Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SCQ's Top Twenty Albums of 2009

Rest in peace, 2009.

Embarrassing fact: I start preparing my Top Twenty as soon as I have twenty records to work with. That’s just the way it is. A few years ago that would mean my first draft would be scribbled out in April or May. This year, I started in February, and have since compiled no less than one hundred (I’m being conservative) drafts in preparation for this very moment. Regardless of when I started, the majority of jumps, drops and general changes in my list typically slow down by mid October and cement themselves by the end of November. 2009 has proven to elude this trend, forcing me to choose the final #20 spot out of a shortlist of twenty-two artists and keeping me unsure of the exact, final order up to the last minute. Another embarrassing fact: I kind of prefer it this way.

After all, compiling year-end lists isn’t supposed to be exhausting work so much as the enthusiastic/nerdy sport of assembling your perfection summation of 2009. Those albums you immediately welcomed into your life, the ones that continually crept into your headphones; that’s what these lists are in pursuit of. So forget the hype machine and its cliquey lemmings chasing shadows. Forget objective viewpoints, how we discuss music as if the whole world is listening and consider varied tastes. Forget SCQ Ratings. Year-end lists are nothing if they aren’t personal, mere statistics if they lack conviction. And adding one more to the countless millions, Skeleton Crew Quarterly presents the Top Twenty Albums of 2009; a collection of the very best LPs I turned to consistently, releases I’ll champion in conversation through the years to come.

2009 has been a wild ride for me, as I've met wonderful people and been introduced to so much incredible music. Thank you to all the artists and labels who have contributed to Skeleton Crew Quarterly's year and special thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read a review or two. To turn last year's habit into an official SCQ tradition, I hope some of you will add your own Top Albums lists in the comments section of this post.

I wish you all the happiest of holidays and will see you in 2010!!

Love always,

SCQ.

#20 Album of 2009: Dustland - The Gentleman Losers







Dustland

The Gentleman Losers
City Centre Offices.


SCQ Album Review

To say there’s something haunting about Dustland is a terrific understatement, although not in your traditional, scary way. Instead, the Gentleman Losers’ sophomore album is positively spooky in how it rests like fog around your eardrums, how it sprinkles sunlight through overcast and how each song unravels an aural terrain of rolling hills, shadowed valleys and stretched plains to wander indefinitely. Here’s a record that somehow gets better while you don’t play it, returning to you when you’re focused on something else and itching your random playlist every time you catch its cover-art from the corner of your eye. Merely haunted? Just another understatement for 2009’s most understated album.

#19 Album of 2009: You Can Have What You Want - Papercuts







You Can Have What You Want

Papercuts
Gnomonsong Records.


SCQ Album Review

Funny thing, time. I can spend six, eight, ten months insisting that a certain record isn’t fantastic yet if said album can survive that passing of time without losing its conversation-piece, its durability kinda outshines any argument I can make to the contrary. And to perpetuate that theory, You Can Have What You Want really isn’t that fantastic… but it does get under your skin. Here’s a record that is as adequate to soundtrack your 4am drunken walk home as it is ideal for melting into the couch. The excessive haze and reverb songwriter Jason Quever packs into each song, although claustrophobic at first, begins to comfort over time and plays out like the warmest, hippest psychedelic tunes you could find in your parents’ LP collection. If not quite fantastic, You Can Have What You Want is certainly timeless.

#18 Album of 2009: Lost Channels - Great Lake Swimmers







Lost Channels

Great Lake Swimmers
Nettwerk Records.


SCQ Album Review

One of the reasons I love year-end lists is that they give you an excellent opportunity to wield hindsight into your critical ear. Without hindsight, we’d never realize that album we fawned over in June was actually pretty one-note or that Myspace band you quickly scanned deserved increased attention. Take my review of Lost Channels for instance, and that regrettable sentence where I insist the record is “top-heavy”. Ack! While I eventually acknowledge that the bottom half characterizes Great Lake Swimmers best, I can now appreciate how centered and well-sequenced Lost Channels is, with many of its best tracks (‘Stealing Tomorrow’, ‘River’s Edge’) orbiting the contemplative final third. A mesmerizing collection of atmospheric folk.

#17 Album of 2009: Colour Codes - Red Box Recorder











Colour Codes

Red Box Recorder
Acroplane Records.


SCQ Album Review

My first few listens to Colour Codes found me rightly overwhelmed. From the symphonic beat-mongering of ‘Unabomber’ and lazer-beam trance of ‘Kid Cadmium’ to the gentle IDM of ‘Leonard’, Red Box Recorder seemed to be scratching out blueprints and rewriting his strengths between tracks. This eclectic nature never lets up and, in the odd case, maybe journeys too far from home, but I’d rather hear an artist occasionally overshoot his boundaries than insist on playing it safe. Despite its variety, Colour Codes feels united by its jubilant nature, continually surprising and engrossing.

#16 Album of 2009: Ambivalence Avenue - Bibio







Ambivalence Avenue

Bibio
Warp Records.


SCQ Album Review

Ambivalence Avenue and its critical acclaim this past summer confused just about everyone. Attracting newcomers who didn’t quite understand the levels of hype and Bibio faithfuls who couldn’t anticipate the record’s variety, Ambivalence Avenue requires some backtracking to understanding all that’s mind-blowing about these twelve songs. As it turns out, this album is only groundbreaking compared to the rest of Wilkinson’s discography, culminating with Vignetting the Compost, released a mere three months earlier. Incorporating crunchy beats, clearer vocals and forays into funk and hip hop, Bibio’s Warp debut is, if nothing else, a sudden and massive artistic leap forward; that rare statement record courtesy of someone we all cast off as a one-trick pony. Thank you, Mr. Wilkinson, for calling our bluff.

#15 Album of 2009: Girls Come Too - Still Life Still







Girls Come Too

Still Life Still
Arts & Crafts Records.


SCQ Album Review

Numbers don’t lie. And what a refreshing fact that is, when year-end lists can pit album against album, personal preference against preference, until you’re tempted to start the list over from scratch. With Girls Come Too, all I had to do was check out its play-counts on I-Tunes to know how fanatically and unconsciously I spin this record. This debut finds Still Life Still already mastered in the art of damaged, carnal lusting, in songs where fractured reflections and one-night stands are equivalent to eating and breathing. Drinking is still equivalent to drinking, however, from the clinking sound of two bottles cheers-ing at the start of ‘Flowers and a Wreath’ to the morning-after farewell of ‘Wild Bees’.

#14 Album of 2009: Years (By One Thousand Fingertips) - Attack In Black







Years (By One Thousand Fingertips)

Attack in Black
Dinealone Records.


SCQ Album Review

From my earliest days as an EP-collector, I’ve always encouraged less tracks on a release. Ten is fine, nine is great; better to pack more ideas and time into less songs than the other way around. You know why? Less tracks give a band less opportunity to screw up and lose sight of the project. I need unity, cohesion! If I wanted a buffet of individual tid-bits, I’d have gone to the internet and made a podcast. Alas, somehow Attack In Black tightrope all sixteen songs on Years (By One Thousand Fingertips) without grinding my gears.

Moreover, these Welland boys use such scope to craft their best full-length yet, combining the bravery of their lo-fi The Curve of the Earth sensibilities with the commanding nature of their radio-rock-flirtation Marriage. A sprawling web of concise folk-rock, Years (By One Thousand Fingertips) proves Attack In Black to be one of the best Canadian bands going.

#13 Album of 2009: Ursa Major - Third Eye Blind







Ursa Major

Third Eye Blind
Mega Collider Records.


SCQ Album Review

Ursa Major was my Chinese Democracy; a mythical collection of songs by an increasingly marginalized act, one who littered rumours of release as often as their fans doubted band-loyalty. And like Guns N Roses fans, I awaited official word of new music because I cherish Third Eye Blind’s back catalog for the devastating songwriting talent radio singles barely scratched the surface of. And even though Ursa Major mounted their great surprise on naysayers by cracking the Billboard 200’s top 3 this past summer, it’ll still shock some to find Third Eye Blind among this shortlist of predominantly indie selections.

Well forget for a minute that Third Eye Blind helped shape our current crop of brash singer-songwriters and discard the bizarre fact that Third Eye Blind are now, indeed, indie. Ursa Major, while not the band’s best work, remains a potent cure for what ails modern radio. As any high school reunion will prove in spades, the coolest classmates were those who evaded the fashionable cliques. Thirteen years after ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ set the pedestahl, and caught between aging mainstream notoriety and their growing second-wave fanbase, Third Eye Blind are proving to have lost none of their cool.

#12 Album of 2009: We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River - Richmond Fontaine







We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River

Richmond Fontaine
Decor Records.


SCQ Album Review

Out of complete SCQ obscurity, Richmond Fontaine arrived mid-Summer boasting Willy Vlautin’s Tweedy-in-his-prime drawl and an accomplished yet volatile band harkening back to my love of early Ryan Adams. Unfortunately these comparisons, although honest in how I was drawn to their sound, are pretty insulting - given how Richmond Fontaine have been turning heads since the mid-90s - and sidetrack how extraordinary We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River is. These fourteen songs seem to span a time period – two loaded weeks, six months, maybe a year or two – as Vlautin’s novelist tendencies are strongly imbedded through the dedicated scope of this record. Lower class characters find and lose themselves, tragedies and disappointments distinguish each other and, in the record’s finest moments, Vlautin finds himself in the thick of it.

#11 Album of 2009: As Good As Gone - Nudge







As Good As Gone

Nudge
Kranky Records.


SCQ Album Review

Full disclosure: my first listen to As Good As Gone occurred while I happened to be on a near-lethal (although entirely legal) drug cocktail. ‘Harmo’ had all the charm and serenity of a chimney-smoking log cabin but from ‘Two Hands’ onward, with its dubbed-out basslines and Honey Owens’ chilled-out vocals, I became increasingly intimidated. By the time ‘Aurolac’ crept through my ears, I was convinced As Good As Gone was omnipresent, no longer playing through speakers but all around me, its menacing vibes revealing themselves in reality as if the Gods were chilling to Nudge. At first I resisted and, well, freaked out, but eventually I calmed myself to both the nature of my condition and the brilliance of these songs. While that first terrifying listen forged a survival-bond between this record and I, its unusual beauty has grown deeper with each subsequent, sober listen.

#10 Album of 2009: Junior - Royksopp







Junior

Royksopp
Astralwerks Records.


SCQ Album Review

One of my many social distastes has always been when someone refers to an object as “fun”, unless said object happens to be a rollercoaster. Calling a song or album “fun” has always been particularly grating – I can’t explain it. Once I’ve gushed about Junior's bouncy, free-spirited and relentless nature, however, I can’t dance around the issue any longer: this is a tremendously fun album. As its absurd cover announces, Junior is the opposite of all the chin-scratching pomposity that the ‘P4k generation’ validates music with, and reaffirms how deftly addictive Royksopp’s songwriting is. With a cast of guest-vocalists ranging from Lykke Li and Robyn to Karin Dreijer-Andersson (of the Knife and Fever Ray), Junior’s onslaught is similar in scope to Basement Jaxx’s 2003 effort Kish Kash… only less aggressive and more cohesive. Royksopp will have quite the dominating discography if they are able to continue putting out albums of this quality every three years.

#9 Album of 2009: Vancouver - Matthew Good







Vancouver

Matthew Good
Universal Records.


SCQ Album Review

At least on paper, I think Vancouver is the album many Matthew Good fans have been waiting for these last six years. Not that Hospital Music isn’t an essential touchstone in his career, and not that White Light Rock and Roll Review wasn’t without its merits, but no record compliments the lush orchestration and patient explosiveness of Avalanche quite like this one. In terms of padding electric guitar with tender symphonies and writing personal songs that comment on the political, that 2003 effort and Vancouver perfectly bookend his solo work as the antithesis to Matthew Good Band’s discography. Where that band put an interesting spin on power-chord hooks and angst-ridden rhetoric, this latest Good work concretes the maturation that at first sought to find his place on this planet, and now the refinement of finding his place in British Columbia. Having come full-circle in his solo endeavors, the question now is: where to next?

#8 Album of 2009: Immolate Yourself - Telefon Tel Aviv








Immolate Yourself

Telefon Tel Aviv
Bpitch Records.


SCQ Album Review

As the frigid winter gripped Toronto and I started each day staring at frosted bus windows en route to a job I disliked, Immolate Yourself should’ve been a poor choice. There I was, miserable at 7:30am, and yet continually picking Immolate Yourself to soundtrack my perceived misfortune. Some tracks were nearly too bleak and concealed to play; ‘Mostly Translucent’ acts as the record’s empty, endless hallway, while ‘Your Mouth’ is almost too fatalistic to romanticize. And when I wasn’t basking in those shadows, I was floored by ‘upbeat’ tracks like ‘You Are the Worst Thing In the World’ and ‘Helen of Troy’ which, for all intents and purposes, provided the sound I’d once depended on the Junior Boys to deliver. Mood fills the purposeful gaps in these compositions, making Immolate Yourself perhaps the darkest electronica release this year.

#7 Album of 2009: Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective









Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective
Domino Records.


SCQ Album Review

While this album inched out all its competition with an SCQ Rating of 91%, it was in September – nearly eight months after I first deemed it incredible – that Merriweather Post Pavilion fell from my #1 spot. It deserves the highest SCQ Rating, hell it deserves to be considered the best album of the year from every hipster website to major print publication. Washing the dishes that sunny autumn day, however, I realized it didn’t deserve to conquer SCQ. Yes, Merriweather Post Pavilion is the strongest, most impressionable album this year yet I can’t deny how many times I’ve skipped over listening to Animal Collective’s latest in favour of something else. Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t perfect in my books but it’s terrifyingly close, and my enjoyment of it has been matched by its intimidating greatness. This Brooklyn ensemble remains the most ingenious musicians I’ve ever heard, and while their latest isn’t the be-all-end-all for me, it’s a requisite for any year-end list.

#6 Album of 2009: The Crying Light - Antony & the Johnsons









The Crying Light

Antony & the Johnsons
Secretly Canadian.


SCQ Album Review

If instrumentation is secondary on any given Antony & the Johnsons album, The Crying Light deems it downright supplementary. Whether arrangements (courtesy of Nico Muhly) are sparsely integrated as on ‘Dust and Water’ or built to a full-orchestra crescendo on finale ‘Everglade’, Antony Hegarty’s voice rules twice the emotion and dimension. And it’s these breathtaking performances that render The Crying Light not only a beautiful album on par with I Am a Bird Now, but better than so many high-quality releases that, frankly, don’t employ Antony as a band-member.

I used to marvel at the thought that Hegarty’s songs could never be covered righteously, but now I realize my theory was half-finished. With The Crying Light it becomes evident that these songs don’t exist without Antony. Tasteful instruments may drift in and out with complimentary moods but they’re latched to a voice that births and lets go these songs. A more intimate showcase of a singular songwriter.

#5 Album of 2009: 3:03 - Plastik Joy







3:03

Plastik Joy
n5MD Records.


SCQ Album Review

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more adventurous electronic album in 2009 that’s this easy to listen to. Sure, there’s nothing quite groundbreaking about Plastik Joy’s love for folktronica; in fact, I credit 3:03’s prettiest songs for getting me hooked [the ratchety auxiliary percussion of ‘63 (She Was Trying to Sleep, I Was Trying to Breathe)’, the heartbreaking ‘Barcelona – Reykjavik (FHE276)’]. Yet for every trace of the familiar, Fannar and Cristiano contrasted with doom-laden guitars (‘Medispiace’), fuzzed out IDM (‘Hands’) or a flurry of guest-vocalists who each give these compositions their own vulnerability. If this album is poised to be classified under the folktronica banner, 3:03, at the very least, stretches the sub-genre’s limitations and gives the term some much-deserved credibility.

#4 Album of 2009: Spirit Guides - Evening Hymns









Spirit Guides

Evening Hymns
Out of This Spark.


SCQ Album Review

It’s no surprise to me that my favourite album out of Toronto this year is the one that sounds farthest removed from any concrete jungle. A breath of fresh air, Spirit Guides is a full-blooded, handsomely orchestrated folk record that instates Evening Hymns (aka Jonas Bonnetta) as a folk troubadour able to see more in the forest than just its trees. Merging the natural with the spiritual, Bonnetta’s songwriting seeks a higher order where the past is soaked in rainy field recordings (‘Cedars’, ‘History Books’) and every step forward unearths a mountainous chorus (thanks to contributions from Ohbijou, Forest City Lovers, and The Wooden Sky). Fittingly, no other record this year sounds quite as expansive and dew-drenched as the cover of Spirit Guides.

#3 Album of 2009: New Leaves - Owen







New Leaves

Owen
Polyvinyl Records.


SCQ Album Review

I truly believe Mike Kinsella speaks for most men; his honesty is admirable, his vulnerability often scary. If he’s every inch the asshole he sometimes paints himself as, it only furthers my point. In other words, New Leaves isn’t a departure so much as a continuation of his bildungsroman: Kinsella acquires more responsibility and accepts his age, all the while kicking and screaming. So for New Leaves to land so prominently on SCQ’s year-end list would come as a paradox if it was truly just another Owen record (updated themes, similar brilliance). Thankfully, as stubborn as he is, Kinsella has broken ground on New Leaves, offering a richer showcase of instruments and production for many of his best songs yet.

When it comes to year-end lists, some albums can be tough to discern the quality of. Others instinctively compel you, leaving no room in your mind for dismissal. Case in point: I can’t listen to segments of New Leaves without getting goosebumps. That’s enough assessing for me.

#2 Album of 2009: Fleurs - Former Ghosts







Fleurs

Former Ghosts
Upset the Rhythm.


SCQ Album Review

If Former Ghosts were aiming to make a pretty record, they picked one hell of a way to go about it. Here’s a record as jagged and abrasive as rusted knives, built-up and broken down like the last desperate phone-calls of a dying relationship. Snare hits sound like rulers against chalkboards, synths buzz like haywire band-saws, and Freddy Ruppert’s vocals sound torn-up, inside-out, even underwater. Regardless of the album’s sweltering slow-burners (‘Choices’) and pounding anthems (‘Hold On’), the entirety of Fleurs is driven on urgency, as tangible and obsessive as a past too recent and complicated to forget. Musical reference points range everywhere from The Cure’s Faith to Xiu Xiu’s The Air Force but what’s unavoidable and impossible to duplicate is Fleurs’ inherent prettiness; that out of dire, brutal situations can arise a life-or-death beauty unattainable to anyone remotely comfortable.

#1 Album of 2009: Concentration - Dog Day







Concentration

Dog Day
Outside Music


SCQ Album Review

From the moment I first heard Concentration on a Soundscapes listening-post, I sensed that I’d stumbled upon something irreplaceable. On the surface it sounded like a straight-forward indie-rock album but there was something to its feel, as if each chord and vocal were swamped in humid darkness and embracing that cool caress. Between Seth Smith’s vocals seemingly coated in post-punk echo and atmospheric rifts which occasionally boiled up out of nowhere, Concentration held pop songs – dark but catchy nonetheless. And as these tracks followed me around the next several months, these tracks further revealed themselves; the clinking glasses and bar chatter that swirls around ‘Saturday Night’’s close, that pristine guitar jam which turns the romantic pop of ‘Rome’ into something far greater, or the devastating breakdown that transforms ‘Judgement Day’. An indie-rock record that towers over its countless competitors usually has a calling-card, be it the rhythmic propulsion of The National, Grizzly Bear’s four-part harmonies, or the sincere psychedelia of Animal Collective. Dog Day have a calling-card, that much I’m sure of, but pinpointing its gears at work is far tougher since each member of the quartet contributes such distinctive measures to a composition. The way these songs shift and pulse, it seems positively shameful to label Dog Day something as bland as indie-rock… but if that’s the most apt descriptor available, I’ll happily pronounce Concentration the best indie-rock record of the year.

DOG DAY - Stray from Mitch Fillion on Vimeo.

Monday, December 14, 2009

SCQ's Top Fifty Songs of 2009


When asked about my Top Fifty Songs of 2009 list earlier in the week, I preferred to call it a phantom-list. The reasons for downgrading this feature to a bare-boned list are multiple. Firstly, I’m an album’s man - not much of a “trackie” – and I think enough evidence of that was present on last December’s Top Songs list. Following that last point up, I’m sure the idea of me spouting out accolades fifty times over for songs I’ve likely mentioned in their album’s review would be as mind-numbing for you to read as it would be for me to write. Yes, even when you didn’t read those reviews. And let’s be honest: the whole idea of SCQ expanding my most frequently played songs into a feature is pretty nonsensical when I spend 95% of my time treating songs like spokes on the metaphorical album-wheel.

Still, there’s a rule to this list and it’s simple: these fifty songs must amass from fifty different 2009 releases. That way, the list seems fair, less homogenized and I actually finish it! For the most curious of cats, here’s SCQ’s Top Fifty Songs of 2009:


1. Blood Bank – Bon Iver
2. True to Life - Royksopp
3. Never Been Born - Owen
4. Dwrcan - Bibio
5. Aeon – Antony & the Johnsons
6. Stray – Dog Day
7. Dao of St. Paul – Third Eye Blind
8. Lanterns – Evening Hymns
9. The Boy Who Could Explode – Matthew Good
10. Bicycle – Memory Tapes
11. My Girls – Animal Collective
12. Mother – Former Ghosts
13. Barcelona – Reykjavik – Plastik Joy
14. Antoine – Lotus Plaza
15. Flowers and a Wreath – Still Life Still
16. Moth – Burial & Four Tet
17. Soft Shock – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
18. Helen of Troy – Telefon Tel Aviv
19. Leaving Your Death in a Flowerbed – Attack in Black
20. If You Come Back to Haunt Me - Patients
21. It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore - Morrissey
22. Stealing Tomorrow – Great Lake Swimmers
23. Ellis County – Buddy & Julie Miller
24. Along the Line – To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie
25. I’m Not Seventeen - Owen
26. Attic Lights – Atlas Sound
27. Asleep At the Party - Memory Cassette
28. 1901 - Phoenix
29. Aurolac - Nudge
30. Sovereignty – Japandroids
31. Never Feel Alone – The Dangerous Summer
32. Afternoon Birds of Arima (Opening Credits) - You Are My Symphonic
33. Ballad of Sparrow Young – The Gentleman Losers
34. The Leading Edge – Red Box Recorder
35. S.O.S. To the Entire World - Conelrad
36. Lonnie – Richmond Fontaine
37. Dead Love - Papercuts
38. Anesthesia – Six Organs of Admittance
39. I Was Once a Loyal Lover – Death Cab for Cutie
40. The Birds on the Bridge – The Deep Dark Woods
41. Fall In Love Like This – Dub Tractor
42. Iron Range – Venice Is Sinking
43. Hva (Failed Revolutions) – port-royal
44. Blue Sunshine – Syntaks
45. Trichromatic – Lymbyc Systym
46. Paradise Cove – Pete Yorn
47. What I Learned From TV – Felix
48. False Alarm – The Wooden Birds
49. Hollow Earth Theory – Aarktica
50. Phoenix Asteroid - Ecovillage

Friday, December 11, 2009

SCQ's Year-In-Review Questionnaire


Ever since I was a kid, holed up in my bedroom idolizing the musicians who helped shape my musical tastes, I’ve loved reading interviews and features on how a particular artist/band’s album was recorded, what moment really stuck out as memorable on their last tour, and broad but crucial questions about their art and how they view it. More than anything, I loved when an interviewer threw away his or her metaphorical notepad and asked: "what have you been listening to? What do you feel are the best songs out there right now? What inspires you?" While I’m sure those kinds of interviews take place these days, I certainly can’t find them amid all the Spins and Rolling Stones that treat band members as high-fashion mannequins and their music like a brand that dictates our dress and attitudes. Maybe I’m just outside the demographic now.

So in the first days of September, I put a plan in motion. Contacting a handful of artists who had already made 2009 a wonderful year in music, I asked whether they would be interested in answering a questionnaire that begged those great, nerd-worthy inquiries. A success! As the next few months progressed, this blank-canvas of a questionnaire traded inboxes with more and more artists, crossing the provinces of electronica, rock, folk, and country (plus, you know, the inherent municipalities of ‘folktronica’, ‘shoegaze’, ‘synth-pop, ‘dub’, etc.) to reflect the united creativity and beauty of our independent music scene. From well-established acts on iconic labels and recent discoveries to rising young talents tirelessly promoting themselves, there’s much to discover here.

You’ll find some artists who spent the majority of their listening-time on their own creations, you’ll find some musicians who kept a keen eye on the year’s most celebrated or underrated albums. Hell, you’ll find a few SCQ participants who recommend other SCQ participants! Some people stand up for cover-art amid this encroaching digital age, others see it as increasingly antiquated. Some people relate great, teasing tales of occurrences that happened in the past twelve months, others prefer to prophesize on the coming year. For a feature centered around five unwavering questions, I must say these superb songwriters, producers, label-heads and music-lovers have constructed a diverse Year-In-Review series. Thank you to all the artists involved!

Love SCQ.

Radical Face / Electric President (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)


Ben Cooper, the mastermind of Electric President and Radical Face, may have spent the majority of 2009 recording (at least five records, by my count… um, maybe six) but he still managed to turn heads with Patients; a fan-oriented project that saw Ben trading super-limited, self-made copies of his b-sides collection for weird, listener-prepared snail-mail packages. Never mind that Patients was pretty awesome, Cooper belongs here as an irrefutable SCQ alumni, what with Sleep Well being SCQ’s #1 record of 2008.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

I've been recording pretty much non-stop this year. And whenever I'm recording a lot, I don't tend to hunt down new music. The bulk of what I listen to is film scores and composers. So most of this will be instrumental, and none of it new. That being said …

The thing I've listened to the most this year is, oddly enough, the score for “The Land Before Time” by James Horner. This wasn't some nostalgia kick. It started that way, after having a conversation about how kid's movies aren't sad or scary anymore (generalization), and that kids should watch more Don Bluth movies. This got me itching to watch the Land Before Time again, so I did. And I never realized before how much of the movie's mood came from the score. I bought a copy of the soundtrack, and I love it. I probably can't entirely separate the nostalgia, but I admire it completely as music. Some of it is so pretty it's almost hard to listen to, and I love that feeling. It also prompted me to find the American Tale score, which is also great.

Beyond that, I've been listening to the kind of records I rediscover every couple of years. One was the Rachel's catalog. I come back to their music regularly. This time it was mostly the “Music For Egon Schielle” set.

The other big one was Tom Waits, predominantly “Rain Dogs” and “Mule Variations”. But I know exactly why I've been putting those on. I've been writing a lot of lyrics lately, and listening to him always makes me strive to be a better lyricist. Lines like “She said she'd stick around until the bandages came off” push me to say more with the space I've got in a song.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your roster, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

For single songs, these all got a lot of play …

Cat Stevens – 'Trouble'
Modeselektor – 'Skip Divided' Remix
Pink Floyd – 'Fearless'
Saint Seans – 'Aquarium', and 'The Swan'.
Slowdive – 'Catch the Breeze'
Beethoven – 'Symphony no. 7, 2nd movement'.
Son Lux – 'Throw'
Joanna Newsom – 'Sawdust and Diamonds'
Alexandre Desplat – 'Prologue' (from the soundtrack to Birth)

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

I wish I could, but I've barely seen any that were released this year. Once I take a break from recording I will dig back into some new stuff, but for now I have nothing.

But I will say, Rachel's always have really great packaging.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable moment(s) of 2009?

Not really a single event, but I had a really great Summer. Nothing specific happened, but I'm normally not a Summer person. It's my least favorite time of year. I usually just see it as 4 months of sweating all the damn time, feeling lazy, and waiting for Fall to show up. But this year I decided to enjoy it as best I could. No sense making an enemy out of something if you don't have to, eh? So I started walking to the ocean four or five afternoons a week, and just swimming or walking up and down the shore and writing in my notebook. And I came to love it. One of my nicest moments this year was sitting in the sand, reading a Peter Beagle short story and eating an apple. It was pretty perfect.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

I'll still be recording. But if all goes as planned, I will be releasing a lot of records next year (Electric President, Clone, and the Radical Face records). That wasn't initially the intention, to have them all so close together, but it's all kinda falling into place that way. I have plans to do some DIY touring as well, to try doing it in a way I'd genuinely enjoy. Still kinda working all this out, though. For all I know, none of this will happen and I'll be spending next year wondering what I've done with my life.

Ecovillage (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)


The first words of Ecovillage hype descended upon me as summer’s sweltering days announced itself and their debut album, Phoenix Asteroid, lives up to that parallel; a humid haze of elegantly warped pop music. Its makers, Peter Wikstrom and Emil Holmstrom, delve into their favourite recordings of the past year while hinting at Ecovillage’s next phase.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

There have been many great albums this year, but we think Jonsi & Alex - Riceboy Sleeps, Fennesz - Black Sea, Manual - Confluence and Syntaks - Ylajali really stand out from the rest.

Jonsi & Alex debut album have got a lot of bad reviews and we find that very terrifying and disturbing, it seems like if you trying to create pure beauty like them without any "hipsterness" you get bad reviews...It seems like its too pure for the society we live in today.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your label, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

The music of William Basinski and Stars Of The Lid is good examples of songs you never get tired of.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Its hard to single out any specific cover-arts but the art-work from Syntaks/Jakob Skott and Jon Wozencroft are always looks amazing.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

Well, of course it was a great moment to finally release some of our music since we've been doing this for such a long time, but working on our next release called "Alella" is VERY exciting since its by far the strongest songs we've ever made.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Its hard to predict the future, but our aim is to release two albums next year, "Alella" and "The Quest And That Magic Summer", been working on both of them since 2006. Hopefully we will do some tours abroad as well.

Dog Day (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)


Although I’d never heard of Dog Day at the beginning of 2009, I’ve quickly caught on thanks to their brilliant new full-length Concentration and this fall’s Elder Schoolhouse EP. To boot, vocalist and lead songwriter Seth Smith quietly unveiled his own collection of polished demos and b-sides, called New Problems, in September. Fresh from the band’s third (?!?) Canadian tour of the year, Smith answers some broad questions about the year’s finest moments.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

I can't speak for everyone but here's my answers.
This year:

Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Julie Doiron - I Can Wonder What You did with Your Day
Grizzly Bear - Vecketimist
Rick White - 137
Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
York Redoubt - S/T
Atlas Sound - Logos
Shearing Pinx - Weaponry
ECT/Reclusive Mute 7" Split

Not from this year:

Television Personalities - ...and don't the kids just love it
Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

SCQ: Be it from the radio or lost on Myspace, what songs could you not stop spinning?

I've been listening to a lot of Grand Trine's upcoming record. It's strong.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Dinosaur Jr's Farm, Black Mold, Thee Oh Sees' Help, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest were all nice.. nothing really blew me away this year tho.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

Concentration release at North St Church.
Recording with Rick White.
Playing with Dinosaur Jr.
Recruiting Robbie Shedden on drums

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Goin' sufin'

Dub Tractor (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)


Not only was I unaware that a new Dub Tractor album was coming out this past November, I had no idea how beautiful it would be. Truly, Sorry is an upgrade on the Dub Tractor sound in every way, delving into deeper songwriting and more resonant instrumentation. Anders Remmer takes a moment to satisfy SCQ’s curiosity with his favourite new artists and how he managed the recording of his latest record.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!


I’ve been listening a lot to the very inspiring minimal sounds of The xx.
And the dreamy music of Washed Out.

And of course the brilliant
2562: unbalance
Lukid: Foma

Earlier this year I spent a lot of time with this album:
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

But the most played album of 2009 must be Brian Eno: Thursday Afternoon. I just put it on repeat and play it as relaxing background music at low volume. That records really works to calm me down and get me back on track.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your roster, what songs could you not stop spinning?

Washed Out: 'Feel it all around'
Washed Out: 'Belong'
The Field: 'Everybodys gotta learn sometime'
King Midas Sound: 'One Ting' (Dabrye mix)

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Lukid: Foma
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
The xx: xx
Millie and Andrea: Vigilance
Lotus Plaza: The Floodlight Collective

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

Well that must be the release of my Dub Tractor album Sorry. It’s the first time I’ve really had a go at singing real songs. Recording my own vocal was really a different kind of hard work. And since the concept was to do everything myself, I didn’t have a producer or any help. I sort of figured out how vocal production could be done as I went along.

And performing the tracks live has also been very special and exciting.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Well I’m gonna play a bit live. And then start working with other musicians again. I have a few different musical projects in the pipeline.

Seams (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)


I first became aware of Seams (aka James Welch) as a remixer, whose take on Bibio’s ‘All the Flowers’ had breached the number one spot on Hype Machine’s hot tracks list. From there, Seams’ debut album, A Juvenile Rush, was just a click away (right here, where his new download 'Nightcycles' also resides) and goes further in showcasing what an imaginative talent Welch is. Read on for word of his upcoming projects and live shows.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away.

I think my favourite album of the year would probably have to be The Dirty Projector's 'Bitte Orca'.

The use of harmonies feels really fresh to me, and it's shown that it's not just cheesy r&b that can pull off vocal gymnastics. Tyondai Braxton's solo album is also pretty high up there, along with Animal Collective's and Black Moth Super Rainbow's recent albums. Oh and my favourite discovery was 'WHT' by Troels Abrahamsen, the production on that record is sublime.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or your own personal discovery, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

Most day's I listen to a track by the band Taste Parade, called 'Be Deep Happy'. It's not even finished yet, but I love their sound. Hopefully they should be releasing their debut next year.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

A love the cover art for Prefuse 73's 'Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian' it totally captures the feel of the record, lush and organic, and at the same time otherworldly.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable moment(s) of 2009?

Playing my first live shows were definitely a highlight, especially 93 Feet East, playing through a huge P.A. felt pretty special. Going to Glastonbury for the first time was also a pretty big deal, it's so big there, but never felt impersonal.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Hopefully in 2010 I'll be following up the album with an EP of new tracks, so far its sounding a lot darker and more textural, but I've no idea how it'll turn out. Then hopefully as well as new material I'll be playing more shows, possibly throwing some live instruments into the mix.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Deep Dark Woods (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part II)


The Deep Dark Woods brought me into Spring with the warm, alt-country songwriting of Winter Hours. As depressing as the thought of another winter is, I know this debut will keep me company as Canada goes into deep-freeze all over again. Vocalist/guitarist Ryan Boldt and bassist/vocalist Chris Mason discuss their career highlights thus far, and what’s to come from this excellent prairie act.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

Chris: Gordon Downie's Coke Machine Glow. It really stands the test of time. Every time I listen to it (mostly on the road) is a whole new experience. It's one of my favorite albums. As far as albums released in 2009....I very much enjoy Wilco's new album.

Ryan: I bought the Stanley Brothers Later King Years box set this year and it's blown my mind. There isn't a bad song on it. Lots of great banjo tunes and aching ballads.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your roster, what songs could you not stop spinning?

Chris: Check out the song "pain" by The Sumner Brothers. It's on their myspace page. Heartbreaking

Ryan: Merle Haggard - "Ramblin' Fever" and The Band's "Home Cookin'". Two songs that I can't stop listening to. I've had them on high rotation for a long long time now.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Ryan: I haven't really bought any new albums this year except Bob Dylan's Together Through Life. It's not a bad album cover. One of my favorites of all time is Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man. It shows an aging Leonard eating a banana. It's a real beauty. Bonnie Tyler's album with the lazers shooting from her ears is pretty good too.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

Chris: My favorite moment was the barn show at The Pickathon Festival in Portland. The Ottawa show with Elliot Brood was an amazing night/show as well. Playing with Little Miss Higgins and Foy Taylor during "The Roots and Blues Roadshow" tour was a very fun time. The shows just got better and better.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

-playing at the 2010 Olympics
-lots of great festivals lined up
-west coast shows in the states
-recording a new album? Probably.

n5MD Records (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part II)


Mike Cadoo is head-honcho of n5MD Records, the well-known label I’d failed to investigate until Lights Out Asia caught my attention in the first weeks of 2009. Cadoo gave me little time to kick myself, however, releasing incredible albums by the likes of port-royal, Plastik Joy and Aerosol. n5MD, whose stellar year is already looking to be outdone by their early 2010 line-up, has quickly become one of SCQ’s favourite electronic labels. Here, Cadoo gives us a peak into his top choices and upcoming releases.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

Since I feel pretty strongly about n5MD releases from any year i'll refrain from mentioning those..8^)
Of the non-n5MD albums released this year I would have to pick releases by Worriedaboutsatan, Vanessa Van Basten, Jasper TX, Isis, Sujo, Ard Bit and Lusine. Those might very well be in my top 10 for the year. From what I have heard of the next Syntaks album may also be a contender for a favorite of 2009.

Please add Ben Frost in my top for the year - his new album is the shit!

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your roster, what songs could you not stop spinning?

“hermitage” parts 1, 2 and 3 by port-royal. “Hand of the host” by Isis and “farewell dear stranger” by ent...oh and “no date night by” plastik joy has also been pretty heavy on rotation.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Konntinent, Lonely in the Shallows is a really nice keepsake with some stunning art to match

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

staying honest and viable.


SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

We have lots on deck for 2010. Early in the year we have 6 releases in the pipe. Another Electronic Musician, Ent, SubtractiveLAD, Ruxpin, Bitcrush and Near The Parenthesis will all have albums released before the summer. Lights Out Asia, Proem and Slidecamp are all working on n5MD releases for 2010. November 2010 is also the label's 10 Year anniversary so we have a few other special things in the planning for that milestone.

You Are My Symphonic (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part II)


Montreal resident You Are My Symphonic (aka Vishal Kassie) took a left-turn from his early recordings this year with Afternoon Birds of Arima, a post-classical, instrumental album written to soundtrack his friends’ wedding. A graceful song-suite of piano, guitar and soft ambience, Afternoon Birds of Arima succeeded well beyond wedding hall confines and has found new listeners around the world. While that second You Are My Symphonic release is available for free here, Kassie dives into his favourite albums, songs and the memories that define them.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away!

Winter:

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion and Bon Iver - Blood Bank

After a one year hiatus, my best friend and I embarked on a massive listening session from the moment he arrived off the bus just past midnight in the middle of the week. It started with the frosty sounds of title track "Blood Bank" and the layered voiced of "The Woods" that were thrown all over my apartment too quickly for us to catch our breath. It had been several years since the first heart attacks we suffered at the hands of "Feels" and we decided it was about time for MPP. I wish we had set up a camera ready to snap us on the couch like we were on a roller-coaster during those extremely long few seconds of the steepest drop. The first explosive notes threw us off the cushions and it's shockwave shot us against the wall. I would be funny if years from now we'd be searching through our dresser and desk drawers to stumble upon a cheesy photo in a card with our shocked faces in the screaming wind with the words Merriweather Post Pavillion.

Spring:

Dreamsploitation - The Soft Focus Sound Of Today

We packed up the car with the keyboard and guitars to head over to the jam space to play with some friends. "Death To The Chuck I Hate" played CBC Radio 2 and I had to cut the car conversation to concentrate and try to make sense of it. I took note of the time and tried my best to remind myself throughout the night before checking the playlist to find out exactly what jazz-electronic song nearly caused me to swerve off the road. I picked up the album and it was clear I had to wait for the first insanely nice day of spring before opening myself up to Dreamsploitation. Walking through the park filled with people outside who were seeing the sun for the first time in months, the trumpets and strings of The Soft Focus Sound Of Today played a preview of the nostalgia that was coming our way in the upcoming sun filled months.

Peter Broderick - Home

Summer:

Plastik Joy - 3:03
Near the end of June, I returned to Newfoundland, Canada for the funeral of a best friend's mother. The week's emotional moments played one after the other in perfect order like they were best suited for a film storyline that was equally heartbreak, family discovery and comedic segways. That Sunday we toured around the bays and came back to the house to find everyone sleeping and we decided to do the same outside. I played through 3:03 and as I reached the back end, my nose was tickled by my allergies and realized if I continued to stifle my body, I would stop my breath. Marie was on the hammock behind me trying to sleep and I was facing the sun trying to breathe. I let out a giant sneeze at the end of that very track and woke her. I used the long pauses in between the guitar riffs on "Asynchrony of Lives" to calm down that late afternoon and sealed it as my favorite song of the year.

Fall:

Nico Muhly - Mothertongue

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or your own personal discovery, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

Telefon Tel Aviv - 'Helen Of Troy'

Farr - 'Senandung Mimpi (Serenade Of A Dream)'
My discovery of Summer Rain Recordings was purely accidental but turned out to be one of the most unexpected and refreshing finds by googling some key words that I thought would be appropriate for an album's first listen. "Summer", "Rain" and "Records" gave me a link to the diversely moody electronic/experimental label and who's artists each donate a percentage of their revenues to NextAid or a charity of their choice. My documentary-travelling had recently shifted to the South Pacific's "Last Nomads" and coincidentally I stumbled upon Farr who hails from Jakarta.

Toro Y Moi - 'Blessa'

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Danny Norbury - Light In August

Ramses III - I Could Not Love You More

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

This moment actually began in the summer of 2008 when my friends Richard and Keisha asked me in their casual way to write the notes that would start their lives together. I was as much surprised and honored as terrified of the prospect of writing the suite for their entire wedding. After I got past the initial logistic worries (how long does it take a bride to walk up the aisle? I really need 15 minutes of music for people to sit in the pews?) I found myself excited to write. The character of the next three seasons had found their way into Afternoon Birds of Arima which was played at Santa Rosa Catholic Church in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago. This album also marks the 22 years it took me to return to my birthplace. I visited the grave of a brother I never knew and darted across the island from the mountains of the north to the fields of the south to meet with both halves of my family and to recapture those childhood images that became faded. In the past, I had only made a few CDRs for my family and friends but now I see appearances on blogs, message boards and podcasts. I'm happy and relieved to report that the newlyweds hold Afternoon Birds of Arima close to their hearts.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Back in the spring of 2008, I had put together an album that mirrored my move to a new city and how my friends and family kept appearing to me in the streets, on the metro or at a party. It was nearly completed but was tragically lost during a daylight robbery. I'm glad to say that it is being re-written and has taken on a larger personality than its younger sister. I hope to complete it sometime in the upcoming spring. Other than that, maybe I'll finally do what me and my best friend have been talking about with a dreamy tone: Rent a country house for a few weeks and write some haunting melodies with the creaky piano floors.