Brain Fizz :: Best album art of 2011

Words: Gabriel Jasmin

I’m one of those (like you, I’d guess) who enjoy physical releases, LPs and tapes and CDs and stuff. So, I wanted to take some time to look back on the past 12 months and appoint myself an expert on the matter to pick out the 15 best album covers out of many tens of thousands. As with any list, of course, it is entirely subjective and for sure I’ve missed out on some amazing and beautiful 2011 releases. That said, here’s what caught my eye this year, ordered alphabetically. Enjoy!

Air Sign – “In Search of…”

A bizarre ode to Leonard Nimoy’s mystery TV doc, this cover enumerates some subjects scrutinized by the former USS Enterprise’s science officer. Strange aviators? Psychic detectives? The man who would not die? I know what I’m watching. Artwork letter-pressed with love by No Kings’ head imperial, Mr. Lee Noble.

Paul Ballance – World Wide Gas

It’s not every day that we get the pleasure of a lime green doodle depiction of a hairy ass and scrotum on a tape cover. More distressing yet, what’s with the phone number? And why does it read “24 hour passenger & delivery service, we accept Visa”? Do they deliver dirty neon green buttocks? Art by Corey Lunn, music by Paul Ballance, both are nicely raw and offbeat.

Dirty Beaches – Badlands

An elusive and obscure portrait of the man clouded in cigarette smoke, this shot brilliantly captures the essence of Dirty Beaches as lone journeyman. It’s a fleeting moment, very mysterious, eager to disappear in the blink of an eye. Gnarly and light, enigmatic black and white.

The Dreams – Morbido

This is such a cool statue. Strangely, at first I didn’t notice the baby she’s giving birth to, literally sliding out hands in the air. And I was blown away the moment I did, its petrified texture and her aching expression bridging ancient mythologies to The Dreams’ no wave tropicalia. I don’t really know why, but there’s something about this image and I always stare at it for the longest time.

Driphouse – Root 91

OK, so I’m quite bummed at how this scan turned out, and how I’m three years into a graphic design B.A. yet absolutely unable to make it look fine. Shouldn’t I be a Photoshop wizard by now? This tape looks awesome (not that you could tell), and the artwork is stamped onto nice, thick cover paper. No ink whatsoever. To my defense the rest of the Internet didn’t do much better scan-wise.

Duchess Says – In a Fung Day T

This cover depicts what I guess are meteors floating in the space-time continuum alongside some weird acronyms like “US ICC” and Russian text on the back, but no mention about the band’s name to be found anywhere (except inside the gatefold). A cryptic sleeve, screen-printed with extravagant fluorescent orange ink.

Inez Lightfoot / Je Suis le Petit Chevalier – Offering / Pannacotta

Picked this one out of the wild assortment of tapes released this year by the almighty Stunned Records (R.I.P.), with most of their 2011 catalog featuring intricate color pencil drawings of totally original psychedelic eye candy. This one resonated the most with my penchant for Matisse, but all could’ve made the list.

Julian Lynch – Buffalo Songs

Goaty Tapes went 110% special effects on this one, using textured paper, stamping and a fancy die-cut, yet manage to gracefully walk a tightrope and not fall into the traps of being overdone or cheesy. Dear Goaty, this is true J-card craftsmanship mastery. Also: This is a mighty nice collection of laid back bedroom instrumentals.

Sean McCann – Open Resolve

Yes, this is one blew me away at first sight. Keith Rankin is a collage cover art wizard, and this one is his best yet. But I expect major mindfuckery from his label Orange Milk Records over the next year. Stay tuned!

Bill Orcutt – How the Thing Sings

Wait, what to grasp from this rigidly aligned collection of multicoloured Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar picks? Perhaps a comment about what Bill Orcutt isn’t? An anti-portrait?

Peaking Lights – 936

Bright flashy psychedelia, vivid and vibrant, this record looks like a ’60s acid trip colliding with the insides of an analog TV set. Very different from anything else I’ve ever seen, and that’s too rare of a good thing.

Seziki Tetrasheaf / Quiet Evenings – Let’s Do Carpet Beach / Gold Coast

Trippy collab artwork made by all four members of the two duos featured on this split LP, and most of these folks are the masterminds behind tape labels who regularly produce some of the best artwork out there: David Toro and Jeffry Astin (Housecraft Records), and Grant and Rachel Evans (Hooker Vision). This record is the bomb and it’s no wonder, really.

Spare Death Icon – Survival

I’m no computer graphics fanatic, and CGI usually gives me the chills, but here’s a top-notch exception by Brenna Murphy of something innovative and beautifully unconventional produced with a shitty format. Better yet, check this bad trip of a video.

Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania

William Khein is the best and basically everything he touches makes my brain fizz with joy. See for yourself. Mixing comics and offbeat psychedelia, Castlemania is probably my favourite album cover of 2011.

Nate Young – Stay Asleep (Regression Vol. 2)

The big white border makes it so much better, like an art print instead of an album cover. Beautiful colors and strong imagery that brings to mind Dali’s skull.

Banana Mania! :: Top 10 of 2011

Words: J.R. Cumming

1. Holy Other – With U EP

No question for me here. Though only five tracks and 22 minutes, I spent more time with this EP than any other release this year, and don’t imagine tiring of it any time soon. Mournful, ethereal, yet textural and incredibly mysterious, nothing had me more excited about new music in 2011 than With U.

2. Main Attrakionz – 808s & Dark Grapes II

Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N, two of the most prolific and talented in the game, finally followed through on a steady stream of great mixtapes with 808s and Dark Grapes II, their most consistent effort thus far. Aided by beat making whiz kids Friendzone, Clams Casino, Silky Johnson, Squadda himself and others, the record found the two taking their “cloud rap” to a whole new level, and even caused some of the mainstream to take notice.

3. Kuedo – Severant

The future? The 1980s’ idea of the future? Does it matter? Taking cues equally from “New Visions” style synths and contemporary UK dance music, Severant, the solo debut from Jamie Teasdale of Vex’d, was one of the freshest sounding releases of 2011. Incredibly ambitious but rarely missing a step, Teasdale moves with confidence from lightning fast UK Garage to cinematic and sorrowful synth interludes. The sound of streetlights reflecting on wet streets.

4. A$AP Rocky – Live.Love.A$AP

As Main Attrakionz’ east coast partner in crime, it’s incredible to think that 12 months ago no one had heard of A$AP Rocky, though his rapid ascension to critical/popular acclaim has been more than justified. Great, effortless rhymes on top of beats from Clams Casino (again) and personal favourite DJ Burn One, among others, Live.Love.A$AP was a huge improvement on the excellent Deep Purple EP, released only a few months before, and one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. Here’s hoping he keeps up the same level of quality into 2012.

5. Laurel Halo – Hour Logic

Not unlike fellow Brooklynites Blondes, Laurel Halo seems to make music too forward thinking for her own good. Seemingly too techno for most indie music crowds, while also too experimental and ambient for the electronic music crowds, Hour Logic sadly slipped through a lot of cracks. Part Steve Reich, part Oneohtrix Point Never, part Basic Channel and part Derrick May, the album may not yet be the crystallization of Halo’s unique sound, but remains a fascinating development nonetheless.

6. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

After the unfortunate misstep that was Director’s Cut, 50 Words For Snow came as a heartwarming relief to Kate Bush fans. More focused and intimate than 2005’s Aerial, the record might even be Bush’s finest effort since The Sensual World. Built primarily around her delicate piano playing, accompanied by strings and percussion, the result is seemingly quaint and straightforward, but remains as dense and complex as anything we could expect from everyone’s favourite pixie.

7. Beaumont – Blush Response EP

Blush Response, the debut release from Glasgow’s Beaumont, definitely worked as 2011’s warmer compliment to CFCF, Kuedo or Babe Rainbow’s night bus vibes. With a more pronounced Italo and R&B feel, tracks like “Midnight” still come off like the soundtrack to a late night trip, though perhaps this time the passenger doesn’t ride alone…

8. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – YT // ST

I can’t help but feel embarrassed for sleeping on this one. Perhaps most accurately described as prog, YT // ST is one of the most ambitious and impressive rock records I’ve heard in ages. Everything from the album itself to the matching, Akira-inspired visual aesthetic is so well realized and cohesive it’s tough to believe it’s the group’s debut LP. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

9. Tropic of Cancer – The End of All Things

Like fellow west coasters The Soft Moon, the Tropic of Cancer managed to borrow strongly from their forebearers (ie. Danse Society, Joy Division, no wave) but move beyond pastiche to create one of the best minimal ’80s records since… the ’80s. Like most of the albums on this list, The End of All Things exists in its own world, creating a tremendous atmosphere that is cold, metallic, and frigid in all the best ways.

10. Omar-S – It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It

The boss. By this point in the game it’s almost unnecessary to give it up for Omar-S, who long ago staked his claim as the king of the techno/house underground. Though he hasn’t dropped in either quality or quantity of output in recent times, It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It was the man’s first LP in six years and stands as some of his finest work as well as a testament to his talent.

Special mention: NGUZUNGUZU – The Perfect Lullaby mixtape

I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have survived the Montreal 2011 heatwave without this and banana popsicles.

Life Melters 2011

Words: Kevin Stebner

2011: The year of the Castle? (photo: Landon Speers)

Funny how the only thing that truly marks the passage of the year are year-end Top 10 lists.

Well, once again, major media failed me. All the true life melters flew under the radar; all the true life melters had to come from active digging. Every record that moved me and was actually worth staying on the turntable longer than a listen or two were, once again, divided into two camps: either Country or Hardcore — those two most blessed of genres able to distil emotion into minute little gems. Sure, there were a few other alright things that crossed my path, but they don’t need my help.

So let’s just be subjective!

Raein – Sulla linea dell’orizzonte fra questa mia vita e quella di tutti gli altri (self-released)

Needless to say, I’ve had to spend a pretty penny on international mail-order to really keep up on all the new stuff coming out of Europe. If any proof is needed that the best skramz (if we dare start to use that term) is coming out of Europe, one need not look any farther than this record. Italy’s Raein released an utterly astounding record (THE BEST record of the year in my humble estimation), one that, while still firmly and definitively hardcore, nevertheless defies strict genre classification: screaming full-bore, yet following its own melodic course; bits of post-rock played fast; time changes that defy all logic. Even after a slew of really strong output prior to this, nothing even comes close to the strength of Sulla linea… The truly amazing thing about this record is exactly how perfectly everything is wed, so fast and aggressive and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. Must jam.

Enablers – Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions (Lancashire & Somerset)

After last year’s somewhat disappointing Tundra, it is a blessing that Enablers have returned with a record so absolutely stunning. Pete Simonelli’s spoken vocals are at their most heady, dare I say even out-Slinting Slint with dark humour, unsettling candour and sheer poetic cadence. The double-guitar-and-drums attack of the rest of the band is of one mind, often ethereal and morose, and at other times crushingly hard hitting. In a world where arty noise-rock has fallen out of vogue, such a concentrated statement as Blown Realms comes to remind us that bands can still actually rock, that it isn’t all lightweight lo-fi meaninglessness, and of the sheer power a single band can yield.

One Hundred Dollars – Songs of Man (Outside)

This was easily the most listened to recording of our cross-Canada tour. When radio fails and iPods die, how thankful was I to have Songs of Man on the drive. Once again, One Hundred Dollars have delivered the best country album of the year, so assured, so jam-packed with wailing country licks, campfire acoustics and poetic serenades. Just seeing a band like this open for another so much their junior in terms of weight and merit proves the world is an unjust place. “Where the Sparrows Drop” is an absolute blessing distilled into song (and very likely the most listened to song of my year). And the piano lines on “Brother”… I defy any eye to remain un-misty after listening to that. Simone Schmidt’s voice could likely be the most powerful voice ever to set down a country drawl. I would propose marriage just to be able to hear that voice every day. I guess this record will have to do until then.

Jennifer Castle – Castlemusic (Flemish Eye)
Castlemusic // Wyrd Visions – “My Boat” b/w “Voice of God” (Blue Fog)
Deloro – s/t (idée fixe)

I managed to catch two sets from Jennifer Castle when she came through Alberta both times this year. With just a guitar and her wonderful vibrato, her sets were absolutely crushing in their honesty, absolutely unsettling in their nakedness. Her full-length is nearly perfect, whether with the Joni Mitchell-like waver on “Neverride” all the way to the jaunty, psychy trem of “Poor as Him;” it’s got country steel, melodies that bore like ear worms, understated guitar work — just a truly memorable collection of moody folk jams. On the split with Wyrd Visions she presents one seriously haunting dirge, one that rests uneasily in ones consciousness for days after hearing it. Deloro, then, is something of a super group, featuring members of One Hundred Dollars and Constantines (among others), as well as Jennifer fronting a few of the tracks. The unevenness of the record is almost one of its biggest appeals — the grab-bag of songs and styles, ranging all the way from Rick White-styled freezing cold psychedelia to unashamed pop smashes. Powerful, varied, haunting. Everything Jennifer Castle did this year killed. 2011 could have been the year of the Castle.

Slates – Prairie Fires (Handsome Dan)

I can think of no other Canadian band who has worked as hard as Slates have (touring Cuba AND Eastern Europe in the last while!) and yet remains so unjustly underrated on their home turf. Slates once again forge out one major punk rock record, and it is punk rock, almost in the classic sense. I’m speaking in the Wipers, no screwin’ around, every song is a jammer-sense; the Springsteen, I’m talking about you, everyman-sense. Prairie Fires is chock full of some of the most memorable punk rock to have come around in forever, with riffs that Greg Sage would envy, and such a universal appeal. This record could be the one to unite all scenes. Not throwback — classic.

Daniel Striped Tiger – No Difference (Clean Plate)

I’ve written about this record before, but allow me to reiterate: No Difference is an incredible collection of post-hardore rippers. The guitar are clean, the songs super inventive. Daniel Striped Tiger have simply gotten way better; all the old trappings that can mire hardcore records — gone. Even the meanderings sound like excited blasts. Also, easily the best album cover of the year, without question.

Baton Rouge – Fragments D’eux Mêmes (Bakery Outlet)

France’s Baton Rouge has members of Daitro and 12XU, and that’s almost exactly how it sounds: a combination of the best elements of both of those two bands. It’s got pieces of Daitro’s smart post-hardcore, and 12XU’s dry rock, but without the trapping that bogged down those bands. All the senseless meanderings and jarring vocal takes have been stripped, while everything else has been blended into some seriously genre-riding, hooky rockers. I only wish my French was better so I could sing along.

*If I may take a moment to be nepotistic, allow me to say that the record I listened to most this year was something that I put out: Town Ship’s Future Confusion. In my mind, it’s the grossest, most thrilling, most ripping record. Town Ship are my jam, so I had to get as close as possible. May next year rip even harder.

MIXTAPE OF THE DAMNED :: The year in OH, HELL NO

Words: Anthony Hansen

Skrillex with The Doors' Robby Krieger (shudder...)

Track One: “My Own Cobain” by Limp Bizkit

One fine day, myself and two other Texture writers (J.R. Cumming and Texture head honcho Jesse Locke) attempted to relive the most misguided days of our youth by putting on Limp Bizkit’s Greatest Hits. It didn’t work. Though good for an unintentional guffaw or two, it seems Limp Bizkit weren’t just one in an endless parade of shitty bands designed to capitalize on teen angst — they were a product of a very specific time and place, brazen bandwagon-jumpers whose sound defined an era we’ve all worked very hard to forget. And yet, here’s Fred Durst, dragging his knuckles into the 21st century with a song about… feeling like… Kurt Cobain? Seriously? Why, that’s almost as bad as…

Track Two: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Miley Cyrus

Click to watch it (embedding disabled).

“FUCK YOU, DADDY!”

Track Three: “Edge Of Glory” by Lady Gaga

To everyone who ever pinned their hopes for the future of pop music on this woman, you fucking take that back. Right. Now. Not only does “Edge Of Glory” sound like the kind of tepid pablum you’d hear at a Céline Dion concert, it’s sadly representative of the horrifying tackiness that’s come to define and ultimately overwhelm Lady Gaga’s aesthetic. This is not to imply that I have a problem with kitschiness (I am a B-52’s fan, after all), it’s just that I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that it’s all in the service of one big desperate cry for attention, a temper tantrum thrown at a world that can and will never care enough. “Well, that’s what all pop stars do anyway!” I can hear you braying indignantly. OK, fair. But did I mention this song has a saxophone solo? Because it does.

Track Four: “Fireworks” by Katy Perry

Of course, if I’m gonna take potshots at Lady Gaga, it’s only fair that I should bash Katy Perry as well, seeing as the two seem to be neck-and-neck in their race for Top-40-queen omniscience. I know in my heart that I should probably like Lady Gaga more. After all, Lady Gaga actually has something resembling artistic credibility whereas Katy Perry’s songs aspire to be nothing more than trashy Top 40 fodder… but I’m not sure I buy that. I think there’s an art to crafting fun, simple, perfectly disposable pop songs that’s often lost on those who look to music solely for Big Statements and New Ideas.

Unfortunately, this song is dogshit and Katy Perry’s voice sounds like a defective car alarm.

Track Five: “Leck Mich Im Arsch” by Insane Clown Posse w/ Jack White and JEFF The Brotherhood

Insane Clown Posse – Leck Mich Im Arsch by Third Man Records

HA HA HA HA HA. WHERE’S YOUR MESSIAH NOW, WHITE STRIPES FANS???

Track Six: “Swagger Jagger” by Cher Lloyd

This is the only song I had to actually research before I wrote this list, and as someone who now knows more about this song than I know about some of my own neighbours: it wasn’t worth it. Nothing is worth anything anymore.

Track Seven: “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes w/ Adam Levine

Business as usual. Adam Levine sings like he just unhooked his jaw to swallow a pile of gym socks.

Track Eight: “Profundis” by Morbid Angel

“Hear that, kids? That’s what your dad thinks all metal bands sound like. Now put on some Dire Straits or GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE.”

Track Nine: “Breakin’ A Sweat” by Skrillex w/ The Doors

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM3mON6_yVk

Before I get to the year’s most infamous cross-cultural trainwreck, here’s something that might be even worse. Ray Manzarek has been doing his damnedest to sully The Doors’ legacy for well over 40 years now (Jesus), but working with Skrillex represents a leap in logic so convoluted it actually defies human comprehension. The worst part is that Skrillex’s production is actually not too shabby, it’s just that Manzarek’s constant spoken interjections posit this somewhere between running into your dad at a rave and watching a senile old dog try to hump an electric fence.

Track Ten: “The View” by Metallica w/ Lou Reed

Well, this was kind of inevitable, wasn’t it? It’s not every year that you get to witness a musical disaster of such epic proportions. And yet, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out something that I think no other reviewer has touched on, namely: Lulu sounds exactly like an early Swans album.

If Swans were terrible.

2011: The Backwards Relationship

Words: Jeremy Curry

The year 2011 felt like one of my past relationships going backwards. It started off long, frustrating and complicated, but it ended with excitement, wonder and a hell of a lot of questions. The reason for this is because I’ve moved from my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, to the monstrous super champion funzone of Tokyo, Japan. I am surprised the city has not eaten me alive yet. I’ve attended a couple of live events, but the city is so breathtaking and vibrant that anywhere I go turns out to be a fantastic treat. I have yet to find myself in a state of boredom or frustration. I am sure being unemployed will catch up to me soon. Anyway, I’ve seen loads of crazy outfits and cute cartoons and just plain weird junk, so let’s move on.

BURT BACHARACH

I’ve always loved Burt, but it wasn’t until this year that I heard the five disc anthology Something Big, that I really started to appreciate the guy. He creates these perfect pop songs that seem so innocent and fun, yet have this gushing feeling of love all over the damn place. Colour me sentimental. These songs can sound kind of corny sometimes, but man are they arranged in such a perfect way. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I play “(They Long To Be) Close To You” or “All Kinds Of People”. It’s like sitting by a roaring fire on a cold day, sipping hot chocolate while your border collie brings you your slippers and your daily newspaper (mine would be The Onion). Oh, and there’s a roast cooking in the oven too!

JIM O’ROURKE’S MANY ALBUMS RELEASED THIS YEAR

Jim O’Rourke is my favorite musician, so it was kind of crazy for me this year, when he released about eight albums I think? I don’t know if this is correct, but some great ones are the compilations Old News Vol. 5 and Old News Vol. 6. His album Indeed with Oren Ambarchi was like riding a death-cycle into No Man’s Land, and the album with Ambarchi and Keiji Haino, In A Flash Everything Comes Together As One, was a wonked out whirlwind of improvised freak outs, brain-blasting riffs and jarring electronics. He also worked with the group Fire! for a release on Rune Grammafon called, Unreleased? Yet the real gem I heard this year was called One Bird, Two Bird with Mats Gustafsson and Merzbow. This is one of the most abrasive, brutal and awesome records I have heard all year. Gustafsson squonks out the gnarliest sax wails I have ever heard. Like his life depends on tearing up eardrums. Merzbow and O’Rourke flicker in and out with hisses, drones and wobbly tones that would have you think you’re in droid hell. For somebody who has been churning out an insane quantity of albums, the quality is still top-notch.

THE BEACH BOYS SMILE SESSIONS

It was so cool that this was released this year. I had no idea! Snuck out from under me, I guess. This is another pop masterwork that was never really finished and is considered to be one of the greatest American unfinished records. I don’t know who else you could lump into that category? Does Meat Loaf have a fantastic unfinished record we have yet to hear about? Doubtful. The Smile Sessions are pretty much as close as it gets to the completion of the record, with tons of extra stuff on the vinyl editions. It’s a great way to choose your own adventure as to how you think the tracks should have gone together, although I was quite happy with this result. Oh, I also forgot about Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. They didn’t finish that album, but they released it anyway because they didn’t give a shit.

Here are some good albums that came out this year:

DJ Quik- The Book of David

200 Years – s/t

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan – YT//ST

Wild Flag – s/t

Thundercat – The Golden Age of the Apocalypse

P.J Harvey – Let England Shake

Master Musicians of Bukkake – Totem Three

Masami Akita, Mats Gustafsson & Jim O’Rourke – One Bird, Two Bird

Cyclo – id

Boston Spaceships – Let it Beard

David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time

Evil Madness – Super Great Love

FORMA – s/t

Gui Boratto – III

P.G. Six – Starry Mind

G-Side – The One… Cohesive

Ellen Fullman – Through Glass Panes

Rustie – Glass Swords

The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions (reissue)

LFO – Frequencies (reissue)

Savaging Spires – s/t

Mark McGuire – Get Lost

The Roots – undun

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu

Everything else? Kinda shitty.

Down the rabbit hole :: Jeers, cheers and sonic obsessions for 2011

Words: Jesse Locke

2011 was a year of riots, revolutions and people’s microphones, punctuated by heart-sinking stories with the occasional feel-good tale or extraordinary surprise. The speed of current events streaming through the tubes of the internet and spread like wheatpasted show posters made it hard not to become a full-blown news junkie in these 12 hectic months. Meanwhile, reading Chris Hedges’ column week in and week out delivered a rousing dose of real talk. Oh yeah, and this happened.

While the world continued going potty in all directions, I somehow managed to fulfill several musical goals of releasing an LP and joining the band of one of my favourite artists. Alongside dropping cassettes for some other current faves, I listened to more wig-peeling music from the fringes than ever before through daily operations as the editor of Weird Canada. In the end, this same rapid and unfiltered overload of media made it hard not to shut it all off and move into a treefort, but I soldiered on. Here are 10 sonic obsessions that defined my year.

Colin Stetson

This is the guy. My darkhorse pick for the Polaris Prize was seemingly everywhere in 2011, but the place he sounded best was within New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. Jazzbo or otherwise, this monolithic LP is a jolting showcase of Gustafsson-style circular breathing blowouts and majestic Jurassic Park drones. Laurie Anderson’s narration adds gravity to be sure, but the real power comes from the fact that this is one man with bodybuilder lungs stacking polyrhythmic patterns on top of each other, tapping beats with his fingers and simultaneously singing into his horn without the help of an overdub, loop or effects pedal. I’ve seen him do it live twice now and still barely believe it’s real. Credit is due to the engineering geniuses at Hotel2Tango as well, who placed 20+ microphones on or around his sax to create a truly stereostropic soundworld. Interviewing Stetson proved him to be as much of a superhuman masterbrain as you’d imagine, but also just a talented guy who’s happy to get the chance to do what he does best.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

I first had my mind blown by this supercharged pan-Asian performance troupe with their set at Cool Fest 9 several years back. 2011 was the year that Yamantaka // Sonic Titan saw fit to transmit the first glimpses of their self-described ‘Noh-Wave opera’ into a recorded form, and the resulting LP from Psychic Handshake is even more goggling than I could have imagined. From face-shredding guitar riffs (courtesy of Grand Trine’s Shub Roy) to medieval organ prog and dreamy moments of Blonde Redhead-style pixie-pop, YT//ST is a monster of an album. I predict nothing less than world domination in 2012.

Femminielli

2011 saw Bernardino Femminielli fully develop his smooth-talking Giallo disco lothario persona with a jaw-dropping string of releases. From the Chauffeur 7″ for Fixture Records to the Carte blanche aux désirs cassette for his equally amazing label, Los Discos Enfantasmes, this icy electronic labryinth was one I didn’t mind getting lost inside. Sabrina Ratté’s 10-minute head-trip of a video for his song “Atlantida” might be the best place to start, while the glitching computerized vocals of his brand new tape, Telenovelas Mentales, point the way into the future.

The Offset: Spectacles

I have to admit here that my tastes in music have a pretty strong bias towards percussion. I’ll get into any song if I can air-drum along to it, and it’s why Electric Miles will always be my jam. I also find it strange, then, that a drumless, VU-inspired rock group with only cat-scratch guitars and gritty Cantonese vocals can be so damn captivating. Fuzz organ, electronics and screeching violin add texture, but The Offset: Spectacles remains as sparse as Dragnet-era Fall. This minimalist trio originally hails from Hong Kong, but relocated to Beijing to found the Rose Mansion Analog label (also home to cassettes from Canada’s Hot & Cold, Dirty Beaches and the oscillator duo Soviet Pop). The Offsets LP marks their first foray into vinyl, and it’s a stunner. Mail order must-grip.

Comedy podcasts

I live in Toronto but work in scenic Etobicoke, so hour-plus trips in transit are a daily occurrence. For my money, there’s nothing more enjoyable than waking up to something that makes you laugh so hard you start crying and blowing snot bubbles on a crowded bus while everyone around you thinks you’re a lunatic. The Best Show was my gateway drug, which soon led into The Pod F Tompkast and spiraled into an addiction. Everything on Earwolf Radio is quality, but especially How Did This Get Made?, Tig Notaro’s Professor Blastoff and the flagship podcast, Comedy Bang Bang. Host Scott “Hot Saucerman” Aukerman brings in a pair of comedian guests each week, one of whom plays a character like Charles Barkley, Jennifer Tilly (now in a relationship with Chucky) or Sappity Tappity the alcoholic Christmas tree. That probably doesn’t sound funny, but hey, it is. Deal with it. Marc Maron’s WTF is another go-to for his extended interviews with comedians that often result in candid and/or emotional revelations. Not always funny haha, and the show’s title is pretty apt. This year’s episode with Norm MacDonald going deep into his gambling addiction is especially great.

Lantern

Blitzkrieg proto-punk trio Lantern was originally formed by Zach Fairbrother and Emily Robb of Halifax’s longhair psych jammers Omon Ra II. After moving to Philly and picking up moxie-filled drummer Sophie White, they’ve since cemented their status as one of the best in the game. Breathing fire into the tradition laid down by Bo Diddley and his ilk with a twist of Hasil Adkins and some seriously shredding guitar moves, their 2011 cassette on Night People and 7″ from Mammoth Cave are both must-grips. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in these hands.

Wyrd Visions // Castlemusic

Five years after the hood classic Half-Eaten Guitar, double-neck shaman Wyrd Visions reemerged unexpectedly to share a 12″ split with Jennifer Castle. Toronto’s sweet and understated wisp-folk minstrel proved the perfect match on this two-song gem, with both artists delivering in spades. “My Boat” and “Voice of God” provided the soundtrack to my winter, starting off many mornings and lingering long into the frosty night.

Man Made Hill

Man Made Hill was my entry into Toronto’s musical subterrain after we booked the prince of darkness to play this summer’s first annual Wyrd Fest MTL. Randy has since become my personal avatar of awesomeness, representing all that is strange and beautiful about the city’s sonic happenings. Pumping out zonked electronics and intergalactic funk à la Mandre, he freaks the beat like an alternate dimension Andrew W.K. Look out for his latest alter-ego, Denim Reptile, and probably five more projects by the time you read these words.

Golden Retriever

These dogs were a late-year discovery, but have recently joined my regular rotation like a pair of favourite undies. The Portland duo of Matt Carlson (modular synth) and Jonathan Sielaff (bass clarinet) released three albums in 2011, all drifting through a dreamlike combination of Arp-style ambient nostalgia and heady cosmic jazz. The Arda Viraf cassette from Agents of Chaos is my go-to, highlighted by the gorgeous 15-minute title track. Yet unlike many of their overly prolific neo-kosmische peers, Golden Retriever match quantity with quality every step of the way.

Kris Ellestad

The fact that Kris Ellestad remains anything less than a household name is a baffler. This guy should be Groban famous, making grandmas swoon the world over. In all seriousness, Ellestad released his strongest collection of songs to date in 2011 with No Man is Land. And while the album received a few scattered pellets of praise, I still feel it’s a criminally underrated masterpiece. From the complex fingerpicked guitars to lush instrumental arrangements and Kris’s chamomile croon (not to mention his ridiculously clever lyrical wordplay), it can’t be recommended enough. For more fun, an ongoing YouTube channel of covers shows both his range and fantastic taste. Kris doing Michael Gira doing Dylan is essentially unimpeachable.