Oh! Canada returns to shine a light on some of the best new music coming out of Canada over the last few months.
For this edition we shine a light on a vibrant Toronto scene revolving around Meghan Remy and Maximillian 'Twig' Turnbull, some highlights and discoveries from Ottawa's Megaphono festival, celebrate the return of Canadian power-pop legends Sloan and investigate a moving and remarkable release from Jeremy Dutcher. A huge thanks to everyone who made this edition possible and a tip of the hat to Kaelen Klypak for the cover image.
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Jeremy Dutcher is a classically trained operatic tenor from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. His new work Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is a vibrant and dynamic celebration of a culture that for years had been suppressed by the Canadian Government via the Indian Act. Dutcher transcribed recordings of Wolastoq songs from wax cylinder recordings made in 1907 that were held in the Canadian Museum of history, discovering a series of songs and stories that had been removed from the culture for generations. Fusing the discovered songs and stories with his piano and haunting string arrangements Dutcher creates a series of what he terms ‘collaborative’ pieces. It makes for a beautiful listen, but has an importance far beyond that, as Dutcher observes: "I'm doing this work because there's only about a hundred Wolastoqey speakers left…It's crucial for us to make sure that we're using our language and passing it on to the next generation. If you lose the language, you're not just losing words; you're losing an entire way of seeing and experiencing the world from a distinctly indigenous perspective."
Cecil Frena first caught our ears way back when he emerged with cut up electro-pop wizardry as Gobble Gobble, and then Born Gold. Frena has now returned with The Gridlock, his first record under his own name, and first album in five years. What do you get when you mix killer strings, sporadic noise bursts and angelic choirs with understated, fragile pop songs? Album opener "Nerves Grow Rust" apparently, which comes on like a one man electro Polyphonic Spree and is a fantastic entry point into Frena’s wonderfully off-kilter pop world.
For years Rich Aucoin has toured Canada and beyond with his all inclusive dance party of a show. Imagine a one man Flaming Lips with the positivity and inclusivity of Andrew WK and you are about halfway there. The Hold EP finds Aucoin partnering with BSS’s Justin Peroff and is the first new material since the demos for his new album were stolen from his car last year. The EP showcases a decidedly more dreamy take on life than Aucoin has presented before. Aucoin is currently touring the US by bicycle, raising awareness for mental health charities by donating 100% of the tours proceeds to Mental Health America and The Canadian Mental Health Association.
Silla are Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq who hail from Kimmirut and Igulik in Nunuvut. Their name is taken from a word that translates from Inuktitut as Weather. Yet, it is more than that - it covers the surroundings, the connection to the land, stars moon and sun - the very air that we breathe. The duo joined forces with Ottawa’s Rise Ashen (hence Silla + Rise) to combine traditional and contemporary throat songs with floor-filing beats: honouring and preserving Inuit culture and experimenting with it sonically. It's a heady mix and we challenge you not to move while listening to the record. They were one of our picks of the festival at the recent Megaphono event in Ottawa and we hope to hear a follow up to their Juno nominated debut soon.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan make a welcome return this month with third album Dirt. Four years after UZU it is clear the band have continued to hone and refine their singular sound. Between the two records the band worked with Canadian Fillipina Gong Group Pantayo on the soundtrack to video game Severed. New ways of working and new styles allowed the band to further heighten and shift their sonic pallette ever onwards. On "Someplace", they show the full spectrum of what they term their ‘Noh-Wave prog’ sound, the lilting vocals giving way two and a half minutes into a colossal, juddering break-down as guitars squeal and alaska B’s pummelling and furious drumming make it clear once again that the Sonic Titan part of the band's name is there for a reason.
Melody McKiver is an Anishinaabe multi-disciplinary artist and educator based in Sioux Lookout on Treaty 3 territory. McKiver’s work allows her to blend classical western training and contemporary electronics to shape new Anishinaabe compositions.The Reckoning EP, released in 2017 is the score to Article 11’s production of the same name, which explores the effects of the Indian Residential School system and the repercussions of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. On "Naanan", the work's fifth movement, McKiver layers electronics and picked violin over a tense drone, building to what she terms a "moment of focused rage that comes at the moment of realising the atrocities that were committed in the name of Canadian settler colonisation."
Saskatoon’s The Avulsions released their debut album Expanding Program via Calgary’s Flemish Eye earlier this month. The Saskatoon four-piece should be at home as label mates to Preoccupations as they share a certain dystopian prairie dread. Washes of guitar and synth build and release, driving drums and disconnected vocals from singer/multi-instrumentalist Samantha Renner are very much the order of the day, as the pounding "The End" perfectly demonstrates.
Meghan Remy’s latest release as US Girls In A Poem Unlimited was named our album of the week upon its release in February. Embedded within the Toronto scene, Remy and her cohorts turn in a twisting, angry and righteous record fusing the psychedelic with the psychological, throwing in hints of Bowie’s plastic soul glam for good measure. One of the album's highlights is the cover of Fiver’s "Rage Of Plastics", which takes Simone Schmidt’s dark and sombre original tale of a life ruined by working and living downwind of a plastic factory and gives it a post-punk makeover complete with squalling saxophone and buzzing guitar.
To hear Fiver's original click here: https://crowncrowncrown.bandcamp.com/album/lost-the-plot
Steven Foster has been in and around the Toronto music scene for years now, playing with the likes of Doldrums and Snowblink amongst others. In that time he’s been working at Omhouse, his own project, originally releasing EP’s back in 2012. Eye to Eye marks the official debut album, some six years in the making. There’s a clear musical perfectionism thats gone into the production, and pretty much every note, cymbal crash and guitar jangle ring out with purpose. There’s no wastage here in the focused production. This is complex guitar-pop writ large, and fans of acts like XTC, Field Music or Bitte Orca era Dirty Projectors should sit up and take note.
April will see the release of 12, the twelfth record in a twenty year career from Canadian power-pop titans Sloan. As ever, each member contributes to the song-writing duties, with three tracks written and sung by each member of the band. "Spin Our Wheels" sees Chris Murphy taking lead duties on a shining power-pop gem complete with hand-claps, harmony vocals and chiming guitars. The track almost dares you not to sing along with the soaring chorus and proves once again the band are at the peak of their powers.
Regina’s Trash Hawks make a gloriously simple sound, and do it really well. "Sandy Shores", the lead track from their debut EP Piña Piñata Colada jangles pleasantly during the versus before joyfully leaping on the distortion pedal to sing-chant the choruses, gang vocal style. It’s pure Pinkerton-era Weezer and all the better for it. No doubt it will be the soundtrack for many a scorching summer afternoon.
Darlene Shrugg first formed in Toronto in 2013, popping up at shows to play sets full of theatrical rock n’roll. Made up of Maximillian 'Twig' Turnbull and Simone TB (formerly Tropics) the band also feature Carlyn Bezic and Amanda Crist of Ice Cream. The band worked with Turnbull’s partner, Meg Remy of US Girls and recruited her to sing some of the tracks. After numerous live shows over the years, Young Gov of Fucked Up managed to convince the band to go into a studio and record their debut album over a period of two years. The result is a raucous riff-rock’n’roll record, and the squelching glam of "Technicolour Sound" lies right at its heart.
Montreal Garage Rock brothers Guillaume and Maxime Chiasson (aka Ponctuation) released Mon Herbier Du Monde Entier in February. Inspired by a turbulent year, the band pot themselves into a sort of semi-exile, retreating to a studio with Canailles’ Antoine Tardif last summer to lay down a series of sessions that would form the basis for the new record. First single "Exil" finds the band moving further away from their garage-rock roots and locking in to Tardif’s psychedelic and hypnotic bass groove, surrounding it with shimmering guitars and swirling organ.
Lush instrumentation, smooth and soothing vocals and perfectly realised folk-pop abound on The Olympic Symphonium’s fifth album Beauty In The Tension. The album’s title perfectly sums up the sounds it contains, each of the band's four songwriters picking up on different tensions of everyday life, from family matters to life spent on the road. Now eleven years into their career, this is the sound of a band atuned to each others ways of working, giving a quiet ease to the proceedings. Subdued horns, haunting pedal steel and harmonies contribute to the records hazy warmth.
Another artist that caught our ear at Ottawa’s Megaphono festival, Montreal’s Helena Deland has already toured with Whitney and earlier this month released the Altogether Unaccompanied Vol 1 & 2 EP via Luminelle Recordings. There’s a gentle subtlety to her writing, be it the '60s-infused playful pop of "There Are A Thousand", the electronic atmospherics of "Take It All" or the fuzzy soul-stomp of "Perfect Weather For A Crime". Deland hits the UK in May for The Great Escape, and is currently touring the US with Superorganism.
Rena Kozak has been a mainstay of the Calgary music scene for many years, in acts including Gold, Shematomas and Burnt Shrines, as well as as a touring engineer with Preoccupations. Milking A Dead Cow is her debut as Child Actress, and for the first time finds Kozak calling all the shots, both musically and from a production side. A deeply personal record, the album was formed over a four year period in the wake of the sudden passing of her partner Chris Reimer (Women/ The Dodos). While the record may have been driven by grief, and address ideas of loss, the record isn’t necessarily a sad record, as Kozak explained to Beatroute around the time of it’s release: “It’s definitely a pop record. It just came to be what I want to hear, and it just happens to be from a place of grief.”
Sharply arranged, the album draws from '80s indie-pop and new wave touchstones: propulsive, rumbling basslines, and dry, chiming guitars and glassy vocals that veer from vulnerable to indignant. Preoccupations/ Lab Coast man Monty Munro lends a hand on drums for a couple of tracks, as well as providing backing vocals on “Soup”, the album's lead-off track.
Elsa Mizaei and Katarina Pavelic are Lake Urmia, a sleepy downer-pop project from Ottawa. Starting as a series of living room recordings about daydreams the pair channel their daydreams through a forest of jangles and sleepy synths on debut release, the brilliantly titled Wine Time, which came out at the tail end of 2017. The winding riff and burbling electronic ripples of "Walnut Tree" are so laid back they are horizontal, lulling you into a red wine haze. We can’t wait to see whats to come from the band in 2018.
The third appearance from Maximilian ‘Twig’ Turnbull on this compilation, the producer and guitarist of US Girls and Darlene Shrugg unveiled a new instrumental project named Badge Époque in February. Their debut release "You Can Build a Palace Or You Can Please People" rides along on easy going beats from Toronto’s busiest drummer turned producer Jay Anderson’s and flute from Blood Ceremony’s Alia O’Brien, all brewing up a heady, psychedelic, '70s styled prog-funk groove. We can't wait to hear more.