What is going on with Sleeping Operator? I try to describe it to friends and run out of words. Just when I think I've got it pegged as a great roots/country album The Barr Brothers lure me in with entrancing melodies, then reach through the speakers and smack me with a healthy does of the blues. If I could get any more narcissitic I'd assume they were consciously trying to remind me to just shut up and listen.
Chad VanGaalen could release just about anything and it would likely end up among my favourite albums of the year. Thankfully, Shrink Dust is no slouch and managed to marry the folkier sensibilities of 2008's Soft Airplane with the driven noise of 2011's Diaper Island. The result is an eccentric and haunting album that is as out-there as it is accessible. I want to build him the weirdest analog-modeled delay pedal with all the zaniest bells and whistles to infinitely repeat and garble his ghostly melodies.
Big surprise: Toronto male in his early thirties likes Bry Webb. To be fair though, Free Will snuck up on me. I fought it quite a bit on first listen, rejecting the minimalism in hopes that Webb's trademark growl might bellow from my speakers. Instead, the subtle melodies and understated vocals took me unawares and held my head under water until I didn't notice I had drowned, but was happier for it.
Montreal's Ought is one of those bands that comes along, catches you asleep at the wheel and kicks your ass. More Than Any Other Day, their debut full-length, is imbued with the sort of frenetic and infectious energy that most bands spend their careers trying to replicate. Sprawling, intense and commanding, this is an album that either bubbles up the fury in your guts and brings it to the surface in fits of shakes, or makes you wonder why you don't have any in the first place.
Speaking of bands that can do no wrong where I'm concerned. Not only does Zeus evoke some of my favourite rock bands of the past better than anyone else currently could, but they do it so damn affably. Three full-length albums deep and their sonic swagger hasn't dwindled a bit. I can't think of another band with this great a command of their craft that still sounds like they're having this much fun, let alone one that makes you wonder why you're simply listening and not out there mixing it up yourself a bit too.
I didn't want to like this album. In fact, I'm sure I tried not to like it. I wanted to be that cool guy who was, like all pretentious Toronto assholes, over the whole Broken Social Scene crew and touting the next pre-big thing. Turns out I'm not a cool guy. Who knew? Over the course of the year I found Darlings magically appearning in my playlist, always wondering how it got there, but the infectious melodies and nonchalant grooves never let me turn it off.
Just when you, and I for that matter, were worried this list would be all dude-fronted acts in comes Thus Owls to save the day. On Turning Rocks, the band's first album since relocating from Sweden to Montreal, Erika Angell's voice is both portentous and forceful, backed by powerful and ominous arrangements that give the impression something otherwordly and all-encompassing is just around the corner. It's the imaginary soundtrack to an intense stage production that marries western grit and epic fantasy that I want to wait in line to see.