BETTER KNOW AN ALT-WEEKLY: a cross-Canada sampling of local scenes and bands to watch in 2012
by Nicole Villeneuve
It’s no secret that Canadian music had a banner year in 2011, but more often than not it takes some toiling on a local level before a band reaches national or international levels of recognition.
To give you a sample what’s going on in music scenes across the country, AUX chased the experts: music writers and editors from some of the arts and entertainment alt-weeklies of major cities, coast to coast. This is not intended to be exhaustive, but instead a sampling of the bands and supporters—the communities—that make up Canada’s rich musical landscape. You might already know some of these locally breaking acts, and you might not—read on to find out.
The Georgia Straight
When a bunch of teenage boys want to start a punk band they should go sneak into a B-Lines show, study every moment and then go home and know that they can never do what the B-Lines do, but try their best to pull it off. The B-Lines named themselves after the most annoying bus in Vancouver, but they don’t ever disappoint like their 42-seated muse does. This year they released a self titled 12-inch on Deranged/Nominal Records which features some of the most straight up, clear-cut punk to come out of Vancouver. “Psychedelic High School” runs through your head for days while tracks from their first 7-inch like the 30-second “Leaving” never get old. Featuring ex-members of Fun 100 and Fuck Me Dead, the B-Lines were my favourite live act of this year.
The High Drops
I’ll be the first to admit, I was not particularly excited about The High Drops when I first heard them. I think it’s because I was in a horrible mood. Color magazine had asked me to write a feature on the four-piece and when lead singer/guitarist Alexi Baris sent me a slew of snarly answers to my interview questions, I drilled him into the ground in a backhanded 400 word write-up. Needless to say, Color was not into it. I was being a bitch. Color made me re-do the piece, so this time around I hooked up with their drummer Jen Smyth—the only girl in the band, always interview the only girl in the band—and I softened up after her charming, humble comments throughout our phone chat. I gave their self-titled EP (Green Burrito Records) another listen and found myself unwillingly falling for the catchy, stedfast pop melodies. I don’t like summer, but The High Drops make me wish it was summer. They make me wish I was on a beach, drinking whiskey with some Why-Be-Normal guy half my size. This has never been a fantasy for me. Maybe their ability to create an obvious atmosphere is intentional, or maybe it’s not. Either way, they’ve hooked me and it’s kind of like a big, fat “I-told-you-so” from the un-bitchy side of my brain.
Okay, I know it’s a bit bias that I like this band because the drummer and I happen to play music together, plus the other two members are close friends, but when something rules, something rules. This year’s Abbott Space super-group Heavy Chains released their EP A Very Real Hell on Broadway to Boundry Records. Next time you take a shower, blast “Stoned Stripper” and just have a smoke or something. Scrub. Eat a burger. Just listen.This EP is heavy, hypnotic and nudges at every bands member’s influences from Nirvana to Brainbombs to G.I.S.M. without actually sounding like any of these acts. Heavy Chains are the kind of band that would play one note for 45 minutes, just to fuck with the audience, and the crowd would eat it right up.
Music & Film Editor
Fast Forward Weekly
Three-quarters of this band used to be in a group called Pee Blood, and they’re just as scary as that might sound but in a different way. Frontman Ryan Sadler masterminds these new wave numbers, crafting dystopian anthems that will have you dancing into your grave. It’s the sounds of the future all the way from the past.
For a little while there, it seemed like everyone and their cat was in a garage-punk band in Calgary. Craig Storm and co. follow the formula a little, but this isn’t Black Lips-aping pandering. Instead, imagine the Back From the Grave compilations if they were raised on Saturday morning cartoons and Fruity Pebbles. Catchy and weird, The Gooeys have something special.
Monroeville Music Center
If The Gooeys is all Saturday morning cartoons, Monroeville Music Center must be the sounds Craig Storm dreams up after his pre-bed bath. Here, Storm’s synth excursions take a different route than the current trends of new age space-outs, instead offering up warbly children’s songs suited to a science special.
This long-running quintet has done laps around the continent and released an incredible debut in Making Light of a Shitty Situation, but they were too busy quoting The Simpsons and hotboxing their van to overtly promote themselves, so you may have missed it. Hitting that sweet spot between Kid Dynamite and Jawbreaker and drenching it in the sweat of a thousand house shows, this is the best punk band in Calgary.
Sabertooth aren’t the only ones promoting grins with their no-frills pop-punk—local dream dates The Throwaways offer up eternally teenaged good times. From tracks like “Friday Date” to the fact that drummer Warren Oostlander had his mom take their latest press photo, there’s little not to love about these two girls and a guy. With a new seven-inch slated for 2012, The Throwaways will reign supreme.
It seems strange that one of Saskatoon’s most exciting bands is currently an instrumental stoner-doom-psych group. But quintet Shooting Guns is capable of dishing out paralyzing riffs that hum, crush and reverberate and still manage to carry a certain amount of catchiness as well. The group’s debut record, Born To Deal in Magic 1952-1976, is comprised of thunderous riffage and mammoth drumming, but with a distinct layer of psychedelia throughout. Currently receiving a heroic amount of airplay on CBC Radio 3, this album could easily be a contender for the next Polaris Music Prize.
Comprised of four brothers from Saskatchewan, Saskatoon’s Foam Lake is a band that has come into maturity with the release of their debut album Force and Matter. The Ross brothers, raised amongst instruments and pedal boards, are already trailblazers amongst their peers in the local scene, having made appearances in Los Angeles’ NBC Universal studios, The Western Canadian Music Awards as well as touring North America with Saskatoon’s Shuyler Jansen. And their debut album smacks of a young band doing everything right—spot-on arrangements are coupled with dusky vocals and scrappy pop hooks amidst lovelorn lyrics. Expect big things from this group in 2012.
Kay The Aquanaut/Reform Party
Rumour has it that the Reform Party, fronted by local hip-hop spewer Kay the Aquanaut, jams once a day every day. And after their last show, an incendiary mash-up of post rock breakdowns and venomous political rants, I can safely attest that the reports could very well be true. But aside from their hugely popular EP, which was offered up as a free download on Ominocity.com [where the writer is also an editor/writer], Kay’s hip-hop diatribes could very well shine even brighter than his band material. Having recently released the album Waterloo, which draws on folk influences along with the standard beats and samples, Kay has proven he is a pivotal member of Saskatoon’s burgeoning indie hip-hop scene, which is seeing its players graduate to an international level of infamy at an alarming rate.
When AUX polled me last year, I mentioned Imaginary Cities in passing. Shame on me. They had a hell of a 2011; their acclaimed debut Temporary Resident was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and they were selected to open for Pixies on their entire North American tour. Frontwoman Marti Sarbit has a voice that hits you square in the heart and multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas (also a touring Weakerthan) is a genius with pop arrangements. ‘Mag Cities are set to start work on their second album this winter; I expect big things in 2012.
I can’t get enough of this band. Cannon Bros. is an exciting young duo that makes lo-fi, Pavement-esque garage rock with hiccupy vocals and fuzzy Dinosaur Jr. guitars. Their blistering debut album Firecracker/Cloudglow was released via Disintegration Records (Greg MacPherson’s new label) in November and is one of my Top 10 albums of 2011.
The Crooked Brothers
This trio deals in Tom Waits-informed roots noir and its recently released sophomore album, Lawrence, Where’s Your Knife? absolutely kills. If you get the chance, see these guys live.
NOW (also, ahem, AUX)
There’s a thriving young DIY trash-rock/post-punk/lo-fi scene quietly building steam around small semi-official, semi-residential venues like Soybomb, The Academy of Sciences, and The Garage (which is literally someone’s garage). In its halo are artist-run micro-labels like Buzz and Daps as well as a whole host of bands like RatTail, Rituals, Moon King, Cartoons and Hut. But it’s demon-surf heroes Odonis Odonis that have taken it upon themselves to unite the scene and introduce it to the rest of the world, with a little help from prominent UK label Fat Cat Records. They’ve just released their debut Hollandaze, but it won’t be long before they drop the already-recorded follow-up, Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled.
The words “instrumental jazz” and “crossover appeal” usually exist in opposition to each other, but this trio of recent Humber College music grads seem poised to break in a big way any day now. Eschewing traditional standards in favour of covers from the new hip hop canon—Wacka Flocka Flame, Slum Village, J Dilla and Odd Future—BBNG have found a way to reach a younger, often jazz-phobic demographic. It also earned them an invitation to jam with Tyler, The Creator, which definitely hasn’t damaged their cred.
This heavy-riffing stoner-rock duo has a powerful ally in Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa, who’s set to produce their sophomore album in the new year. That may explain why they’ve spent so much time playing with bands like Sum 41 and Billy Talent (they’ve also got an Edgefest coming up), but their noisy, grungey sound doesn’t quite fit into pop-punk parameters. Even if they’re not accepted by the Warped Tour faithful, they’ll likely find a fanbase elsewhere.
Carmen Elle has been a fixture in the local indie scene for awhile now, lending her talents to acts like Austra and Donlands and Mortimer, but with her new duo, Army Girls, she’s finally found an outlet that best showcases her rich, powerful voice and subtly skillful guitar chops. Elle and drummer Andy Smith have released a single and five-song EP, recorded by Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook (whose other production project, Actual Water, could also have a big year), but there’s bound to be more where that came from soon enough.
Like most Canadians, we Haligonians geek out a little when Americans take notice of us, so I was first introduced to Southern Shores as “those guys that got written up by Pitchfork.” It’s no wonder that Ben Dalton and Jamie Townsend’s electronica project caught ears so quickly: their debut Atlantic EP, on Cascine Records, combines melodies akin to a 16-bit video game with airy, intoxicating keyboards and compelling found-sound vocal samples. Most impressively, though, is that in mere months since their first show, they’ve turned into a compelling live act: I watched them turn a room full of Japandroids fans into a groove party when they were added as a last-minute opener.
These guys used to be known as The First Aid Kit — confusing for those of us who are also fans of the Swedish folk duo of the same name. Writers’ Strike is the better name anyways, and they’ve attacked their new moniker with fever. Released in November, their Stay Down EP is full of big choruses, catchy riffs and clapalong jams; think Library Voices, but with a bit more of a Springsteenian heft to them. In November, opening for Rich Aucoin, they filled the audience with waving flags, which made one hell of a visual from the back of the room. Expect their parade to grow as they tour next year and release a full-length in the spring.
In the same week back in February, during the Canada Winter Games, I watched Halifax’s premiere hip hop troupe win over both a room of teenage athletes from across the country, and an frozen-cold crowd of casual Haligonians outdoors at a free public concert. Three Sheet’s crossover appeal is owed to the troupe’s combination of high energy showmanship with impressive rhymes and crazier beatboxing. Little wonder they earned both The Coast readers’ “Best Local Band” vote and the “Entertainer of the Year” award at the Nova Scotia Music Awards.