Top Ten Albums of 2013

Scott never writes anymore.

Every year, I get too busy around the holidays, and I don’t get around to my Top Ten Records of the Year list. And, every year, Scott writes to remind me.

This year, he didn’t. The love is gone.

Anyway, it being halfway through January, I figure I’d better finally type it up, for the three or four of you who give a shit. Here it is.

1. Palma Violets – 180: I know, I know. You think I’ve put them up top because (a) they have covered the Hot Nasties (b) they close every show with a Hot Nasties tune and (c) they have had me onstage with them in Toronto and L.A. I know. But I loved these guys before I ever knew they knew about me. A year ago this month, I was on my way to a Sun TV hit, and Jian Ghomeshi, who knows music, had this band on, live. They were incredible. They were amazing. I tweeted at him to ask who they are; he tweeted back, saying the Palma Violets. “Blew me away,” I told him. And they still do – and still would, even if I hadn’t found out from Toronto music scene friends that Nardwuar had interviewed them about their mutual love of the Hot Nasties. The Palma Violets are much more than NME (and Warren Kinsella) darlings: they are the real thing. They are, I swear, one of the best bands on the planet. And this album – which takes some getting used to, being quieter than their live shows – is an enduring classic. The best album of the year, from best friends.
2. Fidlar – Fidlar: Until I got my hands on the Palma Violets’ 180, this crazed Los Angeles’ band’s LP was going to be number one. There is not a bad song on it – and what songs! The subject matter resembles a Rob Ford ‘What I Did With My Summer Vacation’ essay – coke, heroin, pills, booze, and starting all over again. In rock’n’roll, writing about that stuff isn’t exactly breaking new ground: it’s been done before, plenty of times. But what makes this album so fucking amazing is Fidlar’s songwriting. Despite their age, despite their scruffy skateboard culture pedigree, Fidlar are truly gifted songwriters, and every tune here is catchy as a drawer full of fish hooks. Their name stands for Fuck It, Dog, Life’s A Risk. This record isn’t. Get it!
3. Guided By Voices – English Little League: Some bands are great live. Some bands are great when they make records. GBV – now reunited with the classic Tobin Sprout line-up – squeeze out records like rabbits squeeze out baby rabbits, and almost all of them are amazing. English Little League, one of a few they put out in 2013, is Robert Pollard at his best: little lo-fi gems that are simultaneously Beatlesque and punk, with some Beefheart thrown in. In concert – and Lala and I saw them at Riot Fest in Chicago in September – they are perfectly awful. They are hard to watch, in fact. But albums like this one more than make up for their onstage sins.
4. Bad Religion – True North: Being about as old as me, I keep waiting for them to lose their edge, and to put out a stinker. They haven’t yet. Ever since The Empire Strikes First, these oldsters have never sounded so pissed off – and therefore bona fide punk – in their three-decade-long time together. One is a Ph.D, another is a millionaire, one is a grandfather. Despite that – or maybe because of it – they continue to put out stuff like True North, which sounds like the last shortwave broadcast from a bunch of rebels, before the fascist overlords close in. They make me feel young, because BR never get old.
5. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt: It probably isn’t cool for a punk to openly love an arena rock band, but every single punk I know loves these guys. They are so true and so honest about their craft, they make Anti-Flag look like capitalist cynics. Lightning Bolt sees them (like BR) older, but still raging against the dying of the light. Mind Your Manners, indeed. Play it at eleven, and know why these guys have still got the spark.
6. David Bowie – The Next Day: Given that he’s closing in on 70, The Next Day of course isn’t. When it was unleashed (by surprise) on the world, I worried that The Next Day would be his last day. Perhaps he had been moping around Soho in sunglasses for the past few years because he knew something we didn’t (or didn’t want to accept): that he didn’t have any good songs left in him. But this record, with its appropriately defaced Heroes cover, shows that he does. Not a Low or a Spiders From Mars, of course, but that kind of perfection is seldoim achieved by most artists even once in their lifetime. So glad he came back, and so glad that it wasn’t an embarrassment. It was, in fact, a great day.
7. Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion: The album actually came out in 2012, but I didn’t hear her until 2013, again (like the Palma Violets) on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show. Tweeted to the host (like I did with Jian about PV), Matt Galloway, and he tweeted back who she/they are – Cold Specks, of London, from Toronto. Pseudonym: Al Spx, which is a pretty cool handle, if you ask me. The record itself is kind of doom soul, with nary a Top Ten single to be heard. Despite that, I predict she will be a star, because her voice is unlike any other in this universe. She won a Polaris for this record, and she deserved it. Greatness awaits.
8. Wire – Change Becomes Us: Surveying my list so far, it’s evident that 2013 will be remembered (by me) as a year of arty pop. Wire, who we saw at Lee’s in 2013, are part of that. Since 1978’s Chairs Missing – and particularly after 1979’s 154 – this band has always been at or near the top of my art band hit parade. In their later years, they’ve adopted a kind of machinist metal Rammstein thing, but without losing their talent for melody. Change Becomes Us? It does.
9. Major Lazer – Free the Universe: On the wonderfully-named Secretly Canadian label, it’s poppier than Diplo’s past stuff – Pitchfork et al. sniffed that he was selling out, seeking commercial success, etc. – but I don’t think they’re right. Diplo, to my mind, is a genius of production, and he could’ve been a bazillionaire by now, if he had wanted to be. He caught my attention a few years back with his Santigold project, and he hasn’t ever let go. Makes sounds you will hear nowhere else.
10. SFH – Mayor On Crack: Okay, it won’t be released by Ugly Pop until 2014, but much of it was done in 2013, as Mayor Crackhead pulled Canada’s largest city ever-downward with crack, smack and whack. The flipside is ‘Rob – The Rob Ford Song,’ with Davey Snot screaming, a la Ford crack video, and the Broken Shit Scene Children’s Chorus providing a catchy melody. Buy it! Help send Rob Ford back to the trailer park, where he belongs!



One of the greatest bands on Earth at the present time

Fidlar. They’re opening for the Pixies (sigh) at Massey Hall (barf) tonight.

The Pixies make me sigh because they’re been phoning it in since reuniting after saying they’d never, ever reunite.  And Massey Hall makes me barf because it’s where boring old fart bands play.

That said, I’ll be there tonight under protest, but only for Fidlar.  I’ll be the one tearing the seats out and trying to start a riot.

I am male, hear me roar. Or, not.


Interesting survey over on J-Source about gender, age and whatnot of Canadian newspaper columnists. I was one of the ones who responded to their survey, here. Their data sheet is here.

If their point is that media voices should be as diverse as the country they serve, I’d agree with that. And our failure to do that may help to explain some of this.

What thinkest thou, smart wk dot come readers?



In Tuesday’s Sun: keep talkin’ in the free world

OTTAWA — So a rock star popped up in Toronto on the weekend and pronounced on politics. People noticed. Some got upset, some were happy.

Happens all the time. This time, it was Neil Young, who was raised in Winnipeg but hasn’t lived in Canada for half a century. Other times, it’s been movie stars or TV stars or other kinds of celebrities — Pamela Anderson on the seal hunt, Robert Redford on the oilsands, Ted Nugent on guns, and so on.

Doesn’t just happen in Canada, either. Last week, one of the biggest stories in the world was about the North Korea visit of former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman, who is stupid, saying stupid stuff. He later apologized for his stupidity.

As a musician — I’ve been playing in punk bands, badly, for decades — I have never really understood why anyone could be persuaded to listen to anything we say. We’re musicians, we play music. (Again, in my case, badly. But I remain proud I could take a beer bottle full in the chest and not miss a beat.)

Why does anyone care what movie stars and rock stars have to say about politics? Well, for starters, because stars get more attention than mere politicians do. They’re better looking than politicians are and they’re way more interesting.

There’s also the monkey on a bicycle factor. We know, and the monkey probably knows, that it shouldn’t be riding a bicycle. But we cannot tear our eyes away, and we await the (perhaps inevitable) disaster.

Alice Cooper, who according to urban legend bit the head off of a chicken — and who later went on to regularly play golf with assorted Republican notables — is contemptuous of rock stars who have political views. He has sneered at past efforts of REM, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to unseat George W. Bush.

Go ask Alice, you might say, and Canadian Press did. Said Alice: “To me, that’s treason. I call it treason against rock ’n’ roll because rock is the antithesis of politics.

“Rock should never be in bed with politics.”

Warming to his subject, Alice said: “If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.”

But here we are, listening to Alice — a registered Republican and a self-described moron — tell us who we shouldn’t be listening to. I don’t think anyone should listen to anything Alice does. Musically or otherwise.

He is right, however, when he seems to suggest that celebrities aren’t oracles for complex political theory. They are, after all, celebrities. But Toronto Mayor Rob Ford isn’t the sharpest knife in the political drawer, either, and he got himself elected mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world, didn’t he? High IQs and politics are often mutually inconsistent concepts.

Sure, Neil Young was a jerk for likening the oilsands to Hiroshima. That kind of exaggerated rhetoric is silly, and likely offensive to the families of the tens of thousands of people who were slaughtered there on a single day in August 1945.

But Young is entitled — as is Springsteen, Bono and many others — to offer an opinion, even an exaggerated one, on politics. Sometimes, some good comes of such things.

So, Neil Young, say what you want. It is welcome, even if it isn’t always going to be right.

And, if you can be persuaded to return home, you’d have a pretty good shot at becoming Toronto’s next mayor, if you’re so inclined.

My pal Butts

Here. Nice read.

Having worked elbow-to-elbow with Gerald on Dalton’s big victories in 2003, 2007 and 2011, I nodded my head at the assessments of his smarts. Gerald’s smart guy, Cons.

I also laughed when I read the story revealed he didn’t call back. Gerald knows – as smart advisors always do – when they write glowing profiles about you, it never usually ends well.

Justin is lucky to have him.