RoundLetters’ Best of 2011: Top Albums

little dragon ritual union

Part Two in my Best of 2011 coverage: Top 10 albums!

Now, I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: I did not really like 2011 for music. It was pretty bad. I waited and waited and waited multiple times this year for music to hit me in the face that I would love and it took forever. I don’t like what feels like all the indie artists who got really popular this year. I don’t like Top 40 either. It just happens. I can dance around to stuff but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit and really give it my time and thoughts. Though I’m a total grump about this, the albums that did break through for me are pretty great. I can say that I’m in love with my top two or three, I think they’re amazing. It’s similar to what happened to me last year. (My top 3 were Foals, Junip and !!! – still three of my favourite bands, and still three albums that I listened to well into 2011.) My top 3 mean the most to me this year and they’re a mixture of a band someone got me into and I then became obsessed, a singer who I’ve been into since her first album came out a couple years ago and a new local band that shot to stardom as fast as you can say stardust.

So here goes:

10. Peter Elkas – Repeat Offender

I spent January dancing around to Repeat Offender, and I’ll always remember my mom dancing around to it too when I had it on one day while I was visiting home. Peter brought us simple yet hearty songs that were infectious in charm and easy to sing along to, and it was even more fun to see him play them at the Dakota Tavern.

9. Pat Jordache – Future Songs

Pat took me by surprise. At first I didn’t think I could get into his music, but it didn’t take me very long to fall right into it. He keeps you coming back, leading you by a hook on a string, to his carefully crafted quirkiness and dark, deep vocals. His bass playing drives every other little bit through and through all of that, the songs come out catchy.

8. Dog Day – Deformer

I cannot resist Seth Smith and Nancy Urich’s ways. Deformer saw the band’s first full-length release as just a duo of the married couple, and I found it to be their best work yet. Songs like “Part Girl” and “Scratches” are gems, and I still can’t help waiting for Seth’s high notes that work so perfectly. I was also really glad to be able to see them play again this year – if they ever come through your town, go.

7. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

This year, St. Vincent fully caught my attention, and not just for those big brown eyes. (Note: if you see her live, many a bro will yell things like ‘Annie, you’re so beautiful!’ ‘Annie, I LOVE YOU!’ which just feels hilarious, but there is more to this siren.) Her lyrics are amazingly well thought-out, you won’t find work like that very far in indie music these days. Strange Mercy puts a hold on you, but it doesn’t shake you or anything like that, it sits you down and explains things and maybe ruffles your hair up a bit. “Cheerleader” is one of my favourite songs of the year.

6. David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time

2011 was the year I was introduced to Twin Peaks and I’ve loved every minute of it. So when I found out the creator/director David Lynch had an album coming out, I was intrigued and excited, knowing my neck hairs would raise and be tingled in weird delight. David definitely has songs on here that sound just like you’re in that wooded town, and every time it comes on it feels like an adventure. “Pinky’s Dream” and “Good Day Today” are two of the coolest songs I’ve heard in a while, and they make me dreamy and optimistic, respectively. Try playing this album while driving along the highway at night, I have, and you’ll be captivated. Each song on this album brings up crazy imagery to me, which is another reason that made me love it. I’ve pictured a cyclops dragging his arms along his sides in woe and so much more. Now that’s how you do music.

5. Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

I declared it then, Tosta Mista was my album of the summer. It’s full of fast jams and lyrics that somewhat mask the opposite feeling of what it’s showing in a sunny light. It’s a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what I needed when it came out. It’s impossible to resist bopping around to.  It’s over very quickly and so you just play it over again. A fine piece of work that came from a local band.

4. High Places – Original Colors

Though I have to keep stopping myself from writing ‘colours’ and they’re not as good live as they are on record, I still loved this. It brings me to a new level of mindset whenever I listen, like I’m in some hazy art gallery club where the walls are slanted and the lights are red and moving around and people are all dressed in glittery costumes. But they’re talking about reality, not dreams. It’s slow and fast at the same time. “Year Off” is compelling.

3. Austra – Feel it Break

Austra blew up in 2011. It was the craziest rocket to fame I’ve seen for a band since the emo days in high school with Cute is What We Aim For (heh). I remember Dorian, the bass player, talking about how he was in a new band with a bunch of girls after Spiral Beach ended, and they had to come up with a name before a show. They were Private Life, then back to the leader’s name Katie Stelmanis and then Austra. I interviewed Katie in the spring and I was stunned by the response to them then, but look at where they are by now, it’s incredible. And well-deserved. Feel it Break is a magical piece of work, like Katie and the gang struck gold while digging and digging and digging for years. Yes, they had to switch gears in the music they were normally working in, but as long as they love what they’re doing now, I’ll love it too. “The Beat and the Pulse” knocked me over and still does every time it comes on. I’ve seen them live a couple times and it’s dazzling, even though the Phoenix last month felt packed beyond capacity and I was all the way at the back. I’m really curious to see what’s in their future, and for god sakes I hope they get some rest soon. Poor guys, getting to go to Europe about a million times this year.

2. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Dear Merrill Garbus, you are my hero. I dressed up as you for Halloween and won a costume contest. I wish I could dress that way every day. I can’t stop smiling whenever I see you play (twice this year, hell yes) and neither can anyone else. Your shows are my happy place. Your energy is extremely positive, whether you’re feeling that or not, which makes me think you’re a strong, in control woman who knows how to get things across, even though every time you play, you seem utterly surprised at the response you get from the crowd (not just the things people try to get your looping pedal to pick up). It’s just warm and fuzzy and it’s so great to see an entire venue dancing and smiling. So great. Especially in Toronto. I loved BiRd BrAiNs but w h o k i l l knocked it out of the park for me. I knew this kind of music was coming – more streamlined and focused, but put together much better and with you taking on drums – so I was prepared. This album is brilliance to me. I tear up to the “Bizness” video and I get my girl power on with “Killa.” I played “My Country” over and over when I was upset at the ugly response of Americans to the death of Osama Bin Laden (yes, it’s a good thing this is over, yada yada, but those people were ridiculous in the way they celebrated, and it made me ashamed to come from there). This album will stick with me for a long time.

1. Little Dragon – Ritual Union

My coworker introduced me to Little Dragon in the summer and my year was changed from that point on. I was obsessed with Ritual Union. “Nightlight” and “Brush the Heat” are mesmerizing and exciting. I saw them play in the fall and fell in love with the entire band. Each member has this way they move and it’s amazing to watch. They have their own charm that works together even though they all seem so different. I wasn’t too familiar with their other two albums at that point, but seeing those songs played live – especially the ones they let loose on – was so cool. From that point on, I wanted to hug myself whenever I played them but it wasn’t until I could not stop playing older songs “Place to Belong” and then the trio of “Looking Glass” “My Step” and “Feather” that I was really, really hooked. Ask any of my close friends and they will tell you. Those songs mean so much to me and the year I’ve had, and they bring this strange aura over me whenever I play them, especially “Place to Belong” and “Feather.” Ritual Union is my album of the year, but really it’s all three of their albums together in my mind. Plus, Little Dragon makes it very easy to be a fan, they’re all over the web from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to YouTube. I’ve watched a ton of great things from them on YouTube that are quirky and cute or captivating and interesting. Everything about this band is so fascinating to me, and their blend of electro soul is so fresh and exactly what I needed.

 

Albums of note from 2011:

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Rubik – Solar
Casiokids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Little Scream – The Golden Record
The Albertans – New Age
Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting
Sam Roberts – Collider
Feist - Metals
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

RoundLetters’ picks for Best of 2011 so far

I’m going to be honest. 2011 has not been that great for music in my books thus far. I am still listening to a lot of 2010 favourites in my free time. I am constantly meh on most of these 2011 buzz bands my music writing colleagues, friends and the general public seem enamored with (which doesn’t play in my freelance music journalist favour). I’m simply waiting for music to knock me off my feet, bring tears to my eyes and make me exclaim about it to everyone I know. So far, there’s been a handful of that, and you know what, that’s good enough for such high standards, isn’t it?

Here are the albums that I’ve loved and really liked so far (not in too much of a particular order):

tune yards new album
tUnE-yArDs – Who Kill

I adore this woman. She is my hero in numerous ways, and this sophomore album was absolutely Killa.

austra
Austra – Feel it Break

Everything just fits together so beautifully in ways you can’t completely figure out, it’s captivating.

Pat Jordache – Future Songs

I’m much more in tune to Jordache’s catchy musical quirks than his vocals, but I dig that too, especially when I thought I’d get annoyed with it and I haven’t. It’s an interesting full package.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

So much emotion and yet not enough; can fit to numerous settings such as laying in the sun or even grieving.

Jeans Boots – txt msgs

Attitude and sensitivity in just the way I like it.

Miracle Fortress – Was I the Wave?

Adventurous, dreamy, every time I listen I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time.

The Albertans – New Age

They caught my attention earlier on this year as Canada’s answer to that Brooklyn indie sound; quirky, curious and soft.

Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

This album isn’t out yet, but I have heard it and I’m convinced it’s my album of the summer. So much fun.

What I’ve liked:

Braids, Peter Elkas, Snowblink, Little Scream, Sin Fang, Slow Down, Molasses, Jenn Grant, Graham Wright

What I’m looking forward to getting into now (ones I just haven’t given enough time yet):

Handsome Furs, PJ Harvey, Young Galaxy, Rubik

Later this year:

Dog Day, St. Vincent, Elliott Brood, Little Dragon, Evening Hymns, Wild Flag

Here are the EPs I’ve loved:

beth ditto EP
Beth Ditto – Beth Ditto

This is a self-loving session wrapped into four songs, you’ll be left tired from dancing and feeling good about yourself. Glad to see Beth’s solo foray.

Nightbox

Nightbox – Nightbox

Punchy local indie rock shooting for the stars; have a song “Bears” I still can’t quit.

We Are the City – High School

Passionate indie pop from BC from guys who went through a lot and came out of it so much stronger.

Introducing: Static Zine

static zine - cover
Things around these parts have been a bit mum from me lately. I’ve been incredibly busy putting together the first issue of Static Zine – a fun new Toronto arts and life zine. Yes that’s right, a zine. Every time I go somewhere to drop them off now and say that word, I get some pretty funny looks. But this has worked out really well so far with an amazing team of contributors, already running out at numerous locations after a few hours and we’ve already been interviewed!

Besides just launching the zine, we also put together a mixtape of 16 Toronto bands: Maylee Todd, Sister, Austra, Bravestation, Heartbeat Hotel, Dora Alexander, Sports, Matters, Action Makes, The Ruby Spirit, Allie Hughes, Nightbox, The Meligrove Band, Timber Timbre, Bruce Peninsula and The Wilderness of Manitoba.

Download the first Static mixtape.

static flyerWe’re throwing a launch party on the last day of NXNE. Here’s the Facebook event, and you can see the show poster above.  We’ll have performances by Jeans Boots, Kat Burns of Forest City Lovers, Lowell Sostomi of Great Bloomers, The Ruby Spirit, Bravestation and Sister. I am beyond excited!

Interview: Austra’s Katie Stelmanis shows off opera training with electro-goth sound

The following was originally published on Spinner.ca.

austra interview

From goth and witch house to New Wave and electronic pop, Austra‘s lead singer Katie Stelmanis isn’t sure what genre her Toronto-based band falls into.

“Honestly, I don’t even know what to call it,” Stelmanis tells Spinner. “It’s pop music. It’s electronic music. You can say whatever you want. It’s not like I hate it if people call it witch house, it’s just I feel witch house is a small genre that isn’t going to take over the world or anything — it’s not like grunge. I think it’s just a convenient place where my music fits in right now.

“It’s funny because I have been making music with the same aesthetic for a long time — the music that I was making three years ago, people still claimed it to be goth.”

Stelmanis was a trained choir and opera singer before she released her solo album ‘Join Us’ and subsequently formed Austra — who will release their debut album, ‘Feel It Break,’ this week via Paper Bag Records/Domino — so some of those vocal styles and moods have found their way into her work.

CONTINUE READING OVER AT SPINNER.CA.

Interview: Austra’s Katie Stelmanis on being a gay indie artist and Beth Ditto groupie

The following was originally published on Spinner.ca.

austra

We all have a musician we admire, usually because there’s a personal connection to them and their music. For Katie Stelmanis, a lesbian and the lead singer of Canadian electronic band Austra, it’s Gossip‘s Beth Ditto, also a gay artist, and her positive message concerning queer identity.

“I literally cried when I saw her,” Stelmanis tells Spinner. “She’s so strong.”

Though a 2009 gig in Toronto marked the first time she saw Ditto at the reins of Gossip, Stelmanis actually met the vivacious frontwoman five years earlier after a gig with her former band Galaxy.

“I was a total groupie,” says Stelmanis. “She was just so sweet. She was so nice and positive, thanked us and made us feel really good about it, which was so exciting to us 20 year olds — I love her!”

CONTINUE READING OVER AT SPINNER.CA.

Watch Austra’s new video for “Lose It”

austra

I’ve been listening to the new Austra album Feel it Break a lot lately (out May 17 via Domino/Paper Bag). I find it very hard to turn off somewhere before it actually ends. I’ve even sat and waited through it because it’s so good I don’t want to let it go. The band’s Toronto CD release is May 19 at Lee’s Palace, and tickets should still be on sale. Gotta say, Feel it Break seems to only be on the cusp of breaking out still, and it will, so keep a lookout. Here’s hoping that it makes its way onto the upcoming Polaris Prize long list.

Before your eyes scan down to the wacky new video for their second single, “Lose It,” here’s an article I have with lead singer Katie Stelmanis on queer identity in indie music and her love of Beth Ditto on Spinner. I was really glad I could write this, and there’s more on the band coming soon from me, I believe.

Impromptu Tuesday Dance Party featuring First Rate People, Nightbox, Austra and Kidstreet

I think I can finally say I’m almost all healed after Canadian Music Week. So that means, inevitably, that I want to dance to shake the rest off and get back in high spirits. Here are a few tracks that I’ve been playing a lot lately, I think they’ll significantly up your day, week, hour, whatever. Play em in order and you’re in for some crazy fun.

First Rate People funny games

First Rate People – “Funny Games”

I’ve posted on this before and I’ll probably post on it again. It is just so groovy. With mid-tempo beats but slow and sexy vocals, it provides this mix that works up to a pressure point that you can’t wait to explore. I can turn on the bright lights and turn them back off just to prove that I’m still in your life is such a great chorus line. It has this sombre structure, and ends kind of with a hanging heart, but if you’re going to sing about sadness in these times, sometimes it’s just better to do it with some (white kids – who can do it great) danceable soul.

Nightbox bears

Nightbox – “Bears”

*Stream only, although you can download their even crazier single, “Pyramid,” here.

I could have ignored this song for longer in my haze, but when I saw these guys play it live on Friday, I was hooked. It’s been on repeat ever since. It’s young, fresh and the chorus’ synths are so addicting. This song makes me do really embarrassing dance moves in my room, but you know what, it’s too much fun. At least I have the memory of how these guys danced to it when playing it (mostly computer/synth wiz James Shelly going nuts), which is much better than what I can do gracefully.

austra lose it

Austra – “Lose It”

This is definitely a different kind of dance party than the previous two tracks, but it’s something I wanted to make a note of anyway. “Lose It” embroiders Katie Stelmanis’ opera background with a chorus of extremely high staccato notes, and just in those moments paired with glittery synths that feel so black and white, it’s a solo dance party that will leave you swaying with your head feeling like it’s in the clouds. It’s also of note to say that Austra made a huge splash at CMW and likely will at SXSW. Feel it Break is out in May, and I can’t wait to see it blow up, then people in Toronto talk about how they knew her before it blew up. And on that note, I had a great interview with Katie the other day… ;-)

Kidstreet x

Kidstreet – “X”

Alright, this is a seriously catchy song. It’s pretty simple in terms of it has a fast club pattern, breakdown with whistles, distorted vocals and singing about sexual attraction. In that way, it’s clearly an awesome dance party song. They even perform it with a lot of energy, enjoyment and wit (as I witnessed at CMW on Saturday). It’s the fact that it’s a band of three siblings singing about wanting someone so bad that usually distracts me, but I try and get past it. I don’t think I’d ever be in a band with my brother singing about something like that, but hey, that’s just my opinion. Thinking about it though, I can see this song going really far, it’s got all the ingredients. Could so see a video with a couple on a dance floor coming together in sweet moves (DANCE moves) to the ‘I want you so bad’ part. Get on it, Kidstreet!

January to mid-February articles

Alright, alright. Sometimes I forget to update my portfolio on here, but if you’re a Twitter follower or a Facebook liker, then you haven’t missed a thing.

Just in case, here’s what I’ve been up to in January and February so far (there was definitely a lull in my work when I spent a few weeks recovering from tonsil surgery).

AUX:

Video interview with Badly Drawn Boy

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Destroyer’s “Chinatown”

Mexico’s Chikita Violenta tackle international markets with Arts & Crafts

Watch the trailer for Ages and Stages, a Meligrove Band documentary

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Katie Moore’s “Montebello”

Allie Hughes to have wedding-themed concert in Toronto

Austra announce debut album, Feel it Break

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Hey Rosetta! – “Welcome (Live)”

EXCLAIM:

We Are the City Reveal New High School EP
(this also includes tour details and the first single, free download)

SPINNER:

Jason Collett Begins Annual ‘Basement Revue’ Series in Toronto

DORK SHELF:

February Monthly Music column

From Far and Wide New Music Challenge