Top Songs of 2018

It’s been a couple of years since I did this, but I wanted to get back to it since it’s always fun to look back on the year through my peculiar musical lens (and typical me, late as usual). As in past years, there were some big songs that came on my radar but I want to focus on Canadian artists. There probably wasn’t a more impactful song this year than This is America by Childish Gambino and the latter part of the year saw me playing a lot this Morrissey cover. But for the first time, I’m going to put two non-Canadian acts on my list as my top picks.

I made a YouTube playlist here.

10. Dan Mangan – Lynchpin – Dan Mangan has been incredibly consistent over the past decade, always soothing, Lynchpin is slightly more ethereal than folksy and I think that’s a good thing. 

9. Broken Social Scene – Old Dead Young – Every few years they BSS seem to threaten to reform and take over, and seem content to be consistently great from a distance for a short amount of time. 

8. Stars – Are You With Me – This is a touring year for Stars but they released a couple of pretty decent singles. I think Stars are one of the most consistently strong bands in Canada. “If you’re with me, then let’s leave now.”

7. Ellis – What a Mess – I love how chill this track is and yet there is longing in it and I think that’s a tough line to walk but this song does it well. 

6. Chastity – Heaven Hell Anywhere Else – I really like the 90’s alt-rock sound to this. The whole album has an alt-90s vibe and it feels weird to think of 90’s music as retro, but this is a pretty damned good album. 

5. Jeremy Dutcher – Mehcinut – Dutcher won the 2018 Polaris Prize and this is such a beautiful album, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard and at my age, I don’t get to say that much anymore. 

4. Shy Kids – I was in L.A. – These guys are so talented, they seem to be gaining a larger following with each album and I hope they keep releasing material like this. This is an album with a good sonic palette and this is the happiest tune. They also make their own videos and I think this one is worth checking out.

3. Elisapie – Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules – Criminally underrated, Elisapie doesn’t seem to get much mainstream attention outside of the CBC and I guess her music might be difficult to classify. This is a lovely video too. 

2. Shout Out Louds – In New Europe, I’m not sure how you write a song this good and not use it on your album, but Shout Out Louds did exactly that. I love these guys, they keep being amazing with diminishing returns and no airplay in North America. 

1. The Decembrists – Once in My Life I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with a song quite like this one. I love everything about it, the tune, the lyrics, the arrangement, the video. I loved how they said so much with 3 simple lines, “Oh, for once in my life, can just something go right? I’ve been waiting all my life,” the John Hughes synths and the video which makes the song hopeful instead of mopey.


Reading With Ava – The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Reading With Ava – The Pearl by John Steinbeck

I remember my Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Bonk, had a reputation for being strict but I couldn’t honestly tell you whether he was or not. What I remember most about that year’s class is that Mr. Bonk read out loud to us most days: short stories, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Around the World in 80 Days and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.

Mr. Bonk was tall and thin, tanned with a mustache, curly hair, tar-stained fingers, and yellowed teeth.

The tar-stained fingers and yellowed teeth could be me filling in the blanks of my memory.

Ava is now 11 and she’s in the 6th grade. She’s in a great school but it seems like a mini version of high school where the days are regimented and there might not be time for frivolous activities like a teacher reading out loud to the kids. Ava’s a voracious reader. She finished the Harry Potter series last summer and I’ve been desperately trying to find the next series to keep her occupied but nothing has been able to surpass Harry Potter in her mind. A while back she asked me why I still read books to her little brother but not to her and I didn’t have a good answer so I’ve tried to find books that might be engaging and spark interesting discussion but might be outside of her reading ability or general interest.

Ava’s so much smarter (and better looking) than I was at that age.

The Pearl is a novella about a family in a small Mexican fishing village that discovers ‘the pearl of the world’, and hope its worth can change the course of their lives for the better (insert relevant Steinbeck theme, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men…). The story moves fast and right away Kino and Juana’s baby, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. The family doesn’t have the money to get Coyotito treated by the local doctor, who treats the family poorly. Of course, the doctor has a change of heart once he learns of the pearl but by then Coyotito is on the mend but Kino and Juana have gained a sense for what they can expect from people. Nonetheless, Kino pictures his family participating in ‘normal’ society, with fancy clothes, Coyotito being baptized and attending a proper school.

Things don’t go any better for them as they try to sell the pearl locally as all the buyers are in cahoots and offer only a fraction of what the pearl is worth. They decide to go to the capital to sell their treasure but that night they are assaulted by bandits and Kino ends up killing a man in the scuffle. They leave town, already irrevocably changed, and as they try to make their escape to the capital they are being hunted by armed men as the novella reaches its tragic conclusion.

Ava asked me if this was a true story and I see what she was getting at, the allegorical nature of the story makes it feel real as do the larger truths about greed and human nature. This is the first time I’ve actually read the book, but I remembered so many details about it from when Mr. Bonk read it to my class some 35 years ago. It’s fast-paced, suspenseful, well written and something you could easily consume in a sitting or two, so I’d highly recommend it.

The Tragically Hip – Sunday August 14, 2016

Thanks for all the memories. Rest in peace, Gord.

David E. Burga

The last time I saw The Tragically Hip was for Canada’s 125th birthday celebration at Molson Park in Barrie in 1992, a few months before the release of Fully Completely and before they became the biggest band in the country. Twenty-four years and eleven albums later, they are playing their final tour after Gord Downie announced he had terminal brain cancer.


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My Love Letter to CBC Radio 3 On Their 10 Year Anniversary (via 2009) – Part 1

We had to put our dog Emma down today. She was a wonderful, loyal pet. I wrote in this post about how our childhood dog died alone overnight at the vet and I’m glad we got to be with Emma at the end. This post is about a time we got into a bad accident in Chile and I thought we were going to have to put her down. She made it almost 10 more years and lived quite a life…

David E. Burga

Every year since 2009, around this time of year, I think of a particular day when I was living and working in Chile. Since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the CBC Radio 3 Podcast, I thought this would be a good time to write about it.

Tl;dr – I lived in Chile for a year. I got into a car accident with my dog. A lot of songs from the CBC podcasts of that time remind me of that year. I made a playlist here.


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Reading With Ava – To Every Thing There is a Season

Reading With Ava – To Every Thing There is a Season

I can’t remember at what age I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but I know there was certainly an absolute end date and that was the Christmas of Grade 4. My family went back to Peru for the first time since moving to Canada and my father told us we weren’t getting anything at Christmas because there wouldn’t be any money for presents. I remember being upset about it and he said “when we go to Peru, you’ll see people who have nothing.” I’ve always remembered that.


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The Fine – New Flash Fiction in the Lunaris Review

While I was whittling down my manuscript, I had to look at each chapter and try to think of it within the context of the whole. This was a chapter that didn’t make the final cut as it didn’t develop the character (by that point in the story, the reader knows the protagonist doesn’t fit in) and it didn’t advance the plot. But I thought it worked well as a standalone piece and the good people over at the Lunaris Review saw fit to give it a home. Here’s a link to the story:



The Millennial Whoop: A glorious obsession with the melodic alternation between the fifth and the third

The Millennial Whoop: A glorious obsession with the melodic alternation between the fifth and the third

This is a great article on a common vocal pattern seen a ton of modern hits.

The Patterning

This week, The Lonely Island released a music video for a song that was cut from their new movie, Popstar. The deleted scene for the song, “Fuck Off,” shows Conner4Real (Andy Samberg’s Bieber-esque teen idol character) joyfully belting out the most over-the-top expression of teenage angst possible.

The song is an incredible parody, not least because Samberg and company have caught onto a melodic phenomenon that has plagued the airwaves for the past several years, which they use to great effect at the song’s 40 second mark.

I like to call this melodic snippet the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern…

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The Tragically Hip – Sunday August 14, 2016

The last time I saw The Tragically Hip was for Canada’s 125th birthday celebration at Molson Park in Barrie in 1992, a few months before the release of Fully Completely and before they became the biggest band in the country. Twenty-four years and eleven albums later, they are playing their final tour after Gord Downie announced he had terminal brain cancer.


Continue reading “The Tragically Hip – Sunday August 14, 2016”