December 18, 2013

My top ten of 2013

1. As usual, I could almost pretend I was living in the 90s. 
For me, the year in music really began with the release of yet another charming album by Yo La Tengo. Next thing I knew, Kevin Shields had dropped the new My Bloody Valentine record and I was scrambling to download it. Both albums served as occasions to write and share album reviews, something I really enjoy but rarely do anymore. And when all the dust finally settled, there were plenty of younger artists relishing the sounds of 90s-era indie rock: Waxahatchee, Swearin', Deerhunter (sort of), Parquet Courts, the Dodos, Julia Brown, Speedy Ortiz, Crosss, Anamai, Rae Spoon, and Palehound to name just a few.

2. Indie rock wasn't all I listened to. 
The turning point was my visit to Arizona, a chance to bond with some of my (much) younger relatives who love dance music, hip hop, dub and house music but not much else. It got me prepped for new music from Disclosure, The Range, Braids, Blood Orange and Danny Brown. Another benefit  was that I got to introduce my 17-year-old cousin to Pavement and buy him Slanted and Enchanted on CD (thus reliving a significant moment in my adolescence). Meanwhile, much to the approval of our mothers, we also picked up the new James Blake album: something we could all admire, but also something incredibly seductive and nocturnal. At least, that's what it became for me when I returned to dark, cold Edmonton. Blake has never been afraid of flaunting his bravura or his youthful innocence. At times, his stuff could pass for self-parody, and on a few occasions earlier this year (like a cross-country road trip) it did: my friend and I sang along to the better half of Overgrown. It was hilarious and it probably went longer than either of us thought it should have. We were both under his dreamy spell. Divas rarely come this fully-formed.

3. Winnipeg reigned supreme.
Royal Canoe released an album that preemptively confirmed our collective faith in pop music (Today We're Believers) and made expats like me miss Winnipeg even more than we already do. They also toured their asses off and released several stellar music videos.

4. Canadian independent music was more accessible than ever.
Weird Canada (an unrivalled online resource for new Canadian music) now has an official podcast. There's only one episode but it's good and there will probably be more. Also cool: Edmonton dude Travis Bretzer provided the show's theme.

5. The Polaris Prize was kind of exciting.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the 2013 Polaris Prize for last year's amazing Hallelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, and then proceeded to dismiss/dismantle it.

6. Folk/country music geniuses confirmed their status as folk/country music geniuses. 
Bill Callahan released another consistently beautiful album of pensive folk songs, this time with a bit more embellishment than usual (let's hear it for the flute!); and Neko Case proved her songwriting ability yet again, deconstructing gender roles with venom and wit, and singing what might be my favourite lyric of year: "Did they poison my food? Is it cause I'm a girl? If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?"

7. Paul Lawton and Mammoth Cave Recording Co.
This guy slagged off the Canadian music industry and made some pretty good points while doing it. His band delivered a bunch of solid material and his label, Mammoth Cave Recording Co.  (once based in Lethbridge, AB, now operating out of Toronto), continued to be awesome.

8. Kanye West, sort of, right?
Some of the conversation surrounding Yeezus and, more importantly, "Bound 2" was pretty interesting, considering the context of race in America, not to mention all the misogyny embedded in Kanye's lyrics. And since this kind of discussion was one of his stated aims, you might say the overblown media circus was a success. Right?

9. Arcade Fire released an epic, racially-charged, seemingly self-aware album.
At its best, Arcade Fire's Haiti-influenced Reflektor provoked some related discussions about the vast amount of cultural appropriation that fuels the North American music industry, and that's only scratching the surface. In my own review of the album, I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but some of my misgivings remain unresolved.

10. I had a regular radio show at CJSR.
After volunteering at the station and sporadically appearing on the Edmonton airwaves for the last couple years, I was finally able to secure a regular time slot (which will be changing again in the new year). More importantly, though, I finally figured out how to post mp3s of my show online and was able to develop another blog where I could host them. Here's a link to my year-end review, which features a lot of the music discussed above.

And finally, here's a list of my 20 favourite releases of 2013:
II - Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Fade - Yo La Tengo
Overgrown - James Blake
mbv - My Bloody Valentine
Self-titled EP - Anamai
Carrier - The Dodos
You Can't Serve Two Masters - The Ketamines
Today We're Believers - Royal Canoe
To Be Close To You - Julia Brown
Dream River - Bill Callahan
Loud City Song - Julia Holter
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You - Neko Case
Reflektor - Arcade Fire
Old - Danny Brown
Bent Nail EP - Palehound
Flourish // Perish - Braids
Walking On Ayr - Lab Coast
Monomania - Deerhunter
Obsidian Spectre - Crosss
Surfin' Strange - Swearin'

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