We’re back again and this year going straight for the heavy hitters. Amongst our 10 favourite albums of the past year you’ll find American rap finding a new voice and hitting its poetic stride, both timeless and timely mini-symphonies, stripped-back and emotive electronic albums from England and Australia, and your required dosage of slacker rock. Without further ado, please enjoy Ca Va Cool’s best albums of 2015.
10. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
At Pitchfork Festival this past summer, after torrential downpour followed by inhumane sun, Kurt Vile attempted to reclaim the mood from a harried audience. Despite an equipment malfunction, he still took time to greet his audience down in the muck, shaking hands and sharing smokes. It’s this personal appeal that fills his newest, most accessible record, b’lieve i’m goin down. On standout track, “Pretty Pimpin”, Vile rides a cascading guitar riff and speaks of his inability to recognize himself in the mirror and his detachment from the world around him, as swirling keyboards contemplate his panting vocals. Despite this emotional jumping off point, “Kidding Around” then talks about the meaninglessness of his lyrics and the importance of the “sound of the song.” True, his guitars twang and echo through the ambient heartland Vile has cultivated over his career, but his stinging sentiments about his place in the world are impossible to ignore. Despite his protests (or relentless rain), we can’t help but “care about the meaning of [his] songs”; Kurt Vile is here at his most affective and personal. — Anthony Boire
YouTube: Kurt Vile – Pretty Pimpin
My generation has trouble focusing. This includes me. I’ve been struggling to write this first paragraph for half an hour, and would be lying to you if I claimed to have been working on it the whole time without going on Facebook (twice) and checking my phone. To put it bluntly, our lives are bombarded by way too many distractions and our attention spans crumble. We prefer to receive our news in the form of 140-character updates and lose interest in doing something if it requires a little more effort than we’re willing to put in. Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. Regardless, this is the current state of my generation. We are overloaded on information, but lacking in depth and detail.
On ADDled, Toronto-based rapper and producer A-Merk captures this hyperactive zeitgeist with a surprising amount of accuracy and self-awareness. Like his (and my) generation, ADDled intentionally darts from one subject to another, failing to establish any sort of focus. On “Introducing the ADDled”, A-Merk alludes to the difficulties of paying attention and various addictions. He expresses his frustration with cops, racism, and society on “Shredder”. And on “Sharks in the Grass” he warns of freeloading, backstabbing high school kids. It’s clear that A-Merk genuinely cares about these topics, but like his generational peers he is unable to concentrate on only one.
Eventually, his inability to pin down his thoughts becomes overwhelming and A-Merk needs to escape, choosing to do so through drug use. The effects of the drugs are felt throughout the album as the tracks become progressively slower and trippier, especially on the latter half where songs like “Lost in the Waves” degenerate into formless, chaotic soundscapes. A-Merk frequently ponders the legitimacy of the supposed freedom he has achieved through drug use, as well as the possibility that his addiction gives rise to multiple personalities. A-Merk, or at least the character on this album, is deliberately confused and insecure about the person he is.
You’ve read the first half of our best albums of the year, but in the final hours of 2014, we’ll be listening to the music that really gets us going. This past year that meant Scandinavians of both the funky and bleak variety, an existential stoner from Montreal, and an aging punk with dance moves made for broadcast television. There were modern classic albums of sumptuous techno minimalism and the Philadelphia power chords that soundtracked the year. But it was a Canadian indie stalwart who after a decade of fine releases has finally, truly come in to his own – getting points from every one of our writers and solidly becoming Ca Va Cool’s best album of 2014.
10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
For a short while, Montreal’s Ought have burnt brightly, if a little coldly. On their previous EP New Calm, they sounded like a strained David Byrne backed by Joy Division. Now, shouting life-affirming mantras like, “Today more than any other day I am excited to go grocery shopping!” seems be a staple of Ought’s music. With their uplifting LP debut More Than Any Other Day, Ought firmly cement themselves as a positively unmissable act. Throughout both of their latest Toronto shows, Tim Beeler, who commits his talent to guitar and vocals, flailed and shimmied his way through their rhythmic and hypnotic set. Ought affirms that they are, as they put it, a “Habit”, and their frantic energy is palpable in each note and groove they bring on More Than Any Other Day. — Anthony Boire
It’s no secret that Ca Va Cool has been relaxing a bit this year, but we’re still listening to the albums and going to the shows; we’ll probably be doing that for life. As the end of year approaches, we realized we couldn’t just sit back and keep our favourite albums and verbose explanations to ourselves. So today, we’ve got a blogger reunion of sorts, 8 CVC writers pick their favourite albums of 2014. Before we get to the heavy hitters later this week in our top 10, today we have the bottom half of the list, which is as eclectic a mix as ever.
20. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait
Vince Staples is not a concealed weapon. His menace to society attitude has always been present in his music and on Hell Can Wait he raps with his guns drawn, referring to himself as “gangsta god”. Hell Can Wait constantly reminds us that simply living day to day is a feat in an environment deeply influenced by gang culture. The future is bleak, jobs are scarce, but there are ways to earn and provide. Staples refuses to talk about diamonds in his ear or rims on his car. He raps about cheating death and avoiding the LAPD at all costs. Let it be known, Staples is no godsend. But after a slew of hit or miss mixtapes, he has finally found his groove with a team of good producers that have created the next chapter in true West Coast gangsta rap. A special nod goes to Toronto producer Hagler, the beat behind “Screen Door”, “Limos”, and the hypnotic single “Blue Suede”. Hell Can Wait is not pretty, it’s a beautifully ugly EP from a rapper who is deathly serious about his music. — Alec Ross
MC Ride, Flatlander and Zach Hill wished us a very Merry Christmas in their usual, gritty-as-sandpaper-against-your-eardrums Death Grips way. Of course, this means that hip hop’s most instantly recognizable sound returned as a total surprise, screaming and clanging its way into the world, begging to be heard within minutes of the release of Government Plates on November 13, 2013. Death Grips seemingly exist in a hellish void, absent from any easily recognizable influences or contemporaries. Government Plates reaches extremes and pulls it off with aplomb. Assaultive rhythms and wrathful vocals inflict maximum damage, whilst its “softer” tracks run frantic circles around the eardrums at light speed.
Government Plates opens with, “You may think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat.” Dylan references aside, Death Grips plunges straight into familiar territory, “My entrance, hijacked no questions asked, stretch you on like latex mask.” The stream of consciousness darkness of MC Ride is business as usual here, remaining as powerful as ever. Flatlander threatens to swallow everything around him with alternately buzzing and biting synthesizers. This is the Death Grips formula working exactly as it should. Later, “This Is Violence Now” chops up every distinguishable sound into a soup of noise before slimming it down to bare bones in the middle of the track. Between Flatlander and Zach Hill’s performances here, the song evokes the image of Aphex Twin playing in a ’90s London nightclub.
“Birds”, the track the band released in August 2013, returns he re, unchanged. Tinny, chainsaw synths and simple percussion underscore MC Ride’s strangely circular, childlike lyrics. It is perhaps the most vulnerable we will see Death Grips. Truthfully, how much more direct can one be than, “I’ve got a bluebird, it might die, it got wetted, I stayed dry”? The track alternates between ear-splitting insect synths with MC Ride’s roar, and twinkling tones with a pleading, unstable toddler. This experiment in extreme duality within a track is a success here, where the softer sections are not tedious, as tension builds waiting for the signature MC Ride explosion.
Tags: Death Grips