We asked music reviewers Graham Rockingham and Bryan Borzykowski to pick their Top Five album releases from the last year in music.
With just a couple weeks left in the year, every music fan is likely busy compiling a list of the decade’s best records. But we can’t forget how good 2009 has been. There was Sonic Youth’s infectious The Eternal, La Roux’s electro pop debut, Grizzly Bear’s harmony laden folk on Veckatimst and the list goes on. But five Canadian records really stood out. Not only are these better than many of the international albums that hit shelves, but they’ve outshone all of the incredible talent coming out of the Great White North.
1. Joel Plaskett, Three (MapleMusic/Universal)
This seminal East Coast rocker has created a lot of good music over the years, but Three is easily his most ambitious effort yet. It should have been a mess — a triple-disc, 27-song effort has a lot of potential to go wrong — but nearly every track here is as inspiring as the next. Partnering with Rose Cousins and Ana Egge, who provided stunning harmonies, was genius, while the infectious folk melodies are classic Plaskett.
2. Alexisonfire, Old Crows/Young Cardinals (Dine Alone)
I’ve never liked Alexisonfire. Their aggressive yells and uneven songwriting didn’t do much for me — that is until I heard their fourth disc Old Crows/Young Cardinals. On this record, the group has, without question, found their voice. They’ve discovered the perfect balance between George Pettit’s loud, guttural yells and Dallas Green’s soaring melodic vocals. The songs are incredibly contagious, especially single Young Cardinals.
3. Charles Spearin, The Happiness Project (Arts & Crafts/EMI)
You know Charles Spearin as the multi-instrumentalist from Do May Say Think and Broken Social Scene, but the artist’s most inventive work has to be The Happiness Project. On this record, Spearin interviewed people from his community and set their words to sounds. Horn blasts follow a woman’s natural talking melodies on the track Mrs. Morris, while a jazz band plays around with a little girl’s words on Vittoria. It’s experimental and accessible, but better yet it’s passionate, inspiring and a beautiful ode to Spearin’s neighbourhood.
4. Handsome Furs, Face Control (Sub Pop/Outside)
Handsome Furs is the brainchild of Wolf Parade’s guitarist Dan Boeckner and his wife Alexei Perry — and the buzz is definitely competing with his other group. The duo’s second disc is a gorgeous collection of gritty synth-heavy rock. It’s wildly infectious, especially the Springsteen-esque All We Want, Baby, Is Everything. It’s louder and more confident than the band’s debut too; the more they improve the more Wolf Parade becomes a distant memory.
5. K’nann, Troubador (A&M/Universal)
Canadians have known about K’naan — the Somalia-born, Toronto-based rapper — since his fantastic debut in 2006. But, it was this year that the rest of the world finally discovered Keinan Abdi Warsame. That’s thanks to his incredible sophomore record Troubador — which blends hip-hop, rock, R&B and everything else. It’s filled with catchy hooks, but it’s the subject matter on songs like Fatima, about a girl he knew in Africa, that makes this a memorable effort.
This list should probably include albums like The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga (even if her tracks sound like ABBA retreads, it’s about time somebody injected shock back into pop) and Blueprint 3
by Jay-Z (Empire State of mind is classy stuff, Yankees fan or not).
But it won’t. There’s always enough worthy Canadian music to promote
without having to venture south or overseas. So this list is entirely
1 – The Arkells, Jackson Square (Dine Alone)
album was actually released late in 2008, but few paid attention until
this year when the singles Oh the Boss is Coming and The Ballad of Hugo
Chavez made the rock airwaves. This is an extraordinary debut album by
the Hamilton-based band that merges catchy, high-energy hooks with
intelligent lyrics. Tracks like Champagne Socialist and John Lennon in
67 leave the Arkells a cut above everyone else right now. And a year of
steady touring has forged a fiery live act that will win over any
2. Alexisonfire, Old Crows/Young Cardinals (Dine Alone)
had already demonstrated strong instrumental chops and a strong sense
of lyrical purpose. All it needed was to tone down the screamo vocals
and delve into their rock roots. They did all this and more on their
fourth album. It all comes together on tracks like The Northern, where
the band incorporates the gospel standard Roll Jordan Roll into the
chorus, and Emerald Street, where George Pettit shows a journalist’s
eye for composition.
3. LeE HARVeY OsMOND, Quiet Evil (Latent)
collective effort with representation from the Cowboy Junkies, the
Skydiggers and Junkhouse that sprang from a Michael Timmins project to
musically chronicle the assassination of JFK. The group accomplishes
the task in brilliant form in the track Parkland, named after the
Dallas hospital where the president was pronounced dead. Frontman Tom
Wilson describes this deeply dark, sometimes frightening, music as
“acid folk.” It fits.
4. Metric, Fantasies (Metric Music)
album would make the list simply for asking “would you rather be The
Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” But there are 10 solid tracks on this
album, including Help I’m Alive, and Emily Haines’ songwriting keeps
getting stronger. It’s difficult to understand how this album didn’t
win the Polaris Prize. Metric, it seems, has become too popular for the
5. Tragically Hip, We are the Same (Universal)
should never take this band for granted. After more than 20 years of
recording the truest form of Canadian rock in existence, the Hip pulls
together one of their most ambitious projects to date. And all of the
tracks fit in comfortably with the rest of the band’s incredible