Top 5 Favourite Albums of 2014

What an awesome year for music this really was. When reviewing all the magazine’s lists of Best songs and albums this year, I relived a lot of memories of ear candy and album happiness which made me truly realize just how great a year for music it was. From small Canadian up-and-comers like the Glorious Sons, to pop dynamo vets like Taylor Swift, 21st century music’s finest really put their best feet forward this year and narrowing down the top 5 (honourable mentions to come later) was a rough call. But here they are, my ABSOLUTE favourites of a favourite-infused year of great records.

5. David Gray – Mutineers

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David Gray has been releasing weepy ambient acoustic pop for a couple of decades and has, with few exceptions, gotten increasingly polished with age. On this latest effort he enlists fellow Brit and former Damien Rice collaborator Andy Barlow to produce and program this HIGHLY underrated gem of a record, possibly Gray’s best since his breakthrough White Ladder. What functions as a Gray career-capturing best-of, empowering uptempo marchers like the lead single “Back in the World” and the title track, which starts off as a simple tinkering intro that builds up and up to a satisfying and gorgeous yet understated conclusion, meld wonderfully with the 2 minute, 30 second simplicity of “Cake and Eat It” just as well as with the heavy-handed, gorgeous piano-driven “Birds of the High Arctic”, Gray’s best track in years and years. David Gray has found a formula that works but has ‘tried’ harder, favouring simple arrangements and lofty romantic lyrics (“Lying here with you on top of me/There’s nowhere on this earth that I’d rather be”) over production gymnastics. Listening to this is pure bliss, a return to greatness, and I’m surprised to not have seen it on more best-of lists this year.

4. Jack White – Lazaretto

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Lazaretto  was not only an angrier, gritter and more pronounced sophomore solo from Jack White (who was once accurately described as the “Willy Wonka” or 21st century music), but it was also the best-selling vinyl of the year for understandingly good reason: with all the bells and whistles of Wonka’s chocolate factory, there are still secrets to be revealed on the Ultra LP edition of the record, from secret songs to backwards play, to graphic etchings and then some. Lazaretto succeeds in stamping White’s influences such as blues and classic country, as well as reintroducing the epic guitar work he does best which felt lacking on his first solo release. The title track and the instrumental “High Ball Stepper” both employ the guitar god’s finest work since his White Stripes days, and his screaming manic vocals have never sounded better than they do on “Three Women” or “That Black Bat Licorice”. Just as strong are the lovely “Temporary Ground”, which harkens back to the work he did with Loretta Lynn. An eclectic mix of all kinds of tricks is what we’d expect from one of the coolest people alive – afterall, he has dabbled in the past year in authorship and publishing, virtual reality, film, production, releasing the fastest vinyl recording, and so on and so on and so on. 2014 has proven that the world needs more people like Jack White.

3. Tweedy- Sukierae 

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Jeff Tweedy, like Jack White, is a bit of a wizard with a passion for many things. Evidently, one of his passions is being a husband and father to his two sons, Spencer and Sammy, and keeping it in the family is what is so charming and un-Wilco on this sort-of-solo debut, featuring a great many tracks (perhaps a tad too many?) that are at times, semi-autobiographical (the lead single with very funny and clever Nick Offerman-directed video, “Low Key”) and at times, simple romantic odes to his wife, the nicknamesake of this record, on songs like “Where My Love” and “Pigeons”. There is a certain childlike-ness to much of this record which has surfaced on later Wilco records but is a far departure from the starkness of a record like “A Ghost is Born”. Wistfulness can be gleaned from songs like “Summer Noon”. And yet, Tweedy’s signature penchant for meandering experimentalism is evident on “Diamond Light, pt. 1″, which is both a familiar and challenging listen all at once, much like a lot of Wilco’s less conventional back catalogue tunes. Tweedy is one of the most gifted songwriters who can make simple lyrics seem to span decades of meaning and truth, and oddball non-sensical lyrics seem like either comical or romantic poetry. All his best qualities as a writer truly shine on this record, and Spencer Tweedy’s drumming, while not rhythmically flexible, crisp and maniacal like Wilco’s rythm-keeper Glenn Kotche, are certainly a wonderful and fitting edition to Sukierae. I hope there’s a follow-up coming (but let’s see another Wilco record first, Jeff!!).

2. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

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Eight years ago, Damien Rice released a follow-up to his spellbinding, earth-shattering debut that was, in my opinion, equally as spellbinding and earth-shattering if not more so. Rice’s songs, which are weepy acoustic outpourings of his tortured soul, are the stuff this reviewer’s listening party dreams are made of. And so, for the last near-decade, his talents, voice, and heart-wounding lyrics were greatly, deeply missed. Re-enter Rice unexpectedly and quite suddenly into the music landscape just a short month ago. My Favourite Faded Fantasy  is what I would have expected from Rice – admittedly, more of the same teary broken-hearted laments, though flavoured at times with Irish drinking songs (“Long Long Way”), or digi-pop (“My Favourite Faded Fantasy”). The thing about Damien Rice is, listening to him is not about variety. It’s about emotion. The outpouring of such depth is achieved by calm seas interspersed with orchestral swells, coupled with Rice’s smooth-yet-pained vocals, sometimes screaming out, sometimes merely muted whispers. In this regard, he is the master of his own craft, a still-unique voice that has permeated the hearts of maybe not enough tortured souls, myself included. I’m so thankful to see a record from him again. Let’s hope the next one isn’t another eight years in the making.

1. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams 

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A ‘proper’ Ryan Adams album has not been released since 2011’s wonderful, Californian-flavoured “Ashes & Fire”, an acoustic and honky tonk piano-led album about recovery, love and promises. In typical Adams fashion, he has abandoned working again with Glen Johns in favour of self-producing an aptly self-titled fourteenth record and the results are pluperfect retro 70s and 80s pulsating rock gems. The first single, “Gimme Something Good” is a catchy and addictive edgy alternative song with a lot of grit featuring an ear worm of a chorus with an impassioned plea only Ryan Adams can deliver. “Shadows” is a darkly beautiful slow jam which asks questions about the future (perhaps Adams’ future as a singer/songwriter while faced with debilitating Meniere’s Disease?). “Trouble” is yet another rhythm guitar-driven pop/rock classic, one of Adams’ best songs ever, in which he sings, “Sometimes I just got nothing else to say/I’ve been on repeat since yesterday”. I respectfully disagree with this self-assessment of Ryan Adams, if only based on the fact that his ability to reinvent, wear new influences, try new sounds, produce himself and others (check out the great Butch Walker!), and continue being one of the quirkiest, funniest, most relaxed and most eclectic live performer of the year. This record is wonderful. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and each song pieces together an overall emotionally resonent sound that demands repeated listenings if only to glean and re-glean its essence. This is what an ‘album’ is truly all about.

Writing About Place.

My writing instructor lamented the other day about the fact that many of his undergraduate students were averse to writing about Edmonton. Why? Because it doesn’t seem “interesting”, according to students. And it doesn’t feel somehow as ‘authentic’ as writing about New York, Paris or even Canadian cities like Montreal or Vancouver that are older and somehow more mythic than a cold city in the prairies.

Admittedly, I too have been guilty of thinking less of writing about Edmonton than other places. It’s the city I know better than any city in the world including my current city of Vancouver. It’s the city I called home for almost a decade and it’s the city that I adopted as my home base, even though I’m not technically ‘from’ Edmonton. And yet, when I try to write about Edmonton, it never works. It comes across as affected, as if I’m trying too hard to characterize the place I know and love. I think back to Todd Babiak’s The Garneau Block, a novel about Edmonton which does take some liberties with the city’s geography but otherwise paints an accurate picture of the city, its values, and the people in it. Babiak introduces little details to readers to pain that picture: a woman wearing an old Folk Festival t-shirt, for example, and the characters eating at ‘famous’ local hangouts like the Sugar Bowl. For some reason, when a writer like Babiak does these things, they flow smoothly and mostly authentically. In the novel, Edmonton becomes a place that is to be written about. When try to write about Edmonton, the details come across as sketchy and un-interesting. I wonder if this is because of my own familial relationship with Edmonton, the sectors of the city I know and love, or if it is my deficiencies as a writer that prevent me from being able to authentically portray the wonderful city of Edmonton as a real ‘place’ in writing.

It has occurred to me though looking through almost all the fiction I have written, that I have yet to accurately and affectively characterize a specific, or even sometimes a non-specific place. Place to me is a missing piece in my fiction that, perhaps if filled, could add a lush and more realistic backdrop for my characters. I am a character writer and I focus so much on what my characters are doing, saying and thinking, place feels like a boring element to play with and write about. I don’t know how to do it. I have read many books and stories which have accurately and brilliantly made the setting into a secondary character, lurking behind the characters, allowing them and encouraging them and even preventing their motivations. How do I do this? Why do I struggle so much with place more than other story elements? What am I missing?

I’ve lived in Vancouver for almost a year and a half now, and it’s been wonderful. I have absorbed so much of the rich and lovely qualities of this city and having spent a wealth of time exploring and just being in this dense urban area has been a refreshing change from my former home of Edmonton. I have jotted down some notes about Vancouver that have turned into pieces of narrative or short vignettes but they are still not fully fleshed out, underdeveloped and feel still not quite as ‘authentic’ or ‘interesting’ as I would like them to feel. Perhaps they’re a step ahead of my attempts to write Edmonton, and perhaps this is because of me being re-inspired by the place I occupy or perhaps I am steadily becoming a more mature writer.

A part of my New Years resolution will be to aspire to write place. And I would like that place to be Edmonton. And I would like this piece to capture all the authentic and grounded details about Edmonton that allows it to be both a background and a character.

Happiness & Helping Others.

This morning, I drove my guy bestie to the hospital. He’s (hopefully) temporarily blind in one eye after being hit with a hockey ball right in the eye socket. He could barely speak or sit up because he’s in so much pain. I’m currently unemployed and broke as fuck and I have very little going for me. But he called me to pick him up last night, and he was hoping I could drive him to his appointment today. So I did.

This wasn’t a particularly fun experience, nor was it enriching. When someone’s in so much pain breathing is a chore for them and half of their face is swollen into oblivion, it’s not ‘enjoyable’ to help them out. It’s a job. It’s a job to sit with someone in a waiting room, fill out their form for them and deal with their surly silent treatment. And yet, doing so gave me that familiar sense of happiness. Not because I’m a martyr, not because I’m sanctimonious, not because I have some sort of agenda, but because I realized that among a lot of more ‘superficial’ things that make me happy, doing things for the people I care about does somehow make me happy.

When my boyfriend finished his practicum, I went to a party at his friend’s house and everyone was talking about how your teaching practicum is a ‘relationship killer’. I told my boyfriend later that he did really well; what could have been a catastrophically terrible time to really begin a relationship, a time when I would sometimes go a week or more without seeing him, a time when he was inundated with long hard hours of work and I was doing absolutely nothing, save for watching from the sidelines and helping him however I could to get out of the woods, turned into a bonding time for us, and a test of how much I could assert my role as his girlfriend without feeling like a doormat, and how appreciative he would be of my actions and/or how accepting of them he would be. It was during these rough and tumultuous biggest four months of our relationship that we told each other we loved each other, met members of each other’s families, and became a real couple, and a team. A big part of this was me willing to do things like bring him lunch, pick him up and drop him off at school, be accommodating and read over his units and give him advice on how to proceed since this is an experience I lived over half a year ago. Doing so made me happy. I was never happier than when I could help him. Helping him helped us, and it helped me. It was where I found my happiness almost this whole year.

Happiness is this arbitrary term. When thinking of individuals with mental illness, you can be bestowed with all the good things in the whole wide world and still want to not be on this earth anymore. Conversely you can have nothing and be perfectly at peace and blissful with your life. You can be happy one day and unhappy the next. Everything could be going right, and your outlook (my outlook) could just be waiting for things to go wrong. Fortunately, doing something like driving my surly suffering best friend to the hospital and sitting around playing with my phone while they look into his blood-drowned retina can erase any bad feelings I may have been harbouring just beforehand. This confusing and non-linear (I work with ‘linear’ in most aspects of my life) structure of happiness makes me wonder, what exactly does make me happy? Truly happy? Not buy-a-lipstick-and-momentarily-feel-a-rush happy. Helping people is one of them.

Searching and Finding the Definition of ‘Friendship’.

What kinds of behaviors do we expect from our friends?

We expect them at their very best to be kind, supportive, loving, connected and loyal. We expect them to be happy for us when we succeed and comfort us when we are failing. We expect them to be understanding and on our level, or at least, we expect them to attempt to understand. We expect that we can trust them and we expect that we can tell them anything.

At their worst, we expect nothing, really. And when anything other than nothing happens, then everything is satisfactory and status quo.

There are different kinds of people we have in our lives that provide us with different types of satisfaction. In a sense, friendship is heirarchical. Friendship can be linear and chronological but not always. Friendship can be fluid. It can flicker on and off. It can be constellated across the sky. It can burn out. It can wilt. The bottom line is, friends should make you feel good. There should be a thread no matter how short or long, that connects, that should and is willingly followed right to its end point. When there is no longer a thread, or the thread is frayed, or there aren’t good feelings, there isn’t friendship anymore.

I rack my brain for what I can do better, what I did wrong, and how or why things frayed in any and all of my former friendships. I’ve asked myself what made me the kind of person who was at the mercy of bad feelings and disconnected threads. I wonder and wonder and wonder, until I realize I want to excommunicate people. I realize this because I’m asking questions that nobody should have to ask about people they care about. I realize this because I am alone in certain friendships. I realize this because my friends can’t be happy for the good things in my life and they remain mostly un-supportive, unfeeling and uncaring about my milestones and failures.

With this realizations, I think about how to tactfully and respectfully end things with people, or if and how I can. And then I realize something else: I don’t have to excommunicate people. Because these people have already excommunicated me. They haven’t gotten me birthday or Christmas cards, they haven’t visited me, they feign interest in making big plans with me and then make those same plans with others. I have been excommunicated. I have emptied my pockets. For whatever reason, and it’s a reason I don’t know, I’m  the one who has been ostracized. And I don’t care who knows that I know that. I don’t care who feels they ‘won’ by reading this. And you know why? Because I already won.

I won because I realized if I were to craft a definition of friendship, it would be something like the following:

“Friendship is lasting relationships that mean more than any other relationships. Being among real and authentic friends doing anything at all will make you feel fulfilled and joyous just from the pleasure of someone’s company. Friendship gives the ability to be yourself, feel comfortable, confident, loved, supportive and cared for. Friendship is the merging of hearts, even if those hearts are completely different and it is totally unlikely that they ever could or would merge. Friendship is understanding. Friendship is finding joy in tiny moments. Friendship doesn’t have boundaries, and it doesn’t know judgment, and it is beneficial. Beneficial for everyone involved in the relationship.”

I came upon this definition by experiencing recently, real friendships and real relationships that have fulfilled me in all or any of the aforementioned ways. If I was excommunicated from friendships that did not give me this… well, so be it.

The Thing About Falling in Love

Sometimes I like to write personal little quips. I save the MOST personal quips for my own private journals, but despite that I’m sure no one reads this, I like to occasionally scream the little details of my life from the rooftop.

This year I fell in love.

The thing about falling in love is that you think you’re in love before, until you actually fall in love with someone who loves you back and realize all other love you’ve felt pales in comparison. It wasn’t love and it wasn’t real, and it meant very little and that’s why it didn’t last.

The thing about falling in love is how it consumes you so that you care about the person you love more than yourself and what makes you happiest in the world is doing what you’re capable of doing to try and make that person happy. And when you’ve succeeded in doing so, those successes are in reality, almost minute, but they feel infinite and warm and wonderful.

The thing about falling in love is that you develop a keen ability to see inside someone’s soul. They look at you and you might not know exactly what they’re thinking or why, but you can see what they’re feeling and those looks are a thread connecting your head with their heart.

The thing about falling in love is how silly it is, and giddy, and stupid. You laugh and stupid jokes and sit across the table from someone staring into the other person’s sparkly blue eyes and the rest of the world can wait and watch the two of you doing this for however long it takes.

The thing about falling in love is that you can suddenly look at heartbrokenness with nostalgia and wisdom, because you feel like you know something and are connected to something you weren’t back then, and you can honour the memories and feelings and thoughts you had during those times without lamenting or slipping back into a kind of illogical sadness as you once did.

I fell in love this year. I’m so grateful for everything that’s come with that.

I Love You

I Love You

You told me you loved me
in Seattle, Washington just after
midnight. And I told you I loved you back,
just after midnight.

Leaves littered the streets where raindrops
usually lie on their backs, gazing up at stars
that usually aren’t there. But they were on this
night, repeating themselves, a spangled refrain.

I love you! Three words
hold so much power. A
boy pulling a little girl’s braids in class,
your boss curling her sadist lips, announcing
You’re fired!

Rape Culture, Feminism, Women, Men & the Internet.

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The other day, I confessed to my boyfriend that I was concerned when I first met him, that he wouldn’t see me as ‘girlfriend material’ because admittedly, we’d slept together on the first date. I am aware there’s a popular opinion that girls who ‘give it away’ too quickly are seen by some men as “less” than girls who wait. I told him I don’t see it that way: the way I see sexual chemistry is, as a series of moments. And if, in the moment, you are feeling like you want to engage the sexual parts of yourselves, then by all means you should be able to. I told him I was just doing what I felt was right for us and but I still had hoped he wouldn’t see me as someone not to be taken seriously.

He told me this: that men who believe some girls are ‘worth waiting for’ and some aren’t, is a terrible thing for men to say, because it places them in the position of saying that a woman’s worth is measured by him. That, as the man, he gets to decide that some girls have worth to him, and some don’t. He agreed with me: that if you enjoy each other’s company and both people are consenting to be a part of that moment, that moment can and should happen without and judgment.

The reason this meant so much to me is that it reassured me of two things: one, that I had nothing to be ashamed of in terms of adult choices I have made about my own sexuality; and two, that there are really good MEN out there (not BOYS, but MEN) who don’t measure a woman’s worth by their own desires and their own beliefs about how women ‘should’ behave; they simply see people they like or don’t like, as people. This to me, is a very progressive and feminist attitude that I was proud and happy to say my boyfriend possesses.

I know women who are so down on men. They have been burned before by men – countless numbers of times. I have been burned in the cruelest ways possible and I know so many girls who have dealt with the same disrespect. I know girls who have seen the worst in men, had men do things to them that if mentioned, would make your blood run cold. After my first-ever devastating heartbreak I remember just how much I hated men, and I remembered just how much I hated myself in return. Lorena Bobbitt had suddenly become my hero. I believed all men were only after themselves and I never thought I’d hear a man tell me he loved me or witness a man treat me with any ounce of respect. I was done for. Love was dead and if men were going to treat me like shit I was going to treat them, and me, like shit to protect myself. I’m guilty of that. I’m guilty of man-hating. I’m guilty of believing men want a sweet piece of ass and that’s it. And for this, I am deeply sorry.

The internet has exploded so many times this past year – NFL scandals, the plight of Jain Ghomeshi, and several social media accounts such as this one on instagram that publicly shames men who believe women owe them something or else those same women are selfish stuck-up bitches. With all these (VERY justified) portrayals of men in the media, on social media, and spreading like wildfire, it’s easy to forget the underlying message of feminism: that it is NOT about ‘man-hating'; rather, it is about equality. And it is ultimately equality between men and women which will stomp out the Jian Ghomeshis and Stuebenville football players and ‘Felipes’ of the world. Emma Watson’s UN speech so eloquently pointed to this and thus, the short-lived He-for-She movement was born. But as soon as some other incident which prompted the finger pointed at all men once again, that friendlier, purer version of feminism was closed and the man-hating, all-men-are-assholes book of feminism was reopened once again.

Do I believe men are assholes? Yes. I do. I know men in my life who agree that there are fewer ‘good guys’ out there than there are ‘good girls’. And do I believe this is true? Based on my own dating life, my experiences as an abuse survivor, and the experiences of my friends on the dating scene, yes, I do. HOWEVER… is it also possible that women can be awful to men as well, and that the way we treat one another speaks to what else in our 21st century social-emotional world is broken? Open halls of personal communication for example; or how about too many outlets to look deeply into the ‘good parts’ of others’ lives and relationships and feel inadequate, jealous, or worse, unworthy of having the good things our peers, celebrities and politicians have? Or what about the fact that we all carry cell phones so we have excuses as well as easy ways to ignore one another right in our pockets? Technology, 21st century living, and even consumerism and body image portrayals are all contributing to our own fears, inadequacies and/or feelings of entitlement as men and women. The WORLD is not necessarily a great platform on which to place how men and women ‘should’ behave anymore. Society creates rape culture. Both men and women are victims of it. That’s what I believe.

I will admit I’m saying this in part because I have a man in my life who is far from the ‘entitled rapist’ that characterizes 21st century males out there. I will admit I’m saying this because when one is suddenly happy and in love, she sees men differently than she does when she is a spurned lover. But having laid these disclaimers on the table, I will say I’m sick of the negativity surrounding the male gender. I’m sick of the view that all men believe they are ‘owed’ sex because they bother to compliment a woman. Just as I am aware of pickup artists, pickup gangs, high school boys sending snap chats of their naked girlfriends to everyone in their school without considering the consequences, and so on and so forth. These issues are issues, but being positive about where we are going and how we as men and women relate to one another seems more productive than man-hating and man-shaming. Women can be powerful without being bullies. If women can only feel empowered by bullying the opposite sex, are we not contributing just as much to rape culture? Stop it, ladies. Not ALL men are cold-hearted bastards, k?