lists

Stephanie’s Top Albums of 2015

I’ll keep this short and brief. Insert here a disclaimer about how this isn’t an exhaustive list and is by no means definitive. It’s just me and my weird taste in music. There’s still plenty of other new music I haven’t even had the chance to sit down and listen to yet. Phew.

These are listed in chronological order by release date but if I’m picking just ONE top album for the year, it’ll be Death Cab For Cutie’s Kintsugi, hands down.

Purity Ring – Another Eternity
Released: Feb. 27, 2015 on 4AD
“Push Pull”

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
Released: March 17, 2015 on Epic
“Lampshades on Fire”

Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
Released: March 31, 2015 on Atlantic, Barsuk
“Good Help Is So Hard To Find”

Matt & Kim – New Glow
Released: April 7, 2015 on Fader Label
“Get It”

Muse – Drones
Released: June 5, 2015 on Warner Brothers/Helium-3
“Defector”

Tame Impala – Currents
Released: July 17, 2015 on Modular/Universal/Fiction/Interscope
“The Less I Know The Better”

Atlas Genius – Inanimate Objects
Released: Aug. 28, 2015 on Warner Brothers
“Molecules”

Big Grams (Big Boi + Phantogram) – Self-Titled
Released: Sept. 25, 2015 on Epic
“Fell In The Sun”

Featured Image: Marc Wathieu / Carnaby Records. LINK

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HBO’s Girls: The Voice of My Generation

“I’m like Tinkerbell, Finn. I need applause to live.”

That’s from an early episode of Glee wherein scene-stealer Rachel Berry explains her love affair with fame. While I’m nowhere near deserving of the attention that Lea Michele’s character receives – mostly because I’m not that talented of a singer – I can partially relate.

Pay Attention

I love attention. I crave it. I thrive on it. Who doesn’t? I’ll be honest in admitting I love talking about myself. But like any love-hate chase, I only want attention when it’s not there. When it’s being freely awarded to me, I get weirdly uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. So maybe that’s why I’ve become so attached to the new HBO series Girls. The first season’s finale aired Sunday and let me tell you… it’s a gooder.

Girls Just Want…

Before the NYC-based series premiered, I’d been really excited, having read some of the praise Lena Dunham had received for her previous work. Of course, the idea of a show that focuses on my demographic – 20-something not-quite-grown women trying to deal with post-collegiate life – appealed to my narcissistic side. It’s nice though, y’know, being scrutinized and yet, not having to really deal with any criticism.

Deal With It

Here’s a show that puts me and my friends in the spotlight but without forcing me to own up to my own stupid decisions and mistakes of being in my 20s. Dunham’s show draws from the personal experience of her own life and those around her and yes, while she lives in New York and that is drastically different from my life here in Vancouver, the human experience is still very much the same.

I face paralysing self-doubt whenever my work or writing is put on display. I struggle with my body image, embracing my ‘real’ curves but also wondering what it would take to lose a few pounds. The idea of allowing ourselves the love we think we deserve is also a constant theme. While I’m busy yelling at Hannah for allowing Adam to treat her as horribly as he does, I’m ignoring my own advice by continually being hung up on my own past relationships.


Taking A Cue

The show isn’t about me but I can relate to Dunham’s quirky quartet of heroines. I understand how it might not be attractive to admit that and no, not everyone can connect with the show’s seemingly far-fetched storylines but there’s an element of reality that rings true.

Sure, it might just be the selfish, self-involved side of me that loves Girls, but maybe watching the show religiously – and reading Vulture’s commentary on it – will finally make me realize how many unresolved issues I’ve avoided in my own life. Maybe when Hannah finally sorts out her life, I’ll take my cue and be inspired enough to deal with mine.

I Can Relate

In honour of my obsession with Girls, here are some of my favourite moments from the show’s first season. Be prepared to get to know me a little bit better. (I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or bad either either…)

1. “I invented him.”
Let me tell you, Hannah. I know what you mean. I have definitely been there. I am probably still there.

2. “You are just naturally interesting.”
I have to remind myself all the time that I’m probably not as boring as I think I am.

3. “I just had this crazy realization…”
I won’t elaborate but… Shosh, I feel you, girl.

4. “You’re wearing a white dress.”
While I’ve never been sent home to change, I have been told that I am very bad at dressing appropriately for work. Sigh.

5. “Are you punking me?”
I never really know how to deal with attention either – see above post, obviously.

Photo Credit: Google Images.

Rolling in the Grammy’s

Since I finished school last spring and started working, I haven’t had much time to follow the music industry as much as I’d like to. That being said, the Grammy Awards can be an easy — though not the most definitive — way to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being lauded in music.

But before the show gets going, here’s a couple of my own picks from some of the more the anticipated categories:

Record of the Year
Want to Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
Will Likely Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele

Reason: It’s hard to imagine any other record in this category holding a flame to Adele’s work on “Rolling in the Deep.” Her raw talent completely surpasses Katy Perry’s sexual allure, Mumford & Sons’ indie credibility, and even Bruno Mars’ heart-wrenching lyrics.

Nominees:
“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
“Holocene,” Bon Iver
“Grenade,” Bruno Mars
“The Cave,” Mumford & Sons
“Firework,” Katy Perry

Album of the Year
Want to Win: 21, Adele
Will Likely Win: Born This Way, Lady Gaga

Reason: Although I’m pulling for Adele, it’s easy to see how Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, with its deeper social message of acceptance and self-love, could usurp the English songbird for Album of the Year. Gaga’s effect on the pop world and music industry at large is so wide-spread, it’s hard to understand. Those who connected with the anthemic message, however, are largely to thank for propelling the album to its current status.

Nominees:
21
, Adele
Wasting Light, Foo Fighters
Born This Way, Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Bruno Mars
Loud, Rihanna

Song of the Year
Want to Win: “The Cave,” Performed by Mumford & Sons
Will Likely Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Performed by Adele

Nominees:
“All of the Lights,” Performed by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie
“The Cave,” Performed by Mumford & Sons
“Grenade,” Performed by Bruno Mars
“Holocene,” Performed by Bon Iver
“Rolling in the Deep,” Peformed by Adele

New Artist
Want to Win: Skrillex / Bon Iver
Will Likely Win: Nicki Minaj

Reason: This year’s Grammy Awards are a big turning point for the world of electronic music. Dubstep artist Skrillex (also known as Sonny Moore and former lead singer of From First To Last) is walking in with a small handful of nominations and if he wins any of them, it’ll be a huge step toward lending electronic music an air of credibility the rest of the industry has had a tough time understanding.

Nominees:
The Band Perry
Bon Iver
J. Cole
Nicki Minaj
Skrillex

Pop Vocal Album
Want to Win: 21, Adele
Will Likely Win: 21, Adele

Nominees:
21, Adele
The Lady Killer
, Cee Lo Green
Born This Way
, Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans
, Bruno Mars
Loud
, Rihanna

Rock Album
Want to Win: The Whole Love, Wilco
Will Likely Win: Come Around Sundown, Kings of Leon

Nominees:
Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul
, Jeff Beck
Wasting Light
, Foo Fighters
Come Around Sundown
, Kings of Leon
I’m With You
, Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Whole Love
, Wilco.

Rap Album
Want to Win: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West
Will Likely Win: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West

Reason: I don’t think I even need to explain, do I? You’ve got two of the biggest giants in rap music collaborating on an album that has given the world one of the best tours in recent history? Hands down, I’m telling you…

Nominees:
Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West
Tha Carter IV
, Lil Wayne
Lasers
, Lupe Fiasco
Pink Friday
, Nicki Minaj
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
, Kanye West

Feature Image: Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” (SCREEN GRAB)

Top 10 Songs of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s hard to resist the allure of year-end lists. Just ask High Fidelity‘s Nick Hornby.

I haven’t devoted much time to music this year since I spent half of it completing my 20-year formal education and the other half starting my first full-time job. However, from what I did manage to absorb, it was the year of dance and pop. Compared to previous lists I’ve compiled, there’s a noticeable lack of artists who play live instruments on their own tracks.

Either way, here’s my  Top 10 Songs of 2011. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list or any sort of musical authority; it’s simply what I thought were great singles released this year. These songs are catchy, well-written and I just couldn’t shut them off. Enjoy.

Top 10 Songs of 2011


10. The Joy Formidable – “A Heavy Abacus” | LISTEN
From The Big Roar; Release Date: July 11; Peak Position: #29 on US Alt
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a band that really commands your full attention. The Joy Formidable is great and I’m sad I missed them when they were in town August 2010 at the Media Club. The UK-based trio has a stadium presence that explodes from within and their aptly titled album, The Big Roar, is full of that huge, reckless sound that the present-day alternative scene often lacks.

—–


9. Jay-Z & Kanye West – “N*ggas in Paris” | LISTEN
From Watch The ThroneRelease Date: Sept. 13; Peak Position: #5 on US
Jay-Z and Kanye are great artists on their own but when they collaborate, even people not into rap or hip hop will sit up and take notice. It’s like the rap equivalent of superheroes joining forces or a crossover episode of a popular mid-90s TV show. (Forgive my similes.) The best way to explain the allure is by looking at the dialogue included on “N*ggas in Paris” taken from the Will Ferrell film, Blades of Glory:
“I don’t even know what that means!”
“No one knows what it means but it’s provocative. It gets the people going!”

—–


8. Death Cab For Cutie – “You Are A Tourist” | LISTEN
From Codes and Keys; Release Date: March 29; Peak Position: #1 on US Alt
While there’s been criticism that Ben Gibbard has lost many of the original elements of the signature Death Cab sound, I’d argue that a lot of those elements are still there –just in different, more mature ways. “You Are A Tourist” was also accompanied by a live-streamed, one-take music video directed by Tim Nackashi, who has directed videos with Rye Rye, Maroon 5, OK GO and almost anyone else you can think of. The video used multiple cameras, live performers and no edits. Very cool.

—–


7. Benny Benassi ft. Gary Go – “Cinema (Skrillex Remix)” | LISTEN
From Electroman; Release Date: March 8; Peak Position: #6 on US Billboard
While dubstep’s become a bit of an inside joke as of late, I think it’s still worthy to note its popularity among EDM fans, both new and old. Skrillex’s dubstep remix of “Cinema” boasts a pretty heavy drop with a great build and it’s easy to see why some think it eclipses the original electro house cut by Benassi. The dubstep version definitely takes the song and turns it into a different beast completely.

—–


6. Beyonce – “Run the World (Girls)” | LISTEN
From 4; Release Date: April 21; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club
While the song’s framework is built on a sample of Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor,” it’s really Beyonce’s lyrics that make this song work. Other critics weren’t fans, claiming it was a continuation of the same old themes of “independence” in Beyonce’s other songs such as “Diva” and “Single Ladies.” The difference is that Beyonce really hammers the message home in “Run The World (Girls),” taking prisoners and kicking down doors. “Run the World (Girls)” also lent itself to some great live performances, something that is difficult to do these days. (Skip to 3:00 to see the live performance.) Recognize, yo.

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5. M83 – “Midnight City” | LISTEN
From Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming; Release Date: Aug. 16; Peak Position: #20 on US
M83’s “Midnight City” has been listed by many publication as the best song of 2011. The song, which is synth-pop goodness at its best, feels familiar and yet, draws you into something unknown, as if the Back to the Future trilogy was the inspiration point. The gratuitous saxophone solo, while hilarious and strangely fitting, is admittedly, well, sexy. The haunting vocals add another surreal layer to this nostalgic trip of a song.

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4. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” | LISTEN
From 21; Release Date: March 8; Peak Position: #1 on Various
There could not be enough praise in the world for Adele’s vocals. On “Rolling in the Deep,” however, she makes sure that you know it. Her vocals are delivered with a careful cutting edge that disguises itself until it’s time to strike. The lyrics are mournful and yet, the chorus’ wail lets her ex-lover know that yes, it hurts like a mother effin’ bitch but that’s just too damn bad, isn’t it? The song’s stomp-clap bridge also sets things up nicely.

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3. Avicii – “Levels” | LISTEN
Release Date: Oct. 28; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club
I know it’s super cliche to say so but Avicii’s “Levels” has taken the world by storm. I’ve only just become familiar with the electronic scene over the last year but I’ve heard enough to know Avicii is doing something crazy good and the club kids all love it. The song has hit #1 on charts across the UK and it won’t be long before Avicii becomes a staple on North American dance charts too.

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2. Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks” | LISTEN
From Torches; Release Date: Sept. 14; Peak Position: #1 on US Alt
“Pumped Up Kicks,” which made the rounds online long before Foster the People ever had a record deal in place, is a weird concoction of equal parts laid-back indie-rock, indie-pop and dance. The song’s strange little nuances and sounds — including whistles, warbles and fades —  make it all the more intriguing. Curiously, the lead single is drastically different from their other songs, though the same quirky character is still present.

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1. Robyn – “Call Your Girlfriend” | LISTEN
From Body Talk; Release Date: April 1; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club

You know when girls scream, “This is my jam!” when they’re in the club? Well, this is that song for me and it takes everything in my body to not yell out those exact same words every time this song comes on… and this song comes on a lot. (Mostly because it’s the most played song on my iPod from the past year.)

Robyn’s been making a hot comeback here in North America where most people remember her from the late 90s not-so-one-hit-wonder, “Show Me Love.” But what many don’t realize is that Robyn’s been doing quite well for herself over in Europe. Body Talk, however, has really launched Robyn back into the pop consciousness of North American music fans.

While all the tracks off Body Talk are impeccable and deserve attention, “Call Your Girlfriend” has a maturity not often found in pop music. Lyrically, Robyn is the Other Woman, telling her new boyfriend to break it off gently with his girlfriend. There’s a keen awareness of her position in the tricky situation, while also acknowledging the feelings of her lover and the scorned woman.

The song itself has a buzz, a hum of energy that never lets up. You can hear this in the initial notes where the beat almost feels ahead of the count, pulling the listener forward, driving the tempo with purpose. When the beat picks up about 0:30 seconds in, there’s a definite push that holds firm.

The accompanying music video also played a huge role in the success of the song. The video features Robyn in a warehouse, dancing as lights flash in the background. It’s an example of lights done well as the warehouse transforms from barren walls to a neon storm of colour. Filmed in one continuous take, the video’s unconventional dance routine has Robyn going all out, only a small hint of the energy exuded during live shows.

If 2010 and 2011 were any indication, it looks like Robyn’s got a lot more calls to make in 2012.

Honourable Mentions


Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love” | LISTEN
From Talk That Talk; Release Date: Sept. 22; Peak Position: #1 on Various
I’m a sucker for a great dance-pop tune so it’s no surprise that “We Found Love” is noted here. The problem is that while Calvin Harris’ production, Rihanna’s vocals and the accompanying music video are very well done, the lyrics themselves do nothing for me. Sometimes, simplistic works but the song’s repetition loses me entirely.

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Kreayshawn – “Gucci Gucci” | LISTEN
Release Date: June 14, Peak Position: #18 on US Rap
While it’s by no means a masterpiece, Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” has pop cultural references that are all at once hilarious, shocking and quirky. There’s a carefree flow that only a petite white girl from Oakland can pull off. Or maybe I just really like singing along. “Yeah, you can kiss the ring / But you can never touch the crown.” The difficulty is that the entire song rests on these pop culture references; her other songs haven’t reached the same level of success.

Featured Image: A record shop in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Photo by Stephanie Ip.
Screen caps and titles captured and edited by Stephanie Ip.

Come back, baby.

If you’re a musician or a fan of music at all, you know one of the worst things ever is having your gear stolen. Not only is music gear expensive to replace but a lot of musicians develop a special bond with their gear, finetuning it to no end to get that perfect sound.

My friend Graham Madden (of Vancouver, B.C. band Tough Lovers) is missing his pedalboard. It was last seen after their most recent show Nov. 17 at the Media Club. The band took a two-week break before their next practice and that was when they discovered the pedalboard was missing. It had been loaded into the car following the show but seems like it never made it back to the band’s apartment where the rest of the gear was unloaded. It’s uncertain where or when it would’ve been lost in the mix or if it was lifted from the car during load-out.

If you happen to hear of anything or come across something that sounds similar to this on Craigslist or from other folks, please contact him on Twitter at @g_madden or by email. You can also leave a comment on this post. Thanks.

Here’s his message that was posted to Facebook:
“Musician friends: My pedalboard was stolen.
If you have any info on the contents, please let me know ASAP.
The pedals from right to left are:

-Boss TU-2 Tuner
-Jetter Dual Overdrive
-Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion
-Boss DD-3 Delay
-Boss FL-3 Flanger
The pedal board was covered in recognizable burgundy fabric surrounding the pedals.
If you see it anywhere, please let me know.”

Tough Lovers – “Colours”
Exits EP; Released Feb. 4, 2011.

Playlist: The Mix Tape.

Those who know me, know that I’m a hopeless romantic. I spent five years focusing on finishing my degree and in that time, I didn’t date at all. I did, however, pine after a few gentlemen during that period. While none of those crushes came to fruition — probably for the best — my romantic tendencies usually got the best of me and would manifest itself in poorly written poems, unfinished letters, and mix tapes that sit on my shelf, collecting dust.

Here is my favourite of them all.

The Mix Tape.
Summer 2010

1. She & Him – “I Was Made For You”

2. Hannah Georgas – “The Deep End”

3. Justin Nozuka – “My Heart Is Yours”

4. Jack’s Mannequin – “Dark Blue”

5. Landon Pigg – “Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop”

6. Joshua Radin & Schuyler Fisk – “Paperweight”

7. The Beatles – “I Will”

8. Beach House – “Take Care”

9. John Mayer – “Edge of Desire”

10. The Perishers – “Nothing Like You And I”

11. Cat Power – “Sea of Love”

12. Buddy Holly – “Everyday”

13. Iron & Wine – “In My Lady’s House”

Featured Photo: John Cusack in High Fidelity.

Top 5 Title Tracks.

Counting down in reverse order…

5. Ben Lee – “Ripe”
“Ripe” is a Ben Lee song if there ever was one. It has the whimsical delivery, the timid intro, the gradual build that you don’t even notice until the song is over. It’s not arrogant but instead, self assured. Which is exactly what this album is about. Ben Lee continues writing his trademark clap-happy-stomp anthems but the shy confidence is apparent.

4. Jimmy Eat World – “Bleed American
Even in the opening guitar riff, there’s an almost deadly intensity that comes over you when you hear this song. The chorus is a call to arms, an anthem in classic JEW style. It seems to threaten the listener: either you love it or you hate it… there’s no gray area. JEW refuses to play on that middle ground. As the opening track, the song is a warning for the rest of the album, daring the listener to continue.

3. Incubus – “A Crow Left of the Murder”
When A Crow Left of the Murder was released, I was almost worried. I wondered if Incubus was going to be able to combine the ethereal quality that they produced on Morning View with the erratic energy that they showed on Make Yourself and S.C.I.E.N.C.E. This song, along with the entire album, is proof of that success. The song itself is sporadic at times and its shifting guitar lines, layered under Brandon Boyd’s escalating vocals aren’t messy or disorganized. There is a method to their madness and it shows on “A Crow Left of the Murder”.

2. The Strokes – “Is This It?”
The first time I heard the Strokes, it was like listening to pure cool ooze out of my headphones. It’s ridiculous how well they’re able to capture the entire New-York-hipster vibe without coming off pretentious or obvious. “Is This It?” plays off the complete lack of emotion that Julian Casablancas embodies. They’re just too cool to care.

And finally…

1. Stars – “In Our Bedroom After The War”
It’s difficult to put into words the epic victory that this song represents. It begins with a gradual wake up call that slowly and gradually builds itself into an orchestral explosion. Stars is great with a number of things, but I would argue that creating atmosphere is their strongest skill. And with this song, it definitely paints an image of the “bedroom after the war”. This song is the closing track to the album and I couldn’t think of a more fitting curtain call than this.