7b.) Azeda Booth - In Flesh Tones (review) || MP3:: In Red

Is it cheap to have both these records in the same slot just because they share members? Probably, but oh well. To be honest, I stumbled on both records around the same time and was blown away by both. They are completely separate sounds and really show the diversity of the great Province of Alberta, but both hit me hard and have stuck around.

Azeda Booth - Best moment of 2008:
I saw more good shows this year than ever before, but seeing Grizzly Bear play at a small church in our hometown and then getting to see them open for Radiohead in Montreal was incredible... it puts things into perspective. I am so happy and so proud of those guys, things like that... it really makes me excited to play music (that and their shows were incredible).
Best moment of 2008:
Insane vehicle trouble upon insane vehicle trouble on BOTH our summer and fall tours. Balls balls balls...
Resolution for 2009:
Tour as much as humanly possible.
Best moment of 2008:
Hard to pick, but probably the Department of Eagles record.

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6.) Mt. Eerie (ft. Julie Doiron and Fred Squires) - Lost Wisdom (review) || MP3:: Voice In Headphones

"It must be an amazing experience to sit down with your musical inspiration and hear them soulfully recreate your work. The emotions – acceptance, awe, pride – must pulse through your veins, making it impossible to sit still. And when it comes to Phil Elverum recording with Julie Doiron (and her current band mate Fred Squire) it’s even more shocking when you consider how simple and clean the resulting songs are."
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5.) Old Man Luedecke - Proof of Love (review) || MP3:: Proof Of Love

"The thing I really like is how Chris made this more than a "banjo record." He could have easily played 11 finger picked tracks and told anyone who wasn't into it to pluck off. Instead, with Steve's help, he's managed to change styles and tempos. He's strong enough to stand alone (Just Like a River), shift into traditional numbers (Lulu My Darling), create a bar room/back porch jam session with a surprising density (The Drawing Near), and even drift into a 50's radio slow dance number (Sad as a Forest). It's not very often you picture a banjo picker merging seamlessly with a soulful, gospel choir but the collaboration with the Sojouners is one of the many highlights on Proof of Love."
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4.) The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns (review) || MP3:: Frank, AB

This is probably my favorite story of the year. We fell in love with Hometowns way back in February, but it wasn't until the HPX showcase we put on with IHM that the good came through. Every blogger says they want to help the bands they write about (well, except for bloggers that take themselves way toooooo seriously and start ripping apart bands... honestly, blogging is a hobby for 99% of us, so why bother talking shit on bands 99% of the world will never hear?) and when we finally met Nils, he let us know that our review started a slow moving snowball for them to become the emusic band of the month. Our review turned someone on to them, who then reached out to emusic. It ain't because of us obviously, but it just shows that good music CAN get heard.

Amy Cole - Best moment of 2008:
Running outside along with everyone else at the show to light fireworks immediately after our set in Sackville, NB
Worst Moment of 2008:
Nils breaking a string (and taking a realllly long time to change it!) on our second song of a really awkward set at a festival in Georgian Bay.
Resolution for 2009:
Never again lose/misplace/forget the SK-1 cord.
Favourite Record of 2008:
TIE: The Bicycles: Oh No, It's Love and Plants and Animals: Parc Avenue


Nils - Best moment of 2008:
Best moment of 2008: The whole HPX weekend .... Paul and Amy had some practicing to do in the afternoons for their We're Scared set, so I was able to just wander around and explore Halifax. The afternoons couldn't have been a better fall day .... totally great.

Worst Moment of 2008:
Waking up to hear screams of "Deer!" at 4AM on the drive back from Moncton to Toronto in February.

Resolution for 2009:
Try to change my strings more often.

Favourite Record of 2008:
Either Tallest Man on Earth "Shallow Grave" or The Dodo's "Visiter"

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3.) Matthew Barber - Ghost Notes (review) || MP3:: Easily Bruised

"But when a song crackles through your speakers with purity, simplicity and enough soul to make you believe, well, it's special. And when Matthew Barber strums his trusty acoustic on the intro of Easily Bruised, you are willing to sit down and let the man speak. The slight melding of letters when he sings "PEI" gives the track a nostalgic 70's radio feel, but everything comes across so smoothly, without a trace of pretension and transforms his new record - Ghost Notes - from just another average cup of coffee to one you savor."
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2.) FemBots - Calling Out (review) || MP3:: Good Days
"The result, not surprisingly, is gritty and apocalyptic at points, but beautiful and full of hope at the same time. With a completely unique sound even the most straight forward rockers (Hand Print in Wet Cement) or rootsiest/stripped down effort (the beautiful closing number Ship Breaking) are laced with sonic exploration. The simple piano that dominates the verses of Get in the Van is offset with the percussive clank of junkyard scraps and fuzz filled waves. The song exists in polarity, as the beautiful chorus and harmonies give way to chaotic instrumental parts and a pounding outro."

Best moment of 2008:
Our Toronto CD release show for Calling Out at the Music Gallery where we managed to squeeze an art installation, theatre piece and concert into 3 1/2 hours or Havana on my post tour vacation.
Worst moment of 2008:
The drive between Thunder Bay and Sault Saint Marie where half the band had the worst hangovers of the tour and the other half had the worst hangovers of the tour and food poisoning.
Resolution for 2009:
Don't eat the fried chicken.
Favorite record of 2008:
By Divine Right's "All Hail Discordia"

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1.) Chad VanGaalen - The Soft Airplane (review) || MP3:: Willow Tree || MP3:: City of Electric Light

"He's obviously a unique man with social anxiety and an unquenchable thirst for creative expression and as a result Soft Airplane is incredibly spontaneous and challenging, but at the same time multiple listens show how well the record is thought out. Sound effects, textures and emotion are nestled into the folds and corners, and until you can listen to the complete song, you aren't really hearing Chad's visions."

Best moment of 2008:
Paying 55 bucks for a girl to cut one of her dreadlocks off at a show in victoria
Worst moment of 2008:
Paying 55 bucks for a girl to cut one of her dreadlocks off at a show in victoria
Resolution for 2009:
Apend more time riding horses and bikes
Favorite record of 2008:
No More shapes (unreleased – out in March 2009)
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Have a great '09 y'all.

Posted at 8:15 AM by ack :: 3 comments

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At 10:50 AM, Anonymous matthew did sayeth:

You and your love of Justin Rutledge. Bah!

But great list otherwise. I need to spend a lot more time with the CVG album.

 

At 12:46 AM, Anonymous Smansmith did sayeth:

Well done. I must say kudos on CVG, Matt Barber, Rural AB Advantage, Justin Rutledge and Sumner Brothers - all albums that I believe can stand on their own regardless of being Canadian. They might just be that much better because of it though...but that is just the Canuck in me.

Sman

 

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Rick did sayeth:

Wow. Lotta 'em Calgary bands in there. all ones that are willing to play outside of Alberta while the rest just kick aorund home, go figure. God bless

 

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