Category Archives: Top Tens

Stage Door Reviews: Top Ten 2012

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10) Our Lady Peace, Curve: It was surprising reconnecting with Our Lady Peace on their eighth LP. Even though I still followed the band’s career after 2000’s Spiritual Machines it was only through purchasing used CD’s. But the intensity and rush of emotion of Curve’s first single “Heavyweight” brought me back to the fold. Critics haven’t given this album enough credit; the band took 2 ½ years crafting these songs and their range and depth are huge leaps forward in their development. Curve plays flawlessly, and the band clearly has no limits on where they can take their sound, easily 2012’s most satisfying comeback.  (Coalition Entertainment Records)

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9) Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts: Norah Jones’ break-up album Little Broken Hearts feels like her most personal to date; stylistically it remained me of Beck’s Sea Change and I think a lot of that vibe has to do with producer Danger Mouse bringing in unique sounds to Jones’ ever expanding canvas. Sure, things are always simmering within her down-tempo formula, but only Jones can make that sound fresh. (Blue Note Records)

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8) Jack White, Blunderbuss: Anything Jack White touches turns to gold and his debut is killer. What gets me the most though is the whole vibe of Blunderbuss – it just sounds effortless and it plays like an instant classic. White’s band is out of this world as well and can play any kind of groove from the funk strut of “Trash Tongue Talker”, the psychedelic-hoedown closer, “Take Me With You When You Go” and brilliant soul word-play on first single “Love Interruption”. Why so low on the list? There were a few other albums that hit me a bit more emotionally, but I can’t deny this record’s brilliance. (Third Man Records)

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7) Dale Murray, Dream Mountain DreamI reviewed Dale Murray’s sophomore Dream Mountain Dream back in April and it is still in my listening cue to this day. As I said in my review: “These songs look to the present to find hope in the future and resonate quite strongly with me. Dream Mountain Dream is a charming listen that solidifies Murray’s signature sound and puts him in the national spotlight as a major solo artist”. (Come Undone Records)

Jenny Berkel6) Jenny Berkel, Here On A WireManitoban singer-songwriter Jenny Berkel’s debut, Here On A Wire, is one of my favourite folk albums of the year. Her voice resembles Sarah McLaughlin but with deeper tones and her wonderfully poetic songs are deeply personal, reflective and always beautiful – producer Matt Peters blends in just enough textures (electric slide, horns & organ) to keep things lively without cluttering the mix. (Independent)

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5) Stars, North: The Stars are always reliable and have yet to release a weak album in their decade long career. The North, continues this streak by making intelligent pop music full of character and emotion; listeners will instantly love the nostalgic electronic layers as the band infuses soaring choruses and their acute sense of anthemic build-ups and devastating rhymes. (Soft Revolution Records)

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4) Peter Katz, Still Mind Still: Canadian singer-songwriter, Peter Katz has been working on Still Mind Still’s songs for quite a while – back in early 2011 he was already touring with these songs under his belt and he must have been itching to laying them down. Katz keeps things simple and immediate with soothing acoustic backdrops and enduring heartfelt melodrama. “Days And Night” slowly builds into an apex of vocal layers, horns and pounding drums, “Thunder In Your Chest” is a tender pop-moment that The Shins wish they could still write. The title track is the mantra of the record, built as a lullaby for a friend, Katz found that it also helped him – the album version is beautifully done. Still Mind Still is a heartfelt effort with meaningful and powerful songs that will help you get through the hard times.  (Shape Of A Boy Music)

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3) Paper Beat Scissors , Paper Beat Scissors: My favourite new artist of 2012 was Tim Crabtree’s ambitious vehicle, Paper Beat Scissors. Opening track “End in Themselves” will remind listeners of the ethereal world of Sigur Rós; Loops, electronic stutters and vocal manipulation are all present and the mix is beautifully done (courtesy of Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara). Other highlights include: “Season’s Rest” and “Rest Your Bones” both open with Crabtree’s wonderful voice and a simple guitar melody that slowly develops into a textured, cinematic arrangements that includes a full brass section. “Once”, “Tendrils” and “Let Me In” are all quieter folk-pop songs where Crabtree shows that he is a singer-songwriter at heart and is just as lethal solo as when a full band is backing him. (Forward Music Group)

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2) Bend Sinister, Small Fame: The hardest working band in Canada continues to put out album after album of 70’s inspired rock that totally kills from top to bottom. You get a whole lot of juicy guitar solos, jaw-dropping beats (that build up that manic energy) while lead vocalist’s Don Moxon’s rock falsetto bring in some much-needed passion to the rock world. Close your eyes and point at the track listing and you’ll hit a highlight – my favourites include the roll-licking “Man Of Faith And Virtue”, the poppier moments courtesy of “One Shot” & “Give It A Rest” and “Quest For Love” an epic assault on the auditory senses that bests showcases what Bend Sinister is all about. Easily one of Canada’s most under-appreciated bands; I saw them play in Winnipeg to a pretty small turn out, but they still played their damn hearts out, leaving the crowd completely stunned. (File Under Music)

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1) Joel Plaskett Emergency, Scrappy Happiness: Scrappy Happiness is an ode to rock n’ roll – the songs are lean, built on inspired hard rock riffs while Plaskett revels in the energy of three band mates jamming. It’s a raw effort that succeeds because of its unique recording situation; the band recorded one song for each week, for ten weeks and immediately released it to CBC Radio 2 and iTunes before compiling it together for a traditional release.

Opening track “Lighting Bolt” sets the tone for the album as the rhythm section takes hold, Plaskett piles on the one liners and at the key moment introduces a little mayhem found in his distorted guitar solos. “You’re Mine” opens with my favourite line, “Let’s make a racket for the old and young/for the desperate souls and the lucky ones/if we get lonely, if we get lost/ let’s rattle on till the wheels come off”. It’s another big rock number and one of the many calls to action, but there are some sombre moments that make it a varied listen. “Harbour Boys” takes a Celtic turn and could of come off of 2007’s Ashtray Rock, “Slow Dance” is a hopelessly romantic rock ballad that basks in its chorus.

There’s not a miss-step here and every track is sing-along ready – Scrappy Happiness is some of Joel Plaskett’s best work – its an emotional ride that will have you believing in rock n’ roll once again. (MapleMusic Recordings)


Stage Door Reviews: Top Ten 2011

10) Rob Waddell, Letters Unsent: Rob Waddell’s second release was one my favourite folk albums of the year – full of humour, heartbreak and optimism – Waddell writes from experience and his songs are pretty damn catchy too. Letters Unsent is forever bound to his hometown of Arden Ridge, Manitoba, but within these songs are tender moments that everyone will be able to find themselves in – this is the kind of album you grow old with. Choice Cuts: “If Your House Were On Fire”, “Conversion Van” & “Come Down From That Ledge” (Independent)

9) Jeff Martin 777, The Ground Cries Out: Jeff Martin ended 2011 by reuniting The Tea Party but, before that, he managed to put out an excellent second solo disc. Back in full force are Martin’s Middle Eastern flavoured infused alt-rock, radio worthy ballads and slick folk-blues numbers. The Ground Cries Out features some his best work to date. Choice Cuts: “Queen Of Spades”, “1916” & “The Ground Cries Out” (Riverland Records)

8) Ben Lee, Deeper Into Dream: Over three albums, starting with 2005’s Awake is The New Sleep , Ben Lee crafted some of his most memorable pop tunes. Expecting much of the same on his eighth self-produced release, Deeper Into Dream, I was surprised with eerie Flaming Lips-like soundscapes and eager indie rockers. Choice Cuts: “Lean Into It”, “I Want My Mind Back” & “Pointless Beauty”  (Dangerbird Records)

7) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: One 2011’s most surprising releases (for me) was ex-Oasis Noel Gallagher’s debut album. I always liked Noel’s attitude when it came to the public battles with his brother and I always rooted for him. The freedom from Liam speaks volumes here as Noel brings in the more dramatic layers of radio-rock with depth and deft craftsmanship. Choice Cuts: “Dream On”, “If I Had A Gun” & AKA….What A Life” (Sour Mash Records)


6) Abby Dobson, Sleeping Beauty – You Are The One You Have Been Waiting On: Sexy, confident and unapologetic – Abby Dobson’s Sleeping Beauty turns R&B on its head by intertwining jazz, reggae, soul, gospel and even country into her slow-burning grooves. At over 13 songs, every track is a journey into different stages of a relationship gone sour and is “a call for people to wake up and make their dreams come true”. Choice Cuts: “Cool Rain”, “I’m Drownin” & “Didn’t Know You’d Be The One” (LadyBraveBird Music)

5) Alex Jacquemin, First and Last Light: Alex Jacquemin’s double album of loop inspired compositions was my favourite jazz record of the year. First & Last Light is a classic mosaic of multi-cultural modern jazz that challenges contemporary jazz to extend beyond what is considered popular. Definite listen for guitar enthusiasts or those looking for a challenging but gratifying listen. Choice Cuts: “A Suzanne”, “The Charm” & “Snakes” (Independent)


4) Tom Waits, Bas As Me: Tom Waits is up to his old tricks again with another stellar collection of ramshackle tales that take you through bluesy grunge, rag-time ballads and odd ball experiments. Basically, Waits’ took 2006’s three disc set Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards and made one killer album. Choice Cuts: “Get Lost”, “Face To The Highway” & “Hell Broke Luce” (Anti- Records)

3) Kim Wempe, Painting With Tides: The haunting and simple opening track  “Chameleon” sums up this brilliant country-folk record where Kim Wempe reveals variations of roots music that are close to her heart. But what you take away after the final strum is just how absorbing and powerful Wempe’s vocals are and you get a strong sense of what she is all about. Painting With Tides is so enjoyable because of Wempe’s honest songwriting and inspiring music taps into the inner workings of the human condition – you can’t help but feel connected to every nuance and word. Choice Cuts: “Chameleon”, “Roots” & “Rhythm Of The Road” (Ground Swell Music)

2) Flying Fox and The Hunter/Gatherers, Hans My Lion: Flying Fox and The Hunter/Gatherers’ delivered knock-out performances on their debut album, Hans My Lion, a concept album based on a mythological tale of a lion born of a human womb. Combining their extensive musical experiences, the band is an impressive sextet that has found a balance between gypsy hard-bop and indie-pop; and everything in between. Having obviously poured all their soul and creativity into a record that gets more and more involved with every listen and accomplished the impossible –  captured the magic of their live performances. Choice Cuts: “Vanity”, “Hammer” & “Spring” (Independent)


1) Noah and The Whale, Last Night On Earth: The beauty of Noah and The Whale’s third release is in its simplicity. Every song is centred around lyricist/singer Charles Finks unironic lyrics and the band has an amazing tendency to capture the nostalgic moments of Springsteen, Velvet Underground and Fleetwood Mac with their own upbeat 80’s vibe. This is the one album that I carried around with me all year-long; the album is about changing your life for the better on your own terms and it was my soundtrack for 2011. Check Out: “Tonight’s The Kind Of Night”, “Wild Thing” & “Just Before We Met” (Mercury Records)

Top Ten 2010

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10) Crash Karma, Crash Karma: When it was first announced that vocalist Edwin (Ex-I Mother Earth), guitarist Mike Turner (Ex-Our Lady Peace) and drummer Jeff Burrows (Ex-Tea Party) were all deceived by bassist Amir Epstein (Ex-Zygote) to join the Can-Rock manifestation Crash Karma; I swear, there was an audible snicker from critics, radio programmers and rock fans alike. Well, don’t we look foolish? After several successful tours and two top-ten singles, Crash Karma (against all odds) have easily put out the best Alternative Rock album of 2010.  Best part is, these guys are just warming up. Choice Cuts: “Like A Wave”, “Man I Used To Be” & “Lost” (E1 Entertainment)

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9) Sheli Stevens, Come Home: Sheli Steven’s debut album still comes as quite a surprise. Even after repeated listens this little pop gem continues to reveal new sounds buried deep beneath delicate layers of organic melodies; while Steven’s tongue-in-cheek storytelling and soothing vocals tantalize the soul. As I said in my initial review: “Come Home is a reminder of a time when pop music was created by hopeful strums on an acoustic guitar”. Who wouldn’t want to come home to that? Choice Cuts: “Since I Let You Go”, “Into The Black” & “Where Does It Go” (Mighty Music)

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8) Badly Drawn Boy, It’s What I’m Thinking (Part One: Photographing Snowflakes): Damon Gough’s (Badly Drawn Boy) seventh is a subdued affair drenched in melancholy reverb throughout, but, at the heart of the record are his words. As the title suggests, BDB is pondering intimate life changing events – both big and small – and these conversational pieces will remind you of 2004’s One Plus One Is One. Musically, Photographing Snowflakes is a beautiful display of 70’s folk disguised with movie scored orchestration and BDB’s deft studio trickery. Choice Cuts: “Too Many Miracles”, “The Order Of Things” & “This Electric” (The End Records)

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7) John Mellencamp, No Better Than This: There is a lot to love about this record. First off, it was recorded at three different historical sites: The First African Baptist Church in Savannah Georgia, the legendary Sun Studios and room 414 at The Gunter Hotel (where Robert Johnson first recorded). Another thing to love; No Better Than This was recorded in mono (one mic) to an Ampex 601, 1/4 inch tape without any overdubs or mixing. This all leads to Mellancamp capturing the Americana catalog from Rockabilly, Country Soul, and Gospel with simple songs that tug at the heart. Producer, T Bone Burnett said it best, “This is a haunted record”. Choice Cuts: “Thinking About You”, “Each Day Of Sorrow” & “Right Behind Me” (Rounder Records)

 

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6) Kid Cudi, Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr.Rager:
2010’s most challenging listen belongs to Kid Cudi’s intense and dark follow-up. Man On The Moon II, finds Cudi dealing with fame in not the best of ways – a downward spiral into drugs. It’s a fascinating listen that has no genre barriers taking on old-school hip-hop jives, skeletal electronic beats, 70’s psychedelic rhythms and wavering melodies soundtrack-ed for a graphic novel. Yeah, Cudi is having some problems right now and I admire his courage of airing his dirty laundry in the public eye. This is the kind of artist you should root for: troubled, cleaver and bold. Choice Cuts: “Marijuana”, “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” & “Maniac” (Universal/Motown)

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5) Scott Dunbar: Philosophies Of A Moth Vol.3: Two Years To Live: No Canadian artist pushed the boundaries lyrically has hard as Scott Dunbar did in 2010. Sure, he didn’t become a breakout success, but I assure you he has changed the views (or made them think differently) of many people who watched him play on street corners during their lunch break or maybe late at night they caught something about 9/11 being an inside job as they drank a pint of beer at the local pub. Regardless of your views about the various subjects Dunbar tackles, what this heavy-hitting folkster did capture was the chronicles of a traveling vagabond across the beautiful Canadian landscape. There isn’t anything purer than that, beautiful stuff Dunbar. Choice Cuts: “Tuning Fork”, “Matching Mohawks”& “Ain’t Mama” (Independent)

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4) Gail Pettis, Here In The Moment: Best Jazz record of the year goes to Gail Pettis’ classy Here In The Moment. This was a record that found its way into my life: it was there during the good and hard times of 2010 and it will become a lifetime favourite. Straight from my review: “For someone who ran a successful orthodontics business for nearly two decades, Seattle-based jazz singer Gail Pettis sure can swing. Only on her second release, Pettis bebops her way though a wide range of emotions and skilled melodic paraphrasing that some jazz singers have taken decades to realize. Even though, Here In The Moment is a collection of jazz standards it is Pettis’ unique interpretations that make it such a wonder to hear.” Thank you Pettis for capturing 2010. Choice Cuts: “I Thought Of You”, “Night And Day” & “In The Still Of The Night” (OA2 Records)

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3) Boats, Cannonballs, Cannonballs: Easily, my favourite indie-pop record of the year is from hometown heroes, Boats. The band is over-the-top fun and their animated experimentation’s are only intensified in a live setting. Besides Mat Klachefsky’s freaky high register, the bands mix of retro keyboard sounds, comic sing-along harmonies and midway audio freak-outs are helping in carving out their own niche on the national scene. The only way to describe how much I love Cannonballs, Cannonballs, is that it has been spinning on my headphones all year and it always leaves a smile permanently plastered on my face. Choice Cuts: “T.V. Scientist”, “Summercamp vs The Fake Moustache Tree” & “Our Athletic Friends” (Majestic Triumph Records)

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2) The Roots, How I Got Over: Along with working nights as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, The Roots found time for an extensive North American summer tour, release a solid collaboration in John Legend’s Wake Up! and put out their own masterpiece. I have always considered The Roots as The People’s Band, reflecting the times better than any other. Throughout the Bush years, The Roots got darker and edgier (Game Theory & Rising Down). However, in the wake of President Obama’s election, How I Got Over, (albeit still a moody affair) there now appears glints of hope beneath the shadows. Black Thought still rages about economies, world disasters and the streets but, this time around, it’s a meditative introspection with superb cameos from Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, John Legend, STS, P.O.R.N. and Dice Raw. As a collective, the album ebbs and flows musically from electro-tinged gospels, neo-soul grooves, funk busters and drum machine clubbers; The Roots cover a lot of ground here and with the band finally in the spotlight there’s nowhere to go but up. Choice Cuts: “Dear God 2.0”, “Radio Daze”, “How I Got Over” & “Web 20/20” (Def Jam Recordings)

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1) Foxy Shazam, Foxy Shazam: The one band that captured my imagination this year was Foxy Shazam’s ferocious take on 70′s Rock ballads, Glam Rock, and Soul.  Mix those genres up with classical piano and horn arrangements and what you get is stadium rock for indie snobs. Don’t worry, these arrangements are not of the whimsical scale they add to band’s already extremely loud and raucous persona. Opening track “Bomb’s Away” is introduced by a harmonizing pack of wild dogs before Eric Nally’s enormous screech takes the band back the The L.A. strip. If Queen started today they would have written “Wanna Be Angel”, “Unstoppable” and “Second Floor” – all these tracks are pure rock anthems ready to take on the world. “Bye Bye Symphony” starts off like a Guns N’ Roses ballad and has the ridiculous chorus, “Life is a bitch, but she’s totally do able”. While “Connect” is a lost Micheal Jackson track with a full church choir, beat-boxing, and plenty “woos” and “ah-has” thrown in for good measure. I know there are a lot of comparisons going around here, but Foxy Shazam have the ambition and talent to take these old sounds to new heights. At the end of the day, Foxy Shazam was the one record that went everywhere with me. Laundry day? SHAZAM School? SHAZAM! Work? SHAZAM!! You get the idea. (Sire Records)

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