It’s one of my favourite times of the year: the end of it. Not because I have a super sweet party to go to later (I do) or because I bet some dolt my life savings that the world would still be around on Dec. 22 (I didn’t), but because I get to read and write these lists. Not only do I get to find all the different music I missed out on when it was originally released, but I get to go read other people’s opinions about albums I already love. Actually, sometimes it can be frustrating (“Celebration Rock didn’t even crack Pitchfork’s top 10?! Although that Fiona Apple record is great…”), but more often than not, it’s easy to find a really great album you never knew existed. So, if you haven’t checked these out yet, go do it now.
The Lytics – They Told Me
I don’t know how much more I can write about this album. The Lytics self-titled debut EP was great, but where were they going next? They were going BIG, apparently. They Told Me is close to an hour long, which might seem long, but the album doesn’t let up for a second – it doesn’t get boring, the flow is never compromised, and the beats are phenomenal. The high-energy, snare-heavy first single, “Stay Calm,” has been making audiences move for a while now, but the hidden gem on this record is “Can We Run Away,” an emotional track about a young couple feeling trapped in their city. It’s a quintessential Winnipeg theme, and they do it as good as anyone I’ve heard.
Nova – Midnight Midnight
Local veteran purveyor of bad attitudes Greg MacPherson got together with Jackie Hogue (drums) and Molly McCracken (Keys, wicked last name) for this one, and the results were astounding. It’s a bit of a weird mix – a baritone guitar, keyboards, and drums, but the soundscapes on this record are darkly beautiful, especially on the creepy, hazy “Pontiac” and “Midsummer,” which almost sounds like a lost track from Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (in the best way possible). But there are also sparser tracks where MacPherson really shows his rock ‘n’ roll roots, like the chugging “Blue Star” or “Selkirk,” punctuated by slinky keyboard riffs. Can’t wait for the next album.
John K. Samson – Provincial
One of two Manitoba records nominated for the Polaris Prize this year (the other was Firecracker/Cloudglow by Cannon Bros.), Provincial is deserving of all the acclaim it has received. Half rerecorded songs from Samson’s EPs City Route 85 and Provincial Road 222 and half completely new songs, the album is as Manitoban as it gets, referencing people and things like the Ninette sanatorium, cruise night, and Reggie “The Riverton Rifle” Leach, among others. One each end of the spectrum, “The Last And” is a sweet, sad song about a rural school teacher’s relationship with another teacher, while “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” sounds as full as any upbeat Weakerthans’ track. Provincial easily proved Samson is capable of writing strong material outside of his longtime band.
Mise en Scene – Desire’s Despair
Although Mise en Scene has been around for a couple years now, this album seemed to blast them straight into the spotlight. It makes perfect sense, too, since the rock-solid collection of ‘60s girl group, rock ‘n’ roll and power pop tunes are constructed and produced so well that they’re basically just nine hit songs. Think about that if you’ve ever tried writing just one. Stefanie Johnson’s smoky, Neko Case-ish voice and Jodi Dunlop’s hard-hitting, super tight drumming is an unstoppable combo. The most talked about song on this album has been the country-inflected “Paris, Texas,” but “Sweet William,” with its ‘50s chord progression choruses, rocks the hardest.
Whitehorse – The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss
The husband and wife duo’s second album has got a real heavy name. But in the event of artistic collaboration between two people sworn to love each other forever, a little bit of gravitas should be expected. There are a lot of great musicians on this album, and it shows in the composition of the songs as they weave through folk, rock and pop. Doucet’s excellent guitar work often takes the spotlight, but that’s not what makes this record great. Doucet and McClelland’s voices and melodies intertwined and working with and against each other are absolutely gorgeous, especially on the slow-moving, piano-heavy album highlight, “Cold July.” Here’s hoping they never get divorced.
Oh, yeah. That Neil Young & Crazy Horse album was awesome, too. Long live The Horse.
Matt Williams is a Winnipeg-based writer and musician. Follow him on Twitter @WaterInHell .
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