Grayowl Point’s Top 25 Releases of the Year

FotorCreated

by Staff

This year we decided to do things differently with our year end list. As you may remember, in the past our editors compiled individual lists of their favourite LPs and EPs but this year our entire parliament has put together their 25 favourite Canadian releases (both EPs and LPs) of the year. Although we like all of these releases, the name(s) in italics are those who are hooting their support the loudest.

Without further ado:

Babysitter – Babysitter

Everything came together on this one. The vocal work shone particularly well – I still can’t get “Silky Cloud” out of my head. Few bands can show off what they do well in a variety of different areas of music within the context of a single record, but Kris North and pals have done just that. You may never see these guys play on Letterman, but I think they’re probably Canada’s answer to the Stooges right now.


Written and backed by: Jack Derricourt

Blackpaw Society – People Doesn’t Care/1955

I almost missed hearing this album and that would have been a travesty. For this album, the mysterious Toronto act decided to create an album of what songs from the 1950s and 60s might have sounded like recorded with today’s technology. The result: an absolutely exquisite gem of popcraft, switching between blistering instrumentation and moodiness, buoyed by soaring vocals. It’s a delightful dish you have to sample to truly understand.

Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Power in the Blood 

2015 Polaris Music Prize winner Buffy Sainte-Marie. A hell of a modern day crown for someone your parents, or dare I say, grandparents, grew up listening to. In her collection of new, reimagined, and cover songs, and her 15th studio album, the soon-to-be 75 year old folk legend connected with listeners of multi-generations proving that Sainte-Marie’s powers have not dimmed. Power in the Blood is a passionate and pertinent essay on environmentalism, indigenous rights, and capitalism that demands change and shakes your very core. It’s a snapshot of the world in 2015 that bares all and reminds us to take care of each other and the planet.

Written and backed by: Laura Stanley

Braids – Deep in the Iris 

Between my recommendation of this album for the Polaris Prize (which it sadly missed out on, though I must give enormous kudos to the inimitably forceful Power in the Blood) and other general platitudes extended toward Braids and Deep in the Iris this year, I feel as though I can’t say much more about my feelings toward this record. It’s an album about being wounded, being obsessed, healing, reflecting, and finding yourself somewhere better and stronger… maybe. In the regard that it shared that process with in parallel with my own life, honestly and without resorting to either cataclysm or fairytale, it quickly became a collection of songs I couldn’t go without this year.


Written and backed by: Chris Matei 

Carly Rae Jepsen ­- Emotion

It’s easy to want to use words like “confection” to describe Carly Rae Jepsen and her music: sweet, bright, pastel things that delight you with a rush of energy, but lack nutritional (or in this case musical) value. Emotion, however, flings Jepsen out of the puff­pastry cupboard. It is an album veritably packed with top­-flight production talent (from Shellback to Rostam Batmanglij to Dev Hynes to Vancouver locals Zach Gray and Ajay Bhattacharya), dialed-­in head-­rushing choruses and intricate, captivating sonic details. Look no further than the Edge­-like delayed guitar that kicks into the second verse of “Gimmie Love”, or the funky riffs on “Boy Problems” that weave through the vocals and instrumentation alike. Most importantly, Emotion positively thrums with Jepsen’s sense of agency. Lyrically and musically, she’s evolved from the shy girl peeking out from the house next door into the kind of person who knows what she wants and needs, and who knows that wanting and needing come with a thorny and exciting set of challenges. She no longer asks, but commands: “Be tormented by me, babe.” “Let’s go get lost.” “I’ve got a couple of secrets; none of them are for you.” It’s a statement of power that refrains from leaning on any of the trite, schmaltzy self-­help tropes that have invaded so much of the gender discourse in pop music. It’s undeniably forceful, ruthlessly listenable, and perhaps the year’s best pop record.

Written and backed by: Chris Matei. Also backed by: Anna Alger 

Destroyer – Poison Season 

Indie rock veteran Dan Bejar, also known as Destroyer, returned this year with Poison Season, a majestic offering. Intricate arrangements meshing horns and strings under the cover of Bejar’s laid-back yet insistent croon guide the album from the opening notes of its orchestral introduction, through the drama and intrigue that follows, and back to the start: “Times Square, Poison Season II.” Bejar is a deft storyteller, Poison Season quite possibly being his most compelling work yet.

Written and backed by: Anna Alger. Also backed by: Chris Matei 

Doug Hoyer – Dream Life

I make no secret of being a passionate advocate for the jams of Doug Hoyer, who I’ve described several times as a guy who soundtracks real-life. Dream Life, his latest full-length, is without a doubt his strongest effort to date. Calling upon the vast pool of talent in Edmonton, he beautifully mixes earnest sentiment, catchy as hell arrangements and, most importantly, a huge sense of community.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

Evening Hymns – Quiet Energies

Evening Hymns frontman Jonas Bonnetta found sought-after peace in Quiet Energies. Compared to the band’s previous album Spectral Dusk, a devastating account of Bonnetta’s emotions following the death of his father, Quiet Energies is practically a celebration record. It’s full of deep reflection and transformation and encourages the same in its listeners. It’s about finding peace in the wind hitting your face when you’re driving with the windows down, nestled in trees, in the desert sand, and in the Yukon River. It’s about going through a difficult period in life and coming out all right. Inspiring stuff to say the least.


Written and backed by: Laura Stanley 

Faith Healer – Cosmic Troubles

From the first line of Jessica Jalbert’s (Faith Healer) Cosmic TroublesI was hooked: “You can have my acid, I don’t want it on my tongue.” It turned out that this was just the beginning of an album full of Jalbert’s biting lyrical prowess. Amongst the overwhelming psych-pop haze that too many bands this year kept adding to, Cosmic Troubles is an album where the genre is done right. It’s poppy but not sickly. It’s colourful but not blindingly vivid. It’s dreamy but has two feet firmly planted in reality.


Written and backed by: Laura Stanley. Also backed by: Michael Thomas 

Grimes ­- Art Angels

After scrapping an entire follow-­up to the insanely successful Visions only to start from square one on what would become Art Angels, Claire Boucher makes a compelling argument for “measure twice, cut once.” The creeping, gothically distant noir­-pop of Grimes’ previous albums has been refined into a kaleidoscopic, angry blaze of a record, one that sounds from head to toe like a visceral reaction to the avalanche of high-­fashion­low-­art web think-pieces that have largely, and pretentiously, attempted to position Boucher as the ultra­-savvy freak-­flag-bearer of the Tumblriffic twenty-­teens by way of her outre stylistic persona. Boucher continues to push boundaries here, from conveying dripping wet sexuality without the aid of its traditional Anglophone musical signifiers on “Scream” to rewiring Michael Corleone into a sci-fi vampire death-­dealer on “Kill v. Maim,” but the heart of Art Angels is the beat­-driven, hooky R&B and pop that she has always claimed to be her biggest inspiration. Grimes circa Visions used pop as a powerful distancing agent, a way to separate and obfuscate. Art Angels looks in the exact opposite direction, focusing, crystallizing that which was once nebulous with the diamond­hard edges of its dance­-forward production, using that disco ball laser energy to pillage and burn and scorn and exalt in the fierce beauty of it all. The album closes with Boucher’s assertion that she’ll “never be your dream girl” ­ and she’s damn well going to keep it that way, by the sound of things.

Written and backed by: Chris Matei. Also backed by: Anna Alger

Half Moon Run – Sun Leads Me On

While I was initially skeptical towards the follow-up to 2012’s Dark Eyes, and the absence of the resonant drums that made this Montreal band’s debut echo right into my bones, it really didn’t take as long as I thought for Sun Leads Me On to win me over. As it drifts in and out of an older musical time and Devon Portielje’s vocals reach new heights soaring over the chorus of the titular track, it turned out there was a whole new ache waiting to lure me back into the race.

Written and backed by: Eleni Armenakis. Also backed by: Chris Matei 

Harley Alexander & the Universal Lovers – Gold Shirt

There aren’t many records that feature purer love than a band with the name “Lovers” in their name. Harley Alexander now has a credited backing band, and the result is an expression of affection that’s so huge, I doubt anyone with even the most cynical heart could reject it. Ballads and love songs these are not, however; “Lookin For Love” is psychedelic pop goodness, “Runnin’ Thangz” might be one of the grooviest songs of the year, and “Trust” seems to draw on bossa nova to mask some pretty creepy lyrics. Gold star for Gold Shirt.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

The Holy Gasp – The Last Generation of Love

Though it came out in early February, I knew all the way back then that I was listening to one of the year’s best albums. It remains the wildest thing committed to tape I’ve heard in a long time and every time I saw this band live, I was reminded of why it was so special. Mixing Afro-Cuban music with political sensibility, it makes you want to groove while also giving a rousing chorus of “Fuck you Stephen Harper! Fuck you Rob Ford” to remind you of two former political leaders that embarrassed this country.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

Klarka Weinwurm – Huddle

After hearing Klarka Weinwurm’s EP Huddle back in June, I kept going back to it. I played it alongside other 2015 standout albums from artists of the same ilk: Girlpool, Eskimeaux, Diet Cig etc. But Weinwurm always stuck out in this company. The sunny and sweet melodies that expertly hide the anxieties and doubt of her lyrics are of course a huge draw but it’s more than that. Maybe its that rock-fuelled, DIY mentality caught in every downward strum of the guitar, bass, and those always thrashing drums that mirrors the unique attitude of our Maritime friends and drives her music further. Maybe it’s her delicate balance between the quiet and loud and finding peace within both. Or maybe I’ll just chalk it up to being a GOOD collection of songs.


Written and backed by: Laura Stanley

Konig – Puberty

In an alternate universe, this Toronto artist’s debut album could be a book of hymns, I realized recently, on looking back at this album after a while, why this had such an effect on me at first listen. It’s simple—Konig lets her vocals and lyrics shine with minimalism. For the most part, synth is all she needs to communicate vast, deep emotion. This is dream-pop done right.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas. Also backed by: Anna Alger

Micah Visser – OK Night

Micah Visser was my big discovery of 2015. His album Ok Night is so scared and honest that it perfectly captures those late teenage years where you’re on the brink of massive change and it’s terrifying. I wish that I was younger or this album was written when I was in high school so I had some place to retreat to in my own time of grieving the past. But even so, maybe listening to it now allows me to have a clearer understanding of everything Visser is singing about. This step away from all those raw emotions gives me the knowledge that everything will be ok.


Written and backed by: Laura Stanley

No Aloha – No Problemo

These Montrealers make music for the modern Liberal cabinet. But in all seriousness, their tunes were strapped to Tony Hawk for a commercial, their drummer records the music like he was mixing in the womb, and their three part vocals challenge the Beach Boys to a fistfight every time (though not Brian, cause that would be disrespectful.) “My Boyfriend’s the Devil” is the voodoo curse every girl and boy should fall under and then come up from, begging for more.


Written and backed by: Jack Derricourt

Scott Nicks – String of Dreams

Much like I talked about with Doug Hoyer, String of Dreams is also a product of a tight-knit music scene, only this one is from Nova Scotia. Nicks seriously expands his arrangements and focus for this new full-length, enlisting members of Walrus, Jennah Barry, Mike O’Neill and more for a truly dreamy (sorry) record. Some of these songs will truly put your head into the crowds, and others will leave you just marveling at the instrumental prowess. I am very ornery about what should and should not be called “dream pop” and I think this record actually deserves that designation.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

Seoul – I Become A Shade 

After years spent trickling out singles online, Montreal’s Seoul released their debut album this year, and was it ever worth the wait. I Become A Shade is an exquisitely produced burst of pop, three young voices melding together to create a needed collection of songs. The tracks flow together, ranging from darker and introspective, to purely ecstatic. Seoul are setting a new precedent for pop.

Written and backed by: Anna Alger

Sick – Bus Rides

I liked this record when I reviewed it. However, after months of careful evaluation, this album is now a noted member of my canon of Canadian classics. The effort put into the recordings is obviously such a huge transition from their last record – most notably with the addition of lyrics that make most of the other guitar groups slinging rhymes these days look like utter trash. So many of the songs start one way and end another. The unexpected is to be expected all over Bus Rides, vistas of difference and curiosity. Objects in the rearview mirror may be more spectacular than they seem.


Written and backed by: Jack Derricourt

Supermoon – Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy by Vancouver’s favourite girl group Supermoon is the ultimate ear candy. Surf rock and twee pop blend to form Supermoon’s perky sound, full of simple and effective guitar hooks to drive each song to their peak. Cheery-sounding vocals mask occasionally gloomy lyrics. The happy melody on “Tragedy” offsets how its lyrics lament facing sad realities. Aptly-named “Burnout of My Dreams” opens with a tongue-in-cheek reference to R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”. Leave it to Supermoon to write tunes that can make anything seem delightful.


Written and backed by: Elysse Cloma

Tough Age – I Get the Feeling Central

This album is the slickest way to get your heart racing. Laura and I were both hooked after hearing the searing, stomping “Snakes & Ladders” and the rest of the album did not disappoint. “The Gutter Lemon”  packs all kinds of punk fury in less than two minutes while the meandering guilt slowly builds up to a dramatic climax prompted by one of the greatest lyrics of the year: “And all those left who still wish me ill can all…get fucked.” Tough Age is pure rock and roll. End of story.


Written and backed by: Michael Thomas

We Are The City – Above Club

The wait for a new release from We Are the City seemed unbearable after the release of the introspective, dark, often ecstatic Violent. The B.C band has taken their punchy, distorted, crooning-­howling, compression-­throbbing, thunderous synth-­pop to new heights on Above Club. Andrew Huculiak displays some of the most dynamic drumwork on the scene today, his kit seeming to sway and morph along with the deep resonance of synths on songs like “Club Music.” Cayne Mackenzie’s vocals, by turns achingly tender and lashed with sarcasm, have the feeling of a stream of consciousness come to life. The album was largely recorded in a mind-­bending, live streamed marathon in a Serbian nightclub loft that was a kind of performance art in and of itself (or maybe it was all a crazy joke?) and so too does the album play masterfully between the outlandish and the intimate, the grandiose and the tongue-­in­-cheek.


Written and backed by: Chris Matei. Also backed by: Laura Stanley, Michael Thomas

The Weather Station – Loyalty

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since I fangirl-ed about The Weather Station’s (Tamara Lindeman) EP What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know and predicted that her then forthcoming record Loyalty would be on my best of 2015 list. Well, here we are. As I so boldly claimed in my album review, Loyalty cements the fact that The Weather Station is the best contemporary folk act in Canada. Granted she has other acts nipping at her ankles but Lindeman weaves her poetics with warm folk arrangements in a way that’s incredibly artful, timeless, and beautiful. I can’t help but pledge my loyalty.


Written and backed by: Laura Stanley

Whitehorse – Leave No Bridge Unburned 

While the Devil-may-care title is at least part of the allure of Whitehorse’s 2015 offering, the latest foray by stage and life mates Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland brings together some of their best elements. McClelland’s steamy vocals add a sultry touch as she cries out on “Evangelina” while “Oh Dolores” is the hapless steel smacker of Doucet’s White Falcon days. But it’s on tracks like “Fake Your Death (And I’ll Fake Mine)” where the couple prove they’re best together—playful, romantic and perfectly in harmony.

Written and backed by: Eleni Armenakis

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