(At the Rickshaw Theatre on December 4)
There’s nothing better than showing up at a club with low expectations and then promptly being blind-sided in epic fashion. There’s been plenty of hype around Deafheaven, but Vancouver was anything but prepared for the group’s local debut. Led by immaculately coiffed and crisply dressed singer George Clarke, the San Francisco up-and-comers plugged in without a proper sound check and then suddenly annihilated a stunned Rickshaw. The combination of heavier-than-heaven postrock, apocalyptic shoegaze, and shrieking black metal left those in attendance with only one regret, namely that the best new band in heavy music didn’t set back up and then do it all over again.
(At the Commodore Ballroom on November 3)
Every first-wave U.K. shoegaze band seems destined to reunite—catch Ride and Swervedriver on tour in 2015!—but Slowdive has set an impossibly high bar. Guitars shouldn’t be able to sound like shuddering waves of ecstasy, but in the hands of Neil Halstead and Christian Savill, they do. Bonus points go to the masterful Simon Scott, whose hammer-of-the-gods drumming kept the proceedings from getting too ethereal.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
(At the Orpheum on July 1)
It’s hard to think of any other performers approaching 60 who can sing, shriek, and swagger as savagely as they did in their 20s. So when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds played the Orpheum in July, the show was inevitably stellar, from the epic set list to Cave’s Lucifer-like ability to enthrall a room. Cave’s delightful penchant for wading into the audience crotch-first for much of the gig ensured that no fan would ever forget the celestial thrill of seeing the band live.
(At the Commodore Ballroom on July 5)
Besides bringing a stadium-ready band to a midsize club, the genius move here was giving us the kind of whip-smart showmanship that’d please the Vegas revue crowd as much as your Main Street fashion cowboy or Silverado-driving meathead, all of whom were in attendance without a drop of blood spilled. It was like hillbilly music achieving a new level of sentience.
(At Rogers Arena on February 14)
Vancouver was blessed to have pop stars fly both yonic and phallic fast-food items around Rogers Arena this year. With all due respect to Katy Perry and her airborne taco-cunt, Miley riding a hot-dog dink on Valentine’s Day on the first stop of her Bangerz Tour was unbeatable. No show in Vancouver was bigger in 2014, and certainly no show made parents more uncomfortable. Well, except maybe Piggy’s set at the Khatsahlano Street Party. That one really pissed a lot of old people off, but it wasn’t for twerking-related reasons.
Originality might not be their strong suit, but the U.K.’s Eagulls play their ink-black postpunk with the conviction of five guys who grew up believing the Chameleons and Killing Joke were the only bands that mattered. In a musical landscape awash in odes to the female buttocks, this made Eagulls songs like “Hollow Visions” and “Possessed” sound like some sort of sonic salvation.
Neneh Cherry Blank Project
Spare, urgent, and confessional, Ms. Cherry’s first solo record in almost 20 years is an unwieldy and utterly brilliant capper to a gloriously unconventional career. And you thought Sushi was Raw?
“Weird Al” Yankovic Mandatory Fun
“Weird Al” is a timeless treasure. Just when you thought popular music couldn’t suck any more, that crazy, curly-haired fucker comes out of nowhere to save the day and tear Iggy Azalea a new asshole for appropriating African-American culture without properly acknowledging the societal conditions that birthed hip-hop. That’s what’s going on in “Handy”, right?
Frank Iero and the Cellabration Stomachaches
Whether you consider My Chemical Romance heroes or villains, our dear departed was fanatically adored and critically acclaimed for a reason. Writing music that truly resonated with people (even beyond the high-school set), the band will go down in history as culturally significant. Hotly anticipated, then, were this year’s solo debuts of frontman Gerard Way and guitarist Frank Iero. With Hesitant Alien, Way fumbled while trying sheepishly to separate himself from his past. With the surprisingly gripping and poignant, though formulaic, Stomachaches, however, Iero succeeded in being his achingly sincere self.
Afghan Whigs Do to the Beast
Normally, the only thing sadder than watching a critical favourite return from the dead is having them attempt to recapture long-gone magic in the recording studio. Anyone else wish the Pixies had kept EP1, EP2, and EP3 to themselves? Give the Afghan Whigs massive respect, then, for adding to an already impressive legacy with Do to the Beast. The band that gave us 1993’s mesmerizingly angst- ridden (and absolutely essential) Gentlemen showed the world how to come back in style. Revealing no rust despite a 16-year absence from the studio, the Whigs rolled out a solid best-of-the-year contender, with bombastic and druggy turbo-soul numbers dripping sex and danger in equal measure.
Action Bronson “Easy Rider”
If the sight of Mr. Bronson’s 300-pound-plus torso wrapped in a muumuu while he trips balls on a custom Harley doesn’t make your wiener tingle, then how about references ranging from “Blaze of Glory” to The Ninth Configuration? Failing that, the 15-second opening shot of Bronson suffering a psychotic fugue while he unloads an assault rifle into the sky is probably the image that best captures this year’s happy zeitgeist.
No idea what any of those twitchy gestures actually signify, or why she’s charging around a set that looks like Sara Goldfarb’s dingy apartment in Requiem for a Dream, but holy shit, can that kid (then-11-year-old Maddie Ziegler) ever dance. And props to Ryan Heffington, who won an MTV Video Music Award for the choreography.
Ages and Ages “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)”
Portland symphonic-pop masters Ages and Ages made two videos for “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)”, one for folks who love a good story line and one for people who tear up whenever they see something crazily beautiful. Guess which clip we couldn’t get enough of? As enjoyable as it was watching a bunch of from-the-block bullies get their due in the official video for 2014’s best indie sing-along, it’s the live video—shot with “family and friends”—that will blow your mind. Watch as Ages and Ages starts out simple and stripped-down and then slowly adds strings, a small army of backing vocalists, and the world’s most enthusiastic kids’ choir to the party. Then try not to cry.
Perfume Genius “Queen”
Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is used to controversy, like the time YouTube banned his “Hood” video promo out of homophobic discomfort. Following Hadreas and a drag queen as they sneak into an office building, where an elevator opens to reveal a litter of baby pigs, “Queen” similarly subverts gender roles while boasting beautiful, striking imagery. Singing “Nobody is safe when I sashay,” Hadreas leaps to his death while cheerleaders chant for him to jump—a haunting, cinematic social commentary.
DJ Snake and Lil Jon “Turn Down for What”
This outlandish video has it all: DJ Snake’s trap beat, extreme daggering, Lil Jon yelling some shit, an uncontrollable erection that puts the one in A Serbian Film to shame, wig-wagging old-lady boobs, and a police officer who can somehow resist the urge to open fire in a room full of unarmed visible minorities. Unbelievable!
Eric Prydz “Liberate”
Might only be saying this because the ecstasy’s kicking in, but isn’t Eric Prydz (and his dozen or so aliases) the best thing going in big-room EDM right now? Christ, you all look so beautiful. Wanna come join the cuddle puddle on the floor of Usinger’s office and listen to Prydz’s EPIC 3.0 mix? He plays “Liberate” at the two-hour-and-36-minute mark and it’s totally fucking awesome. We can give each other body massages, too. Or not. It’s cool either way.
Azealia Banks “Heavy Metal and Reflective”
Azealia Banks keeps her competitors firmly in her crosshairs with this slow-burning banger off the Harlem whiz kid’s full-length Broke With Expensive Taste. “I be PYT, you Billie Jean,” she jokes, using sleek and suave wordplay to spit honey and venom in equal parts over a sinister, robotic trap beat. Sampling revved-up engines and Blade Runner, Banks sends a clear message to her so-called haters. The self-proclaimed “hex witch” is ready to cast her spell.
Sun Kil Moon “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”
Worth it, if only for the high-minded dismissal it received from Pitchfork, this quasi-novelty dirge started life as a very one-sided argument between Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek and the hapless beer-commercial rockers from Philly. Wrong-footing WoD from the get-go, Kozelek ended up recording his thoughts and providing an inadvertently perfect postscript to his masterpiece, Benji. If the album is full of tragedy, compassion, and grace, then “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock” proposes that Kozelek has also earned the right, at the tender age of 47, to be an indefensibly petulant and screamingly hilarious dick.
Mounties “Tokyo Summer”
Never been lucky enough to find yourself walking the teeming streets of Shibuya, Akihabara, or Harajuku on a warm, gorgeously sun-kissed August morning? Built around exotic Far East keyboards and a sticks-on-first-listen vocal hook, “Tokyo Summer” will get you thinking it’s finally time to book that flight to Japan.
Strand of Oaks “Shut In”
The Bruce Springsteen song the Killers only wish they could write.
Kamijo “Symphony of the Vampire”
Kamijo is a Japanese rock star who specializes in symphonic metal, pretends to be a 200-year-old French vampire, wears better costumes than a drag queen, and is possibly insane. Achieving worldwide success with his epic visual kei band Versailles, Kamijo became known for his eccentric, Anne Rice–inspired persona; grandiose, neoclassical songwriting; and gorgeously ornate aesthetics and live shows. The punch line? The music is fucking awesome.
Makonnen Sheran is no one’s idea of a great R&B singer, and this song would have disappeared without a trace if Drake were not doing much of the heavy lifting. Nonetheless, the chilled beat (by Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin) will not be denied, and even if we never hear from iLoveMakonnen again, it was fun while it lasted.
The Alarms “The Axe”
It sounds foolish, but this Nashville-based four-piece has eschewed the musician’s critical arsenal of laptop and Ableton for ancient instruments made from wood—string-driven contraptions such as the “guitar” (gi-tär) and all manner of machines of mysterious and barely comprehensible provenance (“drums”?) . Not sure how you fit hand isolations into your enjoyment of this thing, but my goodness, it certainly “rocks”.
The Chainsmokers “#SELFIE”
Let it be known that 2014 was the year of the basic bitch, literally. And this infuriatingly catchy song was the soundtrack while you were being your seasonal-flavoured-latte-slurping, yoga-pants-wearing, inspirational-quote-sharing, Dîner en Blanc–attending, horoscope-believing, and Vancity Buzz–reading basic bitch self. #sorrynotsorry
Taylor Swift “Shake It Off”
America’s new favourite sweetheart—sorry, Ariana Grande—changes gears in dramatic fashion, abandoning crossover country for stupidly infectious dance-pop. While it’s true that the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, the great thing about Taylor Swift is that she couldn’t give a flying fuck. That, of course, is the point driven home repeatedly in a surprisingly personal radio smash that gives the finger to everyone who’s ever taken a potshot at the 25-year-old superstar.
“That’s where I was and there was lots going on, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the Chili Peppers lip-synching, and Dylan in a car commercial, and cereal was on special at SuperValu, and Jimmy Fallon was taking over at The Tonight Show and Woody Allen was in the papers, and it was all this stuff—and then all of a sudden, Pete Seeger died. And, like, the list just didn’t matter.” —C. R. Avery on learning of Pete Seeger’s death while watching the Super Bowl
“I thought it would be cool to have me drinking all the band’s beer on the bus while they all slept in hotels. That’s why I filmed it. I partied by myself, and I thought it would be cool: ‘Look at me, I’m partying by myself on a band bus because no one else is going to do it.’ I didn’t know if it was ever going to be seen, but I thought it would be funny. When I saw it later in the editing room, with Carin [Besser, his co-editor], it wasn’t very funny. It was kind of sad. And we were like, ‘Ooh, that’s even better.’ ” —Tom Berninger on the making of Mistaken for Strangers, his documentary about his brother’s band, the National
“My friends and I got into the Urinals at the same time, and then we all piled into [Snit bassist] Rob Tunold’s motor home to go see the Urinals play Calgary. Along the way, there were things like poop shooting out of the sink and the TV falling on someone’s head. When we finally got to Calgary, the Urinals were playing the Distillery at 1 a.m. We begged them to play our favourite songs, but they hadn’t practised them. When they played the Palomino the following afternoon, they had practised more songs in their hotel room and played them for us. On top of that, they called us on-stage and had us sing ‘I’m a Bug’ for them. Too much fun.”—Snit singer Jessi Zapton
“The song is straight-up about a friend of ours that we miss. He toured with us—he was like our road dog. Then he totally went Grateful Dead and had to get away from us. I don’t know if he was spending too much time driving around the country with us, but it was like he had to go off on his own path. All of a sudden he disappeared to watch Phil Lesh webcasts. When we started, we were doing acid a bit, even while playing shows, but it got to the point where we all mellowed out a bit while he got even heavier into it. He got into all sorts of other stuff too—psychedelics. It was like he was our best friend forever, but now he’s totally gone. I saw him recently, after not seeing him for years, and he was like, ‘Aww, yeah, man, I was going to come to your show the other night, but the Red Cross was doing this thing where, if you gave blood, you got a ticket to go see Warren Haynes play Jerry Garcia’s guitar. So after I gave blood, I was too tired to come see you.’ ”—The Shrine singer-guitarist Josh Landau, explaining his band’s song “Tripping Corpse”
“She is perfect and she is what REUPTRIPPYSHIT is. She’s glamorous, but here she is truly what ratchet is. When you see someone who’s beautiful but they’re doing something raunchy, that contrast is ratchet.”—Local ebonics expert DJ Genie (aka Erik Devro) on why Pamela Anderson, who got her tits out at his popular club night, personifies the term ratchet.