Canadian artists are all over the internet's many best-of 2012 lists. Grimes is everywhere, as is Neil Young. Leonard Cohen, Stars, Crystal Castles, Mac DeMarco and Purity Ring have all appeared on a number of year-end lists. Rock music is where Canada really shines. Three Canadian albums appear in our top five of 2012.
1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
Vancouver’s Japandroids have been on tour non-stop for what seems like years, and that may be why their recordings have the intensity of a sweaty live show. Celebration Rock is eight songs (OK, that one cover is weird) of fist-pumping anthems with infectious “Whoa-oh-oh-oh” refrains. It’s as though the album was intended as the soundtrack for a life-changing evening, like graduation night or the time you burned down that fireworks factory.
We spoke to Japandroids singer/guitarist Brian King earlier this month about the band’s favourite musical discoveries and experiences in 2012. Read the Q&A below the rest of the top five list.
Watch “The House That Heaven Built” from Japandroids' Celebration Rock:
2. Tame Impala, Lonerism
Lonerism is the second album from Australian producer Kevin Parker’s psych-pop project. I was going to try to describe this album without using the word “swirling,” but I don’t think I can because it has the best swirling! Everything is swirling! Keyboards, guitars, vocals — all swirling! Lonerism is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a perfect album to listen to in solitude with a large pair of headphones to cut yourself off from the world and discover all the sonic Easter eggs hidden among its psychedelic textures. Also, there’s so much swirling.
Watch “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” from Tame Impala's Lonerism:
3. METZ, METZ
When history’s first crotchety old man yelled “Turn down that racket!” he was talking about METZ — he just didn’t know it yet. The stripped-down Toronto trio’s debut album hits hard from the opening drums on “Headache” and doesn’t stop for half an hour. While they make a big sound, it’s not just a drone. Well placed feedback and noise provide dynamics and texture. It’s the kind of album you put on in the car, then find yourself repeatedly shushing your passenger and telling them, “You gotta hear this part.” METZ is relentlessly fun and before you know it, it’s over.
Watch “Wet Blanket” from METZ's METZ:
4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
With nine members, the newly reformed GY!BE has about as many musicians as all the other artists on the list combined. Allelujah is their first album in a decade and it’s pure evil. It’s monster music. It’s only four tracks — two of which are 20 minutes long — and they’re all epic journeys with narratives featuring false starts and preambles, dissonant curiosities, slow swells and orchestrated crescendos that rise and fall over and over. It’s tantric. Ew, sorry.
LISTENListen to “Mladic” from Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!.
5. Jack White, Blunderbuss
In an industry obsessed with youth, Jack White is an inspiration to every 30-something artist who hasn’t yet caught a break. He’s a singer-songwriter who released his critically acclaimed debut album at the ripe old age of 37. OK, I thought it would be fun to write up this album as though I had no knowledge of White’s earlier work. And it almost was. Well, Blunderbuss is a fantastic collection of three-minute rock songs recorded with a rotating cast of virtuosos. We hoped it would be great, and it is.
Watch “I'm Shakin'” from Jack White's Blunderbuss:
Q&A: Japandroids singer/guitarist Brian King
What are your favourite albums of 2012?
It’s funny. That’s the question we’re beginning to get asked quite a bit and to be perfectly honest with you, it’s actually really hard to answer because we’ve been on tour for so much of the year — like pretty much touring straight since South by Southwest back in March. And when you’re on tour as much as we are, you just live in this bubble where you’re just closed off from the outside world in so many ways. So to tell you the truth, we have barely listened to any records that actually came out this year.
We’ll go to a record store on a day off on tour, and we’ll buy records that were on, like, “Best of 2010” lists or “Best of 2011” lists. And we’re like, “I’ve been hearing about this record for so long. Let’s get this one.” That’s just the touring bubble for better or worse.
One record that’s consistently on every list is the new record by Kendrick Lamar, and Dave [Prowse] and I were talking about this last night, and that’s one record that we got this year that we were like, “All right, everyone’s talking about this record. We have to listen to it.” And it is actually pretty damn amazing. So there’s one record that came out this year that gets the Japandroids seal of approval.
You’re known for your relentless touring. When was your last true day off?
We haven’t had one since the start of the year, really, because a day off from playing shows on tour is far from a day off. Even when we had a few days off, between tours earlier in the year, we might have a few days off at home, we fill that up with stuff to do for the band. You might get home on Monday and leave again on Friday, and you spend Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday fixing all your equipment and just stocking up to go again.
I don’t know exactly what day it is, December something, but Dave and I, and our tour manager Melissa, we’re all from Vancouver and we left Vancouver on August 7th and we haven’t been home since. Today is only our second day back in Canada after all that time.
It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a day off, but that’s not to say I’m complaining about it. We’re extremely fortunate, and if anything the reason we don’t have a day off is because Dave and I don’t like taking days off when we have all these opportunities presented to us.
What has been your favourite experience of 2012?
Two immediately come to mind. Number one, playing Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona in the spring. We played this year. We played it previously in 2010 on the Post-Nothing tour. That’s Dave and I both, hands down our favourite thing to play ever in the history of the band. And we had the privilege of playing it for the second time this year. Anytime that happens, it’s always one of the highlights of the year.
The second thing that comes to mind is we got to hang out with Elvis Costello in Japan. He was playing Fuji Rock, the same festival we were playing, and somehow or another his tour manager ended up in our dressing room backstage.
And 20 seconds later, Elvis Costello just strolls in our dressing room, sits down on the couch like he owns the place and just starts talking to us for like an hour. Just chit-chatting, telling us stories, talking tour, talking secrets of the road. It was amazing. For people like us, it’s impossible to be totally starstruck by someone like that and yet he just turns out to be a totally normal, down-to-earth, wonderfully nice man who, just given who he is, could be the total opposite. It was great. It was just great. It totally exceeded our expectations of what meeting someone like that would be like.
We talked everything from vocal warmup to nerdy gear stuff to different venues and different customs in different countries for playing shows. We were talking about Raw Power, the Stooges record, for 20 minutes, about how great it is. You know, totally nerdy musician stuff but stuff that Dave and I would talk to each other about, and all of a sudden you’re sitting on a couch with Elvis Costello talking about it.
What are your plans for 2013?
Well, Dave and I are short-term planners. That’s the way we run the band and that’s always the way we run the band. So we’re gonna be touring into next year, all the way to March. And then, after that I have no idea. I imagine we’ll probably try and do a bunch of festivals in the spring. Most of the year is totally open.
Japandroids 5 favourite records of the past 20 years
Frank Ocean to Japandroids: how to talk about the year in music
on Dec 17, 2012