You’ve probably digested quite a few end of year countdowns in the week since we published the first half of our list. You may have seen your tastes reflected in the selections, found some good recommendations, and are now playing catch-up and cramming twelve months of music into your holiday break; but through it all, you just kept wondering what your favourite music blog had to say. Well today that wait is over; lo and behold the 10 favourite albums of the year according to your trusted Ca Va Cool writers. There’s a lot of diversity to the list this year, from bedroom experiments to state of the art studio productions, a Chicago rapper with the weight of the world on his shoulders to a Philadelphia rocker who knows how to chill out, and in the end, a longtime Ca Va Cool favourite deserved the most spins this year. As always, feel free to leave us a comment to tell us where we got it right/wrong and see you in 2014.
10. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
It’s hard not to get lost in Julianna Barwick’s music. Nepenthe is a soundtrack for the heavens, a consuming experience built on simple yet moving instrumentation and layered, reverb-soaked vocals. Barwick finds a way to expand her sound from previous release The Magic Place, incorporating strings, piano, and even a girls’ choir, in addition to her trademark bedroom tape-loop experiments. This makes for an angelic listen, yet there is something undeniably human about Nepenthe. When I hear this record I think of the cold, sprawling tundra, and how truly beautiful it is. I think of open fields and cosmic worlds. This record liberates me from my typical day and takes me on an ethereal journey as I leave everything behind. It makes me dream. That Julianna named this album after a drug, and more specifically the drug of forgetfulness, seems quite fitting. I’m not one to pressure my peers, but try Nepenthe. I think you’ll like it. — Sahil Parikh
Once a year, the Ca Va Cool writing team packs their favourite records from the past twelve months into the trunk of the car and journeys to an unassuming silo somewhere in the Ontario countryside to duke it out.* Today, we emerge from this lost weekend with a consensus: our twenty best albums of 2013. With 10 writers contributing to the list, the bottom half is as eclectic as ever; from rap veterans to young folk songstresses, noisy British debuts to even noisier British follow-ups 20 years in the making, Ca Va Cool heroes of studio and stage developing their sound to breakout bands to look out for, and yes, even Danny Brown. Listening to the entire album is always ideal, but we’ve included links to our top tracks to enjoy as you read. Check back later this week for the conclusion of our list.
*It’s 2013, people; we just argued in a Facebook thread.
20. Run the Jewels
Considering it only took a year for El-P and Killer Mike to release another collaboration following the latter’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music, it’s hard to be surprised by the potency of this free 33 minute digital release. Really, all they needed to solidify their newfound friendship and undeniable chemistry was a name – Run the Jewels. It’s the mutual respect and admiration these two have for one another that has them consistently delivering such fluid and often staggering jabs. Mike bluntly declares how highly he thinks of El-P on second track “Banana Clipper”: “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year. I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck outta here.” Despite the unmistakeable fury that can be found on any release by either artist, the pleasure they tuck in with that cynicism has never been more evident than when the two share rap duties. With both underground veterans’ wit on display throughout, boosted by some extra playful brutality, Run the Jewels is an album that both Company Flow and early Killer Mike fanatics and new fans can enjoy. — Jay Winer
Every October, about two weeks after Thanksgiving, the city of Halifax transforms as 180 bands play in over 20 bars across five days for the Halifax Pop Explosion. You may wonder whether it’s practical for the city, as images of Coachella and Osheaga come to mind, but Halifax is home to the highest amount of bars per capita in Canada and the city is quite small, 262.65 square kilometres to be exact. Walking from bar to bar is an easy feat and there is even a free festival bus to get around the city. The Halifax Pop Explosion hosts a variety of events, including digital workshops and art markets during the day, and in the evenings the city is filled with music. Here is a first hand account of some shows with photos to entice you to visit Halifax next year.
The Zolas were a perfect start to the festival with their upbeat indie tunes. The Zolas epitomize the Canadian indie rock scene with sing-along melodies and some enthusiastic musicians, causing vivacious singing and dancing from the band and the crowd. They played in the intimate Gus’ Pub in the north end of Halifax, letting the crowd get within arms reach, and instigating Zachary Gray (vocals/guitar) to jump out into the crowd.
Bandcamp: The Zolas – Ancient Mars
As the dust of Canadian Music Week settles, Montreal’s unique brand of shoegaze and psychedelia departs town in the form of Suuns. Releasing their first LP, Zeroes QC, back in 2011, they’ve been looked to for an equally eclectic mix of electronic and rock sounds in their follow-up. On March 4, Suuns released Images du Futur, their most accomplished effort, produced by Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes. With a spray of noise rock laid out across their expanse of hypnotic rhythms and murky vocals, Suuns remained a band capable of keeping control of their sound, no matter how chaotic, in forming one of the critical Canadian releases this year.
I managed to catch up with Joseph Yarmush, Suuns’ guitarist, as he navigated the frantic streets of Montreal, before heading to Toronto. He discussed the nature of the band’s unique sound, enlightened me on some of the noises sprawled across the new album, and recalled the story of the band’s harrowing encounter in the Portugal club scene.
Anthony Boire: Coming into Images du Futur after Zeroes QC, how did you change your songwriting?
Joe Yarmush: A little bit, I guess. I think it all just got a little bit better. All those songs [on Zeroes QC], they were kind of roadtested, before we had recorded them. So we had been playing them a lot live. So we kind of knew them inside and out. With Images, we basically started from scratch. We recorded a bunch of songs that had never been played live. It’s just a different thing. You’re not really sure, what will work, and what won’t. It’s tiring, because you’re just in there for hours making sure everything sounds the way you want it to.
Anthony: How did you come up with the riff in “2020”? It’s got some noise elements but somehow definitely gets stuck in your head.
Joe: That one wasn’t me, but if you’re just playing one note on the bass you’re pretty free to do anything. [Laughs] I mean, I was doing a lot of slide. Like on “Pie IX”, live I always used a slide even though on the album we didn’t. Originally it was called “Son of Pie IX”, I think. That was the working title [for “2020”].
The conclusion of Ca Va Cool’s best albums of 2012 picks up where the first half left off, featuring old favourites and brave new sounds side by side: indie pop sits next to a “post-internet” patchwork sound; thematically-advancing hip-hop sidles up to our beloved indie rock. Without further ado, here are our writers’ ten favourite albums of the past year.
10. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
How could anybody break up with Jens Lekman? Unfathomable as it may be, the Swedish songwriter is no stranger to frank relationship-ending songs; ‘I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You’ from his 2007 orchestral pop magnum opus Night Falls Over Kortedala could be seen as a prequel to this year’s ‘She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore’. On the former, he seemed to be trying his hand at a long tradition of breakup pop songs (from ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do’ to ‘A Case of You’; from ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to ‘Ms. Jackson’), whereas now you can tell he has experienced heartbreak firsthand. I Know What Love Isn’t never wavers from its main theme as the stages of recovery play in chronological order: the difficulty in forgetting on ‘Every Little Hair Knows Your Name’, the sadness of imagining his lover with another on ‘Become Someone Else’s’, and after some time, a joyous moving on during the title track. This sad bastard music doesn’t sound like a particularly fun way to spend 38 minutes, but with the sincerity, warmth, and goofball humour that have always characterized Lekman’s music, he delivers an album that’s insightful, upliftingly melodic, and ironically, hilarious at points. In the end, he may have learned what love isn’t, but he hasn’t given up on love, because, well, he’s Jens Lekman. — Daniel Hernandez