Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

In no particular order (picking 10 was hard enough).

I'm ashamed to say that I hadn't heard many -- and in some cases any -- of the tracks from these albums until earlier this year.

I feel like some will underestimate the impact that this decade will have on the fate and future of music. There is now a tendency to revolt against the excessive commercialism and marketing that plagued the industry -- even though it has always been there, and modern music has always been just as much a business as it is an art.

Having a negative feeling toward something that destroys art is natural, but we began to lump every popular artist into this group of sell-outs. At some point, mainstream became a bad word, and having the least amount of people know about about your favourite artist made you stylish. In many cases, though, mainstream and epic are synonymous (See beatles, Rolling Stones, etc., etc.).

I wouldn't say the industry is in the most capable hands at this point, but the following arists have managed to create a collection of original music that will inspire, either directly or indirectly, the next musical generation. Based on that assumption, this millenium has some pretty wild shit in store.

1. Radiohead - In rainbows

Big surprise having Radiohead on a top ten list. It was a horrible task deciding between In Rainbows and Kid A, but I'm guessing the recency played a small role in my final decision. In Rainbows was a collection of rhythmic bass lines and thought-provoking lyrics...again, big fucking surprise.

"How come I end up where I started/How come I end up where I went wrong"

2. Kanye West - The College Dropout

Kanye restored my faith in hip hop. Great production was accompanied by meaningful lyrics. Gangster rap can be entertaining and often interesting, but at some point I wanted to feel like the music I listened to meant more than just loud beats and an upbeat chorus. When my kids ask me about hip hop in my day, this is what I'll show them

"But he wasn't talking bout coke and birds it was more like spoken word"

3. Kanye West - 808s and heartbreak

It took a little while for this album to grow on me, but when it finally sunk in I began to understand how good it really was. People seem to forget that Kanye succesfully flipped his style upside down to create something original. Even if you're Kanye west, that takes balls; and more importantly, musical intuition.

"So I hopped in the cab and I paid my fair/See I know my destination but I'm still not there"

4. MGMT - oracular spectacular

This album was the rebirth of an incredible spirit lost somewhere in this generation. It was fun and different, but at the same time exploding with pure heart. You want to dance, do drugs and fall in love at the same time.

"I'm a curse and i'm a sound/When I open up my mouth/There's a reason I don't win/I don't know how to begin"

5. Arcade Fire - Funeral

When I first saw Arcade Fire performing on a late night talk show about five years ago, I was fucking baffled. The group had like 15 people playing violins and cowbells and pianos. The worst part was finding out that all of them (except the lead singer) are Canadian. When I gave the group a chance, I realized how epic this group of pilgrim-looking musicians really was. Unfortunately European fans caught onto this much earlier than we did, but you can't blame us for not giving a Canadian act the benefit of the doubt.

"Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up"

6. Dr.Dre - Chronic 2001

Chronic 2001 is the most complete hip hop album ever made: 22 tracks of hypnotizing beats and raw lyrics. It's a tribute to Dre's attention to detail, and a refusal to settle for anything below perfection. Dre sealed his legendary status with this album, and also shone a refined spotlight on rappers like Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Exibit and Nate Dogg.

"This is the millenium of Aftermath/It ain't gonna be nothin after that/So give me one more platinum plaque and fuck rap/You can have it back"

7. Eminem - The marshall mathers LP

I wasn't surprised to hear that Marshall Mathers was the best-selling artist of this decade; he may work harder than anyone in the industry. Also, like Dr.Dre, he has managed to avoid a celebrity brand that most rappers get lured into. The Marshall Mathers LP was the definition of raw, and I'm sorry to say its the last you'll see of the sort. Eminem's talent is still thriving and his anger is still there, but his success brought him a taste of something that was so detrimental to his lyrics that he'll never be the same again: stability.

"When I go out, I'ma go out shootin/ I don't mean when I die, I mean when I go out to the club, stupid"

8. Strokes - Is this It

Usually, the success of a group of lazy New York rich kid musicians with direct connections to an industry that they were practically born into, would piss me off. For The Strokes, though, I'm able to let it slide. This is likely because the group created -- either through luck or intuitive instinct -- such a timeless LP. Is This It smashed the happy ideal of rock at the end of last century. Less is more replaced bigger is better.

"Stop to pretend, stop pretending/It seems this game is simply never-ending"

9. Metric - Fantasies

Emily Haine may have the coolest voice on the planet. Metric's four albums over this decade have brought the group from a trendy Montreal indie act, to a new wave giant -- and they've dragged the entire Toronto and Montreal indie scenes with them. I chose Fantasies as the best of the best because it feel like it was the most accurate reflection of Metric's music as a whole. They are the solitary group in an indefinable new wave genre that has already had a major influence on Toronto's scene. Their sound is mellow power.

"Come take my pulse the pace is on a runaway train"

10.Outkast - Stankonia

Stankonia was the first album I bought this decade, and it gave me -- and continues to give me -- fresh optimism for the future of hip hop. Big Boi and Andre 3000 stretched and twisted the genre beyond limitations to form a strange and original sound. Stankonia combined hip hop, soul, rock, hardcore rap and gospel to create music that is blood-pumping at some points and dreamy at others. Big Boi and Andre dropped cool and wild in a fucking magic music blender.

"Too Democratic, Republic fuck it/We chicken nugget, we dip in the sauce like mop and bucket"

Honourable mentions: Drake: So far gone (mixtape shmixtape), Radiohead: Kid A, Kanye West: Graduation + Late Registration, Deadmau5:random album title, DJ Dangermouse: The Grey Album, Jay-Z: The Black Album, 50 cent: Get Rich or Die Trying, MIA: Kala, etc. etc. etc.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Secular (x)mas

So it's December 24th and I've already had two Muslims and a Buddhist wish me a Merry Christmas; it's a beautiful thing.

Plenty of Christians see the secularization of this holiday as an evil force (I may have been one of them not so long ago), but I've learned to welcome it with open arms.

Christmas in Canada truly is a North American tradition, with a meaning strictly aligned with the North American mindset. Santa and chocolate, decorations, movies and music -- that's what Christmas has become. And in the spirit of multiculturalism, I'm all for it.

The spiritual aspect can still translate across all religions and cultures. Christmas isn't a celebration of a singular person, it's a celebration of our existence in a world with conscience. You don't need to hear a sermon to understand that.

Whatever you do on the day off, do it --at least in part-- to benefit someone...anyone.

I'm going to try and practice a bit of empathy this year. If you're sitting around at a family function wishing you were someone else, take a look at some of your older cousins or second cousins or friends or parents, and think about what this means to them. Then you can remind yourself again that this holiday isn't about a singular person, and it certainly isn't just about you.

If you aren't Christian, don't take offence when I say merry Christmas, because Christmas is bigger than Christianity over here, and it means something different to everyone. Whatever you decide that it means, make it about more than yourself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mathew Too Fucking Good at Massey

If you didn't catch Matt Good's show at Massey Hall, you missed out on a pretty incredible experience.

The set, which lasted about two hours, was one of the most accurate reflections of an artist's musical -- and biographical -- legacy that I've ever witnessed.

Good and his band performed a mixed selection of songs from his rich discography including energetic tracks like; Hello Time Bomb, Load Me Up and Weapon, along with emotional classics like Odette and Apparitions.

Not being a die-hard Matt Good fan, the $50 price tag (after the BS ticketmaster charges) was a tad steep to see a Canadian act who hasn't produced the most earth-shattering music in the last few years. But when I began listening to his newest album, Vancouver, my interest peaked. After the show, I felt like I ripped Matt off.

I can't ignore, though, the credit due to Massey Hall. Weeks before the concert I heard endless praise on the place's acoustics and atmosphere, blah, blah. The commentary began to drone, but I dug what they were saying during the show. The venue is no Horshoe Tavern, it's big, but somehow it manages to deliver intense intimacy. And the acoustics...yea the acoustics were fucking mind-numbing.

A concluding formula...Matt Good + Massey Hall = money well spent.

also: see Matt Good's album Live at Massey Hall.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Going Native

Like me, most people have been given a completely inconsistent view of Canada's Aboriginal community throughout their life's duration.

In elementary school and early secondary, we learn about the ancestors of this country; of this continent. Their victories and defeats with European settlers, and their refusal to submit quietly. Big chiefs and teepees, hunting and respect for nature, etc., etc. A noble picture.

Later on in high school and into university or college or work or time off, when our minds got a chance to breathe, the economics of humanity were made clear to us. Pragmatism set in. Nunavut's economy is almost completely government-subsidized. Aboriginal communities are dragging their heals, and we are the ones paying for it. Native land is a haven for gambling and violence. Every Aboriginal I see in Toronto is beligerent, drunk...they're a problem.

Like most things, though, if you plan to understand -- or dismiss -- the present state of a community, you have to understand the depth of history. For Aboriginals, it's a history that goes far beyond the Europeans; a history that is for the most part undocumented. But I'm sure the memory is still vivid in each of their minds.

Aboriginals have a wealthy history. Most tribes believe in the Hindu-esque tradition that all things in nature are living, breathing parts of a natural whole. Everything has a spirit and a function, and both are given just respect. The point is that their whole culture was developed to adapt to land rich with resources and a low-density population; not a dense concrete jungle like Toronto or the deserted Northern Canada ice desert. Their whole philosophy continues to get shaken up.

Though their tactics were ruthless, I don't mean to condemn the Europeans -- they're my ancestors, and they made this country what it is today. But we can still make amends. The most important step is a change of mind. Before working with Canada's aboriginal community, we all need to understand and accept their history.

Throwing money at the community will only make them seem like a problem to other Canadians, and that isn't how it needs to be. Convincing them to adapt to a Western philosophy, on land that wasn't ours in the first place, needs to be an act of brotherhood, not parenthood. A proposal delivered from a government and society that see their community as seperate from the rest of ours is doomed.

The Canadian government needs to talk with inspired young idealists in the aboriginal community instead of talking at them. I don't think it's any secret that young men and womeen in Northern Canada have the abilities to thrive in an urban society, but they are rarely exposed to the infinite opportunities that established colleges and universties have to offer. The younger generation of aboriginals need to be convinced that Canadians are not only willing, but hoping, to work with them.


So you've been living your life for centuries when an odd-looking mass population shows up hollering demands masked as treaties. They begin to consume your resources and assimilate your beliefs beyond recognition; into a way of life you've never learned to understand. When you won't adapt, they push you into the most baron land in your country and make it seem as if they did you a favour. Would you push back? Would you make a point of going against the ideology of your leaders? Would you hold on tight to every bit of the culture that was a part of you? I would.

Learned acceptance will make amends.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Edge

But with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right... and that's when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it... howling through a turn to the right, then to the left, and down the long hill to Pacifica... letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge... The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

- Hunter S. Thompson (Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Raver's Recollection: A First Time for E-verything

The type that she swallowed was baby green, round...tiny. “It was called Green Infinity – like the car,” says Serena Chang. Five years ago Chan was a 15-year-old who looked 12, and was learning how to twist her mind with pills. As a committed member of Toronto’s rave scene, she recalls being introduced to Ecstasy.

On a Thursday night, she was on her way to a friend’s party. Sitting in the passenger seat of her Dad’s Honda, small talk was laced with drug thoughts. Her friends had talked about it a lot; how much fun it was.

When the time came, she didn’t hesitate. The intake was sloppy – childish. Chang was unable to swallow pills, so her journey began within greasy, ketchup-soaked fries. The MDMA chemical planted itself in a coagulated potato-batter Trojan horse – waiting to attack Chang’s nervous system when she least expected. “I wasn’t feeling much at first, but I kept getting higher as the night went on. Everyone was having such a good time,” she says.

Before getting her taste of the Ecstasy climax, Chang was outside waiting for her Dad to pick her up. Terrified that he would see through a sober fa├žade, she struggled to convince herself that she wasn’t high. “He’d kick me out of the house if he found out. He’d flip shit!” Her hands trembled, “I’m not high, I am NOT high,” she convinced herself.

But when she got in the car, she began to feel numb. The traffic lights flashed—bending and twisting into strange colours. A terrifying blood-red octagon demanded her to S-T-O-P. She tried to grip reality, but it was slithering away. Ecstasy had inflicted its strongest attack on Chang’s senses at the worst possible time. Dad drove on...oblivious.

When she got home, she spoke to her Dad with dilated pupils before heading to her room and losing herself for two hours in the psychedelic graphics of the Windows Media Player. Her mind had been farther from home than she’d ever been.

Chang woke up itching for the next chance she’d be able to do it all over again.