This weekend Best Fit will be heading out to Regina, Saskatchewan to BreakOut West, the annual festival celebrating the best and emerging artists from Canada’s Western provinces. In keeping, this edition of Oh! Canada will shine a light on some of the artists playing the festival as well as a few other artists from the region we think you should look out for.
Andy Shauf (Regina, Saskatchewan)
It seems only fitting that our compilation begins with one of Regina’s own. Earlier this year Andy Shauf followed up his critically acclaimed The Bearer of Bad News with The Party, released via Anti. The record is full of Shauf’s trademark character-driven storytelling, capturing intimate and extraordinary moments in everyday small town life. The record garnered a Much deserved 9/10 from us, as well as being shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. Shauf has spent much of his time since on the road, away from his hometown, touring Europe in support of The Lumineers and across the US with case/lang/viers.
Andrew’s Pale Horses (Calgary, Alberta)
Andrew Ellergodt has spent much of his adult life reclusively writing and recording in Calgary, Alberta. As well as preparing material for his forthcoming debut Early Medicine, Ellergodt performed in and created the soundtrack to the award winning short film “The Society of Bird Watchers”. Although Ellergodt has only released demos for his forthcoming record to date, the hypnotic, gentle psychedelia of 'Make Me Disappear' has us eager to hear more.
Aidan Knight (Victoria, British Columbia)
Vancouver Island’s Aidan Knight is nominated for the West Coast Music Award for BreakOut Artist of the year, thanks to his latest album Each Other. A thing of hushed beauty full of slow burning melodies and delicate, unexpected instrumentation. and textures. Although undoubtedly an intimate and at times sombre record, Each Other has a lifting, hopeful warmth to it. Many of the songs were only concepts when Knight hit the studio: “I wanted to hear the ideas as they took shape. The aim and result is a small collection of songs that capture what it was like to be in the room with us. There were extended moments of darkness and uncertainty, but also true uninhibited joy”. Knight’s previous record, Small Reveal, will be released in the UK for the first time by Full Time Hobby on October 21st.
Begonia (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Begonia is the solo project of Alexa Dirks of JUNO award-winning multilingual roots/pop act Chic Gamine, known for its close harmonies. Dirks is one of the most in demand voices in the prairies, lending her coals to the likes of The Bros Landreth, Royal Canoe and others, as well as having her own band in the shape of The New Lightweights. For her debut EP she worked with Matt Peters and Matt Schellenberg of Royal Canoe to create a joyful soul-pop that blends the sweetest moments of Lauren Hill’s Miseducation with elements of Dirty Projectors thrown in for good measure. "Juniper" is a slice of modern soul-pop perfection deservedly sitting at the top of the CBC’s Top 20 chart for the last couple of weeks.
DGS Samurai Champs (Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
DGS Samurai Champs are new wave rapper Jeah and dark-R&B singer Merv xx Gotti, a duo hailing from the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, determined to redefine the way people think about Canadian hip hop. The duo draw in equal measure from their Southeast Asian heritage and their Urban Canadian identity. Since 2013 they have become a key player in the Saskatchewan hip-hop scene. Working on building their community rather than tearing others down, there’s a positivity to their sound that is infectious, and spreads way beyond the hip hop community. Their record The Hard Tape was voted as SaskMusic’s number 1 album of the year in 2015. The band have played across Canada and Europe, and shared stages with the likes of K-OS, Flatbush Zombies and Swollen Members. Their latest Crayons EP was mastered by Colin Leonard, the engineer behind Bryson Tiller’s T R A P S O U L.
Royal Canoe (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
September saw the release of Something Got Lost Between Here And The Orbit, Royal Canoe’s first album in 3 years. Their previous record took home the WCMA award for Best Independent Album and the band spent much of the time between the two on the road, including playing Bonnaroo, Iceland Airwaves and Osheaga. They also provided tour support for Alt-J and Bombay Bicycle Club. Now a more hardened road unit, the shows have intensified all that was great about the band’s sound. The intricately woven and undeniable rhythms that have always propelled their music continue to be front and centre, a locked down core around which the bands sonic adventures continue to evolve: synths, samples and everything in between feed into the irrepressible album opener 'Somersault'.
Mu (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Mu are Francesca Belcourt and Brittney Rand, a Vancouver based duo walking the line between organic sounds and cutting synth-pop production. Ethereal harmonies are underpinned by a thumping electronic pulse while Belcourt and Rand explore what they describe as their “adventures in the the tragedies of youth”. "Vampire" tackles the challenge of trying to music while trying to earn a living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and the perils of settling into the black hole rather than getting out and challenging the status quo.
Rae Spoon (Calgary, Alberta)
Eight albums into their award winning career Rae Spoon continues to evolve and explore new territories with their music. While previous album My Prairie Home looked back at Spoon’s fraught childhood as a queer youth in a Pentecostal household, latest album Armour looks to the future. Inhabiting the spaces where hope and hurt collide, they acknowledge that there may be times of trauma, but also times of joy, survival and positivity. Spoon delivers a series of complex yet danceable electronic pop nuggets that more than lives up to their reputation as one of the finest songwriting voices operating in Canada today.
Arlo Maverick (Edmonton, Alberta)
Arlo Maverick is 1/4 of Edmonton’s Politic Live collective, an outfit with whom we received 3 WCMA nominations and national airplay across Canada. Maverick’s debut solo album Maybe Tomorrow has been several years in the making, with Maverick working and reworking its tracks. The album, released in February this year is a concept album about an up and coming musician struggling with loss and looking for balance in a world of addiction, rejection and the quest for success. Seeking assistance from a therapist, each song on the album providing a soundtrack to these sessions. Fusing electro, jazz, soul and hip hop as well as some of the country and western, Gospel and old school R&B Maverick discovered in his uncle’s record collection, Maverick performs with a live band.
Diamond Mind (Edmonton, Alberta)
Edmonton’s Diamond Mind have been building to this moment since their formation in 2013. Having released a series of EPs and split singles. the band release their debut album Heavy Metal Sunshine this month. The forbidding horn heavy first single, Horseless Carriage is inspired by the life of Frankie Dwyer Rowe whose father was the city fire marshall in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and her involvement in what became known as "The Roswell Incident”. The rest of the album continues in this vein, with haunted character sketches, elaborate storytelling entwined with moments of personal revelation. Musically the band are as wide ranging as their subject matter, blending power-pop harmonies, shimmering psychedelia and soul stomp with the occasional glam stomp for good measure.
Slow Down Molasses (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
No longer the multi membered, sprawling collective that saw them unfairly labelled as "the Broken Social Scene of the prairies", Saskatoon’s Slow Down Molasses recently released 100% Sunshine, a record that sees them leaner and more muscular than ever. Capturing the sound of a band at the top of its game and tour-tight, their fusion of shoegaze, math-rock, dream-pop and the darker side of indie rock was built in the prairies, but mixed at Mogwai’s Castle of Doom by Tony Doogan. Levitation Sickness is one of loudest tracks on the record, and is certainly something of a crowd favourite, judging by their End of The Road performance.
The Pack AD (Vancouver, British Columbia)
It is now ten years since Becky Black and Maya Miller first recorded tracks for what would become their debut Tin Type in Black’s home. The band recorded 17 songs in case they didn’t get to make another record. Now six albums in, the band have built their career on the road. Be it the tiniest of dive bars, touring with the likes of Man or Astroman and Black Mountain, opening stadium shows for the Arctic Monkeys, or playing to the in-mates at a male prison, the duo are at their finest live and loud. Miller told us recently that latest album Positive Thinking is the most fun to play live, so it seems only fitting that the band will take their raw rock ’n roll road show across Canada, Germany and France this autumn.
Surf Dads (Regina, Saskatchewan)
There aren’t many beaches in landlocked Regina, but that hasn’t stopped Surf Dads a) calling themselves Surf Dads and b) making the kind of sweet harmonied high-octane power-pop that would have Rivers Cuomo waxing down his board and running to the beach all over again. There’s jangle aplenty, woo-ooh-ooh’s, wailing guitar solos and feedback galore all delivered with a youthful exuberance that is almost as infectious as the hooks. The band have put out four EPs over the last year, all available over at bandcamp on a PWYC basis.
Hot Panda (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Originally formed in Edmonton, Alberta in 2006 Hot Panda have been doing things their own way since then. The band relocated to Vancouver, but have spent much of the time in between driving no less than five tour vans into the ground, notching up over 12 North American Tours and a handful of European shows, opening up for the likes of Japandroids and Andrew WK in the process. What was once a quirky party band has grown up, turned up the distortion and the snark and added a layer of swirling psychedelia to their off-kilter fuzz-pop. The new album may be called Bad Pop, but the contents are anything but.
Yukon Blonde (Vancouver, British Columbia)
It took BC’s Yukon Blonde a while to follow up Tiger Talk, their breakthrough record. That record was full of classic rock harmonies, fusing it with driving power-pop melodies - perfect for long summer nights on the open road and under the Pacific North West’s open skies. For their pun-tastically titled new album On Blonde, the band headed over to Vancouver Island to record with Colin Stewart (Black Mountain/Odonis Odonis/ Dan Mangan). Recording on a 24 track board that was used by a handful of Studio 54 disco bands, they themselves into the era- lacing their tracks with sawtooth Moogs, FM soft pads and thunderous electro-bass lines. Fittingly enough the band lined up Tony Hoffer (M83/ Depeche Mode/ Air) to mix the record, adding a dark-pop sheen that still gives plenty of room for the big choruses and melodies to shine. ‘Bass Guitar’ is an unreleased B-Side taken from the On Blonde sessions.
36? (Calgary, Alberta)
36? started life in the Calgary basement of Taylor Cochrane , a restlessly creative multi-instrumentalist who quietly hones his art, self-producing a series of albums before joining forces with a group of friends to release 36? the band’s debut album where do we go from here? back in 2014. Not to rest on their laurels the band re-recorded the record entirely using nothing but household objects. Flame-out psychedelia, honking brass sections, and proggy wig-outs give way to bouncy power pop, intricate textures before careening headlong into the next passage, which could just as easily be full-on metal or stripped-back and contemplative. Cochrane’s expertise is in taking all these disparate elements and melding them in to a coherent, exciting and engaging whole.
Jordan Klassen (Vancouver, British Columbia)
“Hold your memory up to the light” Jordan Klassen sings on 'Glory B', the opening track of his album Javelin. Over the rest of the record he does just that, looking back at past events, actions and deeds, learning the lessons and bearing the scars. Distancing himself from his Vancouver home, Klassen headed to Texas on the advice of James Vincent McMorrow, to record at the isolated Sonic Ranch studio. “I wanted it to be scary…I needed to challenge myself” he explains. The distance allowed just enough separation to draw further focus on to the subject matter: personal struggles with mental health, his mother's struggle with cancer and her journey through chemotherapy and previous perceived failures feature throughout the record. The different environment fostered a sense of experimentation- a synth replacing a guitar line, different rhythms and sounds infusing the tracks with a sense of otherness. At times heartbreaking, and at others exuberant and uplifting, Klassen’s studio experiments and meticulous production lift the songs into a different realm from that which he has explored on previous records.
Jesse and The Dandelions (Edmonton, Alberta)
Jesse and The Dandelions released their third album, True Blue, last month. Apparently in an earlier life, frontman Jesse Northey was a figure skater. However, before long he hung up his skates in the pursuit of rock n’ roll. Skating’s loss has proved to be music’s gain, as these days Northey can be found on both sides of the mixing desk - assisting local artists in production, mixing, and engineering. As for his own record he recently worked on the Diamond Mind record also featured on this compilation. Putting his production skills to work on his own record, True Blue is full of varying textures, classic synths and unusual percussion sounds, all surrounding and swirling around the central jangle of Jesse’s Rickenbacker, which, if his press shots are to believed is…true blue. For those wanting to learn more about Jesse’s journey from figure skating pro to space-psych impresario, he has generously provided a comic-book version of the story which can be seen over at his website.
Slow Leaves (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Slow Leaves is the work of Grant Davidson, a Winnipeg native who has been recording under various guises since 2006. Delicate fingerpicking compliments Davidson’s warm vocal delivery, which hangs with just the right amount of longing, occasionally flickering and breaking in all the right places. If his sound ended here as one man and his guitar there would be enough to send the country-folk fans hearts a-flutter. However, Davidson is clearly a man who knows his history, throwing in nods to '70s Nashville with slow building drums (often courtesy of The Weakerthans’ Jason Tait), parping horns, swelling hammond organs and swooning pedal steel. Davidson is currently working on a new album to follow up 2014’s Beauty Is So Common, a record that could see him follow in the footsteps of Daniel Romano in helping to define a particularly Canadian form of North Americana.
The Bros. Landreth (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Brothers Joey and David Landreth wring every last drop out of their brotherly harmonies on their Juno winning debut album Let It Lie. Keeping it in the family, the record even features a vocal cameo from their musician father Wally. Although both brothers had played in bands before, it wasn’t until they got the family together that things really started clicking in to place. The album was picked up by Slate Creek Records, co-run by Nashville producer Garth Fundis (Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood) and Brandy Clark, who saw something in band’s southern-tinged sound. Hammond swells, lashings of slide guitar and a healthy helping of boogie-rock has propelled them across the US, winning their fair share of celebrity fans in the process-including John Oates (of Hall and...fame) who literally lent his support to the band- opening for their Nashville show in May last year. With a sound that is primed for lengthy road trips, the band are the next in a long lineage of boogy brother bands, following on from The Allmans, the Doobies and fellow Canadian Prairie dwellers The Sheepdogs.
Megan Nash (Palmer, Saskatchewan)
Last year Megan Nash moved from Moose Jaw deep into the Saskatchewan countryside, to concentrate on her music. It was a move that was to have a great effect on her writing, and one that would produce a prolific spell of creativity that led to the recording of Song Harvest: Volume One in a 100 year old church in the town. While technically a solo record, with Nash accompanied only by her mournful, raw guitar, the reverb of that isolated church almost adds another voice to the record in its own right: a dark, foreboding presence that echoes the ominous vastness of the prairies that surround it. For Nash’s part her voice hangs heavy in the record, at times bruised and wounded, at others cracking into a righteous growl. The resultant collection of songs has deservedly earn Nash a nomination for Western Canadian Songwriter of the Year.
Cyrillic Typewriter (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Jason Zumpano has been a part of the Vancouver music scene since lending his drumming skills, and his name, to the Sub Pop signed power-pop outfit in the mid 90s alongside Carl Newman (who would later form the New Pornographers). As Zumpano the band drew to a close, Zumpano the man began to play the piano, and was quickly co-opted by fellow Vancouverite Dan Bejar into his new band Destroyer. He is also the founder of JAZ records, who have put out releases by Nicholas Krgovich, (No Kids/ Mount Eerie), electro-acoustic composer Sarah Davachi, Hello Blue Roses as well as Zumpano’s own project The Cyrillic Typewriter. On their latest record Your True Emblem Zumpano is joined by fellow Destroyer Alumni Scott Morgan (Loscil) and Nic Bragg, as well as Terri Upton of Frog Eyes on double bass. Together they slowly evolve through intervals, a spacious, contemplative exploration of the sonic field, simultaneously mellow and packed with suspenseful energy.
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!