A year of musical guilt and pleasure

The Straight’s music critics found a lot to love in 2013, and not all it made us feel deeply ashamed


Top Concerts

Courtney Love (At the Commodore Ballroom on July 22)
Depending on who you ask, Courtney Love is rock ’n’ roll’s resident goddess, Gorgon, or both. But those who relish tearing her down, usually with sexist bullshit, missed a hell of a show when she played the Commodore Ballroom in July. No one at the sold-out gig knew if it was going to be a stunner or a bummer, but the former became obvious as Love banged out a set list spangled with Hole classics. The queen of noise was put-together and fierce. And if anthems like “Miss World” didn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you don’t have a heart.

Sigur Rós (At Deer Lake Park on May 27)
Nine Inch Nails might have had the most spectacular, game-changing light show of the year (or maybe Kanye West did, but we’ll never know), but for sheer emotional firepower, Sigur Rós could not be bested. On a damp, drizzly night, the Icelandic art-rock powerhouse drove the grey away with an unforgettable performance that was equal parts grandeur and grit. How awesome was it? Just ask the dude with the Black Sabbath back patch who was banging his head the entire night.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (At the Vogue on April 7)
Considering that it was an eternity coming, no one would have been surprised if Nick Cave’s long-awaited return to Vancouver was the letdown of the decade. Instead, nearly 20 years after hitting the Lower Mainland as part of Lollapalooza ’94, the Other Man in Black gave a fire-and-brimstone clinic in the art of showmanship. Whether performing radical surgery on monsters like “Stagger Lee” or wringing every bit of atmosphere out of future classics like “Jubilee Street”, Cave left Vancouver nothing less than enraptured. Thank you, God—and by that, we don’t mean the man upstairs.

The Sonics (At the Rickshaw Theatre on September 20)
Roky Erickson’s appearance at Electric Owl was a delicate triumph, but in the battle of the garage-rock superlegends, the Rok was pipped—just—by Tacoma’s Sonics. Watching a sold-out Rickshaw go psycho for “The Witch” was one thing. Seeing and hearing septuagenarian singer Gerry Roslie shuffle out on-stage and then promptly wail like a 20-year-old soul man with his head on fire, quite another.

Run the Jewels (At the Biltmore Cabaret on July 26)
Both El-P and Killer Mike murdered the mike during their respective solo sets, but it was their tag-team performance as Run the Jewels that had the fans throwing the most love toward the twosome. Atop some vicious, synth-riddled beats, they spat about putting pistols to poodles and crushing their foes, but seeing El-P beam as he hung off of the shoulders of his mountainous buddy diffused even the nastiest of rhymes.

Guilty pleasures

For the past few years, K-poppers have been seducing international audiences with irresistible club hits and high-gloss image machines. With his latest solo album, Coup d’Etat, featuring collabs with Missy Elliott, Diplo, and Sky Ferreira, South Korean rapper G-Dragon has furthered the trend with super-shiny earworms like sad-party anthem “Crooked”. So sue us if we can’t resist pretty, swag-obsessed pop tarts in Vivienne Westwood suits. And the track has a sickly catchy magnetism, even if you don’t speak the language.

Katy Perry 
She is woman, hear her roar! Having tasted both love and then public humiliation at the hands of our boyfriend, Russell Brand, Perry bounced back with an empowerment anthem almost good enough for us to forgive her for those Pepsi endorsements. 

“An Orphan of Fortune” 
Much like you, we wish that MGMT would stop fucking around in the studio and finally give their fans what they want: the official sequel to “Kids”. Coming somewhere in the middle of the fucked-six-ways-to-Sunday alt-prog oddity MGMT, “An Orphan of the Future” reimagines Frampton Comes Alive! for hockey rinks located somewhere in the wastelands of LV-426. All is forgiven. At least for five minutes and 31 seconds.

One Direction 
“Best Song Ever” 
There’s no way in hell any One Direction song is going to live up to a title like that, but what the heck. “Best Song Ever” is catchy and fun. It won’t change your life or turn you into a Directioner if you aren’t one already, but even Pete Townshend likes it. (He should, given that he wrote the chord progression back in 1971 for the theme song to CSI: NY or whatever.) It sounds even better if you’re an 11-year-old girl. And who isn’t, deep down inside?

“Body Party” 
Despite giving us the “Goodies” way back in the day, R&B siren Ciara hasn’t exactly been a hit magnet of the same magnitude as, say, Rihanna or Beyoncé. If that means fewer arena anthems and more bedroom-bound bliss like this stunner, sensually slow-grinding it out with a whole lot of pillow talk, then who are we to complain?

Pleasant Surprises

David Bowie
The Next Day
It was fine work, but there was a sense that Bowie’s sound and vision had finally taken its place well behind the curve with albums like Heathen and Reality. After a decadelong time-out to consider his absence, the man returned with the thing we wanted all along—Bowie riffing on Bowie, putting faddishness aside for something like a warm celebration of Bowieness itself.

Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
Anyone who had previously dismissed Vampire Weekend as a bunch of entitled Eastern Seaboard preppies dabbling in world-beat-flavoured pop was forced to eat their words in 2013. Modern Vampires of the City is a mature (in the best sense) LP, filled with songs exploring faith and the lack thereof without ever getting heavy-handed. The album showed VW to be a studio-savvy bunch with the chops to employ of-the-moment sounds in the service of impeccably crafted pop tunes.

Laura Mvula
Sing to the Moon
U.K. vocalist Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon elegantly synthesized string-laden baroque, early–a.m. R&B, back-porch-party gospel pop, and more into her first full-length, one of the finer entries of 2013. Anchored by her versatile, jazzy musings, it all sounded, as the opening track suggested, fresh “Like the Morning Dew”.

In the Pines
Unless your name happens to be that guy from City and Colour, it’s almost a given that no one is going to give a shit about your side project. Broken Social Scene’s Andrew Whiteman can take a deep bow, then, for what he’s accomplished with AroarA. With his wife, Ariel Engle, riding shotgun, the Canadian indie-rock veteran gave vintage Smithsonian folk an exotic makeover, injecting rough-hewn song with splashes of old-school hip-hop and Middle East world music, the whole effect being a little like planting a pimped-out Alan Lomax in the middle of the Grand Bazaar.

Adam Ant
Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter
Dusting himself off from the “Where are they now?” shelf, with his first solo album in 18 years, England’s Adam Ant has had a proudly eccentric and fascinating career spanning ’70s punk, ’80s tribal new wave, and ’90s singer-songwriter pop. With his latest, the former New Romantic pirate and current Mad Hatter Hussar has continued his tradition of weirding everyone the fuck out, while writing eternally underrated music that’s clever, expressive, and unlike anything else.

Best Videos

Mac Demarco
“My Kind of Woman”
There were quite a few brilliant music videos released this year. But few managed to be as simultaneously disturbing, funny, and hypnotic as “My Kind of Woman” by Mac DeMarco. In this darkly whimsical clip, the former Vancouverite and lo-fi crooner creep dolls himself up like Buffalo Bill and winds through a makeshift, David Lynchian set. With DeMarco singing and winking straight at the camera, it’s impossible to look away until the surreal end.

Charli XCX
“You (Ha Ha Ha)”
In these times of terror, it’s comforting to know that while this generation’s bomb girls may be hard at work in underground armouries loading up semi-automatic clips with lipstick-tipped bullets, they can still occasionally scurry away for a dance break.

Beach House
Ray Wise has made a long and undistinguished TV career out of his boxy, blow-waved hair and glistening pitchman’s smile. But stick him in the right context, and Mr. American Generic brings a deep and unfathomable weirdness to the screen. He did it for David Lynch in Twin Peaks, and he does again for director Eric Wareheim and Beach House in this transcendantally goofy clip, wherein ol’ Leland Palmer comes on like a psychotic cult leader in an epically trashy mix of The Hunger Games and Fellini on a Comedy Central budget.

David Bowie
“The Next Day”
Thanks to David Bowie—and video stars Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard—we now have a pretty good idea of the sort of depraved antics priests and nuns get up to when they think no one’s watching. This video features a wonderfully bloody stigmata scene, but its main draw might be the song itself, a doomsday ditty about medieval oppression and torture. Hey, no one said Bowie’s comeback was going to be pretty.

Fake Shark Real Zombie
“Get Weird”
Fake Shark Real Zombie’s chief shit-disturber Kevin James Maher takes centre stage in a clip that more than lives up to the codeine-slurred song that inspired it. The lime-green–tressed singer hits Southern California’s most fabled stretch of sand—Venice Beach—with his freak flag flying sky-high. Think black Solid Gold–issue dancers in straw-coloured wigs, lurching zombies, and enough retina-burning tie-dye to blow the mind of Jerry Garcia.


Top Singles

Angel Olsen
“The Tiniest Seed”
The woman sings like a whisky-drunk dust-bowl angel clad in a gingham dress. Try not to tear up when, over flares of desert-fire guitar, she sings “I wish that somehow you knew just how much you mean/That I could be for you what you are for me.”

“The Wire”
While most people were falling over themselves in the rush to scream “Christine McVie!”, this glam-booted classic actually got stuck in your head thanks to Alana Haim’s sensuous and stuttery vocal attack. The real reference point here, pop nerds, is Joan Armatrading, which is why the U.K.–Caribbean jazz-pop lesbian market share will be easily folded into Haim’s ongoing global takeover.

Mode Moderne “She, Untamed”
Maybe 2014 will be the year when everyone stops talking about how much Mode Moderne sounds like Joy Division. It’s still true, sure, but that’s not a bad thing. This first taste of the Vancouver band’s forthcoming second LP strikes the perfect balance between gloom and glee, so you can dance while you ponder the inevitability of your demise.

Mike WiLL Made It blankets the track with a club-fissuring boom, while Auto-Tuned rap demigod Future gives us one of his most powerful and surprisingly inspiring hooks to date. Live for the moment, forget those exes, and splash some more liquor on your liver to help get you back on track, if you need to. Don’t worry, just stay faded and everything will be okay.

David Bowie
“The Stars Are Out Tonight”
Following “Where Are We Now?”, the dreary first single off Bowie’s 26th album, “The Stars Are Out Tonight” was a breath of fresh, sun-streaked air. Kicking off with a sparkly guitar lick and a singe of classic Bowie sax, the track rides the high of its inventive melody while strings unfurl, piano keys twinkle, and the Thin White Duke warbles with youthful vigour. It’s delightful to hear the 66-year-old sounding as tuneful and passionate as ever. The Ziggy-red cherry on top: the gorgeously wacky video, costarring actress Tilda Swinton and model Andrej Pejić.


Top Quotes

“We got to go to the Junos this year, and that was a highlight, for sure. We got mistaken for the Sheepdogs many times. I swear, there are dozens of people who, the next morning, were showing photos to their friends, like, ‘I met the Sheepdogs!’ and their friends going, ‘Those aren’t the Sheepdogs.’ ’Cause we were taking photos everywhere, and I don’t think they knew who we were.”
—Matt Layzell of the Matinée

“Why would they want to tour with us? We’re kind of jerks on-stage—we make fun of the audience sometimes, do lewd things, and say weird stuff; they’re, like, a presentable, nice indie band.”
—Mac DeMarco on clean-cut French popsters Phoenix bringing his uncouth crew on a North American tour

“It’s that time of life where all of our friends are starting to settle down. People are getting engaged, people are getting pregnant. And that is just so far from where my brain is right now, because I’m in a tour van every day and I have no stability in my life at all. It brings out the angst of that, where everybody in my life that I’ve grown up with I see following a certain path. And the path that I’ve chosen is this totally volatile, potential hellhole—but also potentially so fulfilling.”
—Tyler Bancroft of Said the Whale

“I think my attitude going around the country-music scene was pretty obvious to the gatekeepers, that, ‘Hey, this guy’s a malcontent.’ People are selling that noisy shit on the radio, gibberish-in-the-morning-at-drive-time sophomoric stuff. They don’t want some grumpy guy coming in and trying to cut through the shit, trying to say something real and true. I got what I wanted in the end, and they got rid of me.”
—Rodney Crowell on his brush with superstardom

“We loved playing shows and playing live, so anytime that anyone asked us, ‘Do you wanna do a show?’ we would be like, ‘Yeah—let’s get there!’ We even opened for a Harry Potter band once, which was pretty crazy. It was a Harry Potter tribute band. They sang songs about Harry Potter, and they were called the Remus Lupins. I actually haven’t read the books, but apparently that’s a reference to some Harry Potter character.”
—Alana Haim on Haim’s early gigs

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