It’s Part 2, and looking at this top 10, I feel like I really listened to and loved a lot of stuff that other writers didn’t. In what might’ve been the weakest year for music in the last decade, I suppose that’s to be expected. Hopefully this list will help you discover some gems you maybe hadn’t thought of as the Best of 2014, but will help ease the transition into what might be another phenomenal year of music in 2015. Enjoy.
10. Future Islands
Best Track: “Seasons(Waiting on You)”
I don’t even know what this record is, but I love the shit out of it. Sometimes you sit back and you think, “how did the band write these songs? Where did they come up with these ideas?” That’s not always a positive sign, but this is as strong of a collection of new-wave, indie pop whatevers in as long as I can remember and “Seasons” is the undisputed track of the year. The only reason I ranked this record is so low is it feels like it has the chance to be this year’s M83 record, where it sounds so great now and flames out spectacularly only a year or two down the road. (seriously, have you listened to that M83 record recently? Outside of “Midnight City”, I can’t remember a record that felt so vital upon its release feeling so stale so quickly.)
9. TV on the Radio
Best Track: “Trouble”
This is the first TVOTR album I have genuinely liked from start to finish, so it’s a bit strange to me that I liked it as much as I did, but here we are. I have liked individual songs from them in the past, but found their albums a bit too much to get through. With Seeds, they hit the chill button a little harder than they have previously, to what I feel is a great result. The album seems a lot more grounded into synths and electronic drums, giving the whole thing a chillwave type of vibe and finding constant rotation for me since its release.
8. Sharon van Etten
Are We There
Best Track: “Taking Chances”
This album is basically a giant kick in my emotions’ dick. It is rare that this type of confessional album is communicated with such honesty that it never feels cheesy, and Sharon van Etten somehow makes lines like “break my legs so I can’t run to you” feel empowering and not awful. The instrumentals should also not be without mention, as the album has a grungy-type feel that carries the weight of the tracks beautifully. It was an album I came to much later than its release date, and I’m glad I did.
7. Bry Webb
Best Track: “Let’s Get Through Today”
I am an unapologetic lover of the Constantines, and Bry Webb’s voice is something I have turned to many times, in response to many different emotions. While this is not Webb’s first foray into solo territory, this collection feels just a little bit more vital than his 2011 debut, Provider. Webb’s voice is raspy and emotive with the Cons, but he finds another level in this hushed setting, finding a beautiful timbre that gives each of his words extra weight, particularly on album standouts “Fletcher” and “Let’s Get Through Today”, the latter about the birth of his son. Not shy about using acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, and drums to augment the sound, this was a record I turned to a lot during contemplative times this year, and is one I’m sure I’ll return to often, perhaps more than any other record released in 2014.
6. Majid Jordan
A Place Like This EP
Best Track: “A Place Like This”
From the complete opposite end of the Bry Webb/Sharon van Etten spectrum come Majid Jordan, frequent Drake collaborators(they provided the backing on last year’s song of the year, “Hold On We’re Going Home”) and a smooth-voiced pair of gentlemen(one named Majid and one Jordan) making delicious R&B music. After first being drawn in by the slinky “A Place Like This”, I was surprised at how effective these two were at creating R&B mood pieces, from the groovy “All I Do” to the slow jam “U”. While only 5 tracks deep, I listened to this EP a ton this year, blowing the cover off on many night-time drives. A full-length with a star-studded guest list would be one of my more anticipated releases in 2015.
5. Damien Jurado
Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Best Track: “Silver Donna”
Damien Jurado’s “Saint Bartlett” is one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and ever since he began collaborating with infamous producer Richard Swift, he can do no wrong in my eyes. This album is no exception, capping a trilogy of albums with Swift by combining the ideas of the first two to create what might be the strongest of the three. “Saint Bartlett” was Jurado easing into the new direction Swift wanted—additional instrumentation, a focus on fleshing out songs in a way Jurado hadn’t before—but was ultimately still pretty quiet. “Maraqopa” was Jurado taking those Swift-ian ideas to their end, slamming every song full of psych-rock freak outs, Latin drumming, and whatever else he could think of, ending with a good record that was a bit overstuffed. This album feels like the perfect, tempered combination of those first two records, using those sounds to augment each track near perfectly, with “Silver Donna” ranking up among the best and most fleshed-out songs Jurado has written. A stunning album.
4. Tokyo Police Club
Best Track: “Argentina”
Every year, there is an album that I’m just not that enamoured with at first. Maybe I enjoy it, but just not as much as I’d hoped, or maybe I straight up dislike it. By the end of the year, usually that “grower” album of the year tends to be one of my favorites, as I felt like perhaps I struggled a bit more to get it into my brain. This record was that for me this year.
With this record, it wasn’t that I disliked it, it just wasn’t what I expected. Having ADORED TPC’s “Champ”, I was surprised that rather than following the more electronic direction that album seemed to be taking, they went full pop instead. But it’s really, really good and I’m glad they did. “Argentina” is a bonafide track of the year candidate, with tremendous guitar work from Josh Hook propelling the 8 minutes of the song into a musical rarity: a song over 5 minutes that never gets boring. “Hot Tonight” is something you would imagine the band could’ve retired off the royalties from if they gave it to Carly Rae Jepsen, and the rest of the album is accomplished pop that firmly establishes the band among the upper echelon of Canadian indie.
3. You Blew It!
Keep Doing What You’re Doing
Best Track: “House Address”
Earlier in this list, I alluded to the fact that for whatever reason, 2014 seemed to be the year of the punk revival. And not Black Flag/Minor Threat-type punk, of which a revival seems to occur every two years or so. We’re talking the late 90s/early 00s punk, the Warped Tour set gaining a whole host of new bands inexplicably, 10 years after they were relevant. Bands like Joyce Manor, Chumped, and The Hotelier all made a name for themselves this year, but for my money, none were even close to the brilliance of You Blew It! I remember playing the record for a friend in the car, and his first reaction was, “they still make music like this? I like it, but it almost feels weird listening to it.” It has a timeless feel that can’t be described, and I probably listened to this record more than any other in 2015.
Tight drumming and the interplay of three guitars created a phenomenal back drop for Tanner Jones’ lyrics, which read simultaneously like burnout teenage confessionals(“If I had my way/I’d play video games with you every single fucking day”, “The only thing that stays the same/is the way I never change”) and kiss-offs(“You can always consider me a friend/just strictly in the past tense”, “For every good thing I could say about you/there’s a great reason why I refuse to”). If this were released in 2002, it would’ve been a standout in the genre due to the exceptional songwriting, but in 2014, it’s not only a standout, but a refreshing change of pace.
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
Best Track: “My Sad Captains”
Elbow might very well be my favorite band, so this is possibly a slightly biased pick, but I don’t care. Their last album, build a rocket boys!, outside of the stunning “Lippy Kids”, may end up being Elbow’s weakest album as a band. I found it to be a collection of unfinished ideas, playing more like a Guy Garvey solo album than a fully formed Elbow record. Thankfully, they’ve returned to form here, combining their prog-rock sensibilities with their flair for sullen drama that no other band on the planet does better, save perhaps The National.
The album follows the pattern of all great Elbow records, a few rocking tracks(“Charge”, “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”, the title track) nestling in beside the contemplative pieces(“My Sad Captains, “This Blue World”, “Real Life”) to create a phenomenal mix. It’s hard to believe that the band has been going this strong for almost 20 years, but here we are with yet another Elbow record that feels just as vital as their debut.
1. Wye Oak
Best Track: “Glory”
This is the second Wye Oak album to find the top of my list in a weaker musical year, as “Civilian” topped my list in 2011, and it’s hard to imagine a band changing more between two albums than Wye Oak did between Civilian and this record.
Wye Oak are a two-piece that work together to create a massive sound, with guitarist and lead singer Jenn Wasner being a standout in the genre. She combines a unique alto voice with tremendous guitar skills(girl can shred!) to give the band a unique sound in a crowded genre, and Civilian was one hell of a record. Then, with this effort, her and drummer Andy Stack threw that out the window, as Wasner decided she was bored with the guitar and picked up a bass and synthesizer instead. Somehow, it worked.
This album is proof that these two are better musicians than I might’ve originally thought, as it somehow sounds like a logical departure from their previous sound despite being so markedly different. From the plodding “The Tower” to the dance-y “Glory” to the gorgeous, must-listen-in-headphones layering of “I Know the Law”, each song sounds like a different idea, like the two felt somehow freed without the guitar and were willing to try a bunch of different sounds, song structures, and ideas to make it work. They virtually all work. It’s a wondrous piece of music that makes me excited for a future Wye Oak that exists in this realm, or a return to their guitar-based sound of albums past. It’s rare a band can so drastically shift their sound and be so successful, but Wye Oak have managed it here on what I think was 2014’s best record.
Every year, I find myself coming up with a new way to review the music of the year, and this year, I thought I would catalogue each music purchase I made of an album this year, 26 in total. I thought it might be neat to see the range of things I decide to buy, and to display them all, instead of just picking 10 and readers not knowing where my head was at.
Now, keep in mind, I listened to a LOT more music than what I actually bought, so I think these 26 albums are all pretty solid. There were a few albums people seemed to universally adore that I didn’t, like War on Drugs or Sun Kil Moon, but for the most part, I think this list is pretty reflective of a year that was ultimately not that strong for music. Enjoy.
26. Cloud Nothings
Here and Nowhere Else
Best Track: “Psychic Trauma”
I loved their last album, and the live show that followed is still one of the concert highlights of my life. This album had none of the same impact on me. It felt less immediate, less important, and ultimately, just less. This is one of the few albums I bought this year that I straight up disliked.
Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Best Track: “Go Away”
After reading enough reviews to convince me this was a return to form for Weezer, I bought this album and realized that Weezer are just never going to be what I want them to be. I’ve retreated back to my Blue and Pinkerton cave and will never come out again. At least it’s not terrible?
24. Tigers Jaw
Best Track: “Nervous Kids”
This was a great sunny afternoon album from a band who broke up immediately after they released this record. There are some jams that I am legitimately happy to hear on shuffle, but the record isn’t really memorable.
23. Charli XCX
Best Track: “Doing It”
I loved Charli XCX’s weirdo debut, True Romance, and I thought it gave a vision into where pop music was headed. I was proved correctly when a lot of 2014 pop music borrowed heavily from its dark/goth leanings(*cough*Taylorswift*cough*). Unfortunately, this takes a left turn directly onto the mainstream pop highway, a collection of largely forgettable songs bogged down by heavy-footed and dim-witted songwriting.
22. You Blew It!
You Blue It! EP
Best Track: “Only In Dreams”
It’s an EP of Blue Album Weezer covers from the band that released one of my favorite albums of the year. There’s very little not to like, it’s just hard to rank an EP of covers above much of the original content released this year.
21. Real Estate
Best Track: “Talking Backwards”
I love Real Estate when I’m in the mood for Real Estate. Sunny day, aimless drive, the clean guitar and airy vocals provide the best soundtrack to summer in the business. Unfortunately, summer is only two months of the year, and I find these tracks to miss the mark without the appropriate weather-related context.
Best Track: “Move That Dope”(feat. Pusha T and Pharrell)
This album feels like the end of trap music. It’s not, of course, but thinking how little relevance it has at the end of the year as compared to its May release is telling. 5 years from now, this will simply be the record that brought us “Move That Dope”, “Benz Friends” and “Look Ahead”, and not much else.
19. D’Angelo and the Vanguard
The Black Messiah
Best Track: “Sugah Daddy”
I was never a D’Angelo fan before this record, but all of the rave reviews from everyone led me to pick it up. It is certainly an enjoyable listen, but I am definitely not this record’s target market. The jams are a little too jammy and the vocals a little too high register for me.
18. Lydia Ainsworth
Right From Real
Best Track: “Moonstone”
This goth-pop collection sounds a bit like Florence and the Machine run through a food processor. An arresting collection of “chopped and screwed” goth-pop, it really hits you when you’re in the mood for it, though, like Real Estate, it is very much mood music that demands your attention when it’s on.
17. From Indian Lakes
Best Track: “Sleeping Limbs”
This year saw quite a few throwbacks to the late 90s and early 00s alternative/punk sound, and this record wouldn’t sound out of place in that era at all. A catchy, drum-driven album full of solid melodies and hooks finds an audience with me, a man who wasn’t even sure he missed that era of music, but judging by a few releases on this list, certainly did.
16. The Districts
Best Track: “Funeral Beds”
There are conflicting reports as to when this EP was released, but I’m counting it as a 2014 album if for no other reason than I think the more people who hear the song, “Funeral Beds”, the better. It cribs a little heavily from the Tom Petty/Lynyrd Skynyrd country-rock sound, but for some reason that sound always feels a little bit like home, even if it’s coming from 4 young bros from Pennsylvania.
15. Field Mouse
Hold Still Life
Best Track: “Two Ships”
Probably the least well-known of any of the bands on this list, this small New York band captured my attention a few years ago with a very Beach House-esque EP. Fast forward to their first full-length, and the band is a bit less shoegaze-y than before, but still provides the goods. Lead singer Rachel Browning’s voice carries an album of very capable and well-crafted indie pop.
14. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 2
Best Track: “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
This album found its way to the top of MANY year-end lists, but I found it a bit too repetitive in both instrumental and lyrical content to really capture my attention the way it seemed too for other people. No question it has some tracks that are absolute hot fire, and the ethos of this band is tremendous(“Meow the Jewels” is one of the greatest things a band has ever done to endear itself to its fans), but it falls a bit short of the “classic” category for me.
Best Track: “I Never Thought That This Would Happen”
I’m pretty sure Arkells are this generation’s answer to Sloan. I mean, Sloan are still making music, but Arkells seem cut from the same cloth: poppy rock that SOUNDS Canadian, made by hard-working guys with hooks piled on top of hooks. This is the third straight album from the Arkells to follow the same air-tight blueprint, and that consistency is another hallmark of Sloan’s. Luckily, this album features their best-ever song, “I Never Thought That This Would Happen”, a sure-fire top 5 song of the year candidate, to further strengthen the band’s cause and tremendous live show.
12. White Lung
Best Track: “In Your Home”
A punk band with a lead singer whose vocal range and knack for writing melodies calls to mind a young Courtney Love, White Lung continue to capture more and more ears despite their genre. Unbelievably strong songwriting makes the album a standout even if you aren’t a particularly huge fan of punk music, and something I put on any time I feel like I might need to punch a hole in a wall.
11. Taylor Swift
Best Track: “Style”
The best pop stars have always made their bank on taking what other, lesser artists have done, stamping it with their money, voice, and style, and making millions off of it. On what could be considered her first true “pop record”, Swift shamelessly rips off a half-dozen artists on her way to one hell of an album.
The influences range from blatantly obvious(“Style”(Daft Punk), “Shake It Off”(Fergie), and “Wildest Dreams”(Lorde)) to not-so-obvious-but-intelligent(Charli XCX’s “True Romance” is EVERYWHERE on this album, from the “Out of the Woods” chorus to the sway of “All You Had To Do Was Stay”) to the bizarre(did anyone think 2014 would be the year we would see a massive pop star crib the Neptunes’ beat to Clipse’s “Grindin’”?). And then there’s “I Wish You Would”, which sounds more like HAIM than actual HAIM songs. Through all of that, though, Swift still knows how to make a song stick in your ear, and the production is second-to-none. My shameless pop record love of 2014.
I’ll return tomorrow with albums #10-1. Thanks for reading!
My special is finally out for viewing, and I couldn’t be happier! I shot this back when I performed at the Vogue Theatre in March, and the feedback has been amazing!
My friend Linea did an amazing job editing, my friend Leigh wrote a damn catchy tune for the titles, and overall, I’m really pleased with it. I’ve released it for free on YouTube because I really wanted everyone who has never seen me do comedy to have a chance to see me. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for watching. Love you all!
I was lucky enough to catch the busiest man in curling, Brad Jacobs, on a day when he was in Vancouver appearing at the Vancouver Home Show.
The 2014 Olympic Gold Medal-winning skip couldn’t have been kinder, as he was incredibly gracious with his time, and was very gracious in sharing his hotel room’s chaise lounge as well. He is a super funny dude, and I especially enjoyed getting to talk about his team and the Olympics.
Well worth a watch, and a fantastic way to cap another successful season of Cullen and a Curler.
If I was a lighthouse, I would look out all over the place.
If I was an asshole, thank you for keeping a smile on your face.
Love the new album from my dudes in Tokyo Police Club. Fresh, new sound and great songwriting as per usual. This 8-minute suite is the standout.
I’ve been such a bad blogger, it’s been over a year since my last “So That Happened”, and that night, a drunk girl named Lulu danced on stage while I performed. This is quite a bit different.
On Saturday, March 8th, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play the Vogue Theatre, one of Vancouver’s premier venues, which holds about 1200 people. I was opening for my good friend and magician Wes Barker(www.stuntmagician.com), and it was easily one of the best experiences of my life.
Rewinding a bit, Wes asked me to play the show in November, in his usual, laid-back style. He sent me a Facebook message that read, “so we should probably talk about my Vogue show.” Of course, I had no idea he even HAD a Vogue show. We met up for dinner, discussed the show, and agreed right there to do the show together. I had met Wes back in the summer doing a comedy competition(Wes does a lot of stand-up as part of his act, and does non-magic stand-up shows as well), and we hit it off right away. I was not only excited to play the Vogue, but excited to work with him as well.
It was there he also informed me that he was going to record his set, and his film crew could do the same for me. I’ve tried to avoid having any of my material online because I didn’t want to have a conflict with my teaching job, but I figured this was a perfect opportunity. It would give me 4 months to carefully choose my material, and I think it’s a pretty bad-ass move to release no video for the first 3.5 years of my stand-up career, and then have the first thing I release be a professionally-shot show in a 1200-seat theatre. As bad-ass as I could ever get, anyway.
Heading into the show, a lot of people asked me if I was nervous, but truthfully, I only got nervous the day before. I generally relish any opportunity to be in front of a big crowd and I was also really excited to film my special. The day before, I had been feeling a bit under the weather so I took the Friday off of work just to relax, calm down, and prepare for the show. It ended up being the opposite of calm or relaxing. It was then I started to have those thoughts of, “oh man, what if my special goes terribly?” “What if this is a largely magic crowd and they don’t care for stand-up?”, etc.
My uncle is a professional comedian in Toronto who has been doing comedy at the highest levels on the biggest stages for 20 years, and I remember when I first started, he told me, “I never get nervous to fail. I know my material is good. I just get nervous about what the crowd will give me,” and this mantra couldn’t have held more true for me. I knew that my material was well-rehearsed, well-practiced, and solid. I was just worried the crowd may not be fully into me because they would be maybe a magic-heavy crowd, a lot of Wes’ friends who just wanted the show to get to Wes, or I don’t know, anything! Most comedians, when they tape a special, do two tapings, just to avoid that exact scenario. They can cut out a joke if there’s a heckler, or lean on one of the two shows if the crowd is more audible with their laughter. This was a one-shot deal, and I was nervous about it.
Luckily, none of that happened. I managed to calm down a bit Friday, and honestly, when I woke up Saturday, I felt refreshed and confident. It also helped that I had my good friend Jen there to take me for brunch, and the Whitecaps home opener to keep me distracted. A lot of people said to me, “you went to the Whitecaps game right before?”, and to me, it was an obvious thing to do. First, I’m a season ticket holder and massive fan, and this was the home opener. You don’t miss that. Second, sometimes the best thing for your mind is to keep it furthest from the task as long as you can. It was perfect.
Watching people filter into the Vogue is one of the most amazing and nerve-wracking experiences you can have, I think. Standing backstage and watching the seats fill up, thinking, “holy shit, these people are here to see me(well, Wes)”, and knowing it’s less than an hour until you perform, then less than half an hour, etc. is crazy. But it was pretty cool. I won’t say much about the show itself aside from the fact that it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing comedy. I was able to put together what was a largely clean set(I said “fuck” only once and had only the smallest amount of innuendo), did 25 minutes, and the crowd was amazing. They could not have been more supportive and it really felt like I could stay on that stage forever.
Wes had a great set himself, and it was overall, one of the best nights of my young comedy career. I thought there was only one thing that could make my night better, and that was a burger from one of my favorite burger joints, Harvey’s. Luckily, the only one in the Lower Mainland is three doors down from the Vogue. And crush that bacon cheeseburger I did.
There are so many people to thank, but most of all, I just want to thank Wes for the opportunity, and all of my friends and family for their support.
I want to give special mention to my comedy family as well. Comedy is such an interesting thing to do, because while most comedians are friends with each other(and in some cases, they can be your best friends), there is still always a slight sense of competition any time you do anything. You’re competing for some of the bigger carrots–tours, theatre shows, big opening gigs for touring pro comics, festival slots, winning competitions, etc., and so sometimes, that competitive instinct takes over and you’re not always as nice to everyone as you could be(myself included).**
**–don’t get me wrong, there are a few people in this business who are genuinely the best people and want the best for everyone at all times. So if you’re reading this and think you’re one of those people and I was being an asshole before, know that you probably are one of those people and I love you.
However, I was overwhelmed at the number of messages I got that day from comedians from not only Vancouver, but across Canada as well. It was truly amazing to get messages from comics I have looked up to since before I was even in the business wishing me well on my special, and I was humbled at the support.
So thanks to everyone for that. You warmed my heart that day, and it was quite a special day, indeed.
PS–I haven’t quite decided what to do with the tape yet in terms of what platform I will be releasing it on, but I do know a few things:
1) It will be called “John Cullen: Someone Else’s Special”
2) It will be released some time in late May/early June
3) I will be having a release event featuring the premiere of the special and special performances from some of my favorite comics in the city–date, venue, and time TBA
So stay tuned!
Now that curling season is essentially over, it’s time for me to head into what I call my “comedy season”. It’s a bit backwards, since most comedians view the summer as a disaster for laughter(people create their own good times in the sun or something, it’s bullshit basically), but it’s my reality.
So I’m kicking it off with a really interesting month of shows. One of the things I love about comedy is that there are many different forms it can take, and I love the idea of doing different kinds of shows, especially those that require me to write just for that show specifically. For some reason, I have a bunch of those shows in the next month. Let’s take a look:
What:Rain City Chronicles x Sad Mag’s Love Hangover
When: Saturday, February 15th @ 7:30 PM
Where: Rickshaw Theatre, 254 E. Hastings
Rain City Chronicles is a Vancouver collective who organize storytelling nights across our fair city. Pairing with Sad Magazine, they’re using the day after Valentine’s Day to have storytellers spin tales of love, lost love, missed connections, daydreams, and everything in between.
I’ll be telling the story of a pretty ridiculous first date I had just about this time last year. You will laugh. And feel bad for me.
What: Rapp Battlez Wezt Coazt Round 11
When: Saturday, February 22 @ 9 PM
Where: Little Mountain Gallery, 195 E 26th Avenue
How: Tickets at the door for $10
As some of you may know, I am a pretty big hip-hop fan, so when I first heard about this show, I wanted to get involved in a big way. The basic concept is that comedians/improvisers/general cool people battle rap each other in the funniest style possible.
But it’s not just the usual collection of “you suck” digs at another person. Each battle is costumed and themed, with some recent highlights featuring Oprah vs. a Raptor, John vs. Yoko, Powder vs. Teen Wolf, and the main actor in a play vs. a stagehand.
I’m not sure what my battle is yet, but I can’t WAIT for this one.
What: Teen Angst Night
When: Sunday, February 23 @ 7:30 PM
Where: Cottage Bistro, 4468 Main St.
How: Tickets at the door for 10 sheckles
This night is curated by Sara Bynoe, a woman-about-town who runs several interesting nights, and this being the highlight.
At this show, I will be sharing some of the poems I wrote as a teenager. Yep. I still have them. Everyone on this show’s job is to dig up some old poems, journals, love letters, etc. and read them on stage, so everyone can share in your embarrassment.
I am frightened.
What: Wes Barker Plays the Vogue(and I open)
When: Saturday, March 8 @ 8 PM
Where: Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St.
This show will be unique in that it’s the first time I’ll have ever played a theatre. The Vogue is one of Vancouver’s oldest venues, and I am so stoked that my good buddy and unbelievable magician Wes Barker asked me to open for him.
I’m going to be taping my set for an upcoming YouTube special, and it’s going to be one hell of a night. I can’t wait. Hope you can join me.
I felt like 2013 was an amazing year for music in terms of quantity. A lot of bands I really like released records this year, and a lot of them were great records. However, this year’s crop of records didn’t really have a clear stand-out to me. I purchased about 50 records this year(and listened to many more), and it was really tough to say which ones were my favorites. I liked a lot of them, but even when ranking them, I felt like the gap between 15 and 1 was pretty minimal. I agonized over a top choice because unlike the last 5 years or so, I didn’t have a clear #1 coming into this list. BUT, I would never let my 14 readers down. So here we go. A short and sweet look at the Top 15 Albums of 2013.
15. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Best Songs: “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Get Lucky”, “Doin’ It Right”
There’s a lot to like about this record, especially if you’re a fan of audio production. It sounds so unbelievably slick, and the techno-fuzz-freakout at the end of “Giorgio by Moroder” is probably my favorite minute of a single song this year. However, like any full Daft Punk record, it is a chore to listen to front to back and perhaps fell victim to its own hype in certain areas.
14. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Best Songs: “Buzzcut Season”, “Ribs”, “Tennis Court”
I really didn’t like “Royals” the first 30 times I heard snippets of it everywhere. Once I came to accept that was actually a pretty decent song and listened to “Tennis Court”, it was game over. It’s pretty tough to make a minimalist pop record and make it listenable for ten tracks, but goddammit if Lorde doesn’t make a solid effort here. Really, really consistent with a few standout numbers.
13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, Part I
Best Songs: “Tunnel Vision”, “Don’t Hold the Wall”, “Mirrors”
Just like all of you, I wish Part 2 never existed outside of “Murder” and I wish that most of these songs were 4 minutes shorter than they are. That said, JT/Timbaland still show the magic they are capable of making together, and the songs that hit, hit real hard. “Tunnel Vision” is a song that no other artist is capable of making right now, and “Mirrors” is an all-time classic. If Justin had been a bit more lyrically motivated(half of these tracks are sloppy joe in the lyrics department), we could’ve seen something special.
12. Dinosaur Bones – Shaky Dream
Best Songs: “Spins in Circles”, “Dreamer’s Song”, “Sleepsick”
One of those damn good Canadian indie bands you hear exist but never actually listen to, Dinosaur Bones have cut their teeth touring with Tokyo Police Club, et al., and this record is a dandy. Combining all of the best parts of early 00s indie, there’s a lot of Interpol, Stills, and Radiohead influences here, but in the best way possible. Overall, it’s a little too top-heavy and might lean a bit too heavily on its influences, but “Spins in Circles” is one of my tracks of the year.
11. Kanye West – Yeezus
Best Songs: “I’m In It”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “New Slaves”
You won’t find a bigger Kanye West fan anywhere, but this album just didn’t fully do it for me. I found a ton of people either lazily loved or hated this album. It was really easy to love because it was “different”. But really, it wasn’t. Nine Inch Nails did this shit in 1997, Kanye just put drum sequencing to it and yelled over it with some dog barking noises in the background. But then again, there was some “different” to it, as he did that genius shit he always does of re-appropriating genres to assist his own sound, like the absolutely brilliant call-and-response between reggaeton destroyer Assassin and cooing-in-the-manger Justin Vernon on “I’m In It”.
It was also super easy to lazily hate it, too. “Oh, this is TOO different.” “Oh, this is unlistenable.” “Oh, this doesn’t sound like ‘All of the Lights’.” Didn’t mind the risk. Just didn’t fully get there. So I’m taking the moral high ground and lazily proclaiming this album had high points and low points. He’s already working on a follow-up that you know will destroy this, in exactly the same way he followed up 808s and Heartbreak(also an album you lazily loved or hated) with his best album ever.
10. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Best Songs: “Recover”, “Tether”, “Lies”, “You Caught the Light”
This album is basically a metaphor for this entire musical year. Super consistent, no bad songs, but no tracks that absolutely jump out and grab you by the throat. Just a very solid throwback to 80s synthpop with some lovely vocal work from Lauren Mayberry and some very memorable hooks. Hard not to find something to like for every taste here.
9. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Best Songs: “Everlasting Arms”, “Hannah Hunt”, “Step”
It’s somewhat crazy how Vampire Weekend have essentially taken their core sound, which annoyed me on their first, eponymous album, morphed it into something I enjoyed but didn’t go nuts for on “Contra”, and then made this third album, which absolutely crushes. While I don’t think this was the album of the year, as many outlets did, there are some absolute gem-quality tracks here. There are still too many clunkers(what the hell is “Finger Back”, aside from a perfunctory nod to their old sound that no one wanted or needed?) for me to see this album any higher, but there are more BIG tracks on this record than almost any other this year.
8. Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Best Songs: “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, “Paris Morton Music”, “From Time”, “Too Much”
Drake’s major-label releases have been anything but consistent, and this is no exception, though it finds Drake at his most mellow and contemplative. There are still some filler tracks here, and with the great tracks being so damn great and his work ethic as well-established as it is, it’s shocking that they remain. That said, if “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, wasn’t in your top 3 tracks this year, you were doing it wrong. Even if you don’t like Drake, he is pushing the hip-hop game forward, and this record was further proof of that. Still, it was tough to ignore that some of the internet b-sides(“5 AM in Toronto”, “Jodeci Flow”, “The Motion”) were far better than some of the garbage on here(“Own It”, Wu Tang Forever”, “305 To My City”).
7. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Best Songs: “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day”, “Girl Called Alex”, “Goldtone”
I didn’t expect to like this record at all. I found Kurt Vile’s previous efforts to be a bit boring and meandering, and there wasn’t enough for me to grab onto. This is the exception, and I hope it becomes the rule. Vile really expands his palette on this record, making it a far more engaging and challenging listen than past efforts. It’s one that rewards repeat listens, which you could not say about his past records. This was the summer jamzzzzzz record of 2013 for me.
6. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Best Songs: “Fireproof”, “I Need My Girl”, “Don’t Swallow the Cap”
I can remember being unbelievably excited for the release of High Violet, and the release of this record just didn’t capture the same attention from me. It’s possible that I wondered how The National would plan to cap what was a thrilling trilogy of records in “Alligator”, “Boxer”, and “High Violet”, or how they would plan to keep their sound fresh. What they did here was reach an impossibly lower note than they ever have before–and succeeded. This is the low-key answer to an already low-key catalogue, with muddled, downcast production and plucky guitars, but is an enjoyable listen all the same. I think this will be the 2013 record I most enjoy outside the year 2013, as it will probably approach me at a time where I need it most, and I will be grateful for it then.
5. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Best Songs: “Breakers”, “Heavy Feet”, “Ceilings”
Perhaps because it was released in January, perhaps because it borrowed a bit too much of its sonic landscape from their first album, this album didn’t find its way onto many year-end lists at all, but I, for one, really loved it. I spent a lot of time with this record this year, and it was one I found myself coming back to often. While it may have a lot in common with their first record, I think this album finds the band getting a little funkier and groovier in spots, and Local Natives know how to work with what they’ve got. An album with no skippable tracks and a few absolute buzzsaws, hopefully Local Natives will continue to build on their sound with their next effort.
4. The Weeknd – Kiss Land
Best Songs: “Kiss Land”, “Professional”, “Belong To the World”
The Weeknd is an idiot. But he knows how to write a beat and sing a hook, and sometimes, that’s all you need. The production value of this record is absolutely devastating, if only he could stay away from lyrics that at best could be described as light misogyny, and at worst, are downright embarrassing, he could be the next absolutely massive thing. In fact, he probably is already, which speaks volumes to his natural talent. Because these lyrics are seriously brutal. Just do what I do, and make up your own. Far more satisfying.
3. Volcano Choir – Repave
Best Songs: “Comrade”, “Byegone”, “Dancepack”
It’s funny that I’d rather hear Justin Vernon sing nonsensically about “sexing up your Parliaments” and “smoking outside the Computel” than to hear Abel Tesfaye sing lyrics that make sense but are horribly constructed, but here we are. If Justin Vernon wants to take more bands he idolized growing up in Wisconsin and work with them, I’m all for it, because this record is tremendous. This album is absolutely MASSIVE in sound, an absolute treasure to listen to for contemplative moments and moments where you just want to rock out. It’s a record that actually doesn’t take itself too seriously(a bit of a shift for Vernon), and is the better for it.
2. Pusha T – My Name is My Name
Best Songs: “Numbers on the Boards”, “Nosetalgia”, “Sweet Serenade”
Ever since Malice retired from hip-hop, it sorta seemed that Pusha wasn’t all that motivated. He had a few killer guest spots, but a few horribly lazy ones, his mixtape output was inconsistent, and you just had to wonder how his sneer would sound on a full, proper album, without the grounding that Malice’s tone gave to it. With this record, we got our answer. Beats that recall the early days of Clipse’s door-banging, minimalist sound, Pusha destroys damn near every one of them, having guests on the record seemingly so he can punish them. Kendrick Lamar is the only one who keeps up, with a swift turn on “Nosetalgia”, but the rest of this record is Pusha’s show. Possibly my favorite hip-hop album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
1. HAIM – Days Are Gone
Best Songs: “Forever”, “Go Slow”, “Days Are Gone”
I almost hate myself for picking this #1, but quite simply, there wasn’t another record this year I listened to half as much as this one. I might hate it in a year simply due to my own overplaying of it, but I have no choice other than to slot it here, atop my list in 2013. It’s a slice of pop perfection, as these three girls(and they’re girls! Ages 21, 23, and 25. I mean, get real!) manage to combine a 2013 pop sensibility with a firm grasp of Fleetwood Mac and the Bangles/Go-Gos into something that just sounds so delicious I can’t deny how much I love it.
There’s some smarts here beyond just the pure, candied thrill of the songs. Tracks like the slow-creeping “My Song 5” and the delightfully-harmonized “Running If You Call My Name” switch the pace up, holding the listener right through the album. There are virtually no missteps here. Each track seems to offer a different take on a pop standard, and it’s all produced so perfectly, it’s an absolute cracker of a debut album.
And seriously, I’ll probably hate it so hard in 2014.
Albums Perilously Close to Making the Cut, in no order:
Charli XCX: True Romance
James Blake: Overgrown
Mikal Cronin: MCII
Toro y Moi: Anything in Return
Songs I Enjoyed from 2013 that didn’t make this list:
A$AP Rocky: 1Train
A$AP Rocky: Wild For the Night
Autre Ne Veut: Play
Charli XCX: So Far Away
Charli XCX: You’re the One
City and Colour: Of Space and Time
James Blake: Retrograde
Jasper Sloan Yip: Horseshoe
Jasper Sloan Yip: Cut Your Teeth
Jay-Z: Tom Ford
Justin Timberlake: Murder
Kings of Leon: Supersoaker
Mikal Cronin: Shout It Out
Mutual Benefit: Advanced Falconry
Palms: Future Warrior
Phoenix: SOS in Bel-Air
Phoenix: Chloroform(if some rapper doesn’t take the last 45 seconds of this song and turn it into a crushing beat I’ll be devastated)
Phosphorescent: Song for Zula
Phosphorescent: The Quotidian Beasts
Rhye: The Fall
Toro y Moi: So Many Details
Torres: November Baby
Torres: Honey and I
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Sacrilege
Youth Lagoon: Mute
I still don’t get Arcade Fire.
I was really pleased to have the 2013 World Champion join me on the show, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy.
I didn’t know Niklas coming into this season, but we were put in touch by some mutual friends, and he was absolutely incredible and accommodating, considering his tough schedule.
And I think we knocked out a really fun interview. Check it out.
As many of you know, I went on my first big tour across this beautiful country of ours for the month of July. It was pretty cool to be able to play shows in my home province of Ontario, and to make it out to the east coast for the first time. I felt and continue to feel very blessed for all of the opportunities comedy has given me, and getting to travel anywhere to do something you love is pretty amazing.
I really wanted to sit down and write a blog about my travels, but I figured that most of what I’d have to say is pretty boring and uninteresting. So I thought I’d ask my friends if they had any questions, to find out perhaps what the interesting parts of my tour are, and I got some cool questions. So here is Part 2. Let’s do this thing!
Victoria asked: What was your best free meal?
This is an excellent question. I didn’t actually get too many free meals on tour, as I was either staying in downtown Toronto and having dinner dates with various friends almost every night, orrrrrr I was in a hotel in Halifax, where I got 50% off my meals.
But I did get to visit my wonderful BC friends Earl and Candace in Ottawa, and Candace cooked up an absolutely darling meal of salmon, spinach salad, kebabs, and macaroons for dessert! So I would say that one. Great company, too.
Kathryn asked: Who was your favorite comedian that you worked with?
I was really blessed this tour to work with two people that I really liked and admired growing up. I was a big fan of comedy from my early teens, so it was really cool to get to work with two people I’ve seen on TV for years and loved for a long time in Laurie Elliott and Angelo Tsarouchas. It also helped that they were both really awesome and very kind.
And getting to tour the East Coast with two homies, Kyle Jones and Brett Martin, was a real treat. Sometimes you show up for these small tours and you not only have to work with, but live with, some really interesting people that you’ve never met before, and it can be tough. It was a blessing to be with two guys from home I know very well, and two great friends.
Though truly, I enjoyed everyone I got to work with this tour. It was a blast.
Laurie asked: What’s the deal with your Gramps?
So my grandfather(mom’s side) came to my show in Mississauga. He had come and seen me back in October, so I was pretty surprised to see him out at another show less than a year later, but it was pretty wicked. I have a very supportive family, and it is pretty awesome when you’re traveling across the country to have the support of your family and friends.
My Grandpa is just a cool guy. He “retired” probably 15 years ago, but still works all the time, mostly at golf courses. Loves old movies. Lives in Florida half the year. And if you ask him, he also made Russell Peters’ career. He can tell you that story sometime.
Katie asked: How did you end up at Great Big Sea’s house?
So here’s the thing. Brett, Kyle, and myself were all invited to Alan Doyle’s(lead singer of Great Big Sea) house after our show on Saturday night in St. John’s. I did not go. I only said on Facebook that I was INVITED. Key difference.
Basically, everyone in Newfoundland is super, super friendly, and they are genuinely appreciative when you put on a good show. It was quite a contrast to Vancouver crowds. Generally, when you do a show here, people avoid you afterwards like you have a communicable disease. In St. John’s, it is not uncommon for the show to end and you have 20 people lined up wanting to talk to you/buy you drinks/invite you to their house(seriously. I ended up in two different strangers’ houses, just because they liked my show. One of our hosts came up to me and said, “oh, you don’t drink? Do you want a popsicle?”, which is basically the greatest thing anyone has ever said to me).
So we had finished our Saturday night show, and a guy came up to us and said, “I’m going to a party at Alan Doyle’s house right now. You guys should come.” We had a thought that he might be full of shit, but after he bugged us about it several times, we agreed to take his number, and see where the night went.
Eventually, only Brett decided to go, but the guy was not full of shit. Brett ended up at a party at Alan Doyle’s house, for Alan’s wife and their neighbor. Apparently, the party was essentially for Newfoundland’s elite, and was more of a wine and cheese, “there’s a stage built in the backyard and some girl is playing a harp on it” type of party. It happens. Newfoundland, right?
I’ll be sure to look Alan up next time I am there. I also hear Michael Ryder has a pretty sweet pad.