Oh! Canada returns to shine a spotlight some of finest records coming out of Canada in recent months. As ever we have tracks from all over Canada, from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the small town of Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island.
Greys - Cruelty
Toronto’s Greys returned with their second album Outer Heaven back in April. That album ended with ‘Lull’, which began to fuse the bands trademark ferocious noise assault with chiming guitars and more melodic elements. This record builds on Lull’s blueprint, and while it still hits hard and heavy, the melodies feel more prominent. The suspenseful album opener ‘Cruelty’ , with its swinging drums and naggingly insistent arpeggio serves as notice that Outer Heaven is not going to be your average noise rock record, and Greys are not, nor will they ever be your average noise rock band. Lyrically the band are not afraid to tackle the issues facing us as a society today: Cruelty is based on the story of a particularly horrific attack between classmates in the US, while elsewhere lyrics look at the idea of what it means to be seen as ‘other’, mental health struggles and social media opinionistas.
Bart - Hello
Falsetto harmonies, modulating bass lines and dual guitars rule the day on Bart’s debut album, Holomew, which was released through Idee Fixe back in April. Not ones to hide their prog-rock leanings, the band switch time signatures at will, throwing in unusual guitar lines and unexpected sax blasts, alongside delicate piano ballads. That isn’t to say the band aren’t armed with a hook or two though, as the insistent ‘Hello’ ably demonstrates.
The Besnard Lakes - The Plain Moon
April saw Montreal’s Besnard Lakes put on a special big band show in London, where they were joined by Adam Franklin from Swervedriver, Tom and Jack from Wolf People and Kristina Koropecki. In total the band numbered 13 people, realising the huge sound that the band seek to unleash on record. New album A Coliseum Complex Museum continues the swirling, hazy psychedelic legacy, the band crafting mini and not so mini epics, drenched in reverb. The insistent groove and warm, euphoric harmonies of ‘The Plain Moon’ are the perfect taster for the record.
Evening Hymns - All of Your Money
Earlier this year Evening Hymns released a deluxe version of 2015’s Quiet Energies. The four extra tracks were record at part of the same sessions but didn’t quite fit thematically on the album. “All Your Money” was originally intended to be a single from the record, and it is easy to see why with big choruses, chiming guitars and an insistent piano it is as immediate a record as Bonetta has put out to date. The band just completed tours with Wintersleep and Andy Shauf as well as providing the soundtrack to the documentary short film ‘Raising The Words’.
Woodpigeon - Whole Body Shakes
It is 10 years since Mark Andrew Hamilton released Woodpigeon’s debut record, Songbook. Since then Hamilton has travelled the world, released 6 albums, a handful of mini albums, split singles and collaborations. While the confessional nature of Hamilton’s songwriting has been an ever present factor, his personal circumstances almost meant the record didn’t happen at all. Finding himself in another new city following the end of a relationship made Hamilton question his will to continue with music. Yet this questioning seems in itself to have been a release of sorts.
The ideas of freedom, both physical and emotional, run through Whole Body Shakes, a slinky, soulful and bruised affair which finds Hamilton, with the help of Toronto’s Sandro Perri, shifting away from the baroque-pop forms he has used before, incorporating numerous other sounds from his travels. The result is a bold, brave statement of intent, and, by his own admission “the loudest thing I’ve ever made”.
Minotaurs - Weird Waves
Guelph, Ontario isn’t necessarily the first place you would think to look for a psych-rock infused afro-beat band. Yet scratch the surface of that same University town and that is just what you will find. Frontman Nathan Lawr is a stalwart of the Guelph scene, having played in Royal City and worked with Constantines (and currently with Bry Webb) King Cobb Steelie and Fembots amongst others. Infusing pop and politics is the order of the day on Weird Waves, as Lawr and his band set out to craft an ‘apocalyptic-psychedelic afro-folk epic’, waves of soul, jazz and afro-funk washing over and creating an intense and immersive experience. Along the way they are assisted by the likes of Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) and Jonas Bonetta (Evening Hymns) amongst others.
Pierre Kwenders - Popolipo (featuring Throes And The Shine)
We first saw Pierre Kwenders at Pop! Montreal back in 2014, and have followed with interest since then. Fusing Electro and Congolese Rumba and working with the likes of Radio Radio, Poirer and The Posterz, Le Dernier Empereur Bantou saw critical acclaim, a Juno nomination and shows across Europe. At some point along the way, it seems he came into contact with Portugese-Angolan collective Throes and The Shine and struck up a collaboration- Kwenders contributing vocals to their single ‘Capuca’, and Throes giving the remix treatment to ‘Popolipo’, taking out much of the original track and turning it into a vibrant Kuduro electro soundclash.
Thin Blue Line - 'Tungsten Fields'
Montreal’s Thin Blue Line have crafted a fine line of instrumental post rock, with the occasional foray into the mathier side of things. The product of lengthy sessions, ‘Tungsten Fields’ layers intertwining guitars over the constant flow of the bass line. While this could have produced quite a cool and clinical sound, Thin Blue Line manage to infuse their songs with a sense of warmth and nostalgia, with phased out guitars and call and response elements. The inspiration for the sound came from the obscured sounds of music between number station transmissions that they found in a market in Budapest. These ghost melodies formed the basis of the debut self titled EP and are again used as the jump off point for News From What We Once Thought, the band’s debut album.
Tim Crabtree - Bluish
Tim Crabtree makes experimental electronic music in Montreal. His day job has seen him release 3 albums as Paper Beat Scissors, touring widely around Canada and the UK, sharing the stages with the likes of Mark Kozelek and Tanya Tagaq amongst others, as well as releasing a collaboration with Clogs for record store day. While Paper Beat Scissors sound has always contained electronic elements, his releases under his own name for Nova Scotian label Backward Music have allowed him to develop the more experimental and improvisational element of his work.
Jim Bryson - Breathe
Earlier this year, Jim Bryson released Somewhere We Will Find Our Place, his 5th solo album, and the first since 2010’s The Falcon Lake Incident, for which he was joined by The Weakerthans. This time round he recruited the likes of Caroline Brooks (The Good Lovelies), Kathleen Edwards and Broken Social Scene’s Charles Spearin, who also handles production duties. Once again, Bryson’s ability to detail the minutiae of every day life, hopes, dreams and anxieties shines throughout the album, each potential stumbling block or fond reminiscence dealt with with warmth and humour. While on the album’s title track Bryson admits “This is not a sing along”, ‘Breathe’ certainly is, with its soaring slide guitar line and propulsive rhythm section driving onwards: an anthem for rallying against the traffic and a culture when people never actually talk to each other, for pressing pause on life, and for taking time out to live life under the broad skies and simply breathe.
Century Egg - Mountain God 山神仙
Century Egg began a couple of years ago when Robert Drisdelle and Keyu Shane Song began writing tracks, having never played music before. Before long the couple had enlisted other members frown from Halifax’s punk and hardcore community and Century Egg was born. Fusing indie-pop with Chinese folk and folklore, the band sing in Mandarin and English, depending on who has written the song. The result is a bouncy, exuberant and joyful listen, with bouncing bass lines, and occasional metallic blasts.
Walrus- Wearing It
Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Walrus are the latest signing to Dan Mangan’s Madic label, with whom they released the Goodbye Something EP earlier this year. The band have honed their warm, jangling jams on the road with the likes of July Talk, Will Butler, Buck 65 and Zeus over the past few years, and have also been playing with Wintersleep. As ‘Wearing It’ shows, they aren’t afraid to crank up the guitars and let the solos flow.
Partner - Personal Weekend
We premiered the video to Partner’s ‘Personal Weekend’ a couple of weeks ago, and now we are delighted to be able to offer the track to you as part of Oh! Canada 27. Having put out two singles at the tail end of last year, the Sackville, New Brunswick based duo continue to rip through songs in two-minutes or under, yet provide hooks that get stuck in your head for days.
Shotgun Jimmie - Tripple Letter Score
Shotgun Jimmie loves his job. Across his numerous albums, musically and lyrically, he has extolled the virtues of getting out there, playing music with friends and having a good time. In the summer he comes alive, touring across his native land, with a smile on his face, and sweetly crafted tunes and wordplay aplenty. The bouncy, upbeat nature of his latest album is reflected in the title, Field of Trampolines and the cover art, a globe replaced with a beach ball. ‘Triple Letter Score’ celebrates nights on the beach and evenings spent around the campfire, playing scrabble and hanging out “with the angry owls.” Jimmie hits Europe in the fall, with a handful of dates in the UK.
Adrian Teacher and The Subs - Victory Square
The local environment has always played a huge part in Adrian Teacher’s work: Apollo Ghost’s records Hastings Sunrise, Mount Benson and Landmark were named after his neighbourhood, childhood home town and apartment building respectively. While Apollo Ghosts no longer exist, Adrian Teacher and The Subs continues to provide a sonic biography of Teacher’s Vancouver home on new album Terminal City. While the city earned that nickname due to being the terminus for Canadian Pacific Railroad, there is clearly something else at play here, particularly on the bitingly critical title track, which succinctly takes apart the gentrification of the city. Over ten tracks and a little over 25 minutes, the band whistle through the city, its people, loves and losses, providing them with a jangling power-pop soundtrack, replete with fuzzy solos and gang vocals, typified by lead single ‘Victory Square’.
Peach Pit- Sweet FA
Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Atari Teenage Riot. Minor Threat. Peach Pit sound nothing like these acts, but they do follow in their footsteps on their debut EP by opening with a song that is also the name of the band. Far from heavy, this quartet of Vancouverites label their debut EP ‘Sweet FA’ as sad pop. There’s a palpable sense of melancholy to a record full of morning blues, lazy loves and smooth guitar-pop harmonies. The EPs title track swings along on an ear worm of a guitar riff, with hushed vocals from Mike Smith, before the harmonies kick in for the chorus, hushed, restrained yet quietly anthemic.
Charlotte Cornfield - Mercury
Last year was a busy year for Charlotte Cornfield- as well as putting together her second album, Future Snowbird, she also took on booking duties at Burdock, which has quickly become one of the go to places in Toronto for intimate shoes and emerging talent.
Mercury sees her joining forces with long-time friend Tim Darcy of Ought (Cornfield has been known to sit in on guitar with the band on occasion). Darcy provides a call and response to Cornfield’s confessional storytelling. For all of the mistakes and regrets detailed in the lyrics, Cornfield comes out strong and confident, delivered with a crystal clear clarity and a brightness of sound that makes the experience feel redemptive.
Jenny Berkel - Wealth In The Country
Jenny Berkel follows up her debut album with Pale Moon Kid, through Pheromone Recordings. Originally from rural Ontario, Berkel’s life since the release of her debut record has been one of constant change, a fact that is reflected by the record. Restless and ever changing, Berkel draws on the open prairies, the busy rush of urban centres and the quite of the woods and forests. Much of this travelling was due to being part of Daniel Romano’s Trillium band, and it is Romano himself who produced the album in his Welland, Ontario studio over a period of eight days last summer, fuelled by Rex’s Pizza and ably assisted by Berkel’s sister, Kay.
Casey Mecija - Condo City
Since Ohbijou went on hiatus back in 2013 Casey Mecija has been very busy, completing first a Masters and then undertaking a PhD at the University of Toronto. She also produced the award winning documentary, “My Father Francis”, which has been shown across Canada and at Reel Asian Film Festival and Inside Out LGBT Film Festivals. Casey’s work and study is based on the arts, media and cultural studies as they relate to immigration and multiculturalism. She is also the host of CBC Radio’s the Doc Project, which showcases the best Canadian radio documentaries across Canada. She continues to work on programmes in the field of arts education and in the community.
Somehow amongst all this work she managed to put together her debut Solo album, Psychic Materials. Recruiting Kieran Adams (DIANA/ Bonjay), Jeff DeButte (The Acorn) and former Ohbijou bandmates Heather Kirby, Jenny Mecija, Anissa Hart and Ryan Carley. The album marks the return of one of Canada’s most enchanting voices. Mecca revisits some of the best elements of Ohbijou, but channels them through a more electro-pop lens. The result is a warm, intimate, and very much alive emotional journey. Mecija explains “They are pieces of dreams about queerness, memory, diaspora, history and love. Like an attempt to make sense of the residue of a dream, I hope that the imposition of a coherent narrative onto them is a necessary act but does not undermine their enigmatic qualities. These songs contain materials that help me to know who I am, all the while finding comfort in the places where knowing is not possible”
The album is best experienced on Mecija's website, which features gif videos for each track.
Steven Lambke - Hummingbird
Steven Lambke is the man behind You’ve Changed Records, the Toronto based label that has quietly set about releasing some of the finest Canadian records of the last 5 years, including records by The Weather Station, Daniel Romano, Nap Eyes, Shotgun Jimmie, Adrian Teacher and Partner. He is also a Constantine, has been Baby Eagle, and late last year, for the first time, released an album as himself. The resultant record Days of Heaven is a thing of hushed beauty, delicate and refined. On Hummingbird, he is joined by Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station, revisiting a series of Duets they recorded as part of her postcard series, while Mika Posen of Merganser and Timber Timbre provides the strings.
A. Dyjecinski - Dead Horses
Since its release at the end of April, A. Dyjecinski’s The Valley Of Yessiree has quickly revealed itself to be a record that keeps drawing you back, rewarding repeated listens with his subtle, forlorn take on Americana. Another artist on this edition who grew up on Vancouver Island in the small city of Nanaimo, British Columbia (home to the fantastic, and fantastically named record store Fascinating Rhythm), Dyjecinski is now based in London.
Dead Horses is about Dyjecinski’s Grandfather, a Polish prisoner of war, and the suffering he endured that inspired him to write a series of novels which were passed down to Dyjecinski, a gift from a man he would never meet, and a language he would never understand. Sombre yet soulful, the record hints at great things yet to come.
Oh! Canada 27 will be available to stream and download in full for one month only.
Thanks to all artists for being part of Oh! Canada. Please show your support by clicking the artist name and following the links to their artist pages. There are plenty of great records out there to be had, often on PWYC deals, so happy exploring!