• JohnySaskatunes Favert Albins of 2013 (Early Draft)

    Jul 6 2015, 18h39

    Found this super early draft, so I'm just gonna leave it here. I don't have time for this anymore... ;-P


    Jason Isbell "Southeastern" In some ways I preferred the more rocking sound of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit's 2011 album "Here We Rest" but no album in 2013 was more lyrically stronger than "Southeastern." Filled with sober and emotionally honest stories from the road and life told in Isbell's southern tinged vocal style and accompanied by his fine guitar playing (and backing band). The longing "Travelling Alone", the harrowing "Elephant" (told from the point of view of a man whose lover has terminal cancer) and the rollicking "Super 8" filled with references, I guess, to Isbell's now abandoned hard partying days, are just a few of the albums many stellar tracks.

    Neko Case "The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You" When I heard about some of the personal hardship Case was going through during the writing of this album I was worried it was going to be more morose... While lyrically dark in places, it's musically generally energetic & spirited and it keeps the album from becoming morose. As with 2009's "Middle Cyclone", Case continues to move away from a twangier sound to something more uniquely her own. She continues to attract some of the best players, with members of Calexico, the Sadies and the New Pornographers all contribute stellar sounds. Highlights include "City Swan," "Man" and "Bracing for Sunday."

    Superchunk "I Hate Music" Another solid edition of nostalgic energetic punky powerpop from North Carolina veterans Superchunk. Apparently, bassist Laura Ballance (spelling) played on the record but no longer tours with the band, due to hearing problems.

    Califone "Stitches" Didn't like this album at first as it seemed noodley and laconic compared to 2009's (where does the time go?) "All My Friends Are Funeral Singers." However, this albums melodic gifts are there, and strong, just more submerged below and interspersed between experimental sounds and conceptual lyrics. It gets better with every listen. "Frosted Tips" and the Beatles-esque "Magdalene" are stand-outs.
    "Given Rutili’s cinematic sensibility, it’s no surprise that Stitches often plays like a downbeat existential western from the early 70s." (Pitchfork)

    Arcade Fire "Reflektor" I've always kinda liked Arcade Fire but at the same time not a huge fan. But they always seemed to be counted upon for 3 or 4 good songs per album. Didn't really care for the disco-y vibe to Reflektor at first listen, but the more I heard it the more it started to remind me of early eighties bands like the Talking Heads and even a bit of Sandanista era Clash. Throw in their always provocative lyrics and you've got a winner.

    Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five "Bison Ranch Recording Sessions"
    Jolene Higgins, regrettably, no longer makes her home in the fair province of Saskatchewan. Oh well, at least she's still making killer music anyways. The Winnipeg Five (also known as the "F-Holes") are a solid old-timey combo, bringing a sturdy beat and ragtime embellishments to Higgins' rootsy country blues. Great stuff.

    Pokey LaFarge "Pokey LaFarge" Speaking of country blues and speaking of artists I've seen at the Regina Folk Festival, Pokey Lafarge returned with a new eponymous album in 2013 (the South City Three still accompany him, but just no longer getting billing on the marquee.) The playing is maybe a bit more subdued somehow... Perhaps it's production values... somehow less engaging than 2011's "Middle of Everywhere" but still super stellar.

    Guided By Voices "English Little League"
    Although this is (already) the fourth album featuring the reunited "golden age of GBV" line-up (circa Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars) this is the one that seems to suddenly strike home just how vital Tobin Sprout was to the sound of those albums and how intrinsic he was to the success of that particular band configuration. His songs here (such as "Island (She Talks in Rainbows)" and "The Sudden Death of Epstein's Ways") are stand-outs and beautifully fragile blasts of nostalgic pop bliss. (And, of course, Bob's songs are quite good as well.)

    Billy Bragg "Tooth & Nail"

    Ron Sexsmith "Forever Endeavour"

    Son Volt "Honky Tonk" I'm a big Jay Farrar fan, and there are some great songs here, and I even kind of like this style of music (sort of old school pre-Rock Bakersfield country waltzes?) The songs sound great when they come up randomly on the shuffle...but an entire album of it is a bit much, at least in one sitting.

    Yo La Tengo "Fade"

    Caitlin Rose "The Stand-In" One of my most played albums this year. So catchy and consistently good. In an alternate universe this would have had about 4 or 5 number one singles. Great vocals and lyrics from Rose and some nice country touches musically from her band. Solid stuff. I predict big things from her in the future.

    Phosphorescent "Muchacho"

    Whitehorse "The Road to Massey Hall - EP"

    Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses) "The Low Highway" Probably one of the least political and most pretty albums from Old Steve in a few years. I guess I should say "overtly political" as themes of injustice and poverty weave there way throughout. A lot of very nice instrumentation and vocal harmonization on this album and also a nice variety of styles from blue grassy numbers to New Orleans jazz.

    The Deep Dark Woods "Jubilee" At first this listen this album seems nice, consistent , but a ltittle samey…nothing really jumps aout at you. It's only after repeated listens that it begins to dawn on you that it's only because virtually every song is a little masterpiece. A great, warm analogue-y vibe to this record too, especially the keyboards. "Picture on My Wall", "East St. Louis" and "Bourbon Street" are faves (and the titles give you a bit of sense of where this album is coming from.) Good stuff.

    The National "Trouble Will Find Me"

    Robert Pollard "Honey Locust Honky Tonk"

    Ty Segall "Sleeper"

    The Sadies "Internal Sounds"

    Bill Callahan "Dream River"

    Elvis Costello & The Roots "Wise Up Ghost"

    Iron & Wine "Ghost On Ghost"

    Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite "Get Up!" A collaborative effort between bluesy rock guitarist Ben Harper and legendary blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. I've always been a fan of Harper's singing/playing/writing and the addition of Musselwhite's soulful harp accompaniment takes things to another level. A nice mix of slower/quieter/acoustic-y-er numbers ("All That Matters Now", "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)") and more raucous electric jams ("I Don’t Believe a Word You Say".) Solid.

    Okkervil River "The Silver Gymnasium"

    Leeroy Stagger "Truth Be Sold"

    Kurt Vile "Wakin On a Pretty Daze"

    The Head and the Heart "Let's Be Still"

    White Fence "Aquarium Drunkard: Lagniappe Sessions - White Fence (Second Session)" Well, if including EP's is a no-no in a top album list, including a free internet only download EP of cover songs is probably just out the door. So what. This is excellent. A crazy collection of eclectic covers (Shane Macgowan, David Bowie, George Harrison and Randy Newman) albiet all done in a lofi psychedelic garage pop style. Fun. Cool. Spirited. (Did I mention free?)
  • Johny Saskatunes Favourite Albums of 2012, Half-assed Version

    Jan 31 2013, 4h31

    A quick-ish, half-arsed effort. I'm too busy to find time for this and it's pert near February... Glad there were so many good Canadian albums this year. I know I didn't get around to listening/buying all the albums I wanted to. If there's any you think I need to check out let me know in the comments down there...

    01 - Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker & Yim Yames "New Multitudes"

    In the absence of no clear choice for number one album – and not wanting to make it a tie – I'm giving "New Multitudes" a sentimental nod, just because it would have been Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday in 2012. In a similar vein to the "Mermaid Avenue" albums by Billy Bragg & Wilco, this album contains previously unpublished Guthrie lyrics set to new music written by the afore mentioned songwriters. It sounds like less of a cohesive band effort than the Mermaid sets do, with each singer/writer bringing a unique sound and creative approach to their own songs. I expected the Jay Farrar tracks to be my faves on the album but it's actually Anders Parker (who also collaborated with Farrar on the excellent "Gob Iron" album a few years back) who steals the show for me. "Old L.A." is easily my favourite song of the year, with his "Fly High" and "Whereabouts Can I Hide" being dandies as well. Will Johnson's gritty "No Fear" is another highlight.

    02 - Leeroy Stagger "Radiant Land"

    In a just and reasonable world, Leeroy Stagger would be widely recognized as one of Canada's best roots rockers. As it is he seems to toil in relative obscurity churning out awesome albums and touring Canada (and Germany, apparently) relentlessly. Do yourself a favour and check out any of his albums, but his last two – 2010's "Little Victories" and this year's "Radiant Land" – are particularly great, featuring honest, heartfelt lyrics and excellent gritty songwriting. The Woody-Guthrie-Or-Steve-Earle-Occupies-Wall-Street indignation of "Capitalism (Must Die!)" is excellent (my second favourite song of the year). As are the haunting "Nighttime Talks to Me" and the environmentally themed title track.

    03 - Allah-Las "Allah-Las"

    Groovy '60s surf/garage/psychedelia type stuff. Derivative for sure – right down to the production values – but so damned cool anyways. Consistently strong songwriting and full of ear-catching guitar playing and textures throughout. This years' big discovery. Many great songs but favourites include "Sandy", "Long Journey" and the instrumental "Ela Navega."

    04 - Calexico "Algiers"

    Super solid outing but maybe not as endearing (to me personally) as either their last studio album "Carried to Dust" or last year's collection of one-offs and outtakes "Road Atlas." This album maybe fits somewhere between the desert noir of "Carried to Dust" and the minor key pop melancholia of "Garden Ruin." Fave tracks include "Para" (the video for it is stunning), the instrumental title track and the feisty guitars and horns of "Splitter."

    05 - Carolina Chocolate Drops "Leaving Eden"

    I was a bit worried about this album what with the departure of Justin Robinson following their grammy-winning album "Genuine Negro Jig." There was no need to worry however, as his replacement Hubby Jenkins fills in just fine. Overall their old-timey traditional southern bluegrass/jug band sound, full of fiddle and banjo, gets just a hint of an update. With warmer, bigger production values (from Buddy Miller) and a few dollops of hip hop here and there (including a humourous a cappella cover of Run DMC's "You Be Illin'") Standout tracks include "Country Girl" and the raucous "I Truly Understand That You Love Another Man."

    06 - Justin Townes Earle "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now"

    You realize an artist is super-talented and consistently great when an album this good comes along and I'm kind of like "Meh. I kind of prefer some of his other stuff." If Earle had fallen out of the sky and this was his debut album people would be falling over themselves saying how amazing it was. Alas, we're spoiled and it's taken for granted a JTE album will great. Nothing new to see here. Writing, playing and production are all beautiful. Fave tracks include "Down On the Lower East Side" and "Automobile Blues"

    07 - A.C. Newman "Shut Down the Streets"

    Easily my favourite solo album from the New Pornographers' frontman which, ironically (?) is also probably his least New Pornographers-ey sounding solo effort. Newman here sounds all mature and grown-up (did he have kids or something?) And while there are a few uptempo tracks the overall vibe is more mellow indie pop in the minor key. Very clean, simple arrangements that are nonetheless catchy and burrow into the brain after a few listens. Newman shows off his songwriting chops here both lyrically and musically. Faves include "Hostages," "I'm Not Talking" and "There's Money in New Wave."

    08- The Sumner Brothers "I'll Be There Tomorrow"

    Where to start on this one?? A sprawling, epic, ragged, style-hopping masterpiece? Pretty much. From the punk rock squall of the opener "Toughest Man in Prison Camp" to the dusty country-tinged fatalism of "Going Out West" to bittersweet melancholy of "Outside Looking In" these brothers reach for greatness on virtually every track and it's inspiring. Then throw in a great cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Colorado Girl." Well! These guys seriously deserve more recognition and sales as well...

    09 - Bahamas "Barchords"

    Hard for me to put my finger on why I like Bahamas so much. Bahamas is actually Afie Jurvanen, a Finnish Canadian who has played guitar on several Fiest albums and tours. This is his second solo album. It features great guitar playing (as you might expect) but also confident, melodic songs and nice backing vocals on many tracks to boot. Just a great, solid mid-tempo rock album with retro (timeless?) touches. Faves include "Your Sweet Touch," "Caught Me Thinking," "Okay Alright I'm Alive" and the gentle slide guitar of "Time and Time Again" but the whole thing is solid.

    10 - John K. Samson "Provincial"

    John K. Samson is the eccentric, poetic voice of Winnipeg rockers the Weakerthans. On this – I believe his first full-length solo album – the tone is a bit quieter, but maybe even more eccentric and somehow manages to achieve a sort of whimsical melancholia (if that makes any sense…) The topics for this batch of songs run the gamut of singing a petition to get Reggie Leach inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, an Icelandic pioneer dying slowly in a prairie TB ward, car breakdowns on the trans-Canada highway, ampersands and something to do with HTML programming. All great, quirky and wonderfully written. Some are set to tasteful drums and strings, while others rock a bit like "When I Write My Master's Thesis" which would fit nicely on any recent Weakerthans album.

    11 - Kid Koala "12 Bit Blues"

    I saw Montreal's Kid Koala perform at the SK Jazz Festival when he opened for the Roots a few years back. Definitely made an impression so when they were streaming "12 Bit Blues" on CBC3 I had to check it out. Super interesting stuff. I don't own many blues albums but I've always been a fan and Saskatoon has a great live blues venue with Bud's on Broadway. This is not a typical Blues album. Kid Koala samples, mixes and collages various old blues albums full of old school guitar, keyboards, horns and harmonica (and some other miscellaneous odd found vignettes) set to some excellent modern beats. The result is something new and unexpected but yet entirely cool and familiar. All the tracks are similarly named but some of my favourites include "3 Bit Blues," "11 Bit Blues", "1 Bit Blues (10,000 Miles)" and "8 Bit Blues (Chicago to LA to NY)"

    12 - Kathleen Edwards "Voyageur"

    Wasn't especially fond of this album out of the gate but it was a grower. Edward's continues to edge towards the mainstream, losing a bit more of her twang and a bit more of her abrasiveness... Too bad in a way, but still, it seems more like an organic evolution as opposed to some sort of contrived grab at commercial success. As always, strong songwriting with gritty, often witty, honest and heart-felt lyrics... and a few good rockers to boot. "Mint", "Sidecar", "Empty Threat" and "Chameleon/comedian" are among my favourites.

    13 - Stars "The North"

    Stars channel their inner Human League here and it's mostly fun. "The Theory of Relativity", "Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It" and "A Song Is a Weapon" are lyrically smart with lots of 80's synth-y hooks. Amy Millan sings on the more guitar-based retro new wave tunes such as "Through the Mines" and "Backlines." Stars keeping it solid in the twenty twelve.

    14 - Shovels & Rope "O' Be Joyful"

    Another big discovery for me for 2012. The best songs merge Cary Ann Hearst's "ready for the Opry" old-timey-esque country vocal wallup with seemingly ramshackle, stripped-down Waits-ian rock canvas. Throw in a bit of horns or keys or harp for splashes of colour and you've got some great truly original music. "Gasoline," "Hail Hail" and "Kemba's Got the Cabbage Moth Blues" are among the awesome ones.

    15 - Great Lake Swimmers "New Wild Everywhere"

    Solid outing, showing evolution from 2009's "Lost Channels" (although, for some reason or another I prefer "Lost Channels" a bit). Maybe more deliberately folky. Good playing. I saw them at the Regina Folk Festival this summer and Dekker's vocals are every bit as good live as he sounds in the studio. Fave tracks might be "Changes With the Wind," "Cornflower Blue" and the title track.

    16 - Joel Plaskett Emergency "Scrappy Happiness"

    "Scrappy Happiness" had to be the musical social media event of 2012. (No?) Over ten weeks, Plaskett and crew recorded and released a single per week each with it's own YouTube video and "album artwork". Fun stuff. As Joel Plaskett or Joel Plaskett Emergency albums go (is there a reason to draw a distinction anymore?) I'd say it's solid. "Somewhere Else" is easily my favourite but "You're Mine" is fun too (with it's Husker Du reference) and "North Star" is a solid retro Canadian rocker.

    17 - Joe Pug "The Great Despiser"

    Another album I was fairly "meh" about initially, but came around as songs turned up on the shuffle and grew on me... Pug is great at at an odd turn of phrase that adds unexpected (and at times unexplainable: "If I see the mountains, they must see me") meaning that catch the ear and tweak the mind. "Deep Dark Wells" is downright inspirational, "Neither Do I Need a Witness", "Stronger Than the World" and the title track are also highlights.

    18 - Andrew Bird "Break It Yourself"

    I like lots of Andrew Bird songs but for some reason I've yet to hear an Andrew Bird album that I really love. "Break it Yourself" is getting close though, probably my favourite Bird collection since "Armchair Apocrypha." "Lusitania," a lovely duet with Annie Clark of St. Vincent, was one of my favourite songs of the year, as was "Eyeoneye" with it's punky electric guitars… And of course, Bird's exquisite whistling throughout!

    19 - Ty Segall & White Fence "Hair"

    A one-off(?) collaboration between a couple of retro-garage-surf-psychedelic artists. In a somewhat similar vein to the Allah-Las but with heavier guitars and definitly less minor key. A fun trip for sure. "Time", "Easy Rider" and "Tongues" are faves.

    20 - Bob Mould "Silver Age"

    Tempted to put Trampled by Turtles here but what the heck... Oldster Husker Du rocker delivers a Sugar-y high energy return to form. "Star Machine" and "First Time Joy" are faves.

    Also liked: Damien Jurado "Maraqopa," Trampled by Turtles "Stars and Satellites," Aimee Mann "Charmer," Robert Pollard "Mouseman Cloud,"
    Old Crow Medicine Show "Carry Me Back," Jim White "Where It Hits You," The Heavy "The Glorious Dead," and if Mike Cooley's "The Fool On Every Corner" had been released a few weeks sooner it might have made the proper list as well.
  • Johny Saskatunes' Favourite Albums of 2011

    Jan 2 2012, 21h48

    Good year for music it seems. I had a hard time narrowing the list to twenty. Still there's plenty I didn't hear or never even heard about. Would appreciate any recommendations...

    1. Old 97's - The Grand Theatre, Vol. 2
    I really enjoyed the first Grand Theatre album and for some reason was expecting Volume Two would be a bit of a let down... was I wrong. It picks up right where Volume One left off and just cranks up the awesomeness. Bursting with raw energy and confidence.

    2. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
    Probably my favourite Beastie Boys album of all time. They somehow manage to incorporate their many diverse influences – hip hop, punk rock, reggae, jazz - without sounding particularly eclectic. And all the while managing to tread a fine line between silliness and genius. Bonus feel-good points for Adam Yauch returning from cancer treatments to sound as cool and as sharp as ever.

    3. Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
    One of my favourites of theirs... (I'm probably the only person in the room that thinks the DBTs are better since parting ways with Jason Isbell) A more melodic and soulful turn music-wise, and the lyrics still read like a Southern gothic novel.

    4. Wilco - The Whole Love
    The new personel are really starting to gel. Well, I guess they're not that "new" anymore... Rock-solid catchy numbers with some really interesting musical experimentation... reminds me a bit of "Summerteeth" in some ways...

    5. Alela Diane - Alela Diane & Wild Divine
    This year's big discovery... great melancholic metaphor-laden lyrics backed by a solid country-rock unit that is Flying Burrito Brothers-esque with a few jazz flourishes here and there.

    6. The Deep Dark Woods - The Place I Left Behind
    Continue to gradually evolve their timeless prairie folk noir sound... More keyboards, ever so slightly slightly poppier, maybe slightly groovier, but keeping everything that makes them great. No more are these changes more evident than on the glorious "West Side Street" a surprisingly upbeat song about Saskatoon's poverty stricken west side.

    7. Steve Earle - I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
    Less political, less experimental... but I still like it. I will never tire of this man's songwriting. That being said, the title track - an old-timey Hank Williams' cover - is killer.

    8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Mirror Traffic
    Maybe not quite as endearing as 2008's "Real Emotional Trash" but still a very solid outing. Especially like that he's bringing a bit of twang back into the mix and "Stick Figures In Love" is a post-punk guitar marvel.

    9. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
    Kind of surprised I enjoyed this album as much as I did... It doesn't seem to be my cup-of-tea of late... but Vile's laconic slacker vocal style and tasty guitar fills sort of remind me of "Green Mind" era Dinosaur Jr. somehow...

    10. Calexico - Selections from Road Atlas (1998-2011)
    A collection of B-sides, outtakes and alternate versions... Lots of fun and experimental sidetracks. And some very cool instrumentals. Good, good stuff.

    11. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing
    Somewhat of a let down and a more polished sound compared to their awesomely ragged 2009 debut "Hometowns" but still plenty to like. Nils Edenloff's vocal style is as unique and compelling as ever. And their folky post-punk power pop is still powerful catchy.

    12. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
    I've found some of his recent studio albums a bit too cacophonous if you know what I mean... This album though, with the exception of the crazy (and excellent) "Hell Broke Luce" is mostly a gentler, old school Tom, embracing early rock and pre-rock sounds with plenty of melancholic and sentimental vibes going down...

    13. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
    Some great individual tracks here but as a whole I found this album a bit monotonous. It's kind of all the same tempo, played on all the same instruments... But still... It's Gillian Welch... and her lyrics and vocal delivery are in fine form. When individual tracks turn up the the shuffle, they are always very welcome.

    14. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
    I'm finding the critical acclaim this album is getting a bit surprising somehow...? Yeah, I like it, but maybe less so than some of their earlier material... The lyrics are still great and I find the Brit-folk sound they've adopted here catchy enough but somehow maybe a bit formulaic and not particularly unique? Still good tho...

    15. Lucinda Williams - Blessed
    Some really great tracks here... Her best since "World Without Tears"?

    16. Wye Oak - Civilian
    Never heard of these guys before, and a good find. Interestingly constructed indie rock with creepy underpinnings a la the Pixies...

    17. The Black Keys - El Camino
    I've just picked this up fairly recently and it's only received a few spins so I'm still not sure what to think of it or where to rank it. It's missing much the overt blues and soul references that made "Brothers" such a treat. But it definitely rocks pretty good... so that's cool. I'm hoping it's a grower...

    18. Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
    I have a few Smog songs kicking around on my hard-drive that I dig but it wasn't until "Apocalypse" where I think I finally "got" Bill Callahan. Not the easiest, most accessible music in the world but well worth the effort. A haunting, poetic and unique voice.

    19. Nick Lowe - The Old Magic
    I hope I can somehow manage to be half as cool as Nick Lowe when I'm sixty... I must be getting up there as I find this pre-rock style kind of, well, magical...

    20. Elliott BROOD - Days Into Years
    I've only started listening to this one of late as well. I was initially devastated by all the electric guitars on this album. I loved the BROOD's acoustic/banjo/harmonica/suitcase drum thing that they had going on previous albums... However, my position on this album has softened. There are a few really great tracks, and the roots thing is still there, just less overt and more submerged. And "Northern Air" is about as close to sounding like "Canadiana" as anything I've ever heard...

    Other releases I quite liked:

    Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
    The Dodos - No Color
    Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
    The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart
    Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now
    The Cave Singers - No Witch
    Middle Brother - Middle Brother
    The Duke & The King - The Duke & The King
    Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes EP
    Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Scandalous
    Real Estate - Days
  • Johny Saskatunes' Favourite Albums of Twenty-ten (Flickr'd Version)

    Dez 28 2010, 5h06

    These are some of the albums that rocked my world in twenty-ten. Of course, I didn't have the time or money to listen to every album that was released this year, so if there's any gooders you think I've missed, I'd really appreciate it if you'd write them into the little shout box down there. Thnx, JS.

    01. The Black Keys - Brothers

    Can you say "home run"? Can you say "upper deck"? The Black Keys build on their already fairly awesome two piece blues rock thing by drawing further inspiration from other aspects of the Chess Records catalogue. Sultry soul, funkiness, keyboards and falsetto vocal deliveries bring plenty of interesting new wrinkles and richness to this album. (And yes, bluesy odes to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf as well.) Easily my favourite album of the year.

    02. The Sadies - Darker Circles

    "More of the same. Only better." Quothe the Sadies' Travis Good describing this album. 'Nuff said. In a year with several highly anticipated, kinda disappointing releases, leave it to Canada's hardest working band to beat expectations and deliver one of the best albums of the year. Lyrically darker, but sonically similar, to 2007's "New Seasons" (also produced by former Jayhawk Gary Louris) the Sadies further explore the possibilities of the studio environment to build upon their already stellar rep as a live act. Groovy folk, western, garage and psychedelic vibes ensue....

    03. Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

    I'll confess upfront and admit "The Good Life" is still my favourite JTE album. For undoubtedly completely subjective reasons. This one comes pretty dang close though. Definitely a bit of a comeback for me, or a return to form, after the somewhat (IMHO) spotty and eclectic 2009 album "Midnight at the Movies." The songwriting here is more consistently good and the sound and themes more generally old-timey (although more subtly so.) Perhaps what I love most about this album (aside from the stand up base) is the ease and confidence with which Earle performs these songs.

    04. Frazey Ford - Obadiah

    Frazey Ford is probably best known as the singer of the late great Vancouver acoustic roots trio, The Be Good Tanyas. While you can still hear a banjo being plucked mournfully in the background of a few of these songs, Ford has largely abandoned the Americana style for her first solo release, instead bringing a more soulful, laid-back contemporary sound to the table, featuring some keyboards and horns here and there. What is most striking about this album though is how these simple arrangements bring Ford's unique vocal style to the forefront. While I've always been a fan of her singing, on this album she just sounds simply jaw-dropping amazing.

    05. The Old 97's - The Grand Theatre, Volume 1

    I haven't been listening to the Old 97's for all that long, so I can't say with any confidence that this is their best album... but as far as I know, it is. They bring a tonne of energy, confidence and honesty to a really stellar batch of songs. I like the spirited country punk rockers the best ("Dance Class" "Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)") but even some of the slower to mid tempo ones are great ("Let the Whiskey Take the Reins" and "You Smoke Too Much"). Looking forward to Volume 2.

    06. The New Pornographers - Together

    This Canadian "super-group" is up to a bulging eight-piece now and it kind of shows. Like many alt-pop bands that have been around for a while, they have gone from an earlier post-punky guitar-based sound to a much more polished, lush orchestral sound. To my mind not (generally speaking) a positive thing. (Although the cellos here are very muscular!) On the plus side, this album has a very strong songwriting consistency to it. A really nice batch. All things considered, probably their strongest effort since 2005's stellar "Twin Cinema."

    07. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

    A new side project twinning the Shins vocalist/songwriter James Mercer, with producer/musician Brian Burton (AKA "Danger Mouse"). It's a bit of a startling album to hear at first at it is miles away from sounding anything remotely like the Shins. I was already a fan of Danger Mouse, due mostly to his excellent work on Beck's very good "Modern Guilt" album, so I managed to keep an open mind. The sound here is much more modern, electronic and experimental compared to the Shins guitar based alt-pop. Mercer broadens the palette with his singing styles as well and the lyrical themes seem a bit darker. His gift for melody is not lost however, and once you get over hearing his voice in these odd surroundings, the songs start to become downright catchy and burrow their way into your brain.

    08. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

    I've always kind of liked Broken Social Scene but never totally got into them either. They are sort of akin to the New Pornographers in that they are a "collective" of ever shifting Canadian indie musicians. But they have always been the more difficult, deconstructive, experimental cousin to the Pornographers' shimmering, complex power pop. Well, maybe its just me, but this is easily their most accessible collection of songs to date. Consistently tuneful, melodic, and interesting. The sort of album that will have me going back and taking a second look at some of their earlier stuff...

    09. Spoon - Transference

    After a run of stellar albums you had to figure Spoon was due for a bit of a let down. "Transference" is surprisingly ragged and jagged for a band that had been building a rep for producing disciplined minimalist Britishy post punk power pop gems. Still there's more than a few gooders here. "Got Nuffin" and "Trouble Comes Running" are stellar, and "Written In Reverse" contains probably the awesomest post modern guitar solo of twenty-ten.

    10. Stars - The Five Ghosts

    The first self-recorded, self-produced, self-released full album for the Montreal based Stars (they got their feet wet with last year's "Sad Robots" EP). How's that for independent?? Well good for them. Unfortunately, while this album is quite good, and has a number of highlights, it's starting to look to me like this band may have reached it's creative peak with 2005's sensational "Set Yourself on Fire" and that "The Five Ghosts" continues on a (very gradual) decline...

    11. Drive-By Truckers - The Big to Do

    A solid follow-up to 2008's excellent "Brighter Than Creation's Dark." The DBT's continue to push their artistic envelope without losing their edge. The usual culprits are here; alcoholics, murderers, strippers, people with odd sexual fetishes that the townsfolk don't understand... All drawn with humour, irony and varying degrees of sympathy/antipathy.

    12. Tokyo Police Club - Champ

    A bit of a return to form for TPC. After releasing a couple of stellar, fairly silly, high energy punky power pop EP's, the somewhat pedantic debut long play was a bit of a disappointment and had me reaching for my dictionary. "Champ" is much less serious, much more raucous and packed with house-party anthems that will have the kids pogoing all over the furniture. "Favourite Colour" (dig that Canadian spelling!) is a highlight, a sort of sympathetic, sweet ode to awkward small talk.

    13. Peter Wolf Crier - Inter-Be

    Another two piece guitar and drums band that I was really kind of digging this year. Nothing too flashy - or particularly unique - but nice melodies with great low key instrumental flourishes here and there. And a lovely, resolutely analogue sounding record. Sounds vintage somehow without being retro or particularly low fi... just a kinda groovy sun-faded vibe.

    14. Little Miss Higgins - Across the Plains

    Little Miss Higgins was born in Alberta, raised in Kansas, and now lives in lovely Nokomis, Saskatchewan. Amazingly, I'd never heard of her until one night this summer, sitting around the fire listening to Saturday Night Blues on CBC, they played a few songs from her live album which was recorded at Amigos Cantina right here in Saskatoon. Also got to see her play a bit at the Regina Folk Festival this summer. Quite a discovery! She plays an extremely old-timey style of country blues that kind of hearkens back to the Great Depression and the Golden Age of Radio. A few songs even feature Dixieland-ish clarinets and horns. All is done fabulously well with charismatic charm and humour.

    15. Superchunk - Majesty Shredding

    Chapel Hill North Carolina's premiere post punk purveyors return with their first studio album in nine years and seem to have lost none of their trademark superchunkiness! A ferocious stripped down sound reminiscent of some of their early albums. "My Gap Feels Weird" is as good as anything they've ever recorded and one of my favourite songs of the year.

    16. Various Artists - Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine

    I got to see John Prine perform for the second time this summer at the Regina Folk Festival. As usual, he was an extremely charming and engaging performer. I think Prine's voice has aged extremely well over the years, despite having throat surgery for cancer. So well in fact, that when I hear the original recordings of some of his older songs (like from the 70's) I'm kind of disappointed with his singing! So it's great to hear some of those old songs brought to new life by some of todays biggest alt-country stars. Old Crow Medicine Show, The Drive-By Truckers, Justin Townes Earle, the Avett Brothers and Josh Ritter (just to name a few) all bring great updated performances of these lyrically wonderful, legendary songs.

    17. The National - High Violet

    Another band that was on a seemingly unsustainable run of brilliant albums, each better than the last. While stylistically not seeming like a major departure from the previous albums, for me some intrinsic element seems missing. I read in a NY Times article that many of these songs went through dozens of rewrites and reworkings. The results at times can seem complicated, unspontaneous and self-conscious. While far from being a bad album - there's lots to like here - they've just somehow seem to have lost some of their humour and raggedness and seem to be kind of labouring a bit.

    18. Trampled By Turtles - Palomino

    I've been starting to get into quite bit of bluegrass over the last few years. There's a kind of indie/punk/DIY aesthetic to many of these new bearded, plaid-shirted young bands purveying this style of music these days. Trampled By Turtles are one of the best of this new breed. The sound on "Palomino" is maybe less punky, less slamdance-y, than some of their earlier releases, but there's still something very pure and honest about their music.

    19. Jason Collett - Rat a Tat Tat / To Wit To Woo

    A less twangier, more heavier, classic rock'n'rollier sound from the sometime Broken Social Scene guitarist (?) on this solo effort. Kind of a Stonesy, loose, happy-go-lucky, cruising down the highway with the 8-track cranked and the windows rolled down sort of vibe. Pretty cool, but maybe doesn't hit the songwriting highs of earlier albums like "Motor Motel Love Songs" and "Idols of Exile."

    20. Futurebirds - Hampton's Lullaby

    Picking these last few are always tricky. Who to leave off of the list...? There were pretty solid albums out this year from the likes of Belle & Sebastian, Elvis Costello, Chatham County Line and Phosphorescent, just to name a few... the Futurebirds' debut album, compared to some of these, seems like a sprawling eclectic mess of styles and influences, many good, some bad. Maybe what I like about this album is it's ambition(?) They don't hit the mark that often, but when they do, it's really something unique and special. I hope an album or two down the road these guys are going to put it all together and make an album that gets into my top five. They are definitely on my radar and maybe they should be on yours too.
  • Johny Saskatunes' Favourite Albums of 2009 (Album Art Version)

    Dez 29 2009, 0h11

    1. Steve Earle - Townes
    Maybe an album that was inevitable and probably impossible to live up to it's promise. Still, this Earle tribute to his (tor)mentor feels genuine and has plenty to like. Fairly low-key, played, says Earle, as he remembers Townes playing them. I especially like the bluegrass tinge to many of the songs, a style that Earle but hasn't employed much of in a while. If you are a fan of either Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt, I think you will like this album. If, like me, you happen to be a fan of both, what are you waiting for? Download this fucker right now.

    2. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
    Probably Neko Case's least twangy effort yet. But in this case not necessarily a really bad thing. More keyboards, strings, some jazzy elements. There's still plenty of noir and plenty of that trademark voice. Pretty danged cool all in all. (Although, maybe the "ABBA-esque" bits weren't so cool, but thats a quibble).

    3. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
    Just one of the best new Canadian bands to emerge in a number of years is all (IMHO). Kind of Neutral Milk Hotel meets the Dodos and play prairie folk songs. They create a glorious lo-fi racket for a bass-less three piece as well. (Thanks for the recommendation William!)

    4. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
    While this album was criticized for being unadventurous and calculated, for me it was a bit of a comeback (Album) for Wilco. After several good but uneven albums, the post-Jay Bennett (RIP) line-up seems to finally be hitting a bit of a consistent sweet spot. Catchy, uptempo, sonically interesting. Wilco loves you, baby. (Still, it's no Summerteeth...)

    5. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
    Well, if I'm not going to criticize Wilco for going commercial, how can I criticize the Avett Brothers for doing the same thing? Their major label debut is glossier and poppier than anything they've ever done before and sometimes comes dangerously close to sounding like they are trying to cash in on a certain type of calculated sentimentality (if you know what I mean). However, like Wilco, stellar songwriting ultimately wins the day, and this album finds these brothers at the top of their game.

    6. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
    More or less picks up where 2006's "I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass" left off. And that's a good thing. Tonnes of groovy retro 60's garage/psychedelic pop/rock coolness infecting these tunes. This is a band that has been around forever (it seems) and just keeps getting better all the time.

    7. The Deep Dark Woods - Winter Hours
    I'm trying hard not to be biased here, but I think even if the Deep Dark Woods weren't from my hometown of Saskatoon and didn't jam with a buddy of mine once and a while, I would still love them. Their old-timey depression era sound (with a few modern stylings) is thoroughly enjoyable, and sounds just lovely whenever I hear it playing at a local coffee shop. Oh, and they are really nice lads.

    8. Son Volt - American Central Dust
    I struggled with where to place this album. It feels to me like a bit of a disappointment after their last couple outings. Whereas they were full of energy and experimentation, this album feels a bit more like a disengaged exercise in a form of music as opposed to any sort of personal artistic expression. Still, Jay Farrar's voice is golden, and the musical vein they are mining here (again) still has plenty of gold left in it.

    9. Rhett Miller - Rhett Miller
    Last year (when I really discovered the Old 97's) I compared Rhett Miller to Paul Westerberg. Having listened to this solo album I'm thinking I maybe could have compared him to Nick Lowe or Dave Edmonds or somebody like that. Cool, smart, well constructed, unpretentious rock songs. Journeyman-esque, but in the best possible way.

    10. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies
    Much more eclectic than his previous old timey outings, which, in my mind is a bit of a bad thing. But not way bad. Just kind of more Ryan Adams-ey than the earlier stuff. The cover of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" is a highlight.

    11. Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels
    Got hooked when a Facebook friend posted a link to a stream of "Everything is Moving So Fast." Kind of "Life's Rich Pageant" era REM covering folky lost, unrecorded tunes by the Mamas and the Papas. Or something.

    12. Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone
    A seemingly odd combination of singer songwriters that actually works pretty well. The songs are supposed to be inspired by Jack Kerouac's novel "Big Sur". The album has a nice, slow, introspective, melancholy, Americana vibe to it (but maybe not all that Kerouacian? - Like I'm an expert ;-P) Still, a fine accompaniment to a lazy winter Sunday afternoon.

    13. Death Cab for Cutie - The Open Door EP
    A set of songs recorded around the same time as their "Narrow Stairs" album but were, I'm presuming, felt to be too "upbeat" to fit the dour mood of that particular album. If you like your introspective lyrics served up with chiming guitars, catchy melodies and handclaps, do yourself a favour and check out "My Mirror Speaks." One of my favourite Death Cab songs ever and one of my favourite songs of the year.

    14. John Doe & the Sadies - Country Club
    While I've never been a huge fan of the Bakersfield, 70's lounge county type of thing, John Doe sounds as though he's been singing these songs for many, many years (and his backing band is absolutely fabulous.)

    15. Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine
    Initially disappointing, but its grown on me. Maybe not quite as compelling as a couple of their earlier works, but some interesting new retro instrumental wrinkles keep it interesting.

    16. Robert Pollard/Boston Spaceships - The Crawling Distance/Elephant Jokes/Planets Are Blasted/Zero to 99
    I'm breaking with convention here and giving hyper-prolific Robert Pollard a spot on my list not for any particular album, but more for his "body of work" in 2009 (it's my list, I can do what I want.) Its hard to even keep up with Bob's output, but the four albums that he released this year (that I know of) were all decent and contained their share of gems. If you took all the best songs and put them onto one album, you'd have a fine record that would match some of his best GBV efforts.

    17. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
    A kind of Travelling Wilburys-esque "super group" featuring some of the better artists in alt country/alternative folk these days. Pretty cool. (But no Golden Smog.)

    18. M. Ward - Hold Time
    This is an album I sort of overlooked this year, downloading a few tunes and getting distracted by some other albums and kind of forgetting about it. I've been listening to it more lately and realizing it's a solid M. Ward outing. Which is to say it's pretty damned good.

    19. Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Ready For The Flood
    Certainly no where near as enjoyable as some of the classic Jayhawks albums, but still a reasonable facsimile, and its just nice to see these two recording together again.

    20. Joel Plaskett -Three
    Joel Plaskett has long been a fixture on the Canadian alternative music scene with Thrush Hermit, the Joel Plaskett Emergency and his solo work. He's such a likable songwriter and performer that you just can't help cheering for him. "Three" was, for me, one of his better albums in a while and I'm still kicking myself for not seeing him play at the old Broadway Theatre here in Saskatoon this year where his Dad joined him on stage for a set.
  • Really cool website videos

    Mar 7 2009, 0h29

    I just stumbled across this website and I thought some of my neighbours might enjoy it as much as I did...

    It's kind of a neat concept where they get musicians to play acoustic versions of their songs in the back seat of a cab while they drive around London and they record them with a video camera from the front seat.

    There's dozens of artists on here that read like a "who's who" of alternative music. My favourites so far are Okkervil River (a moody Big Star cover, with rain and leafless trees providing the perfect backdrop), the New Pornographers (just 'cause their Canajun and they lug an accordion back there), the Walkmen (because they jam three of them back there, they remember percussion and do some mighty fine whistling) and Death Cab for Cutie (for their "sunny" uptempo acoustic groovyness). But I haven't seen a bad one yet. The Calexico, Bon Iver and Bill Callahan ones are really sweet too.

    If you've got an evening or an afternoon to kill, I'd highly recommend visiting and clicking around. I really like how you get a sense of the character/personality of these artists from this concept.

    (Don't forget to put it in full screen mode!)

  • Caveat Emptor - JohnySaskatunes Favourite Albums of 2008 (Social Media Version)

    Dez 30 2008, 3h09

    Welcome to my 2008 favourite albums list. I say "favourite" instead of "best" because I just like what I like. In fact a lot of the stuff that I like, I like in spite of the fact that I know it's not "good." I say "Caveat Emptor" (or "Buyer Beware") because in this age of digital music I seldomly buy actual CD's, and in fact, I seldomly buy complete albums. I have become what is surely some sort of reviled lower life form in the minds of true music aficionados: the cherry picker. I will tell you that I have downloaded the majority (if not all) of the songs from the albums in my top ten or twelve. After that it might get a little dicey. Consider yourself warned.

    1. Elliott BROOD - "Mountain Meadows"
    I think this is the sentimental favourite if only because they are Canadian. Like the Calexico disc, I have the complete album and there are very few songs on it that I don't genuinely enjoy. If you haven't heard Elliott Brood, they describe their music as "death country." I would describe it as rock music, played on banjos and ukeleles, so that it sounds like it is coming through some sort of traditional music filter. "Mountain Meadows" is a milder, more commercially accessible Elliott Brood than their much darker debut album "Ambassador" but it's also a more consistent, more melodic Elliott Brood. Tracks like "Without Again" and "Write It All Down for You" are downright catchy. Other excellent tracks include the moody "31 Years" and bar room rockers like the instrumental "Chuckwagon" and the simple banjo driven, sing-a-longsy "T-Bill." But there are many other gooders here to choose from. Do yourself a favour and check out this unique new band.

    Bonus social media content:

    2. Calexico - "Carried to Dust"
    I was actually super majorly disappointed with this album when I first heard it. It's slick production values and Joey Burn's predominantly "spooky whisper" vocal stylings had me longing for the lo-fi indie wood-toned goodness of my favourite Calexico album, "Spoke." But, thankfully, John Convertino's drumming started pulling me in and now, after repeated listens, I am officially head over heels in love with this album. Calexico is, above all else these days, a band of great musicians. It is the jams, the little twists and turns and details of their music, that reward repeated listens and close attention, and are so friggin' excellent. They have also refound their mariachi mojo that was nearly absent from their last album "Garden Ruin." Desert flavoured tracks like "Inspiración," "Pulpo" and "El Gatillo (Trigger Revisited)" are among my favourites. But it's "Slowness" that is my absolute favourite, a beautiful duet sung with some very excellent female vocalist whose name I don't know because iTunes didn't have a "digital booklet" to offer with the album download (one of the pitfalls of virtual music I suppose).

    3. Justin Townes Earle - "The Good Life"
    I normally don't like music quite this old-timey. This album sounds like it could have been recorded during the Depression and would be at right home spinning away on a gramaphone. I imagine this sort strict adherence to a form of music must take discipline but could be liberating at the same time. (I wish the new Ryan Adams & the Cardinals disc had more of this sort of discipline, more like their excellent "Jacksonville City Nights" album. But I digress...) The JTE "character" here is a cheatin', drinkin', gamblin', boxcar hoppin' rogue with a twinkle in his eye and a yarn on his lips but with a bit of lonesome side as well. It's a thoroughly enjoyable ride! Favourites include the title track, "Hard Livin'" and (If You) "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving" (Girl You Know You Oughta Be).

    (As an aside I also ended up downloading a few tracks off of his debut EP "Yuma" including the excellent track "I Don't Care" which namedrops Saskatoon!!!)

    4. The Avett Brothers - "The Second Gleam EP"
    This album really surprised me too. I sort of just downloaded it to use up some eMusic credits and thought its acoustic backporchy vibe might be nice to throw on while I was doing housework or something. But after a few plays I found myself really getting pulled in by the songwriting and ended up sitting in front of the computer, listening, dish towel in hand. Simple, catchy melodies and lyrics with just the right mix of melancholy and humour. A really great, really affecting little record. ("The Greatest Sum (acoustic)" and "Murder in the City" are my favourites but the whole thing is really solid.)

    5. The Walkmen - "You & Me"
    I've been cherry picking tunes from Walkmen albums for a number of years now. So I can say, with no great degree of certainty, this is by far my favourite of theirs. A hundred miles off from the punky screamer "the Rat" from their "Bows + Arrows" album (according to, still their most popular song), "You & Me" is a collection of poetic, boozy mid-tempo rockers with just the right amount of swagger. Lyrically, a lot of the songs come out of a place of regret and fatalism, of knowing you really need to get your shit together and make some changes in your life but also knowing that, in all likely hood, that isn't ever going to happen. You just are what you are, and so am I. This album is so consistently good that it's hard to pick favourites, but "Postcards from Tiny Islands," "Red Moon" and "In the New Year" are some good ones.

    6. Old 97's - "Blame it on Gravity"
    I'd heard of the Old 97's quite some time ago but I guess never really "got them" and had barely a handfull of their songs on my computer. That all changed when I heard the jaw-dropping "No Baby I" while listening to a neighbour's radio station here on this year. I immediately downloaded the bulk of "Blame on Gravity," cherry-picked many tunes from several albums in their back catalogue, and then spent the summer catching up with this heretofore overlooked Dallas, Texas band. I love their punky "I hear the train a comin'" take on alt-country and many of Rhett Miller's lyrics to me seem downright Westerbergian. While my whirlwind romance with them has now cooled slightly, I still count "No Baby I" as easily one of my favourite tracks of the year, and other gooders include "The Easy Way" and "The Fool."

    7. Beck - "Modern Guilt"
    Not quite on par with my favourite Beck albums ("Odelay" and "Guero") but its up there. This time around Beck teams up with Danger Mouse who, I am told, is quite famous as the musical half of Gnarls Barkley. Danger Mouse produces the album and is credited for most of the album's "beats." (If you generate "beats" on a computer does that make you a percussionist? A drummer? I am getting old...) Lyrically, "Modern Guilt" is very dark and existential, with a few musings on environmental apocalypse thrown in for relief. However, musically, the album is actually quite uptempo and upbeat, and there is also a groovy retro late 60's vibe to many of the songs, which, combined with the very modern hip-hoppy beats and production, makes for a sonically rich and interesting album. Fave tracks include the title track, "Gamma Ray," "Orphans," "Chemtrails" and the air guitar worthy riff in "Soul of a Man."

    8. Aimee Mann "@#%&*! Smilers"
    A modest departure for the Aimme Mann "brand" from the 70's adult contemporary soft rock guitar sound of her last few albums to a more 70's adult contemporary soft rock keyboards sound. I wasn't sure if I liked this at first but the keyboards work well here generally and push the soaring melancholy in the choruses of songs like "Looking for Nothing" or "Thirty One Today" to spine tingling levels. In all, the Aimee Mann "brand promise" is delivered here, from the wisened, semi-detatched narrator coolly singing about an assortment of loser characters, right down to the beautiful CD packaging we've come to to expect from her. (Unfortunately, I only happened to see the packaging while killing time in a record store after I'd already downloaded the album... doh!)

    9. Jolie Holland - "The Living and the Dead"
    I first heard Jolie Holland on 2006 's 1930's-ish sounding torchlight album "Springtime Can Kill You" and subsequently cherry-picked a few tunes off of her 2004 debut "Escondida." Holland (so I've heard) was one of the founding members of the Be Good Tanyas, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from listening to her early solo work. More "old-timey" than "traditional" (if that makes sense) these albums have slow, understated arrangements that highlight her extraordinary ethereal, warbly voice. "The Living and the Dead" moves her into more upbeat, more modern sounding territory, but the whole thing still works, and is probably much more accessible (albeit less unique) than her first two albums. "Your Big Hands" is the rockingest track here and "Sweet Loving Man" is another favourite, but there are many good ones to chose from.

    10. Kathleen Edwards - "Asking for Flowers"
    I didn't especially care for this album initially as it kind of sounded like Kathleen Edwards was losing her edge. After a few listens though, I think there's still plenty of edge here, it's just more subtle. And this album seems to really mark her maturing as a songwriter. "The Cheapest Key" is a nod to her old overtly mischievous self, as is "Sure as Shit"(well, at least the title is anyways...) But it's the keenly observed, heart-wrenching title track that had me close to tears when it came on the stereo the other day while I was driving home from the grocery store...

    11. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - "Real Emotional Trash"
    I seem to be in a small minority of people who count Stephen Malkmus's eponymous debut as their favourite of his post-Pavement albums. I think Malkmus is a fairly awesome guitar player but I find a lot of his trippy solos and noodling a bit excessive. While "Real Emotional Trash" doesn't completely do away with those (the title track clocks in at ten minutes) there are a handful of songs here that match the catchy, smart, focused brevity of his early solo work. Also, I think the addition of former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss helps a lot, as she at least provides a solid backbone for some of Malkmus's freestyle vocal and guitar explorations. "Cold Son" is my favourite, with "Gardenia" and "Out of Reaches" following close behind.

    12. Foxboro Hottubs - "Stop Drop and Roll!!!"
    I read somewhere that Green Day recorded this album under a pseudonym because they just wanted to have some fun and record some songs without having to deal with all the pressure of following up their monster 2004 hit album "American Idiot." The result is, well... fun! It is predictably punky but with lots of retro-60's garage and psychedelic influences thrown into the mix. The album includes one of my favourite songs of the year, "Pieces of Truth" with it's rip snortin' garage punk guitar riff and the reeling saxophone solo that closes it out. The Strawberry Alarm Clock-esque flutes of "Dark Side of Night" are also cool, as are the retro keyboards in the rollicking "Sally." All in all a very enjoyable effort!

    13. Silver Jews - "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea"
    A more polished, Nashville-ey sounding Silver Jews compared to their usual ramshackle delivery, which I'm not sure if I like or not... David Berman hasn't lost his sense of humour though or his gift with language. The hilarious "Candy Jail" will certainly become a Jews classic for me."What Is Not But Could Be If" and "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer" are also favourites.

    14. Elvis Costello & The Imposters - "Momofuku"
    Did I mention that the Imposters effin' rule? I heard this album was nailed together in like a week or two or something, and it shows. No computer massaging and time correcting here. This sounds live in the studio, with all the glorious imperfections that come along with that. Full of visceral groove and feel, this is a nice departure for Elvis from some of his more "cerebral" projects of late, and demonstrates that he still knows how to rock (for an old bugger). Favourite tracks include "Drum and Bone," "Stella Hurt" and "Go Away."

    15. Cat Power - "Jukebox"
    (Hmmm. This one feels too far down the list but I'm not sure who to bump...) Overall, I didn't like this album of cover songs as much as her recent "The Greatest" LP but there are a few tunes here that I really like a lot. Especially "I Believe in You" and her take on the Sinatra classic "New York, New York." She also released a companion EP this year called "Dark End of the Street" that features an interesting cover of CCR's "Fortunate Son" (although not nearly as cool as the Uncle Tupelo cover I've heard of that tune!) Add in her awesome take of Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" from the late 2007 "Being There" soundtrack, and 2008 was a great year for listening to soulful Cat Power cover tunes.

    16. Centro-matic - "Dual Hawks"
    "Dual Hawks" is actually sort of a double album by songwriter Will Johnson. One half is recorded with his spare and haunting "South San Gabriel" project, the other with the noisier "Centro-matic." While I'm sure most music critics would undoubtedly prefer the more affecting and innovative South San Gabriel stuff, I just can't get enough of the 90's grunge and fuzztone guitars of Centro-matic. Also, Johnson's vocals on the latter are so very cool. Wisened, craggly and world weary with "the fiends and ghouls and darkness at (his) door" (from the song "Twenty-four." "All Your Farewells" and "The Rat Patrol and DJ's" are also stellar.)

    17. Drive-By Truckers - "Brighter Than Creation's Dark"
    For some reason, try as I might (I've cherry-picked from plenty of their albums) but I've never quite gotten the whole hubba-balloo over the DBT's. Don't get me wrong, they've got some great songs and I completely respect them as artists, and I genuinely appreciate the intelligent themes and vivid personae rendered in their lyrics, but somehow just not quite my cup of tea. Still, this album is by far their most accessible to date for me, and gems like "Ghost to Most" and "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" may finally have me seeing the light (pun intended).

    18. Lucinda Williams - "Little Honey"
    I haven't given this album a whole lot of spins yet, but my initial reaction to it is quite positive, and I'm predicting some months down the road I may wish that I had ranked it higher. After several albums of generally quite morose, introspective music, this is the sound of Lucinda Williams finally having a bit of fun and rocking out. Initial favourites include a duet with Elvis Costello called "Jailhouse Tears", the honky tonk of "Well, Well, Well" and the mid-tempo "Little Rock Star" (which in a way reminds me of "Drunken Angel" from her classic "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" album.)

    19. Tokyo Police Club - "Elephant Shell"
    The much hyped full-length debut from the Toronto area suburb of Newmarket, Ontario quartet turned out to be mildly disappointing. After releasing two stellar EP's that were full of quirky, high energy indie-post-punk-power-pop with shades of the Strokes, Buzzcocks and GBV, this album is a more toned-down serious affair and not nearly as much fun. Still, there are a enough nice nuggets here, such as "Juno" or "Listen to the Math," to let me give it a mildly enthusiastic thumbs up.

    20. She & Him - "Volume 1"
    This year's guilty pleasure, I suppose. A somewhat light-weight summer soft rock/pop (but nonetheless engaging) album that joins actress/looker Zooey Deschanel (of "Elf" fame) with musical savant M. Ward. The album is a mix of 50's and 60's pop, a bit of twang, and a bit of alternative. Deschanel is actually a pretty decent, confident singer and M.Ward keeps things fairly interesting musically. Favourite tracks: "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?," This Is Not a Test" and "I Was Made for You."

    Just barely missed the cut:
    Jenny Lewis - "Acid Tongue"
    Stars - "Sad Robots EP"
    Jason Collett - "Here's to Being Here"
  • Like Anyone Cares - Johny Saskatunes Favourite Albums of 2007 (Long-winded Version)

    Dez 25 2007, 17h35

    Okay, here it goes (I'm going to quit tinkering with it now.) I say "favourite" albums instead of "best" because I'm not, like, an aficionado or anything (It's just all so subjective, eh?) If you like some of my top artists you might like a few of these as well...

    1. Son Volt - "The Search"
    I personally think is one of Jay Farrar's best efforts in years (although virtually no one else seems to think so...) Sonic experimentation such as the addition of horns and psychedelic guitars break from Farrar's usually more traditional take on "alt-country." But maybe most important is Farrar's more ragged, expressive sounding vocals exploring more politically charged themes. Favourite line: "Who the hell is Dow Jones anyway?"

    2. Elliott Smith - "New Moon"
    (I don't think compilations aren't supposed to be included in "best of's" but whatever...) Was this guy even capable of writing a crappy song??? This double album of "throwaways," demos, outtakes and alternate versions mostly from Smith's creative heyday of the "Either/Or" and "XO" albums, blows 90% of this year's "proper albums" out of the water.

    3. Spoon - "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"
    I can always find time to enjoy smart, catchy, Brit-influenced, post-punk indie power pop with refreshing splashes of Motown or mariachi (and who can't??) I love that Rolling Stone compared this album to mid-eighties XTC...

    4. The National - "Boxer"
    My favourite songs on this disc balance neatly somewhere between melancholic and sardonic, wry and existential, desperate and drunkenly resolute. Between propulsive rhythms and eerie atmospheric guitar/cello/keyboard swashes. Indie rock has never sounded so majestic.

    5. Wilco - "Sky Blue Sky"
    Okay, I didn't particularly like this album when I first heard it. In yet another about-face, and lacking the avant garde experimentation and pop sensibilities of some of their previous albums, "Sky Blue Sky" was lambasted on Pitchfork as "Dad rock." Point taken, but... Jeff Tweedy is still simply one of the best songwriters out there. Repeated listens to most of these songs found them getting getting under my skin in a very good, honest, organic kind of way.

    6. Stars - "In Our Bedroom After the War"
    While not the mind-boggling, out-of-nowhere, "OMFG,-you-have-to-hear-this-band" that was 2005's "Set Yourself on Fire," the follow-up has it's moments. "My Favourite Book," "Bitches in Tokyo" and "Take Me to the Riot" had me at "hello." While "The Night Starts Here" and "Window Bird" are among some other songs that are seriously growing on me. (Torquil Campbell's increasing overwrought vocals are not, however.)

    7. The Sadies - "New Seasons"
    The Sadies are probably Canada's most criminally under-appreciated band. With little hype or fanfare they just continue to crisscross this vast country touring clubs with their unique blend of garage & country and releasing stellar albums along the way. 2007 was no exception.

    8. Okkervil River - "The Stage Names"
    There are definitely songs I like better from previous Okkervil efforts (Although, "John Allyn Smith Sails" and "Unless It Kicks" come pretty dang close). But they have no better, more consistent "album" to date than this one (IMHO).

    9. The Avett Brothers - "Emotionalism"
    The Avetts add a few more pop stylings to their traditional bluegrass sound. I suppose what the Beatles might have sounded like if they were born in the American south in the mid-nineteenth century...?

    10. Iron & Wine - "The Shepherd's Dog"
    A bit of a more full band approach compared to Sam Beam's early quiet acoustic albums - which I'm not sure if I like or not (or at least I preferred the full band approach of the Iron & Wine & Calexico EP "In The Reins";-). What I still do like are his dark lyrics and oddly reassuring voice...

    11. Steve Earle - "Washington Square Serenade"
    Another album that was panned by critics when it came out. Steve was chastised for turning his back on "Guitar Town" by moving to New York, for working with a "Dust Bother" and using a beat box instead of his usual stellar backing band "The Dukes." Well, like Jeff Tweedy, Steve is a great songwriter and a master musician, and except for what is possibly his worst song ever ("City of Immigrants") this is still pretty solid Steve.

    12. The Shins - "Wincing the Night Away"
    Kind of a disappointment for sure, but still a few nice moments. (The alternate version of "Spilt Needles" that appeared as a b-side to the "Phantom Limb" single had more of the catchy post-punk pop I was hoping for than nearly anything on the album, and was one of my favourite songs of the year.)

    13. Lucinda Williams - "West"
    While far from her best work, this sombre album still contains enough jewels (like "Unsuffer Me" or "Fancy Funeral") to make me confident that Lucy's got a great album or two in her yet...

    14. Money Mark - "Brand New By Tomorrow"
    Part-time Beastie Boy and analogue keyboard player extraordinaire, Mark Ramos-Nishita returns with another solo effort that ventures into vocal territory (and brings his guitars along as well.) Groovy retro summery goodness ensues.

    15. Tim Armstrong - "A Poet's Life"
    Rancid frontman issues an old-school ska flavoured solo album (backed by the Aggrolites.) The irrepressible dancehall horns and backing vocals of "Into Action" made it one of my favourite songs of the year.

    16. Grant-Lee Phillips - "Stranglet"
    The first Grant-Lee Phillips song I downloaded was a wonderfully laconic cover of the Pixies "Wave of Mutilation" from his 2006 album of covers called "Nineteeneighties." I checked out some of his own material on this year's "Stranglet" and was similarly impressed. Smart, catchy and a bit strange all in one nice mid-tempo guitar orientated package. (Would appeal to fans of Aimee Mann or A.C. Newman or stuff like that.)

    17. Nine Inch Nails - "Year Zero"
    Holy sci-fi concept album, Batman! (Hmmmm. Or just a metaphor for our world's current conundrums? Holy Bush-Iraq protest album, Batman!) While I'm not usually a huge fan of this sort of heavy industrial music, Trent Reznor is nonetheless a master craftsman and a passionate soul. The seething anger that underlies some of the prettier melodic tracks like "In This Twilight," "The Good Soldier" and "My Violent Heart" takes them to whole other level... and the wildly experimental digitally distorted sonics combined with excellent production values compel me to turn my headphones up way, way too loud.

    18. Ryan Adams - "Easy Tiger"
    Kudos to Ryan for sobering up and finally delivering a focused, consistent album. It's okay, but I somehow liked the boozy, drug-addled, sporadic genius of the old Ryan Adams better.

    19. The Hives - "The Black and White Album"
    "Howlin" Pelle Almqvist is one of my favourite vocalists going these days. Kind of Johnny Rotten meets Mick Jagger meets James Brown. I just wish the Hives would head more in the garage punk direction that was underlying their earlier albums instead of the pop-rock punk direction they've gone in with their last two...

    20 (tie). The Apples in Stereo - "New Magnetic Wonder"
    This year's jangly-bubblegum-guitar-pop guilty pleasure.

    20 (tie). Two Cow Garage - "Three"
    If only for the Golden Smoggish gem "No Shame." I just can't get sick of it.