Maddy Cristall

The Best Albums of 2018

 

Kali Uchis- Isolation

The incomparable Kali Uchis’ debut full-length album Isolation is nothing shy of extraordinary. The incredibly sensual Columbian artist just drips with talent. Isolation is a lush collage of soul and R&B. There is a slew of skill featured on the record including Jorja Smith, Bootsy Collins and Tyler the Creator. The production and songwriting quality is remarkably refined. It is her tranquilizing vocal ability however, that is the vehicle driving this beautiful beast of an album. This is the 2018 version of Erykah Badu’s Baduizm, it’s a one women celebration of finding her voice, and what a voice it is.

Khruangbin-Con Todo el Mundo

The difficult to pronounce and easy to love Khruangbin’s album Con Todo El Mundo is a brilliant sophomore record. The Texas-based trio is an innovative and refreshing band that seem to be everywhere these days. From their viral KEXP recording to opening for Leon Bridges, they may very well be the band of 2018. They intertwine various elements of psych rock and funk to create a rich yet soothing sound. Their music is inspired primarily of funk music from Thailand. Khruangbin is actually the Thai word for aeroplane (or moving engine) which was the original name for the band. This album features the gospel and hip-hop background of drummer Donald Johnson. Con Todo El Mundo also contains musical influence from the Middle East, India, and Iran- specifically in the politically charged song and music video for  “Maria También”. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in this record which is apparent in the luxurious newness of it all. It is also somehow the ideal background album for a lazy afternoon. It’s essentially the listener’s perspective that will determine how they hear this music. It is like a subconscious choose your own adventure novel in the form of a generously orchestrated record, what a time to be alive.

Angélique Kidjo- Remain in Light

Almost 40 years ago the otherworldly Talking Heads released their groundbreaking Remain in  Light. Kidjo, a vibrant and enormously talented Beninoise singer interpreted the album and gave it new life. The original album still holds up incredibly well, it is a musical landmark and easily one of the greatest albums ever made. Kidjo picked up on the Afrobeat undercurrent of the original record and exploded that influence to a fully fleshed Afrobeat carnival. This album is a shapeshifter, a mood elevator, and a room filler. There are so many musical elements occurring simultaneously, creating a tower of sound. Kidjo is a 58-year-old musician and actress who has been making impressive music for decades. This is such an important record and bold step in her career. Risks pay off, this is an album that needs to be cherished just like the original.  

J Mascis- Elastic Days

J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. has this rare talent for creating highly vulnerable yet completely badass music. It’s as if the wonderful cracks in his voice invite you into his old rock and roll soul. This is his third solo album and arguably his best yet. It is a gentle yet powerful arrangement of folk-rock ballads. He has a unique ability to pluck one’s most susceptible heartstrings while remaining void of cheese. The album is melancholic but doesn’t feel sorry itself, it is an authentic reflection of the often sad world around us. Elastic Days is more sophisticated than his two previous solo albums, it’s more mature and confident. In between belts of agony or poetic ramblings are earth cracking solos that Mascis is known for.

Noname- Room 25

Noname’s follow up to her groundbreaking debut album Telefone is a fully realized body of work. Noname seamlessly combines spoken word, sultry bars, and complex musicality. The Chicago based artist weaves together lyrical imagery and thought-provoking poetry. Her music is ubiquitously fun, sad, impossibly smooth and somehow hilarious. She takes you on a neo-soul infused journey that investigates her internal dialogue and the way she perceives the world. Room 25 is gorgeously intimate, the way that Joni Mitchell’s Blue is, it feels as if you’re reading her diary and looking through her room. Noname manages to make that profoundly personal feeling sound groovy as hell.

Small Town Artillery

The is no other band quite like The Vancouver based Small Town Artillery. Their third album Don’t Talk Away The Magic is a remarkable body of work. The genre-defying and brain-bending band orbit mostly around funk and rock and roll. Lead singer Tom Van Deursen is one of Vancouver’s top guitar players and performers. Don’t Talk away the Magic is like a musical mosaic from the pieces of a broken heart. Heartache has never sounded so good and been so fun to dance to. This deeply emotional record is electrified with rock and roll instrumentation and one hell of a horn section. Additionally, their performances are sticky and sweaty celebrations of being drowned in sound.

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Why Your Lifestyle Doesn’t Come In A Mason Jar

Maddy Cristall

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Thanks for this entirely new concept Kinfolk

There is a popular magazine titled “Kinfolk” which is available online and on print, it is based out of Portland, Oregon. Kinfolk, is a successful and aesthetically pleasing publication that reaches an audience that is typically against standard magazines. It appeals to a young, hip, smart, authentic and fresh crowd who would normally scoff at being told what to do by a magazine. Kinfolk’s slogan is “Slow Living” and includes photographs, articles and interviews that celebrate the notion of a quiet, artistic and poetic lifestyle. The photographs involved normally focus on subjects such as: rustic brunch, women wearing linen, rosemary sprigs in apothecary jars, helmetless babes on one speed bicycles, whisks and spoons, extremely modern haircuts, people spending time outdoors in their best wool… you get the idea.These images are inexplicably beautiful, they’re both inviting and isolating. They create a similar feeling of…

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Stop Romanticizing the Tortured Artist

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The glorification of the tortured artist is terribly common and enduring. We have a fascination with the broken, drug-addicted, alcoholic, depressed and impulsive gifted person. The roots of this fetish are old and lost to the haze of the past, but what we do know, is that many great artists struggle profoundly. This is apparent in many people across the eras, yet it is exemplified in the life of Henry Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, the renowned French post-impressionist and art nouveau painter. He was born in the late 18th century and was the victim of the severe effects of generational of inbreeding. He became heavily reliant on alcohol to numb the pain and died of an absinthe overdose at the age of 36. As well, Sylvia Plath was the depressed and talented poet and author most famous for the intensely emotional novel The Bell Jar. She died by suicide at age 30 by putting her head in the oven while her kids (the children of famous author Ted Hughes) were home. Ernest Hemingway the iconic author was rejected by the army due to his poor eyesight so he enlisted in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. He dealt with a series of traumatic events that irrevocably changed altered his trajectory. He experienced extreme heartache and manic depression yet managed to work for several years as a wildly successful author culminating in the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. By 1961 he later spiraled into deep depression and died by suicide.

In a more contemporary example, Kurt Cobain, the genius songwriter, and revolutionary grunge musician was addled with depression and drug addiction before killing himself at age 27. It seems Cobain was particularly glorified in his depression and addiction by inadvertently inspiring a generation of people who equate sadness with coolness. The cohort of the “27 club” still haunts our cultural lexicon and consists of a graveyard of prodigious musicians that were silenced too soon.

Historically, there is definitely a correlation between darkness and art. Unsurprising, as most powerful art needs to contain conflict and tension which heightens our interest. We want conflict, we want to relate to something and we want to experience emotions in this world. Life is filled with pain and when somebody can make that beautiful we are provided with a momentary reprieve from that suffering. That being said, it’s by no means random that we are drawn to the archetype of the broken artist. I use the term archetype intentionally to highlight their humanity; for ultimately they are people, and their suffering is real and tragic.

I have heard many people confide that they aspire to drink excessively and write great material just like Hunter S Thompson. I have seen people drown in years of drug addiction because they thought their songs needed a certain Keith Richards- esque edge. Yet, this quest for self-inflicted misery is both ridiculous and misguided. As members of the adoring public, we get to consume the material these artists eventually produce, which is often astonishing. What we don’t see are the countless days filled with misery and the void of inspiration. Brian Wilson’s album Smile could be easily consumed as a charmingly quirky album instead of a record of a psychologically traumatizing time in his life. It is extraordinarily difficult and rare to remain creative and motivated while dealing with vicious internal demons. It’s even more difficult when you drown those demons in whiskey, garnish them in drugs, sleep infrequently, tour incessantly and eat poorly.

The commodification of depression and addiction is harmful and problematic towards mental illness. We fetishize the creative darkness but we don’t actually want the brutal sadness. It’s a superficial phenomenon that has conditions, while true tragedy is heavy and unconditional. Art is such a cathartic way to express pain and that is important. However, memorizing John Bonham’s horrendous diet because you think it might make you play drums better isn’t important. This reduces the pain felt by our beloved artists. It disrespects the complex field of mental illness which requires our astute attention and daily action more than ever. Romanticizing people who managed to produce brilliance whilst drenching their livers in wine is problematic because it is rare, and doesn’t account for all the artists who got lost along the way. Additionally, this ideology is likely not doing your art any favours.

Queen Bees and the New Honey

The following is a list of five female musicians that you should most certainly know about…

Kali Uchis 

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Karly-Marina Loaiza AKA Kali Uchis is a  multi-talented soul singer and songwriter. The 24-year-old has created a homemade empire for herself. She has been nominated for two Grammys and has collaborated with an array of talented artists including Daniel Caesar, Jorja Smith, The Dap Kings, Tyler the Creator and Bootsy Collins. Uchis spent her early years in Columbia then moved to Virginia. She was living in her car at age 17 where she wrote songs and poems in her notebook. She had the audacity to start recording music in the said car and managed to put together an impressive demo. She later took that demo to no other than the iconic Dap-Kings which resulted in a career-altering collaboration on a tracked titled Killer that was featured on her debut full-length album. She has been fiercely independent her whole life and the majority of her family still lives in Columbia. She takes risks, is constantly working, plays multiple instruments including the saxophone and has a true earth-shattering voice. All of her music videos are worthy of short film awards, her style is timeless and her eloquence is mesmerizing. She is currently in the midst of an extensive tour, her performances are unsurprisingly incredible. Check out her latest single with the hip-hop genius Tyler the Creator and funk legend Bootsy Collins here.

Noname

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Fatimah Warner AKA Noname is a Chicago born and bred hip-hop artist and poet. The innovative 26-year-old has been rapping and doing slam poetry since 2010. She collaborates with Chance the Rapper extensively, most notably on the gorgeous track Lost on his acclaimed second album Acid Rap. Noname’s full-length album Telefone released in 2016 is nothing shy of brilliant. It is lyrically courageous, musically complex and ubiquitously garnished with her unparalleled flow. Rolling Stone Magazine called it the most thought-provoking hip-hop album of the year. She is currently touring across the US followed by a festival-centric summer. Her performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Series showcases her rapping ability and impossibly humble presence, check it out here.

Princess Nokia

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Destiny Frasqueri AKA Princess Nokia is a New York-based amply skilled rapper. She is from African American and Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Harlem, New York. She pioneered the podcast The Smart Girls Club alongside Milah Liblin, which celebrates feminism and transparent conversation in a safe space amongst women. Her music is wonderfully distinctive, complex and refreshing. She identifies as a Bruja, queer and feminist, in her words, she isn’t burdened but empowered by her complexity. She lost her mother at a young age to HIV and lived in an abusive foster system afterward. Her breakthrough album 1992 which came out last year “freed her soul” as she tenderly explains on her podcast. She admits to being fully lost in depression in the past but she encourages inspiration in replace on anger and sadness. She is constantly reinventing herself and exploring the depths of her personality. Her music is a true reflection of her radical mind and a slipstream of her captivating creativity. 1992 is blazingly gritty and beautifully unapologetic, check it out here.

Jamila Woods

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Jamila Woods is the Chicago based R&B singer, songwriter, and poet. Her music is extraordinarily sophisticated, liberating and impossibly smooth. She is a graduate from the Ivy League Brown University. She collaborated with Chance the Rapper most on the song Blessings from his Grammy award-winning album Colouring Book. She also collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on White Privilege II. Her debut solo album HEAVN (on Jagjaguwar Records) is a phenomenal record that crystallizes the arduous labour of struggle while simultaneously honoring freedom. It is a profound exploration of emotional resilience and sounds like sonic honey to boot. Her single Holy reveals her lyrical precision and musical aptitude, check it out here. 

FKA Twigs

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Tahlia Barnett, also known as FKA Twigs has certainly gained a well-deserved following along her musical trajectory thus far. She is a British Singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, and director. She is a true artist who is exceptionally skilled at various mediums. Her concerts are like performance art and her music is a transcending experience. She grew up as a trained jazz dancer which is certainly apparent in her music videos. At age 18 started producing her own music and found a team in London to work with. She worked as a backup dancer during this time, you can find her on Jessie J’s video for Do it like a Dude. In 2014 she was experiencing self-depreciation and worked on an album through it which resulted in breakthrough debut record LP1 on Young Turks Records. She has directed most of her music videos and her adventurous, experimental and stunning talents are on display in these works of art. Her latest project was dancing beautifully to the latest Anderson. Paak track titled Till it’s Over for the Apple Homepod speakers in a short film directed by Spike Jonze. It is nothing short of amazing, check it out here. 

Typhoon- Offerings, a disturbing and unfortunately correct album

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The latest Typhoon record Offerings is a haunting portrayal of tortured character experiencing the wrath of darkness. It completely commits to shattering the delicate hearts of those who appreciate the nuances of this complicated band. Typhoon is a generous buffet of talent with a total of 11 members who are all essentially prodigies at their instruments. The reside in the ever musically evolving city of Portland, Oregon. This is Typhoon’s first full length record in four years and certainty their most complex. One would argue it’s one of the most complex albums in general in several years. The 70-minute record doesn’t reel out of its intensity for even a second.

Some of the inspiration for Offerings derives from lead singer and songwriter’s Kyle Morton’s experience with “losing it” which is certainly palpable throughout the emotionally generous record. Offerings is also motivated by various literature and films that Morton immersed himself in throughout the making of the album. Morton is especially enthralled in Fellini, Lynch and Nolan films along with a handful of books that he states made for a much darker album.

Offerings is divided into four movements; Floodplains, Flood, Reckoning and The Afterparty. It is based around a character experiencing unexpected chaos and eventually yields to his terrible destiny. Morton explains, “I wanted this character to be a journey, like Dante’s Inferno. It kicks off with the track “Wake”, where the character wakes up and he’s shitting the bed and doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Morton is also inspired by the likes of the brilliant Irish playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett whom he was reading heavily while writing the lyrics for Offerings. Morton states, “Beckett would call it a literature of impoverishment where he’d strip away as much as he could get a feeling of essence and scarcity; that’s what I tried to do musically and lyrically here.

The character goes through a series of dystopian and eerily relatable experiences throughout the record. You follow this person through an intensive look at emotional turmoil and frustration towards the collapse of meaning during the age of information. It feels deliberately claustrophobic, creepy and severe. You can almost feel the walls closing in as you get lost in the layers of the story. The music is incredibly intricate and careful, not unlike the Icelandic masterminds Sigur Rós.

Offerings is rich with inspiration from other literate including the short story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes which is one of Morton’s favourite bodies of work. The protagonist of Offerings struggles with the sense of cognitive dissonance throughout the whole record. The seemingly last track “ Sleep” is a profound portrayal of sacrificing oneself. This is followed with the secret track “Afterparty” that celebrates the sense of freedom and peace on the other side of this wild journey. To say the album flirts with death is an understatement.

Records like Offerings rarely come out and when they do they deserve the same meticulous attention to detail that went into it. Morton astutely states, “if I could write my one line review of the record, I think I would want people to say it’s disturbing and unfortunately correct.” Well Morton, you completely nailed it.

How To Manifest a Thesaurus

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For those of you who may not know the term manifest is used commonly in certain communities as a way to describe the spiritual cultivation of things that will increase one’s well being.  Like many interesting words (such as existential) is it completely mugged of it’s fundamental properties in our sloppy snapchatting society. The term manifestation is actually quite interesting and useful in our vocabulary.

Manifestation (noun)-An event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something abstract or theoretical.

mass noun The action or fact of showing something.‘the manifestation of anxiety over disease’

As reality is often stranger than fiction I will use actual examples of this term that I have heard in recent history…

“Even though it’s sold out, I am going to manifest tickets to Odesza.” translation–  “I am going to cruise craigslist for tickets and use money I made from tree planting.”

“ Can you manifest some bagels while you’re out today?” translation– “can you buy me some bagels?”

“ I am going to manifest true love this year.” translation– “I am going to delete tinder.”

(I wish I was kidding)

Some folks even say “manifest destiny” as a way to express that we can sculpt our dream life with the right headspace. This one is especially problematic due to the origins of the saying. Manifest destiny was a term commonly used in the 19th century that supported the American expansion from coast to coast. It encouraged western settlement, the war on Mexico and the removal of First Nations people.  It is essentially the anthesis of imagining your amazing future, it’s ignoring important and horrendous history.

There are even wildly published articles that encourage this misuse, for example…

 

The common thread in these examples is using a term that seems whimsical to obtain tangible things; money, objects, healthy relationships and even anything . This is challenging as the counter culture that subscribes to this particular concept of manifestation are often against material objects to the point of being condescending and elitist. We all seek out these particular examples (especially the “anything” one) and that unites us which is basically the foundation of what inspired this way of thinking in the first place. Why misuse a term to mask the fact that we have similar human desires?

You can live your dream life by making the necessary steps to do so. You can communicate effectively with you ex and if you both want to, get back together. You can make money and buy the things you want in so very many way in our society. Make no mistake about any of these examples though, you worked for them you didn’t manifest them. If anything doesn’t the idea of manifesting something remove the acknowledgment of  hard work? Unless of course you have a generous trust fund that supports your life in which case you have privilege. Language is empowering and having an astute grasp on it it’s infinitely useful. Using vague terms towards interesting topics just makes you sound like a shitty hippie, don’t be a shitty hippie.

 

 

Sam Tudor- Quotidian Dream

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photo by Ivana Besenovsky

 

The Vancouver based Sam Tudor’s Quotidian Dream is what Tudor calls his first album technically but third in actuality. Tudor is a young and brilliant folk musician who artfully obsesses over his homemade soundscapes. The 22 year old is wise beyond his years yet his music drips with youthful authenticity. The album is quite spectacular; it invites you into the dusty basement of Tudors psyche and makes you feel right at home. The ten song strong record is ambitiously emotional, vulnerable and complicated. Tudor experiments with generous lyrical metaphors and intense transparency. The album begins with the track New Apartment that immediately sets the tone in its wise songwriting paired by haunting musical backdrop. It features the shattering lyrics: washing up on a beach of carpet / you were drowned and you found the shore. Little things that keep you sober / keep them close when I’m far away. As the tide is moving lower / I think it’s time for you to stay. This is followed by the brazen track Quotidian Boy that unabashedly investigates the facets of childhood difficulty. The album continues to generously explore the depths of the beautiful and tragic human experience. The final track Silver Lining Skies provides a sense of closure, making one feel that they’re never alone in that awkward moment between birth and death.

Tudor grew up in a small town outside of Williams Lake and played music throughout his adolescence. He shared that “In the past I didn’t know what I was doing sound wise. It was hard enough trying to make something that sounded good. I didn’t have the mental energy to actually think about an album’s aesthetic. I was just trying to make an album that didn’t fall apart”. This self-deprecation certainly paid off as Tudor learned to refine his particular brand, which is severely fragile and rare. He manages to pull off Andy Shauf-esque velvet melancholy that dances in depression. Tudor further explained “ I am much more confident now and know how to record and write, so I can put more intention into the actual sound. That’s why although this is my third record, it feels like my debut album”.

Quotidian Dream does feel like a debut album in the way Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker is his debut album. It is triumphant declaration of musical catharsis that is waiting to be heard and not just heard but cherished. Tudor produced the album himself and mostly in his bedroom, yes he is obnoxiously talented. He is joined by an avalanche of local talent such as Harry Tudor on drums and percussion, Jasper Wrinch on electric bass, Nathan Turner on upright bass and Tegan Wahlgren on violin, viola and vocals. The musical landscape is rich and transporting which impossibly intuitive to the lyrical tapestry. Quotidian Dream is an uncommon invitation to the intimacy of one’s honest internal exploration; there is nothing quotidian about him.

 

A Subjective Summary of the Best New Albums


Something interesting is happening musically this year. A generous supply of remarkable, innovate and often unexpected albums have been released. 2016 was the year we lost too many iconic artists but somehow 2017 (probably not intentionally or karmically) is reminding us music isn’t dead, it will never die and that argument is tired.I typically wait until the end of the year to attempt a cohesive report on my favourite albums but perhaps that’s getting tired too. Here is a list of the records I highly suggest spending long afternoons, evenings and perhaps even the next day with.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile-Lotta Sea Lice

This one was highly anticipated by myself and many other desert loving, psych rock adoring and reverb attics that I know. I fell in love with Barnett’s music three years ago at Pickathon- my favourite music festival on this godforsaken rock. She was spilling out witty and clever lyrics while simultaneously demolishing her guitar seemingly effortlessly inside a steaming hot barn around midnight. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. The audience seemed to avoid blinking in fear of missing this supernova who has now deservingly reached international success.

Vile is a truly distinctive artist that left the War on Drugs to pursue his illustrious solo career. His music grasps the melancholic void and executes this highly relatable yet obscure sensation into rock and roll lullabies. The two could not be more suited to play music together and fans lost it when they heard they wouldn’t only record this album but follow it up with an extensive tour. They both have a knack for gracefully extended guitar freakouts, honing a particularly attractive brand of garage rock and gently delivering powerful lyrics. Lotta Sea Lice is a collection of old and new songs written by both. The single “Over Everything” gives insight towards how amiable and intoxicating this project is. The entire album plays like a dream that reels in and casts out of reality, it’s ambiguous who wrote what, which is simply a testament towards how much the two compliment one another.

The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding 

The ever so talented Adam Granduciel leads the dreamy, innovative and nostalgic Philadelphia based band The War on Drugs. The musical marvel spent generous amounts of time in the studio mulling and obsessing over his impressive material. The band’s fourth studio album Deeper Understanding was highly anticipated as a follow up to their iconic Lost in The Dream released in 2014. A Deeper Understanding is a remarkable portrayal of complex expression, detailed instrumentation and the, if you will deeper understanding (I’m sorry) of musical catharsis. Granduciel takes you on a scenic walk through his moody, prophetic and infinite imagination. A Deeper Understanding is a tenacious  sonic dreamscape that completely explores the depths of sonic possibilities, leaving no stone unturned. There is a lot going on in this work yet it’s completely accessible which is likely why the band gets reduced to “dad rock”.

Aerialists-Group Manoeuvre 

Aerialists is the brainchild of Canadian folk sweethearts Adam Iredale-Gray (Fish & Bird) on guitar and Elise Boeur (Jenny Ritter) on the fiddle joined by Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul (Darol Anger & The Furies) who began collaborating extensively at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Their music is best described as “prog trad” implying an intentional contradiction while properly expressing a contemporary revision of traditional folk music. They are a genre bending, rule defying, brain shattering collection of wildly astute purveyors of sound. Their eclectic skills and intuitive instrumentation create an stirring tapestry of music dripping with range, emotion and history. Aerialists truly grasp the diversity and possibilities of folk music and it’s various sub-genres. They are young people inspired by old music yet their sound  is timeless.

Their first full length album Group Manoeuvre is a commanding collection of brilliant songwriting, evocative harmonies and imaginative arrangements. It is cunning, exhilarating and at times almost emotionally overwhelming. They are fully committed to their complex and difficult music. The hauntingly powerful vocalist Emily Millard is featured on the record; her voice is as intense as it is gentle which is impossibly well suited to the avalanche of sound surrounding her. Their arrangements are palpably meticulously sculpted and derive from their original compositions and traditional Scottish, Irish and Swedish fiddle songs. Iredale-Gray produced the album himself in his hometown of Main Island, B.C on behalf of his very own label Fiddlehead Records.

LCD Soundsystem- American Dream 

There is no band quite like the avant-garde LCD Soundsystem. Front man James Murphy began the project when he was in his thirties and wrote the accidental smash hit “Losing My Edge” which pokes fun at mainstream artists which ironically made him a mainstream artist.Their eponymous debut title album received a Grammy for best electronic/dance album in 2005. This was followed by the exemplary Sound of Silver released in 2007 and This is Happening in 2010 and they essentially headlined every major music festival simultaneously. In April of 2011 the band sold out Madison Square Garden at a performance billed as their final one, which clearly wasn’t.

LCD is like the choose your own adventure of bands as you can digest their music as rich feasts or light tapas and either way, it’s delicious.Their music captures the evocative backbone of strong electronica and the tender resonation of strong songwriting. It’s ambiguous towards what era they are most inspired by, their sound is a unique blend of 80s,90s and the future. American Dream is misanthropic dance music that speaks to the hips as much as the brain.It is a soundtrack for our current generation.It is vulnerable, manic, hopeful yet conflicted;just like us. It wavers between dreamy electronic terrain and gut wrenching belts of cynicism.American Dream speaks volumes to late capitalism and the unwillingness to conform which Murphy has mastered musically.

Queens of the Stone Age- Villains

Let me begin this my stating this potentially unpopular opinion- Queens of the Stone Age are my least favourite band that Josh Homme is in. I adore the Desert Sessions, Them Crooked Vultures and The Eagles of Death Metal. However, Queens of the Stone Age are my favourite mainstream modern rock band.  I always take a while to warm up to a QOTSA album but when I do, which I always do I need to rethink that entire statement but I still land on the same consensus-these are the games I play in my head. That said, I strongly enjoy Queens of the Stone Age but I think Josh Homme should essentially be in the dirtiest, grimiest and most obscure band in the business. However, an album like Villains reminds me why this shouldn’t and couldn’t be.

QOTSA bridges the gap between metal heads and pop fans and everyone in between. Their music is intentionally radio friendly even though Homme is THE quintessential badass. Producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson is all over this record, the same Mark Ronson who produced Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and Amy Winehouses’ Valerie- he’s a hit machine. Ronson’s craftsmenship successfully pulled out the abundantly rich and complex soundscape that the band has mastered. The record is a condensed tale of inclusive disorderly rock. It invites all listener’s into the magic of rebellious music without making them feel undeserving of the experience and that’s what makes this band so special. Villains is arguably their most accessible album which further celebrates the band’s wonderfully bizarre and friendly mandate.

 Tyler,The Creator Bloomed into Flower Boy

Odd Future’s front man Tyler,the Creator is an ever evolving musical marvel that is wise beyond his years yet the poster child for juvenile deliquence.It takes a rare kind of intelligence to challenge the norms of hip hop,fashion and manners. Tyler is often found making brash statements during interviews while keeping his sexuality and sobriety ambiguous.He is in the mecca of the mainstream yet authentically creative.This isn’t accidental,the 26 year old started the rap group Odd Future ten years ago alongside sustaining a successful solo career,fashion label and a music festival. 

Flower Boy is easily Tyler’s most impressive album yet and one of the most exciting records of the year. It is a sophisticated,refined and cohesive arrangement of tracks that compliment each other.It is much more accessible than his previous work which evidently really works for him.His tendency to rub some people the wrong way has been due to exclusivity and seemingly gratuitous offensive lyrical content that lacks apology. As somebody who appreciates inaccessible hip hop I have always been fond of Tyler.That said,he has reduced his intelligence and talent in the past by running improvisational lyrics about cheese and highly produced content about stabbing Bruno Mars. He is been under fire for making blatantly mysongynisic and homophobic lyrics which he has always promoted as ironic.This is believable due to Odd Future being one of the few hip hop groups with two queer members and the fact that he is clearly intelligent. In lieu of this intelligence he recognized that being questionably bigoted is getting old and decided to execute the highly meditative Flower Boy.

The album is gentle,lyrically vulnerable and musically evolved.It delivers a diverse arrangement of hypnotic melodies and radical self exposure. It is sonic dreamscape that is relentlessly charming.It’s fragile like a summer afternoon yet as real as the internal struggles he is finally revealing. It wavers between  wildly triumphant to incredibly mellow. It certainly contains that unmistakable rough and rogue Tyler flair yet he has fine tuned his particular brand of mischievous. It is as if he is responding,but not apologizing to the feedback he has received through these liberated lyrics. Lil Wayne,Estelle and A$AP Rocky are featured on the record amongst an arsenal of underground artists.

On the track Forward he raps “Shoutout to the girls I have led on,for occasional head to keep my bed warm and trying they hardest to keep my head on straight” which is followed by “I have been kissing white boys since 2004”. This has caused quite the internet storm towards questioning his sexuality,which we all know he won’t clarify which makes him even more interesting to the masses.The gorgeous track Garden Shed plays like a daydream and encompasses that hip hop ease we miss in Digable Planets or Slum Village. My personal favourite song on the album Boredom is about the relatable paradoxical nature of desolation in the summer.

If you have ever questioned if  Tyler,The Creator is rarely talented or just some entitled punk,Flower Boy definitely suggests it’s the former. 

Mavis Staples at the Winnipeg Jazz Fest

 

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Photo by Chris Strong Photography

There are good concerts, great concerts, excellent concerts and then there are concerts like this. Mavis Staples is a 77 year old R&B, soul and gospel singer from the iconic band with her family members, The Staples Singers. She is a civil rights activist who sings powerful songs about marching in DC and the injustice towards marginalized people. Her voice is the perfect canvas for evoking emotion, she transports people with her tender lyrics and volcanic pipes. She has been singing professionally her whole life and her voice only seems to be improving, she is a rare and truly special artist.

Her performance at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival took place at the historic Burton Cummings Theatre on Wednesday night. The intoxicating Kandace Springs from Nashville provided a stunning and generous performance as an opening act. Springs  resembles the likes of Nina Simone and Billy Holiday, while still incorporating a contemporary flare. She plays the piano and keyboard as well as she sings; beautifully and refined. Staples then took the stage, with  all five of her bandmates, creating  a remarkable presence that wasn’t lost on anybody in the room. She broke out in song immediately, delivering outstanding vocals that quickly hit you right in gut. Her band is a classic compilation of talented backup singers and individually brilliant artists. They create a picture perfect musical landscape well suited to the pristine performance. She then spoke to the crowd, revealing her stand up comedian side-she is as funny as she is charming on top of her mountain of talent. She engages with people, exemplifying her genuine belief towards unity and human compassion. She made jokes about her age, how a loving heckler was her “cousin” and how Madonna ripped her off. She also  gracefully reeled into her eternal fight for freedom, the importance of being kind to one another and marching in D.C. Every part of the two hour performance was noteworthy and memorable. However, a particular highlight was during the song “Reach Out, Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” where she did just that to the front row.This was soon followed by a fan who walked right up to the stage with an old record and was abruptly withheld by security. Mavis politely invited him back to stage in which he revealed he had an authentic 78 of one of her first recordings with Pops Staples. She was truly moved by the gesture, signed the recording and took a picture with it. She even apologized to the security guard and held his hand briefly, he was melted. She glows with joy, has an infectious voice and sings about the various ways in which we can be better people with not even a dose of cheese or patronization. Although it may be cliched I was hoping she would sing The Staples Singer’s most notable hit “I’ll take you there” Not only did she sing it but ended this outstanding performance with it in which they entire crowd was invited to sing along for over 10 minutes. Her guitar player did wonders to the already perfect song, everybody there for at least that moment was connected-just as she planned. In our current world of division and hatred we could all be a little more like Mavis, she takes you there.