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Bloombloom
Beach House

Apparently “dream pop” is a musical genre. News to me. Also, if, like me, you want to know what that genre sounds like, apparently you should listen to Beach House’s Bloom. It does the trick.

Yes, their sound is dreamy; but it’s still approachable—even, you guessed it, popular. It’s at turns sweet and pleasant, mournful and full of grief.

Weirdly, and with apologies to die-hard fans of Beach House, I can imagine an alternate universe in which the castrato-pop sensation, Justin(e) Bieber, released this album.

TAKE IT EASY, SELENA GOMEZ.

Jiaolongjiaolong
Daphni

If you input “Jiaolong” in Wikipedia (my go-to resource for answers to most of life’s questions), you find it is, “a polysemous aquatic dragon in Chinese mythology.” What then to make of this album? Is it spiritually akin to a crocodile? Is it manlike, or a mere fish?

Fuck if I know. Might as well be a Chinese lizard. I suppose, if you dabbled in meditation or controlled substances, listening to this album while entranced might produce visions of such far-east reptiles of lore. More likely, however, you’ll want to reach for a glow-stick and sway back and forth like an idiot for seven straight hours.

But I digress. This is a solid album, if you like music of the electronic variety, which I do occasionally.

Indeed, Daphni—also known as Caribou, previously known as Manitoba, actually Daniel Victor Snaith—has a long and productive history of making good shit. His previous effort, Swim, as Caribou, was so good I included it among my favourites of 2010. I couldn’t really ignore this one, especially since it’s equally good, albeit a little more downtempo. Anyways.

SOOTHERS ARE FOR BABIES.

Django Djangodjango-django
Django Django

I haven’t really played video games of any sort since the early 90s. Rest assured, I don’t feel short-changed. And even if I did—I don’t!—I think this album makes up for it.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, Django Django’s eponymous debut reminds me of those early games on the NES. A B A B UP DOWN LEFT RIGHT START. So few buttons; so many possibilities! Shitty graphics. Simplistic story lines. (Rescue the Princess! Eat the bananas! Kill the bad guys!)

Moreover, this album could’ve easily been used as the soundtrack to that brilliant bit of product placement wizardry, The Wizard. Pop this album in your CD player, or more appropriately plug your iPod into an analog auxiliary jack and connect it to the analog input of your Bose Soundwave, then watch this movie. You’d swear Django Django is to The Wizard that Dark Side of the Moon is to The Wizard of Oz.

Yes, I realize this hardly constitutes a review of the music. Whatever. I gather this album is on many best-of lists this year. Read those if you want to know what this band actually sounds like.

USE THE WARP WHISTLE!

The Lion’s Roarthe-lions-roar
First Aid Kit

What is it about the Swedes and excellent Americana music? Seriously. Utterly delightful. America should rest a little bit easier: on this one front, they’ve been beaten by a country other than China.

In the same vein as Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, the Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and, ahem, The Tallest Man on Earth, the sisters Söderberg, Johanna and Klara, have put together a truly beautiful album. Their song, “Emmylou,” might just be my favourite song of the year.

FUCK IKEA.

Visionsvisions
Grimes

More dream pop. WTF? Apparently, I like this shit—and I don’t even own a glow stick, let alone many glow sticks that would necessitate an entire rack.

Actually, I think I dig this album because, like so many on this year’s list, it features a female vocalist who, aided by some wicked synth-pop melodies, makes some bad-ass tunes.

CHICKS RULE.

Shieldsshields
Grizzly Bear

This is a very enjoyable album from a talented bunch of grimy hipsters from Brooklyn. It doesn’t grate on your nerves and test your patience like, say, Arcade Fire. In fact, what makes this album so good is it seems to take the nice bits about Arcade Fire, while discarding the wailing from that band’s female vocalist. Oh, and on this album, not every song sounds like the last one. So there’s that, too.

I suspect the fact I’ve drawn (badly, too) a comparison between Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire will prompt the die-hards, true audiophiles, and readers of actual music magazines to castigate me as a know-nothing—or worse, simply throw me in with the Bieber-loving masses. Fine. I liked this album; I tend to wince at the shrill tones of Arcade Fire. If that makes me an uninformed hack, so be it. I’ve been called much, much worse.

JUST DON’T CALL ME LATE FOR DINNER!

Port of Morrowport-of-morrow
The Shins

I really like the The Shins. I’ve been a faithful listener for years. (Granted, I was completely unaware the lead singer dissolved the old band and brought together a new group of lads before releasing this album, but I’ve already established myself to be an uniformed, stereophonic slut.) Their latest, Port of Morrow, is a real treat.

I suppose what I like most about this album, their first in five years, is how much the sound of the band has evolved. True, the lead vocals are as haunting and unique as they were on their first album, back in 2001. The synth remains, too. (Thankfully. I adore the synth.) And yet, there’s something else, something new and fresh and, well, more poppy about the thing.

Sure, those college kids who adopted, “New Slang,” as their anthem are likely to be thrown into an existential crisis—recorded in real-time with endless Facebook updates and constant Tweets, befitting the millennial generation. Thankfully, I’m immune to such things: I long ago adopted Huey Lewis and the News’, “Hip to Be Square,” as my anthem.

FORE!

There’s No Leaving Nowtheres-no-leaving-now
The Tallest Man On Earth

The Swedish folkie strikes again! This time in the form of male vocalist Kristian Matsson.

There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson’s third album, is a solid offering from start to finish. And, while Matsson isn’t actually the tallest man on Earth (again, visit Wikipedia for those stats), he does manage to sing like someone reaching for great heights.

When I reviewed his 2009 album, The Wild Hunt, I remarked: his vocals are haunting, raw, and unique. The same can be said of him today. However, I’d add infectious. Indeed, Matsson’s music has a way of burrowing into your brain. Not in that earwig-from-Star-Trek-Wrath-of-Khan kind of way, but in the way that makes your toes tap, your head bob, and a smile in the corners of your mouth whenever you hear one of his tunes.

ENOUGH SAID.

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Another year draws to a close; another (digital) stack of albums to review.

Without further ado, may I humbly present my picks for 2011…

The Rip Tide
Beirut

Indie Pop. Balkan Folk. Whatever. I’ll leave it to the tireless, selfless editors of Wikipedia to accurately label the musical genre into which Beirut falls.

I’ll simply say this: I really enjoyed this, their third album. Like Sufjan Stevens, these guys manage to accomplish the seemingly impossible musical feat of sounding at once melancholy and cheerful. Which may explain why I like this album so much: it’s the musical equivalent of my state of mind.

El Camino
The Black Keys 

Hell yeah!

Forget what you know about El Caminos, or the fact the cover of this album doesn’t actually depict one, but a vintage Chrysler mini-van with faux wood panelling.

Do you even care? If you were listening to this album right now, you sure as shit wouldn’t. Seriously.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver 

Give me a moment.

Honestly, this is a tough one.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is about this album I find so… enchanting. Haunting vocals? Sombre music? Nevertheless, no list of my favourite albums for this past year would be complete without the inclusion of Bon Iver’s eponymous (squared) effort.

Mylo Xyloto
Coldplay 

I realize the inclusion of Coldplay’s latest offering, “Mylo Xyloto,” puts in jeopardy my standing as a bad-ass hipster. Honestly, though, if I were worried about what people thought of me, there’s a long list of things about which I would be sorry before I fretted about what people thought of my musical tastes.

Thankfully, I don’t really give a damn. Nor do I care this album, produced by committee, must’ve been focus-tested for ages before finally being released, since it’s hard to find anything not to like about it. It’s good, and very much in the same vein as what so many have come to expect from Chris Martin and his crew.

So yeah, Coldplay’s on my list. Deal with it.

Cults
Cults

Boy-girl Indie-pop duos are nothing new; in fact, they’re a dime a dozen nowadays. It just so happens I like ’em — especially when they’re actually good. And New York duo, Cults, are just that: good. So good I’ve included their debut album on this here list.

Might not be your cup of tea, but it sure is mine. Especially when I’m wearing skinny jeans, a plaid shirt, wayfarers, and a pair of Chuck Taylors… without socks!

Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes

Ah yes, Fleet Foxes. Instantly a hit with me and just about everybody else after the release of their self-titled debut album; their second, “Helplessness Blues,” does nothing to dissuade me, or everybody else I suspect, from continuing to like them very much.

Sure, it’s more of the same, and in another context that might be considered a criticism; with this baroque pop troupe, it’s a compliment. If, after all, you’ve hit upon a particularly lovely note (pun intended), why not play it again?

Ritual Union
Little Dragon 

What is it with Scandinavians and synth pop?

I’ll tell you what: they go together like gravlax and cream cheese… or a progressive taxation system and well-funded health and social programs.

Seriously, this album is awesome.

Lifeboats and Follies
Tommy Guerrero 

Is it apt the final album on my list is full of tunes perfect for chill-axing? Hard to say, since I’d intentionally alphabetized the thing. Regardless, this album is just that: ideal for those times when you want nothing more than to chill out and relax.

No, it won’t put you to sleep, or even make you lethargic; Guerrero’s stuff is much too cool for that. But it’ll definitely help you unwind after a miserable day, especially when paired with a cocktail made from top-shelf spirits.

It’s that time of year again!

Herewith, I present to you those albums from my iTunes vault I’ve enjoyed more than most this past year.

Without further ado…

The Suburbs
Arcade Fire

Okay, no surprise here: it’s been on virtually everyone’s “best of” list. For good reason. The album rocks.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of the band, or new to them, this album is a treat. Especially when you have the chance to see them live at an outdoor concert on the Toronto Islands. Which I did, earlier this summer.

Not that I’m trying to establish my credentials as a “cool dude” or anything…

Crazy For You
Best Coast

Chicks who sing in rock bands are always awesome. Seriously. I think this is a fact, long ago proved by someone more expert in this field than I.

But whatever. This album is wicked. It features lots of reverb, and a totally loveable summer sound. Oh yeah, and a chick on vocals.

Not for people who are lame.

Brothers
The Black Keys

Fuck yeah, man. Fuck yeah.

It’s late. I’m tired. But I’m not ready to call it a night. Heck, I think I might even feel a second wind coming on. So, I pick up a 2-4 of Standard Lager and keep going.

It’s going to be a long night of being a cool dude. Which is hard work.

Thankfully, listening to this album is anything but.

Swim
Caribou

This album is awesome.

Either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. I know in which camp I reside: THE COOL CAMP.

That is all.

The Big To-Do
Drive-By Truckers

Damn straight I drink bourbon. And I’d like to think the dudes in the Drive-By Truckers do, too.

A little known fact about me: I have a soft spot for southern rock. (Who doesn’t, really?) Lynyrd Skynrd. The Allman Brothers Band. Creedence. The Band. These guys.

Pour yourself a stiff one, put on a pair of your most faded, torn, straight-cut Levi’s, fire up the barbecue, sit in your backyard and chew the fat with your pals.

Les Chemins De Verre
Karkwa

Another unsurprising pick, I know. Polaris Prize winners and Montreal natives, Karkwa have produced an outstanding album. In French no less. Which doesn’t really matter to me, since I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the lyrics of songs anyway. For me, it’s all about the mood the music puts me in, and how it makes me feel.

What’s my mood with Les Chemins De Verre? Upbeat.

How does it make me feel? Trés cool.

Big Echo
The Morning Benders

Wikipedia lists “baroque pop” as one of the genres in which The Morning Benders fall. I don’t know what baroque pop is, nor do I really care to learn.

Regardless, this album is fun. Nothing spectacular. It won’t be accompanying me on a prolonged stay on a deserted island. (That honour is reserved for Paul Simon’s Graceland, thankyouverymuch.) Still, it’s a solid effort.

I especially liked the fourth track, “Cold War.” It’s a be-bopping good time that, I’d like to think, could have even got JFK and Kruschev up on their feet.

Together
The New Pornographers

From the opening guitar riff on the first track, to the last note on the last one, this is a solid album from Vancouver’s indie rock darlings. Sure, it’s a little cute listing yet another Canadian band on my list of favourites. Making good music is about the only thing I think Canada does well. (That and maple syrup. And carbon dioxide.)

Anyway, good album. No reservations about including it on my list. You shouldn’t have any including it on yours either.

Darker Circles
The Sadies

God, more Canadian schlock. What’s my problem this year? Jesus.

A little more country than the New Pornographers. A little grittier too. Just as good. Better, maybe? Who knows. I don’t.

Still, this is a solid effort by a solid band.

Astro Coast
Surfer Blood

Remember Kids in the Hall? If not, you probably shouldn’t even be reading my blog. Honestly. How did you find me? Who are you, anyway?

Regardless, my point: the theme song for KITH was a song by defunct band, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. Which doesn’t really matter. What I’m trying to say is this: Surfer Blood are like the new, louder, better guys who provided the theme song to one of the best shows the CBC ever underwrote.

Is that a compliment? It was meant as one.

The Wild Hunt
The Tallest Man On Earth

Finally, a little folk. Phew. About time, eh?

I agree, and I can think of no better example than the latest album by Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson. (Swedish? I know, right?!)

Anyway, his vocals are haunting, raw, and unique. And his tunes are an audible treat, too.

What’s he singing about? Dunno. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not big on the words. But the melodies are delightful. And that’s enough for me.

Year-end lists are trite, I know. I promise this is the only one I’ll make. It’s not about movies or news stories or gaffes or tween gossip. It’s about music. Specifically, my favourite albums of 2009.

So, lets get to it.

In no particular order, they are:

Don’t Stop
Annie

This offering by Norwegian pop sensation Annie is sickly sweet – in a good way. Listening to her album is like licking the spatula you’ve just used to mix a big ol’ bowl of icing. So bad, but so good.

Also good: the cover art. Even if you don’t like Norwegian pop (your loss), surely you can appreciate that cover. I mean, look at it. That chick is so cool she can write her name with light. Amazing. Like the tunes on her album.

Touchdown
Brakes

There’s no mystery here. Brighton’s Brakes have assembled a good ol’ fashion indie rock album. The kind of album you could throw on during a car trip, while re-paiting your den a brighter hue, or when it’s raining outside and you refuse to be bummed out by it. You get it, right?

Whatever. This album is good. I like it. It’s on my list of favourites for 2009. Deal with it.

My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura

Where have you been all my life, Camera Obscura? You’re a delight! You’ve managed to capture the feeling that comes over me when summer has arrived, the air is warm, it’s a Friday night, I’m wearing a linen jacket and shorts, and I’m well into a bottle of chilled Chablis.

Thank you, Camera Obscura. And thank you to the “French Navy” you so marvellously sing about on your album. (It’s my favourite track.)

LP
Discovery

Hoo-haw! What a romp!

Yup, this album is bitchin’. Electronic pop at its best. Which is doubly remarkable, considering this album is Discovery’s first.

I’m particularly fond of the eighth track, “I Want You Back.” It’s an homage to the Jackson Five’s, “One More Chance.” If MJ were still kickin’, I’d like to think he’d be pleased with the effort. I know I am.

Three
Joel Plaskett

Joel Plaskett. Nova Scotian. Indie rocker. Obsessed with the number three. I dig it.

I also dig his latest album; a three-disc effort. It’s chock-a-block full of über-Canadian ditties. And what Canadian can resist jingoistic tuneage? Not this Canadian! (Case in point: of the 452 artists and 804 albums in my iTunes Library, nothing has received more airtime than Canadian troubadour, Gordon Lightfoot.)

But of course, you non-Canadians are probably thinking, “What about me? Will I like this Joel Plaskett fellow? I know nothing of Canada except for the igloos, dog sleds, and dope.”

My answer: you will like him, yes you will. Because good music knows no boundaries, be they political, linguistic, geographic, or otherwise. So do yourself a favour, pick up this album, head out to your nearest sugar shack, crack open a bottle of Canadian Club, and let the good times roll.

Battle Studies
John Mayer

Don’t judge me. I happen to enjoy John Mayer. And I think his fourth album is very good.

While it’s been out for less than two months, I’ve managed to listen to it from start to finish numerous times. (Granted, it clocks in at just over 45 minutes.) Yes, it’s a little uneven. Some tracks are stronger than others. In all, however, there’s enough good stuff to keep you coming back.

I particularly enjoy Mayer’s duet with Taylor Swift on the lovely, “Half of My Heart.” (This doesn’t count as tween gossip, by the way.) Their voices compliment each other surprisingly well. Seriously. (I said, don’t judge me!)

Grand
Matt & Kim

If fun had a soundtrack, it would be Matt & Kim’s, Grand.

Many a morning on my walk to work, I’d listen to this album. It put me in a good mood. It also made me want to walk past my office to the nearest bar, plug my iPod into their PA system, and spend the day rocking out, bottle of Jack in hand.

I regret never doing that.

Years of Refusal
Morrissey

Oh, Morrissey. So ironically miserable – or is it miserably ironic? Either way, Years of Refusal is sinewy, gritty, and damn good.

From the first few bars of the opening track, “Something is Squeezing my Skull,” through to the last licks from the closing track, “I’m OK by Myself,” Steven Patrick Morrissey delivers a genuine tour-de-force of grim cynicism.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix

Oh yeah. How could I not include this kick-ass number from France’s hottest pop sensation? Sure, they’ve already licensed their stuff to Cadillac. (Odd, since they sound more like an Audi TT than they do an Escalade, but I digress.) Still, this album is solid, from start to finish.

Vive la France!

In and Out of Control
The Raveonettes

Whoa. I don’t know what happened between their last album, Lust Lust Lust, and this one, but whatever it was it definitely helped this Danish duo kick it up a notch.

Despite the myriad macabre subjects they cover (see: Rape; Suicide; Substance Abuse; Auto Theft; Death), Sune Rose and Sharin manage to infuse their tracks with a touch of whimsy and humour. I appreciate that, which is why I say this: when life throws you a lemon, listen to this album.

Oohs and Aahs
Say Hi

Picture this: you’re sitting on your friends’ back deck. It’s spring, so you’re still wearing a sweater. It’s evening. Nine-ish. Or even closer to ten. Between mouthfuls of this delicious, yet mysterious dip set out for you and the other guests, you hear music. It’s coming from the kick-ass outdoor speakers hanging from the eaves. It’s a band. They sound familiar.

“Who are these guys? They sound familiar,” you say, cracker crumbs falling out of your mouth onto your sweater.

They’re Say Hi. You’ve never heard them before. But you like them. You feel like they’ve been with you all your life. And listening to them makes you feel like everything’s gonna be okay.

Actor
St. Vincent

Gosh. Where to begin?

If you’ve been following the links I’ve embedded for each of these albums (which take you to the albums’ entries on Wikipedia, by the way), you’d already know two interesting things about this album: 1) it was created using Apple’s GarageBand application; and 2) Woody Allen’s movies and Disney’s animated features served as inspiration. Cool, eh? I thought so.

However, you should know I was unaware of both of these factoids when I first listened to the album. Moreover, knowing both doesn’t really change my opinion of it, either: I think it’s lovely.

Now We Can See
The Thermals

A little bit punk + a little bit rock-and-roll + a little bit indie hipster = this album.

Q.E.D.

Okay, so I was never that good at math. Sue me. But before you do, give this album a listen. Because I’ll be entering it into evidence in my defence, and I’m confident the judge, once he or she’s played it, will side with me.

So there.

xx
The xx

I know I said this list was in no particular order. (Actually, it’s alphabetical by artist.) Despite this fact, it’s hard not to read something into the fact that this album, xx, is the last on the list. This would make it my #1 album, if you subscribe to the Letterman Theory of Lists. While I won’t be so bold as to confirm your suspicion, I won’t deny it either.

***

Honourable Mention:

Two Weeks Last Summer
Various Artists

You’ve probably never heard of this release. That’s because it never was. This one was compiled by my friend and incomparable music afficianado, Ryan. It’s a mélange of good stuff, including hits from The Ramones, The Cars, Iggy Pop, Jesus and Mary Chain, Cheap Trick, The Pursuit of Happiness, Sonic Youth, New Order, The Pixies, and Smashing Pumpkins.

Of course, not a single one of the songs in this digital mix tape was released in 2009, which is why I couldn’t include it in the aforementioned list. But I include it all the same because my friend Ryan deserves mention in this post. Were it not for him and his stellar musical tastes, I’d have had precious little to listen to this past year. After all, it was his advice and guidance that led me to the albums I’ve discussed, and many others I haven’t. (John Mayer being the one exception. Don’t judge me, damn it!)