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 Top 10 Albums
You Didn’t Check Out
Tis the time of year for Top Ten lists. And while everyone is singing the praises of the same overplayed crap, here is a list of 10 albums you should have checked out (but didn’t) over the last decade or so.
1. Doctor- High is as High Gets (2004)
Don’t call them a flash in the pan, even though they only existed for a short time. Doctor was The Watchmen’s Danny Greaves and a post Change of Heart, pre Dearly Beloved Rob Higgins. ‘What Makes You Think He’s Lucky?’ got some radio play, while the video for their second single, ‘Balancing’ was banned by Much Music. The boys split shortly thereafter; though not over a McDonalds commercial as Wikipedia suggests.
Greaves and Higgins strike a titillating balance; one providing a solid, almost monotone melody, the other screaming his face off. Every song has a killer hook and meaningful lyrics. A definite must-own for any Canadian rock aficionado.
Check Out: ‘What Of It?’, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ and ‘You’re Not Giving At All And I’m Not Getting Past It’
2. Sarah Slean- Night Bugs (2002)
With help from the genius Hawksley Workman, Slean released Night Bugs in 2002 and received decent radio play for her single ‘The Sweet Ones’. She’s since quietly released several stellar albums to a mostly underground following.
Slean is one of those artists who can create magic with little more than vocals, piano and the occasional string section. Emotive and poetic, every song penetrates your head and your heart.
Check Out: ‘Eliot’, ‘Weight’
3. Blaqk Audio- CexCells (2007)
I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t somehow work an AFI mention into this post. Ergo, Blaqk Audio’s CexCells. The side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget, born out of their love of 80’s synth pop à la Cure and Depeche Mode. Expect completely danceable tracks with mild sensuality and dark undercurrents. Catchy, without being vapid, CexCells does pop the way it should be done.
Check Out: ‘Between Breaths (An XX Perspective)’, ‘Wake Up, Open the Door and Escape to the Sea’
4. Spinnerette- Spinnerette (2009)
Aside from ditching one front man for another, the unceremonious 2008 release of Spinnerette’s EP Ghetto Love was the first anyone had heard from Brody Dalle since the quiet disbandment of The Distillers. The full length Spinnerette came out in 2009 and was accompanied by a short tour.
Age and motherhood have mellowed Brody; her singing outweighing the snarls and growls. Never fear, the pure sex in her voice is still prominent, as is an unsurprising Queens of the Stone Age flavour throughout the album. Sadly nothing’s been heard from them since this blip on the radar.
Check Out: ‘All Babes Are Wolves’, ‘A Spectral Suspension’ ‘Valium Knights’ (EP)
5. Brand New- The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)
Mentioning Brand New to most people usually triggers the “oh yeah, that ‘something something Gloria Fades’ song” reaction. And yeah, that was them and their most notable single. It’s also not anything like what you’ll hear on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.
Overall, this album is pretty dark, the perfect soundtrack to a downspiral (watch out if you hear me playing this one). Every song is designed to destroy you emotionally; an unrelenting tornado of noise and pained vocals, spinning itself into howling despair and fury.
Check Out: ‘Millstone’, ‘You Wont Know’, ‘Not The Sun’
6. Black Kids- Partie Traumatique (2008)
This is one of the many treasures I found whilst employed at HMV. I’ve not heard them mentioned or played anywhere until Glee covered ‘Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance’ this summer when I first had the idea for this list. What are the chances?
Anyway, they’re pure 80s emo-pop fun. Picture a combination of The Cure and Hot Hot Heat with bratty female vocals that Mother Mother has since made popular. Put it on when you’re feeling the teenage angst.
Check Out: ‘Hit the Heartbreaks’, ‘Love Me Already’
7. Tiger Army- Tiger Army II: The Power of Moonlight (2001)
Those who know psychobilly know Tiger Army. Those who just said “what’s psychobilly?” well, do not. Picture this; songs with a fast rockabilly rhythm, phantom-like vocals and lyrics about vampires, zombies, death and love.
Tiger Army is probably the most romantic and poetic of the psycho scene, having found the perfect formula for relevancy in a pigeonholed genre. Incestuous with AFI, the two have traded many band members over the years and appear on each others albums. Listen for a few appearances by the lovely Davey Havok.
Check Out: ‘Under Saturn’s Shadow’, ‘Annabel Lee’, ‘In The Orchard’
8. Dresden Dolls- The Dresden Dolls (2003)
I discovered these guys opening for Nine Inch Nails in 2005 and fell in love. Their debut album, like their stage show, is raw and unpolished at the same time as being charming and witty.
Self-described as “Cabaret Punk”, pianist/vocalist Amanda is a wild woman on the keys, celebrating her sometimes imperfect voice, while drummer Brian Viglione supports her with all sorts of unconventional percussion “instruments”. Tongues are firmly in cheek throughout the album as they sing about sex toys (‘Coin Operated Boy’) and even heavy subjects like pedophilia (‘Missed Me’ & ‘Slide’) and self-mutilation (‘Bad Habit’).
Check out: ‘Girl Anachronism’, ‘Bad Habit’, ‘Missed Me’
9. Mindless Self Indulgence- Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy (2000)
Maybe one of the rudest and crudest bands out there, to quote my mom. This album is filled with 30 electronic-rock-dance tracks (many short interludes in between) and every curse word you can imagine. They do sing about faggots, hating Jimmy Page and fornicating parents, you will feel a little wrong for liking it, but you wont be able to help yourself. They’re just so f*****g catchy.
Check Out: ‘Faggot’, ‘Backmask’
10. Kate Voegele- Don’t Look Away (2007)
This is kind of a guilty pleasure album. Yes, Kate is a One Tree Hill alum; meaning I didn’t expect a whole lot when I picked up this album…ok, it was a free promo. Fact is, she’s actually pretty talented; poppy without being pandering, mixing in just enough country to give her credibility. And she writes the kind of angsty girl songs that you can sing along to in the shower, put on with while eating a tub of ice cream or crying into your pillow.
Check Out: ‘One Way or Another’, ‘I Get It’