Photograph by Anna M. Campbell

As Ca Va Cool concludes its fifth year and the arbitrary music-ranking period of 2011 comes to a close, the gang assembled (virtually) once again to bring you our twenty favourite albums of the year. The bottom half of our list features riot grrrls old and new, an R&B resurrection, and, interestingly, most of the Philadelphia rock scene. Stay tuned for the conclusion of our list with the ten best albums of 2011, when we get around to it.

20. The Rural Alberta Advantage Departing

Arriving in the dead of winter early this year, Departing lived up to high expectations by not really departing at all from the rock ‘n’ nostalgia formula that powered the Rural Alberta Advantage’s 2009 debut Hometowns. A new batch of crafty songs from Nils Edenloff continues to blur the line between homesickness and heartbreak; Paul Banwatt’s manic beats continue to provide the gasoline. Feeling more and more comfortable in their shoes as a dedicated three-piece ensemble, Edenloff, Banwatt, and keyboardist Amy Cole focus on what they’re best at: compelling, unpretentious indie-folk drawn through the emotional mesh of all that we must leave behind. Plus some kickass drums. — Josh Penslar

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— , December 19, 2011    1 Comment

Photograph by Alex Southam

I Break Horses are Swedish duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, who, as the story goes, met online while both were visiting a medical site catering to hypochondriacs. The two were able to connect and decided to put their worries into music. The resulting catharsis is Hearts. Finding themselves labelmates with Fleet Foxes and Explosions in the Sky on Bella Union, I suspect they feel pretty good right about now.

The first two singles ‘Hearts’ and ‘Winter Beats’ have been available for some time, and being a devout follower of all things shoegaze (typically the floppy haired guitar variety), these offerings had me excited for things to come, even if the noise I Break Horses generates is created electronically. These songs gently layer into an astonishing and repetitive, beautiful sound, with the vocals softly adding to the atmosphere.

Although there are some obvious older guitar-based influences, most notably My Bloody Valentine with Loveless and Ride with Nowhere, I Break Horses still come off sounding fresh and relevant. The comparison with M83 has been made, but I would argue that this material could rival anything Anthony Gonzalez has to offer, especially as he seems to have progressed little since Saturdays = Youth with his latest single.

Hearts as a whole doesn’t sound like the first two singles, but overall the remaining seven songs tend to take on the same formula, shifting and progressing slowly. ‘Wired’ deconstructs itself and becomes somewhat foggy and unrecognizable near the end, while ‘Pulse’ utilizes hazy vocals that swell with beautiful harmonies. I never thought I would use the word ethereal to describe a song entitled ‘Cancer’, but somehow I think this is what I Break Horses had in mind, perhaps trying to understand something that they have both professed to fear greatly. And while the album as a whole could hardly be described as positive, the finale ‘No Way Outro’ certainly ends with a triumphant drum roll.

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— , August 28, 2011    3 Comments