by Elena Gritzan
Yeah, I said seven, not ten. Who needs to follow convention when celebrating albums that pointedly don’t do that? 2012 has been a gloriously busy musical year for me, and these are the albums that kept me dancing, singing along, and pressing the repeat button. Seeing as I first appeared around here in January, the end of 2012 is also the end of my inaugural year at Grayowl. It’s been a blast, and the alphabetical album list that follows are the souvenirs of a great year.
He zigged when we thought he would zag. Cecil Frena’s newest release was purposefully an inversion of everything he was previously musically associated with – the open and bursting vocals swapped with a processed, insulated falsetto, the sugar-synths exchanged for dark and moody instrumentals. A bold-faced risk for sure, and it paid off. It’s engrossing, it’s hypnotic. Also, the source of what might be my favourite lyrical turn of the year: “I cast salt to the edge of/ the sea that you sway on / and screamed at the sky. / But it’s water had broke and / our child, born gold, / fell still to the earth.”
Death and Desire - Digits/Bad Passion
Appealing to both my affinity for downbeat electronics and a bookish love for introspective lyrics, this was the soundtrack for countless afternoons. And now that I’ve been able to catch his live show a few times, I know that he can make you dance, too (clearly, I like music that causes makes you dance. Viscerally, mechanically responding to music is a sign that they are doing their job right). The Bad Passion tracks interspersed throughout are a gorgeous combination of Alt Altman’s yearning vocals with Lesley Davies’ (“Rockin Your Beats” as break-up song of the year, anyone?). But there is not a better song than “Lost Dream”, optimistic heartbreak swirled up in some dancing-around synths.
And I Thank You – The Elwins
This feel-good throwback debut from the charismatic Keswick band filled me with lots of sunny feelings throughout the year. It is impossible to get all the way through without an eruption of smiles. Seriously, give it a shot next time you need a pick-me-up. There’s nothing quite like these catchy tunes.
Visions - Grimes
This came out on my birthday, I was fated to love it. In all seriousness, less than a minute into the first track, I knew this would be a monumental record. I was surprised to watch Grimes explode internationally, but in the best way possible. Her success was completely deserved. An ambitious, well-executed, creatively inspired reminder of 2012. I still stand behind my pre-Polaris assertions.
Kontravoid - Kontravoid
The best way to decide what your favourite albums of the past year were is to take a peek at your iTunes play counts. It must have been something special if you took it for a spin hundreds upon hundreds of times while going through your daily business (its use as a personal pre-party pump up song swelled my “Native State” play count to obscene levels). Kontravoid’s self-titled debut is a menacing flurry of motion. He’s the only artist that can propel me through a 14 hour day until four am for a reason.
Anyone who reads me (actually, probably even anyone who talks to me) knows that these guys were kind of band of the year for me. From being blown away in my moment of discovery back at Wavelength Fest, to seeing them play countless times throughout the summer (let’s choose to forget the sparsely populated one where the venue wouldn’t let me in until an hour and a half after doors, yeah?), to a triumphant party hat-clad album release party. And the actual album, once it was finally in my hands, proved to be quite a bit magical (for more proclamations on the subject, I refer you to my review of the album).
Tender Opposites - TOPS
It has been a bit of a break-out year for Montreal’s Arbutus Records (see: the paragraph three above regarding Grimes). This smoky, quirky soft pop offering from TOPS is more understated than their break-out label-mate’s, but it is every bit as good. This is definitely one to throw on a quite a few times; the charms of the plucky arrangements and Jane Penny’s voice grow the more you listen to them.
Bonus time! These are my seven favourite Canadian songs not from the above albums. Because sometimes a single track buries its way into your life, and there are only so many LP slots.
“UFO” – Absolutely Free: “The music of the sun and the stars, the music of yourself, vibrate. Yes.” After an intro like that, they move forward to craft uniquely arty rock and go through time signature-shifting shenanigans.
“I Will Love You More” – ALX: I judge whether my life is going off the rails based on the level to which I relate to Allie Hughes’ obsessive, maybe a little bit creepy, narrator. Less relating is good, of course. Then there’s that grand dance beat.
“In Two (pt II)” – Blue Hawaii: A quick look forward to one of 2013′s most potential-filled and exciting releases. Perfect pace for hip-shaking.
“Down Town” – boyBITCH: “What kind of things make you go tick?” boyBITCH asks. Well, synth hooks, catchy drum machines, and fun lyrics. So basically, this song.
“Century by Century” – D’eon: A classical, electronic, and soft pop hit all in one. No, really.
“Messages” – Isla Craig: I quite like the effect of having multiple Isla’s serenade me in this masterfully layered a capella track. Runner-up for most gripping lyrical phrase of the year: “Unplug the kettle, unplug the phone / turn off expectations, sleep alone.”
“Utility” – Paradise Animals: From the deep notes at the beginning through to the resplendent choruses, this really is an excellent song (we wouldn’t have had asked them to play our first ever show this year if they weren’t an amazing band, right?). Also, they get bonus points for looking cool outside of fruit stands.