Oh! Canada returns for one last look at 2018, as well as revisiting a Canadian classic: yours to download and stream now.
Oh! Canada returns for a final look at some of this year's best releases, as well as artists who've had an impact that we missed the first time round.
Winnipeg’s Alexa Dirks has had enough. Enough of being told that her choices aren’t appropriate. Enough of trying to fit others expectations, standards, and the endless contradictions put upon women in general. “We are told in many ways by many people to be some Hollywood version of gentle, to be more beautiful, to be soft but not too soft, to change our bodies but to be happy with the way they are, to be agreeable, to make ourselves desirable to the opposite sex and ultimately not to take up too much space while doing it..... I want to defy those ‘rules’ and I want to encourage others to do the same. I want to inspire women / people in general to take up as much space as they want while feeling empowered enough to be whoever they are in this very moment.”
With this mission in mind Dirks, who won a Juno as part of Chic Gamine, launched Begonia in 2017, quickly capturing top spot on the CBC Top 20 with the stellar soul-pop of Juniper. Joining forces with Marcus Paquin (Stars, The National), and fellow Winnipeggers Matt Schellenberg and Matt Peters (Royal Canoe), Begonia have produced a complex, powerhouse synth-soul that hangs on one of Canada’s most extraordinary voices.
11 years ago Beatrice Deer left her Nunavik home of Quaqtaq, Quebec (population : 376), and began to build a second home in the music communities of Montreal. Singing in a mixture of Inuktitut, English and French, she blends languages, communities and storytelling that is entirely her own. For My All To You she recruited Chris McCarron and Mark Wheaton of Land of Talk, Throat Singer, theatre co-ordinator and youth liaison worker Pauyungie Nutaraaluk of Montreal’s Avataq Cultural institute and Pietro Amato (Luyas/ Belle Orchestre) among others to build a richly textured and slow building layers behind her words. Those words are intensely personal, dealing with family tragedy, self discovery and ideas of self worth, as well as weaving in traditional Inuit folk tales that relate these themes. It’s a powerful record, and one of the year’s best.
Atungak tells the story of a Shaman who leaves his home to travel the world before ultimately returning home again to find a changed world, his children grown old. "In Inuit culture, sharing legends was a nightly pass time when my people still lived in igloos and tents. Atungak is my modern way of sharing the legend."
Toronto electro-shoegazers Programm have quite the way with a well chosen cover. Since forming in 2009 they’ve put out reworkings of The Velvet Underground, Clinic and most recently The Magnetic Fields. The latter is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the band hadn’t actually hadn’t heard the original track before they were asked to cover it for TBS show Search Party. Taking few, if any, cues from the original, the band take the track to a different, darker place entirely, with pulsing electronics and droning synth coupling perfectly with Jackie Game’s hushed vocal.
The band explain how the cover came to be: “Jackie sent me a few tracks with her vocals and some droney synth. It already sounded great. I had just been working on a new original song that just happened to have the right vibe for this cover but was a bit fast so I slowed it down and merged the two and it just seemed to work… Search Party used an original song of ours as well earlier in the season, but that was from our debut album. This was our first time creating a song for a specific scene in a show which made it really exciting. That and we’re big fans of Arrested Development so knowing Alia Shawkat (the main character on the show) was going to be in the scene was pretty amazing. I hope the Magnetic Fields don’t mind too much."
Toronto’s Dilly Dally returned with the crunching Heaven last month. Having been through the publicity and touring mill with their critically acclaimed debut album Sore, the band were faced with a decision - call it quits or regroup, let go of the past and go again. The result is a record that singing-guitarist Katie Monks describes as “the album we’d make if the band died and went to heaven…doom metal vibes with lots of positive messages.”
‘Doom’ is one of the album’s early highlights - a perfect example of what the band do best. Pummelling drums and ferocious guitars combine with Monks signature vocal, swinging between hushed melody to ragged growl and back again. It’s mantra like repetition “remember who you are/and where you’re gonna be/ what’s inside you is sacred” gains power each time around, starting as a positive affirmation and finishing as a statement of fact. It’s raw, heavy and magnificent.
Dan ‘Wise’ Weisenberger and Juli ‘Rad Juli’ Steemson are Victoria’s Tremblers of Sevens. Having released a series of singles and live recordings on their bandcamp, the duo released their debut studio album, Aleppo on Nanaimo’s home for psych-drone Noise Agony Mayhem. While the pair headed to the studio for the recordings the collection very much follows the bands long standing approach- taking blues, folk and klezmer tunes that they have learnt on their travels through Turkey and Morocco, then delivering them in a stark, stripped back and above all heavy manner. Field recordings of calls to prayer bookend the results, creating a striking recognition of the power of music to transcend borders, religions and languages. The album isn’t simply making a political point - it’s intended to make an actual difference too, with all money made from the sale of the record is going to fund the efforts of Medicines Sans Frontieres in Syria and other war torn parts of the world.
All tracks on the record were done in one take, and while some tracks had bass, trumpets and more added later, the stark heaviness of Meron Nign perfectly captures the spirit of the record. The band describe the track as “a street tune of no fixed address. Learned from clarinetist David Kaetz, who said it was a tune for walking slowly & thinking.”
Did You Die is the nom-de-plume of Richie Felix Alexander, currently of Victoria, BC. Having relocated from Vancouver (where in 2016 the band were named best alternative act in 2016), the band completed a spell of touring and last year went into The Noise Floor studio on Gabriola Island with Jordan Koop (The Courtneys). The result was Royal Unicorn, their debut album proper, which was released in October this year, on their own label Blew//Rose.
The album contains 11 tracks of finely crafted shoegaze, tempered with edgy noise squalls, surging, propulsive baselines and swoon worthy guitars. 'Like I Care', explodes out of the gate, the joint guitars of Alexander and Katherine Marie Kovona duelling while they split vocal duties. It’s easy to see why the band has shared stages with the likes of Swervedriver, Yuck and The Lemon Twigs in recent years.
2017 saw the release of two full albums and an EP from Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Booji Boys. Between the three releases, the band laid down 30 tracks of frenetic fuzz and breakneck melodies in a little under 55 minutes (including an epic 7 minute album closer). The band took their name from a Devo song, and their chops from GBV, Garage rock and any number of local DIY and hardcore bands that they came up alongside. Scratchy, distorted and at times down right indecipherable, the five piece sounded like they were having the time of their lives.
This September saw the release of the brilliantly named follow-up Unknown Pleathers 7” via Sewercide Records. Carrying on where they left off, the record positively whistles by. ‘Kanadian Kontent’ sounds like someone started bootlegging a Rocket From The Tombs gig just as they got to the best bit, all swaggering riffage, feedback and a threat that everything could collapse at any given moment. At various points of ‘New Personnel’ it sounds like one of the guitars is being attacked by a particularly angry group of bees (this is a good thing). The title track is a relative epic at just under 3 minutes and finds the band cranking up the power-pop side of their game, keeping things together for at least the first two minutes before descending back into a joyous riffing cacophony. You can pretty much taste the sweat.
Since Dead Soft released their excellent self titled album through Vancouver’s Kingfisher Bluez a couple of years ago the band has relocated from Vancouver to Gabriola Island, one of the Gulf Islands between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. For partners Nathaniel Epp and Keeley Rochon the move was both a return to the familiar, and a new start, having grown up in a similar small coastal town in Prince Rupert. The band also grew as part of the move, adding Alex Smith on drums and Kyle Schick on guitar. Last month the band returned with the New Emotion EP on Arts & Crafts, the first product of the bands new line up.
It’s hard to single out an individual track from the EP but ’Proof’ encapsulates everything that Dead Soft have always done well, then takes it up another level. Rochon and Epps’ vocal interplay is still central to the bands appeal, their glorious, sugar-sweet harmonies calling to mind “Take a Run at The Sun” era Dinosaur Jr, while the anthemic chorus packs a hook that will stick in your head for days. Elsewhere grungy guitar lines duel, melodies soar, choruses chime and no song overstays its welcome, with no one track over 3:20. New Emotion sees Dead Soft presenting a louder, more muscular and more refined sound. With the band currently on pretty much a two month tour across the US and Canada with The Dirty Nil, it all bodes well for the forthcoming album, which, with any luck, will arrive sometime next year.
Last Month Toronto punk collective Fucked Up returned with Dose Your Dreams, their fifth album proper, a return to the story of David Eliade, last seen on 2011’s David Comes To Life. Now some 17 years into their career, the band continue to react to what has come before and switch things up, often in unexpected directions. Where Glass Boys stripped everything back with a direct approach. Dose Your Dreams goes the other way, so much so that frequent collaborator Owen Pallett has described it as their Screamadelica. He isn’t too far wrong, with a range of influences from doo-wop to krautrock, fuzzy psych and power-pop to hardcore, all blended by guitarist Mike Hallichuck’s singular vision. As with the previous David record, a number of collaborators are drawn in, including regular contributors Owen Pallett and Jennifer Castle, as well as some new to the Fucked Up world, such as Lido Pimienta and J Mascis. There is even another compilation forming part of the sound world Raise Your Voice Joyce: Contemporary Shouts From Contemporary Voices, featuring artists that Falco has been working with over the last few years, including members of Sauna Youth and Miya Frolick.
Vocal duties are shared more than ever before with the unmistakable scream of Damien Abraham’s being accompanied, and in some cases replaced by guests, as well as Hallichuck and Jonah Falco, although it is still a key ingredient to the wider story. Came Down Wrong is entirely free from Abraham’s vocal, a fuzzy duet between Jennifer Castle and J Mascis, the laters trademark drawl leading to one of the best fuzzed up power-pop moments of 2018.
Art d’Ecco’s recently released album Trespasser was written in the Gulf Islands of the Pacific North West, a series of islands between Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Seattle. Out in the woods, amongst the Red Cedar and Doug Fir, surrounded by deer and rabbits, the record began, slowly but surely to take shape. It’s a familiar recipe, and no doubt you have a fair idea of what the record might sound like. And of course, you would be totally wrong.
'Nobody’s Home', the first track to be taken from the record, rides along on a bouncing post-punk bassline and death-disco beats. Like the record it fuses Glam, Disco and positivity, providing hints of hope in the darkness, as d’Ecco explains: “Its a song about a woman I knew year ago. She’d lived through some brutal abuse and spent many years on the run, looking over her shoulder. In spite of this dark past she loved to sing and dance and her passion for the arts made her a joy to be around…”
6 years ago Caracol released her first English language album Shiver, a record that introduced her to a whole new audience outside of the Francophone community, where she had sold over 100,000 albums as part of DobraCaracol. Since then, the former professional snowboarder has undergone something of a musical reinvention. Having participated in a series of pop writing camps her paths crossed with Joey Waronker (Beck/ Atoms For Peace) in LA.
Where previously she had blended rocksteady, reggae and folk sounds with an indie-rock heart, the resulting sessions took Caracol into an explicitly pop direction, one which she continued to explore back in Montreal with producers Seb Ruban & Toast Dawg. While there’s still hints of her reggae background on 'Flooded Field' (which features J. Dilla’s brother, Illa J), new album Symbolism, released at the start of this month is at it’s best when it goes all out electro-pop, as it does on the pumping ‘Hacker’ and burbling modulating synths and drops of 'Les Yeaux Transparent.'
Jacques Jacobus first came to our attention in 2010 as part of Acadian Hip-Hop group Radio Radio, whose infectious flows in Chiac, an amalgam of English and Acadian French earned them a place on 2010’s Polaris Prize Shortlist. Now two years removed from the bands last album, Jacobus is preparing to release his second solo album in 2019, via Montreal’s Indica records.
Part gold-chained rapper and part sharply dressed dandy, part youthful vigour and part older refinement, part rap and part electro, Jacobus continues the exploration of his true identity with characteristic humour, no more so than on lead single F La Plage. "When its Summer everyone wants to be at the beach, I say F La Plage and play golf where I like to avoid all water, sand and trees…With the help of creative geniuses DJ UNPIER and Kenan Belzner, I’m trying to redefine modern music and make Acadian rap more accessible, pertinent. My ultimate goal is simply to give people the gift of good music!’’
Ontario MC’s Keysha Freshh, Haviah Mighty, pHoenix Pagliacci and Lex Leosis first joined forces as part of a cypher for International Women’s day in 2016. With each MC bringing a different style and energy to the table the video quickly went viral and no lesser name that Michie Mee booked them to play at her birthday party. It was clear that there was something unique to the combination of the four and The Sorority was born, each MC putting their solo endeavours on the back burner to work on what would become their debut album Pledge, released in April this year.
The record comes very much as a state of the hip-hop nation address for Toronto’s scene - with tracks taking influences from communities in East and West end, while ‘Blacklist’ addresses the smallness of the scene and having to deal with being excluded from Toronto, and indeed Canadian Hip-Hop circles and being denied opportunities as male MCs. SRTY is the perfect introduction to the groups modus operandi: Over a heavy beat from EveKey, each MC takes their bars, a squad anthem putting female faces and voices front and centre. As Leosis told Good Juice Box : “I could hear the chanting in my head. It lets everyone know that we’re here. And we don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon”. On the strength of this debut, that statement is good news for everyone.
5 years have passed since Shad released his last record. In that time the Juno winner and multiple Polaris nominee has been busy, first taking over the reigns of q on CBC, then creating the Peabody Award winning documentary series Hip Hop Evolution, now in it’s second series. He also released a pop record as Your Boy Tony Braxton. Along the way he added bars to albums by Tanya Tagaq and A Tribe Called Red amongst others. He returned last month with A Short Story About A War. The A in the album’s title helps to present the record as a fiction, peopled by characters The Fool, The Sniper The Stone Throwers and The Establishment, but the lyrical content confronting migration, environment and economic inequalities clearly pertain to the fragile wild we are living in today.
It’s a raw, heavy and complex record that can, and should, make the listener uncomfortable. Shad’s lyrical dexterity has only got sharper over the years, and his choice of collaborators on this record (including Kaytranada, Lido Pimienta, Yukon Blonde and DJ T.Lo amongst others) provide the perfect foil for his insightful and incisive rhymes. Shad has never been one to back off from the issues of the day, but on this record he sounds angrier, and hungrier for his voice, and the voices of those unable to speak for themselves, to be heard. Some of the most powerful tracks on the record are the ones that present two perspectives duelling for dominance, and relevance, as on Peace/ War and The Revolution/ The Establishment, with the character of The Fool stuck in the middle, questioning both.
2017 saw the release of two album from Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a hip hop duo comprising Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce of the Haisla First Nation reserve in Northern BC. Across both records the band sought to catalog the highs and lows of life on the reservation with Indigenous Pride, Resilience, activism and self belief in the face of everyday oppression, racism and prejudice are central to the bands work. Both their self titled debut and its follow up, the Polaris Prize shortlisted The Average Savage are peppered with clips of movies, cartoons and tv shows that reinforce and normalise racist ideas - the band directly seeking to confront the words and concepts that have been used against them and their culture for so long. “When we interact with these slurs, we are confronting them, deconstructing them and regurgitating them to create our own impressions that exemplify us as the strong, creative, and intelligent Savages we know ourselves to be.”
Whether it be the hard flows of ‘Savages’, the swaggering ‘Clash of The Clans’ or ‘Long Hair, Don’t Care’ Young Trybez and Young D’s lyrical interplay and fast raps fuse tell a story and create a sound that is proud of where it comes from, at once empowering and reclaiming culture. A sense of community comes alive on the records, as the band join forces with the likes of Drezus and Hellnback, artists who they looked up to in the past. All this adds up to more than the some of its parts: these aren’t just songs, stories and shows. It’s a movement, one the band calls Minay, which translates as Brother. As Young D explained to Now Toronto “When we say it it’s not just brotherhood…It’s sisterhood, it’s family, it’s togetherness, it’s unity, it’s resurgence.” This has been very much in evidence at the duos remarkable live shows, and the movement will continue in 2019 with the release of Rez Bangers & Koolapops, which is set to feature collaborations with the likes of The Sorority, Brevner and Cartel Madras amongst others.
Toronto newcomer’s Sauna are an intriguing prospect. While the band itself is a new project, the members are drawn from some of the most interesting Toronto bands on the Buzz Records label, including Zach Bines (Weaves), Braeden Craig (Greys) and Michael le Riche (Fake Palms). While all three bands are known for their guitar- heavy approach, Sauna couldn’t be further removed from that starting place.
Earlier this year the trio went into the studio with Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt, and the dreamy, addictively looping cosmic disco of Over is the first product of those sessions. The track builds on the rock solid rhythm section of Bones and Craig, while Le Riche’s home-made synth’s whirr and shimmer over the top. Keep an eye out for further releases via Ideé Fixe next year.
Things have changed since Louie P formed the Celestics with his brother back in 2011. These days he goes by Lou Phelps and his brother is better known as Kaytranada. That said, the pair are still heavily involved, with Kaytra hailing production duties on Phelp’s debut 001: Experiments, which dropped last year. The suitably titled follow up 002/ Love Me followed in September this year, and while Kaytra stills plays the role of executive producer, Phelps brings in numerous other collaborators, including production from BadBadNotGood, and guest slots by Jahkoy and Jazz Cartier amongst others, fusing jazz, tropical RnB and hip-hop. Higher finds Phelps at his blissed out best, his easy lyrical flow hovering above the minimal beats and twinkling electronic swirls.
Vancouver’s Old Man Canyon delivered their sophomore album A Grand Facade earlier this month. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Jett Pace spent much of his down-time between cross North America tours collecting recording gear featured on his favourite records, creating a home studio that was sonically ready for the recording of the bands new album.
The resulting record is a hazy, melancholy exploration of the world that surrounds us, and our innate desire to ignore the problems and cover them with temporary things, none more so than on the lilting Run Away, which finds Pace struggling with ideas of fight or flight. “It's the inner dialogue that follows a revelation, and that compulsion to run and abandon everything to avoid real resolution.” Woozy synths are underpinned by skittering rhythms and subtle bass , with Pace’s vocal delivery is tinged with a sweet sadness.
Four years have passed since we last heard from Graham Van Pelt. A lot has changed in that time: having bid farewell to Montreal for new pastures in Toronto, he also let go of the aliases he has used in the past, including Miracle Fortress and Inside Touch. Time’s change, people change, things change. Matter of factly, he states “I’d like to be as un-mysterious as I possibly can”.
Time Travel, his new record on Arbutus looks back at all these changes. The record finds Van Pelt looking to further delve into the world of Dance and Electronic music, with touchstones including Arthur Russell and Sandro Perri. Building tracks up from the sequencer of his Roland SH-101, he creates an immersive sound world, none more so than on the gentle melancholy of Mountainside, with it’s hypnotic and mediative repetitions and soothing vocal delivery. It’s subtle, hopeful and ultimately timeless.
Vancouverite Sam Tudor released Quotidian Dream in late 2017, following up with live shows and a number of videos for the record through 2018. Recorded after finishing university, the album finds Tudor in a state of flux, questing for meaning and reasons to continuing. These tensions are immediately apparent in the brooding undertones of Truthful, the sparse electric pulses and low fuzzy bass underpinning the muted delivery before giving way to atmospheric layered strings and scrapping, a low rumble reaching a crescendo before returning to a single pulse.
"Truthful was written at a time in my life when I felt like I couldn't properly articulate anything… or rather, I was articulating a lot but not actually saying anything…The song was me trying to cut through all that , find some direct line between my anxious emotions and my output. For that reason the feeling of it, the feeling of playing it, means more to me than the words themselves."
Quantum Tangle are Greyson Gritt and Tiffany Ayalik, a duo hailing from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Fusing throat singing, blues, electronics and heavy guitars, they incorporate traditional stories from their Anishinabe-Métis and Inuit backgrounds into their records and live performances while addressing systematic racism, and marginalisation of Indigenous peoples. Their Debut EP Tiny Hands won a Juno for best Indigenous Music album of the year, and their full length album Shelter As We Go continues to build on these themes.
The stark 'Freeze Melt Boil' was written at a time of great frustration and anger during the NoDAPL and Standing Rock actions, and was written to support the causes "I guess as much as we can be, as true musicians, we're advocates for the environment and for Indigenous rights, and so we believe there's a way forward without infringing on the rights of the people of Turtle Island and we believe that there's a way forward without oil. And so this song really is about the infringement of Indigenous rights. " explains Gritt. The track draws attention to the numerous boiled water advisories in place across the country. Ayalik continues "People are drinking poison…This country prides itself on being a developed country -unless you're on a reserve, and then it feels Third World. So just this idea that our water is a hot commodity in some places, which is a total shame for a country like Canada."
For those outside of Canada, it is perhaps difficult to understand quite how central Gord Downie is to the national psyche of a generation of Canadians. Imagine a fusion of Springsteen, Cohen and Dylan and that probably comes close to the regard in which he is held. At a time when much Canadian music looked overseas, and particularly to the US for validation, Downie and The Tragically Hip spun tales firmly rooted in Canada and the Canadian experience, and turned it into a sound that could fill stadiums. When his terminal cancer diagnosis was announced, there was a palpable state of shock. The bands emotional farewell show in their hometown of Kingston was nationally broadcast on the CBC and almost a third of the population tuned into watch.
As a solo artist, Downie wasn't afraid to step away from the template that The Hip had built, often looking for artists to collaborate with, over the years working with The Sadies, Julie Doiron and multiple members of Broken Social Scene, as well as collaborating with visual artist Jeff Lemaire on The Secret Path, which explored the tragic death of Chanie Wenjack. With this years release of journalist Michael Barclay's book The Never Ending Present exploring the history of Downie and The Hip , we revisited his recently reissued 2001 solo debut Coke Machine Glow, to bring you the devastating beauty of Vancouver Divorce.
Dan Mangan released More or Less at the start of this month, his first in almost four years. Having spent six years locked in a cycle of permanent touring and record releases, Mangan had retreated back to domesticity, and, in his words “swept the floor ten thousand times” while working on film and television scores. A year out turned into three and many of the things that fuelled the anxiety of previous records came to pass. A new approach was needed. Where both Club Meds and Oh Fortune were intricately constructed and layered, looking out at an occasionaly cruel and cold world, More or Less focuses on warmth, on the personal , and the experiences and wisdom (or otherwise) of growing older. Recorded in LA with Joey Waronker and Simon Felice amongst others, the result is a record that takes the approach of his breakthrough Nice Nice Very Nice and feeds in elements of everything that came after.
Just Fear reflects on the increasing fears and how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by a world seemingly spun out of control and lose ourselves to struggle: Lives led on tectonic plates, in constant anticipation of the Big One, of world leaders gone rogue, in thrall to "The Sanctity of Disaster". The light strum of acoustic guitar, subtle pedal steel and synths combine with Mangan's gentle, comforting croon to provide reassurance that perhaps, given time and the opportunity to step away from the constant news cycle, and go out in the sunshine, everything will be ok.
Nicholas Kgrovich has a long history of creating carefully honed variants of pop music, both as a member of P:ano, No Kids, Gigi and as a solo artist. However, Kgrovich insists that much of latest album OUCH just appeared to him "It was like I just had to open the door and all the wind and leaves would blow in." In the case of the lilting Rosemary, that door was opened on March 31st 2017. "I remember writing and recording the whole thing in a couple of hours and when it was done I was just kind of like "huh? Ok"…Not to psychoanalyse my own lyrics but this isn't the first time where I've compared myself, in simile at least to a sad clown…a sad clown and a dog. I guess in my more deflated moments thats how I see myself, and that's where this busted song came from. I'm glad it exists though, and I'm glad there's room for all of it."