The 1000 Album Challenge – Plugging into the ever-drifting musical universe
Now begins my summer of complete music immersion and I cannot be more excited. On a personal note, I got a new job (M-F, 9-5, office type) which means that my schedule, being more regular than shift work, will be more conducive to music exploration in the future. Plus, in lieu of homework I can also devote more time to doing individual album reviews which I love. I’m heading down to Sasquatch this coming month (May), so I’ll probably do a bit of listening within the list of performers to ensure I don’t miss out on an artist based on sheer ignorance.
I found some great albums this month, ones that will have a lasting place in my personal collection as well as ones that are serious contenders for AOTY. I had to devote a lot of time to final exams, so UofA owned my soul this April (even on my birthday), but now there is nothing but blue sky ahead. I hope you find some music that interests you as it has interested me. Of course, all statements made are a matter of personal opinion and not necessarily a matter of fact.
To stay connected with my journey, you can watch my listening list as it happens! Also, you can follow me on twitter to find songs of the day, information about my shows, albums, and radio as well as other tidbits of the musical persuasion. Check out the lists for January, February, and March to stay completely current! Feel free to contact me with your recommendations.
Here are the singles I loved most this month:
- Death Grips – System Blower (2012) [A quality sound system is almost essential to appreciating this track...provided it doesn't actually blow up.]
- Timber Timbre – Demon Host (2009) [Brooklin, Ontario]
- The Allies – All Hail to My Hands (2000) [A DJ supergroup]
- Troy von Balthazar – The Tigers (2010) [Indie, singer-songwriter]
- Ghibli – Sixteen Moons (2012) [Electronic musician from Edmonton]
1. Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)
As atypical and unclassifiable as the album cover couple are androgynous. It is unclear just who occupies which role of sadomasochistic interaction this band has embodied. The sound is a complete onslaught of dissonance and genre blurring, violence within reason, complete with reckless abandon. It’s true that I derive pleasure from the pain, but lead singer Stefan Burnett lives in it 24/7. He is both the inflicting and the inflicted. Drummer Zach Hill is absolutely perfect for this project and has unbelievable talent at blurring rhythmic aspects until it seems entirely arhythmic at the surface, while deep listening will uncover densely wound polyrhythms beneath the thick smog of noise (a technique similar to Chris Dave, but done with neurons made of copper wire). If you know anything about music culture (on the internet mostly), you have heard about this album. It is the first record to receive a 10/10 from Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop. People are already calling the Album of the Year. I’m not so sure yet, but I know it will absolutely be in my Top 5.
2. Azeda Booth – In Flesh Tones (2008)
I haven’t found an album that so directly spoke to the core of me in quite some time. It is a sleepily ambient album that seems to wash over all your worry and uncertainties with a bubble bath of sound. But…not in a dainty way (if that makes sense). It is such a calming album that is made almost exclusively for the armchair music enthusiast, I’m not quite sure how this would be as a live show, unless all the lights were off and everyone sat in a circle. However, that is no longer a relevant issue, as the band (which is from Calgary and forms around Morgan Greenwood) has since gone on hiatus. It has been recognized positively by Pitchfork and has for some reason been absent from my life for four years. WHY?!
Thanks to my friend Keisha for introducing it to me.
3. BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG2
For a group of young musicians to establish themselves as a respectable jazz trio within the popular music and alternative hip hop crowd is a very heartwarming fact for me. It has long been the case that jazz music is reserved exclusively for those who have approached the genre from a place of learned theory and/or are jazz musicians themselves. Having played in a jazz band for years growing up, but never pursuing it into my college years, I still am warmed by genre blending, more accessible jazz music to a certain extent. I come to this album from that place, but also from a love of instrumental hip hop. BADBADNOTGOOD exists squarely at that nexus, for me. I thought that their first album (also eponymous) was going to be hard to beat; they beat it. Tagging onto the jazz norm of covering popular songs and drawing them into the jazz realm, BBNG does renditions of popular hip hop tracks such as Feist’s Limit To Your Love, Tyler the Creator’s Bastard, and Kanye West’s (rendition of a Gil Scott-Heron original) Flashing Lights. This album is available for free download on the group’s website.
4. Sylvain Chauveau – Le Livre Noir Du Capitalisme
With this album, I added another artist to the class of Jóhann Jóhannsson (Iceland) in terms of my favourite instrumental and electronic composer. Sylvain Chauveau is especially excellent in his attentiveness to emotional progression and deftness of touch in creating swells (and subsequent peaks and valleys). This album is beautiful and fragile, the complete album is needed to appreciate the artist. The video I have attached to the album cover is perfect, and the album is great.
5. A tie between Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself and Patrick Watson’s Adventures In Your Own Backyard
These two albums came to a complete deadlock that I could not (would not) break into winner and loser – although none of my top 5 lists are quite meant to work that way, I still get that feeling occasionally. The Andrew Bird record, I would argue, is his best yet. My previous favourite, Armchair Apocrypha, has not been seriously challenged by any of his albums until now. It is mature and diverse and does not get stuck in a certain manner of thinking as do many of his other albums (ie. Music of Hair) which are perhaps intended as concept albums but do not retain the care and attention to subject that I believe such a title requires. This latest release is not a concept album and features, what I view as, excellent snapshots of Andrew Bird’s many facets.
Adventures In Your Own Backyard is included on this list because especially since the critically acclaimed Wooden Arms (and his collaboration with The Cinematic Orchestra) one would be remiss if one did not care about nor plan to follow the work that Patrick Watson is doing. The most recent release is so delicate in the vocals and very unassuming in its composition while exuding strength and confidence throughout (as does Patrick). It is an excellent continuation of his career and offers many points to pique ones interest. I would be surprised to hear it said to rival Wooden Arms (his last release, in 2007), but I do highly recommend it, especially for those who may not be familiar with Watson’s work. It is a great introductory album, while ironically the Montréal native’s 4th studio LP.
Essential Classic of the Month : Animal Collective – Feels (2005)
One of the best albums from one of the greatest genre bending bands in the Western hemisphere. They seem to skitter off of past genres in rock and roll into genres of the future and beyond, almost as if you were floating naked through the space time continuum.
Underground Album of the Month: The Utilities – Flint (2012)
A promising release from a promising band of Lethbridge youths. A voice that sounds familiar, yet elusive and fits incredibly well into this group’s simplistic arrangement. Joe Gurba already reviewed this album, and did a great job, so I would recommend just reading that. Here
The Complete April List OR “What I Listened to This Month”
- Bold text : Albums I would recommend
- Regular text: Albums that I was pleased with, but didn’t exceed any standards
Crossed Off: Albums that I do not recommend/Was not at all pleased with
- Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
- Various Artists – Camobear Green
- Dirty Projectors & Björk – Mount Wittenberg
- Beats Antique – Collide
- Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
- Childish Gambino – Camp
- Jim Cuming And The Rising Of The Moon – The Rising of the Moon
- Eamon McGrath – Young Canadians
- Apparat – The Devil’s Walk
- Mew – No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away
- Animal Collective – Feels
- of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
- Biblo – Falls Silent
- Future Islands – On The Water [I love this band’s sound. It’s like if Tom Waits went surfing in a dream]
- Giles Corey – Giles Corey [Not at all an easy listen. Almost completely in the art-music genre. It was frustrating to listen to at first, because I had a substantial headache. Something to prepare yourself for absolutely. It will in no way be “catchy” but it has some serious artistic elements. It is an example of complete immersion of an auteur into his/her work.]
- Sylvain Chauveau – Le Livre Noir Du Capitalisme
- Blind Pilot – 3 Rounds And A Sound
- Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain [Widely successful hard pop album. A blend of many different genres with skillful arrangement]
- Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal [A personal favourite this month. Highly recommend]
- Grimes – Visions [A really unique sound from a rising Canadian star. Plus she has a video directed by Evan Prosofsky]
- Joe Nolan – Goodbye Cinderella [Live performance was much more engaging. I found the album art to be quite tacky, though the songs themselves were pretty good]
- Blue Hawaii – Blooming Summer EP [Way shorter than I had hoped. Wanted this album to be much longer. It’s highly critically acclaimed]
- Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre [Some great songwriting on this. Not a stand out favourite, but undoubtedly a solid album]
- West In Dust – West In Dust 2012 [Compilation] [Definitely convinced me to follow the label in the future. A really intriguing compilation of electronic tracks.]
- Yalls – Yalls [Alternative electronic. Some really likeable tracks, but didn’t blow me away overall.]
- The Quakers – Quakers (2012) [Great as a compilation, but only if you are familiar with Stones Throw artists. Even then, a little bit too much going on with not enough time devoted to each element. I would have rathered more songs by each artists released in multiple volumes. Plus, you could tell that none of the people rapping wrote their own beats for this. The beats were the best part, I found.]
- Japanther – Beats, Limes, & Rice (2011) – There’s a lot going on beneath the surface sounds of this light punk album. Known for their artistic ventures and live spectacles, I wondered if the group would suffer without the live presence. They did not. My favourite tracks on this album “Meet You Later” and “Film Star Husband” have very interesting samples and will definitely become overplayed by me.
- Hip Hatchet – Joy and Better Days (2012) [The newest album by Hip Hatchet "Joy and Better Days" is beautiful. An air of simplicity caresses wise, poignant lyricism. Truly enjoyed it.]
- Death Grips – The Money Store (2012) [Unfortunately leaked early, but unlike was feared all over the internet, the pre-released singles were not the only great part about this album. Not even close. Really good.]
- Azeda Booth – In Flesh Tones [I haven’t liked an album (personally) this much in a while. Turns out, they’re from Calgary! Thanks to Keisha for this one.]
- Azeda Booth – Tubtrek [A bit less cognitive than “In Flesh Tones.” Some good beats, but mainly in the remix section. Not really an album, just a compilation. Available for free download.]
- The Utilities – Flint
- Knxwledge – Karma Loops (Parts 1&2) [Fav inst. hip hop album this month]
- Troy Von Balthazar – How To Live on Nothing [I was so close to writing this album off as nothing interesting. But the last half of the album really stepped it up for me and I ended up truly enjoying it]
- Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere [A departure from the Great Lake Swimmer’s style in a way that didn’t flatter. Songs within their original style felt like reissues of an old product.]
- 8 hours and 20 mins of Beethoven’s Symphonies and Piano Concertos: my favourites included Symphony No.7 in A Major Op. 92 specifically the Allegretto (2nd movement), Moonlight Sonata In C Sharp Minor, Waldstein Sonata in C Sharp Minor, Pathetique – Piano Sonata in C Minor, Symphony No.9 in D Minor op. 1, and of course Symphony No. 5 in C Minor)
- Oh No – Ghettodes [The beats on this record are pretty sick, but they completely overshadow the lyrics and don’t follow them in anyway. I almost think that Oh No should have focused on making a beat tape with these instrumentals and left “Ode To The Ghetto” alone.]
- Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard
- Cidida x Eibol – Ludwig, Can You Hear Me?
- 2.25 hours of Béla Bartok (Brilliant. I’ve never been an expert on classical music, besides taking a few courses and listening passively. But my listening this month has really driven me to learn. Especially Bartok, I found his work incredible and I am now absolutely determined to find more.)
- Various Artists – 100 Masterpieces Vol. 1 (1685-1730)
- Carey – All We Grow
- Beach House – Teen Grow (Some really catchy parts, Zebra is a great single. But incredibly inconsistent as far as genre is concerned. Partial shoegaze feel is completely and almost immediately abandoned. Unfortunate, because I found this to be the group’s strongpoint
- Sun Kil Moon – April
- Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway (definitely my favourite of the two so far)
- Santigold – Santogold (This album has received its fair share of hype over the years, and so I felt I needed to check it out before listening to her newest release Master of My Make-Believe which leaked over the weekend. I must say that I liked it, but softly so – it didn’t blow me away. I find it such a trend with dance music albums to structure the entire release in support of a few stand out singles – in this case “L.E.S. Artistes,” “Creator,” and “You’ll Find a Way.” The groove was there, but none of the visceral experience that would draw these songs above and beyond, especially in a live performance).
- Santigold – Maker of My Make-Believe (I’m just counting down the days until this is released to the public. “Look At These Hoes” and “Big Mouth” are catchy and in your face enough to become radio hits. This album is definitely more pleblian than the last, but also more hard-hitting. I really think that Santigold owes a large thank you to M.I.A.)
- Various Artists – 100 Masterpieces Vol. 1 [1685-1730] (A little disappointed by the lack of artist diversity – 2 Vivaldi, 5 Bach in a 10 song compilation, but interesting nonetheless)
- Various Artists – 100 Masterpieces Vol. 2 [1731-1775]
- BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG2 (Even better than their first album, which is a difficult feat)
- Major Organ and the Adding Machine – Major Organ and the Adding Machine (Insane sounds, frantic assemblage, and goofy approach. Great musicians, a very stimulating album. I can guarantee you’ve never heard anything like this before. You may be repelled by the initial grating of the sounds, but those who stick around will find that it resolves.)
- Jack White – Blunderbuss (A lot more personal than is the norm for Jack White, but it’s also his first album alone. He’s Jack White. It’s good. His music always is. This album is so satisfying. It’s syrupy sweet but filled with grit and gravel).