Archive for the ‘Blues’ Category

2015 was a pretty good year for music, even better for Canadian music, with Justin Bieber, Drake and The Weeknd dominating everything. As per usual, these highlights (and lowlights) are just my opinion, and have no bearing on commercial success. I also must disclaim that I haven’t listened to every single album/track that was released this year.

Best New Artist – Jamie xx

Okay so this is a bit of a cheat, mostly because Jamie xx isn’t exactly new. He’s resident DJ for incomparable indie band The xx. His beats are infectious and not your standard EDM style. This year, he decided to branch out on his own with his debut album, In Colour. And it blew everyone’s mind.

 

Worst New Artist – Shawn Mendes

I’m generally not one to pop open the haterade on young Canadian artists, but man this guy’s annoying. He’s so average, yet each one of his singles appears all over the radio. I will props him on writing (most of) his own stuff, but it’s just not that good – he’s not doing anything that hasn’t been done before.

 

Best Canadian Album – The Gates by Young Empires

Okay before you all hyperventilate because Drake or The Weeknd didn’t win this, it’s because my goal is to expose you all to new music. This list would be boring if it was predictable, so this is me changing it up. This is a solid album start to finish. It’s musical, thoughtful and shows an evolution in their sound.

 

Best Soundtrack – Empire

Empire is a one of a kind TV show. Entertainment mogul Lucious Lyon and his sons taking over the music industry, whilst dealing with their family drama that goes layers deep may not sound appealing, but it is. Even if the show doesn’t interest you, the music alone is worth tuning in. The talent on this show is commendable, seeing as they all (apparently) sing their own stuff, plus it’s loaded with guest stars galore. It’s just so addictive.

 

Best Remix – “The Hills” by The Weeknd feat. Eminem

Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny The Weeknd’s musical abilities. His flawless voice, its velvety smoothness is purely eargasmic. As if this track wasn’t fantastic enough,  when you add Eminem’s rhymes on it, there’s just no contest.

 

Worst Remix – “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar

It’s high time we all get over Taylor Swift. She’s becoming a little too high maintenance, what with wanting to trademark everything she touches and taking her music off streaming services because she wasn’t making enough money. So imagine my surprise, when Kendrick Lamar joined her on this petty track. I mean, come on: his album is called To Pimp a Butterfly, and he’s from  Compton! This collab is adding zero value to his street cred and makes no sense at all.

 

RIP – Scott Weiland

This was a pretty personal one for me. I spent a lot of my teenage years cozying up to Stone Temple Pilots. “Plush” is one of my all-time favourite tracks, and one of the first I learned on guitar. He also fronted supergroup Velvet Revolver. He had such a unique voice, such a presence, but also such a big drug problem. The 90s wouldn’t have been the same without him.

 

Artist who Broke the Internet – Adele

When she released “Hello”, everyone fell apart. Millions and millions of views on YouTube. TV appearances, announcing a tour, shattering so many sales records, and continuing to do so. She may not be your style, but how can you not belt along to her lyrics? It’s so therapeutic.

 

Artist You Want to Befriend – Alessia Cara

A cool 19-year-old  singer-songwriter from Brampton, ON, who got signed to Def Jam Recordings. Her big hit “Here” tells the tale of the not-so-cool high school girl who ends up at typical teen party because her friends wanted to go. It’s smart, it’s honest, it’s funny and I seriously want to hang with her.

 

Best Choreography in a Video – “Hotline Bling” by Drake

This was a no-brainer.

 

 

Best Live Show – Foo Fighters at Fenway Park

I’ll extend this out to the entire leg of their tour where Grohl had to perform while sitting on a chair/throne because he broke his leg. In spite of that, the level of performance they gave was monstrous. He didn’t get tired for one second during the near 3 hour set. No complaints, no holding back. They played the crap out of their music and it was just such a joy to be a part of it.

 

Most Disappointing Album – A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay

It’s no secret I’ve had a volatile love/hate relationship with these guys. Their last album Ghost Stories saw them maybe turning a corner, but they’re lost for good now. It’s basically a dance/pop album which is incapable of tugging at any heartstrings – something they used to master.  Basically, Coldplay is trying to latch on to the latest EDM trend, to make their music more mainstream. They also have dancing monkeys in their video; it’s just sad now, really.

 

Guiltiest Pleasure – “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

I know, I can’t believe I’m admitting it. It’s just so darn catchy.

 

Most Underrated Artist – Lianne La Havas

Lianne dropped her second album Blood this year, and it seemed like no one noticed. She’s got a beautiful voice, full of emotion (think Lauryn Hill and India Arie put together.) Everyone needs to pay more attention to her, starting now.

Most Transformed Artist – Daniel Johns

He used to lead singer of 90s grunge band Silverchair. Heavy guitars, loud lyrics, long hair and apathy written everywhere. Now all of a sudden, Johns resurfaces as some hunky, electro-pop star, that makes his voice do things fans of Silverchair never even thought possible. See for yourselves.

Worst Break-Up – Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale

My inner 90s child’s heart broke when this news surfaced. They were supposed to be the music couple that made it all the way, the ones that lasted. They met on tour back in the 90s – she with No Doubt, he with Bush. It was so perfect in so many ways. And now it’s been ruined. As has my belief in humanity.

 

Best Summer Song – “2 Heads” by Coleman Hell

Hell is from Thunder Bay, and this track is fun, different, and makes you dance along to that country vibe. It just feels like summer.

 

Album of the Year – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by  Florence + the Machine

There’s just something about Florence’s voice, artistry and her drama. She can sing any song, and give you goosebumps doing it. Every track on this album will probably change your life somehow. It’s worth a listen.

 

Song of the Year – “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes

This track is an addiction. Gets you on a crazy high, feeds your soul, and makes you tingle all over. Brittany Howard’s vocals have so much fire in them, and once you add the funk in their music, you have sheer perfection.

April is an unusual time of year: the bitterness of winter is finally over, spring is (supposedly) here,  and summer is just around the corner. It’s a time for new beginnings, fresh starts, looking on the bright side. Except every April 5th, there’s a  heaviness that sets in which began in 1994: when Kurt Cobain died.

Now, if you grew up in the 90s, you know who Cobsin is whether you listened to his music or not: the lead singer of  Nirvana. A band that penned “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” personified grunge and became poster boys for angst-filled anti-everything Gen-Xers. Behind the scenes, Cobain suffered from depression, was big on heroin, and uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Nirvana released three albums over a four-year period and sold over 15 million copies. On April 5th 1994, Cobain was found dead: he committed suicide by shotgun, though conspiracy theorists remain convinced it wasn’t an accident. He was 27.

Musician Brian Jones not only formed The Rolling Stones, he also named them and contributed as a songwriter. He primarily played harmonica, keyboard and guitar, but brought several instruments to the band’s sound, including the sitar. He’s performed with Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and while with the Rolling Stones, appeared on ten studio albums, selling over 8 million copies. Due to a chronic drug habit, Jones was asked to leave the band and shortly after, on July 3rd, 1969, he died by drowning in his pool. He was 27.

Jimi Hendrix is widely responsible for making the electric guitar a star with his immeasurable creativity, putting psychedelic rock, funk and blues together, and mainstreaming the use of feedback, distortion and amplifiers. He headlined Woodstock in 1969, released three records and sold over 7 million copies. He was a known drug user, mostly marijuana and LSD. Though the events surrounding Hendrix’s death on September 18, 1970 remain controversial and unclear, it appears he died due to asphyxiation on his own vomit as a result of mixing alcohol and drugs. He was 27.

Janis Joplin was a pioneer in blues/country/folk/psychedelic rock. She was known as “The Queen of Rock ‘n Roll,” and has influenced musicians like Florence Welch and Stevie Nicks. She headlined Woodstock in 1969, put out two albums as a solo artist selling more than 5 million copies; she also released two albums while lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, which sold over 3 million copies. Joplin died on October 4th, 1970 – 16 days after Hendrix – of a heroin overdose, allegedly accidental. She was 27.

Jim Morrison was lead singer and songwriter for The Doors, a 60s psychedelic/blues rock band, the definition of classic rock. He was also a poet, influenced the likes of Scott Weiland and Iggy Pop and the leather pants he often wore apparently gave them their rock star association. He was dark and mysterious and well known for his on-stage personality: charismatic, sexy and full of antics. The Doors released six albums over four years and sold well over 6 million copies. Morrison died on July 3rd 1971 in Paris, supposedly of a heroin overdose. Because there were no signs of foul play, no official autopsy was performed, as was French law at the time. He was 27.

Amy Winehouse was the perfect blend of R&B, soul, blues and jazz while bringing her own rawness to the table. She was definitely not the “cookie-cutter” type, she was unconventional yet still set the mainstream on fire – she was just that talented. She released two albums over three years, selling over a whopping 20 million copies. In 2006 she won five Grammy Awards, the first British female artist to do so, paving the way for Adele and so many others. She had a long history of drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and mental health issues including manic depression. Winehouse died July 3rd, 2011 from alcohol poisoning. She was 27.

The 27 Club refers to a group of famous musicians who died at 27 years old, and these were just a few. All members had major impacts on the music industry: they were pioneers who opened our ears to something new, icons, phenomenal musicians and full of promise, who died in the prime of their careers. But they were also suffering: with drugs, alcohol, their mental health. Which makes you wonder whether this contributed to their innovativeness and genius? Did they need that outside assistance to pull out their musical creativity? On the other hand, was 27 years all they could give of their music? Would they have had anything left to offer had they lived any longer? The 27 Club is an exclusive one where nobody wants to be a member. However becoming a member also means you’ve impacted the music industry in ways most never will. Catch 22?

Music has a fantastic way of defining a point in time. Of marking moments in one’s life and making them that much better. I had the privilege of attending three live shows last week, and it suddenly dawned on me that each performer represented a different period of time for me. And they were such a significant part of that time that they have remained there to equally represent that time, and bring me to it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Up first, Soundgarden. Apart from a headlining gig at Lollapalooza last year, this was their first tour in 14 years and they decided to kick it all off in Toronto. Since the evaporation of Soundgarden, with the exception of lead singer Chris Cornell – who went on to form Audioslave and have a relatively successful solo career – they have pretty much been off the map. The outdoor venue setting was perfect, the company couldn’t have been better and the crowd was amped. Looking around the fans were of all ages, shapes and sizes; but the common thread amongst them all was the unbearable anticipation of finally getting to hear one of their personal legends from years ago perform live, something most of them had given up on ever happening.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          They did not disappoint. They came out, played loud and played hard. Chris Cornell even grew his hair out almost as a tribute to those grunge days, where long hair was all the rage. The fans engaged in mosh pits and even brought back some of the most aggressive head banging I’ve ever seen. It was like high school all over again, only everyone was older now, and as they belted out “Fell on Black Days” sounds of lightning and thunder filled the skies and all of a sudden it started to pour. Poetic, no? It was as though whatever Soundgarden represented to me in the past, was being recreated so that I could relive it. Nostalgia usually drives me to throw on “Black Hole Sun”, but I can’t say that I’d feel the same way about them if I heard them now. Their impact stayed in the 90s and only carries over to now, as a memory, as something from the past.

Moving along, none other than Ben Harper. Here’s a musician I’ve been listening to for at least eight years. He’s the perfect combination of blues, jazz and rock ‘n roll. He’s incredibly versatile in his music: he’s mellow and sad, but also angry and loud. His lyrics are some of the best I’ve ever heard and his passion while performing is unmatched; not to mention how down to earth he is showing up in khakis and a plaid shirt, and sporting some incredibly sexy tattoos. This show, despite what my cousin may think, was one of those instances where I felt like I was experiencing something only those of us there could, and which most people never will. Like we were the lucky and select few that had secret access to something so rare and amazing. Ben Harper played for three hours straight – which for non-concert goers is quite longer than the average one and a half to two hours. And people still wanted more.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         After his set, he came back on for an encore, as all musicians do, but it lasted as long as the original set. He then continued with one more encore and after taking bows and shaking hands of his fans and signing t-shirts and album covers, while still on stage, the crowd kept chanting “One more song! One more song!” Ben Harper, in the one of the most human ways I’ve ever seen a performer do, turned and looked at his band, shrugged his shoulders and said something. Next thing you know, they’re huddled together, picking up their instruments again and playing more music. I’ve never seen anything like it. He said at one point that he is a fan of his fans, that he does what he does for the fans, and it has never been more true or more obvious. He got quite emotional at the end, borderline tearing up because of the love us fans were showing him. He played every hit single possible, old songs, new songs, he even covered Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and Queen’s “Under Pressure”. He played an acoustic, an electric and a slide guitar; he played with the band, and on his own; he even sang to a sold out crowd without a mic and was heard throughout because everyone went silent in awe – with the soul and conviction in his voice it’s hard not to be captured by him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Everyone in the band did a solo: bassist, guitarist, drummer and keyboard, like a group effort to make this show a memorable one. And they did not disappoint. Apart from his exceptional live show, his music is the type that’s always relevant. Contrary to Soundgarden, every time I hear his music, I’m not brought back to a certain time when I first heard it, but I’m brought right to the present. When I listen to his songs, I hear something new every time, a new lyric that stands out, a guitar riff that I never noticed before. And that’s why he’ll always be present, always on my playlists and always around, no matter how much time goes by.

Lastly, The Black Keys. Though they’ve been around for a few years, I only started getting into them recently, after the release of their latest album Brothers. It’s edgy, it’s funky, it’s different. Their music is full of different sounds: it’s bluesy, rock ‘n roll, with a twist of old school feel, packed with great melodies and even a sprinkle of country. The band consists to two guys, one on guitar, the other on drums, hailing from Ohio. My favourite track on the album, “Too Afraid to Love You” is the ongoing inner turmoil when one is faced with love and not knowing what to do with it or how to react to it. With lyrics like ‘What more can I do, without wringing myself dry/And I can’t afford to lose one more tear drop from my eye’, it’s honest and anyone can relate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Their live show was entertaining and loud, with more musicians on stage creating a much fuller sound than on their album, always a bonus. But compared to veterans like Soundgarden and Ben Harper, it seemed to lack somewhere – maybe they just need more experience, I mean they only lasted an hour on stage. It’s safe to say that this album put these guys on the map, brought them above the radar. But it’s hard to say how long they’ll stay there. They have the talent to take them anywhere they want to go, but only time will tell what the future holds.

Music has the ability to stamp a perfect moment in time, you can’t have one without the other, like they go hand in hand. Some music has the ability to transcend time and consistently be present during important junctures to provide the appropriate soundtrack. Other music is designed for a certain time and a certain place, where it stands its tallest. People evolve with time, music evolves with time, tastes in music evolve with time. It’s inevitable. But what all great music should do is be influential enough to remind you of a time, be it past, present or future.