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Thursday, May 17, 2012
It’s roughly one month now before the first ballot for Canada’s Polaris Prize produces its Long List of the 40 best records of the year. As of today, here are my picks for the top ten Canadian records of the past 12 months.

It’s roughly one month now before the first ballot for Canada’s Polaris Prize produces its Long List of the 40 best records of the year. Every round since its founding in 2006, this process has led to intense, mostly uncomfortable debate and decision-making among the pool of as many as 220 jurors, all of whom will cast ballots with their five weighted choices. Indeed, right about now, all across the country, people are taking sides, lobbying and cajoling, and dismissing and decrying.


Moreover, all over Canada, people are listening as hard as they can to as much as they can, trying to give a fair shake to all of the 120-plus records that have been variously suggested by members of the jury (on a private listserve) as albums worth paying attention to. As tasks go, it’s a daunting one, but it’s one of those “daunting tasks you’d pay to have to suffer through”, so who’s complaining? Not me. Though I will cop to a certain kind of ethical crisis every year when I fill out those five spots since, inevitably, I am leaving off another dozen or more albums that easily could have made it. It’s painful, but the kind of painful you want to share with friends over a beer. Like a real life desert island album game.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
From the basement dust bins come the sound and fury of the flatlands! Sounds Affects takes a look at ten outstanding obscure punk 45s from the American Midwest.

Top Ten lists, like the ragged handwritten label of an old school mixtape, should never be considered an end-all or a final declaration. They are a weight station in a single person’s life, an aural index of a person’s sense of place, time, and culture. This list of lost punk singles/7” records from the American Midwest is not about a “best of” concept, it is about the rare, sometimes seminal gems that remained tucked away from most consumers because they were made in small batches. Having growing up and attended schools and gigs in the Illinois flatland region, I consider this list like a shout-out to nearby mavericks and marginal rockers that produced fare worth revisiting.


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Wednesday, May 9, 2012
With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here we've compiled a list of 15 albums that are often times overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Now is the time when retrospective “Best of” lists are popping up trying to summarize the standout albums of the 1990s, which helped in defining the decade. Unfortunately, there are so many deserving LPs that are often underrated by critics and overlooked by many in compiling these lists. For every album by Beck inducted into the “Best of the 90s” canon, deserving records by the Lemonheads and Belly are tossed aside. Moreover, for every obvious choice by a well-established artist, more subtlety brilliant follow-ups are considered superfluous and therefore overlooked. Listed below, ordered by release date, is a collection of albums that are too often underrated and overlooked as the best albums of the ‘90s.


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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Career suicide albums fall into two camps: Those that were released ahead of their time, and those that set new standards in awful. The best thing that could be said about the later category is that these albums are oftentimes just as fascinating as an artist’s best work.

Career suicide albums fall into two camps: Those that were released ahead of their time, and those that set new standards in awful. The best thing that could be said about the later category is that these albums are oftentimes just as fascinating as an artist’s best work.


In most cases in this list, the artist not only endured the backlash received after the album’s release, but went on to release some of their best work. In other cases, the public finally came around to not only accepting these records but ranking them amongst the best LPs of the decade.


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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012
We lost a true musical treasure last week with the passing of Levon Helm of the Band. As a tribute, here are 10 of his group's best songs.

Throat cancer claimed a true musical icon last week. Levon Helm was one of the last of a kind, a multi-faceted musical talent who was also was generally present for the founding of rock and roll. Before achieving fame as part of the Band, Helm grew up in rural Arkansas, where he absorbed many of the southern, cultural idiosyncrasies that would influence both his songwriting and musical maturation. He was there to witness the genre’s forefathers: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He took up the drums, then guitar and mandolin, and soon was off traveling the globe as part of rockabilly rebel Ronnie Hawkins’s band. It was there he met Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel, solidifying a musical partnership that would lead them to back Bob Dylan during his most controversial period as a performer (though the constant booing sent Helm home early), but that would also allow them to further explore the rustic histories of past musical traditions, constantly fiddling with the formula until a unique sound of their own was honed and perfected.


The Band made seven albums in its heyday, ranging from spectacular knockouts to tolerable mixed bags. When the classic lineup went its separate ways after The Last Waltz concert in 1976, Helm dabbled in acting and played with reunion lineups, but continued to make magic from a musical perspective, starting a series of Midnight Rambles at his Woodstock home that played host to some of the better known names of the rock community while also cementing Helm’s legacy as a musical patriarch and also one heck of a nice guy.


As the heartfelt tributes to Helm continue to pour in—with everyone from old collaborators Dylan, Robertson, Hudson, and Larry Campbell to the keepers of the flame he inspired like Patterson Hood, Jeff Tweedy, and Taylor Goldsmith offering their memories, condolences, and tributes—here is a tribute of our own:  the impossibly hard-to-pin down ten most essential tracks by Helm’s own, the Band.


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