(At the Squamish Valley Music Festival on August 9)
Drake rolled into Squamish in the midst of a rap feud that saw him become the most buzzed-about act in the world. Hearing the 6 God perform his amazing Meek Mill diss track, “Back to Back”, made it abundantly clear that while you should fear him, he also deserves your praise and worship.
(At Fortune Sound Club on February 27)
Lil Debbie is roughly the size of a common garden gnome, but that doesn’t stop her from making a shit-ton of noise, and not just when she’s rapping. At a packed and stupidly sweaty Fortune Sound Club, YouTube hits like “Ratchets” and “Michelle Obama” were totally overshadowed by a nonstop barrage of between-songs blathering, the Oakland MC unleashing her inner lunatic to rail on about everything from her dead cat to her love for Canadian beardos. The only time her mouth stopped moving was when she’d stop to suck on one of the endless joints, cigarettes, and Swisher Sweets fired on-stage by her fans. The amazing thing? No matter how much Lil Debbie rambled on, she was enough of a freak show that no one wanted her to shut up.
Public Image Ltd
(At the Vogue Theatre on November 22)
John Lydon is one of the few rock ’n’ roll legends who truly deserve that reputation. His 37-year career as frontman of Public Image Ltd, one of the most innovative, funny, and yet scary bands of all time, attests to that. And as Vancouver saw live in November, the 59-year-old is as playful and fascinating a performer as ever. Whether doing the band’s classic anthems justice, bringing new material to epic-sounding life, unleashing his notorious Rotten stare, or rallying the crowd to chant “Fuck off,” Lydon beamed with the purest joy.
(At the Biltmore Cabaret on May 23)
Frontman James Bagshaw politely asked the Biltmore crowd not to smoke weed while Temples played (actually, what he said was “Fuckin’ cut it out”), but there was plenty of smoking happening on-stage, metaphorically speaking. The psych-rock revival might be going the way of dance-punk, but at least we got our very own One-Hour Technicolor Dream courtesy of the shaggy lads from Kettering.
Major Lazer and DJ Snake
That selfie we snapped with Diplo at the Pemberton Music Festival, which got 41 likes on Instagram, was undoubtedly the highlight of a banner year for Diplo. This track, which became the most streamed song of all time on Spotify, was a close second for him, though.
“WTF (Where They From)”
“This another hit/I got an ace in the hole” Missy Elliott brags on a comeback single that marks her first return to the studio in seven years. No shit it’s another hit, and here’s sincerely hoping she’s got more than one ace left in the hole. Ms. Misdemeanor—who hasn’t sounded this sick and superfly since “Let Me Fix My Weave”—is back and ready to reclaim her place as hip-hop’s official old-school queen.
“The Blacker the Berry”
A critical sensation, To Pimp a Butterfly’s second single defined Kendrick Lamar’s much-needed, radically empowering manifesto with rare courage. Over a woozy, unnerving beat, hip-hop’s golden boy takes on racism, community strife, and self-loathing with genuinely stunning rage, candour, and poignancy. If a lyric like “You hate me, don’t you? Your plan is to terminate my culture/You’re fucking evil, I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey” doesn’t chill you to the bone, you need to check your temperature.
“Under a Rock”
For those with creaky joints, “Under a Rock” will bring back memories of alt-rock’s glory days, when the likes of Tanya Donnelly and Juliana Hatfield showed the world that women could rock. (There was actually some doubt about that back then, because everyone was stupid and we didn’t have the Internet.) That Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield isn’t even old enough to have experienced any of that firsthand somehow makes it even cooler.
Top pleasant surprises
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz
So many questions about this Miley Cyrus–Flaming Lips collab that absolutely no one was asking for. Why does it have a whopping 23 songs clocking in at a never-ending 93 minutes? How disappointed were her tweenage fans when this dropped after the VMAs and there weren’t any radio-friendly bangerz on it? And, most importantly, why can’t 36-year-old Michael Mann get this totally fascinating album out of his head?
No Cities to Love
After flaming out on a high note with the 2005 stomper The Woods, Sleater-Kinney not only returns to action recharged with No Cities to Love but also shows it’s learned a few new tricks. So while Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss still fly the art-punk flag loud and proud on “Surface Envy”, they’re now just as comfortable on the dance floor with new-wave burners like “Bury Our Friends”. Where most bands return from the grave for the nostalgia-generated paycheque, Sleater-Kinney is back because it still has something to say.
Carly Rae Jepsen
The main surprise here is that Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest album didn’t fare as well commercially as its predecessor, Kiss, in spite of receiving near-universal acclaim from critics. Then again, Kiss did have the benefit of including a certain atomic chart juggernaut titled “Call Me Maybe”, and that sort of success is a once-in-a-career phenomenon. So perhaps Emotion didn’t conquer the world, but Jepsen can console herself with the fact that she made a near-perfect pop record.
Since her 2012 debut, Nadine Shah has been compared to everyone from Nick Cave to k.d. lang, this despite her unseasoned status. Earning those parallels, her voice is intoxicatingly rich and dark, like good chocolate or Merlot, and the English tunesmith’s stormy rhythms provide stirring undercurrents to her high-flown melodies. But Shah truly comes into her own on her sophomore full-length, Fast Food, cranking up her guitars and lyrical wit while maintaining her flawless production and moody allure.
“The Less I Know the Better”
Oh, dude, we get it. Sometimes you love the cheerleader, but the cheerleader would rather be with Trevor. And Trevor is a big, hairy gorilla. Literally. CANADA—the Spanish video-production house with the absurdist aesthetic, not the country—scores again.
Forget all the meaningful, inventive videos released this year. “Zutter” by South Korean megastars Big Bang takes the trophy for the most stupidly entertaining. Rappers G-Dragon and T.O.P, Big Bang’s main songwriters, are easily the most charismatic, talented, and freaky members of the boy band. Taking centre stage for “Zutter”, the Ginger Spice and Scary Spice of K-Pop proceed to act in ways no one is used to seeing from pretty boys, like getting tortured, pissing all over each other, slaughtering pigs in some kind of cultish ritual, and boasting that they get applause just for taking a shit.
Aside from South Korea being responsible for exceptionally shitty phones, it seems like a swell place. Being really good at video games will get you laid there. Delicious kimchi goes on everything. And they’ll hurl money at you if you can make a music video that’ll get a few YouTube views. Case in point: that crazy fucker PSY is at it again with a video that makes Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby look like it was shot and edited on a Samsung Galaxy S5. FYI, our screen is cracked and we’re looking for an unlocked iPhone 6s, if you’re selling.
More than a video, “Blood” is a rapid-edit history lesson, with the NYC postpunk/soul fusionists raiding the YouTube vaults to inspirational effect. Close-cropped shots of singer Franklin James Fisher are interspersed with archival footage of revolutionaries ranging from Spike Lee and Martin Luther King to Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop. Do your best not to blink and you might also spot—in no particular order—Harry Belafonte, B.A.D.’s Mick Jones, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Klaus Nomi, and a fantastically sullen-looking Johnny Rotten.
It may be inconsequential pop fluff with Max Martin’s filthy fingerprints all over it, but “Bad Blood” also has a hook colossal enough that even Ryan Adams couldn’t wreck it.
“Peanut Butter Jelly”
Swedish dance kings Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw mix glitter-spackled ’90s trance with bass-bombed modern EDM and trashy Studio 54 disco. The result, fittingly, is something—now visualize it— even the rhythmically challenged have zero problem dancing to.
An abyss-gazing, postpunk sting is the opposite of light and fluffy, traits most commonly associated with guilty pleasures. But considering the maelstrom of controversy that hounded Viet Cong this year due to its name, which many deem culturally appropriative if not outright racist, it’s hard not to feel a bit guilty while nodding your head to the song’s gorgeously pealing guitar and grippingly seasick beat.
It should have been a lot harder for this thoroughly lame and insufferable little shit to become cool. But no, he just had to do a few (admittedly amazing) songs with Skrillex in 2015. Thanks for that, Sonny. We look forward to seeing what you have up your sleeve next on season 10 of The Voice in 2016.
Best Local Releases
Tim The Mute
Worth your pocket money for the song titles alone, Why Live’s charm runs much deeper than that. The debut full-length by Kingfisher Bluez label head Tim Clapp features short and bittersweet lo-fi tunes with monikers like “One Dead Twin”, “When You Got Your Face Tattoo”, and “Don’t Kill Yourself” melding dry humour with heartbreakingly real pathos. With his sad-clown warble and bright yet harsh storytelling, Clapp opens up about everything from self-harm and grief to love and boners, and the result is wonderful.
Post Apocalyptic Valentines
Recognizing that the last thing folks want in 2015 is another jewel box junking up their living room, local retro-country queen Kelly Haigh goes all-out for her second full-length. One of the coolest releases of the year, local or otherwise, Post Apocalyptic Valentines is a hardcover book packed with the multitalented Haigh’s wonderfully warped paintings, poems, short stories, and Hee Haw–brand jokes. There’s also a CD, the songs on which include old-school murder ballads and ’60s-era golden country that revisit an era when records actually seemed special. But nowhere near as special as what you get with every copy of Post Apocalyptic Valentines.
Dark Drives, Live Signs
Finally, the PEAK Performance Project is toast in B.C. Hooray! Hopefully, it also means the death of all these limp-dink indie-rock bands pandering for novelty-size cheques and hogging the spotlight from superior local acts like the Ballantynes. However, if some rich asshole wants to give them $100K, they probably wouldn’t say no. They’d simply put out a great album on a shoestring budget like they did with this one and drink the rest away.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
This is a record that sounds the way living in Vancouver feels most of the year, a shivering procession of slate-grey skies punctuated by the odd burst of brilliant sunshine. A collection of potent, thoughtful songs executed fearlessly by musicians of skill and sensitivity, Club Meds seems to get better with each listen.
“Prior to the psychedelic experiences, my impulse was very much to alienate people with my music, and I think that that was palpable on a subatomic level; I think that anyone who heard it could feel that intention, that the music was engineered to alienate. And for some reason the shedding of certain layers of ego and fear and whatever else through the psychedelic stuff did put me in a position where I was far more apt to write material for the function of communicating and creating commonality.” —Josh Tillman (Father John Misty) on how drugs affected his creative process
“Last year we did a tour, and it was disgraceful—you couldn’t even see the road because of the snow. I remember sitting in the van, saying ‘What the fuck is going on?’ and the boys going, ‘You just need to take some Valium, shut up, and drive.’ ”—Leon Harrison of Australia’s the Lazys on touring the Great White North in the winter
“Usually, requests are super obvious, like Rihanna or TLC or something. It’s pretty basic behaviour, to be honest. But I DJed a friend’s wedding this summer and a nine-year-old girl requested Tom Cochrane’s ‘Life Is a Highway’. I was like, ‘Yo, are you a child vampire that’s actually 50 years old, or did your dad put you up to this?’ ”—Sir Prancelot (aka Joni McKervey) on the oddest request she’s ever received while DJing