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HIGH ROTATION 2011 – My best o’ the year mix

5 Feb

It’s 2012! Time to take stock of the past year and determine which artists and bands contributed most to my love of music and my optimism for future tunes. Though 2012 is upon us, I’m still tying up loose ends from 2011. I managed to get my High Rotation done in time for Christmas but I’m a bit late with posting it online. I actually had two versions this year, which I try never to do, but I ran out of listening time and made V1 too quickly. Of course then I end up regretting taking specific tracks off, and putting other tracks on, but that’s another story.

It always happens this way. In December I’m met with a deluge of tracks/albums/mixtapes to sift through because all the “Best of” lists come out and I don’t want to miss anything important. But I always do. Case and point: Pretty Lights and Phantogram had great albums in 2010 and I didn’t know till recently! Gah!

Nevermind. It irritates me when other people are full of regrets so I won’t indulge in this too much. Suffice it to say that I’m happy to know what I know when I know about it.

For those who aren’t aware, my High Rotation is a tracklist containing a selection of my highest-played songs that squeaks in just under 80 mins. Keep in mind these are my fave tracks of the year. For fave albums, see below “Top Ten Albums of 2011.”

I like to make this mix each year for two reasons: 1.) I can’t stand when people say there’s no new, good music anymore. There is! So much more than you or I will ever know. 2.) I love to listen to and talk about music, so if I spread this love via the Internet or CD, then we will have even more to bond over!

So let’s get started.

Here are the Top Ten Albums of 2011 – According to me:

(And yes, they are in a specific order)

Note: The Artists’ name links to their web page; the album name links to their album on iTunes, if available.

1.) Austra Feel it Break (Deluxe Edition)

In a word: Supernatural

Perfect for: Transcending time and space inside your head. Elevating life’s simple doldrums to the ranks of gods and superheroes. Lightning bolts! Thunder clouds! Crashing waves! Life cannot be boring set to this otherworldly, epic score.  The Deluxe Version includes the most beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying that I’ve ever heard, and this is coming from a huge fan of Mullholland Drive. Best of the year for sure.

2.) M83 Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

In a word: Creative

Perfect for: Coming up with new ideas. Put this on while making things and you’ll be quite surprised at what you turn out. Listen to Raconte-moi une histoire and try not to create something new and interesting. I dare you! The entire album vibrates with a high, fevered emotional pitch. Oh, and Midnight City is the best song of 2011 — full stop.


In a word: Party

Perfect for: Shakin’ alla whatcha got. I went to Burning Man in 2011 and was totally overwhelmed by the massive amount of electronic music I took in all day, every day, for seven days straight. I would get on and off the various art cars, grinning from ear to ear, but still wishing for something a little different in terms of music. If SBTRKT had an art car there, I would’ve never gotten off.

4.) Pretty Lights I Know the Truth (single)

In a word: Confident

Perfect for: Getting. Shit. Done. Whether it’s asking for something you want, telling some crazy bitch to eff off, sticking up for yourself at work, or thoughtfully articulating your boundaries to a friend — put this track on and you will have no fear. Or better yet, “no mercy.”

5.) Kurt Vile Smoke Ring for my Halo

In a word: Affection

Perfect for: Sitting alone, thinking about the people you love and why you love them: their idiosyncratic tics; the way their eyes crinkle at the corners when they smile; their pitch of their voice that is totally distinctive; the way they look when the sun hits their face. Put this on and think about who you love, and why. Then tell them.

6.) Bon Iver Bon Iver

In a word: Relaxation

Perfect for: Clearing the cobwebs outta your brain, or visiting the spa inside your mind. It feels like recumbent relaxation with cucumbers on your eyes while a lovely person gives you a foot massage. Self-pampering at it’s finest.

7.) Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues

In two words: Growth and reflection

Perfect for: Pondering your unique place in the world. Reaching a new level of self-awareness. Getting older and realizing this eternal struggle comes with the priceless gift of inner wisdom. Ah!

8.) The Weeknd – House of Balloons

In a word: Sensual

Perfect for: Seeking out sensory pleasures when you know they’re bad for you. Sort of like a random hook-up with an ex, or staying out too late when you know you have stuff to do the next day. You’ll pay, but dammit it was fun at the time.

9.) Elite Gymnastics Ruin

In a word: Daydream

Perfect for: Zoning out on cars or buses, watching the world whiz by while your thoughts float back and forth. Or dancing by yourself at 4 am after everybody’s left the party, staring at your sparkly toenail polish and wondering how it all got to be so complicated.

10.) Mexicans with Guns Ceremony

In a word: Progress

Perfect for: Taking disparate things and meshing them together to create something new and brilliant. Also perfect for reneging on past statements like, “I don’t listen to dubstep.” When I say something like this out loud I usually end up taking it back soon after. Thank goodness!

Also check out this guy’s crazy/disturbing videos based on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Some seriously twisted stuff.

In four words: GO BUY THESE PLEEZ!

To conclude, here’s mixtape of Smalltown DJs’ best tracks of 2011. Suuuper good beats up in herr, and a host of new songs for me to obsess over! I’m loving Don’t Move by Phantogram.

Also, this nguzunguzu mix tape is soooooooooooo goooood:

It’s gonna be a good year.

First two photos taken by Kate Semrau; second photo edited by me, featuring Steph Bowen.


COACHELLA 2011: Best New Discoveries – Foals, Sleigh Bells, Trentemoller

11 May

Here are my favourite newly discovered bands from the festival:


Sleigh Bells


To conclude my Coachella 2011 coverage, I’ll leave you with this remix of Ellie Goulding’s Under the Sheets that serves as the opening track on a Coachella mixtape I picked up by Las Vegas DJ Silent John.

Thanks SJ! Also, thanks to all the hard-working Coachella organizers! Hope to see you next year.

COACHELLA 2011: Rock or Die of Envy – Death from Above 1979

25 Apr

When DFA fans read the announcement of the Coachella 2011 lineup, the first words out of our mouths likely were: ”Holy shit, Death from Above 1979 have reunited. Who’s coming to Coachella??!”

The Toronto dance-punk duo consists of Jesse F. Keeler (of MSTRKRFT fame) and Sebastien Grainger (of sexiness fame). DFA broke up in ‘06, but announced a reunion in 2011 (!!!). The most significant thing you need to know about this band is that dudes play just bass, synth and drums – no guitar.

And they rock so hard.

During Going Steady, Cold War and Black History Month, my friends and I were thrashing around with the best of them, and were clearly enjoying ourselves. So much so that a guy cutting back through the crowd took one look at us and said, “Go up there.”

So we moved forward, pushing our way through the crowd towards… well, we didn’t know.

But we found a kickass punk-rock pit going on!

Due to my recent musical tastes veering more towards the indie rock, shoegaze, chillwave and electronic genres, I don’t see mosh pits very often anymore. But this brought me back to my punk-adoring days of the ‘90s. Everyone was standing around in a circle giving the pit a wide berth, and those inside were shoving and thrashing with giant grins and reckless energy. The pit doesn’t discriminate — both guys and girls were in there (including our badass friend with a BROKEN ARM!) showing us how the pit spreads love, not hate. Everyone had an amazing time.

Then, everyone around me lost their shit during the screaming climax of Romantic Rights. Sebastien was wailing on the drums with his shirt off, exposing his adorably bad tattoos. I liked how they set up his drum kit to face the audience sideways so we had a better view of his sexy body. Both members of DFA are sexy, actually. Let’s not forget Jesse — hot. Anyway, everyone was  shouting out the words and going nuts with arms and legs akimbo.

It was dirty. It was sweaty. It was loud. It was exhausting. It made me feel like I’d drank 1,000 Red Bulls.

It was just the way a festival set should be.

Click the links to view the full set list here and download music by Death From Above 1979.

First photo courtesy of; all other photos by me. 

COACHELLA 2011: Techno Queens and Kings – Ratatat

25 Apr


New York’s Ratatat are an awesome live act. Their instrumental-only style works surprisingly well in a live setting because they play live guitar, bass and drums — all while showcasing their large-scale silhouettes on top of a bright display.

Also, they’ve nailed the delicate art of how to match a multimedia display with the tempo and sentiment of their music.

The visuals were really freaking cool.

Case and point:

The guys, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast, both have long scraggly hair and penchant for over-the-top rockstar antics. Note these look awesome when silhouetted atop their twisted visuals. Ratatat played their video for Mirando during that song, which worked well on the big screen with its brilliantly (and cryptically) edited bits of Predator. At the end of Wildcat, they both wailed on two drums all primitive-like while everyone went nuts in the audience.

Both Mirando and Wildcat also had people dropping some saucy dance moves, reminding us that notwithstanding their great driving/daydreaming music, Ratatat is fucking good at making dance music.

Then, during Drugs, the audience was treated to a phantasmagoria of creepier-than-life stock photography. The images were  were projected onto transparent screens that had bright lights in behind, and were layered with giant shadows of the band members.

Oh, and the characters they’ve created for their videos! You should have seen the lovely smiling black woman hula’ing during the set’s closer Seventeen Years (my personal fave). The live version of that song delivered a thousandfold. Everyone had arms in the air and was jumping with the beat. I don’t think I’ve seen a more amped-up crowd at an instrumental show.

And it made my pre-Kanye wait that much easier.

Download Ratatat’s music here.

Top photo courtesy of; all other photos by me.

COACHELLA 2011: Techno Queens and Kings – Yelle

25 Apr

Yelle! Yelle? You mean Yellay? No! YELLE!!

So much energy. So much enthusiasm. So much Yelle. Her high-pitched vocals popped in perfect sync with everyone’s hyperactive neck-shoulder twists. This is club-kid, European synthpop at its finest.

Yelle, the band’s frontwoman and namesake (orig. Julie Budet) was prowling and leaping across the stage in a hot pink cheetah-print hooded onesie. She has that lithe, fairy figure that French women so easily embody. And this paired with her peppy athleticism worked perfectly to create her slinky cat creature.

When the band first took the stage, Yelle was dressed in a ghillie suit, and her bandmates were decked out in safari hats and jackets building on themes from Safari Disco Club (see video below).  Then the guys started wailing on drums in unison, and they had the rigid appearance of Ken dolls displaced from the savannah. They looked like plain-clothes members of the Blue Man Group moving their arms like machines! It was rad.

Yelle busted out all their best stuff: Je Veux Te Voir, Que veux-tu, Safari Disco Club and Comme un Enfant – the latter delivered with such force that the entire crowd, all the way to the back, was jumping as high as they could with their arms in the air while the sunset streamed into the tent.

It was like we were one organism – one dance club pop virus – taking over the polo field, and the sun was giving us her blessing.

“Go see Yelle.”

Download Yelle’s music here.

First photo courtesy of; middle photo courtesy of; last photo by me.

COACHELLA 2011: Techno Queens and Kings – Robyn

25 Apr

“Don’t F*****g Tell Me What to Do!”

Robyn should have played the main stage. Her set was way too powerful for the Mojave tent. But that’s not the way it went. Whatever. Robyn! I’ve waited so long to hang with her!

A giant Swedish flag obstructed my view of the athletic pop princess for a large part of her show, so I didn’t get many photos. I’ve had to rely on You Tube clips to get a better glimpse of what she was wearing. But what I could see was this glowing body jumping and fist-pumping in time with the music like a militant aerobics instructor. She was a human firework set against giant pinwheels lazily spinning with the breeze.

The woman is a dance-pop machine. A regular fembot!

My friends and I were giggling before the show about how if we were friends with Robyn, then we could hang with her wherever she went, and we would all wear spandex, and we would obviously all fall in love. And after seeing her live, all I could think was that if I did hang with her, I’d be freakin’ buff!

Fantasies aside, nothing beat dancing my arse off to Robyn with my five girl friends. Fembots: dance setting!

She threw down everything we wanted to hear and more. Hang With Me, Indestructible, Don’t F*****g Tell Me What To Do, Bad Gal, Fembot, and even With Every Heartbeat, from her excellent 2005 self-titled album. Each song was delivered with soaring emotion and impressive vocal power. With all these hits, it’s easy to see how the woman owned 2010 with her Body Talk series. Each album is a synthpop tour de force.

Robyn’s commanding energy paired with a maniacal light show and throbbing techno beats made it an unforgettable dance-music experience. I would absolutely love to see her in a stadium setting.

Check out this crowd!

When the throbbing synth beats of Dancing On My Own started up, a roar emitted from the crowd.  Everyone was singing along to every word and hip-thrusting to every beat. And when the chorus started up, right behind me I heard a chorus of deep male voices shout: “Yeah I know it’s stupid. Just gotta see it for myself. I’m in the corner. Watching you kiss her. Oooooh!”  And when I turned around, I saw a bunch of frat boys, eyes closed, with their arms hung around each other’s shoulders. It was hilarious!


So in short: If I were to F*****g tell the Coachella organizers what to do, it would have been to get Robyn on the main stage before The Arcade Fire, goddammit.

Download Robyn’s music here.

First photo courtesy of; middle photo by me; last photo courtesy of

COACHELLA 2011: FACT – The Strokes are a great band

25 Apr

I must admit I missed the first half of The Strokes’ show due to a jumping + backpack on the ground + portable-mandarin-oranges-in-sticky-syrup incident at Ratatat. So while feverishly cleaning my belongings and the inside of my bag, I unfortunately wasted part of their show.

But so it goes with music festivals.

From what I saw, NYC’s The Strokes were an excellent live act. Front man Julian Casablancas’s scratchy vocals were pitch perfect, as were the poppy guitar riffs this band is so well-known for. Casablancas’ voice in particular sounded fantastic as he moved easily between throaty, testosterone-induced yells (Take it or Leave It) to melancholy crooning (Under Control).  People were dancing and swaying as far back as I could see.

And the rest of the band brought it too. For anyone who may have forgotten, The Strokes have come out with some unforgettable hits. When they played Reptilia, the audience devoured it and everyone went temporarily insane. I actually feel as though my limbs went crazy from so much past time spent playing Rock Band. Because of that I know all the words! I’ve shouted that song out so many times and to do it with a zillion other people at Coachella while hopping and air-guitaring all over the place was possibly the closest thing to a natural high that I felt all weekend.

Then they played another signature track: Last Night – and the insanity and air-guitaring continued. What fantastic songs! Fucking brilliant live.

As a whole, The Strokes were the perfect band to get everyone revved up before Kanye. I will say that Casablancas was dressed rather douchey sporting a shiny trucker hat, shaggy hair and annoying sunglasses, but he was easily forgiven.

And The Strokes were easily one of the top three acts I saw the festival. Definitely try to catch them if you can.

Click the links to view the entire set list and download The Strokes’ music.

First photo courtesy of; second photo by me.