Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Year in Lists: Favourite Albums of 2012

Well, it's that time of year again.  The time where I write a bunch of year-end posts where I borrow the title from a favourite Los Campesinos! song.

As always, I like to make a list of my favourite albums from the year.  Since I don't have time to listen to all of the albums, this is no best-of list, but just the favourites of one part-time music obsessive.

2012 was a strong year for albums.  There are great albums by Patrick Watson, Rufus Wainwright, Ben Folds Five, and Serena Ryder that I really enjoyed, but they didn't even get to crack the top ten.  As always, my list is made up of mostly Canadian artists.  I think Fiona Apple is the only non-Canadian on my list... I listen to a lot of home-grown stuff.  Anyway, let's get to it!

10) Celebration Rock - Japandroids

The name of this album describes it perfectly.  You need rock music that you can sing-along to and pump your fist with?  It’s here.  One of my favourite defunct rock bands is The Constantines, and I feel that Japandroids are definitely in the vein of The Cons, but they are definitely more accessible. Each of the eight tracks is a great rock anthem, and if you need some good loud music, get this album.

Favourite Songs: The Nights of Wine and Roses & The House That Heaven Built

9) Scrappy Happiness - Joel Plaskett Emergency

“Let’s make a record for the old and young” declares Joel Plaskett on the song You’re Mine on this super fun rock record.  Scrappy Happiness is an experimental record - the JPE recorded one song per week for CBC Radio, and then released the songs as the album Scrappy Happiness at the end of March.  This song has some amazing rock moments that won’t disappoint any Joel Plaskett fans: the song Lightning Bolt is a rock epic.  There are some sweet moments here too.  Harbour Boys is one of my favourite songs ever, and I’m Yours is sweet campfire singalong.  Joel Plaskett is a Canadian treasure, and he continues his streak of great albums with Scrappy Happiness, which will bring more than a scrap of happiness to any listener. 

Favourite Songs - Harbour Boys & Lightning Bolt

8) I Predict A Graceful Expulsion - Cold Specks

Al Spx, the singer-songwriter at the helm of Cold Specks, has a powerful gospel-style voice.  Her songs are absolutely beautiful, and invoke cold, northern imagery with shout-outs to her hometown of Toronto.  I was trying to figure out how to describe her music, and Wikipedia used the term “doom soul” which I think is perfect.  This album is dark, soulful, and absolutely beautiful.

Favourite Songs - Elephant Head & Winter Solstice

7) Bodyparts - Dragonette
This is probably the first electronic/dance record that’s ever made my favourite albums list.  Perhaps this speaks to the fact that I’ve committed myself to running, and finding a great running album is such an awesome thing for me.  I also have a really personal connection to Dragonette: I used to follow lead singer Martina Sorbara in her singer-songwriter days, so I think it’s great that her band has gotten some international acclaim.  Anyway, Bodyparts is made up of mostly fun electronic dance-pop songs, and is great to have on when you need energy or fun injected into your day.  This is pop music that’s not a guilty pleasure in the least.

Favourite Songs - Let It Go & Run, Run, Run

6) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do - Fiona Apple

Who doesn’t love it when an artist from the 1990s comes back with an awesome album?  Incidentally, I wasn’t the hugest Fiona fan back then.  I only picked up this album because she was playing The Chicago Theatre when I was in Chicago this summer and I wanted to see a show there.  It turned out to be extremely lucky, not only did I see one of my favourite shows ever, I discovered this lyrical album highlighted by Fiona’s soulful voice.

Favourite Songs - Werewolf & Every Single Night

5) Synthetica - Metric

“I’m just as fucked up they say” (from the song Artificial Nocturne) may be one of my favourite opening lines to an album ever.  With this album, Metric continues their streak of creating awesome rock albums.  Emily Haines is one of my top rock ‘n roll crushes and when she sings “have I really helped anybody but myself believe in the power of songs, believe in the power of girls?” I want to raise my hand, as completely corny as that gesture may be.  This is a great album, and if you’ve never seen Metric live, you must.  They are a consummate rock band.

Favourite Songs - Dream So Real & Artificial Nocturne

4) Provinical - John K Samson

When I went to Winnipeg this summer, I came home with a copy of John K Samson’s collected poetry and lyrics from 1997-2012, including those from this album.  John K Samson’s music is poetry, and each of his songs invokes a story, a place, or both so vividly that it sticks with me long past when I turn the album off.  The Last And is especially beautiful; the sad school-teacher in her classroom lamenting her ill-fated affair with her principal is the stuff of dark Canadian novels that I so adore.  Another standout on this album is the song that’s a URL address which is a petition to get an Aboriginal hockey player into the Hockey Hall of Fame; not only is it an interesting story, the vocals of John and his wife, Christine Fellows, are in perfect harmony.  Of course I went and signed the petition.

Favourite Songs - The Last And &

3) The North - Stars

This album contains my very favourite song of 2012: Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give Love.  The North is a collection of songs centred around the themes of love, friendship, death, politics, and, well, the north.  As with every Stars album, I fall in love with how Torquil and Amy share singing duties; each voice is beautiful and interesting each other and support the other one.  I think that deep down in my soul, I am an absolutely incurable romantic, and that’s why I love Stars so much. 

Favourite Songs - Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give Love & The 400

2) We Have Made A Spark - Rose Cousins
Rose Cousins first came to my attention as one of the supporting vocalists on Joel Plaskett’s 2009 album Three.  I read good things about her latest album, and I’m so glad that I picked it up.  Rose has a lovely voice, and her songs are heartbreaking and beautiful.  This album centres around a failing relationship, and Rose perfectly describes all of the emotions that go along with realizing it’s time to let go.  One of the silver linings of heartbreak is that it produces great art.

Favourite Songs - The Shell & All the Stars

1) Voyageur - Kathleen Edwards

This is Kathleen Edwards’ fourth album, and it's amazing that each of her albums just gets better and better.  This one’s very close to perfection.  I’ve always been a fan of her pretty, yet gritty, singing voice, and her songs on this album are very personal, since it’s her post-divorce album.  Songs like House Full of Empty Rooms, and Pink Champagne frankly describe the emotions that come with a failed marriage.  Despite the subject matter, this album isn’t overwhelmingly sad - there are lighter moments with songs like Empty Threat and Sidecar.  Overall, this is a collection of beautiful and truthful songs with outstanding musicianship. On For the Record, Kathleen sings “for the record, I only wanted to sing songs” and I am so glad she did that.  This is such a special album and my very favourite of the year.

Favourite Songs - Change the Sheets and A Soft Place to Land

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas everyone! It's so amazing that I didn't have to work today. I made it to Stratford last night. My train was delayed by over an hour so oh-well. This morning I finished book #52. I can't believe I met that goal.

Hope you all have the merriest of Christmases.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You pull me out of the dark and now it's light.

I am so busy these days.  I have so much going on at school it's not funny.  The talent show, student council dinner, a toy drive, and being a Secret Elf are taking up my time.  It's insane.  On Friday after school I'm going to come home and collapse I know it.

You might be wondering what being a Secret Elf entails.  This year as a staff Christmas Cheer initiative, we could put our names in a box and take someone else's name.  This week, we would have to do something nice every day for our Secret Elves and ours would do the same for us.

I actually pulled a good friend's name out of the box, so I'm having extra fun with it.

On Monday, I sent a dance crew of kids to his room to dance for him, but he was stressed out and sent them away.  (They were pretending they had to borrow something and I think he threw them off.)  So instead, I wrote him a poem, and ran to Starbucks to get him his favourite Christmas drink.

On Tuesday I wrapped his classroom door in Christmas paper and put a big bow on it.

Today I took the Secret Elf award, I think.  I rewrote the lyrics to "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with his name in the titles and with lyrics referring to him.  My period one class practiced singing these songs for three days, and today I sent them (wearing mardi gras masks to protect their identities) to his room to sing the songs for him.  For the second song, I provided antlers and a flashing nose to put on him as they sang the song.  One kid videotaped the shenanigan for me, so I got to see afterwards.  It was hilarious.  I win.

For tomorrow I found a huge cardboard box that used to hold water canteens and has 36 compartments in it.  There is a small gift in one compartment (covered in newspaper) and the rest of the compartments are filled with newspaper with messages like "Epic Fail!", "You Lose", "Try Again" and "Bonus Candy Cane!" in them.  I have wrapped up this box in pretty paper and I'm sending a kid dressed in a Santa Suit to deliver it.

On Friday, I've giving him a framed picture of a bunch of us in our Halloween costumes.

I think I'm a good elf.  It helps that I have an army of students behind me.  You can tell I have connections among the kids, eh?

Anyway, in amongst this, I also decided that for 2013, I'm getting a personal trainer.  I've put down the down payment for six months of sessions.  It's costly, but I really want to build muscle and kick ass, and I know I need someone kicking my ass to accomplish this.  I'm rather excited but I'm going to enjoy a lazy holiday with lots of unhealthy food before the program starts.

Random - this is one of my favourite Christmas songs.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'm yours to keep, oh won't you keep me, I'm a keeper.

Last night, I went to the final of Joel Plaskett's five shows at the Horseshoe Tavern in honour of its 65th birthday.

I am very tired this morning.  You know, I'd like to think that I could do five shows in a row, but after how sleepy I'm feeling this morning, I don't think I could.  Well, not during the school year.  Maybe during the summer.

Anyway, it was a great show.  Plaskett and his Emergency Band never fail to put on an amazing rock show.  That man is a national treasure.

I hadn't been to the Horseshoe in years.  It's a great venue, but for some reason it never seems to match up with my concert schedule.  I am pretty sure the last time I was there was in university to see a younger Joel Plaskett Emergency.

The rest of this weekend was chill.  I slept, did laundry, worked on a pair of mittens that I must have finished for Thursday (I now have 1.5 mittens done), and ran a couple of Christmas errands.  I also went to the spa for a facial.

I didn't do it on purpose, but the kids are writing a quiz.  And I didn't even schedule it purposely because of the concert!  Normally I'd be marking while they write, but the brain doesn't work so well on a Monday morning following a Sunday night rock show.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The darkness defines where the light is.

Tonight I went to see one of my long-standing loves, Hawksley Workman, play in the gorgeous (both aesthetically and acoustically) Trinity-St. Paul's United Church.

It's been about a year-and-a-half since I've seen Hawksley live, and wow, I've missed him.  How my heart swelled when he first took the stage.

He played an awesome variety of songs.  His songs are definitely part of the soundtrack of my life, and I can't help but be nostalgic during one of his shows.

"You, Me, and the Weather" brings me back to the first time I saw him live with Becca T at the Rivoli when we were in university.  He was debuting his album "(Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves" with a string quartet and his piano player, Mr. Lonely.  That was the first indie rock show I went to in Toronto, and well, as you all know, it started a habit for me.

"Oh You Delicate Heart" brings me back to this March, when I was walking around Paris, listening to a lot of Hawksley, and feeling sad.  However, hearing this song in December made me realize that I am so over that sadness and that's a good place to be. 

He played some Christmas songs from his great Christmas album "Almost A Full Moon".  They brought me back to many Christmases, and a fun memory of driving around London ON with some of my high school friends, listening to this album, and looking for Christmas lights.

"Autumn's Here" will always remind me of my year teaching on a reserve in remote Northwestern Ontario.  I would sometimes walk by the graveyard listening to this song (on my discman!) and I could just feel ghosts in the autumn air.

Pretty much every song he played tonight with Mr. Lonely (love the long-standing partnership) evoked memories for me.  His songs are so special to me, and it was a great show.

I had thought it was going to be my last 2012 show, but as you guys know I booked Young Empires for Christmas Eve.  Then, earlier this week, I spontaneously bought tickets to see The Joel Plaskett Emergency with my friend Paul on Sunday night.  It's an all ages show (no beer!!!) but it'll still be amazing.

Oh concerts, you are my favourite.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

She crows, "you want my happiness, but on your terms."

This weekend, busy as it was, gave me some time to think about my holidays.  More specifically about:

a) what will be my New Year's Eve plans? (i.e send this em-effing roller-coaster of a year out in style)

and; b) where oh where will I get away to at the beginning of January?

I figured out my trip first.  After doing some research on the cost of tropical getaways (far too much during peak season when I'm off work), my pal Heather and I settled on Washington DC since neither of us had ever been there.  We booked a flight on Porter airlines which I'm excited about.  Porter flies from the Toronto Island Airport, and I've never flown from there before.  My friend Fea, who is an avid traveler, loves Porter and assured me that this is going to be a life-changing experience for me! We also booked a super-nice hotel, and now all that's left to do is to figure out what to do while we're there.  (Flight + hotel ended up costing me about a third of what a tropcial getaway would!  I feel entitled now to some fine dining + shopping!)

After booking my trip, I ended up making my New Year's Eve plans.  I've never really enjoyed NYE because, ugh, I don't know, I just feel too much pressure to have an amazing evening.  I was talking to my friend Vern about doing something, and I figured out why not do what I love most?  And you all know what that is: a concert, of course.

I was hoping that the band Elliott Brood would be playing Lee's Palace as they had for the past few years (I went for NYE 2010), but they aren't.  A band called Young Empires are playing instead, and I'm pretty I was introduced to them in Kingston this summer when my friend's friend made her a CD with some of their songs on them.  I decided to check them out.  They are super fun synth-y dance rock and perfect for a NYE show at my favourite venue in the city!  Tickets bought!

With that show, I'll have gone to 28 shows in 2012 which is my all-time record.  I've seen most of my very very favourite bands/artists this year: John K Samson of the Weakerthans, Sloan, Stars, Los Campesinos!, Metric, Ben Folds Five, The Joel Plaskett Emergency, Hawksley Workman, Feist and Kathleen Edwards.  Seriously, that's pretty amazing, and I doubt I'll ever be able to top this year concert-wise.

In other weekend events, I saw a lot of friends this weekend and had some downtime too.  I feel that I'm in no way ready for Christmas yet, but I'll work on that.

Also, I'm now on book #51 of my book-a-week challenge for 2012.  I can't believe I'm going to make this happen!

Hope you all have pleasant Mondays.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

I don't need my old dreams.

I just realized that I'm going to be super busy until next Thursday with two concerts (Patrick Watson and then Hawksley Workman), birthday parties, a Kenya meeting, friends in from out of town, talent show auditions, and more.  So, I'd better get a random blog post out while I still can.

1) Hayden

Is anyone else here a Hayden fan?  He's a Canadian indie rocker best known for his mid-nineties song "Bad As They Seem" which is such a delightfully depressing song.  This song can make me a little bit teary on the best of days (and the past couple of days haven't been the best of days).

Anyway, even though many people forgot about him, he put out a few really good albums after the nineties.  His last album came out in 2009, so it's been awhile but a pleasant surprise when I got an email from his mailing list today announcing a new album in 2013 along with this gorgeous teaser video.

Even better, you can download the whole song for free at!

So I've been having a Hayden evening.  I have a friend at work, an awesome lady in her late forties with a love of indie rock, who loves Hayden so I sent her all this info.  She wrote back saying she's been watching some of his recent videos from some shows in Europe on YouTube where he's got a bit of gray in his hair and less of a beard and looking better than ever.  I agree.

Anyway, the point of this is that it's nice to re-discover old favourites.

2) Students

Today was one of those days where my students really lifted my mood just by being themselves.  I spent my lunchtime with some of them who had to finish up an assignment, and we had a lovely chat about humans colonizing Mars.  There is a plan for that, did you know?  I did not.

3) Friends

I have awesome friends.  That is all.

4) Non-depressing book for a teenage girl

Student council does a Kris Kringle gift exchange yearly.  I picked the President's name, which I am super happy about, because I've known her for three years and I thought she'd be easy to buy for.  I'm knitting her mittens with a gorgeous blue-green wool, and she likes to read, so I thought I'd get her a book.

One of the teenagers going on the Kenya trip mentioned she really liked the book "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green.  I thought this would make a great gift, but I decided to read it first before I bought it as a gift.  It's a great book, but a little bit depressing.  It's about a teenage girl who meets a boy through her cancer support group (he's a survivor) and they fall in love.  It's a nice love story with great writing, but not a happy ending.  It's the kind of book that I'd recommend, but not give as a gift.

I still want to give her a book, but all of the books that I read are depressing.  The book doesn't have to be YA, but something uplifting.  Any suggestions?  Jabba?  Claire?  Siobhan?  I'm looking at you!

5) Nice girls finish last.

That's what I'm feeling these days.  Seriously.  I feel like being a nice, kind person is often my downfall.  Blergh.  Inspirational messages regarding this are welcome.

6) Impromptu Vacation

So, I was planning on sticking around Toronto and Stratford for my Christmas break but as there have been some recent changes in my life, I realize that I need to escape.  I messaged my friend Heather, who is always up for a trip, to see if she'd like to go somewhere.  And she would.  But where??  I'm not sure.  These are my ideas:

a) Boston - I've been to most awesome and accessible US cities (Chicago, NYC, San Fran) and Heather was just in New Orleans so those are out.  Okay, I was even in Boston a couple summers ago.  But I feel I'd like more time with that city.  It might be cold though.

b) Montreal - I've really only been to Montreal for a weekend.  Shameful.

c) Quebec City - I just thought of this one!

d) Since a) through c) will be cold, there's always the possibility of a warm destination.  Maybe Mexico?  Who knows!

Anyway, I'll keep you updated on those plans, and suggestions are welcome.

Random post out, and I'll hopefully check in during my week of busyness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

All I Want is Nothing More.

One good thing about having friends in various time zones, is that when you need to talk to someone at 2:30 am, you can find someone.  And they can even point you to this cute little video with heart-breaking song, which makes you both happier and sadder at the same time.

Today was a rainy warm December day.  Record-breaking even.  Toronto hit 16 degrees Celsius.  The rain suited my mood.  I'm ready for 2012 to be over, even though the new year is a random construct.  There have been too many ups-and-downs in this calendar year for me.  I'm left feeling exhausted and worn.  My optimistic self, who chirps up even in the darkest of times, reminds me that I did some kick-ass things this year like run my first 10K race, go on some great trips, climb Grouse Mountain, connect with countless good people, see some really great rock shows, and it looks like I'll make my goal of reading 52 books in a calendar year (I'm at 49).

However, my realist self wonders if I'll be able to remember those peaks when the troughs have been so low.  But, I do know that I have the type of memory that tends to hold onto the good times, and lets go of the bad times, so maybe when this year gets far enough away from me, the lows will be forgotten.