by Michael Thomas
13 for ’13! Let’s do this! In alphabetical order:
Doug Hoyer – To Be A River
Why do Edmonton acts rule so hard? Doug Hoyer’s To Be A River is an album that’s hard to pin down as to why it’s so awesome. It might be thanks to its lyrics about everyday life combined with deeply groovy rhythms, from the jazzy riffs of “One Foot” to the lo-fi pop of “The One For Me.” It’s an album that makes you reconsider life as you dance.
Einar Jullum – Hjerteknuser – og andre blues
This will likely be the only album sung in Norweigan to appear on a “best of Canadian music” list, at least until Einar Jullum’s next album comes out. The album, which translates to “Heartbreaker – and other blues” in English, naturally draws from the genre mentioned in the title, but throws in some grand orchestral sweeps and some good old-fashioned classic rock riffs for a very special record.
Expwy – Deep Joy
Kinnta Records has something special going on, that’s for sure. Matt LeGroulx’s project Expwy has been entertaining for a long time, and while his output wasn’t as crazy this year, it’s good that he took his time for this powerpop record. It bursts with enthusiasm, from the South-American-influenced “Porthole marriage dance (I love Montreal)” to the outright rocking “Scraping blue terra cotta (Waterloo cannibals).” It’s also aptly named; this is an outright joy.
Gay – Dance Mix 95
This highly irreverent album from this equally irreverent album throws new twists and turns with every song. Only Gay can have a sweet and scathing song quickly follow a song called “Pete Rose Hair.” They don’t care if their song is six or two minutes long, or if they sing a song about borscht. All that matters is that this album stands up whether you gaze intently through their layers of irony and mystery or just simply enjoy the music on the surface.
Ghostkeeper – Horse Chief! War Thief!
This is easily the most challenging album on the list, and I’m sad that more haven’t embraced it for what it’s worth. Shane Ghostkeeper et al. amp up the restlessness on this album with the addition of Ian Jarvis of Chairs, adding synths and drone influence to their already crazy songs. The result is an album that is never, ever predictable, and an album that keeps the listener on his or her toes is worth exploring (and putting on repeat).
Jordan Klassen – Repentance
It’s hard to hide how happy this album makes me every time I put it on. There’s something about Klassen’s sheer earnestness combined with a dose of spirituality that makes Repentance go down so smooth. It’s always feel-good, especially with singalongs like “The Horses Are Stuck,” but can also be ominous, such as in “Ranchero,” and just plain dance-able, like in “The Scribe of Doorposts.” Klassen is an immensely talented multi-instrumentalist, and I’m so glad he took his time.
Maylee Todd – Escapology
Perhaps the funkiest Canadian record released this year. Maylee Todd is an absolute treasure, and it’s further exemplified on this second full-length. It’s largely indebted to soul and funk, but also features beautiful, dreamy tracks and even a Sesame Street song cover. If you’re not inspired to sing “Everybody needs a mouth-to-mouth” or to get off your ass and start dancing uncontrollably, you’re doing it wrong.
Pick a Piper – Pick a Piper
I remember, shortly prior to this album’s release, exchanging a few messages with Elena about this album. We basically just said “This is so good!” a whole bunch of times. Caribou drummer Brad Weber assembled a motley collection of musicians and guest vocalists for this record, which combines lush natural imagery with equally lush electronic landscapes. There’s an intensity to this record present from the beginning, which reaches its peak with the insane “South to Polynesia” but never lets up for a second.
Royal Canoe – Today We’re Believers
While I’m not about ranking albums, it wouldn’t take much for me to say that this is my top album of the year. I could not in a few words describe what this band does, but what I do know is that it’s endlessly inventive, taking everything that’s good about popular music, throwing it into a blender and serving the finished product ice-cold. It’s inspiring, it’s passionate, it’s creative, it’ll make a believer out of anyone.
Ryan Cook – Wrestling With Demons
Daniel Romano deserves the “country as fuck” award, but Ryan Cook deserves his own award for taking a traditional musical form and turning it on its head. On this album you will hear yodeling, a nasal twang and some strings, but backing up lyrics about everything from Facebook stalking to Andre the Giant to genetically-modified corn. Wrestling With Demons is hilarious and even a little tender, and Cook deserves credit for allowing “weird” and “country” to appear in the same sentence when describing music.
Saxsyndrum – Future Circus
A sense of curiosity drove me to see what this album is all about, and I’m so glad I followed through. The music of Nick Schofield and David Switchenko is simply saxophone, drums, synths, and the odd vocalization, but the result is something mind-blowing. While I admittedly have a weakness for horns, anyone should appreciate this jazzy, brilliant piece of music.
Shawn Mrazek Lives! – Thought He Was Dead
As a cynical, sarcastic person in my day-to-day life, I can appreciate a healthy dose of unbridled passion for life. Thought He Was Dead touches in a way that few pop albums can; Shawn Mrazek is just so fucking happy and he doesn’t care who knows it. He even specifies that the album is for those who feel like shit. It’s like taking drugs to get happy, without taking actual drugs. It’s a win-win.
We Are the City – Violent
Plain and simple, this album hurts my heart. We Are the City became increasingly introspective post-In A Quiet World. but it was incredible to see that it would turn into Violent. It somehow manages to be complex and sparse at the same time, piling on simple but powerful drums, synth lines and guitars into one heartbreaking package.