Top 10 Albums of 2017

10. Rabbit in the Snare – The Lulls in Traffic

Being a huge fan of Copeland, I was really excited to hear vocalist Aaron Marsh’s side project. The Lulls in Traffic features Marsh on vocals and production and lyricist/spoken-word artist Ivan Ives, and a really creative mix of hip-hop/spoken-word and indie.

9. Phantom Anthem – August Burns Red

August Burns Red has refined their craft to near perfection on Phantom Anthem. There’s really not much more to say.

8. Sleep Well Beast – The National

Like August Burns Red, The National have created a formula that works great and have been refining it over their past few albums. It seems to have come fully to fruition on Sleep Well Beast.

7. Turn Out the Lights – Julien Baker

I didn’t really listen to Julien Baker until this year so I got to enjoy both her new album and 2015’s Sprained Ankle. Both feature fairly simple songs instrumentally that put Julien’s voice front and centre – along with her lyrics. And it’s the lyrics that are the high point of these records, as she lays bare her struggles with depression, addiction and faith.

6. Die With Your Tongue Out – Tigerwine

Tigerwine’s debut album is another emotionally heavy-hitting album from this year. I found myself continually coming back to this album when sitting in traffic or needing to vent – finding comfort in the heavy, soaring guitars, dual screaming/shouting vocals and sing-along-able melodies.

5. After Laughter – Paramore

I’ll admit I sort of lost interest in Paramore in recent years, despite having been a huge fan during their Riot! days – which set me up to go into After Laughter with little to no expectations. I wasn’t expecting an album full of such catchy, 80s-influenced tracks that there were days I literally couldn’t stop listening to it. It’s nice to have Paramore back in my recently played and I hope they continue this new sound for their next album.

4. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell – Pvris

This one definitely grew on me. Pvris has been one of those bands that’s always been on my radar but never in my recently played – but they were there for most of the summer and fall. The band’s second full-length has a consistent vibe that balances heavy vs. calm and brooding vs. hopeful, with really impressive vocals from frontwoman Lynn Gunn.

3. Life After Youth – Land of Talk

Earlier this year I saw an article on CBC Music about indie band Land of Talk’s vocalist and songwriter, Elizabeth Powell, talking about writing her new album in my hometown of Orillia. This immediately caught my attention and I gave the album a shot – and have been listening to it weekly ever since. Her mesmerizing vocals soar over punchy rhythms throughout this short-but-sweet album, and, in the track Inner Lover, repeat possibly my favourite lyric of the year: “You light it slowly / Your light is lonely.”

2. Waiting for Morning to Come – Being as an Ocean

It’s always cool to see bands who’ve found success in the metalcore/hardcore scenes experiment with new (and usually slower) sounds. Sometimes it’s hit or miss, as they risk both losing fans and losing the emotion found in their heavier music. But this new experimental album by Being as an Ocean is definitely a hit – and despite an overall slowler sound, it’s an even more emotional album than their previous work.

1. Dissolve – Tusks

If you missed my review of this album, let me sum it up for you: London singer/songwriter/producer Emily Underhill (aka Tusks) has put together a cinematic and chilling album, with simply beautiful vocals, creative instrumentation/production and my most listened-to tracks of 2017.

Honorable mentions: A Deeper Understanding – The War on Drugs, Truth is a Beautiful Thing – London Grammar, Fool’s Paradise – Cold Specks, Young Mopes – Louise Burns, The Love You Let Too Close – Thousand Below

Supporting Artists

This will be more of a rant in response to the news that the third book of a trilogy by my favourite author, Steven Erikson, being delayed. Because of low sales of the first two novels, he’s focusing on a new series, presumably for these new books to gain momentum and drive interest back to the other trilogy. This is frustrating not only because the first book of the delayed trilogy might be my favourite book of Erikson’s, but also because it’s part of a bigger problem of fans not supporting artists.

I’ve heard many huge fans of Erikson explain why they didn’t enjoy the first two books of this trilogy as much as the main ten-book series and I can understand that (for reasons I don’t need to get into here) – the books definitely aren’t for everyone. But I’ve also heard many other fans say they’ve been waiting for the third book to come out so they can read the entire trilogy at once. Now I’m no publishing expert but it would make sense that if the first two books of a trilogy aren’t selling, then the publishing company isn’t going to be very eager to spend money on marketing the third book, since they won’t get enough of a return. And if there isn’t already a three-book deal signed, then they may not even move forward with publishing the final book at all. It’s clear that a reader choosing not to invest in a series before it’s finished affects the finished series itself. So to those waiting fans: if you know you’re going to read all three books anyways, there’s nothing to lose by buying the books as they come out – no one is forcing you to read a book the second you buy it. Or think of it this way: you’re spreading out the purchase of the trilogy over three years instead of paying it all at once.

That advice is fine for fans willing to pay for art. But there’s another camp of fans who most likely haven’t given a single dollar towards authors and artists they love. Buying used books, borrowing from friends, or downloading movies and music have their place – sometimes money is an issue and sharing art is important (and most major Hollywood blockbusters don’t need your few dollars). But if you really love the art someone makes – books, music or movies – you shouldn’t feel entitled to receive it for free. The money you give these artists allows them to continue making that art. And I don’t know about you, but I think art is worth a small investment. So consider buying that new book from that author you like or buying merch from that band you only ever stream on Spotify – I guarantee it will make a difference to the artist.

Album Review: Dissolve - Tusks

I’ve been following the music UK singer/songwriter Emily Underhill has been releasing under the name Tusks for a few years now and finally her full-length debut is out – and my only complaint is that it just isn’t long enough. But luckily this is a classic case of quality over quantity.

The ten tracks of Dissolve are an emotional journey of love, loss and growth – told over chilling, atmospheric soundscapes and within epic, wall-of-sound guitars. With how deeply personal these lyrics are it makes sense that Tusks’ vocals are either far back in the mix, hidden shyly in reverb or up close and intimate, in a fragile, baring-her-soul kind of way. Either technique sounds haunting, tying to the texture of the music seamlessly.

“Cinematic” is the word that keeps coming to mind when trying to describe the music. Like a film score, it’s epic when it needs to be – with crashing drums and larger-than-life guitars – and soft and calming when it needs to be – with electronic atmospheres and haunting pianos. It’s the type of album that’s best listened to with headphones on and eyes closed, letting the music take you somewhere else.

The title track is a perfect example of Tusks’ creative mixture of epic and intimate:

Another standout is the closing track, a cover of Foals’ London Thunder:

Past is Prologue

My sister is getting married later this year and, with her and her fiancé being just as much book nerds as I am, are going with a vintage book theme for their wedding. With some connections to Dutch family members, they’ve been collecting some vintage Dutch books to use as decor for the big event (which they gave me permission to keep afterwards). The oldest book I found was printed in 1908 and the most recent from 1929. Take a look:

This cover features some pretty intricate linen patterning.

This cover features some pretty intricate linen patterning.

Translation: “Death and the Afterlife” (I told my sister this one might not be wedding-appropriate).

Translation: “Death and the Afterlife” (I told my sister this one might not be wedding-appropriate).

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Moonlight and the Magic of Movies

What I love about film is that more than any art form, it allows you to take an intimate look into the lives and experiences of people you’d otherwise never know about. You can walk a mile in the shoes of someone you’ve never met, see places you’ve never seen or explore completely fictional, fantastic worlds. But most of all, film can help you understand and empathize with other people’s trials and struggles. Some movies do this better than others but one that does this extremely well is 2017’s Best Picture winner Moonlight.

Moonlight tells the life story of a young black man named Chiron in three distinct “episodes”: him as a boy, as a teenager and as an adult. Beautifully filmed and flawlessly acted, the film explores themes of identity, race and sexuality. As a boy Chiron is bullied at school for not being tough enough, strong enough, or masculine enough and comes home to the same abuse from his drug-addicted mother. He doesn’t fit inside the mould he’s told to or belong inside his own community and culture. The only companionship he finds is in Juan, a drug dealer who takes him in while hiding from bullies and tells him he needs to find his own path in life. For how briefly he’s in the movie, Juan makes a huge impact, both on Chiron and the audience. In movies and media we’ve been shown what people who happen to sell drugs should be like, but Juan’s character shatters those stereotypes.

The rest of the film shows Chiron finding his path, be it standing up to his bullies or coming to terms with his sexuality. I won’t spoil anything further because everyone should see this movie.

We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. – Roger Ebert

Though I may not be able to directly relate to Chiron’s personal struggles, the movie certainly helped me understand him – and others like him. It reminded me that we’re all human and that black or white, straight or gay, we all want to be comfortable with and accepted for who we are. For just a few hours I was able to step away from my own life, experience and learn from someone else’s then return to my own with a new perspective. And that’s the magic of movies.