Oh! Canada returns with a summer mixtape to shine a light on some of the best new music coming out of Canada over the last few months.
For this edition we look at an incredible reissue from Alanis Obomsawin, psych-country goes soul with Jennifer Castle, two familiar faces join forces for Frontperson and we explore some of the best electronic releases of the last few months. There's even some rioutous post-punk and jangle pop thrown in for good measure. A huge thanks to everyone who made this edition possible and a tip of the hat to Nick Faye for this edition's cover image.
Alanis Obomsawin has made it her life-long mission to give a voice to Canada’s First Peoples, preserving and celebrating culture, all the while standing up to the injustices and ideologies of oppression. Starting as a singer and storyteller, she became one of Canada’s leading documentary filmmakers, all the while driven by the same goal: “The reason I make films is to give a voice to our people, a place to express themselves in dignity, to expose injustices and tell our history.”
A member of the Abenaki Nation, in 1960 she travelled from Odanak, Quebec to New York to work as a vocalist, performing at a variety of festivals and arts centres and taking her message to prisons, museums and universities in support of humanitarian causes. While working in New York that she was approached by Canada’s National Film Board to act as a consultant on a film about Indigenous peoples. By 1971 she had begun working on educational materials, producing films shown in schools to increase understanding of Indigenous culture and issues within a system with an inbuilt bias against First Nations. Since then Obomsawin has produced almost a documentary a year, and last year released her 50th film, Our People Will Be Healed, at the Toronto International Film Festival, celebrating her 85th birthday in the process. 2017 also saw the first and only performance of her only album, 1985’s Bush Lady, at Le Guess Who? in Utrecht. This June, Montreal’s Constellation Records reissued the remarkable record, which fuses traditional Abenaki songs, original material, and avant-garde string arrangements. It is an incredibly moving record, and just one small part of a remarkable career and life.
Vancouver’s Hello Blue Roses returned again in March with their third LP Trade Winds, released via JAZ Records. The project is focused on the writing and voice of Sydney Hermant. While originally formed as a duo with her partner Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer), Trade Winds finds Hermant take a more solo approach, using loops and guitar washes to create atmospheres over which her distinctive vocal floats. The record moves easily between psych-folk, experimental pop, and art-rock, and is laid back and loose - at times it calls to mind the likes of Cowboy Junkies or Patti Smith. When the sound requires it Hermant is joined by others, including Bejar on vibraphone, Jason Zumpano (Zumpano) on organ and drums, and David Carswell (The Evaporators, The Smugglers) on bass. Album opener "Semele" showcases Hermant’s voice at its delicate finest, accompanied only by guitar and subtly underpinned by Carswell’s bass.
Toronto’s Jennifer Castle returned in May with Angels Of Death, the long awaited follow up to the Polaris-nominated Pink City (2014). Recorded in a 19th-century church at the edge of Lake Erie, which was also her family home, the atmosphere and intensely personal history is infused throughout the record. Recruiting some of Toronto’s finest players, including Paul Mortimer (The Highest Order), Robbie Gordon on drums, and Mike Smith (Muskox/The Mike Smith Company) on bass and string arrangements, Castle recorded the majority of the record over one long, cold weekend, reflecting that it was almost as if “the moon was a member of the band.”
“Tonight the Evening” begins as a slow burning psych-country, before elevating and evolving with the help of Smith’s insistent strings into a twanging, swooning gospel-soul incantation.
Frontperson is the brand new project from Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers). After meeting in a studio hallway they decided to start a band, sending tracks back and forth between their Montreal and Vancouver Island homes. They eventually met at Calgary’s National Music Centre to record, using melotrons, orchestrons, and optigons amongst other things to write music. "Tick-Tock (Frontrunner)" is the first single to be taken from the album, which will be released on Calder’s own Oscar St Records in September.
There’s no battling egos or voices when it comes to "Tick-Tock (Frontrunner)", with Calder and Hamilton’s vocals perfectly complimenting each other and bringing the best out in both. Collaboration led to a feeling of greater personal freedom in terms of subject matter as well, as Hamilton explains: “Sometimes with your friend by your side, it’s easier to sing about things that maybe would’ve been a little harder to vocalize all on your own. Inner violence, desire, cruising, and new crushes - it’s good to have a pal there to harmonize with.”
Elisapie will release her new album The Ballad Of The Runaway Girl on 14 September via Montreal’s Bonsound. Born in Salluit, Quebec to an Inuk mother and Newfoundland father, Elisapie has been performing since the age of 12, first with Sugluk and then as part of Taima, winning a Juno Award for their self-titled (and only) album. Elisapie also produced an award-winning documentary for the National Film Board called If The Weather Permits, looking at the changing lifestyles of Inuit people in Nunavik.
The first single from the new record is a cover of Ink folk-singer Willie Thrasher’s "Wolves Don’t Live By The Rules". His 1981 album Spirit Child (recently reissued) became an obsession for her. Talking about the record, she explained to us what Thrasher means to her: “Willie Thrasher gave me strength. I was finding myself in him. Somehow, his life was torn from him. He was sent to a residential school in the south. He lost his language and his traditional Inuit way of life. Willie Thrasher did not have an easy path, but he is a fighter… 'Wolves Don’t Live By The Rules' echoes Willie Thrasher’s life. The song is a tribute to survival, to nomadism and to the free spirit of the Inuit people. It’s also an ode to the animal life and spirituality. It’s a song about resistance, about the land that saw us born and helped us grow."
Ocean Potion formed after Zeus and Yukon Blonde shared a tour van. After spending possible too much time in the van, Mike O’Brien (Zeus) and Jason Haberman (Yukon Blonde) realised they had more in common than shared time in motor vehicles and started writing tunes together. With an LP scheduled for later this year, "In The Grass" is a hazy gem of a tune, perfect the last few hours of sunshine on a summer day.
Regina’s Bears in Hazenmore released their debut album Atlas in June. A follow up to two earlier EPs, the record saw the band retreat to rural Saskatchewan to hone their ideas and sound. The result is a record full of ambient textures, subtle and intertwined horns and shimmering guitars. Lead singer Brady Frank’s smooth pop croon, which calls to mind City and Colour’s Dallas Green, often floats above the backing before changing things up, the band's tightly crafted dynamics pushing things on to another level. Each track focuses on a specific memory and its location - the album artwork features hand-drawn maps of each location by Saskatoon’s Kelsey Chabot.
Originally from Ottawa, Allie Hanlon now calls Los Angeles home. Having released albums on Bachelor and Burger Records, Hanlon finds herself on Vancouver’s Mint Records for the release of her fourth album Gentle Leader. The record seems like a perfect fit for the label - it’s a glorious, frenetic, hook-heavy power-pop pill delivered at breakneck speed, sitting perfectly between Mint alumni Cub and Maow, and the heavier Tough Age.
"King Size" is an ode to a pitbull named Bubba. Hanlon explained to The Stranger: “I wrote it because people were really afraid of him, and they would cross the street or move away quickly when we would come close… I would feel bad because he wouldn’t even get a chance, but he’s kind of like a perfect dog.”
Born out of the musical communities in Ottawa and Montreal, Future States are, in their own words, "held together by Greyhound buses and good old-fashioned friendship". If latest single "Heaven" is anything to go by, they also share a healthy love of experimental pop music. Built around a bouncy bassline, the band locks in to a laid-back groove, building electronic textures and shifting rhythms to compliment the woozy, mantra-like vocal harmonies. There’s an easy familiarity at play here, in what Brodie of the band terms "musical easter eggs", nodding to the band's influences along the way.
Calgary’s Matthew Swann returned with his second album as Astral Swans in May this year. Strange Prison was produced by Scott Munro of Preoccupations, with additional production (and occasional backing vocals) from Dan Mangan. "Controls", the second single, was produced at Mangan’s National Park Studios in Vancouver. Built around a slinky bassline, Swann describes the track as a “damaged pop single about a plane crash that I read about as a teen, operating as a metaphor for recurrent family tragedies from my youth”.
Caylie Runciman released Bad Mantras, her second full length as Boyhood, in June. The album was recorded at Port William Sound, in the Ontario countryside. The twisting, lo-fi "Luvbomb" builds around a repetitive, melancholy bassline, Runciman’s haunting voice hovering just above the distorted, woozy guitar and twinkling keyboard.
“It's centred around manipulation in an intimate relationship, and remaining in a situation because of the comfort in the moment, and then the feeling of walking home alone, and then being at home alone, crying about knowingly being taken advantage of," explains Runciman. "Pretend like I don't know, and smile, and I'll cry when I get home."
Chrisy Hurn, Nimal Agalawatte, and Brandon Munro are Hamilton, Ontario’s Basement Revolver. Named after lead singer Hurn’s apartment, the trio have been perfecting their fuzzy dream-pop melodies since the release of their self-titled EP back in 2016, and the following Agatha EP in 2017. This month they will release their debut album Heavy Eyes via Fear Of Missing Out. The album incorporates standout EP tracks "Johnny", "Tree Trunks", and "Johnny Pt. 2" alongside some decidedly heavier material, both musically and subjectively. Recording at TAPE Studio, the band were able to relax in a familiar environment, giving room and space to “get cheesy or goofy” if they so desired. "Johnny Pt. 2" is a particularly raw slow burner, dealing with a breakup and attempts to continue a friendship.
Tchutchu is the project of Davis Whitstone of Onion Lake, Saskatchewan. A producer and engineer, Davis has produced a series of singles, EPs, and remixes fusing samples, dense electronic production, and skittering, addictive beats. His Battles EP saw him nominated for Best Electronic Album at the CBC Indigenous Music Awards, while his most recent Embers album is an uplifting sonic collaboration his three-year-old daughter.
Davis had this to say about the heavy beats of stand alone single "Markus The Traveller": “I wrote this for my nephew's birthday, as some kind of wish I would love for all my family. I want them all to see the world, to leave the reserve to see what is out there. Since I moved to Vancouver for school for all things audio like music production, audio engineering, post production, game audio, music business, and live sound, I had a really daunting, overbearing, heavy, weighted culture shock. It was scary but it also made me quick on my feet. I’ve learned so much from just leaving the reserve and that's what I would love my family to do... this track was also carried from the thought of showing other kids, teens, and adults in my reserve, that if you just take a big step in your dreams, career, or even just experience, then I guess we all can become travellers like Markus.”
Bernice returned with their first album since 2011 back in May, with the release of Puff LP: In The Air Without Shape on Arts And Crafts. Once again Robin Dann’s distinctive voice is front and centre in the bands uniquely jazzy, future R&B, calling to mind Joni at her jazziest and Sade, Dann and fellow vocalist Felicity Williams play over, and with, stuttering, off-kilter beats, clicks, and static bursts courtesy of Dan Fortin, Thom Gill, and Phil Melanson. There’s a looseness coupled with a willingness and ability to play with song form and structures that makes the record so enchanting. We can only hope it isn’t six years before the next instalment of the project.
JOYFULTALK is the project of Jay Crocker and Shawn Dicey, two former Calgarians that now call Nova Scotia home. Together they have produced two records of instrumental and experimental electronics, often using homemade instruments (The Pink Dolphin, The Cheadle) as the starting point and combining harsh electronics and evolving sounds with the natural world that surrounds them. Their second album, Plurality Trip, will be released by Montreal’s Constellation Records on 24 August. The record draws from dark trance, techno and dub as well as Krautrock, shifting, turning and evolving with every micro-shift, fusing the influences of the organic and the inorganic. The result is loud, heavy, and totally mesmerising.
Crocker described "Monocult" to us as “an energy manipulation in the form of protest against newly formed status quos that separate us both from each other and from the systems of the earth. A meditation on form, dynamics, and stamina. A resistance to the strengthening of a super class designed to complete the ascension of wealth, greed, and power.”
Vancouver’s Dumb return with Seeing Green, their third album in two years but their first for hometown label Mint Records. The band say of its title: “'Green' in this sense refers to being a novice, as well as to money, envy, and growth. It's meant to be somewhat of a self-aware exaggeration of some feelings in our every day lives that we often don't want to admit to and may even lie to ourselves about.”
Their track “Hard Sea” comes rampaging out of the gate with a squalling noise burst and bouncing, propulsive bassline, like James Chance jamming with the Minutemen, whilst getting particularly agitated about a swooping seabird. Really.
Although they first emerged on the Toronto scene back in 2014 with the Dirty FRIGS EP on Heretical Objects, it wasn’t until February this year that Frigs' debut album, Basic Behaviour saw the light of day. Recorded over a 16-month period, the band is the product of the intervening years, spent in self discovery as a band. Producing themselves the band have honed their sound, working and reworking each track until the record finally emerged. While for many this could lead to overkill, Frigs have spent the time crafting textures, sonic mood, and spaces that perfectly lend themselves to their visceral, vital lyrics. Shifting easily from whispers to impassioned growls, slight guitar lines and scrapes to juddering riffs, they succeed in creating an urgent, vital sound, with "Talking Pictures" being a perfect example.
We first featured nêhiyawak (pronounced neh-HEE-o-wuk, and translating as 'people of the plains', or 'plains people') back in 2016 when they contributed the track "Tomasso" to Ho!Ho!Ho! Canada VIII. The trio of Indigenous musicians call amiskwaciy (Edmonton) on Treaty 6 territory home, but haven’t been seeing a lot of it over the last few months, touring the UK and Canada with a run of festival dates ahead of them this summer. The band just announced signing to Arts And Crafts for their debut album, which was recorded with Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Ladyhawke). The band blend the traditional with shoegaze, slowcore, and dream-pop influences - a heavy and heady combination.
"Signed Patrick (Property)" is the final track from the band’s soundtrack to the film ôtênaw by Conor McNally. The film documents the oral storytelling of Dwayne Donald, an educator from Treaty 6. Drawing from nêhiyawak philosophies, he speaks of the multi-layered histories of Indigenous peoples’ presence in and around amiskwaciy. The track itself focuses on the more ambient, atmospheric, textured side of the band's work. Speaking to Beatroute, singer and guitarist Kris Harper explained the process that led to the creation of the soundtrack: “We haven’t recognised all these places of burial or where we’re coming from on this land. We walk on the history every day. It’s heavy… before we did the music, we saw the first cut of the documentary then went on one of the walks the movie is about. We were told about paintings and the idea of everything being as multi-layered as a canvas being repainted over and over again. It was a great way of thinking about the land we’re on… we’re just a snapshot on one of those layers. It gave me a bit of perspective and respect for before and after this blip in history.”
Bonjay are Toronto’s Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain. Having broken through with the delicious dancehall influenced Broughtopsy EP back in 2010, which saw them share stages with the likes of Little Dragon and Tune-Yards, the pair spent the next years in creative exploration: a journey which took in dance and theatre training, documentary filmmaking, and radio presenting, backing up Feist and Bahamas, collaborating with the likes of St. Vincent as well as taking in production tips from Sly & Robbie themselves in Jamaica.
However they got here, their debut album Lush Life, released earlier this year, builds on the sound clash that always made Bonjay work in the first place - Stuart’s songwriting and powerful voice and Swain’s intricate, heavy and heady production. Now they have years more experience, years more knowledge, years more history, and more interests to bring to the table: each artist takes equal responsibility for every element of the sound from start to finish, be it production, arrangement, songwriting, or mixing, in what the band themselves describe as a "deeply holistic partnership". Suffice it to say, the new model of Bonjay is bigger, stronger, and bolder. It was worth the wait.
The record essentially seeks to tell the story of the modern city, and hypnotic album closer "Night Bus Blue" sums the newer, stronger Bonjay up perfectly. The song takes Toronto’s 24-hour blue line bus as its inspiration: the place where all kinds of people and cultures get together - the place where late night becomes early morning, and all the sight and sounds and smells of city life can just be, and mix, without judgement. The song evolves, propelled by skittering beats, the deep bass and kick, then layers of synth spiralling before ebbing away, always demanding attention - Stuart’s emotive vocals drawing you in to the very last.