10.
Holy Fire
Foals

Foal’s third LP opens with “Prelude,” a four-minute track thrumming with energy and pent-up rage. Most are familiar with the demons that haunt lead singer Yannis Philippakis and it’s clear that the anxiety that coloured Antidotes and Total Life Forever are even more prominent in the songwriting and instrumentation of this album. Holy Fire is therefore not a record for relaxing, but rather for screaming and breaking shit to (e.g. “Inhaler”). Anthemic jams like “My Number” are as fun to belt out alone in your room as they are at one of their raucous shows.

The rest of the album also sounds fantastic live, which I was happy to discover at the Kool Haus last May. It was a pleasant surprise to find that fans were not shy of moshing or crowd surfing and I had a terrific time throwing my weight around to tracks like “Milk and Black Spiders” and “Providence.” That is, until a girl’s flailing arm knocked my glasses off. For a few seconds, I anxiously tried to locate them myself before the entire pit stopped moshing and someone shone their SLR camera’s flash to help me find them. My frames had to be realigned and now sport a few unsightly scratches, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of hearing this fantastic record in person for anything (including unscathed frames).
– Tomi Milos

9.
Reflektor
Arcade Fire

When I look back on the growth of the Montreal-based band from Funeral released back in 2004, all the way to The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, I do so with a smile on my face because they consistently retain a distinctly Canadian sound for the whole world to hear. And when they announced Reflektor, their success meant that the stakes were higher than ever before. Reflektor had to deliver.

Thankfully, Arcade Fire has done it again. The songs are edgy, experimental, but still preserve the strong musicality that has made the band so critically and commercially acclaimed. The title track in particular represents an ambitious and unique rhythmic experience and features Haitian percussionists. Tracks continue to stay strong, moving and attractive with “We Exist,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” and “Afterlife.”

There’s something special about Reflektor – something beyond the intelligent chord changes and punchy choruses. There’s an intangible element, an intricate, but thoughtful and accessible musical quality that underscores Arcade Fire as not only one of the best Canadian bands, but as the artists behind one of the best albums of the year.
– Michael Gallagher

8.
Overgrown
James Blake

With increased confidence in his production and vocal abilities compared to his previous works, James Blake is able to place more emphasis on his expressive croon and engage listeners into a unique, one-of-a-kind experience. Overgrown’s continuously shifted textures and nuances support broad and repeated emotional phrases that pull at as many heartstrings as possible.

Whether you connect more with the admission of being flawed from “Voyeur,” the subtle sexiness of “Retrograde,” or any other emotion conveyed on the album, the only sure thing about the experience is that you will feel something as a result of Blake’s lyrics and instrumentals. You may not be able to put it into words, due to Blake’s production offering multiple interpretations in each short track, but you will realize that these different emotional possibilities result in what seems to be a completely new listening experience with each play-through.

Overgrown can somehow be reflective, sad, sexy, positive and energetic all at the same time, and will continue to grow in stature and promise for repeated listens.
– Shane Madill

7.
Shaking the Habitual
The Knife

This is 96 minutes of being uncomfortable. Even if discussion — or rather blunt and direct statements — about conventionally controversial topics, such as feminist and queer theory, environmentalism and structuralism, or injustice and corruption, do not affect you, then there is still the continuous drone and screech of bastardized samples underneath ear-piercingly high vocals to provoke a reaction.

Shaking the Habitual draws the listener in like a good horror movie and refuses to let go. The softer midpoints of the album provide momentary release and hope for comfort before it is snatched away, often with progressive buildup rather than with sudden stimulus.

Shaking the Habitual is fearless in this endeavour, and is not recommended for casual listening in the slightest. This is brutal and awkward art that continues to push the boundaries of what is thought possible in conventional electronic music. It is something that you may not even want to finish, but are compelled to for a seemingly inexplicable reason. Deep and impactful art tends to be uncomfortable to admire, and this is no exception.
– Shane Madill

6.
Beyoncé
Beyoncé

“I’m a grown woman,” Beyoncé asserts on the album’s funky West African-inspired bonus track, “I Can Do Whatever I Want.” Beyoncé’s fifth album adheres to her proclamation of self-empowerment. Beyoncé is a musical, visual, and commercial tour de force. The album was released without any prior announcement or promotion. Each song is accompanied by a stunningly aesthetic video. Sonically, Beyoncé defies conventional pop formulas and encompasses a wide range of sounds.

The album is more experimental in sound than Beyoncé’s previous solo efforts. Seemingly dissonant soundscapes are seamlessly woven together. Her vocal style shifts radically from one song to the next, but it never feels forced. Many of the album’s sounds are not new; Beyoncé has borrowed musical elements from her contemporaries. The falsetto, breathy vocals on “No Angel” are reminiscent of Ciara’s sensual ballad, “Promise.” The sultry, soulful slow jam, “Rocket” is an obvious nod to the funkified sex songs of D’Angelo.  But these elements  are imbued with a poise and virtuosity that is distinctively Bey. Or rather, distinctively Yoncé.

Yoncé is an alter-ego that we haven’t met before; she is lusty, sexual, and confident. On “Jealous,” Beyoncé exposes her fragility. She is home alone, drunk and naked, waiting for her man to come home, when suddenly Yoncé appears. Yoncé doesn’t sulk. She throws her freakum dress on and hypes herself up: “I look damn good, I ain’t lost it,” she declares. On the surface, this line references her impeccable postpartum physique, however it is representative of much more.

Beyoncé refuses to conform to societal expectations of maternity. While she acknowledges the beauty of motherhood on “Blue,” she informs us throughout the album that this one identity does not preclude her others. Beyoncé is a full-fledged woman: fierce, brave, sexual, vulnerable, anxious.

When Beyoncé dropped on Dec. 13, the Internet exploded. Twitter and Facebook feeds wouldn’t look the same for weeks. When Queen Bey speaks, people listen. Especially when her message is as bold, creative, and effortless as it is on Beyoncé.

Bow down, bitches. The album is ***Flawless.
– Josh Spring

 Check back next week for numbers 5-1!

 

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