Saturday, 2 January 2021

Top 20 Songs 2020

Music has a way of time stamping memories into place. Like bookmarks in the book of life, certain songs and albums will always take you back to different times, places and memories. If I think back over the past 15 odd years, I might drift into a faint memory of air guitar-ing to Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" in a sweaty elementary school gymnasium at the annual family dance. Or maybe I might wander towards highschool-angst-Will squinting at Spike Jonze's masterful music video for Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" on his tiny 3 cm iPod Nano screen. 2012's "The House that Heaven Built" (Japandroids) would bring me back to racing back to dorm on a Friday afternoon, excited for a night with my friends nowhere to go (it didn't seem matter back then). 

Every so often, I come back to this oft-neglected blog to be reminded of old favourite tunes, and, in turn, the memories tied to those tunes. In that spirit, I thought I would put together a list of some of my favourites from what will inevitably be a very interesting chapter in my life: the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As it turns out, while 2020 has been quite the downer of a year, it has been an absolute banner year for new music releases. I can't help thinking that artists love to release music at the turn of a decade - 2010 brought us so many legendary indie rock albums such as Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening, Black Keys Brother, and, Justin Bieber's My World 2.0, amongst many others. There must be something about a nice round number (2020) that brings out the big With that said, here are some of my favourite tunes for surviving a global pandemic - enjoy. 

Sorry for the 30 second previews only -damn spotify. Check the full playlist at the bottom and listen along!

20. “Falling Thunder” - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

A simple power pop tune from the band with the confusing name and 45 guitarists (okay, just 4). Catchy chorus on this one!

19. “Rot” - PUP

2020 saw the release of a B-side EP from my favs PUP. “Rot” is the leadoff track from EP and jumps right into it with a crowd sung chorus, heavy upbeat drums and thundering fuzzed out guitars.


18. “Televised Mind” - Fontaines D.C.

Deep, dark, and brooding, “Televised Mind” is the standout track from Fontaines D.C.’s (sophomore slump) album A Hero’s Death. I love the interplay of the chaotic drum pattern and the throbbing fuzzy bass line.

17.  “Time for Yourself” - Scenic Route to Alaska

Edmonton favourites are back in 2020 with some excellent new songs on the album Time For Yourself. The title track stands out with its distorted bassline, heavy tom tom drums, and radio static vocals. Can’t wait to hear this one live. 


16. “Black Licorice” - Peach Pit 

It’s all about the unique guitar riff in this jangly indie tune from Vancouver band Peach Pit. Lead guitarist Christopher Vanderkooy uses a string bend to pitch shift each note of the riff, leading to a distinctively emotive and memorable lick.


15. “Hell” - Waxahatchee

I could have picked nearly any song from Waxahatchee’s 2020 album Saint Cloud for this list. “Hell” just seems especially fitting for 2020. A straight up country rock song with an upbeat drumbeat and a sing-along chorus.


14. “Model Village”- IDLES

Sharp angular guitars are front and centre in this poppy single from British punks IDLES.


13. “Concrete” - Snarls

There are so many amazing femme-led alt bands out there making 90s-nostalgic music right now. Snarls is another fantastic entrant to this scene already rich with artists such as Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, and Chastity Belt. “Concrete” is one of Snarls’ best with a melodic guitar riff and desperately sung, catchy chorus. Looking forward to more from this band.

12. “Kyoto” - Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers’s amazing voice AND a driving drum beat?? I’ve never been a huge Phoebe Bridgers fan as I don’t typically listen to mellow music (can you tell?), but “Kyoto” is an instant classic. Take Bridgers’s typical depressive lyrics, pair it with a cheery keyboard riff, and a thumping driving drum pattern and you have a hit (at least with me).


11.“4ÆM” - Grimes

“You’re going to get sick, you don’t know when,” whispers Grimes in this drum and bass anthem from her 2020 album, Miss Anthropocene. Released only weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped North American in March, “4ÆM” was an unexpected timely released. The song is feverish in its arrangement, oscillating between a walking pace house beat and a full sprint drum and bass club banger. Grimes’ vocals add to this oscillation, moving from near rap to near operatic in the span of seconds. To me,  “4ÆM” is indicative of 2020; equal parts exciting, disorientating, and distressing.


10. “Home” - Caribou

There are few producers in the world so adept at blending vintage samples with modern techniques than Caribou’s Dan Snaith. “Home” centres around a old-timey soul lyric sample paired with a boisterous 80s boom-bap drum beat. Snaith weaves his own lyrics in between the soul sample, creating a story around the meaning of home beyond the 5 seconds he’s sampled. Layer in some modern 808s bass lines, pokey strings, and you have an absolute masterpiece of electronic production.


9. “Out of My Head” - Mac Demarco

A throwaway b-side from Mac’s 2019 Album Here Comes the Cowboy. I thought the actual album was total trash, definitely Mac’s worst album to date. However, this track came on 2020's Other Here Comes The Cowboy Demos, a sloppy set of b-side tracks. “Out of My Head” was likely a warm-up studio jam but it gets back to what made Mac internationally loved in the past. Simple groves, lazily sung vocals, and plucky guitar solos. I went back to this song again and again to slow down, chill out, and generally escape from the stress of 2020.


8.“Daily Routine” - Disq

“this is my daily routine // spend my hours on computer screen.” Disq lead singer Isaac deBroux-Slone lazily belts on this crunchy punk tune. Echoing bands like Parquet Courts and Bored Décore, Disq captures the existential dread of the working person. Are we living or simply wasting our days away?

7. “Dotted Line” -Pinegrove

Evan Stephen Hall’s earnest yowl is at its best on this nostalgic folk thumper. “Dotted Line” is about that feeling when you move away from something or someone you know and love towards the unknown. While you’re scared and nervous to leave behind your past, somewhere in that pit in the bottom of your stomach is the belief that things will turn out fine wherever you’re headed. It’s a triumphant tune for the time, with the chorus “I don’t know how // but I’m thinking it’ll at work out.'

6. “Dear Stranger” - STRFKR

STRFKR released their 2020 album Future Past Life right at the start of the pandemic in North America. It immediately become my go-to refuge to escape from the panic of the outside world. “Dear Stranger” is the lead off track from the album and features one of my favourite bass lines of 2020. On this track, and on the album as well, STRFKR presents a more mature and cohesive sound compared to their five previous albums. Joshua Hodges’s vocals are far clearer, and the overall production is warmer with lots of traditional instrumentation (acoustic guitars, live drums, piano). This is a departure from the overly synthesized STRFKR of the past. What remains unchanged is Hodges keen ear for memorable melodies - shown here beautifully.


5. “Acrid” -The Beths

Long time readers know I am sucker for a sing-a-long chorus, and The Beths deliver on that with “Acrid.” There may be bands out there doing more interesting, experimental, and original things, but no one can top The Beths when it comes to verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus rock anthems. “It’s youuuuuuu, you I wanna run intooooooo.” Heartfelt power pop perfection. 


4.“Idaho”- Slow Pulp 

Soaring, expansive shoe gaze straight from the 90s. The kind of tune that absorbs you in a shimmering warm embrace of sound. Lead singer Emily Massey is the captain of this wall of sound, with her incredible vocal range on full display here. Fans of showgaze legends Slowdive should certainly pay attention here.


3. “circle the drain” - Soccer Mommy

Sounding like a lost hit on a dusty 90s cassette, Soccer Mommy’s “circle the drain” feels oddly comfortable. ”Warm” sounding production ties together strummed acoustic guitar, marching drums and a noodle-y electric guitar riff. Principally, the song is about the highs and lows of depression; you’ll go round and round trying to beat it, only to eventually be sucked down like the water in your kitchen sink. “I’ve been falling falling apart these days,” sighs Sophie Allison in the pre-chorus, somehow both lamenting her reality and accepting it for what it is in the same line. I think we’ve all been at that place sometime this year. 


2. “Every Tradition”- Bully

Likely the best song from my favourite album of the year, “Every Tradition” is grunge rock at its finest. A screaming lead guitar lick immediately grabs your ear above crunchy rhythm guitar and cymbal heavy drums. Singer songwriter Alicia Bognanno’s fiercely delivered lyrics dive into societal expectations around womanhood, adulthood, and motherhood. “It’s like pressure to have a baby when I don’t want one in my body.” It’s the perfect modern adaption of the classic 90s PNW grunge sound. 


1. “The Steps” - HAIM 

A fist-pumping, heart-wrenching belter of a tune reflecting back on a relationship gone south. “The Steps” features possibly 2020’s most memorable riff - a driving arpeggio played with a distinctive hollow, twangy tone echoing New Order’s “Age of Consent.”  This rhythmic riff is the backbone of the song, with cacophonous drumming and screaming lead guitar layering overtop in simple perfection. Roll down all the windows and belt this one at the sun!   

Spotify playlist:

Friday, 21 December 2018

Top Ten Songs 2018

One year ago, when I compiled my Top 10 Songs of 2017, I vowed to update this blog on a more regular basis throughout 2018. Alas, as with many a New Year's resolution, I failed to follow this pledge even remotely. So here it is, my once-annual blog post: my Top 10 Tracks of 2018.

10. "My Time/ I, the Luddite" - Bored Decor

"Bourgeois Punk." This is the cheeky label Vancouver's Bored Decor has slapped on their odd-ball Bandcamp page. Yet, it could not be a more accurate descriptor. Bored Decor take thrashy punk riffs and pair them to pompous lyrics akin to the Talking Heads or the Parquet Courts. I love the jangly piano combined with the jagged guitar riffs in this foot stomping tune.

9. "Espionage" - Preoccupations

Layering, layering, layering. This is a sonic masterpiece with intricate drum patterns that intertwine with percussive guitar noises and glossy synths. Vocalist Matt Flegel is clearer and more snarly in comparison to previous Preoccupations' albums. Older Preoccupations' releases tended to put the vocals further back in the mix and were used to provide more of a texture than a leading focus. A great leading track for a solid album full of similar tracks.

8. "In Shame" - Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings surprised fans this year with a quick follow up album (Last Building Burning) to 2017's Life Without Sound. Keen readers of this blog will know that Cloud Nothings have topped this list a couple of times before, but Last Building Burning provided fewer stand out tracks, instead focusing on the album as a complete package. "In Shame" more or less stands in for the album as a whole. Expect edge-of-screaming vocals, driving guitars, and frenetic drumming.

7. "Yours and Mine" - Lucy Dacus

A beautiful tune that fills you with longing and brings you back time and time again. Excellent crisp production.


6. "Pain of Infinity" - Dirty Nil

It's all about the guitar riff on this heading-for-a-breakup pop-punk jam. I love the interplay of the bass drum with the opening riff.

5. "Gold Rush" - Death Cab for Cutie

A gorgeous and innovative song about losing your hometown to rapid development and condo-ization. Ben Gibbard laments the loss of geographic markers as triggers for memories both happy and sad. Like his rapidly changing hometown, every time you revisit this song it sounds a bit different. The layered "Gold Rush" percussive harmonies in the background twist and play with your ear, sounding a little bit different on each individual listen. It is a brilliant song and emphasizes the power of instrumentation to bolster the lyrical subject matter.

4. "Accomodate" - Frankie Cosmos

A classic catchy Frankie melody comes out of nowhere on this extremely short little jingle with the
line: "my body is a burden/I'm always yearning/to be less accommodating." The first time I heard that line, I stopped the record player, lifted the needle, and listened to it again and again. Ah, the power of melody.

3. "Talking Straight" - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Killer guitars, a driving beat, and the best chorus of the year makes you want to crank up the volume, roll down the windows (even at -20c) and yell this tune to the heavens.

2. "Last Girl" - Soccer Mommy

What at first seemed like the "goofy" tune on this album full of songs of self doubt and failed relationships, quickly turns into possibly the most damning song of them all. "Last Girl" is centred on self doubt; singer songwriter Sophie Allison sings about how her current partner's "Last Girl" is much better suited for him with lines like: "She's the sun in your cold world / and I am just a dying flower." or "Why would you still want to be with me? / She's got everything you'll ever need." Juxtaposed against these sarcastic but sad lyrics are bright guitar riffs and cymbal focused drums. My favourite tune from my favourite album of the year.

Druuuuuuuuuuuum rooooooooolllllll.................

1. "Pristine" - Snail Mail

The lead off track off Snail Mail's stellar debut album, "Pristine," gets right into it with dissonant guitar jabs and tight drumming. The song swells and peaks multiple times; just when you expect it to go one way, it shoots off somewhere else. But at the heart of the song are the lyrics. On the surface, the lyrics describe a teenage confession of absolute and undying love: "Is there any better feeling than coming clean? / And I know myself and I'll never love anyone else." However, as the song progresses, doubt emerges, leaving the listener puzzled with lines like: "Who's top of your world? / And out of everyone / Who's your type of girl?" Song writer Lindsey Jordan perfectly encapsulates the feeling of yearning for a love that is equally reciprocated, leaving to the listener to wonder if there's ever a point of truly "coming clean" with your feelings.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Top 15 Songs of 2017

Yadda yadda Trump yadda yadda music escapism yadda yadda. Here’s my top 15 tracks for 2017:

15.  Jay Som - “Bus Song”

A delicious emo-pop tune from 2017 standout Jay Som.

14. TOPS - “Petals”

As pretty as the title suggests, TOPS hits back with a dreamy number here.
Love the female harmonies in the choruses and the weird vocal effects on the verses.

13. The Courtneys - “Silver Velvet”

The Courtneys returned in 2017 polished and refined
with their album II (echoing buddy Mac Demarco with the album title).
Silver Velvet was the standout track with a catchy chorus, teenage love story lyrics,
and a solid garage rock backing track.

12. Kane Strang - “My Smile is Extinct”

A catchy rock song from New Zealand artist Kane Strang.
“My Smile is Extinct” is about a hysterical overblown teenage reaction to a lost high-school love.
Quirky and unique, I expect big things from Mr Strang.

11. New Swears - “Dance with the Devil”

Ottawa-based punk rock party animals New Swears had a big year.
Signing to Dine Alone records, they embarked on multiple cross-Canada tours
and unleashed an awesome road trip album, And the Magic of Horses.
I caught them at their Edmonton show with about 6 other people in the audience (one being my dad).
They still brought it like the place was packed.
“Dance with the Devil” embodies the New Swears sound best:
slightly twangy, with killer riffage and crowd sung vocals.

10. Portugal. The Man - “Feel it Still”

**Obnoxious Hipster Sentence Incoming**
I’ve been a big fan of Portugal The Man since pulling their album Church Mouth out of the $1 CDs bin
at Zulu Records in Vancouver in 2014. It’s unlikely you’ll find them there again after the smash success
of this tune. 75 million plays on youtube, grammy nominations, AMA awards, what a year of this band
had on the back of this funky jam.

9. Clairo - “Flaming Hot Cheetos”

Clairo’s magic lies in “micro-melodies” (coined by me, 2017).
Her ability to sculpt multiple different melodies over a simple 4 bar loop is captivating,
and keeps me coming back to this track time and time again.
Heartfelt lyrics and a beautiful voice don’t hurt either.

8. Faith Healer - “Try ;-)”

The title track from local Edmonton artist Faith Healer (Jessica Jalbert)
marked a major clear change from her excellent last album, Cosmic Troubles.
Clean, confident vocal delivery, and a poky fun bassline drive this track forward,
and completely disregard the washed out tones of the previous album. Nonetheless,
washy guitars remain whimsical and pysch-y with faders and flangers messing with
the tone all over the awesome breakdown midway through the song. A mix of old and new.

7. Sam Tudor - “Holiday”

My smelly and annoyingly talented former roommate returned in 2017 after a long few years
since the release of his first major record, Modern New Year. While the album Quotidian Dream
is packed with new experiment sounds for Sam (electric guitars!? Saxophone?! Yelling!? Driving
drum beats?!), I always return to “Holiday,” a mid-tempo folk tune directly in Sam’s wheelhouse.
That said, “Holiday” is not a boring folk song.
Driven along by a Simon and Garfunkle-esque drum pattern courtesy of Sam’s brother Harry,
and accented by plucked electric guitar and heavily layered vocals, “Holiday,” to me, tells the
story of our household of students. Many of us lived somewhat monotonous lives in rainy grey
Vancouver, saving our money for vacations away to brighter climes. Melancholy, yet triumphant,
“Holiday” is the perfect capstone to an excellent album. He still smells though.

6. Arcade Fire - “Everything Now”

I like ABBA. I like Arcade Fire. I like this.

5. WOOLWORM - “Sun Rock”

WOOLWORM was the big musical discovery for me this year.
They’ve been on my radar for years as they are a local Vancouver band, but I’ve never
given their music a chance because I thought they were a hardcore band. So I was surprised
when I gave their 2017 album Deserve to Die a listen-through and found a noisey, dissonant rock
band with real pop sensibilities. Coincidentally, their record label, Mint Records, calls them a “hardcore
band who have decided to play pop music.” While “Sun Rock” is more of a head-banging rock tune
than some of the more melodic cuts from the album, I keep coming back to this track because of its
soaring chorus and excellent vocal delivery from lead singer Giles Roy. He transitions from high pitched
pop tones to a deep throaty snarls with ease, keeping the listener enthralled. The chorus echoes some
of the more intense shoegaze artists like My Bloody Valentine, before dropping back into thrashy verses
a la Sonic Youth. An awesome genre bending track that catches your ear and brings you in.

4. Japandroids - “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

After a long period of near-silence from Japandroids following their massive 2013 Celebration Rock tour,
many fans assumed the worst: Japandroids were done. Not so! “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” was the
first single from their triumphant return and serves as an explanation for the long silence for fans of
Vancouver’s favourite duo. It tells of lead singer Brian’s move from Vancouver to Mexico City,
following the love of his life, and leaving behind his bandmate Dave, the city he embodied, and
“all he had.” This high-energy blast of a song echoes the sentiment of 2012’s “The House that Heaven
Built:” go out, follow your dreams, be “bad.”

3. Kendrick Lamar - “Humble”

Kendrick Lamar cemented himself as the greatest rapper of all time with 2017’s DAMN.
“Humble” illustrates everything that puts Kendrick far above any other rapper out there right now.
His ability to swap flows on a dime and rap in a multitude of voices is on full display on this swaggy track.
Mike Will Made It’s simple piano-riff-focused production is a perfect platform for Lamar to launch off
from, straddling the line between technical rap flow and a pop-friendly hook that made
this a huge hit for the Compton rapper. In a world full of people thinking they have the right to speak
over and silence others, Lamar’s request to be “Humble” is refreshing and hit a chord across the globe.

2. Cloud Nothings - “Enter Entirely”

Long-time Continuous Thunder readers will remember that Cloud Nothings took the top spot
on my Tracks of the Year 2014 with their song “I’m Not Part of You.” In my write up, I called
that track a “celebratory break-up track” with lead singer “Dylan Baldi coming to terms with
the past and rejoicing what lies in his future.” 2017’s “Enter Entirely” serves as the epilogue
to that song. In the years since 2014, Cloud Nothings saw both critical and popular success,
playing all the major music festivals around the world, and Baldi’s songwriting reflects this
with the album Life Without Sound bringing a refined, poppy, guitar focused sound.
“Entire Entirely,” with its memorable opening guitar riff, is the epitome of this new sound.
Baldi’s vocals are clean and easily heard, Jayson Gerycz’s always awesome drumming sits
further back in the mix, and multiple undistorted guitar solos add a different pop-rock feel to
this traditionally noise/punk/emo band. Lyrically, Baldi returns to a similar theme to
“I’m Not Part of You.” While he proudly proclaims “my world looks like I had only dreamed,”
part of him is still stuck in the past; “Moving on but I still feel it / You're just a light in me now.”
Resignation? Maybe. But an awesome rock song nonetheless.

1. Alvvays - “Saved by a Waif”

I went back and forth on which Alvvays song to choose for this list. Any number of tracks from
their standout 2017 release Antisocialites could have taken this number one spot. In the end,
I’m going for “Saved by a Waif.” Fast paced, guitar lead, with killer harmonies, this song ticks
all the boxes. Antisocialites saw Alvvays return in the best way possible. “Saved by a Waif”
sees lead singer Molly Rankin grab the bull by the horns; her vocals are powerful, pitch perfect,
and more aggressive than ever. Driving keyboards in the verses and arpeggiating synths in the
pre-chorus add a refined and layered sound that we didn’t hear on their 2013 self-titled debut.
Yet, this new sound is so exactly Alvvays: Alec O'Hanley brings his Two Hours Traffic guitar chops,
Brian Murphy adds his plucky bass line, the drum pattern is exactly as required, and Rankin pulls it all
together with her distinct vocal tone.
As a perfect live set opener, “Saved by the Waif” just screams: “LET’S GET GOING PEOPLE!
It’s my number one song of 2017.