Saturday, December 25, 2010

Favourite Songs of 2010

  still from Young Empires' "White Doves" music video

First of all, Merry Christmas to everyone. So before all the presents hoopla and face-stuffing-with-food begins, perhaps you might fancy some light reading.

This may be my one and only 2010 list this year. These are my favourite songs (most of them being actual singles) of the year, at least the ones I could remember with at least half amount of effort put into it. On the whole, I'd had neither the time nor patience to sit through many new albums this year and as each year goes by it seems I find I'm either spending more time dusting off my vinyl collection (much of it of that late 70's punk / early 80's post-punk period) to listen or get reacquainted with albums I had never spent much time with or catching up with more recent albums such as last year's Reservoir by Fanfarlo, Lungs by Florence & The Machine, or this year's Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. Yes, every year brings it's own crop of good to outstanding music, but it seems that the enormous attention given to whatever is currently hot is fleeting then everyone is on to something else. The beauty of the single or individual song is that if the time and mood is right, a song can absolutely knock you off your feet or one might find oneself humming the tune for days. These were the ones that fell into that category:

"White Doves" - Young Empires (video)

It's hard to pick my favourite track of the year above all else, but this track by Toronto's Young Empires very well may be it. With a solid drum beat, subtle guitar and keys and soaring vocals and melodies, this anthemic, world-class number never ceases to amaze me.

"Hey Boy" - Magic Kids (video)

Shamelessly pilfers Brian Wilson / Beach Boys influences but with vocals (lead & choral) so charmingly reminiscent of a high school glee club.

"Society" - DVAS (video)

I came across this track only last month but this song, merging an 80's influence with some Daft Punk-isms, by Toronto electro-dance pop DVAS quickly became a favourite. This makes me long for summer.

"Fuck You" - Cee Lo Green (video)

It's funny that I never heard the original of this song until after hearing Gwyneth Patrol's decent though censored version of the song featured in a episode of Glee. Cee Lo Green's version is a stone cold soul classic.

"The Cave" - Mumford and Sons (video)

I was teetering between including either Mumford and Son's "The Cave" or "Little Lion Man". The latter is the obvious single, a consistently urgent bluegrass pop number, but in the end I chose "The Cave". I feel this song in my heart, and have bordered on shedding a tear at times.

"Something Else" - Diamond Rings (video)

Casio beats, electric guitar and vocals combined with one of the most infectious melodies in recent memory make for one of the best songs of the year.

"I Didn't See It Coming" - Belle & Sebastian (video)

With Sarah Martin's delicate vocals guiding this song along, it's pop songs like this that remind me why I loved Belle & Sebastian in the first place.

"Rocket" - Goldfrapp (video)

This unabashedly 80's influenced infectious dance pop track from Goldfrapp is so drastically different from the band's previous material it should qualify as a guilty pleasure.

"Scissor Runner" - Jenny & Johnny (video)

I get all giddy inside every time I hear this song. Lovebirds Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice duet nicely on this track, a country-ish rocker that never fails to get me tapping my foot.

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - The Arcade Fire (video)

My favourite song of the summer. The Arcade Fire get funky, so to speak.

"Faster" - Janelle Monae (video)

"Tightrope" is the single but "Faster" is the song that made me take notice. Living up to it's song title, it's like a sped-up, Motown number.

"Down In Your Valley" - Dead Letter Chorus (video)

I'd first caught on to this Aussie band when they played Canadian Music Fest in Toronto earlier this year. Their debut full-length "The August Magnificent" came out in Canada in March through Bumstead Record and the song above was the first single. This mid-tempo folk-rock number is nicely sung by vocalist Lee Carey and was one of the most charming singles of the year.

"One Life Stand" - Hot Chip (video)

At its core, it's a pop song but it's made doubly more intriguing and fun by Hot Chip's uncanny ability to intricately weave an array of instrumental sounds both electronic and organic into this fully knit electro pop beauty.

"The East Wind" - Gord Downie and The Country of Miracles (video)

From this year's album "The Grand Bounce", the first single "The East Wind" is melodically and lyrically simplistic but gathers momentum as it goes along. I was first drawn in by the comforting vocals of Mr. Downie and the opening pensive acoustic guitar strains, but then with a "1,2,3,4", the drums, bass and electric guitar kick in to push the song into a higher gear.

"Dancing On My Own" - Robyn (video)

As hummable, electro-dance pop numbers go this was one of the best ones of the year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Young Empires @ Steamwhistle Brewery, Toronto (November 19, 2010)

  Robert Aaron Ellingson of Young Empires: photo by Michael Ligon

I went to check out Toronto electro-rock outfit Young Empires several weeks back at the Steamwhistle Brewery part of the venue's UNSIGNED Indie Music Series. My interest had been piqued by the band's song "White Doves" and after missing multiple opportunities to catch them live when I was in New York City in October for CMJ I vowed to drag myself out on a blistery Friday night down to the Steamwhistle Brewery.

I caught the tail-end of opener DVAS's set and missed the headliner Rich Aucoin, mistakenly thinking that Young Empires were the headliner, so it was a short and sweet night for me. After seeing the band live, what I wrote back in October about my impressions of the band still stood true - "White Doves" remains their piece de resistance, "a fully realized slice of melodic electro post-punk" as I put it, and that makes it one of the best singles/songs of 2010. As a band they did exude a certain amount of energy onstage, with exhuberant guitar playing and keyboard noodling from member Matthew Vlahovich being most notable. While singer Robert Aaron Ellingson made a valiant effort to maintain the urgency of the performance, it seemed he lost track of his vocals because he seemed out off-key at times. I'm interested in seeing what this young band may bring and if they tighten up the loose ends they may just live up to the hype.

Eye Weekly and Lithium Magazine have reviews of the show.

Untold City has uploaded a video clip from the show.

Photos: Young Empires @ Steamwhistle Brewery, Toronto (November 19, 2010)
MySpace: Young Empires

Sunday, December 05, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 23-24, 2010)

  School of Seven Bells @ Santos Party House, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

For the record, let's wrap up my fifth and final day in NYC and CMJ, which took place over a month ago. Perusing some of the notes I jotted down in my iPhone, time and datestamped 2 am on October 24, I wrote:

"Today it was Broadway and back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Vegan day party and wandering, the back to the Lower East Side to the Cake Shop, a walk on the QueensWilliamsburg Bridge at sunset, picking up dinner at Tiny's Giant Sandwiches ( ) then night time at Santos Party House. NYC and CMJ it's been swell."

While the previous four days all had it's high points, the fifth day/night was a near perfect experience to end off my trip. The Brooklyn Vegan day party at Public Assembly in Williamsburg began for me with a satisfying solo set from Ted Leo, with the added bonus of Ted asking me to hand him his drink part way through which I did successfully without dropping it and making a fool of myself. I stayed at Public Assembly for a few more set including a satisying though energetically muted set from Australian indiepop group The Crayon Fields with lead vocalist Geoff O'Connor mentioning that their setlist was written up on napkins then made a humourous remark (in his slightly fey, dry tone) that the set would be 'very clean' (or something along those lines). Injecting the festivities with a good dose of energy was Nashville's Heavy Cream featuring a 3/4 female membership who played a thoroughly enjoyable set of old school punk rock and a snarling female lead vocalist. Met a girl who worked at Criminal Records in Atlanta who I chatted with in between sets and then I headed out to the main room which was packed to catch what I could of Titus Andronicus' set. Back to the Lower East Side and Cake Shop I went to try to catch an afternoon set from A Classic Education who's set I either missed or never happened so I grabbed a beer before heading out to wander the neighbourhood. I took a relaxing walk to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge as the sun went down, then grabbed a delicious pulled pork sandwich at Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop part of which I'd scarf down as I waited for the first band to come on at Santos Party House, for The Windish Agency CMJ showcase.

That final night, while featuring some more than decent acts, also included some sporadic socializing and I guess when one's in a strange city all by one's self, it does somehow motivate one to come out of one's shell. So yes, I did get to talking briefly with a cute Asian local girl with a camera and then a lengthier conversation with a bubbly Chicagoan lovely who I was standing beside near the front of the stage. The music was almost an afterthought, but overall the band lineup made for a musically varied and satisfying evening. Although the first band Los Angeles' Superhumanoids I thought had a terrible name, they did prove to be a satisfying musical act with boy-girl vocals and a dreamy pop sound to boot. Knoxville, Tennessee trio Royal Bangs seemed hell-bent on bringing the rock after the first band, and somehow live seemed a little less interesting than what I'd heard on their MySpace. Local up and comers Cults were the first band I was interested (and as it seemed so were many others in the audience also eagerly awaiting them) this night in seeing live and their stripped down brand of Motown-ish indie pop did impress in the end.

Rounding out the night were two Brooklyn acts that really need no introduction to most of you, first with dream-pop shoegazers Asobi Seksu who played a blistering set with the stage enguled in purplish and reddish hues, then rounding out the night was School of Seven Bells(the duo of Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, with touring drummer Zachary Saginaw) with their sultry, rhythmic, electro-fied, guitar driven dream pop, who could very well be my new favourite current band if only I ever get around to buying their most recent album, this year's Disconnect From Desires. The occasion was made even more special as the band's drummer Zachary Saginaw announced to the audience that he had something important to ask his girlfriend, and after several tense minutes of waiting for his girlfriend(who was apparently backstage somewhere) to come on to the stage, everyone knew what was about to happen and he asked her to marry him to which she did say yes. The band continued on with an encore, and then it was over. I decided to end things off on that high note, so no late night sets for me since I had to get up the next morning to pack and get to the airport. Much thanks to the random people I met, to all the bands I saw during the festival who put on great sets, and to well the New York City for being it's wonderful, diverse and spectacular self. We shall meet again.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 23-24, 2010)
MySpace: Ted Leo
MySpace: The Crayon Fields
MySpace: Heavy Cream
MySpace: Superhumanoids
MySpace: Royal Bangs
MySpace: Asobi Seksu
MySpace: School of Seven Bells