Three Tracks: 2019

Three tracks that satisfied my ears in 2019.

Sharon Van Etten, “No One’s Easy to Love”

True. “Don’t look down, my dear, don’t be surprised […] Don’t look back, my dear, just say you tried.” Bonus points for striking perhaps the most musically interesting note of the year: the second note of the second “love” in each chorus’s “No one’s easy to love.”

Apple Music · Spotify

Vampire Weekend, “This Life”

Song of the summer. “I’ve been cheating through this life and all its suffering / Oh Christ, am I good for nothing?”

Apple Music · Spotify

Patrick Watson, “Here Comes the River”

Pathos for a difficult year. “Well Mary kept sewing / Holding on to her TV / Even if the water was rising past her knees.” I believe this is the only one of my yearly “Fall” playlists (all songs I’ve gathered in the last few years are here on Apple Music) to make it to this list so far.

Apple Music · Spotify

Honourable Mentions

“Terminal Paradise” (Apple Music, Spotify), or pretty much anything from either of their two great 2020 albums, by Big Thief. “Venice Bitch” (Apple Music, Spotify) Lana Del Rey. “Sisyphus” (Apple Music, Spotify), Andrew Bird.


I listen to a lot of jazz, but I’m not knowledgeable enough and my listening is not sufficiently comprehensive to produce any kind of narrowed best-of list. I put some of my favourite albums into a Recent Jazz playlist on Apple Music.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2018

Three tracks that defined my year in 2018.

Low, “Always Trying to Work It Out”

Hard to pick a track from my favourite album of the year, but this is a standout. “Everybody says that the war is over / It isn’t something you forget so easily.” Can’t wait to see them live in March. I hadn’t seen the video until I put together this post.

Jon Hopkins, “Singularity”

The wait was worth it. Moves in a melodic/rhythmic way that seems unique to him. Great live, as well.

Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

Women seem to be making the best rock music these days. “Hooo-oo, woo-oo-oo oooo-oo, whooo-ao-oo waaa-yyy-yooo, ya-aa-yoo i-yoooo; oo-ii-yaaaaaaaa, i-yaaaaaaa, aa, aa i-yaaa-yoo, oo-waaa-aa-aa.” Best lyric of the year, makes me tear up every time I hear her wail this.

Honourable Mentions

Snail Mail, Stick (“What is it about them / They stick around”); Thom Yorke, Suspirium (“Is the darkness ours to take? Bathed in lightness, Bathed in heat”).

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.

Three Tracks: 2017

Three tracks that defined my year in 2017.

Big Thief, “Shark Smile”

Ah, the sound of this track makes me move, makes me tear up. This is my music. “And she said woo, baby, take me. And I said woo, baby, take me too.”

The live performance on KCRW is worth checking out, though the mix is poor.

Kelly Lee Owens, “8”

Epiphany jetting up into the sunrise south out of Whitehorse. “See it, oh.” The video below is the whole album, which is great; the individual track is available on Bandcamp.

Aldous Harding, “Horizon”

“Say again, this place.”

The live performance on KEXP is worth watching.

Honourable Mentions

I didn’t realize until I was done choosing that they’re all female artists. Some of the other candidates were perhaps too obvious, and not because they’re mostly men: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by the National; “I Ain’t the One” by Spoon (saw an incredible live performance of this song in September at Malkin Bowl); “Soak” by Zola Jesus; “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2016

Three tracks that defined my year in 2016 (I’m late again this year):

David Bowie, “Lazarus”

A brilliant swan song. “This way or no way / You know I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird / Now, ain’t that just like me?”

Radiohead, “Present Tense”

Another year, another breakup. It’s difficult to pick just one song from A Moon Shaped Pool. I wrote back when In Rainbows was released that I couldn’t think of another band which, ten years after its acknowledged masterpiece (OK Computer), came out with something arguably comparable. Well, here we are another nine years later and they’ve done it again. “This dance is like a weapon of self-defence against the present tense.”

Daughter, “How”

I struggled to choose a third song for 2016. But this one struck me initially and powerfully in concert.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2015

Better late that even later. Three tracks that defined my year in 2015:

Beach House, “Space Song”

It was a year of transition. At the tail end of summer, walking and biking Cannon Beach in Oregon, I felt that five years after my divorce everything had finally come together and I had myself back fully, even though I’d just realized it. “Fall back into place.” A revelation live at their April 2016 concert in Vancouver.

Sufjan Stevens, “Blue Bucket of Gold”

Driving the beautiful Highway 26 from Portland to the ocean, rain alternating with sun. One relationship over, and another one—I could almost feel it—just around the corner. “Raise your right hand / Tell me you want me in your life / Or raise your red flag / Just when I want you in my life.” Another great concert in June 2015 at the Orpheum.

Sjowgren, “Seventeen”

I don’t include enough fun songs in these lists. “If you want a second to breathe / I’ll give you all of my love / I’ll give you all that you need, ah.”

See also 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2014

Three tracks that defined my year:

Sun Kil Moon, “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”

Chilling, intense. One of the best-ever songs about death of all sorts. “And I remember just where I was/When Richard Ramirez died of natural causes.”

Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me”

One of the best shows I saw this year. “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else.” And: “I’m not! I’m not! You.”

(I included the audio-only YouTube link as the official video is just distracting.)

Spoon, “Do You”

Song of the summer, and it’s been a while since we had one this great. The wistful ending—sort of like the end of summer, come to think of it—puts it over the top. “Do you want to get understood?”

See also 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2013

I had this in mind a year ago, but never got around to posting it (see Three Tracks: 2014). Three tracks that defined my year:

Jon Hopkins, “Open Eye Signal”

The track is a journey, a revelation (and the video is actually pretty great). Saw Hopkins in November (and again in July 2014), and it was brilliant.

The Knife, “A Tooth For An Eye”

It rocks. “I’m telling you stories/Trust me.”

Vampire Weekend, “Ya Hey”

Like a 21st century Paul Simon; the whole album is great. “Who could ever live that way?”

See also 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.

Roger Waters: The Wall Live, Vancouver BC, May 26 2012

I’m not really one for “classic rock.” The genre is still alive and, in 2012, producing music that at some point in the farther future may well considered “classic;” it seems a bit early to be proclaiming music that will stand the test of time. Thirty years is not a long span; we’re still within the lifetime of three of the four musicians who comprised Pink Floyd when The Wall was released in 1979. One of them, Roger Waters, brought a crack band (with no other members of Pink Floyd) and a frankly astonishing stage production to Vancouver a few days ago for a show at BC Place, at which the entire album, originally two LPs, was performed.

In great physical and musical shape at 68—he sings and plays bass—Waters managed to humanize the whole heavy album; he was clearly having a great time. It’s been ages since I heard this music; I was sixteen when it was released, so it brought back a lot of memories. In general Floyd hasn’t aged as well for me as some of the other bands of the era, but there’s some great music here. I was always surprised that critics didn’t seem to notice how the album stood out from the rest of the band’s work: it is not only more musically varied than their three preceding releases, never mind the less conventional work that preceded those, but also has some really tuneful compositions: not just the hit “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” (I prefer parts 1 and 3 myself), but “Mother,” “Hey You” (performed here behind a completed wall so the band was totally hidden), and “Comfortably Numb.” Not to mention a few good rock tunes, “In the Flesh,” “Young Lust” and “Run Like Hell.” And not all the rest is filler. Even “The Trial,” a sort of show tune, worked pretty well as Waters mimed and performed various voices.

The themes of the work have, by Waters’ own admission, been broadened from his own original alienation and dissatisfaction with superstardom, and there were a lot of effective and affecting themes of exploitation and commercialization depicted visually. The sets and visuals are breathtaking. It’s almost impossible to describe in words the scale or indeed the beauty of the sets and in particular the images and animations projected on the wall and on the screen behind it. For once, exorbitant ticket prices seemed justified: it must take an awful lot of people and effort and money to pull this off and cart it around the world.

The crowd seemed a bit less enthusiastic than I would have expected, especially given the quality of the show and performance. But one thing I found interesting was that in the age of the Internet the general population seems better informed than I believe they would have been twenty or thirty years ago: clearly everyone knows who Roger Waters is, while during Pink Floyd’s heyday it would only have been the hardcore fans—like me—who knew the members’ names. If this show returned (I missed it in 2010), I’d go see it again; and I can’t say that for many concerts. On the other hand, I’m not that much more likely to go back to this music regularly now. Even if I still had my vinyl copy from ’79 (sadly, lost in a divorce), I don’t have a record player. But I did call up a few of the tunes on YouTube in the days following the show. At any rate, thank you Roger and all involved for a great night.

Photos © 2012 Stella Regina

Movies 2011

Here’s a list of the movies I saw this past year, sorted by rating (and within rating, just the chronological order in which I saw them). In 2011 I mostly gave up on Hollywood, so I didn’t see as many films as in 2010 as I was sometimes too lazy to walk to Vancity Theatre or Pacific Cinémathèque!

★★★★★ – All-Time Best Movies

2001: a space odyssey, 1968 (trailer): The Granville 7 showed this just once in August and I almost missed it. I hadn’t seen it in a theatre for decades. A movie about the evolution of intelligence, and one of the best ever made in any genre. Doesn’t seem to lose any of its impact over time. I used to wonder why no one seems ever to have attempted anything like it, but when you think about it it’s obvious. Stunning.

★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year

The King’s Speech (trailer): The cynic in me might have found this a little cloying but I was won over. Just very well done and acted and written, and quite endearing.

Small Town Murder Songs (trailer): Underrated outside the indie circuit, this film, very Canadian in a good way, sports a solid story arc supported by a stunning soundtrack and an excellent ensemble. Reminiscent of Cohen Brothers and perhaps Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake: Not conceived as a movie, perhaps, but I saw all the videos, by Seamus Murphy, presented together at the Vancity Theatre. An already striking record becomes absolutely devastating. The best popular music can still amaze, and these are brilliant pieces of video art. There’s no trailer, but a good sample video would be In the Dark Places, perhaps my favourite track from the album.

Stalker, 1979 (trailer): Not for the meek or easily “bored,” that’s for sure. There is no good way of explaining this movie: it is an exploration that spares no expense in the service of time or “entertainment.” It’s essentially a journey to a mythical place of magic promise and what happens to three people—a guide (the Stalker) and his two charges—along the way. Science fiction/philosophy. Incredibly engaging and absolutely fascinating. I have to see it again.

Melancholia (trailer): I hated a couple of Lars von Trier’s movies of 10-15 years ago (Breaking the WavesDancer in the Dark—though the latter was due partly to my aversion to Bjork) enough that I’d avoided seeing anything since. (I won’t get into his stupid Nazi comments at Cannes.) But this is a masterpiece of characterization, puzzlement, and sci-fi dread done right: simultaneously a bang and a desperate whimper.

Café de flore (trailer): Another movie I have to see again: there’s more here than meets the eye; or maybe I was just too dense to fully grok all the connections the first time through. Even without fully being onside with any supernatural bullshit, this is a great exploration of dealing with just being adrift. And maybe found again, but you’re never really sure.

★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing

  • Blue Valentine (trailer): Excellent tracing of a marriage breakdown.
  • Biutiful (trailer): Slightly disappointing, but I always like Iñárritu‘s style.
  • Win Win (trailer): Great character study. The year’s best closing titles music—The National: Think You Can Wait.
  • Bill Cunningham New York (trailer): Endearing character. Ultimately I’m just not that interested in fashion, so it probably didn’t have the impact it would for those who are.
  • The Miles Davis Story (trailer): Felt a bit cobbled together, which of course it was. But with Miles’ music, there’s a certain quality that is achieved by default.
  • 180º South (trailer): Inspiring adventure movie. I’ve always wanted to go to South America. Perhaps not precisely in this way, but it has its pull.
  • Pianomania (trailer): Fascinating exploration of piano selection, tuning, and repair; but what really makes it stand out is some of the performances.
  • Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (trailer): Slightly disappointing, perhaps because some of the religion and politics wasn’t of as much interest to me as the—sometimes resulting and related—music. Which is amazing.
  • Drive (trailer): A stylish, ripping crime yarn.
  • Andrew Bird: Fever Year (site): The best music documentary I saw last year. Bird really is brilliant, and this was well put together. I can’t wait to see him when he comes to Vancouver this year.
  • The Descendants (trailer): Represents much of what I think is wrong with Hollywood. Despite its quality, it has a children’s storybook feel: everything is spelled out very carefully, and there are no real subtleties, nothing to think about. I grant it an extra half star for George Clooney’s surprisingly powerful performance in the final hospital scene, in which he says farewell to his comatose and terminal wife, who had been cheating on him.
  • The Artist (trailer): Similar to The Descendants, very straightforward. But also very well put together, and you have to credit all the actors for their silent performances, which must have been very demanding.

★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these

  • Source Code (trailer): Fell flat as a sort of sci-fi Groundhog Day, perhaps because even within its genre it simply wasn’t believable.
  • Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (trailer): The first film I rented on my iPad. It’s a shallow and uncritical overview of the band’s history, as it’s told by the band. I’m not sure why I have an occasional attraction to their music. Perhaps it’s what Pitchfork said: the Foo Fighters are “excellent at being mainstream.”
  • Die Stille for Bach (The Silence Before Bach) (scene): Manages, somehow, to make Bach boring, despite a few good performances.
  • Take Shelter (trailer): Docked half a star for its pat ambiguous final scene. Good performances but it falls apart a bit.

★★ – Please promise me you won’t see even if you’re curious