Here it is! The 20th edition of my Top Tunes list, whereby I publicly call to attention all the audio delights that tickled my eardrums these last twelve months. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Or that this year is finally ending. Or that it’s ending already. I don’t know anymore, time is so weird. Just like some of the tunes on this here list (segue!)
According to my Apple Music ‘Replay’ I listened to 41,541 minutes of streaming music this year — this is 114 minutes per day! I also listen to KEXP all day in the photo studio and to my own record collection in the evenings. Plus there is offline digital and listening with friends. Do I have other interests? Well, yes. But it is safe to say, music means the world to me. This is why I love to share with you.
This year we have million dollar beats paired off against futuristic exotica. Dark shoegaze once again nudges up against indie rock and dream pop. Sparse jazzy sounds and blissful tropical vibes. We have artists from around the world and no list these days is worth anything without a dash of Sault. Fire up your streamer and dig in!
SAULT – 11, Earth, Untitled (God), Today & Tomorrow, Aiir
By now, you know of my deep love for Sault. Back in June of 2019 my musical life changed for the better when I discovered ‘5’. Since then, I have told every single person I know (and many I don’t) about them. So it’s no surprise they are at the top of my list for the fourth year in a row! Sault is an amazing, anonymous collective of musicians with no interviews, no photos, no label, no tour, no marketing. It’s about the music, pure and simple — how refreshing in lieu of ‘image rules everything’. This year saw five full lengths at once (plus a triptych of a track on the ‘X’ EP). Sweet soul music, trippy psychedelic rock, spiritual poetry, deep earthy drumming and lots of funk — all of it given away for free and absolutely perfect for these times. I will champion this group until I die. Today I like 11 and Earth best, but tomorrow is another day. Listen/Buy
Lucrecia Dalt – ¡Ay!
This floored me when I first heard it. Each time I listen again, I am floored. I loved her last release ‘No Era Sólida’ but this one just took me places, far away places. It’s quiet, strange, experimental (wha? sign me up!). Lots of bolero, son and other Colombian traditions are here, filtered through strangeness, and something akin to futuristic exotica. I feel like I am just discovering a secret deep in the cosmic rain forest, one I blissfully embraced and allowed to infiltrate my dreams. It’s perfect. Listen/Buy
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Like many of us, I got tickets for this gig back when they had one or two songs to their name. I figured there was no way I would still be interested by the time the concert came. I also wondered how any band would sustain buzz after that first perfect single. Well, somehow they have enamoured me and I have to say this album rocks from start to finish. Sure their concert was like 45 minutes and ended with Wham! Sure, they are almost more entertaining as awkward people in the spotlight, but hey, I like the Breeders a lot and hence, Wet Leg got a lot of play this summer. It’s just good fun. Listen/Buy
Rosalía – Motomami
I was introduced to this right after that Wet Leg concert, and I was then up all night listening on headphones (still buzzed from the show). This was a most unexpected sound – killer vocals, totally experimental songwriting and delivery, a mash up of styles I am quite fond of. I listen to so much in the Spanish language, one day I might just know what she’s on about! Her concert would be dynamite, but I am not holding my breath. Instead, I’ll keep this in rotation til the sun comes back. And then some. Listen/Buy
Perera Elsewhere – Home
I loved her Everlast EP so much she was on my 2013 Best Of list. I happened upon a new song and found out she has more music than I realized! This is one deep, moody and downright dubby album. Her vocals are so good, the music is at times sparse, then dense with dark beats. I only just learned she fronted Jahcoozi, after listening to that band since the mid-00s. This all makes sense to me now. Listen/Buy
Beyoncé – Renaissance
This album is a party and way too much fun. Yep, I’m a Beyoncé fan – surprise! I will admit it. She is an incredible artist and I don’t know of any album this year that will get you moving like this one. It just sounds incredible, like million dollar beats on every song (likely!). I love Virgo’s Groove, it was made just for me, I know it ;) Listen/Buy
Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia
I got into this band not long after they played here for the Dogrel album. Curses!! I couldn’t believe they slipped under my radar — Dogrel is now a classic release imho. This one expands into dark shoegaze, post-punk psychedelia, traditional folk songs, Gaelic chants. On my Best Of in years past, and after seeing their explosive show in May, Fontaines DC are back here for more. Like me, give me more Fontaines! Listen/Buy
Kevin Morby – This is a Photograph
With ‘This is a Photograph’, Kevin Morby dropped his most immediate set of songs…ever. Some of his tunes — Harlem River, I Have Been to the Mountain — are mainstays in my life. Especially camping, you can do no wrong playing some KevMo. I like all his stuff except ‘Oh My God’ – sorry Kev. The live show brought these songs to life in a magical way — enchanting female vocals, violin, soft whispers on lyrics and plenty of joy amongst the sad sounding songs. Keep ’em coming! Listen/Buy
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
I fell for this band back in the Sasquatch-heavy 00s and this album feels to me like the culmination of their work. Hard to choose a favourite among from their illustrious career, but this album has bits of everything. Even some trap drums mixed in there at times. I appreciate the synth arpeggios that seem to bubble up to the forefront at just the right times. Fantastic songwriting, and the atmosphere is undeniable. Listen/Buy
Szun Waves – Earth Patterns
Instrumental vibes taking one to another dimension. A trio of electronics, saxophone, drums. It is grounded on earth, as they say, but the space surrounding these songs suggest otherwise. Take it all in, wide screen. Listen/Buy
Sam Gendel – blue blue
An album to get lost to. To work with, to read or think to. For night time or early mornings. Sam Gendel has a lot of great releases and collabs these last years but I find myself coming back to ‘blue blue’ for just the right amount of musical brain tickling. Listen/Buy
Sessa – Astrela Acesa
Music from Brazil is amongst my favourite in the world. As with Spanish, you’d think I would know Portuguese by now with all the Brazilian records I own. Subconsciously seeping in, and when I visit Brazil it’ll all just make sense. I wish. Sessa seems to be from another time, a golden time in Brazil where the sounds of Tropicalia and MBP mixed, the acoustic guitar with the samba ‘n’ bossa rhythms, the incredible-I’m-sure lyrics. It’s such a good vibe, I can’t imagine it would offend anyone (except lyrically, who knows haha). Listen/Buy
Not lesser, just different — I fully recommend checking these out, too!
Just Mustard – Heart Under
Working Mens Club – Fear Fear
Black Angels – Wilderness of Tears
Wombo – Fairy Rust
Goat – Oh Death
Jenny Hval – Classic Objects
Iara Rennó – Oríki
Nadine Khouri – Another Life
A7PHA – II
Essential Logic – Land of Kali
Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento – s/t
Gabriels – Angels & Queens Pt. 1
Protoje – Third Times the Charm
Revelators Sound System – Revelators
Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin – Ali
Horace Andy – Midnight Scorchers
I have a problem. It’s an ongoing concern and, to be honest, there aren’t a lot of folks I can talk to about it.
I seek out abandoned umbrellas you see. I don’t, like, base my day around it but I have been known to alter my route knowing a ‘dead brolly’ hotspot is on that street, not this one. Think transit exchanges, trash bins near bus stops, hedges close to institutions. That kind of thing. The day after monsoon rain and blustery wind shows a curious trait in people — they just toss their shelters when the weather improves.
I yearn for the time when a strong gust flips a random stranger’s umbrella inside out, their frustration mounting as the wind takes control, the rain now completely soaking their head. They whip their admittedly flimsy dome about, finally climaxing in a moment of sheer anger — the poor umbrella is tossed to the gutter. Me? I am standing across the street, camera ready with a motor drive whirring away. This fantasy, it’s elusive. I was close just once.
Since 2005, I have been capturing these lost, alone umbrellas on city streets. Mostly here in Metro Vancouver, but I have ‘bagged brollies’ in Havana, Amsterdam and NYC as well. Some are completely in tact and some person with an even greater obsession might collect these for some repurposing. Some are mere skeletons, the flesh as it were long destroyed by the same elements that first made it attractive. Occasionally I find just a handle or a macabre art installation involving all manner of urban debris. Oh the stories they can tell.
I recently updated the collection and shockingly, I’m at 366! Figured a book would need to happen at 365. Stay tuned for that (or get in touch, publishers!).
Please enjoy the fruits of my strange collection to date: Umbrella: Lost, Alone
Follow me from the reverie of Visions – Pt. I, where I’ve put together a complimentary set of the natural scenes captured at the same time. Back then cases were few in comparison to today and yet people generally hunkered down because nobody really knew what was going on. We were all in this together. Fast forward to one year later and maybe not so much. We might be in the worst of it right now but you couldn’t tell by thinking back to last year’s quiet homesteading, bread & puzzles.
Armed with my red-filtered, vintage Takumar lens and my modern Fuji digital, I explored Mount Pleasant throughout this code red. The natural world is a wonder no matter if it’s your local park or miles from civilization. As the cherry and plum blossoms burst forth and became leaves, new growth followed and soon every tree and shrub was singing a song of spring. It was so quiet in the city I imagined hearing the unfurling of leaves…and maybe I did. Did you? Rotating the aperture ring on the lens changed everything about the image, the red filter cutting out certain wavelengths of light and having a heyday as digital colours mingled therein. See the side by sides above, below. I had some fun with it. I hope you enjoy these images created in camera during quieter times and find a peace within them, too.
When the pandemic took hold one year ago, spring was starting to blossom in Vancouver. The streets became quiet as we cocooned while the cherry and plum blossoms took an opposite tact. Bird song replaced the dull white noise of automobiles and birds themselves were the only things in the sky. Grasses grew to their tallest heights, the bees and insects taking refuge within their towers. It was a time of great beauty in the neighbourhood, however coupled with a feeling of dread, uncertainty and loneliness. The news cycle shouted: hang tight, we’re in a Code Red.
I had been really inspired using my vintage Takumar lenses with my Fuji X series camera the year before. I also began to play around with my black and white filters while shooting colour – a carry-over idea from when I worked with chromes. When I started to look through the lens with the red filter, I began to see some of the emotion I was feeling inside. I did 5 sessions within 10 days walking throughout my neighbourhood and cycling to others nearby.
I wasn’t as interested in commercial closures as I was neighbourhood spaces, the few people out and about, the incredible spring reawakening I was really tuned into, community notes and slices of life interrupted. Part of why the natural plants/flowers shots (coming in Pt. II) felt so appealing was the spring was truly fabulous, seeing it change on a daily basis as I became more in tune with the city’s natural rhythm. The earth doing it’s thing, maybe even a little more of a full expression with the humans damped down a bit. I also had more time than usual to take it in but it was comforting to see natural cycles carry on despite our invisible threat. Hope.
There is an emotional pull to some of these captures of the empty, awkward and unsure times. People figuring out how to walk down the sidewalk with groceries, a strung up tire swing, a random TV by the curb. But with the joy and beauty around, too. I also really like the change in tone and feeling as I move the aperture ring. Some of the shots I did a few in a row changing the aperture and the tone difference is stark. All images are composed and created in camera using a vintage lens, b&w filter and captured digitally.
Here is the first selection from this set — the public spaces, playgrounds and streetscapes of an uncertain time.
(click to view larger)
Last summer I started working with local cycling company Two Wheel Gear as their content manager. I create photo and video work to promote the brand and their dedication to cycling as transportation. Maybe you’ve noticed, but this is something I am very passionate about! I have dedicated a substantial amount of time and energy into showing folks just how fun, easy and convenient cycling in the city really is. Visuals are the best way to show this.
Two Wheel Gear was a brand I reviewed while at Momentum Mag. From their early years with the garment pannier bag (still a Classic!) to messenger-style shoulder bags, the company has put bike commuters at the forefront of their product line. In 2016, I shot lifestyle images for their curated line of gear. Now, an exciting opportunity for 2020 presented with new distribution at REI in the states, ongoing with MEC in Canada and a greatly expanded product line. It was time to get busy with the visuals once again.
To launch a brand new set of bags, we decided to pitch our fans with a Kickstarter campaign. We led with a video created to introduce our new product designer Greg Bass, and to show off our brand new products — the Modular Commute Backpack Kit. After an action-packed weekend in October filming around Vancouver, the files were off to our editor, Tom Malenica, who turned our storyboard and clips into the informative (and really cool!) video you see below.
It worked, the campaign was fully funded and the product is starting to ship. Since that time, we’ve spent hours in the studio on product shots, filmed demo videos showing off all the product features and did a couple more days of still images — riding around and shooting on the streets of Vancouver. I’ll share more of those lifestyle shots soon. Enjoy the video and see you in the bike lane! After all, life is too short to sit in traffic.
Twenty years. Two decades. One score. A significant number.
This year – 2020 – marks a few milestones for me:
20 years since I graduated from the Photojournalism program at SAIT.
20 years living in Vancouver, BC after moving from my hometown, Calgary.
20 years since I started my professional career as a photographer.
20 years in business for myself.
20 years ago I met and became close with many of my current best friends.
Looking even further back, I realized it has been about twice that period of time since I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic X-15. Yes, I was wee. Figuring some of my earliest snapshots were of my just-born brother Kevin, I can confidently say I’m right around:
40 years as a photography enthusiast.
A very rough estimate counts 10,000 slides and negatives from years shooting 35mm. Digital dominates after 2005, with at least 300,000 frames captured. This includes huge batches of editorial, commercial and event work plus archives from traveling 15 countries. Not to mention the hours of video clips, hundreds of film scans and camera op gigs along the way. I may be underestimating. Whew!
So. This feels significant.
After a tumultuous 2019 and to start the decade with intention, I wanted to honour some of these milestones in my life and pay tribute to the time passed growing, learning, exploring, playing and, above all, shooting pictures.
I made a mark. I took the focal plane symbol from my camera body and found a ‘stick & poke’ tattoo artist to mark my trigger finger. The symbol represents the physical spot inside the camera where the image is made and that finger connects eye, mind and shutter. It was a meaningful start to the year and a permanent reminder of what I do and where I came from. One of the threads weaving my life together from childhood through adolescence to the, ahem, mature man I am now.
Twenty Twenty. Here’s to a few score more.
This thing was so huge. I mean check out all those thighs! It was like a thumb with wings.
But that was me, almost. The bee landed in front of my friend, parked but at the wheel of a Modo shared truck. Retreating to the passenger seat after taking a closer look across the cab, my arm struck a lever I didn’t see – the front wiper control. Immediately, the blades leapt into action, the rubber unnecessarily wiping – and fast! – across the pristine windshield. The bee didn’t see it coming. Wham! It’s on the wiper, now it’s on the bottom of the windshield. The wiper is coming back for another hit. Boom. It can’t take another one and in the nick of time, the lever is struck, upwards. Following two strong sorties the blades are put to rest.
The big bee lay motionless, legs askew and frumpled. It’s gone from this world, I thought sadly, and yet still in astonishment over the initial notice of this absolute unit of a bee, seconds before. After such admiration and excitement on my part to get a glimpse of a true insect specimen, right there behind the glass, millimeters within touch — I killed it. There it was, taking its last tiny breath, sweet like honey I’m sure.
Wait! The bee stirs. It’s up! It’s alive and it’s flying straight away and across the street. On a level plane, not stunned at all. On a level plane, yes, but windshield height. It’s a 3-way-plus-alley kind of place, traffic can come from any direction. It’s up to luck now. The bee seems to hone in on a target across the way and, ahem, bee lines at speed. Out of sight, away from this danger and onto a new bee danger I will never know. As for me, I was amazed at this bee not once, but twice today and within seconds. But right there in between, for just a fraction of a moment in time, when a bee and a human interact through glass and mechanical device — a little hint of mortality and humbleness to be human and able to kill at will. Just to keep things interesting.
Related: You’re Gonna Get Some Hop-Ons
You were always there for me when I needed you most.
Now the need is gone, and so are you…
Here is it, specimen number three hundred in my ongoing series: Umbrella: Lost, Alone.
Spotted at night in the neighbourhood where many of my lost umbrella shots were taken. I waited a moment for the passing bus and boom, #300 was in the bag.
Where to go from here? 365 for a full year’s worth of abandoned brollies? Yes. Then onto the next milestone! People tell me they don’t see an abandoned umbrella without thinking of me, some even show me their own finds from the streets. I love it. I’ll continue to bag brollies as long as the rain comes down. Here in Vancouver, there’s endless opportunity.
See where it all began on flickr, the original (and ongoing) set with alternate takes.
Or scroll the complete set of 300, with more to come, on my website’s umbrella page.
Hastings & Abbott, Vancouver, December 18, 2019.
I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately and figured I’d start sharing some of it on this here blog. To kick that off, and carry on a tradition going back to the early 00s, I’m writing up my favourite tunes of the year. If you know me even a little bit, you’ll know music is a lifelong obsession of mine. I’m always on the hunt for new sounds, unheralded gems, lesser-known artists and I tend to follow a musical family tree as far back (and forward) as I can. Yep, I’m restless. I can find good stuff within almost all genres, but I have a strong distaste for top 40 radio pop. Sure, I love a good banger every now and then, but to get any depth out of this artform, I look deeper, push further and open my ears with curiosity. I hope you find something just for you, too – enjoy. (more…)
It may take a few minutes to decipher these images. Layers of sediment, leaf canopy, floating leaves and underwater soil combine in this natural abstraction of a trail side puddle. If you look carefully, you can even see between the layers – the dark water suspending all manner of organics. Like Claude Debussy remarked: The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between. I’m definitely ‘seeing’ some silence in these. What do you see?
Taken on the shores of Mohun Lake near Campbell River, BC.