Monday, September 30, 2013

Ten most important albums in my life so far

Everyone who enjoys music has at least one album that is THE album for them. I have ten of them--at least. One of the side effects of having too many interests and an intense love for music makes this the case for me. Rather than trying to just say "I like a bunch of stuff", I've embraced my diverse tastes. 

The ten albums in this list are important to me in some way. They might not be my favourite albums necessarily or even albums that I deem are the best for the artist, but they may have helped me through a difficult time in my life, or may remind me of a happy time. It may even define an entire era of my life for me. Music has a deep impact on how I live my life--it always has. 

With each album on the list I have included either my favourite song on the album, or the song that got me interested in the album in the first place. I tried to rank this but it was very difficult, other than the top three.  So, here you are.

I don't really have a reason for this one in particular. I preferred Unia as an album on the whole, but this album in particular reminds me of cool autumn mornings, gaming before dawn and taking long walks through fallen leaves while sipping coffee. I love this album and there's something really magical about it that I can't put my finger on. While Flag in the Ground may be the single from the album that initially got my attention, Deathaura really sets the tone and prepares you for a mysterious journey. When I listen to this album, I want to write. Or go on an adventure. Or... both.

When I was 13, I couldn't get this album out of my head. It was the first time I'd ever really listened to an album and thought "this is what I want out of music". While it was often blown off as silly pop, something about it made me see more. I saw past the cartoon pair of Simon and Milo and felt like I understood what Jason and James, the real musicians behind it all, we're trying to say. My prepubescent fawning over the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls aside, Prozzäk was my first foray into the world of following bands. I still regret that I never got to see them live. My fondest memory is having one of their questions answered enthusiastically by them on a live chat. For the record, I asked them if they were influenced in any way by the Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star. They were.

At the end of last summer, this album appeared. I was already a Mother Mother fan, particularly of their masterful O My Heart. I'd seen them live twice. I still wasn't expecting the haunting surprise that awaited me with The Sticks. This is one of the few albums that I can listen to the lyrics and really get them. It's all about packing up your stuff, getting away from all the crap in the world and moving out to the boonies--the sticks, if you will--with the animals. Wow, is that ever something I can get behind.

7. Oceanborn - Nightwish
I've mentioned my love for Nightwish before--in fact, it can be hard to get me to shut up about my love for Nightwish. I first heard of them upon stumbling across Sacrament of Wilderness before their music was even available on North American shores over ten years ago, and I've been happily hooked ever since. Oceanborn was the first metal album I ever listened to in full. Kind of like a gateway drug. I found myself instantly wanting more.

6. Discovery - Daft Punk
Ever heard a commercial and had an urge to know what the song playing in the background was? That happened to me when I was 15. I'm sitting there, watching TV with my parents, and a GAP commercial starts playing. Something about the catchy guitar and the somehow innocent vocals grips me and I suddenly have to know what song this is. Instead of doing a simple web search, I go right to the GAP's website and send them an e-mail. "What song is playing on the commercial with the two dancing robots?" I ask. "That's Digital Love by Daft Punk," they reply. And lo, an obsession is born. I realise immediately that they also did Around the World and One More Time and that I like both of those songs, too. The next day we're taking a trip to Nova Scotia, so I stop by FutureShop to pick up the CD on the way there. I proceed to listen to it on repeat--for the next 4 months.

5. Random Access Memories - Daft Punk
I know, I know. Two Daft Punk albums in a row. Deal with it.
This year has been rough for me, and having something to look forward to really helped me out. Finding out that a new Daft Punk album was coming in May was that shining beacon in the future for me. And when the album came, I sat in the car with friends as we drove all over the city, listening to it for the first time. The sun shone through the windows and made the promise that summer was on the way--and what a summer it would be. Something about the fluttering flutes in Motherboard and the bombastic finish that was Contact made me want more out of life. I was happy again.

4. Journey soundtrack - Austin Wintory
If you like video games at all and have a PS3, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Part of what gripped me in this game's beauty and simplicity is the flowing, beautiful music. This game's music is more than just a soundtrack of a video game, though. There's something about the soaring strings in Apotheosis that never fails to make me cry, and something in I Was Born for This that reminds me that everyone is important. The soundtrack to Journey isn't a pleasant instrumental album, the entire work is life put to music. Apotheosis in particular is like the reflection one has at the end of a particularly difficult, but worthwhile, year. It is everything summed into one--the beginning and the end. Everything about this soundtrack makes me think of experiences I've had, sweet and bittersweet. 

3. Dark Passion Play - Nightwish
Here's an ancient photo of me with bassist Marco Hietala,
holding the doll before I gave it to Tuomas
I had barely gotten to the point of fully understanding that Nightwish was my favourite band before their lead singer, Tarja, was dismissed. Shocked and terribly sad, I had thought that Nightwish's days were over. But then, in the spring of 2007, an angelic new voice came to the surface through Nightwish's new single, Eva. What followed was a musical obsession unlike any other. I spearheaded a YouTube movement (that will remain unnamed because this was half a decade ago and quite frankly I'm a little embarrassed) revolving around Amaranth, I travelled to Quebec three times and even made an Eva doll, which I gave to the band before the first show. Anette took the doll onstage while performing the song. I spent a whole lot of time loving this album. I even ended up taking singing lessons because of the aforementioned Youtube movement. It came at an odd time for me, too, because I was experiencing heavy anxiety, depression and generally was having difficulty getting through my day. Not to mention, I had no idea where my life was going or what to do. Dark Passion Play was the one consistent thing in my life that I could go to and be happy. While it's not my favourite Nightwish album for the songs, it is certainly the most important album Nightwish has released, in my mind, and is still a masterpiece in its own right.

2. The Black Halo - Kamelot
I've also spoken of my love of Kamelot before--very recently, in fact. The Black Halo is my all-time favourite album of any band, ever. This was the album that sold me on Kamelot and, to this day, is my go-to when I can't figure out what I feel like listening to. The summer of 2009 marked my first full year working full time, and between not being in school and not having as much time to work on writing as I used to, I wasn't particularly happy. Add the fact that Brad and I worked opposite shifts and didn't see much of each other, I was lonely too. When we were driving anywhere together during this time, he would play The Black Halo in the car. I had heard bits and pieces of it before, but the more I heard it in its entirety, the more it grew on me, and the more it spoke to me. I bought my own copy of the album and listened to it on repeat for weeks. Somehow it filled my loneliness--it became a friend. The Black Halo is a concept album based on Goethe's Faust and tells an exquisitely crafted tale of sorrow and betrayal, with the main character, Ariel, played by former Kamelot vocalist Roy Khan. By the end of that summer I felt that Ariel and I were old friends, confiding in one another on a daily basis. 

1. Rosedale by Allan Cooper and Rose Dale
I don't need to go into too much detail as to why this is the number one most important album in my life. I helped to create this album. I sang on it and performed live with it. It is the first album I've been on, and hopefully not the last. I loved the process of recording and performing and would love to do it again some day, maybe in a higher capacity, and maybe not. Rosedale was my first entry into the world of professional music and performance and I've been bitten by the bug.

I really, really like music.

I'm sure there will be other albums one day that will grip me in the same way these ten have, and I really can't wait to listen to them. For the moment, though, this is what I have.

Here is a brief list of four more albums that had a big impact on me, but didn't quite make the list:

Deloused in the Comatorium - The Mars Volta
Silverthorn - Kamelot
Imaginaerum - Nightwish
Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette (I was nine years old and I had this on cassette!)
Design Your Universe - Epica

Eventually, I'll probably write a bit about various summer soundtracks as well. I associate a lot of images and sounds with memory, as I'm sure a lot of people do, and spend a lot of time with my head in the clouds. Experiencing nostalgia is a daily occurrence for me.

As a bit of a case in point, I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD yesterday, and with the opening cutscene it occurred to me I hadn't played the game in eleven years. The theme music sent chills down my spine.

I won't lie: I'm not really sure how to end this. So I suppose I'll shamelessly promote my Youtube covers project. Give it a look if you're interested in what I've been up to lately. It's relevant to the topic at hand as I cover songs from a lot of albums listed in this top ten.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

When Kamelot went to Montreal, and I went to Kamelot

The year is 2000.

A 14-year old me is scouring the internet for news about the new Zelda game, which was up until recently known as "Zelda Gaiden", set to release later this year. The game, now titled Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask promises to be an darker, deeper sequel to Ocarina of Time.

I stumble across a site called Hyrule: The Land of Zelda. The splash page loads a flash video of the Skull Kid wearing Majora's Mask. Suddenly, the most mesmerizing piece of music I've ever heard plays in the background. It's the first 26 seconds of this song. And all I see is "Music by Nightwish" at the bottom.


And this is what got me interested in symphonic metal. Weirdest, stupidest way to get interested in a type of music, but it's the truth. To be honest, a very similar event occurred to get me interested in Daft Punk: a clip of Digital Love on a GAP commercial.

I had no idea what the song was called, only that the first 26 seconds had pulled me into an obsession. I had to know what that song was. And instead of doing the obvious thing and emailing the webmaster, I decided my best course of action would be to download songs until I found the right one.

I underestimated Nightwish's discography. 

It took me about a full year to find the song, but in the meantime, I fell in love with the band. It hadn't been long after Wishmaster had released, and the first full song I heard had been Sleepwalker, the bonus song from that album. 

Years later, after their album Once had released in late 2004, I discovered they were playing a show in Montreal and knew I would have to go see it. I took a 13 hour train ride with a friend who wasn't even remotely interested in this kind of music and went to see them live. As the first notes of Dark Chest of Wonders swept across the crowd in the Metropolis, I knew. This is my favourite band. 

Years still later, I managed to see them live--in Montreal and Quebec City, because few good bands come to New Brunswick--three times with their new singer, Anette. The first show, I even brought the band a small doll I had made based on the character Eva from one of their songs. I was floored when Anette brought it onstage during the encore. Anette told me after the show that she was planning to bring it for other performances as well, and she was true to her word--she brought it onstage in Toronto the same week. Again, Nightwish was cemented firmly as my favourite band. 

Slowly but surly, a contender appeared. Kamelot, at first, was unassuming to me. Seeing their video for March of Mephisto on MuchMusic in 2005 got me interested, but it wasn't until I sat down and listened to the Black Halo as a whole that I truly understood what a fine band they are. I spent the entire summer of 2009 listening to that album on repeat. I couldn't stop. "All right," I told myself, "this is your favourite album. But Nightwish is still your favourite band."

Then, disaster struck. Last October, just a day before I was due to make a trip to Montreal for work, I discovered that Anette was no longer a part of Nightwish. I was heartbroken to hear that yet another of the band's prolific, talented singers was gone. I'm not ashamed to admit I shed tears at both Tarja and Anette's respective departures. Both times, the future was uncertain. The second time, though, I was starting to develop trust issues. I don't like to take sides when I don't know the full story, but I couldn't help but feel a little bitter.

Floor Jansen joined Nightwish to promote their Imaginaerum album and, from what I've heard from the live videos uploaded to YouTube, has done a magnificent job singing in the interim. Since the summer of the Black Halo, I had fully listened to two more albums of Kamelot's--Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned--and started to feel that second place was coming up very closely behind Nightwish. I didn't want to think about my precious Nightwish being kicked out of the position I had mentally put them in. Not because I think they would care, but only because I'm particularly stubborn. 

Kamelot had experienced some lead singer problems of their own. Roy Khan, their talented singer with a voice like velvet, had suffered a serious collapse during their tour to promote Poetry for the Poisoned. After a year's break and having Rhapsody of Fire's Fabio Lione take over for the tour, Khan announced in his blog that he would no longer be a part of the band, and he has since left he music industry altogether. 

I fell into a period of musical confusion. My two favourite active singers were no longer a part of the bands I loved. There was a period of time that I avoided metal altogether. It was a brief period, but it was there. I listened to Gorillaz and Mother Mother and wondered if I would ever love metal again.

And then I discovered this song. 

When I heard the singer, at first I thought it was Roy Khan in a new band, or that perhaps he had changed his mind. When I got to the chorus, though, I realized that it wasn't Khan at all, but someone new, and that Kamelot was alive and well. I was overjoyed. Not only were they releasing a new album, but they sounded as good as ever. While new singer Tommy Karevik had some big shoes to fill, it seemed he was doing a very good job of it.

I purchased their most recent album, Silverthorn, and was blown away by it. To me, it was their best album since the Black Halo. It helped me through a particularly rough patch in winter. Every day I would look forward to coming home, cranking the album as loudly as I could, and... well. Cooking supper. I cooked supper like a badass.

I bought concert tickets on a whim in late March, foolishly overlooking the VIP tickets and going straight for the regular show, thinking it would save me money. For some reason I was neglecting the fact that I was attending a concert 13 hours away and that saving money was a little bit out of the question. Many months passed. Random Access Memories was released and kept me actively listening to something in the meantime. When September arrived, I was ready, and terribly excited.

We woke up at 4:30 AM to board the plane to Montreal the morning of the show and met with a friend who was also in town to see the band. We spent the day hanging out in Montreal, more or less killing time until we could enter the venue.

Brad and I waited outside in the line in the rather uncharacteristic cold for about an hour and a half until finally the line started moving and we were allowed inside the venue. We found a spot on the floor to stand and were surprised when everything started exactly on time. Opening band Eklipse took the stage promptly at 7 PM and blew us all away with their unique, harmonic blend of string instruments. 4 ladies--3 violinists, and one cellist. They played popular cover tunes as well as their own atmospheric originals.

Closely following Eklipse was Delain, a Dutch group who are actually far better live than their recordings would suggest. Lead singer Charlotte Wessels seemed to be an absolute sweetheart, smiling at the crowd at every opportunity. She packed a powerful vocal punch as well. At one point, the crowd was cheering so loud that Charlotte just stopped and watched us, positively beaming. All around, the show was shaping up to be one of the best shows I'd seen, and that was before the main act even came out.

At 8:30, Delain thanked us and left the stage. Just a half hour before Kamelot came on. It was a pretty long half hour. But the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and a familiar voice from just offstage shouted "Montreal!". The opening notes of Rule the World started to play, and like the revelation I had when I saw Nightwish live for the first time, I realised right then that Kamelot's succession had arrived. They had dethroned Nightwish, my favourite band for almost 10 years, and taken their place.

Their set was absolutely magical. Alissa White-Gluz of the Agonist--my personal girl-crush and current musical inspiration--accompanied and sang backing vocals and the female vocalists on many of the songs. She also growled during Sacrimony. Eklipse returned for My Confession, playing their strings just as they do on the album. Acadian artist and fellow East Coaster Angie Arsenault took the stage to sing a duet of Don't you Cry in French alongside Tommy. Incredible.

The band said goodbye for the time being, but was, as always, met with a series of cheers and chants from the crowd, begging them to come back on stage. They did, opening the encore with Ghost Opera ("welcome all to curtain call/at the opera/raging voices in my mind/rise above the orchestra/like a crescendo of gratitude"--fitting!). The final song of the night was March of Mephisto, which began with two members of Eklipse coming onstage to play a drumbeat, and followed up with Alissa growling the role of Mephisto. I think that was when I lost my mind. And my voice.

It was an incredible, magical evening. But it wasn't over.

We stopped by our hotel room for a few minutes, then went back out to see if the band might hang around the venue a bit afterwards.
And then, this happened. That's Sean Tibbetts, Kamelot's bassist. I wasn't in pain, by the way, I just can't take a decent photo to save my life.

We saw a few people coming and going, but Sean Tibbetts stopped to talk to us and take a few photos. After seeing no other members coming out, we decided they were likely tired and we headed out to Foufounes for a post-concert drink.

It was when I was ordering a round of Shocktop when my husband Brad leaned over to me and asked "Isn't that Thomas Youngblood over there?". I looked over, and sure enough, the guitarist and founder of Kamelot was standing not far away, chatting with fellow musicians and having a drink of his own. Marcel, our friend who accompanied us--also the lead singer in Moncton-area metal band Shades of Sorrow--suggested we say hello. I'm shy, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity. We approached Youngblood to say hello, and he reciprocated with a smile, shook our hands and clinked glasses with us. Wow. To say it was the perfect end to an already magical evening would be a bit of an understatement.

While I didn't get to meet everyone in the band, it's safe to say I'll be getting VIP tickets next time to ensure this happens. When I first heard of Khan's departure, I was uncertain whether Kamelot would keep going, or that the new singer might not measure up. It seems now, though, that my sentiments echo Youngblood's from this Blabbermouth article:

"In the beginning, when this whole thing started, we were a little unsure of what the future might be, but now we're really excited about it."

I couldn't agree with him more. I'm excited, too.

Nightwish will always be special to me, but times change and so do our perceptions. I'll still see Nightwish on their next North American tour, I'm sure, but I don't know that I can get attached to another singer in the same capacity. It's not right to compare two bands, and though it may sound like it, I'm not. One has just slowly and steadily grown on me to the point that I can no longer see myself calling any other band my favourite. Thanks for September 8th, Kamelot. I'll never forget it.

A post-script to note that seeing Kamelot was the musical kick in the ass I needed. I finished recording this song this week. It's the first song I've ever written. Please let me know what you think!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Moncton life

I grew up in a small rural community surrounded by trees and gorgeous vistas. Our house was a 2-minute drive from the the Bay of Fundy, which boasts the highest tides in the world. If I wanted to be alone, I could easily go find a place where no one would be able to find me. Fog drifted in and out like a familiar friend, and the salt scent of bay air met your nose the moment you opened a window.

Naturally, moving to a city proved to be a bit of a challenge for me at first. Though not a particularly big city by any means, Moncton still had an unsettling tree-to-person ratio. I had grown accustomed to the quiet solitude that came from walking in the woods or watching the tide roll in. That was something that was now missing for me.

Rest area at the Tankville School trail.
My first year of university, I would sit in my dorm alone. That part wasn't so bad--but what I didn't like was the sound of ambulance sirens blaring at all hours of the day. Université de Moncton's Lafrance dormitory was where I stayed, and it loomed above the Georges Dumont hospital. During the week I didn't take many opportunities to go anywhere other than my room or class, but on the weekends I would go home and that would give me the chance to go on those long beautiful walks I craved. In the summer, I would also go home to work from May until the end of August, when school would start again.

One of the highlights of the apartment we rented just off Elmwood was the little duck pond and walking trail down the road. The wildlife made me feel at home, and seeing people walking their dogs made me even happier.

There was a small patch of woods right by the Université de Moncton campus that I used to take a shortcut through, despite the sign that barred pedestrians from passing through. I wasn't the only rule-breaker and often found other students doing the same thing. That one little strip of forest was enough to reconnect me to the place that I wanted to be: the forest. As much as I hate the term, calling me a tree-hugger wouldn't be far from the truth.

Five years ago, in October 2008, Brad and I moved to Moncton permanently. I got a job downtown, we got a new apartment and adopted our cat, Lady Pansy. All of a sudden, life was much different for me. Having no specific days off, I found visiting home much more difficult. In addition, Brad and I would often have separate days off. I would get to visit home very rarely and found myself exhausted from being on my feet all day anyway. 

We weren't anywhere near any kind of walking trail or park. The best we had was the little area in front of the cultural centre across the road. 

Gradually I found out about various places to go in town. First it was the Irishtown Nature Park just off Elmwood Drive. Next was Mapleton Park off the Gorge Road. Both places provided scenic, woodsy walks that put me at ease. We often saw many other people there, but for some reason I didn't mind. Those places are like communities in themselves; many people smile and say hello as they pass, even if you've never met. 

After walking on those paths for some time, we started to locate smaller, less travelled paths. A recurring favourite became the Tankville School trail, just down the road from the Irishtown Nature Park. It seems the Tankville trail hooks onto the back end of another trail, because we found that one, too. The first time, we found it by walking over the frozen lake at Tankville School. The second time, we took the real entrance--just a short drive down the road.

Now we've taken to other sorts of adventures, whether it's through Centennial Park or through visiting outlying villages, cities or towns. One thing that can be said for Moncton is that it lives up to its nickname--the Hub City. Moncton is a short drive away from all kinds of interesting places. It's still close enough, too, that I can get down home when I need to reconnect. On Labour Day, for kicks, we took a little drive down to Cape Tormentine for a change of scenery.

Definitely a change of scenery.

At first, I didn't like the noise and I didn't like the street lights getting in the way of the stars. I still don't like the way the air smells compared to the fresh drifting sea breeze of Alma. Moncton has become home for me in many ways now, though, from the coffee I pick up at Read's on my way to work, to the people I've met simply from working in the mall. While I still sometimes think I'd prefer living out of the city, right now I'm happy with our life in Moncton.