Strand of Oaks’ album ‘Heal’ was easily one of the best records this year. I just came across this video from 88.1 – a very rad radio station in my hometown of Toronto. Such a beautiful performance. They have a ton of other really great sessions including Lucius and Mac Demarco. Check ‘em out here.
In many ways, 2014 has been one of the most significant years of my life. I survived a polar vortex, published a zine of short stories with my best friend Andrea, travelled a ton, sat in a sweat lodge in the Redwoods, took a celestial sound bath in Joshua Tree, traced the entirety of Vancouver by bike with my homie Jeff, planned and put on a 23-city marketplace with Erin, left my job at Etsy and moved to LA to work for a creative agency called Sew, [MOVED TO LA YOU GUYS], ate at El Pollo Loco for the first time, bought my first car, reunited with my Invisible Children fam, saw Angel Olsen play too many times to count.
So it seems especially poignant to wrap up this year by paying homage to some of the albums that got me through 2014. I recognize that I may very well just be adding to the noise as most of these albums are already on every best of list this year, but these were the albums that I actually listened to this year. I listed my 10 favorites (and 24 very honorable mentions). The conclusion is that the following albums make me out to be some kind of severely depressed human being but I assure you – I’m not! I’m just a super chill girl that likes super chill music.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Goddamnit. This record. I’m conflicted because Mark Kozelek deserves no more recognition than he has drummed up for himself this year for his unfounded/immature attack on the War on Drugs – but it felt worthy to mention this record if only for the way it made me feel this winter, as I waited for the 43 bus on Keele st. with wretched winds burning my face and slush seeping into my socks. Sometimes when you’re low, you just want to go even lower and swim in it. Listening to Carissa on a dreary morning seems cruel and unnecessarily demoralizing but I did it and I listened often. I revisited the horror of Newtown, the gruesome deaths of his family members, the legend of Jim Wise and Panera Bread. Most all songs are set in rural Ohio, which only made it feel more oppressive, like a portrait of family dysfunction and human dysfunction – and somewhere inside of all of it, I took comfort. It felt like listening to stories from a friend, however bleak, it felt real.
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
I remember listening to Strange Cacti a few years ago and thinking – I don’t know her but she seems like a kindred spirit. Someone who vibrates on another plane, someone in tune with the Universe. Burn Your Fire affirmed that knowing in me. I saw her sold out show at the El Rey a few weeks ago and the whole room got it. A certain reverence, a moment of pause. In her music, Angel Olsen honors a sense of seclusion – a quiet place in your own mind. She commands it. Listen to Dance Slow Decades and you’ll hear a soul from a bygone era – you’ll hear a heart in need of reprieve. Someone who feels so much at once. I am truly happy that Angel Olsen exists at the same time in history as me, she’s our Anais Nin, our Sylvia Plath, our Nina Simone.
Amen Dunes – Love
This record was my pick for the Hypem year-end Zeitgeist and for good reason. It haunted me. It still gives me the chills when I listen to it. It’s intense and pulsing and tender and sensual all at once. It’s some kind of love. But what’s striking is the minimalism and the repetition – the endless strumming, the cyclical warble, it feels trance-like, calming. It’s riding my bike at night in late August on Bloor st. It’s listening to the lyrics ‘today my love is gone’ and knowing exactly what that means.
Wye Oak – Shriek
In Before, Wagner begins with This morning/I woke up on the floor/Thinking I have never dreamed before/ And in the afternoon/ The nagging thought/ That I have never lived or else forgot. What a fucking heavy way to start a record. Shriek obliterated all of my expectations for Wye Oak’s new chapter as a band. Jenn Wasner’s voice is so uniquely strong in a way I think most people don’t fully understand. Her range is unbelievable, her lyrics are absolutely crushing and poetic. Shriek was a massive departure from Civilian and their signature sound but it only served to strengthen my love of Wye Oak. It’s not easy to produce an entirely new sound and retain the essence of what you’ve built, but Shriek is proof that Wye Oak is capable of anything – able to exist in nearly any genre and make it’s mark there. The choice to trade in synth for guitars made for a more atmospheric, dreamier record – it makes me want to simultaneously dance and cry at the same time and for that, I thank Wye Oak.
Blake Mills – Heigh Ho
The truth is, if Blake Mills decided to put out a metal album, I would love it. If he decided to do spoken word, I would accept that as apart of his journey as a human being. Thankfully, his follow-up to Break Mirrors was stunning in all of the ways I hoped it would be. Heigh Ho felt so fully realized, Blake Mills understands who he is as an artist and what he wants to say. His virtuosity as a guitarist can overshadow what I believe to be the real foundation of his talent – his songwriting. He can be so deeply intimate, witty, poignant. His standout track – If I’m Unworthy is so steady, so hushed at first and then it explodes into this sprawling cinematic moment and you think, what the fuck, could this possibly be the most moving song I have ever heard? And you would be correct.
Mac Demarco – Salad Days
In my mind, my most chillest self would be the human version of this record. I would just prance around singing, “la la la la la” and sleep in a hammock in a perpetual sun drenched state of delirium. Despite my penchant for horribly depressing music, Salad Days offers a necessary reprieve, because every time I put it on I well up with a sense of joy and feel as if I’m always on the verge of laughing because I can’t take Mac Demarco seriously, I just assume he’s letting us all in on a joke, even though some of his lyrics are incredibly thoughtful and endearing, “treat her better boy”. I kind of resent that fact that nearly every review of this record has categorized it as ‘slacker-rock’, Mac Demarco is 23 and makes me feel like I’ve wasted my entire life.
Poliça – Shulamith
Shulamith pays homage to radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, which is pretty much the most badass name for a record. And with tracks like ‘Chain My Name’ and ‘Very Cruel’ you can feel the angst and the tension she feels with being a woman. But there is a beautiful kind of strength to it – in tracks like ‘I Need $’ she sings, “I don’t need a man, all that he does I can, I can”. PREACH. Or in So Leave where she sings, “I don’t like when you tell the boys that I’m your girl… it’s me and my girls”. It feels like my life anthem. Channy is my metaphorical girlfriend who tells me how she don’t need no man.
Cousins – The Halls of Wickwire
Is it weird to include an entire album specifically for one song? I did really love this whole album, but that song Oceans. Man, if I ever feel like getting super pumped up, I will just put on that song. I love the lines, “What you are is as big and deep as the ocean, with colours rich as the oceans, crawling true like the ocean, with arms as strong as the ocean, determined as the ocean and patient as the ocean, come back to the ocean.” It feels redemptive in a fuck yeah kind of way. Their label describes it as, “This is a sound set loose, rolling down hill in a shopping cart, at once full of confidence, excitement, dread, and anticipation.” Exactly. Exactly.
Julie Byrne – Rooms with Walls and Windows
Julie Byrne requires the same reverence as an Angel Olsen – but is distinctly her own brand of folk. Her intricate finger picking and hushed vocals makes me feel like she is nursing a baby bird back to health. Like she has those kinds of powers, like she’s the kind of girl with crystals that aren’t just decorative. Like she’d take care of you, even if she were a guest in your own home she would know where you put your silverware and mixing bowls and she’d make you a meal. And you’d let her. She lives in this duality of maternal and wanderer – a need to nest in tension with a need to explore, the result is Rooms with Walls and Windows. A perfectly unsettled sound of a woman whose only home is her own voice.
Songs Ohia – Didn’t It Rain (Reissue)
Listening to Didn’t it Rain feels like revisiting an old friend. It unearths old sadness inside of me I thought was gone. I’m often careful not to draw conclusions, make connections or piece together clues for Jason Molina’s passing in his music, however difficult. In Blue Chicago Moon he sings, “you will come face to face with that darkness and desolation and the endless endless endless endless endless endless depression” and you think, how does a person get so low? What happens/ed? What is happening? What unravels in the spirit that brings someone here? Then he sings, “you are not helpless” and you know that empathy only comes from what’s familiar. You know he knows what he’s talking about, that he’s been there, he can relate. It feels important to revisit it, not to dwell too long in it but to savor it in pieces and songs so not to forget.
ALSO, THESE RECORDS TOO, VERY MUCH SO.
Saintseneca – Dark Arc
Quilt – Held in Splendor
Strand of Oaks – Heal
Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy
Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
Woods – With Light and With Love
Juan Wauters – N.A.P North American Poetry
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun
Ricky Eat Acid – Three Love Songs
Celestial Shore – Enter Ghost
Broncho – Just Hip Enough to Be Woman
Ballet School – The Dew Lasts an Hour
TOPS – Picture You Staring
Ty Segall – Manipulator
Real Estate – Atlas
Swans – To Be Kind
The Wooden Sky – Let’s Be Ready
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
Alvvays - Alvvays
Daniel Bachman – Orange Co. Serenade
Pure X – Angel
White Lung – Deep Fantasy
Kevin Morby – Still Life
I just started getting into Spotify and I can’t quite figure out how to embed a playlist but go here to listen to my Best of 2014 mix.
In the time since my last post, I moved to LA, got a new job, car and apartment. So as a general response to all of the emails asking where I went, I’ve just been epicly busy starting a new life and haven’t had the time to get into music stuff. But I just got spotify and it’s kind of changing my life. I’ll start posting spotify playlists once I figure out how to make my super embarrassing work out mixes PRIVATE.
I caught wind of the new Angel Olsen because I have been patiently awaiting her deluxe edition with extra bonus songs. I have been sitting here in my room, devastated by the song ‘May As Well’ among others. Check it out, along with the video above for Windows.
I discovered Banta through meeting Sharaya Mikael – the frontwoman and songwriter for the band, who, after a few days in the Joshua Tree desert and plenty of shared meals has become a good friend of mine. I remember getting to watch her perform for the first time at Pappy and Harriets after being peer pressured into playing a few songs. She had this ability to illuminate the room, and everyone felt it. It was one of those moments where you felt like you were watching someone who was about to break, like we’d all be looking back on that moment after she’d made it big (whatever that means these days). She’s easily one of the strongest vocalists I’ve ever come across, she sings seemingly without effort or strain – her voice can carry across a room and dance acrobatically across a melody. It gives me the chills. If you want to hear more of her stuff, go here.
Banta are set to play the coveted School Night curated by KCRW’s Chris Douridas on November 3rd, you can find out more info here.
Watch the video below filmed by my friend Kenny Laubbacher, set in the Bronson Caves – the site of the original Bat Cave. It features fiery-haired Banta bandmate – Kristin Hardin. I like how the video plays with shadows, gives a sort of mysterious witchy vibe (or maybe I am just getting a Stevie Nicks vibe in general, that’s probably more accurate).
New video for Outside from Montreal’s TOPS.
I know exactly where this photo was taken because I used to live around the corner, years ago, when I came back to Toronto after spending the previous four years in Southern California. I was living at a friend’s loft down the street on Sorauren and the Fall was making itself known to me for the first time in a long time. I walked passed that mystery restaurant every morning to get coffee and I wondered whether anyone without some kind of previous affiliation or secret password had ever walked through their door in need of income tax services and a “hot food sandwich”.
Back then I would have been listening to The Wooden Sky’s “If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone” which I thought was a poignant album title for that period of my life of constant coming and going. The Wooden Sky recently released “Let’s Be Ready” and I haven’t listened to much else since I purchased it last week. I don’t live too far away from that street corner, but I’m a world away from that time in my life and I could easily apply the same parallels to the evolution of The Wooden Sky. They’ve maintained a style that is so uniquely their own, but their songwriting has grown more confident, more inspired, more fully-realized than the records before it. Not surprisingly then, the album itself coincides with the launch of the band’s new boutique label, Chelsea Records.
Standout tracks include, “Saturday Night”, “Don’t You Worry About A Thing”, and “Maybe It’s No Secret” among others. There’s a certain kind of soul in Gardiner’s vocals that warble and drawl – it can be both tender and animated, as it narrates stories that touch heavily on feelings of displacement/life on the road, loneliness, love, getting older. In fact, the lyrics are actually quite melancholy, but the rhythm and guitar seems almost manic in comparison. Maybe it’s because there’s such a lack of these kinds of high energy, aggressively guitar-driven albums in my musical rotation these days that I crave it. There’s an intensity to it that feels cathartic and redemptive as a listener.
I’d been meaning to write about this ever since it began in July. Dave Bazan has been releasing two new tracks each month for five months and the result is some of his best songs to date. This month features tracks: With You and Little Landslides, On With You, he’s resurrecting an electronic beat reminiscent of his Headphones days, but with more complex layering. Bazan rarely writes love songs but with these, he reveals a certain vulnerability – a darkness that only he can bring into what would be considered a love song, “self-loathing, paranoia, jet lag, alcohol, bad dreams, long-distance calls” a laundry list of woes experienced on the road while maintaing a relationship. In Little Landslides he examines his internal landscape, “another young man tells his story before his heart is even broken one time, like a standup who forgets his punchline” suggests that Bazan’s heart seen and endured heartache, he becomes an authority on the matter, like a rite of passage that must be experienced to be written of.
Another standout from the series include Sparkling Water, it’s one of those Bazan’s songs that evokes such melancholy, something about the simplicity of his repetition, “you know, I don’t” and all of the alienating experiences of being in a man’s or woman’s body, trying to relate or connect or occupy the same space. Something that feels impossible and only invites a feeling of loneliness.
A tension pervades the series, as he laments on the human experience as it relates to other, being in relationship and one’s own understanding of being alone. His style of songwriting has graduated from pointing the finger at religious hypocrisy and oppression on more of a societal level – to an exploration of the human psyche in a way that feels tender, forgiving and human. You can buy the entire series here.