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Hurrah! It’s 2013! And I look forward to the music releases in store this year.

2012 in music for me was one mostly filled with surprises. I went out on a whim more than usual to listen to new artists. I tried keeping most of my pop guilty pleasures out of this list, as I’m more concerned about musical experiences than catchy tunes. Even though I thought Rihanna’s Unapologetic was a great mix of theatrical and radio-friendly catchiness, there is no denying her methodical strategy of releasing albums full of single-worthy songs once a year. I denounce that as abused mechanism in the pop music industry just to keep artists relevant and on the radio. I also loved Christina Aguilera’s Lotus, but such pop confection can only be seen as just that. I would compare it to a delicious meal from McDonald’s.

Here goes.

10. Glad Rag Doll – Diana Krall 

Diana Krall - Glad Rag Doll PhotoshootIt’s no secret to many of my friends that I love my jazz. I have been a fan of Diana Krall for only a short time, but I consider Quiet Nights to be one of my favourite albums of all time, ever. That being said, I never kept up with her studio efforts. So I was more than delighted to see Glad Rag Doll on the iTunes store. This album contains covers of 20s and 30s songs I’ve never heard of. To sum up my feelings towards Glad Rag Doll… I look for a certain sense of familiarity when it comes to the jazz genre. This album is no reinvention of anything. It was exactly as I expected it to be with a few delightful surprises thrown in. Glad Rag Doll showcases Krall’s warmer side. While I am not familiar with her discography, I know her well enough to say that much of her singing carries a cold edge to it. This is not to say that I dislike cold music, but it’s always nice to hear warm singing accompanying a warm production. And beautiful piano playing from Krall, as always.

My three favourite tracks are “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye“, “Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain“, and “Glad Rag Doll“,

Sidenote, Diana Krall will be performing in Calgary sometime in February. Except I had no idea tickets were so expensive! I love you Diana, but I’m a student and I’m poor. I torrented your album as it is. I can’t afford that shit.

9. Push and Shove  – No Doubt

Push and Shove broke a hiatus for No Doubt that lasted 11 years. Like the last artist I covered, I am not particularly familiar with No Doubt’s discography. However, I was one of the few that enjoyed the lead single Settle Down (after the tenth listen or so lol) and, being a fan of dancehall and Diplo, was crazy for Push and Shove (the second single, and the most musically adventurous song on the album). Sonically, this album is back-to-basics. No Doubt’s familiar sound of ska-pop and rock carefully blends dancehall and reggae without sounding too contemporary. For being an album 11 years in the making, it  has everything – anthems, weird songs (Stand and Deliver?), pop songs with the well-known No Doubt formula, and glossy ballads. Unless you loathe No Doubt, it’s hard to hate an album so accessible and easy to listen to. Many of the songs actually remind me of Gwen Stefani’s breezy music from her solo efforts. To sum up my opinion, this album is a clever comeback. These guys know they are no longer the young pop stars they once were. Consider listening to Push and Shove as an experience of music veterans coming back to do what they do best.

My three favourite tracks are “One More Summer“, “Push and Shove“, and “Dreaming the Same Dream“.

8. Elysium – Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys - Elysium alternate artwork

Pet Shop Boys couldn’t have timed a new album any better for me. Elysium consists strictly of mid-tempo songs that never become euphoric or exciting pop confections that PSB are probably best known for. Released right as I was going back to school, I was caught up in the production – not too overdramatic, but consistently good and catchy. The tracks have an odd structure to it – PSB bounces back between moody atmospheres to dancefloor anthems to oddball tracks (Ego Music). The unexpected moments of this album are perhaps what I enjoyed the most. Being a fan of another artist who is slammed for their age, I found the bitchy wit in Your Early Stuff hilarious. Ego Music is very strange, laden with spoken segments that are true of self-obsessed pop stars to say. The production on Elysium soars – it just never reaches the sky. I’m glad this album was consistently surprising, funny, and sonically inviting.

My three favourite tracks are “Ego Music“, “Hold On“, and “Reqiuem in Denim and Leopardskin” (what does the motorcycle revving at the end of this song implicate?)

7. MDNA – Madonna

Madonna - MDNA album artwork photoshoot

Yeah… so I regard myself as someone who listens to good music (who doesn’t think of themselves like that?) and I also said at the start that I would avoid contemporary pop music additions to this list… but when was the last time you heard a Madonna song on the radio? “Not since 4 Minutes” would be a good guess… and that was 2008. I would hardly consider her to be popular, at least to my circle of friends, and most people write her off as too old to be doing what she’s doing. Which is great, because that means I get her to myself! MDNA is her latest studio offering, the first in four years since the disappointing, cold, and glaringly ugly Hard Candy. This album happens to be cold too – Madonna seems to ignore her declining status in the pop universe along with her age rather than tackle these issues. If one pays attention to the songs on MDNA, they would discover an overwhelming amount of precision to the production. With a few exceptions, this album is fine-tuned to cold, glossy perfection. I just so happen to like my music cold sometimes. Since 2008, she has had her persona copied cut-and-paste by Lady Gaga (I don’t care to start a war with any “Little Monster”…as far as I’m concerned, most of her fanbase is the antithesis of the messages Gaga preaches), and undergone a divorce. MDNA addresses some of these issues – the pain from her divorce in Love Spent and I Fucked Up (a song that should not have been a bonus track as it’s one of the warmest songs Madonna has sung in the past 20 years) is a welcome change from her usual “fuck you and your new girlfriend” attitude. Overall, MDNA is one of my favourite Madonna albums. I look forward to a more mature effort next time though… hopefully she will be inspired by whatever it was that helped her with Ray of Light?

My three favourite tracks are “Love Spent“, “Gang Bang“, and “I’m Addicted“.

6. Synthetica – Metric

Metric - Synthetica album artwork

The album artwork is beautiful, and so is the record itself. The opening track, Artificial Nocturne, is suspenseful, gritty, exciting, pulsating, catchy, intense… I could go on. I was floored when I heard that song. I was equally delighted to see the rest of the album carries out the same vein – beautiful arrangements, overwhelming hooks and choruses, and hypnotically entrancing vocals from Emily Haines. I’d go so far as to say the success of the album is mainly due to her singing. Beautiful, yet spooky. It was able to slice my heart open one minute and lift me the next. I have nothing but praise for the entire album. I was able to listen to it repeatedly for at least a month. If I have one complaint… it would be the guest singer on The Wanderlust. I don’t know who he is, but he doesn’t belong in the track. I anticipate their next album very eagerly.

My three favourite tracks include “Artificial Nocturne” (go listen to it now!), “Youth Without Youth“, and “Lost Kitten“.

5. Sun – Cat Power

Cat Power - Sun album artwork

Listening to Sun is almost a therapeutic experience to me. I feel uplifted, rejuvenated, and happy after a complete listen. It’s notably personal too – Chan Marshall wrote, produced, and recorded all the songs. I don’t know too much detail about her personal life, but it’s to my knowledge that the past six years for her have not been easy. It’s nice that Sun is a warm addition to her discography. The album artwork sums up the tracks perfectly – beautiful, low-key, warm, and the bridge that connects despair to the rainbow at the end of the road. The electro elements of the album are tasteful (even the pointless use of auto-tune on “3,6,9” oddly manages to not feel out of place). Perhaps the best moment of Sun is at the end – Nothin’ But Time is an 11-minute song that always manages to soothe some of my insecurities upon listen.

My three favourite tracks are “Ruin“, “3,6,9“, and “Nothin’ But Time

4. Here – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Here album artwork

You either love this band, or you hate them. I’ve yet to find someone who feels indifference. Their theory may not sound plausible at all in this day and age – 11 hippy folk singers blending indie rock, psychedelia, and folk. They sing songs that make me feel like I live in an idyllic Southern countryside with care-free, pot smoking neighbours. Truth is, I don’t know much about the genre, nor do I know much of anything about their influences – so I guess I don’t have much to say to make my review of Here sound intelligent. I guess I’m just a huge fan of their sound. The album isn’t very long. Only nine tracks – but it’s perfect. I’m sure I’d be bored if it were any longer. I suppose Here is the sound that evokes a type of world I romanticize living in.

My three favourite tracks are “Man on Fire“, “Dear Believer“, and “Mayla“.

3. Little Broken Hearts – Norah Jones

Norah Jones - album artwork for Little Broken Hearts

What is Little Broken Hearts? It’s theatrical, dramatic, gritty, and ultimately, an intense break-up album. But what style! I don’t care much for break-up albums unless they are eccentric in some way. What’s interesting about this album is that it almost plays out like a story. If I were to imagine these songs turned into a film, it would play out like a gritty noir. The segment people would discuss about most while watching would be the part that plays out the song “Miriam”. Who knows who Miriam may be, or if she actually exists, but you’d better hope you aren’t her. The song is sad, but creepy, liberating, and devastating.  Looking into the heart of someone so emotionally crippled by love that they’d actually contemplate murder is both disturbing and exhilarating. Most of the album seems to come across as a liberation. Perhaps Norah Jones needed the theatrics to fully overcome a bad break-up? Either way, I’m a huge fan. A very rewarding listen. albeit depressing and disturbing at times. It’s to my knowledge this album did not sell well at all – this isn’t the Norah everyone knows and loves – but I hope this does not discourage her from treading down a dramatic yet completely honest path in the future. There is no mystery in any of the lyrics. The frankness of some of her growling (“I’m gonna smile when I take your life”) is overwhelmingly powerful.

My three favourite tracks are “Miriam“, “Out on the Road“, and “Good Morning“.

2. Channel Orange – Frank Ocean

Photoshopped artwork containing a blog post published on Frank Ocean's tumblr

Truth be told, the only reason I checked out Channel Orange was because I was stoked that an artist making music in a sonically progressive, yet pitifully conservative genre outed himself as a bisexual just before his album release. To me, that is a very bold and brave move. I can’t imagine what a gamble that would amount to be if you were a rising artist. Listening to Channel Orange though, I don’t even care about Frank Ocean’s sexuality (nobody else should either); the music speaks for itself. This is a love album – but it’s the sort of love that everyone can connect to, no matter the sexuality. Channel Orange means, to me, an output of overwhelming emotions. It’s a release of language people speak only when they’re in love – hard to understand and analyze, yet so easy to relate to. The songs burst with entrancing storytelling, sly and slinky production, and visceral expression. There is only one track that could be considered dancefloor worthy – Pyramids – but it’s a ten-minute song that can’t help itself from switching styles every few minutes. Perhaps the laid back, melancholy mood of Channel Orange may be too much of a drag for some, but for those with patience, letting these songs resonate is wonderful. I still don’t really have many coherent opinions about Channel Orange… it’s mature, it’s deep, and it speaks a language everyone knows – love and longing. If you can immerse yourself into the album, you will understand why many consider this to be the best album of 2012. Hearing the PlayStation 1 booting up during the intro was an instant rush of nostalgia for me, and it made me a fan instantly. I’m glad I’ve listened to this album multiple times.

My three favourite tracks are “Sweet Life“, “Pyramids“, and “Bad Religion“.

If you would like to read the blog post on his tumblr describing the ordeal, you may do so by visiting this URL: http://frankocean.tumblr.com/image/26473798723

1. Gossamer – Passion Pit

Passion-Pits-latest-Album-GossamerGossamer is the snake that tells you to take a hearty bite out of that delicious looking apple. The album is so inviting and so catchy that if you weren’t paying close attention, you’d probably not even notice the album touches on issues such as depression, suicide, divorce, and financial woes. The production is elegant, precise, and sugary. For an album with such stark and gloomy substance, it’s shocking that the finished product is sonically bright, playful, and beautiful. The reason why this album is allocated number 1 for me is because I find it so intriguing that such topics are explored in a pop album that initially sounds like top-40 nonsense. It would be awesome if more pop artists were in tune to this… that you can be emotionally honest behind a catchy, breezy pop instrumental. Well, maybe perhaps it’s not always possible, but Gossamer makes it look so effortless. I listen to the songs on this album often, and I still don’t feel confident I am aware of every issue addressed. Gossamer contains many dark secrets, but they’re hidden behind such stylish exteriors.

Oh, and they’re coming to The Gateway soon! Stoked!

My three favourite tracks are “Where We Belong“, “Hideaway“, and “On My Way“.

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