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Calgary Music Relationships Uncategorized Writing

Endings and beginnings.

When you sit down and do the thing where you try and summarize your year in the Internet Wilderness, it becomes painfully obvious that all of that ’embrace the inevitability of change’ stuff is as clichéd as it is correct. Life consists of a cavalcade of curveballs that you fight off desperately, trying to get ahead in the count, hoping for one easy pitch that you can put over the fence.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that there are no easy pitches.

When I was a kid, I was scared a lot. I was sensitive and awkward around other kids and never felt like I belonged. I looked at my parents and was in awe of how in control they seemed – so confident, so sure of themselves, who they were, what was right and what they should do.

This year I turned the age my father was when I was born. When I look back now at the albums of photos from those days I don’t see a man holding a child who is the master of all he surveys, the unconquerable hero of my youth – I see a guy holding a kid, looking extremely happy and a little tired.

IMG
Aww, yeah, that’s Gangsta Carpeting, right there.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll bet that he was probably fighting those curveballs off just as hard as I was.

This year has had some great stuff happen along with some pretty crappy stuff, but lord knows it was a hell of a lot better than the last one. I just want to say thank you to my family and friends who (again) gave me so much love and support. You rock, rock.

This new year is going to be very, very different from the last one, which was exponentially different than the year before. I’m starting to notice a theme, here – that the inevitability of change is something I should probably learn to embrace rather than resist.

Speaking of changes, I have decided I should probably set some goals like I did a couple years ago. Since I am completely fuelled by fear and shame, a little public accountability goes a long way for me. I did, like, two of the three in 2012, which is an order of magnitude better than I usually do at goal setting. So, without further ado:

Goalpocalypse 2013

Get Divorced.

The weirdest part about starting my new job is having to explain to people that I am getting divorced. I get a lot of “Oh, but you’re so young!”, which I guess is a good thing, but kind of leaves me at a loss as to how to respond further. So far my “Why, yes, I did manage to already have one relationship explosion before I was 30, and yes it is pretty pathetic that people have had bowel movements that took longer than the amount of time it took my wife to leave me – thank you for your observation!” technique has had mixed results in terms of making people like me in the new environment. I think I’m just going to stick with using sarcastic deadpan that about 25% of people know is a joke. 

This should be pretty obvious to anyone who has had to listen to me rant for the last year and a half. It’s been a tough time and it is getting better, but a little bit of closure will go a long way.

I have a wonderful, patient girlfriend who has listened to me talk – and talk – about this person who was so much a part of my life for so long and now haunts the corners of my days less and less as time goes on. My formally ending that chapter in my life, I’m hoping I can help move that much further away from that time and place and person I was and more the person I want to be now.

Get creative.

On New Year’s Eve this year, I did something I haven’t done in a very long time and picked up a guitar in front of another human being for an extended period of time for a little impromptu jam session. The other two guys who were playing were exponentially better than I was, and there was no question I had a sufficient degree of liquid courage on board, but I subsumed my worry about judgement and failure and just played. I was fairly crap, but no one shouted me down or made me feel like I should just leave the room. So I played a bit, I learned a lot and the first thing I did when I got home was blow the dust off my guitar and played a bit of what I had been taught to help me retain it for the next time I play with those guys. 

I really want there to be a next time.

One of the reasons I have spent so little time writing on here in the last year had a lot to do with trying to be more conscious of the record I leave online. I’m technically supposed to be one of those web-savvy people that understands the reach and power of the web, so I thought it might be a great idea to just tap the brakes on the free-association nonsense on my blog and focus on my professional writing for a while. It was fine, but there’s no question that it exercises a different muscle than the kind of work I like to post here.

Ultimately, I look around at my friends and family and I see a lot of people who may or may not read the words I write, and they may not like the songs I play around them, but they will show up and they will support. Some of the best times last year was seeing my friends Adam and Tom play in their band The Special Edisons and seeing all of those folks come to see something cool that their boyfriend/son/buddy is doing is a cool feeling. I need to stop worrying about being terrible or judged and remind myself that pretty much everyone that is still here in my life is a pretty cool person.

Get serious.

This is probably the one that’s going to be the hardest, but I’ve decided – in no small part because of the things above – that it’s time for me to start building the kind of life I want, and not just live.

My divorce has put me in a tough position financially and emotionally, and while I have made a lot of progress over the last year in terms of getting into a better space, I still have a long way to go. This is going to involve a more considerable lifestyle change and a renewed focus on setting goals to help me get to a much more stable place – one where I end this year with no debt and the foundations for owning my own place, preferably in a part of the city that I both want to live in and can afford to do so.

I’m really excited about this year and what it’s going to bring.

At the bare minimum, at least I’ll have the chance to meet Strombo and hug Peter Mansbridge.

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Music

Top ten albums of 2013.

He everyone! Hope you like the new digs. I decided to complete something on my long-gestating list of things to do and close up Republic of One in favour of colinbrandt.ca. I’ll be posting a lot more often in the next little while, and will be formally shuttering Republic of One beginning Jan. 1.

I’ll get into why I decided to finally launch this site in my next post, but my self-enforced time in the internet wilderness is drawing to a close. I want to quickly say thanks to everyone who has stuck around/nagged me about writing more and updating my interwebs.

It’s been damn near a year since my last post – so I’m just going to pick up where I left off. Top ten is below, in roughly descending order. Onward!

City and Colour – The Hurry and the Harm

City and ColourAs much as I am the lord and master of the Sad Sack Weepy Singer-Songwriter Fan Club, I’ve been really digging the direction of this band. Crunchier guitars and a the move to a less acoustic sound gives Dallas Green a lot more room to write songs that are less weepy, showing a wider range of tone and even a couple of funny lines.

Seeing Green and the band perform live at this year’s X-Fest was a surprise – I’ve seen him play at a bunch of festivals over the years, but this was the first time I saw him with a band and sound that could actually fill that kind of space.

Tracks like “Thirst”, “The Lonely Life” and “Commentators” help balance out the more traditional keening-voice-acoustic-guitar-spare-production tracks like “Take Care”.

 

Mikal Cronin – MCII

Mikal CroninMCII came to me via my buddy Tom, who is my go-to-resource for guitar rock and probably should be yours as well. Tom! Buddy! Start writing your stuff down – it is annoying to have to take notes when you’re talking!

This year has been a great one for rock songs that seem like they’re kind of shambling messes but actually resolve into something much tighter than you first thought. “Am I Wrong” – has an awesome shimmer in the guitar sound that makes me want to drink four beers and barbecue hamburgers.

“Peace of Mind” has all these moments where the instruments come in at just about the right time, giving everything this languid, garagey pace that makes you want to just lean back, kick your feet up and feel the breeze on your face. Probably the definitive summer record for me this year.

Oh, and Tom’s in a band with my other buddy Adam. You should check them out and come to their show on Dec. 27.

 

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

Boards of CanadaThis year I got to go to Scotland for my Stepdad’s 70th birthday, and I now completely understand how Boards of Canada came to sound the way they do. This album has a sort of pervasive radioactive dread that makes me think of something unspeakable rising out of a loch.

“Reach for the Dead” has a genuine vibe of menace – it sounds like the soundtrack to the version of Drive that had less silent mooning and more curb-stomps in elevators, but somehow takes place outdoors on a barren, windswept and ancient coastline.

Listening to this album makes you feel like a huge badass – like maybe you’re the thing that just came out of the loch – and you’re hungry.

 

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko CaseI feel a little bad putting Neko’s latest this far back in the list, but I just grabbed it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still sinking my teeth in. I can pretty much guarantee this album will be marching up in my attention and playlists as we get closer to the end of the year, because I absolutely can’t resist this album.

I have a theory that the best possible conditions to hear Neko Case is after midnight in an old country bar that’s nearly emptied out. There’s definitely some tracks on this album that fit that expectation (“Night Still Comes” is waltzy and torchy in the vein of “Star Witness” and “The Pharoahs”).

What she does on the other tracks are what’s interesting about this album. “Calling Cards” might be one of the most beautiful songs Case has ever written, with a great story of romance, distance and creation, and the next track “City Swan” has a great rollicking sound that you just know is going to be awesome live.

 

Kanye West – Yeezus

Kanye WestMan, this album is tough. When I first got it, I kept cycling forward through it, trying to find a way to hook in; all I heard on first pass was the completely insane levels of misogyny and the moments where he just seems like he is going to completely lose his mind.

Every song has this instinct to push you away – too abrasive, too jarring, too paranoid – but there’s always something else that is pulling you back in just as much, if not more. The constant push-pull tension of this album is part of why it’s exhausting, but also incredibly good.

First, the sound of this record is just incredible. The first four tracks of the album are a complete master class in West’s technical proficiency, taking on the industrial sounds with sudden breaks and a pace that resembles a Ferrari tearing around a corner, barely holding onto the road, tires screaming.

Second, Kanye is funny. For a guy who seems wholly incapable of taking a joke, there’s a ton of self-satire on this album. “I Am a God” is the most obvious, with its jokes about his pink-ass polos and the already immortal  “In a French-ass restaurant/Hurry up with my damn croissant”.

The rage that fuels so much of West’s lyrics on this album can swamp the irony, but tracks like “New Slaves” reference the terrible cosmic joke of still encountering racism even though he has all the credibility, power and money he saw as his escape is the darkest Richard Pryor joke ever written.

 

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Daft PunkBuying a turntable and listening to this album on LP seemed like the authentic choice, which is preposterous and pedantic but totally appropriate, as this album is basically preposterous and pedantic. In a good way?

This album has been discussed and reviewed to death, so I’ll be brief, but basically this album sounds incredible, but it’s a complete roller coaster of good to bad throughout.

The straightforward pop tracks like “Lose yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” are of course amazing, and some of the midtempo and oddball tracks like “Instant Crush”, “Giorgio by Moroder” and “Doin’ it Right” are awesome and clever, but a few tracks land with such a thud you can’t help but feel bad at their francophone earnestness.

Putting the Paul Williams-featuring “Touch” between the two Pharrell tracks is like slotting an episode of Two and a Half Men between two episodes of Mad Men and expecting no one to notice the difference.

The irony of this album is that if it had been sequenced a little better I probably would love it more, which is saying something since I still groan my way through “Touch” and “Within” to listen to the whole record.

 

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What you Believe

CHVRCHESI discovered this album in probably the most ridiculously back-asswards way imaginable. I first heard it in a totally cool Edinburgh record shop and thought I was some kind of crate-digging visionary.

I thought to myself you are that smug hipster guy who brings something back from Europe that everyone starts to like in, like, three years. Then I get home and  discover that CHVRCHES is a complete buzz band that’s all over the internet. Once again, I remain completely unremarkable.

Never mind all of that, though – “The Mother we Share” is a monster – the sort of track that you choreograph dance moves to in your kitchen while making lasagna. “Gun” has an incredibly catchy hook and a chorus you want to sing in an imaginary unironic karaoke night.

The whole album is just a synthpocalypse of endless awesome.

 

Phoenix – Bankrupt!

PhoenixMonths later, I still can’t believe this album didn’t really knock anyone out. I understand that relative to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Bankrupt! might seem a little less accessible, but we’re talking about Phoenix, here.

While this album kind of suffers with the everything-is-at-the-exact-same-volume-in-the-mix issue that seems to be a staple of modern production, these are still amazing tracks with a wall-to-wall consistency that is unbeatable.

“SOS in Belair” has incredible guitar sounds and makes a great deal of noise – it can sound enormous, but the tightness of the band reigns the songs in and creates these moments of just perfect songcraft that make you shake your head. “Drakkar Noir” and “Bourgeois” run this way as well; “Trying to be Cool” just hardly has to try at all (though the behind-the-scenes making-of video for the track below shows just how crazy methodical this band really is).

 

Haim – Days are Gone

HaimMan, this album just contains multitudes. I know that this band gets a lot of Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks comparisons, but that doesn’t really cover all the influences. There’s a lot of Wilson Phillips here, with dashes of Mariah Carey, late-90’s hip-hop and a bit of Crowded House too.

The wit that runs through their songwriting extends well beyond the lyrics; the way “The Wire” song shrugs its way though the fallibility of the storyteller is a perfect compliment to the lyrics. “Running If You Call My Name” has sense of longing and uncertainty that matches the great vocal work. The strong rhythm section of “Don’t Save Me” propels the song through spare guitar lines.

This is a band that sounds fully-formed – I’m already so excited to see what this band is going to do next. That’s the sign of a really great album, when you start getting jacked before they are even finished touring on the current one.

Also, this incredibly funny video features some epic man-crying:

 

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Everything about this album was a genuine surprise. I’ve always liked them, but didn’t anticipate such a strong album from a band that I always associated with what happens if you grow up listening to Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints a lot. I’ve always assumed that they were kind of a known quantity.

Instead the band incorporates their debut and follow-up albums into a number of new sounds and some of the strongest writing I heard this year.

“Unbelievers” has a great bobbing-head beat for a track about being on the outside looking in, but having a great partner to do it with. “Everlasting Arms” is a charming track with a great rhythm and care to attention, but the most amazing piece was seeing them live at the Jubilee, when they turned “Diane Young” into a sweaty dance-off spectacular that had the crowd losing their minds – in the freaking Jube.

You can see that their progression up to this album was and I’m so excited to see what they do next.

Categories
Music

My favourite albums of 2012.

So by all accounts 2012 had its share of delights, both actual and sarcastic. Rather than dwell on the stuff that makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry softly to myself, I thought I’d do something a little different this year.

Part of my 3 things for Calgary initative this year was to engage in the local arts and cluture scene, and I’ll be talking about that in my next post, but to start, we’re going with top ten albums of 2012. I might be the last human on the planet who still loves to listen to an album from start-to-finish, and as tempting as it is to do it just on songs, I’m sticking with albums. Okay, Colin, stop rambling, here we go.

10. Grimes – Visions

With the sort of distant, keening vocals that helped ground Sleigh Bells’ Treats – one of my favourite albums of 2010 – Claire Boucher layers 8 million synthesizers and genres over one another and creates something that’s part pop, part IDM, ALL COP. It kinda makes me want to hold a rave in an American Apparel.

One of the biggest disappointments of this year’s Sled Island was her dropping off the headlining gig for at Olympic Plaza. I hope I’ll get a chance to see her before she flames out from too much party rockin’ or whatever.

9. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack remains one of the my favourite people to listen to when I’m getting ready to go out. I love the way that he respects and understands the roots of American music. When he turns on the jets on tracks like “Sixteen Saltines“, I usually do a half-assed jump-kick off the bed and bust out Omega-Level Air Guitar. Some of the tracks on the new album take a little longer to unpack than his more-straightforward White Stripes stuff, but it pays off after multiple listens.

Also, “Freedom at 21” is just an awesome track to play when you want to walk down the street with your headphones in. You are 36% more of a badass by virtue of this song. That’s a guarantee.

8. Wintersleep – Hello Hum

After their last album New Interitors, I was a little bit bummed about the state of Wintersleep. Welcome to the Night Sky was such an incredible album – a collection of mood and sound that probably got heavier end-to-end play than any album I’ve owned in the last 5 years. New Inheritors seemed to signal a change in the band, away from the massive sound and soaring harmonies that make this band absolutely perfect for car sing-a-longs and into something darker, more distorted and synthetic.

Never mind – Hello Hum takes the new sounds, synths and rougher edges and incorporates it into the wider sound of Wintersleep; the results are gorgeous. Wintersleep are one of these bands that can take a song and stretch it out live until you hear and feel each instrument, and Hello Hum delivers a similar experience inside each song. This time, the tone and vibe is far more upbeat than in the preceding albums – instead of a brooding texture, the songs have titles like “Nothing is Anything (Without You)“, with massive soaring guitars and choruses that feel like cuts off Achtung Baby. It’s music to fall in love to, for sure.

7. Die Antwoord – Ten$ion

Trying to describe this group starts reading like some kind of menu item at the Hipster Cafe. “Today’s special is a pair of rap-rave Afrikaans, seasoned in the Zef movement, with sides of g-funk and post-internet commentaries on race.” When I first heard about this group, I rolled my eyes so hard I thought I might have detached my retina.

Then I heard “I Fink U Freeky” and I rescinded everything. This is one of those acts that not everyone’s going to love, and if you listen to their lyrics too much you’re going to start feeling a little bit embarrassed, but their voice and sound is so original that I can’t resist them.

 

6. Cat Power – Sun

Chan Marshall is a notorious neurotic and her reputation for perfectionism coupled with some of the saddest songs ever recorded has become such a trope that she’s even parodying herself on Funny or Die. Whatever might be happening with Chan right now, the same sense of humour that let her yell at kids on the internet for a laugh has permeated her new album.

We’re still talking about Cat Power, here, and this is by no means a comedy album, but with skittering electronic samples and beats backing many of her tracks coupled with a lyrical change that makes her far less a victim of circumstance and heartache and much more in charge, Sun is a fantastic name for the album. The whole thing warms you like a cat in a sunbeam, wrapping you in a dreamy layer of sound, with Marshall routinely layering multiple vocal tracks atop one another in interesting textural ways.

I only came to Sun in the last 3 weeks of the year, and I’m so glad I found it. It’s been the soundtrack of the holidays this year and felt like a great Christmas gift.

5. Cold Specks – I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

Al Spx is the lead singer of this band, and if you were a Trinidadian-Canadian who grew up in Toronto listening to American deep south gospel music, The Cure and had an absolute cannon of a voice, you’d probably make Cold Specks, too. I think this band is going to blow up in the next year. Her sound – which she jokingly refers to as “Doom Soul” – is the kind of thing that can hit people from a number of different directions and find the thing that hooks you. For me, it’s the way the album hangs her voice out into space, giving her enough room to really deliver the power of each note.

I saw her perform in the brand-new Festival Hall, and it was easily one of the top five shows I saw this year. She performed a couple of tracks a capella, and it was all I could do not to break down right there.

 

4. Bahamas – Barchords

Another amazing live show, Afie Jurvanen’s band and latest album is one of the most likeable things I’ve heard in a while. Feist’s guitarist on her last few tours, Bahamas has her knack for crafting melody, but has a way of creating a sense of space and warmth that was notably missing from Metals. This is definitely an album built for quiet Sunday afternoons in the kitchen, with your cat asleep on the couch and a pot of soup on the stove.

Compared to a lot of the other stuff on this list, this is definitely an unchallenging listen; I’m quite comfortable putting this album on when my parents come over for dinner. There’s nothing here that’s going to melt your face off, but it’s rare to hear an album that’s constructed essentially perfectly – where each song is a perfect accompaniment to the previous and each note seems part of a unified statement of musicianship. Plus, the music’s just fucking beautiful.

3. Twin Shadow – Confess

Twin Shadow’s first album was great, but the followup just killed it. I’m undoubtedly susceptible to 80’s-pastiche synth rock (wait ’till you hear my #1 pick) but George Lewis Jr. created a Vietnam in this album. Just like how Vietnam has absorbed the best of each of its would-be conquerors over hundreds of years and ended up with a distinct and proud culture and nation that produces saté beef served on french baguettes, Twin Shadow lets the last 30 years of music wash over them and pulls the best from each decade. Peter Gabriel, New Wave, Arcade Fire-circa Funeral, Morrissey, Prince, TV On The Radio, Joy Division, Dangerous-era Michael Jackson – it’s all there, layering and colliding within each track. The results are at times unbearably tense and passionate – the kinds of songs that you can’t decide whether to dance or cry to.

This album has been heavy, heavy rotation in the last two months for me, and there’s no question it’s my choice for best breakup album of the year. Lewis has written a bunch of songs that really swing through all the emotions that come with an old-school relationship apocalypse – with heartache, love, anger, sadness, paralyzing numbness, elation and resigned self-destruction playing pretty heavy roles in most of the tracks. He’s the kind of guy that can take a hook that is an obvious play on “Take my Breath Away” and turn it into one of the most danceable tunes I heard this year.

 

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Remember when we had them all on the run
and the night we saw midnight sun
Remember saying things like “we’ll sleep when we’re dead”
and thinking this feeling was never gonna end
Remember that night you were already in bed
said “fuck it” got up to drink with me instead

There isn’t too much more to say about this album that other people haven’t said better. Ian Cohen’s review on Pitchfork sums up this album just about perfectly: “Celebration Rock treats every day like the last day of school, raising a glass to the past, living in the moment and going into the future feeling fucking invincible.”

This is music not just to pump you up, but to help you remember the moments when you felt you could do anything, be anything – a life where limits didn’t matter, when time seemed infinite and at the same time unbelievably precious. This album sounds like two guys stuffing their drums with fireworks and soaking their guitar in kerosene – the album feels on fire, alive and visceral – and if you don’t feel the same way listening to it, I’m not sure I want to be your friend.

1. Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional

John O’Regan’s story is fascinating – a post-punk rocker with the D’Urbervilles, he gets Crohn’s disease, nearly dies and is reborn as a glittering glam-rock pop star. Ultimately, Diamond Rings tries to do something similar to Lady Gaga (elements of DIY personal construction, an attitude of letting your freak flag fly) but John O completely charms me in a way that Gaga’s “art in artifice” act does not. The fact that he’s a tall, awkward weirdo who clearly wrestles with conventional gender norms and understands the meaning of performance also helps.

And the music – this is a guy who clearly tried to moonwalk in his parents’ unfinished basement, who understands that music is meant to be moved to and move you at the same time, who shows a wry sense of humor that is so rare in a world of plaid shirts and beards. He writes adorable, earnest songs about falling in love and being yourself like he’s a living Degrassi High. Listening to him reminds me that no matter what the circumstances of my life might be, there are people in the world who are going to like and love me for exactly who I am right now.