Best Of Lists are roadmaps that are missing major destinations
The problem I’ve always had with lists is twofold: on one hand it’s nice to have a collection of thoughts laid out before you like a personalized roadmap. The quandary there is that all too often a major landmark or destination is missing. Lists tend to be a journey where you couldn’t possibly remember everything you’ve seen along the way.
And when you are constructing a list of your favourite local albums of the year it’s easy to forget a few. Sorry about that.
The other problem with lists is that there is always someone out there willing to fight you over your choices. That I am okay with. Because lists are intrinsically a collection of thoughts and absenteeism, it’s always sort of comforting to know that there is someone out there willing to step up and gently remind you of all the missing pieces.
Without further ado, may we present Ominocity’s Top Albums of 2013!
The Sadies- Internal Sounds
The Sadies are one of those rare bands where every album only gets stronger as the members put on more mileage. Having formed nearly two decades ago in Toronto, the group developed a reputation for their incendiary live performances, whether it was in a dingy bar or the expanse of a plush-seat theatre. And with Internal Sounds, the band’s 16th full-length album (including live and collaboration albums), The Sadies’ live prowess has finally caught up to them in the studio.
Helmed by the Good brothers, The Sadies once again take country-noir influences and fuse them with a smorgasbord of styles, including reverb-heavy surf instrumentals, alt-country and power pop. Call it roots-Canadiana or whatever, The Sadies are currently one of the country’s most distinct acts.
Suuns – Images Du Futur
One of the best moments of this year’s Sled Island Festival in Calgary came via Montreal’s Suuns, who had packed the downstairs of the Palomino. Having been familiar with the band just as they began to garner buzz in their hometown, on their latest album Images Du Futur, Suuns provide a weird, but inspired balance between fuzzed out stoner indie jams and legit dance mayhem. Swaying amidst the insidious cocktail of beats and beers, it was the perfect end to the evening. Or the precursor to the apocalypse.
When we left the venue and towards the hotel the streets were already deserted, save for the black military tanks ominously prowling through the hood. The next day those streets had been flooded and Calgary had been declared a disaster zone.
Shotgun Jimmie – Everything, Everything
Shotgun Jimmie — aka Jim Kilpatrick — has always made ramshackle, enthusiastic Canadiana-style music sound like the most fun ever. And Everything, Everything is his most rabid work to date. Opening with “Standing in Line”, Jimmie proves over and over that he is master of the unpolished, fuzzed-out 4-track quip. Also, the fact that he has yet to be short-listed for the Polaris Prize is kind of depressing.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
When Grinderman, Nick Cave’s swaggering, sardonic rock project, split up on stage, Cave prophesied on the band’s eventual return. “When we’ll be even older and uglier,” said the singer. But on Push the Sky Away, his return to his Bad Seeds persona, Cave proves he still has some romance left to give before completely turning to the dark side.
Now approaching his 60s, Cave once again embraces jubilant, soaring choruses, sinister soundscapes and deep, poetic crooning. Push the Sky Away recalls his prettier, gentler songwriting – a sharp step away from his foray into brutish testosterone-addled blues punk.
The Highest Order – If It’s Real
Formed from the ashes of One Hundred Dollars, The Highest Order eschew their previous minimalist country leanings and instead opt for a sound rooted more in barroom psychedelia. I was admittedly unfazed by this album upon the first few listens but If It’s Real quickly grew on me mostly due to vocalist Simone Schmidt’s amazing vocals. This album has all the charm and heartbreak of an unmailed Valentine found months after the fact.
Bleached – Ride Your Heart
On Ride Your Heart, Los Angeles sister act Bleached combine syrupy melodies along with slithery surf guitar lines and throw in a handful of California dirt just to be brats. And while all the songs seem to be about boys, heartbreak and romance – call it a cliché that plateaued in the ‘60s – the members of Bleached don’t exactly come across as wistful teens. Rather, the band reeks of scuzz-punks paying homage to The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las and the pop song – kind of like what The Ramones did for The Beach Boys.
The Ketamines – You Can’t Serve Two Masters
Not gonna lie – I liked the last one better. But the hooks on The Ketamines’ second album You Can’t Serve Two Masters are far more pronounced this time around. The energy is still there but there seems to be more introspection and patience. It’s still a burner of a punk record, but the bubble gum aftertaste is more than enough reason to let the flavours linger.
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
After much prodding, I finally managed to check out Speedy Ortiz live in Brooklyn during New York’s CMJ Festival. I was not disappointed. Live the band skirts between punk, weirdo off-kilter pop hooks and some noise for the sheer fun of it – the guitarist slamming into the crowd mid-set definitely won my heart. And on Major Arcana the band takes cerebral songwriting structures and pairs them with a good dose of distortion to boot.
Tough Age – self-titled
The debut album from Vancouver’s Tough Age is a nice surprise coming from seminal pop label Mint Records. Despite being rooted in weirdo guitar hooks and fuzzy melodies, the four-piece’s sound tends to be more abrasive then those artists typically found on the west coast label. That said, it’s still a toe-tapping affair where syrupy milkshake surf pop meets cartoonish knucklehead punk. Album opener “We’re Both to Blame” is a dose of scrappy psych noise and delay pedal trails, while the plodding track “Seahorse” sounds positively dream-like.
Hooded Fang – Gravez
When I volunteered my couch to Ryder of Mohawk Lodge following his performance at this year’s MoSoFest, I had no idea it would turn into a 24-hour drink-a-thon that would end with him seeing me poop. Thankfully, it would also result in a moment of total clarity concerning one of my favourite albums of the year. Ryder drove me around on Saturday morning to look for my car and he popped in Hooded Fang’s Gravez album.
“This is one of my favourite albums I’ve heard in a long time,” he said.
Hooded Fang play danceable pop songs that veer dangerously between indie and punk rock. But despite playing with an infectious energy, there is similarly a laid-back retro beach vibe.
Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
Joanna Gruesome’s debut album Weird Sister is a spazzy, cartoon-ish crush record. Waves of guitar fuzz and screamy vocals reverberate and bounce of the walls all the while keeping a distinct sense of melody amidst breakneck, hardcore tempos. Good to know that there are still musicians who still embrace brat-dom.
Doug Hoyer – To Be a River
On his previous album, Walks with the Tender and Growing Night, Doug Hoyer laid down some infectiously off-kilter pop songs that crooned and crowed like the bastard child of Jens Lekman. But on To Be A River the Edmonton-based songwriter displays far more depth, digging into disco beats, basement funk and kitschy guitar licks that are often too smart for their own good.
Public Animal – Vault Doors / One Way Ticket
Okay, this isn’t an album, but Public Animal’s debut 7″ is one of the most rock and roll things to come out of Canada all year. Guitarist Ian Blurton’s latest project, Public Animal, is one of his most raging bands to date. And that’s saying a lot. The EP brims with teeth-shattering rhythms, Blurton’s signature guitar crunch and howling vocals provided by Caitlin Dacey, who put in time with Thunder Bay rock group Bella Clava. Can’t wait until the full-length comes out in the new year!
More awesome album madness
I feel like I was really late finding out about Deafheaven’s amazing Sunbather. This probably would have knocked something out of the aforementioned list if I had more time to listen to it.
Also really dug Beliefs’ self-titled album this year. For those of you not in the know, these Toronto indie-fuzz-lovers are formed around the duo of Josh Korody and Jesse Crowe – the latter member had canoodled in several Saskatoon bands back in the day.
Speaking of fuzz lovers, also dug the new My Bloody Valentine album, but not nearly as much as their classic material. Unsurprising!
And finally, while this graced my playlist many times over the years, Iceage’s You’re Nothing didn’t quite make the hallowed top 13 list. Why? While this is an excellent record I find myself wishing I was watching their broody-yet-explosive live show instead.
Biggest disappointments of 2013
As tempted as I am to say, the biggest disappointment of 2013 actually wasn’t Reflektor, Arcade Fire’s worst album of all time. Rather what was really disappointing was how many people lined up to drink from such a milquetoast trough. Since they have become Canada’s indie rock darlings, it seems like a lot of music critics are giving them an automatic pass. Arcade Fire lost their urgency and their hunger – two of the defining traits off their excellent LP Funeral – a long time ago. So it’s a little strange how many people can stomach opulence and excessiveness in their indie rock diet. Sorry and/or not sorry.
Second on this list of disappointment in myself. For not liking the latest album by The National, Trouble Will Find Me. This is probably one of the best efforts in terms of album artwork that the band has produced in a long time, aside from their self-titled album featuring the dude chilling poolside. But I just couldn’t get behind the music. And there’s technically nothing wrong with it at all – it sounds a hell of a lot like their last couple LPs, which may be why there wasn’t much that grabbed me this time around. Can’t win them all, right?
Third was the hiatus taken by The Walkmen. Bands come and band go. But this one deserves a few poured out on the sidewalk. I have seen The Walkmen live many times, and every show was pure brilliance. Highlights include seeing them in the UK in front of a massive festival crowd at End of the Road, as well as at Montreal’s Sala Rossa. Please read the excellent Stereogum article Slow Burn, Slow Fade: Inside The Walkmen’s Final Days if you get a chance.