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Top 10 Canadian albums (with some extras)

CBC recently put out a list of the 100 greatest Canadian albums, which was then discussed on CBC Radio Kitchener. “I don’t anyone can argue with Neil Young’s Harvest being number 1”, said the host. Well…

Look, I own Harvest, I like Harvest. I’m not going to deny that it’s a great collection of songs. It’s certainly your go-to for great Canadian albums, as befitting its also being number 1 in the 2007 book The Top 100 Canadian Albums.

It’s just that I can think of a number of other Canadian albums I enjoy listening to more than Harvest. Such as…

Shakespeare my Butt cover1. Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt (1993)

(CBC unranked; book #84)

I’ve expounded on my love of this band and album before, but… I can’t see anyone not loving this album, unless they don’t like the genre of rock music itself. The songs are catchy and instantly likeable. On repeated listening, you realize they’re smart, too. And warm. And funny. The album is 20 years old, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all. It contains a hefty 17 songs—and there isn’t a single stinker among them.

Jagged Little Pill cover2. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (1995)

(CBC #12, book #6)

This was something at the time, wasn’t it? So much fun to play loud and sing along to. Angrily. To me it still holds up, even if she didn’t know what “ironic” meant. It’s melodic grunge. It’s more than just angry—you also have forgiveness, and learning, and being head over feet in love. I’ve enjoyed Alanis’ subsequent albums, mostly (not so much the India one, and haven’t bothered with the motherhood one), but this one still seems her best.

Tradarnac cover3. Swing – Tradarnac (2008)

(CBC unranked, book n/a)

I discovered these guys on Canada Day at an electrifying performance in Gatineau, and I continue to love this album. They sing in very rapid franglais (French with a healthy dose of English: “Allo, CB buddy! J’tired de m’voir promener sur le highway” and such) over a mix of French folk, rap, and pop that results in music so lively you can’t help but dance to it. Even while sitting or driving. It sounds happy, but has a dark undercurrent in the lyrics, if you can understand them. To me, that just makes it better.

The Suburbs cover4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)

(CBC #22; book n/a)

I am going to complain the CBC list now: No way that their Funeral album is better than this one. No way. Funeral is fine, but it is right that The Suburbs is the one that earned them the Juno, the Grammy, and the Polaris prize. It’s sort of great that someone made a deep, thematic, almost classical-sounding album—about the suburbs. I took to it really quickly and continue to peel away its layers, this album.

Everybody's Got a Story cover5. Amanda Marshall – Everybody’s Got a Story (2001)

(CBC unranked, book unranked)

I felt this album was unjustly overlooked when it came out, then nearly forgot to list it here myself… But it wouldn’t be denied, in the end. I just love listening to this. As befitting the title, most of the songs tell a story—of waking up with a stranger and a snake tatoo; of life as a blond mixed-race person (“a double-agent on my mama’s side”); of being a taxi driver with a PhD; and so on. The music is fun—more dancey, less bluesy than earlier album, but still showcasing her fantastic and powerful voice. I don’t know why it hasn’t’ gotten more love.

Cover of The Wonderful World of...6. Pursuit of Happiness – The Wonderful World of… (1997)

(CBC unranked ; book unranked (but Love Junk is at #84))

I believe I own every album this band has released, and I pretty much like them all. This one is far from their best known; I don’t think it contains any hit songs. But I list this one because it’s the most album-y of them all: its 15 songs all lead one into the other as though the whole thing were one big rock opera, or something. (Note the little Tommy homage between tracks 4 and 5.)

Now, it doesn’t actually have a continuing storyline, but more of a continuing theme (which is really the theme of every Pursuit of Happiness album) of the joy, frustration, and sheer messiness of love, sex, and relationships. Yet for all that, the songs also stand alone quite nicely. No mean feat. This is a small piece of pop art.

When I Was a Boy cover7. Jane Siberry – When I Was a Boy (1993)

(CBC unranked, book unranked)

I had to list Jane, but it was really a toss-up between this and her first, No Borders Here. I finally went with this more mature work. The opening track “Temple” sets the different tone: “You call that hard? You call that rough? Well, it’s not, rough enough.” Who would have expected that from the quirky singer of “Mimi on the Beach” (although the part of the song where she encourages Mimi to stand up on her surfboard, causing her to drown… Was maybe a clue.) Jane is a bit of an odd duck, but she can certainly put a tune together, and in this album she really seems to be more deeply expressing her soul.

Gordon cover8. Barenaked Ladies – Gordon (1992)

(CBC #25, book #27)

Yeah, they’re funny, but they’re also insanely talented, seemingly effortlessly putting together incredibly catchy pop. And the serious (and still tuneful) ballads like “Wrapped your arms around me” (“I put my hands around your neck)”, “The Flag”, and “Blame it on me” show that it’s not all fun and games, all the time, with this band.

Fumbling toward Ecstasy cover

9. Sarah McLaclachlan – Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (2003)

(CBC #20, book #25)

Sarah’s music sneaks up on me, randomly selected by my iPod, making me suddenly realize that I like it better than anything that was played before it. They’re mostly ballads; strong emotions expressed in a more subtle way—no screaming guitars, or any screaming, period. I guess it’s that haunting voice, or… I don’t know what. It’s not what I usually go for, but this is album is beautiful.

Don't Smoke in Bed10. Holly Cole Trio – Don’t Smoke in Bed (1993)

(CBC unranked, book unranked)

And, I’m not the big jazz girl, usually, but man, I’ve played this album a lot. Holly takes these lovely standards and performs in this slightly twisted, dark way that makes them way more interesting.

The extras…

Songs from the Road coverTop Live: Leonard Cohen – Songs from the Road (2010)

For a very long time I considered Leonard Cohen someone whose songs I loved—as long as someone else was singing them: Jennifer Warnes, KD Lang, Jeff Buckley… Then he started touring with this amazing band. And I began to love his own take on his great songs. This particular collection is his own selection of the best version of each song he did on this tour.

Highly recommended!

Gord's Gold coverTop Compilation: Gordon Lightfoot – Gord’s Gold (1987)

My Dad is a big fan, so I grew up with these songs. As a teenager, of course, I wasn’t going to admit to liking them, but now I can! While I can’t really see buying his individual albums, this “greatest hits” collection is fantastic: “If You Could Read My Mind”, “Sundown”, “Early Morning Rain”, “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”…

The only other thing you might want is Gord’s Gold 2 (for “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, “Alberta Bound”, “Ghosts of Cape Horn”…).

From Here on Out coverTop Classical: KW Symphony – From Here Out (2011)

No dead composers here: This CD features classical compositions by Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Perry (of Arcade Fire), and Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead). It’s not always comfortable listening, but it’s never boring, either.


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Congratulations, Arcade Fire

… On winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. Which I actually didn’t realize would be such a shock to everyone who isn’t me. (Cause it was certainly the best 2010 album I heard all year…)

And congratulations, Grammy’s, on giving Neil Young an award for an actual song (not just nice music repackaging), thus eliminating one from your embarrassing top 10 list of people who’ve never won a Grammy.

And to all the people in Twitter-ville so very, very upset that the Grammy’s dared award Album of the Year to a band they’ve never heard of… I gave you my very mature response:

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah. My band rules.


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The Wilderness Downtown

OK, this was cool.

My current favorite band (at least in subcategory: Best years are not decades behind them), Arcade Fire, has this interactive video on their website for the great song, “We Used to Wait”.

You enter the street address of one of your childhood homes and images from that place get integrated into the video. I was skeptical that the fairly obscure Timmins street where my parents live would be included, but about four characters in, it came up as an option.

The multi-window resulting video was really neat, especially on the big monitor I have at home.

Requires the Google Chrome browser.

Then you can try out your the address of your choice at http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/


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Too much of a good thing?

Much as I like So You Think You Can Dance Canada, having episodes daily, many two hours long, has been a bit onerous. Of course, it’s just the auditions; it’s not really essential viewing. But they just have such a great ratio of actual dancing vs. blah-blah about dance that they’re a bit hard to resist.

Anyway, I’ve finally caught up. Of course, I’m behind on all other TV viewing, but this time of year, that isn’t so much anyway. Sunday they announce “our” Top 20. Let’s just hope CTV doesn’t start making these kids dance (and us vote) twice a week, in order to fit this all in before all the Fall shows come back with new episodes.

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Apart from sitting on the couch watching gorgeous young people sweat through dance numbers, I’ve acquired four new CDs in the last week (and one’s a double CD). Even for me, that’s rather a lot, but when shopping for used stuff, you got to grab it when it comes up.

The one I got totally new, though, and in digital download format only, is Arcade Fire’s Suburbia. Given that the album is number 1 in Canada, US, and Great Britain, guess I’m none too original on that front. But this is my first Arcade Fire album (or song or anything). I just grew intrigued from reading the reviews.

I love that it’s a concept album. I love that the concept is the suburbs, as representing emptiness and loss and waste. I love people barely 30 being nostalgic for the past: “I used to write letters. But by the time we met things had already changed. We used to wait.” (Very Ray Davies and Village Green Preservation Society, that way.) The songs are smart and sound gorgeous. I don’t mind pretentious when it’s backed by talent.

Oh, and a tip: Don’t buy the albums on iTunes. It’s $12 there. Get it directly from Arcade Fire’s website — $8.

My remaining purchases are all of old favorites. With the acquisition of Flash Gordon, I now, finally, own every Queen album. Course, this one is the weirdo, as it really is a movie soundtrack in the old sense of the term: Not a bunch of pop songs that play over montages in the movie, but the actual score that sets the tone and mood of the scenes. So it’s mostly instrumentals, along with bits of movie dialog (and the insanely catchy theme song).

So obviously, not the one to get if you’re only going to buy one Queen album. Or even 10. But within the movie score genre, it’s actually quite good.

And, I finally completed my Lowest of the Low collection by getting their final album, Sordid Fiction. I need to give all these more listens, but so far it appears to be just as good as their first three: same catchy pop with an alternative edge, smart lyrics with plenty of Canadian references.

And den I got The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight. I actually don’t own all of their albums yet—haven’t quite convinced myself I need their first two albums. And not sure how I convinced myself I needed this double CD, given that it already have this on DVD, not to mention that it contains yet another version of Tommy. So I think I have 8 versions of that particular opera, at this point.

And, you know, The Who really were great that night, at 4 in the morning or whatever, performing at the Isle of Wight. The only problem is that this is a very similar set to Live at Leeds. And Live at Leeds is just better, in both performance and sound quality. But at least Wight features the entire concert, in the proper order. That’s something.

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Oh, and one more set of CDs that came into my possession this week is the unabridged (9 CD) audio version of the novel The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens. This is courtesy of the author herself, who read my earlier blog post lamenting my difficulty in acquiring the audio version of this book. Isn’t that cool? And the timing is perfect for our upcoming driving trip to Quebec.