This year might not be the end of the world*, but it did mark the end of many things in my life. School, relationships, employment – the latter two multiple times. But, what better to get you through all of these things than some good music. Tied with good friends and food, music completes the trifecta of essentials to get me through all the good and bad times, and that was especially true this year. Sometimes, the perfect album or song enters your life in such a timely manner, it’s almost like that artist had written it just for you. That was Fiona Apple for me. So, needless to say, Apple’s The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is hands-down my favourite album of the year. But even on a non-personal level, that album is clearly one of the best, both musically in Apple’s stark and bare bones arrangements as well as her masterful words. This isn’t to say that I’ve had an entirely miserable year, I swear there’s a glimmer of happiness still flickering inside me, but you’ll notice that there’s a bit of a theme to all my picks. I would say let’s hope for a brighter new year, but honestly, I don’t mind all the sad-sack, dark tunes. Throw in a few guitar-shredding numbers, and I’m good.
Now, to spare you from more rambling, I will now present to you my top albums of this year in the succinct form of Twitter-sized blurbs!
* I am currently writing this on December 18, so apologies if it really is the end of the world.
2012 was a big year for me. I finally moved to Toronto, full-time – which meant I was finally a real adult with responsibilities and a mortgage! Um, yay? I also turned 30 this year… and I’m just going to leave that there.
Moving to Toronto meant attending lots of shows, which made me feel like a kid again, when music and attending shows were all that mattered. Music-wise, it was all about throwbacks and flashbacks for me – so many bands and musicians I loved in my younger years – Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Garbage, Ben GIbbard of Death Cab for Cutie, to name a few – returned with albums and tours. I can safely say that the highlight of my year – concert-wise – was seeing Ben Gibbard (who I’ve never seen before, solo or with Death Cab) doing a solo acoustic rendition of “Such Great Heights” and “Passenger Seat” on piano. Oh, and Fiona Apple (who I’ve also never seen before) singing “Paper Bag” (even though the show was at the Suck, er… Sound Academy).
I also discovered a couple cool new bands too. I guess Divine Fits qualifies as a new band (even though I’ve always been a big Spoon fan and a Wolf Parade fan, so it’s pretty much by default, right?). Father John Misty was probably my favourite new discovery of 2012. This was my first year attending NXNE, which allowed me to witness so many great bands and nervously interview Eternal Summers in their van!
So, for the part where I get sentimental – the best part of my year (aside from the things I already mentioned above) was joining The Singing Lamb team and writing on a regular basis again. I hope we keep doing it and I hope you keep reading. Now, how about some lists, yeah?
Photos of Stars by Geoff Thomlinson
Some might say that Metric is the reason why I’m doing what I do today – sitting in an office, writing about music, making a shitty but satisfying living off of a love music and words. They were the gateway band into a world of Canadian talent that I didn’t know existed outside of my bubble of Top 40 hits and whatever Ja Rule was putting out at the time. It might not have been the most exciting starting point, but I’ve come to terms with it. I didn’t start off dusting off Beatles records or moving like Jagger; my familial surrounding wasn’t very musical, so I had no guidance. Anyway, I’m not judging you on your gateway bands; I don’t see why you’d need to judge me. I don’t reference my age often, for fear of judgment, but I’m 22 years old; Metric was at the forefront of the buzzing indie scene I took refuge in at the time. That has become my version of the heyday – sorry if it’s not yours.
I didn’t belong in high school. I didn’t have many friends; I didn’t have any self-esteem or clue what I was going to do with my life. But then I was introduced to Toronto’s Metric by a girl I volunteered with and I suddenly found myself grasping onto music for the first time in my life – not just some cheap bubblegum pop star whose flavour would fade away after a few listens. Metric’s music hit me like a ton of bricks and I immersed myself in their riffs, their rhythms, their words. Emily Haines’ voice was tattered and imperfect, something that opposed the glossy and cold voices on the radio and something that I fell in love with immediately. Even better, no one at school really knew who they were so I held onto them for dear life. I had something I felt was meaningful and brilliant that they didn’t know about. It belonged to me.
At this time, Metric was still playing in relatively small venues – well, relative to the Air Canada Centre where they played last weekend, at least – and those rooms felt intimate. I felt like I was part of a small club where the music only drew our bodies closer. I made some of my first friends out of school with like-minded Metric fans.
From there, I had accidentally cracked my way into a goldmine of acts through association and through buzz blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum. I was hooked and since I was quite the shy and awkward girl – I still am – the only way to spread my love for these bands was through writing. I tried to make a zine (evidently laziness prevailed over my shyness), wrote on message boards everywhere, and I even started a dinky little music blog. The one you’re reading this piece on now.
Nowadays, my Metric CDs are marked with scratches and safely stowed away on a shelf somewhere, but my intense lonely-girl possessiveness hasn’t subsided. Every time their video gets played on TV or I hear a fifteen-year-old girl geek out about “Stadium Love”, I twitch a bit and think, “HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THEM?” Don’t get me wrong, I am overjoyed and proud of the band’s success, but a part of me will always say, “But they were all mine at one point! All mine!” *pouts* *crosses arms* *rolls my eyes at the young’uns*
Which is, of course, why Saturday night’s ACC show was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions for me.
Seven years after I “discovered” Metric, I found myself in a stadium filled with thousands of people screaming and cheering for a band whom I had spent years screaming and cheering for in my bedroom, alone. Suddenly, they didn’t belong to me anymore. They belonged to the girls who ignored me in school. They belonged to the Avril Lavigne fans that pushed me out of the way in the hallway. They belonged to the racist jocks that drove me to the point of depression and self-mutilation.* The band found their way out of my death grip and onto the laps of those who I hid them from.
Although Metric is still considered to be a favourite of mine today – even through my waning enthusiasm towards their newer releases – the one thing I was consistently underwhelmed with was their live shows. Even after the first time I saw them, I distinctly remember it being a good show, but not a great show. And this was long before I developed the ability to critique music for a living.
Something gets lost in translation for me. Songs are brought to life, but doesn’t leap across the crowd and jump at me. There’s a coolness to their performance that’s both rock ‘n’ roll, but not big enough. After seeing them countless times, I never felt like I can give them both thumbs up; just one.
But something at the ACC worked. The large stadium worked in their favour and their new tunes filled the venue with every drum beat, every swelling synth line, and every Jimmy Shaw guitar solo. Jimmy is finally the guitar god we knew he could be and Emily, the glamourous frontwoman.
I might not have wanted them to belong in that stadium, but they did. Tracks off their latest album, Synthetica, echoed throughout the room with a robust confidence and even old favourites like “Empty” and “Dead Disco” found new life in there. And, of course, “Stadium Love” – that’s a given.
Neither Metric nor I are the same as we were back in those heydays. Metric has slowly, but deservedly gained a popular following, and one that I can’t project my teenage elitist angst on anymore. They are the rock stars we always knew they would turn out to be and through the glimmer of awkward feelings, I can say that I’m quite proud to see them own a show that size. I’ve also grown up, figured some – not all – of my shit out and am definitely more confident and sure of myself than I was back in high school.
Metric doesn’t belong to me anymore. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had the right to even claim ownership to begin with, but we all have one or a few of those bands, right? (Stars, who opened the evening, also fell under that same category for me.) They belong to everyone now. All those people who filled that venue though may vary in levels of fandom, but they shelved out money for a band they like enough to see and that’s fine by me.
* I can actually confirm that these people are Metric fans now.
I’d been eagerly anticipating this show, first of all because I knew The Wooden Sky had been on tour in Europe for over a month and were excited to come home, and also because I’d only seen them play once, outside at the Toronto Islands, so I was curious to see them take over a larger venue.
I arrived early, in time for the second opener, fellow Toronto band, Wildlife. I hadn’t heard their music before, but was impressed – their songs were energetic and fun, and their final song included three of their five band members playing various drums and singing choruses of “ohhhhh’s.” They’d been touring with Wooden Sky, and seemed genuinely excited to announce they were up next.
Wooden Sky came onstage to cheers from their loyal fanbase — the Phoenix wasn’t full, but the crowd was warmer and more welcoming than any crowd I’ve witnessed in a long time. Perhaps lead singer Gavin Gardiner’s onstage persona contributes to the overall feeling: he regularly addresses the audience, and despite his tall stature and all-black attire, seems pretty laid-back. He announced that the band was going to play older songs in addition to songs from their new album, Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun (likely after having to play a lot of new songs on the tour). The band started with older material early — their second song was the stirring folk song “When Lost at Sea,” the title track from their first album. (They definitely do sound good in a larger venue!) They effortlessly transitioned between albums, and between traditional guitar and synth-heavy rock songs, to ballads, to alt-country songs with violin and melodica solos. It was impressive and unexpected (and unlike I remembered) to hear such variety in the live show.
The band’s collaborative skills and musicianship were evident and contributed to their cohesive sound. Bassist Andrew Wyatt sang soft harmonies against Gardiner’s deep vocals, while occasionally playing melodica and bass simultaneously. Simon Walker, the keyboardist/guitarist, also sang backup, tirelessly played guitar and piano, and experimented with synth. The synth was especially poignant during the swingy ballad “Take me Out” (which Gardiner dedicated to his parents — awww). Also in the name of dedications, Gardiner dedicated “North Dakota” to another Toronto band, Ohbijou, who were playing Lee’s Palace that night.
At the beginning of the encore, Gardiner announced that he’d set a goal to write a song every day. It didn’t last, but he sang the first song he’d written, a sparse guitar-and-violin version of the mournful “River Song One.” And the mood changed, yet again, for the final song of the encore, when Gardiner stepped down into the audience, who gathered around him to belt out, “Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me).”
The entire show felt like a love-in. Both the band and crowd were appreciative, the stage banter was intimate, and the enthusiasm was high. Everyone is clearly glad the band is back home.