Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chad Kichula - Killer

Regina singer/songwriter Chad Kichula has been honing his craft over the last few years, releasing two solid albums and an EP of rootsy Springsteen-inspired tunes. In the process, Kichula has played across the country, winning over people one venue at a time. As well, he has managed to get some steady radio airplay south of the border. With his profile growing, Kichula knew it was time to really step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Well, it's safe to say that he delivers the goods with Killer, his third full-length release.

In the past, Kichula found a nice niche with his no-frills, earnest rock tunes with the odd ballad thrown in. However, with Killer, he has thrown out the rule book and shook up his sonic palette. In the process, he has decided to let loose and have some fun with some of the songs. While he has always been a strong songwriter, Kichula has really developed an uncanny knack for writing some damn catchy melodies. The end result is a wonderfully conceived album in the classic sense of the word. It's obvious that plenty of thought went into the sequencing of the songs, where the ten tracks would fit perfectly on two sides of an LP.

The album kicks off with the menacing title track, which is constructed around a hypnotic, pulsating bassline, courtesy of Philip Legrand. As well, guitarist and coproducer Matt Kaip rips off a really cool, fuzzed-out guitar solo. The pace then abruptly picks up with the bouncy, ska-inflected "Still Around." Up next is the chugging rocker "Over Me," which features Kichula's rich, raspy baritone, and the wistful country ballad "Miner Road." "Miner's Road" features some beautiful violin, courtesy of Suzanne Pavrovsky, along with some smooth harmony vocals from Sheenah Ko. Keeping with the LP motif, Side A ends with the spare, acoustic folk of "Mothers Cry."

Side B kicks off with the album's standout track, "Bar Fly." This is an immediately infectious ska tune and features backing vocals from Thomas Roussin of the nancy ray-guns. This song is so much fun that I bet it could even make Bill O'Reilly or an English guard smile. Local CJTR radio personality (and all around nice guy) Redbeard has described this song as a "guilty pleasure" type of song. Well, I don't feel one ounce of guilt for liking this song... and neither do the people that shake their butts to it at O'Hanlon's and The Exchange during Kichula's shows. After the sugar rush of "Bar Fly," the album switches gears with the country ballad "King of Despair," which is a really nice reworking of a song from his first album. Here, Kichula steps out of his vocal comfort zone, singing with a soft falsetto at times. The album finishes strong with the uptempo country of "Listening," the country-rock of "Few Dollars More" and the waltzy, folk ballad "Miles and Miles."

At ten songs and only 35 minutes, the album leaves you wanting more, which is definitely a wise move... all Killer, no filler. Chad Kichula has definitely arrived.

You can get your hands on the album on January 15, when Chad will be playing at The Gaslight Saloon for his official CD Release Party. It'll definitely be money well spent. See ya there!

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Interview with The Villain Avian Symphony’s Denyss McKnight

A while back I got to thinking that I need to write an article or do an interview on a genre that I am not as familiar with. I have written a lot about rock’n’roll, some punk, some country and a lot of pop, but virtually no metal.

So I decided to that I needed to interview someone with a fresh new project… baby fresh. It had to be someone in the metal scene. If I reviewed someone from this vast genre it may come off uneducated or even ignorant based on my lack on knowledge on the subject. The way I see it, what better way to familiarize myself with a genre that I am not as familiar with, than to do an interview?

I was fortunate enough that the first person I thought of was more than happy to let me pick his brain.

Denyss McKnight has played in various notable bands in the Vancouver area. Some of these bands are artists such as hardcore act Until We Have Faces, the monochrome glam-punks the Black Halos and industrial/cyberpunk band Left Spine Down.

I first ran across Denyss at a show here in Regina while he was playing with one of his previous bands. He instantly caught my eye and I knew there was something really special about this man. Last year I got to know Denyss better when he came through with another band. I enjoy talking music with someone who obviously has a lot of experience and diverse interests when it comes to his craft. One can learn a lot from him.

Without further ado here is an interview with my friend of The Villain Avian Symphony, Denyss McKnight.

SPUN: Do you remember what first sparked your passion for music? Did you grow up in a musical family?

DM: Ever since I’ve had any kind of sentient thought I’ve been a musician. I was playing two-handed scales before I could even properly ride a bike. My parents are still in a band and are a constant source of encouragement. Not that they ever really understood what I was into, I believe at one point they even confiscated my Nine Inch Nails and Slayer records. They couldn’t turn me onto Stevie Ray Vaughn to save their lives, but they did get me into Muddy Waters in a big way. So, go them.

SPUN: How would you describe your band’s sound to someone who hadn’t heard the music before?

DM: I can’t remember who, but someone described us as “metal songs written by punks who are way too into hardcore with a bunch of electronics on top of it.” I think I’m going to stick with that as far as general description.

SPUN: What is your local metal scene like and how are metal bands received in Vancouver in general?

DM: We are really blessed right now in Vancouver as far as the metal scene. There really isn’t any separation in the sub-cultures anymore. So much genre crossing has left everyone knowing each other and going to each other’s shows and just growing at a rapid pace. Vancouver is starting to become a metal city again. Devin Townsend’s solo show sold out beyond capacity. Over 300 showed up to a local metal festival. Production companies are putting on shows regularly and getting their numbers in. GOOD bands are starting up and playing out as often as they can. I could list off at least 15 bands that I see at every opportunity.

SPUN: There is a lot of metal bands out there. Why should someone come see your band?

DM: I don’t think it’s self-deprecating to say I often ask myself that question. Maybe that’s why I try to keep it interesting and as genuine as possible. This band is all about guts and effect. We’re not nearly as skilled as half of the bands out there so we make up for it in sincerity. Not saying that more well- crafted bands don’t have that quality either, but I think there really is something vicious and visceral about the VAS. There, that was almost alliteration.

SPUN: The name The Villain Avian Symphony really intrigues me. What was the thought process when naming the band and/or what inspired you in terms of the name?

DM: In reference to myself obsession with ravens and crows. Simple as that. Symphony in reference to well, I never actually thought that this would ever be a live band so I just laid down track after track after track etc. Making the wall of sound. Now, I have a new challenge.

No process, it just came to me before I went to sleep one night. I woke up and went “Fuck yeah” over my coffee.

The acronym sounds tough. Like a gang or an organized crime syndicate.

SPUN: I read in your Beatroute article that there will be a revolving door of band members? Tell me about this. Do you think that this will complicate the writing process or even planning tours and such?

DM: I really wish I hadn’t of made that comment truthfully. At the time I said it the intent was only ever to do a few shows here and there while everyone was in town. After rehearsals started I felt more and more like it was something I was actually into doing on at least a semi regular basis and I need a band to do that. So I’ve been headhunting people down and the process is actually quite easy. I found a drummer instantly and I’ve been speaking to a ton of guitarists who are interested in doing it. Picking the right people to work with will be hard, there are so many factors at play as far as what we want out of band-mates. I would like this thing to actually, pardon the pun, take flight.

SPUN: Where do you draw inspiration from?

DM: Everything really. Sometimes things just hit me the right way and I suddenly have a new take and perspective on them. The first batch of songs were written during a really…difficult period of my life so it’s a lot of internal struggle and reconciled notions were worked through during the process. Fear, depression and anger were at the forefront of my world for a solid year and it took a while to really pull out of it. Lyrically I can afford to be a little more free now that I’m not so inwardly turned. I have an elaborate belief structure as far as my politics, spirituality and personal stances, but I try to stay away from them as much as possible in order to not be pigeonholed as a “political hardcore” band or an “insert religion here” metal band. Some days I need to use a fictional character to get my idea across, some days I don’t mind displaying something of myself in order to really squeeze the intent out of the song. I draw inspiration from being alive and all that comes with it. Is that a cop-out answer?

SPUN: Has being in a wide variety of bands been beneficial to the new project? If so what did you learn from past projects?

DM: Oh bloody hell yes. Mostly? I’ve learned not to put the brakes on something because it doesn’t fit into the mold. I’ve never once scrapped an idea because it’s “too poppy” or “not VAS enough”. When I think back on how many songs I’ve written were shot down because they didn’t fit the appropriate pattern, it makes my nose bleed.

I learned how to be professional when it’s called for, how to let loose and be an asshole when it’s needed and mostly to be able to compromise while holding fast to your idea.

SPUN: What are The Villain Avian Symphony's plans for the upcoming new year?

DM: We are talking about recording at the moment, we have an EP that’s being mixed but that was only the efforts of myself and Justin and Shane(of 3 Inches of Blood). Now that I’ve got a band coming together, I’m more focused on actually writing as a unit. Telford(bass) and I have been writing a lot and working out some of my pre-written material. Offers have come in for shows and tours as far as Montreal so that’s something I’d like to look into when I feel that we’ve really nailed down what we’re doing and have a good chemistry on stage.

SPUN: What is your fondest career highlight so far? Anything you are itching to do that you haven't done yet?

DM: I’ve had the chance to meet, exchange ideas and share the stage with so many amazing musicians that I couldn’t even nail down one. I’ve been really fortunate to have done the things that I’ve done at my age and I’m really grateful for every opportunity I’ve had. I’ve accomplished more than I ever set out to do, so at this point I’m at a point where I’m kind of like, “Fuck it, let’s do it again!”.

SPUN: What has been your biggest challenge been? Have you been able to overcome that challenge?

DM: My biggest challenge so far has been learning to incorporate the live electronics into the set. The whole thing used to mystify me and I had to learn to do it efficiently and flawlessly. It’s more work than I thought it was going to be but now that the first show has come and gone without a single glitch, I feel that I’ve overcome it yes. My next challenge is being the best frontman I can be. That will just have to come with time and experience.

SPUN: Are there any plans for an upcoming full-length album or other releases? Videos?

DM: Full length, definitely. I’ve already named it, now it’s just a matter of writing it. I have dozens of half finished songs in the vault but when the time comes to actually put something out, I hope we have the chance to work with someone who actually understands what we’re doing and helps us really define our sound. I don’t have much in the way of artistic integrity but I do know what I want from this band and I would like to see it achieved. As far as videos? I couldn’t even tell you what I would look for visually. That’s Telford’s department.

SPUN: Where are your best crowds after countless tours to different countries/cities?

DM: Spain and Germany know how to throw down when it counts. You can’t fool the Germans, they know what they want and they’ll tell you if you didn’t deliver. Spaniards are just so…intense and open. But really, in the end, I love my homeland and my countrymen. The True North, Strong and Free.

Now for some general interest questions for Denyss McKnight:

SPUN: If you weren't a musician, what profession do you think you would have taken up?

DM: I’ve been delving into that as I get a bit older. I’m noticing things that I excel at and I hope I have the chance one day to explore them a bit more fully. At the moment I’m actually filling out applications to culinary institutes. Go figure.

SPUN: What bands and albums have you been listening to lately?

DM: I’ve really gone back into my hardcore days as of late. I’m spinning a lot of Converge, Curl Up and Die, Botch, old Zao, Shai Hulud etc. For the past year or so I’ve been really into Gallows. To me they’re the perfect marriage(or divorce depending on how you look at it) of hardcore, rock & roll and traditional punk rock.

To get ideas for electronic elements I’m still really digging on Meat Beat Manifesto and Clint Mansel. I would love it if I had people to throw me new music that they thought was cool. Or that they thought I would think is cool. My friends from Belgium Psy’Aviah always put me in a good mood and when I’m slightly enraged, there’s this great French project called Jabberwock that does the job.

SPUN: What's the most embarrassing record in your collection?

DM: Depends on your view of embarrassing. I listen to Neil Diamond and George Jones unabashedly. I really like Justin Timberlake. I even own records by My Chemical Romance.

I have all of my old Fat Wreckchords stuff in my iTunes.

I’m generally always shy about having my own records in my collection…?

SPUN: What was the first record you ever bought and do you still own it?

DM:> First record as an actual musical lover? Like, first cassette I ever bought with my own money? Pennywise ‘About Time’. And yes, I still do have it and revisit it from time to time.

If anyone says it’s not a good surf punk record, they’re obviously trying to be more punk rock than you. Poser.

Visit them on Myspace:
Visit them on Facebook:!/pages/The-Villain-Avian-Symphony/139932226032617

Cheers Rockers

Photo courtesy of Agata Majda

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kent Rocks' Top 15 Albums of 2010

So it’s that time of year again, the end of it. I posted a ‘best of’ last year and decided to do so again this year. I could make the list that Rolling Stone or Spin would make as those lists ‘look’ correct but rather I am again going to give you MY best of list for this year. Some of the artists I will mention you may be quite familiar with, while others maybe not so much.

2010 had many a great live show put on by local artists here in Regina. The Hot Blood Bombers, Rah Rah, Library Voices, JJ Voss, Chad Kichula, The Bystanders, The Dustin Ritter Band and Rye n' The Vats are all acts that all blew audiences away. My favourite however was country/roots singer/songwriter Cam Wensel and his band Black Drink Crier.

I, like my co-blogger here at SPUN JJ Ramone also feel that live records, reissues and EP’s while had a great many spins in the cd player feel should be left off the main list. It would be incomplete not to mention them however. Here are some of the highlights of the year..

Best Live Record: The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights

Best Music Film or Biopic: The Runaways.
Now I know it was completely based around Cherie Currie’s book ‘Neon Angel’ and thus the film focuses largely on the relationship between Cherie and Joan Jett. This is okay with me as though my eyes I see the Runaways as the Cherie and Joan band. Lita hit her stride as a solo artist later in her career.

Best EP: Vancouver Alt Rock band Red Vienna’s self titled release was perfect and addicting. Honorable mention goes to Regina’s own Bystanders with a brilliant EP as well.

Best Show: Grady. A Canadian self proclaimed cow metal outfit based out of Austin TX. Honorable mention goes to Motley Crue, Airbourne, Arkells & Huron, Lustkillers and Nashville Super Pussy & Civet.

As with any other year, there are rotten eggs or disappointments. Albums I looked forward to but was incredibly disappointed with are:

The Goo Goo Dolls – ‘Rest Of Us’
Hole – ‘Nobody’s Daughter’
The Hold Steady ‘Heaven Is Whenever’

And without any further ado here is my Top 15 of 2010

15. American Hi-Fi – Fight the Frequency
14. Airbourne – No Guts, No Glory
13. Gin Blossoms – No Chocolate Cake
12. Dustin Ritter Band – Dead Airwaves
11. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devils Tattoo

10. John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

After years of being a rock star Mellencamp says he has made the most American folk record he ever has. It was recorded with a 1955 Ampex portable recording machine while musicians gathered around the mic as a nod to the old school. It was recorded in mono to boot. Highlights include "Thinking About You," "No One Cares About Me" and "No Better Than This."

09. Black Keys – Brothers

A great psychedelic blues rock record done by the guitar-and-drum duo Black Keys. Brothers is a chill out listen kind of record that still really rocks. Highlights include "Next Girl," "Tighten Up" and "Everlasting Light."

08. American Bang – American Bang

Strutting hard out of Nashville TN these rockers put out a classic rock record that sounds like Buckcherry and Black Crowes spawned a love child. Highlights include "Whiskey Walk," "Wild and Young" and "Hurts Like Hell."

07. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

Justin Townes Earle has a voice that sort of resembles his fathers slightly but other than that, if you are looking for another Steve Earle record… keep looking. Justin Townes offers a more traditionalist style country crooner rather than his father’s singer/songwriter alt-country. Harlem River Blues stands on its own and flows better than his last record. JTE is really maturing. Highlights include "Ain't Waitin'," "Rogers Park" and "Slippin' and Slidin'."

06. Against Me! – White Crosses

White Crosses is a high energy pop-rock record that has a huge sound. I refuse to call this a punk rock record but you can definitely hear the punk rock influence. I am willing to say I like ‘White Crosses’ better than ‘New Wave’… there, I said it! Highlights include "Rapid Decompression," "Spanish Moss" and "High Pressure Low."

05. Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social – Love it to Life

Jesse Malin decided to switch from Adeline Records (Green Day) to Side One Dummy Records (Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly) and make a raw, loose fast record. He did that, and did it well. I still like ‘07’s ‘Glitter In The Gutter’ better but ‘Love it to Life’ is still worthy of its spot on this years list. Highlights include "Burning The Bridge," “All the Way from Moscow" and "Black Boombox."

04. Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

American Slang was a hit for me from the moment heard the opening to the title track on the radio… yes radio. Weird hey? It’s more of a Gaslight Anthem record than ‘The ’59 Sound’ was, which was more a tribute to influences and even more than ‘Sink or Swim’ which was a “Let’s throw it all against the wall and see what sticks”. The Gaslight Anthem finally seem comfortable being the Gaslight Anthem. I don’t know they will ever shake the Springsteen comparison… but it could be far worse like Fall Out Bore or some shit. Highlights include "Stay Lucky," "Boxer" and "Orphans."

03. Huron – Huron

Some days this quartet from Hamilton ON could take the number one spot. I was pleasantly surprised when I witnessed this band open for the Arkells this year. A riff rock band that sounds like you melded the Odd’s, Blue Rodeo and some really good pot. Did I mention the Gretsch, SG and Telecaster guitars blended with pedal steel and distortion... interested yet? Highlights include "Chicken Wing," "Living and Dead" and "Could Not Understand."

02. Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

To me every Butch Walker record is brilliant. He never disappoints and seems to get better and better the more he ages. The man writes great songs period. ‘I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart’ has a healthy mix of songs and is quite exquisite. Highlights include “Don’t You Think Someone Should Take You Home," “Trash Day" and” She Likes Hair Bands."

01. The Biters EP’s – Self Titled & “It’s Ok to Like Biters”

This is an exception to the no EP rule for my list. Instead of putting out one full length record for their debut, the Biters have put out two stunning 5 song EP’s. The end of March the band released the first self titled EP and followed it up with another called “It’s Ok to Like Biters”. This quartet are good-time rock’n’roll revivalists that touch heavily on bubble gum pop and 70’s glam. This is my kind of music. Highlights include "Hang Around," "Melody For Lovers" and "Beat Me Baby."

I really hope Amanda Marshall and the Ripperz put out the records I expected to hear this year. Also I am really excited for Civet’s ‘Love and War’ and Social Distortion’s ‘Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes’ both due out January 18 as well as Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols upcoming release.

I'm saying my prayers at night that bands I wish to see in the new year come through such as Vancouver’s ‘Red Vienna’ and Toronto’s ‘Darlings of Chelsea’ as well as ‘Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols’.

Cheers Rockers

Monday, December 6, 2010

JJ Ramone's Top 25 Albums of 2010

Well folks, it's that time of year again. I can't believe December has already arrived, but here we are. Are you as sick of crappy holiday mall music as I am? Does Jessica Simpson REALLY need to release a Christmas album? At any rate, the year is almost over and now everyone's "best of" lists are starting to trickle out. So this is your humble scribe's favourite 25 albums of the year. I've been doing this for a few years now and I must say that this has to be one of the best and deepest years in music in a long, long time. I don't ever recall a year where I've bought (yes, bought... imagine that!) so many albums. It just seemed like every week there was at least one or two albums that caught my attention. And there are plenty albums that I still have to pick up at some point.

Internationally, the world has been dominated by the aural atrocities of Biebermania, Black Eyed Peas and Ke$ha. (And if I hear one more fricking song that uses autotune I am going to snap. Just because Cher thought it was a good idea in 1998 doesn't mean it's a good idea in 2010!) However, as is always the case, there are lots of amazing bands and artists out there... if you decide to look a little harder for good music instead of willingly being force-fed the next autotuned flavour of the month. Most of these great bands just happen to be from Canada... and some might even be playing at your local pub or bar.

I think it's safe to say that 2010 has been an incredible year for Canadian bands. This year saw fantastic albums by the likes of Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Stars, The New Pornographers, Sarah Harmer, Great Lake Swimmers, Zeus, Wolf Parade, Plants and Animals, Hannah Georgas... well, you get the idea. I remember when I was growing up that it was almost embarrassing to say that you liked a Canadian band. Well, things have definitely changed. Nowadays, the Great White North has a bottomless well of talented bands and artists. I think we are definitely in the Golden Age of Canadian music. This ain't the land of Anne Murray and Gino Vanelli anymore. Although I do think Kish and Harem Scarem were ahead of their time. ;-)

In terms of local Regina bands, the year was dominated by Library Voices and Rah Rah. Both put out amazing indie albums that can stand side-by-side any band in the world... and both have a plethora of rave reviews across the country to prove it. Rah Rah also got some steady rotation of their video for "Henry"on MuchMusic... during those rare times when MuchMusic actually plays music videos, that is.

While these two bands got the most press, lots of other bands have released albums and EPs, got radio play and/or put on some kick-ass live shows. So I'd just like to give a big shout-out to The Bystanders, Chad Kichula, JJ Voss, The Dustin Ritter Band, The League of One, The Rabid Whole, Black Drink Crier, Dan Silljer, Dangerous Cheese, The Real Canadian Threetles, Wonderland, Sonic Orchid, Melissa Mannett, Kerri Senkow, Into Eternity, Lest We Fail, Dirtbred, Cherrybomb, Hot Blood Bombers, Amy Nelson, Carli's Angels, Rye n' the Vats, SheKillsMe, etc etc etc. This list is just the tip of the iceberg, so don't ever say there's nothing to do in Regina!

For my list, I only included studio albums released this year. So no best-of's or live albums. There are so many other great albums that could have easily cracked the list on any other given day. As well, there were also some classic reissues that I have listened to a lot: Iggy and The Stooges' Raw Power, R.E.M.'s Fables of The Reconstruction, The Rolling Stones' Exile On Mainstreet, and Weezer's Pinkerton, to name a few. As well, I still have to pick up that impressive Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town deluxe boxed set. So much music out there but so little time... and money.

So without further ado, here my Top 25 Albums of 2010... just in time for you to do your Xmas shopping. Enjoy.

25. Semi Precious Weapons - Semi Precious Weapons
24. Zeus - Say Us
23. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
22. Vampire Weekend - Contra
21. Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From
20. M.I.A. - MAYA
19. Rah Rah - Breaking Hearts
18. Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle
17. Jesse Malin & The St. Marks Social - Love It To Life
16. Sleigh Bells - Treats
15. Robyn - Body Talk
14. Hollerado - Record In A Bag
13. The Black Keys - Brothers
12. Grinderman - Grinderman 2
11. Sarah Harmer - Oh Little Fire

10. The National - High Violet

If you want a fun, uplifting album then avoid this album like the plague. However, if you want the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day, getting dumped, or the morning after, then this album is perfect for you. Brooding never sounded so good. Highlights include ""Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Terrible Love," and the sublime "Runaway."

9. Against Me! - White Crosses

I am a huge sucker for melody and big, crunching choruses and this band has them in spades. This is perfect music to run to. These former anarchist punks have delivered a stunning followup to New Wave, again with help from producer Butch Vig. I was fortunate to see these guys at the Riddell Centre and was really impressed... lots of energy, great vocals, and a genuine sense that they were having fun... although I did feel a little old. Highlights include "High Pressure Low," "Teenage Anarchist," "Suffocation" and the Springsteen-esque "Because of the Shame."

8. Jenny and Johnny - We're Having Fun Now

Jenny Lewis has to be my favourite female singer right now. After her inward-looking Acid Tongue, Lewis has teamed up with her longtime boyfriend Johnathan Rice to release a rollicking collection of songs. The lyrics still contain Lewis' acerbic wit and bite, but the songs are sugarcoated with sunny California harmonies to help ease the sting a bit. Highlights include "Big Wave," "Scissor Runner" and album closer "Committed."

7. Library Voices - Denim On Denim

Regina's own Library Voices deliver a near perfect collection of "pop" songs... in the classic Beatles, XTC, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads sense of the word. This is a band that is becoming legendary for their live show. However, the reason they have developed such a rabid following is because because their songs are so damn good and catchy. In a perfect world, songs like "Haunt This House," "Drinking Games," "Bookish,"and "Bodies of Fiction" would be as huge as Biebermania.

6. Pete Yorn - Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn just made his best album since his classic debut Music For The Morning After. With producer Frank Black at the helm, Yorn has released his most loose and fun set of tunes. There are some definite nods to the Pixies here, but this is still definitely a Pete Yorn album... albeit more of an amped up, garage rock version of Yorn. Highlights include "The Chase," "Rock Crowd" and "Precious Stone."

5. The New Pornographers - Together

On their fifth album, this Canadian "supergroup" find a happy balance between their recent mellow Challengers album, and the super charged power pop that they're famous for. Carl "A.C." Neuman's British Invasion-esque songs + Neko Case and Kathryn Calder's dreamy vocals = power pop heaven. And if that's not enough, former Reginan (and formerly of Age of Electric/Limblifter) Kurt Dahle holds down the fort with his rocksteady drumming. Highlights include " Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," "Crash Years," and "Moves."

4. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

It's amazing how an album can grow on you over time. I was initially really disappointed with The Gaslight Anthem's third album, largely because my expectations were so high after The '59 Sound. Some critics slag them off as merely being revivalists and rehashing Springsteen and The Clash, but I am willing to forgive them since they bring the goods with killer songs. It's pretty hard to be original nowadays with a guitar-bass-drums setup so you may as well emulate the best. Highlights include "Stay Lucky," "Boxer," "Bring It On" and "The Spirit of Jazz."

3. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

After surviving internal tension, solo albums and seeing several of their satellite band members see success in their other "day jobs" (Metric, Feist, Stars, Jason Collett, Apostle of Hustle, etc), Kevin Drew and company have put together their best batch of tunes, keeping their self-indulgence to a minimum. This album is a total experience from start to finish. Highlights include "All To All," "Forced To Love," "Sentimental X's," and "Texico Bitches."

2. Stars - The Five Ghosts

This album has definitely received mixed reviews, but I have pretty much listened to this album nonstop since I first picked it up in June. This album is a bit more surface-level than these indie dream-poppers classic Set Yourself On Fire, but I think this stands up to Stars' best work. The focus this time around is on the electro-pop of their early records instead of the chamber pop of their last two albums. I would argue that the opening 1-2-3-4 punch of "Dead Hearts," "Wasted Daylight," "I Died So I Could Haunt You" and "Fixed" is the best string of songs on any album this year.

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

This is probably the "No shit, Sherlock" pick of the year and no doubt it'll wind up in the top 5 lists of Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Spin, ChartAttack, NME, etc, but there is just no denying how utterly incredible this album is. After the somewhat disappointing Neon Bible, Montreal's Arcade Fire deliver an undisputed masterpiece. This album may not zap you right from the first listen, but give it a bit of time and you'll be hooked. I am seriously kicking myself for not making the trek to Saskatoon for the concert because I heard it was transcendent. Highlights include "Ready To Start," "Empty Room," "Month of May" and "The Suburbs." However, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is hands down the best song of the year. Who knew Win Butler could write a Blondie song?

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Well, there you have it kids. It has definitely been a helluva year for music. Like I mentioned earlier, there are tons of albums I never had the chance to pick up so this list is only the tip of the iceberg for great music that was released this year. I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree with my picks. The fun thing about music is debating lists like these. If I were to draft up this list next week, I am positive it would be quite different. Even though I do have impeccable tastes, they are just MY tastes. :-)