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Staff Picks: Best Songs, Albums And Concerts Of 2012

By: Calum Slingerland

1.  Rush – Clockwork Angels

What more is there to say about the mighty Toronto trio? Releasing their nineteenth studio album, Clockwork Angels, to great fanfare and critical acclaim this past summer, Rush has given the public their most focused, powerful effort in years. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are all on top of their instrumental game, carrying forward the progressive rock torch with professionalism and grace. It is truly a wonderful world if I can still live in a world where Rush can deliver quality material, no matter what their age.


2. Death Grips – The Money Store

Continuing to shock the world with their raw, energetic avant-garde hip-hop, Death Grips came, saw, and conquered with their major label debut The Money Store this past spring. From the skittering electronics in “Get Got”, the booty bass in “I’ve Seen Footage”, and the overbearing swagger of “Hustle Bones”, the record shows Death Grips cleaning up the production side of things while keeping that edginess that won over millions with their previous releases. The replay value of this one isn’t going down anytime soon.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

One of the highly anticipated hip-hop releases of the year, Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut certainly met, and perhaps even exceeded, everyone’s expectations. With many of the album’s tracks revolving around the concept of experiences from his life growing up in Compton, Lamar intelligently weaves his experiences into a story, which captivates the listener from beginning to end with his incredible lyrical flow and intelligent rhymes. A powerful, personal, and moving record, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City can easily be considered a future classic.


4. Deftones – Koi No Yokan

With Koi No Yokan, Deftones took the successful elements of 2010’s Diamond Eyes and elevated them to new heights, effectively creating a record that was a late climber to the top of my list. Treading the fine line between brutal and beautiful, the band fuses together genres in a way that only they can to create a wonderful finished product. From the delicate beauty of tracks such as “Entombed” and “Rosemary”, to the crushing, merciless heavy metal thunder of “Poltergeist” and “Goon Squad,” Koi No Yokan effectively covered the gamut in terms of everything I love in an album.


5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Frank Ocean’s major label debut was released this summer on the heels of him making headlines for announcing his bisexuality to the public. The album is a wonderful look inside the head of Odd Future’s crooner, resulting in a lyrically deep effort touching on themes of sex, drugs, and unrequited love. With a battery of influences at his disposal, Ocean offers up his best Stevie Wonder impression on “Sweet Life,” while channeling some funk-rock sounds on “Monks” to name a few. Wise beyond his years, Frank Ocean has essentially cemented himself as Odd Future’s most talented member with this release.


By: Curtis Sindrey

1. The Wooden Sky – Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun

Toronto natives The Wooden Sky’s Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun is an album that you must sit with and allow it to simmer within your consciousness to fully appreciate both the instrumental and lyrical complexities that exist within it. With tracks like “Bald, Naked and Red,” Your Fight Will Not Be Long,” and “City of Light,” you are engulfed in lead singer Gavin Gardiner’s hauntingly introspective lyrics and his often soft, textured and vulnerable tones. It’s a strong release for a band full of potential.


2. Evening Hymns – Spectral Dusk

With Evening Hymns’ (aka Jonas Bonnetta) album Spectral Dusk, it vividly describes a person who is reeling from the loss of a loved one, in this case Bonnetta’s father. But it deals with more than death, it also celebrates life and the things we take for granted within it. Bonnetta forces you to see past the sorrow and into a future that will become better with time. With tracks like “Family Tree,” “Arrows,” and the Mancini-inspired “Moon River,” Bonnetta takes you on a journey from losing a loved one and being overwhelmed with the darkness of grief, back into a world where there’s light, love and hope.


3. Dum Dum Girls – End Of Daze

With End Of Daze, California rockers Dum Dum Girls have outgrown their low-fi roots and instead opted for polished indie rock with new lyrical maturity. From topics like lead singer Dee Dee’s mother’s death from cancer which dives into an unapologetically sad valley, to closer “Season In Hell’ which captures their artistic peak and effectively illustrates have far Dee Dee and company have come since their debut LP I Will Be.


4. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who 

The third album from Minneapolis folk rockers Dark Dark Dark provides Regina Spektor- like vocals along with themes of communication breakdown, love and reconciliation, which, when stitched together display a portrait of the modern human condition.

Lead singer Nona Marie Invie bursts out of her shell and is fiercely confessional on this record, unlike on previous albums where she was restrictive with her feelings.

Ultimately, this is a very strong record from a band who can do more as a five-piece that what you’d think they were capable of and if you haven’t heard this album yet, it’s highly suggested you do.


5. Bloc Party – Four

With their first new album in nearly four years, Brit indie rockers Bloc Party returned with Four and they’ve rediscovered their musical legs and re-imagined their flair for graceful, thought-provoking, yet straightforward rock and roll. While Four lacks the emotional intensity as 2008’s Intimacy, lead singer Kele Okereke’s thoughtful lyrics, especially on tracks like “Coliseum” and “Real Talk” provide the bare bones honesty that today’s music inherently lacks.


 By: Stephen McGill

1. River City Extension – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger 

I spend a lot of my time trying to get people to listen to River City Extension, the New Jersey band has yet to really break out in Canada. This album was proof to me that it was not time wasted, from front to back this album is peerless. From the slower numbers like opener “Glastonbury” to the up-tempo tracks like “Down, Down, Down” and “Point of Surrender” there is not a misstep on this album. Do yourself a favor and buy this album, then tell your friends, and give some credit to one of the best new bands out there.


2. Shearwater – Animal Joy

Somehow I’d never listened to Shearwater before I heard this album, while I knew of them through my love of Okkervil River and their frontman Will Sheff’s one time involvement in Shearwater, I’d never given them a listen. This album changed that fast, it explodes out of the gate and does not stop until it’s done, anchored largely around singer Jonathan Meiburg’s massive, soaring vocals it is a sweeping masterpiece of an album, and the tracks are even better when experienced live.


3. Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion 

Al Spx, or Cold Specks as she’s known for this album, is without a doubt one of the most impressive acts to come out of Toronto in a long time. The best descripton I can come up with for this album would be Dark Soul, her powerful voice echoes across the beautiful musical landscape she creates here. This album presents a dark version of Toronto, one that feels devoid of life, and it’s this persevering theme, and ambience, that elevates this album above the rest. She is a treasure to this city, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.


4. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Blunderbuss is the Jack White album that everybody has been waiting for since the collapse of The White Stripes, despite forays with The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, those were shared projects, influenced by others. This album highlights everything that people who love Jack White are looking for, and while those who have no patience for White are unlikely to be converted by this. Tracks like “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption,” kick off the album and it’s quite the ride to the end.


5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

It’s a new Godspeed You! Black Emperor record, honestly that’s all I need to write here. The Montreal collective is responsible for one of the greatest Canadian albums of all time, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. This album does not disappoint as a comeback, it contains more of the grandiose post-rock excellence that has made this band into the legend it is today.  The highs and lows of this album are filled with feeling, and as a listener you can’t help but be swept up into the musical landscape of this record.


By: Alex Lee

1. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes

Melding his fervour for experimental hip-hop beats and glitch-pop, the Los Angeles producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, is a force on this album. It’s a tour de force of euphoric, digital melodies that at times trades in traditional sounds for sheer experimentation. While that may make the album out to be semi-formed, it is often executed brilliantly, layering mystical atmospheres and dreamy textures to fuel his avant-electronica art.


2. Beach House – Bloom

Bloom sees the dreampop duo sounding much more accessible and to-the-point, all the while keeping alignment to the little details that have made their sound so distinctive. The majority of the album sparkles with guitarist Alex Scally’s beautifully crafted guitar lines that walk hand-in-hand with Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals. As audibly beautiful as it is, the album is also a creative push-forward for the duo as well. Building on the sound that they have curated, Bloom continues from where they left off in their last studio effort, Teen Dream. The results bring us the Beach House that we have come to know, but with much more refined sensibilities and added confidence.


3. Grimes – Visions

Should Grimes’ previous efforts have vindicated her of all artistic doubt, the Canadian singer’s third studio effort, Visions, sets in stone the fact that she is indeed here to stay. With hypnotic vocals backed by twisted synths and complex beats, the album is bewitching, showcasing the singer’s effortless ability to shift tonal landscapes. She’s ever-changing, refusing to stay restricted to one stylistic concept.

Her sound is incredibly difficult to pin down, but that’s one of the many reasons that make Visions such a fantastic record. It’s always accessible, showcasing its remarkable back catalogue of different genres to deliver a kaleidoscope of rich, hook-heavy electropop.


4. The xx – Coexist

Coexist isn’t necessarily an alteration to the indie-pop trio’s sound. Rather, it’s more of a refinement. The 11-track album further perfects the band’s atmosphere-driven sound, using the minimal methodology to make even bigger strokes than ever before.

Producer and band member Jamie xx is able to magnify the chemistry between vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, deepening the band’s sound without seeming forced or contrived. The fragile beats and the delicacy found on their debut is explored even further, and with added emotive palettes to enrich their heart-felt lyrics, Coexist is unfailingly beautiful, breathing new life into the band’s core sound.


5. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

It seems like the media has all too much to say about miss Lana Del Rey, but none of it should detract from the fact that her debut album, Born to Die, is breathtaking. Sonically, it is heavily fixated on one creative concept, yet the lack of stylistic exploration more or less sets in stone the album’s cohesive and engaging sound. While that concise conceptual blueprint is made blatant in the stretch of 12 songs, the repetitive production and over-used details become tiring about seven tracks in. Despite its complete disposition in being one-dimensional, there’s something effortlessly captivating about these songs. Whether it’s her faux-vintage shtick or the deep, hypnotic voice, Born to Die is one of the most interesting indie-pop releases of the year.


 By: Adam Harrison 

1. Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon

What a delight this was. After an impressive debut in 2010, this little band from Northern Ireland has really grown quickly and treated us to some of the most catchiest and danceable electropop, indie rock songs of the year. The soothing vocals along with quick rhythm guitar and keyboards will have you dancing and singing along to every song on Beacon. You’ll enjoy listening to this album with friends at a party, on a road trip or even just working at home. I can’t wait to see what TDCC will produce next.


2. Muse – The 2nd Law

Arguably the most unique and experimental band in rock these days, Muse is always presenting us with something new. The 2nd Law is certainly no different… actually it’s very different. This trio from England has set out to prove that all music can be made without the use of computers. This rock album includes elements of R&B, funk and even dub step all using only their instruments. Although not their best album overall, The 2nd Law is still one of the best of the year.


3. Metric – Synthetica

After Fantasies spread Metric past the Canadian market in 2009, they’ve returned with a very solid follow up. It’s an album about differentiating what is real from what is artificial. It’s got an almost eerie kind of feel to it. Emily Haines grabs you with her provocative vocals from the very first track and your enticed until the very end.


4. Big Wreck – Albatross

Big Wreck, who got their start in Canada back in 1997 with “That Song,” has returned with their first album in 11 years. Ian Thornley and his exact same band released two other albums during the hiatus under the name Thornley. What a way to bring back a band everyone had forgotten, with an album so consistent, each song will get stuck in your head for days.


5. Billy Talent – Dead Silence

Billy Talent is consistent in releasing a new album every three years. This time it’s their first non-self titled album. What had become a bit of tired formula by Billy Talent III has now had a refreshing revitalization. Dead Silence is the most raw & fullest album since their first in 2003. Back-to-back catchy punk tunes from cover to cover. Welcome back Billy – make Canada proud!


Honorable Mentions: Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit, Handwritten – The Gaslight Anthem, The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Best concerts of 2012

By: Kayla-Jane Barrie

1. The Descendants
Fort York, Toronto
September 9, 2012

This show is a clear reminder that I was born in the wrong generation. Descendants have been playing music since 1978 and I grew up listening to these guys and I never thought I would be able to see them rock the stage in my hometown. My dream came true in September and they sounded bloody incredible. Lead singer, Milo Aukerman, was in tune with every aspect of his band’s guitar solos and drum beats. They started their set with the all-time classic, “Everything Sux” and ended on a high note with, “Catalina.” If these guys played the show they did in their 40’s, I couldn’t even imagine what I missed in the past.


2. The Black Keys
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
March 14, 2012

The Black Keys played an, obviously, sold out show this March at the ACC. The Arctic Monkeys were a snore but the second The Black keys stepped on stage and played their radio hit, “Howlin’ for You,” the crowd stood up and the night began. They finished their set off with a bang while playing “I Got Mine,” followed by a flashing lights show. This band would benefit from playing a better venue such as The Phoenix.


3. Look Here Junior
Less Than Level, Oakville
October 19, 2012

Look Here Junior is a band from Oakville, Ontario. This fall they played a smashing single release show at Less Than Level in Oakville for their saxophone infused, “Goin’ To Town.” They have an original sound with a new wave touch to the late 90s band The Libertines. Earlier this year I caught Look Here Junior at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. These guys know how to put on a solid show that draws in a crowd every time.



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