North of Northwest: Top 10 Canadian Albums of 2011
In a year filled with stories of oppression and uprising in the Near East and the simply near, this album inspired by the political situation in East Asia began to feel very close to home. The lyrics articulate the creeping fears of the disenfranchised, while the angsty beats help dance those cares away.
In a year of growing-up albums, this one stands a growth spurt head and shoulders above the rest. The introspections of Oh Fortune are as unflinching, apt, and often hilarious as the societal observations Mangan’s previous release, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, while Mangan’s growing musical confidence offers him more varied and nuanced ways to express emotion.
The erstwhile Constantines frontman finds his inside voice on this quiet, heartfelt collection of songs about marriage, parenthood, and other things that happen when you stop going on tour and start making (long term) plans. The delicacy is a surprising contrast to the bruised and bruising loudness of his work with the Cons, but also a remarkable success.
The Rural Alberta Advantage bring an adult’s wisdom and weariness to their sophomore release, examining the past with a mix of relief and affection and bringing sophistication to both their narration and sound. The raw dance-folk that made 2008′s Hometowns such a striking debut is tempered with quiet moments and bursts of delicate orchestration. But though the medium is slightly changed, the message remains the same: who we are is where we come from, and no matter where we go, we can never really leave those old haunts behind.
For the rest of Brittney’s Top 10 Canadian Albums of 2011 Feist – Metals
There’s an appropriately earthy quality to Feist’s Metals. Even when the singer’s breathy vocals threaten to drift through the upper registers and into high nothingness, the bass-weighted instrumentation keeps the compositions anchored securely to the ground. Heavy percussion makes the music feel almost primal, but Feist never surrenders merely to instincts or abandon; every bold step towards the edge is followed by a calm saunter back. This constant, subtle push-and-pull gives Metals the tension that makes it such and interesting listen.
Colin Stetson turns a single saxophone into an entire universe in this wildly creative, experimental, and successful work. The instrument’s keys click against its body, Stetson’s breath rasps in his throat, music echoes off the walls of nearby rooms, all creating a haunting ghost-world with Stetson as sole resident and benevolent dictator.
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Often billed as a “rock opera,” David Comes To Life is more accurately described as a punk rock Broadway musical. The twenty-one track double album, ambitious even by this overachieving group’s standards, marries vocalist Damian Abraham’s coarse but melodic screams with singalong refrains and real pop hooks. The complicated storyline – apparently something about lightbulbs, girlfriends, bombs, and the invisible hand of God – is impossible to grasp from listening, but I have yet to care.
Surf rock on speed and echoed off the concrete walls of your parents’ garage. Under all its swagger and bravado, this clattery rock album is really just escapist fun. And it’s a lot of fun.
Keys N Krates – Blackout EP
Blackout is the first collection of original material from Toronto’s Keys N Krates, known primarily for their live remix work. Modern dance music with hip hop beats and bass to spare, this seven-song EP is long enough to throw on repeat at your next party. By the time anyone notices it’s the third time around, they’ll be worked up into such a booty-shaking lather that they won’t care.
If we all thought the apocalypse might be coming in 2011, this is the album that best evokes the feeling of its arrival. Vocals echo hollowly through the black void and ominous waves of rhythmic fuzz march on your ears. If Carey Mercer is the lead horseman of doom, I’ll welcome it with open arms.