Top 20 Summer CDs

Summertime is here! It’s hot, it’s sunny. Now if I could only be on vacation, that’d be great.

As was the case the last time, with winter, I found it harder than expected to figure out what summer actually “sounds” like. And to my surprise, it’s not all about reggay.

About that… funny story : at the beginning, I had two or three ideas at best for this list, and it was pretty much all about reggay, but now I can barely fit all of the albums I thought of in there. The list ended up being a lot more eclectic than expected.

I hope you’ll find some nice musical inspiration here while you’re probably also waiting, at work namely, looking out the window, irritated… waiting for the day when you can say so long y’all, I’m going for a sweet mohito on the terrace of a restaurant right in the middle of this beautiful sunny day.

 

Runners up : ZZ Top, Greatest Hits &  The Dead South, Good Company

These well-known bearded guys from Texas can certainly play some nice blues rock. But come on, forget about ZZ tops!

This folk bluegrass band from the Canadian Prairies, Mumford and Son’s Evil Twins as they call themselves, created the strangest addictive cool summer song.

20. Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club

Named after Havana’s lost mythical night club, this album is a summer classic. I drank so many coffees listening to this music on late Sunday mornings.

19. Ben Harper, Fight for your mind

Enjoy your Summer mornings with Ben Harper’s slide guitar and his classic 1995 album Fight for your mind.

18. Elevator to Hell, Part I to III

Moncton’s indie low-fi psychedelic rock band Elevator chose to illustrate its album with a wintery picture, but paradoxically, it is a great listen in the summer.

17. The XX, The XX

I didn’t know about this London indie electronic pop band until recently, yet I feel this music has been flowing around everywhere since forever (on TV? in the wind?).

16. Ani DiFranco, Dilate

Ani’s critically acclaimed seventh studio album remains a personal favorite, with her signature rapid fingerpicking, crazy guitar tunings, and overall intensity.

15. Lhasa De Sela, La Llorona

Lhasa’s deep voice warms up any atmosphere. Her first album La Llorona is all in Spanish, and it’s such a pleasure to listen to in the summertime.

14. Gotan Project, Lunatico

Argentinean tango blended with electronic music is a strange but cool mix, and Lunatico is certainly a nice atmospheric summer album.

13. Sublime, Sublime

Sublime’s classic 1996 eponymous release may be the sunniest of all punk-ska albums. There is some dub, reggay, and hip hop music in there as well. A joy to rediscover.

12. Mano Negra, Best of

Alternative rock salsa ska punk (really, how can I describe this band?) Paris-based La Mano Negra, “The Black Hand” in Spanish, produced this sunny, energetic and eclectic “best of” after they disbanded. I wish I could have seen them in concert.

11. Zebda, Essence ordinaire

Zebda’s third studio release is a festive yet socially-charged album. These guys (of French and Arab descent, among others), who all grew up together in Toulouse, tell authentic and compelling stories.

10.  Jean Leloup, L’amour est sans pitié

This album tore the place down in Québec in the early 1990s. A young Jean Leloup teamed up with La Sale Affaire and lived, played, and sung at a freaking crazy pace, about urban life, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And summer in Montréal.

9. Janis Joplin, Greatest Hits

Many times, I heard someone say that this person or that person is “the Janis of the 80s”, “of the 90s”, “of the 2000s”, … but in the end, it never stands the test of time. Beautiful soulful Janis… you just rock. And as I listen to your music, I’ll always think of you standing on the stage of the Monterey Festival on that sunny day.

8. Jimmy Hendrix, Are You Experienced?

I don’t know if I’m experienced, but I’ve definitely listened to that album enough times that I know and appreciate the Jimmy Hendrix Experience. Even the colours chosen here for the cover amplify the warmth of his voice and music.

7. Tryo, Grain de sable

Tryo’s signature reggay and folk guitar rythms are a great fit for your summer afternoons. Like their peers Zebda, Tryo knows how to be socially-engaged and festive at the same time.

6. MC Solaar, Prose combat

If you don’t speak French, it’s a dang shame, because MC Solaar is a poet rapper who plays with words like no other. In any case, you’ll still move your head to these suave rythms.

5. Morcheeba, Big Calm

We loved that album right away when it was released. English trip hop electronic band Morcheeba, with its cool beats and jazzy musical exploration, is a nice album to chill out to. Pretty much like the cover implies.

4. Amadou et Mariam, Un dimanche à Bamako

A couple of musicians from Mali, who both became blind in their youth, conveyed their beautiful positive music and immense talent to the world with this classic album. This CD is loved by people of all ages (seriously, my parents have this album, I have it, and my kids love it).

3. Manu Chao, Clandestino

After La Mano Negra and other musical experiments, Manu Chao produced the stripped down Clandestino. With this, he intended to smoothly end his musical career. Ironically, this album, blending traditional latin music, reggay, rock, bresilian rythms, with a hint of chanson française, was a whopping success.

2. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire & Bob Marley, Uprising

It’s not cheating (too much) to have two Bob Marley albums on a Top Summer CDs list. I still listen to Catch a Fire often, but I had forgotten the sunny, upbeat and very catchy Uprising. I’m glad I rediscovered it.

1. Billy Stewart, Summertime

Janis’ version of Summertime is magical, but Billy Stewart’s is… just… mindblowing. Forget about Despacito (seriously, forget it)! THIS is the ultimate Summer song!

 

Summery fun fact : there are three (awesome) versions of Summertime in this list.

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Top 20 Winter CDs

Only a month left until the end of Winter. It’s been a strange one : the temperature went below – 20 Celsius almost every day during Christmas holidays, then it rained for a few days, then – 20 again… But we’ve had lots of snow, which is great. And the sparkling snow of the last few days has inspired me…

I find that the overall atmosphere, my mood, and the music I listen to are often linked. That’s when I get most into it at least. My spouse and children on the other hand don’t appear to crave that same kind of serenity and often go for the complete opposite : they happily try to break the mood as brutally as possible. I was enjoying a mellow wintery Sunday morning vibe when “I got it from my daddy” from Gangnam Style’s illustrious Psy threw me and my coffee out of the chair. So much for feeling one with the universe.

And so I retreat here to share my spontaneous top 20 list of CDs for the Winter season. It’s too bad that I wasn’t inspired before, because the indie folk person that I am would have found it a lot more natural to start with Fall. But it’s a nice challenge.

What makes a good Winter CD is still a mystery to me at this moment. I think it has a lot to do with sensory perceptions : what the songs feel like, sound like, what images pop up when you hear them. Good Winter albums should be atmospheric albums that make you see and hear the evening snow falling down. They might feel a little Christmassy too (with piano music that sounds like bells, for example). Will finding the recipe kill the magic? Let’s see when I’m done. 😛

Since this is my third top 20 list, I’ll give it a new twist. I’m leaving the last spot open… I wonder if you all out there have completely different music genres in mind for Winter.

20. …?

19. David Usher, Little Songs

David Usher’s first solo album is a hit and miss, the songs are uneven, but there are a few very strong ones (ex. Saint-Lawrence River). I usually end up listening to the same four-five songs, but still, there is a nice atmosphere, a bit wintery, like an early Winter in late November. I never heard his other solo albums but I should, there was potential there.

18. We are Wolves, Invisible Violence 

I’ll bet that these guys listen a lot to Ozzy Osbourne. The singer sounds exactly like him, but he’s backed by an indie electronic rock band. A strange mix. We are Wolves’ third album is harder and louder than most albums on this list, but the electronic and rock atmosphere inspire the vision of an open snowscape (and after seeing the memorable Blue video, that image is kind of ingrained in my head).

17. Lamb, Best Kept Secrets

Lamb is a nice little mix of electronic, trip hop, and drum and base, with a jazzy twist. This “best of” album gathers very different songs (many of them singles, hence the need for a best of), but Lou Rhodes’ jazzy husky voice ties them all together. The drum and base element is also a strong point. It’s nice to listen to this while casually working on the computer, in front of my snow covered window.

16. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

Another trip hop album… This feels right, yet contradictory. I definitely see some kind of snowy scenery, but am I trying to warm myself up ? Am I in a cabin with a fire burning (no, but I should be)? In any case, I just had the most intense flashback of the late 1990s. Perhaps this reminds me of chilling inside with friends when there’s a snowstorm outside. The sound fills the room and some of it escapes outside in the night, into the storm, and brings the vibe… to no one. Trippy.

15. Lhasa De Sela, The Living Road

Another hot-cold paradox. Lhasa De Sela has a deep and warm voice. She mixes different cultural influences into her music, and her songs are in Portuguese, French, and English. So, how does this one work?… Let’s see… nature unleashing its wrath, wind sweeping the snow away, and this woman with a broken heart is still standing, sharing her emotional stories with outstanding aplomb.

14. Patrick Watson, Close to Paradise 

On Patrick Watson’s first release, vocals and piano are upfront. Some songs do stand out, like Luscious Life, but overall, the album sounds like endless string of magical sparkling piano sounds.

13. Portishead, Portishead

The haunting songs on Portishead’s second album work quite well for the Winter season. Incidentally, they make me think of walking around downtown during Québec’s 1998 ice storm. For weeks, several cities went without power. In Montréal, they called in the army to help cut down frozen branches that came crashing down. It was chaos all over, but people were really supportive of one another. My best friend lived in the smallest apartment downtown but she had heat, and I stayed with her for a few days. All day, we’d listen to music on our CD players or radios that could also function on batteries. When you’re 18, that works out just fine.

12. Malajube, La caverne

Malajube’s third release is as innovative as always. These guys are great composers and musicians. One of the signature moves of this band is to turn up the sound of the instruments and to lower the sound of the voice. That way, the voice (whisper) just blends in and adds to the atmosphere. The unexpected melodies and hooks make the Winter days feel pretty darn cool.

11. Nina Simone, Jazz Masters 17

I couldn’t find the cover of the Jazz Masters album… Too bad, it still makes the cut. Nina Simone is one of the most amazing one-of-a-kind voices that has ever been, and her unique bluesy style is the best thing to warm you up on Winter evenings. This CD is a great way to start if you’re unfamiliar with her work : Work Song, Love Me or Leave Me, Pirate Jenny, Mississipi Goddamn, Little Girl Blue, Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair… You’ll want to know more for sure.

 10. Bjork, Post

Perhaps it’s because of the song Hyperballad, but when I listen to Post, I always think of Bjork on the top of a snowy mountain in Iceland, happy and serene in front of a sparkling white open and windy scenery, screaming and wondering if her voice reaches the other side. For some reason, the image I have of her is in a simple white dress with no shoes… yet she’s not cold at all. Bjork’s voice is amazing enough that it doesn’t have to be warm at all, because it’s… celestial, perhaps? Flying upwards over the icy moutain.

9. Dustin Tebbutt, Home

I like Dustin Tebdutt’s album covers. This artist indeed crafts beautiful album covers, as well as clever and soothing melodies, and the imagery lifts your head up to the stars. It feels beautiful and a bit lonely, just like a silent Winter snowscape. But the colours, especially the contrats of colours, are always very stark in Winter.

8. The Cure, Disintegration

The Cure’s mellow melodic, melancholic and introspective songs flow perfectly from one to the other on this album, which is important for the atmosphere to build up. And so it builds up, like sparkling snowflakes pilling up little by little. Speaking about things flowing, Robert Smith’s voice flows perfectly over the music. It appears out of the mist, and disappears in the same manner.

7. La bottine souriante, La Mistrine

La bottine souriante is traditional music in Québec, especially for those who are of French descent. Generations of people played and listened to this kind of music when they took a break to celebrated the holidays together. I heard there was always one or more people in families who played the violin, the accordeon, or who could drum with their hands and feet like there was no tomorrow! La Mistrine was the first album my sisters and I would put on Christmas night when we were kids. When the first song Le reel des soucoupes volantes started, we knew the party had begun!

6. Belle and Sebastian, If you’re feeling sinister

If you’re feeling sinister is exactly the CD I had in mind when I thought of writing this post : a soft moody album that makes you want to curl up on your comfy chair with a book and a glass of wine on the weekend, around 4 or 5 PM, when the light changes outside and the evening sky becomes blueish. Yeah, I’ve done that quite a few times with this CD on, and it never disappoints.

5. Tori Amos, Under the Pink

A young girl at my highschool played Winter on the piano once at some ceremony or something and I thought that was the best thing I had ever heard, so I bought Under the Pink and discovered Tori Amos. This feels like a very honest album and it puts the emphasis on the piano melodies and the soothing vocals. The songs go straight to your heart, and your mind gets lost in Tori’s very personal and evocative imagery.

4. Radiohead, Kid A

Ice age coming! Kid A is a wonderful album. Radiohead experiments with various sounds and effects, and all we can say is that these guys definitely have an ear for music. It’s amazing how well this album has aged. These sensitive lyrics, backed by the perfect soundscape, can almost bring you to your knees (as the overwhelming How to Dissapear Completely does).

3. Yann Tiersen, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain Soundtrack

One of France’s biggest movie successes also brought Yann Tiersen’s music to international fame (ironically, Tiersen said he wasn’t satisfied with it), which is not that frequent for instrumental albums. The story of Amélie Poulain does not take place in Winter, but the music, the accordeon, the little bell sounds, the rythm, it has a lovely “Christmassy” feel.

2. Vince Guiraldi Trio Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special

The joy of getting or the joy of giving? Not many Christmas specials have been as good as the original 1963 Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It had everything : social comment on consumerism, glitter vs substance, alienation, … And for one extremely rare moment, everyone rallies around Charlie Brown at the end to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. That being said, this album is classy all on its own with cool jazzy versions of Christmas favorites. This is one of the rare Christmas albums I never get tired of.

1. A Message to Bears, Departures

The beautiful atmospheric Departures fits really well on a melancholic snowy day. The album doesn’t necessarily lift your mood, but it certainly accompanies your moody self on your moody journey and delicately expands your horizons. This is an enjoyable musical exploration, courtesy of English multi-instrumentalist Jerome Alexander. Now, does the message reach the bears, have they replied, and what did they say?

 

Here! Now, what’s your all time top 20 Canadian albums?

I decided to start the new year by sharing my own personal top 20 list of the best Canadian albums out there. I thought this would be easy, but I had the hardest time deciding. My usual choices didn’t all make the cut this time around, and I ended up with quite a surprising list (I’m still not entirely sure of the ranks, except for the no.1 spot)!

What matters to me here is the quality of the album, not so much the record sales. However, sales aren’t insignificant, as they bear witness to a record’s appeal at a certain moment in time, in our society. Nevertheless, I prefer to take into consideration the influence the album had (on me? 😉 ) rather than its commercial success per se. I also decided to restrain myself to one album per artist.

This is not a “perfect” list, for it can only be a subjective list :
– One can only review albums that one has listened to… and I have no intention of faking my way through this. I assume the Oscar Petersons of this world should be included in a Canadian all time best list, but I’m just too much of a neophyte (as Socrates said, the only thing I know for certain is that I know nothing) ;
– I completely own the fact that my choices might be influenced by the “nostalgia” factor, or, paradoxically, the wish to discuss fresh new stuff, or other factors, whether I am aware of them or not;
– Finally, choices evolve over time. Any top 20 list is therefore a work in progress.

I look forward to your inputs! The most important thing is that we enjoy, and get inspired by each others’ brilliant ideas.

N.B. I was surprised that so many debut albums made the cut. Then again, is it possible that debut albums are made up of precious songs that were carefully crafted for years and years, instead of songs written in a few months in response to producers’ demands?…

#20. Hayden, Everything I Long For (1995)

When I was about 17, my friend, who was constantly in a meek mood from having no job, no appartment, and no lovelife worthy of that name, who felt he just wasn’t “performing” well in anything he was supposed to, came over my parents’ house one day and gave me this album. Boy, were we the target audience for this! Hayden’s debut album is intense, intimate, and extremely relatable. It efficiently conveys the simple joys of sharing a bunkbed, or of ditching work out of nowhere one day to do nothing but stay squished together with your significant other. Other songs go straight to your gut, as you share Hayden’s suffering of having the person you love tell you that someone at a party confessed to him/her, or of failing to act in a once-in-a-lifetime-moment to catch the interest of that person you’ve been noticing for a year at the neighbourhood coffee place. This CD brings back so many memories, and even if it’s a bit scruffy, it still does the trick.

#19. Pierre Lapointe, La forêt des mal-aimés (2006)

On his second album, 24 year old singer-songwriter and musician Pierre Lapointe revisits the “chanson française” style, classical piano, pop music, folk guitar, and electronic sounds, and the result is an eclectic and very interesting blend of it all. Lapointe’s beautifully well-crafted, poetic, sometimes provocative lyrics remain one of his strongest assets, as well as his musical ear, and his ability to be somewhat of a trendsetter (if you can manage to follow in this ecclectic footsteps). There was definitely, in this album, a wish for renewal, an ambition to revisit classical and pop culture and do something different. Lapointe is part of a refreshing wave of new artists who reinvented what indie pop music could be, for the better!

#18. Jeszcze Raz, Balagane (2002)

This band originated from a fortuitous meeting of Canadian musicians and a Polish pianist, singer-songwriter Paul Kunigis. The band, and album, are multilingual (with songs in French, Polish, Hebrew, and Arab). Balagane is the band’s second album : it is a festive, yet melancholic album. Difficult subjects are addressed (endless war on a cherished land, human personal and social struggles), but after listening to the record, you somehow feel joyous and hopeful. The great musical prowess of musicians, the charming personality and storytelling of hugely talented Paul Kunigis, and the quality of the product as a whole justify this album’s presence at the #18 spot.

#17. Lhasa de Sela, La Llorona (1997)

Lhasa de Sela is of Mexican and American descent. In the early 90’s, she decided to come to Canada and try to become a singer. Her debut album La Llorona is inspired from the mexican legend of a ghostly woman endlessly crying at night through the streets of the city. This record is entirely in Spanish (her subsequent albums are not) but even without understanding the words, one can easily get drawn into Lhasa’s wonderful mellow musical atmosphere. Lhasa has a distinctive low, warm, husky voice, that beautifully complements the mexican, gypsy, klezmer, and eastern europe musical ambiances of the album.

#16. Jean Leloup, La vallée des réputations (2002)

Throughout his career, Jean Leloup and his unique songwriting brought us along on a crazy journey, starting with the album Menteur (“Liar”), a nice debut by a promising wild youngster. Then, he teamed up with La sale affaire to make his second album L’amour est sans pitié (“Love is merciless”), a fast-paced provocative album about the ups and downs of urban nightlife – sex, drugs, and rock and roll!. After being silent for a while, Leloup seems to have drawn inspiration from his personal struggles to make the wonderful intimate album Le dôme (“The dome”), which could have easily been referenced here instead of La vallée des réputations (“The valley of reputations”). However, I chose the latter because it represents the culmination of his work. Critics would often say “it’s Jean Leloup in his forties”, wacky and excentric Leloup who gained new perspective on things while keeping true to his distinctive musical/lyrical universe. Quoting the brilliant prose at the beginning of La ballade à Toronto : “Time goes by, one day you are old and alone, and nothing remains but the pride of having loved properly, or the torments and shame of having failed to understand”.

#15Godspeed you! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2013)

A band that is as far as commercial as you can get, that gets rave reviews from all over the world, and has a cult following? Could this influential experimental music collective be, in their own way obviously, the Canadian version of Velvet underground? Godspeed you is an intriguing band. Critics often break the record into songs, but I really don’t see the need, and prefer to consider the album as a whole. You absolutely need to sit through the entire 50-minute musical experience to appreciate the genius of this music, the progression of the rythm, the variations, the crescendos, … The end result is more than the sum of its parts! As some people are now going against the tide and finding new appreciation for their old LPs, there might be a renewed infatuation with Godspeed’s music, music that needs to be savoured slowly, until, after 40 minutes, you find the musical climax so magnificient and intense that “you just can’t take it anymore”, to quote a Pitfork critic. I could have chosen several of their albums here, but Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is a good example of Godspeed’s monumental and unique work.

#14. Timber Timbre, Creep on Creeping on (2011)

What a nice (and creepy) find! I heard a critic say once that Timber timbre sounds like a young Leonard Cohen dropped in a David Lynch flick. Now this is something right up my alley, I thought. Personally, I’m hearing Lou Reed in there too. This folk-rock band’s music is meticulous, melodic, trippy, strange… and oh so very good. Creep on Creeping on is the fourth album of this prolific band that was formed in 2005. At least one member of the band studied in cinema, and you can definitely feel a sort of eerie cinematic atmosphere throughout this album. As Timber Timbre gets more and more attention, I wouldn’t be surprised to find them on additional TV and movie soundtracks.

#13. Daniel Bélanger, Les insomniaques s’amusent (1992)

Here’s one debut album that took everyone by surprise in Québec in 1992. Multi-talented Daniel Bélanger plays a variety of instruments, and over time, he became known for his stunning live performances and we discovered that his music is quite ecclectic. But this first album is close to the roots : misty, wistful, and clever lyrics, and beautiful guitar and piano melodies. He writes about human relationships, personal struggles, dependency, joy, and pain. Bélanger’s lyrics seem to go from dream to reality (the title litteraly means “The insomniacs are having fun”). When listening to this album, we follow Bélanger into his intoxicating celestial musical universe, and it’s a great journey. It’s intelligent pop music at its best, and it remains just as good, or even better, 25 years later.

#12. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely (1992)

I have to admit that I didn’t listen to “The Hip” that much in the 90’s… don’t throw anything at me! I always recognized the quality of the overall product and the band’s honesty and professionalism, but I didn’t particularly like the sometimes very intense tremolo in Downie’s voice… yet I didn’t completely hate it either… it’s just… well, there were so many good bands around at that time! But a friend of mine, who eventually became my roommate, was a huge fan, so Fully Completely would often be playing in the background of the get-togethers we held. Days for Night was a regular as well. As I listen to Fully Completely today, I agree that this is a great Canadian classic, and that The Tragically Hip lives up to its reputation. I hope to find the time to discover their other albums in the near future.

#11. Malajube, Trompe-L’Oeil (2006)

Malajube is an energetic indie rock band. Trompe-L’Oeil (“Sham”) is their second album and the one that got them out of the shadows, as it received rave reviews left and right in Canada, in the US, and in Europe. Although, one could argue that this band thrives in the shadows as well, as these charismatic guys seem very comfortable in undergroud music scenes. Trompe-L’Oeil is a great atmospheric album, with truly inventive arrangments. There’s a nice and creative flow of various rythms in each song. Their subsequent album La caverne (“The cavern”) appears to be just as good as this one, but I haven’t listened to it more than once, so I’m sticking with Trompe-L’Oeil for now!

#10. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Let’s meditate for a second on whether or not all indie bands were initially inspired by Bowie and the Pixies… Wolf Parade’s debut album Apologies to the Queen Mary was acclaimed as one of the most influential indie rock albums of the decade. Something clearly happened at the beginning of the 21st century : many people were fed up from being flooded with millionaire gangsta rappers, artificial boy/girl bands backed by an ogre of a music industry, and incessant club music… Several interesting Canadian indie bands emerged from their secret meeting places (were had they been all this time??) in the early 2000s and I, for one, was as happy camper. Apologies to the Queen Mary sounds really great. Wolf Parade manages to successfully blend things that don’t seem compatible at first, and the result feels completely balanced. The vocal harmonies and arrangements are creative, and there’s an energy deriving from those songs that’s intoxicating.

#9. The Band, Music From the Big Pink (1968)

This debut album was a follow-up to The Band appearing as a first act in a Bob Dylan tour (under a different name) in 65 and 66, and time spent afterwards together jamming and chilling in a basement in 67, as shown in Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. Incidentally, the album cover is a painting by Dylan. Music From the Big Pink by country-rock group The Band does seem to have been greatly influenced by friendly group jamming sessions, in basements or elsewhere (there’s a real 60’s feel to it)! The classic country-folk vibe is complemented by a nice bluesy vibe on this album. The sound here is smoother than the sound on their famous brown album, which moves towards a “rock-ier” sound. I like the fact that this group seems like a collective : The Band – what a concept for a name! Musically, they do feel like a band rather than a one man show supported by musicians, which works really well. Rock on, The Band!

#8. Richard Desjardins, Tu m’aimes-tu (1990)

Singer-songwriter and musican Richard Desjardins was in his forties when this masterpiece was released and obtained critical success. He once told a story of playing live in a summer festival around 1989, then going backstage barely able to crawl up to the sofa thinking “I’m way too old for this”, only to have a crew member running inside to get him because thousands of people were screaming for an encore from him. This album is very personal, the lyrics are poetic, open-hearted, intimate. The songs are hilarious at times (like the clever Le bon gars – “The Good Guy”), and other are highly emotional. The song J’ai couché dans mon char (“I slept in my car”) details in a very genuine manner the story of a tough and proud man (himself?) who goes on a journey after a painful breakup, then comes back after (metaphorically) going through hell, to find that the woman he still loves despite his best efforts is now with his best friend. There’s a brilliant one-second pause in the song, which feels like forever and makes us feel the pain from this blow, while we wait for him to respond. And his response is suave, yet heartbreaking (“It went in like a nail, right in the gut. But, the fabric held up. Well, let’s drink to that.”) There is genius in these little things that convey what needs to be conveyed through a song.

#7. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot it in People (2002)

To continue on the subject of awesome musical collectives, Broken Social Scene gets the no.7 spot thanks to their second album You Forgot it in People. The impressive number of musicians that compose this collective and the diversity of musical intruments they bring to the table surely imply strong potential, musically speaking. However, making an album could be quite the chaotic task, with everyone trying to highlight the benefits of their specific sound or project. So Broken Social Scene must be quite the disciplined bunch : this album is ambitious, and eclectic, sometimes furiously energetic, sometimes mellow, but it stays focused and never loses sight of where it’s going (and how to bring people along). The first half of this album is especially strong, but I wonder if I won’t find new appreciation for the ending as well over time. All in all, this album is another prime example of the immense contribution Canadian bands have made to the indie scene!

#6. Sloan, Twice Removed (1994)

That one brings back memories! Twice Removed is Sloan’s second album. Musically, it’s a very solid album, which distinguishes itself from many grunge albums that were popular at the time. Sloan’s lyrics have dark undertones, but they’re cleverly satirical, and the melodies are undeniably catchy (how catchy is Coax me?!!) As I mentioned in a previous post, these Canadian Beatles of the 90’s have evolved nicely throughout each album (they have a cool Pixies/Sonic Youth touch in their early works, that are not as well known). But Twice Removed is the classic among them with great songs like I Hate my Generation, Bells on, People of the Sky, Penpals, and Coax me. Again, unlike several albums from 90’s alternative bands, this album has aged very well.

#5. Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)

I kept seeing that album on top Canadian albums lists, but I only heard it myself recently. It is indeed a great folk album by singer-songwriter and musician Joni Mitchell. The way Mitchell’s wide-ranging voice and personal lyrics flow over the piano and guitar melodies (and the appalachian dulcimer) is pleasant to the ear. The 70’s never cease to amaze me. I assume that this artist was also very influential, as there weren’t many female singer-songwriters receiving that much critical and commercial acclaim. She is mostly praised for her sonwriting, but some, like Chrissie Hyde, praise her in a different manner (“she’s a f*cking great guitar player”). Thanks for underlining that, Crissie, it needed to be said! I was pondering which spot this album should be given – this record might, after all, belong to a certain era, while others on this list seem timeless, but I decided to wait a little longer, to see if newer albums withstand the test of time, since Joni Mitchell’s remains a masterpiece 40 years later.

#4. Eric’s trip, Love Tara (1993)

Love Tara is indie band Eric’s trip’s official debut. Eric’s Trip can be as loud, with energetic drums and guitar riffs played with intensity and lots of distortion, as it can be soft, with open-hearted and sensitive lyrics whispered by Rick White and Julie Doiron in gentle harmonies. This album was recorded in White’s parents’ basement, which would normally lower sound quality, but in this case, it accentuates the intimacy and atmosphere surrounding the album’s very personal storytelling, and brings additional credibility. Members of the band were just teenagers and/or very young adults at the time, and they wrote an entire album about the pains of love and heartbreak. White and Doiron’s relationship was getting rocky around that time. They sing about what tears lovers apart (thoughts of infidelity, drug use, resentment and anger), but they also sing about wanting to hold on to something good that’s slipping away. This is immortalized on the beautiful album cover, which shows what appears to be White and Doiron in a heartfelt hug, with the title Love Tara (their mutual friend whom White had started seeing…). How painful were your first heartbreaks? You felt that people were so egocentric and cruel and that your heart would explode? This album is a masterpiece, because it feels so real. The songs have those melancholic and catchy guitar and vocal melodies that tug at the heart strings. Eric’s Trip recorded a genuine, magical moment in that basement, with the uncompromising energy and feelings of youth, which really hit home for many.

#3. The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)

When this album won best album at the 2011 Grammys (against Eminem among others), many thought they’d heard wrong. I was hoping that this Montréal based band would win best alternative album, but I never dreamed that they’d win the biggest prize, because I thought the band wasn’t all that famous in America. And it wasn’t. However, the album had already made its way to several american critics’ 2010 top ten list. The Suburbs is The Arcade Fire’s third album and their most accomplished work (note: I have not heard their latest record The Reflector). Mind you, I always loved their debut album Funeral with its catchy and haunting melodies, which is totally like a drug, but it feels somewhat experimental – an insanely successful experiment, praised notably by David Bowie. In comparison, The Suburbs feels like a more mature and complete work. There is a story being told, beginning with friends being torn apart by “suburban life and wars”, to them all wondering if they can ever get away from the sprawl. Family, friend and neighbourhood dynamics are recurring themes for this atypical bunch of talented musicians, who made an enchanting series of songs, and an album that grows on you with time.

#2. Neil Young, Harvest (1972)

This is the first Neil Young album to be released after Crosby, Still, Nash and Young decided to call it quits. This wonderful country folk album flows smoothly, from one great song to the other. It starts up with the melancholic harmonica melody of Out on the Weekend. Somewhere in the middle of the album, we follow a man’s through his endless search for a Heart of Gold. Then, there are also the wonderful songs Old Man, Alabama, The Needle and The Damage Done, and Words (Between the Lines of Age)… Neil Young’s at the top of his game here, both in terms of melodies and lyrics. I find the songs to be very touching, and they stir up emotions for me. Conveying emotions through a record (in comparison to a live performance) is hard to achieve for a recording artist, so kudos Neil. This is a great timless classic that I enjoy listening to over and over again, especially on soft automn days.

#1. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

This is the debut album of all debut albums (and other albums as well, obviously). It comprises an incredible series of songs, written by musician/poet/folk singer-songwriter extraordinaire Leonard Cohen, with his distinctive warm and deep tone (although his voice got much much deeper with time). The haunting vocals and melodies are upfront and center, and you will find on this album many amazing classics, such as Suzanne, Master and Slave, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Sisters of Mercy, and So Long Marianne. You will also find on there my two personal favorites of his : Teachers (soooo underestimated), and The Stranger Song. Leonard Cohen’s music accompanies you throughout your whole life, and his words can be interpreted differently, as one grows older and gains experience. I remember feeling lost when I listened to it the first time around. So much symbolism (a unique mix of sacred and profane), so much cynism and disenchantement about life, love and our cruel human struggles… I thought, this is too good for ordinary me, I’ll never be able to connect with these songs. It turns out that I was just too much in a hurry. When you’re young, you’re always in a hurry. This is the kind of timeless album that has to be appreciated slowly, and on a whole different level than other albums. Just like one cannot hope to understand the meaning of life at 15 ; perhaps, if not a white head, it takes a gray-ish head, at least.

Expand your musical horizons with Amadou and Mariam

These two amazing african artists are widely known internationally. Their story is quite unique. Born in Bamako (Mali), Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia always had an interest and talent for music. They both became blind very young, and met at an institute for the blind. They quickly became a couple and a musical team. In the early 2000’s, they met international star Manu Chao, who fell in love with their music and decided to produce their first record. “Dimanche à Bamako” (Sunday in Bamako) became a huge hit. Manu Chao’s musical influence is strong on this album (which is not a bad thing) and it brings out Amadou and Mariam’s music in a wonderful way. This is a really great album, with uplifting lyrics in both French and Bambara (Amadou and Mariam’s native malian language). A rare achievement: age, musical preferences, and other considerations don’t seem to matter here – everybody loves this album. Trust me. 😉

Amadou and Mariam released many other albums, after the success of “Dimanche à Bamako”. They collaborated with several people as well. But to me, their first album is special, so I’ll focus on this one, but I encourage you to also listen to all of their stuff. I know that their latest album “Folia” has won prizes as well, so go check it out!

The following series of videos was taken from their youtube account. Enjoy!

La Llorona from Lhasa makes a great gift for music lovers

Lhasa de Sela is an american-mexican artist, who spent part of her life in Montréal’s famous Plateau district. Her folk-gypsy-mexican-soul-“chanson française” inspired music is a wonderful discovery for music lovers. BBC Radio 3 named her best world music artist of the americas in 2005.

“La Llorona”, Lhasa’s first album, is a must. This, and my favorite Nina Simone’s greatest hits album are my two “safe bets” whenever I want to buy CDs to people who ask for a nice musical discovery. When my son was a baby, he’d actually stop crying every single time I put on that album.

I found a live version of “La celestina” for your (and my) enjoyment, and the beautiful “Con Toda Palabra” video.

This artist who left us in 2010 is sorely missed.

 

Paul Kunigis (Jeszcze raz) – a pure joy to listen to

The 2001 Balagane CD from the band Jeszcze Raz was playing everywhere back then – at friends’ houses, at cafés… I missed it too much, time to bring back a little performance by Paul Kunigis at Québec TV show’s “Belle et bum”, where he sings the beautiful song Czarna Kawa (black coffee, I believe). This charismatic and talented man brings us soothing music that’s just good for the soul.