A Musical Journey
Now that the year of death is officially over, it’s time to look back on the good things that happened in 2016. Since I tend to swim upstream, I’ve put together a list of 10 albums that made up the soundtrack to my year – not necessarily the ones that were released within those 12 months (though many were). And because my opinion matters, you should definitely check out all of these and thank me later.
1. Tuns – Tuns
Upon hearing the first few notes, this album delivered a swift drop-kick to my heart. I shouldn’t be surprised how hard I fell for it either, considering my love for 90s alternative, east coast sounds, and songs about heartbreak. A typical Canadian supergroup (by which I mean downplayed), Tuns is comprised of Sloan’s Chris Murphy, the Inbreds’ Mike O’Neill and Matt Murphy from The Super Friendz. Soaked in nostalgia, don’t be alarmed if this album tears open a few old wounds. Keep the bandaids and tissues handy.
2. Honeyrunners – EP II
Did I mention that I really seem to like local bands? These guys are bound to blow up any minute with their energetic and soulful indie rock, so it’s best that you get on this soon in order to claim those elusive “I knew them when” bragging rights. After all, very few albums have harmonies so rich, and hooks so catchy that you can sing along to each and every one after only one listen. Check out EP I while you’re at it, because it’s kind of weird to start on a sequel (and it’s just as good).
3. Phantogram – Three
Perhaps one of the few “radio” albums that has made my lists (but one of the many number-titled ones), I was unabashedly hooked as soon as You Don’t Get Me High Anymore started playing on heavy rotation. A dark synth pop romp, this album contains enough instrumentation to keep them out of the MDMA-and-beat-drops category. While there are some sentimental moments, most of the tracks boast an unabashed sexuality that will likely prompt a lot of hair whips and sultry half-naked dancing around your apartment (uh, so I’ve been told). We all got a little bit of ho in us, after all.
4. Tommy Hawkins – Amy
This album came out of nowhere, even to those who (thought they) keep up with the goings-on of Hawksley Workman. Having paired up with Thomas D’Arcy, a fellow Canadian producer/songwriter (and not a Jane Austen character, incidentally) they’ve birthed a passionate six-song EP. Rich with fervent vocals and screaming guitars, it’s hard to tell where Tom ends and Hawk begins. One can only hope that this will be more than just a one-off side project.
5. Tiger Army – V
A longtime Tiger Army fan, I was very excited to get a hold of new material after nine long years of silence. At first, I was less than enthused with the dreamy pace of the album and seeming lack of their bass-slapping psychobilly roots, but it grew on me. Haunting and melodic, it draws more from their past alt-country explorations (think ‘In the Orchard‘), with a dash of mariachi. And while it may be an overall slower album than previous efforts, the intensity remains.
6. Dilly Dally – Sore
There are flash-in-the-pan buzz bands, and then there are the few that live up to the hype. Dilly Dally is among the latter. Having heard their name from the mouths of every indie music snob for months, ye olde “why haven’t I been listening to them forever?” lamentation set in this April when I finally checked out a few tracks. Simultaneously pulling off girlish and grungy, lead singer Katie is such a perfect combination of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain that she should probably just change her name to Frances Bean. Commence swooning.
7. Whitehorse – Leave No Bridge Unburned
This band seems to follow me wherever I go lately. The sickeningly cute couple Melissa McLelland and Luke Doucet are prolific artists in their own rights, and twice as awesome as Whitehorse. Best described as country for city-dwellers, they’re a mix of exceptional guitar work, inventive instrumental loops, and a vocal harmony that could only be spawned by an intensely deep relationship.
8. Dearly Beloved – Admission
At this point, you’ve probably caught on that this band makes my list almost every year. But it’s not my fault that they’re a non-stop music machine (the next album is apparently already written). Keeping up with their patented unisex call and answer vocals, riding a rollercoaster of bass notes, Admission explores new regions. One of them being Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 (seriously, that’s where it was recorded), which provides a richness of sound that is audible throughout.
9. Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare
Obviously this album didn’t come out in 2016, but it’s one that spent a good portion of the year in my ears. Arguably one of his best (and he has a lot), it’s not as creepy as you might expect from a guy who lives in face paint and regularly executes himself onstage. While there are are some necrophiliac themes, and a guest appearance by Vincent Price, the overall sound is rooted enough in classic rock for your “normal” friends to appreciate it as well.
10. Misfits – Walk Among Us
You probably know that this album didn’t come out recently, either. But when a band that influenced many of the things you love—and hasn’t really existed since before you were born—reunites, their stuff ends up on constant repeat for many, many months. A clever hybrid of punk, horror themes, 50s rock and roll, and a whole lot of whoahs, this one’s a must-own for anyone that refuses to ‘fit in’.
The Foo Fighters and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. While I’ve always (almost always) enjoyed their singles and can say without a doubt that they’re a stellar rock band, they’ve always lacked that certain something that would propel them into my favourites list. Why am I telling you this? Because you’ll appreciate it more when I tell you that Wasting Light is kicking my ass.
Dave Grohl knocks the door down with ‘Bridge Burning‘ screaming, “These are my famous last words”. A perfect album opener, this line sets the pace for the rest of the album- or at least the first six songs. Creativity stalls a bit on ‘Back & Forth‘, ‘A Matter of Time‘ and ‘Miss the Misery‘, highlighting their sometimes-unspecial rock sound. All is not lost though; track 10- ‘I Should Have Known‘ is easily the deepest and angriest, albeit slowest song on the album. With most songs weighing in between 4 and 5 minutes long, this 11-song track list is pretty substantial. Though none of them noticeably overstay their welcome per se, it wouldn’t be creatively detrimental to cut a minute here and there.
The marketing of Wasting Light has included a lot of talk about unrefined recording and simple production. Wanting to return to his roots, Grohl decided to record the album in his garage. That sounds pretty raw until you actually think about it. After all, it’s Dave Grohl’s garage, which is likely nicer than my condo. My suspicions were confirmed by the making-of documentary, Back and Forth– it’s not like they were recording amongst paint cans and cobwebs when all is said and done. And while they might have lost a few indie points by pairing up with mega-producers Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage, AFI) and Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) they gained it back by recording on analog tape.
In most cases, a good litmus test for Foos albums is their first single. As a listener of terrestrial rock radio, if a song doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists after a month, it’s probably pretty good. ‘Rope‘ isn’t even the best song on the album, but it hasn’t yet worn out its welcome. The only thing that bothers me is the “drum solo”, which sounds like one guy banging on an overturned bucket in a vacuum. Perhaps they’ve fallen victim to the inability to edit digitally; either way, I’ve heard less experienced bands pull off better breakdowns.
For a rock album, Wasting Light has some fairly introspective lyrics. ‘Dear Rosemary‘ mourns, “truth ain’t gonna change the way you lie. Youth ain’t gonna change the way you die”. While ‘These Days‘ warns “Easy for you to say, your heart has never been broken. Your pride has never been stolen. Not yet, not yet.” Even though Grohl can come up with lines on the fly (as shown in Back and Forth), he’ll never be criticized for writing vapid or meaningless lyrics.
The Foo Fighters have proven with this album that it’s possible to be both heavy and poppy at the same time. Almost every track has a hook that will get stuck in your head for days. Exhibit A: ‘Arlandria‘, on which Grohl manages to sound angsty and sincere over what sounds a lot like Good Charlotte’s ‘Girls & Boys‘. They even use the catchy clap-clap-clap cymbal hits (also employed in Tegan and Sara’s ‘The Con‘). And I’m not discrediting them for this, I clap along every time. On top of all this, the powerful lyric writing paired with the vocal arrangements is goosebumpy perfection. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t feel all warm inside when the chorus of ‘Bridge Burning’ kicks in.
‘White Limo‘, with its distorted screaming metal, is a bit of a misfit on this album. Its inclusion seems in part to prove a point, considering the guys are mostly over 40 and have enjoyed a considerable amount of commercial success. On the other hand, it’s just a different style of heavy rock song, and Wasting Light is a heavy rock album. Motörhead’s Lemmy even shows up in the music video. Grohl also recruited Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould to sing on ‘Dear Rosemary’ and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic to make an appearance on ‘I Should Have Known’. His cameo is pretty special, as it marks the first time that he, Butch Vig and Dave Grohl have been together in the same room since the recording of Nevermind.
I’ve struggled a bit with how I’d like this album to end. The first few listens to ‘Walk‘ left me with that old generic feeling; a bit of a letdown after being torn apart by ‘I Should Have Known’. Whereas the latter is too sour and unsettled to close an album, ‘Walk’ is a positive open-ended sendoff. Aside from the lazy songwriting in the chorus – “Learning to walk again…learning to talk again”, every aspect of this song works feverishly up to Grohl wailing, “I’m on my knees, I’m waiting for a sign. Forever, whenever. I never wanna die…Never wanna die. Never wanna leave. Never say goodbye”. We can only hope that these are not really his famous last words.