A Few Overlooked Acts in 2017: year end edition

by Kaitlin Ruether, Laura Stanley & Michael Thomas

We owls review a lot of music but always end up feeling like we could review MORE! To quell that feeling, twice a year we make a list of albums that almost passed us by but we feel must be celebrated. See you in 2018!


St. John’s band CONDITIONER may not have much of an internet presence, but their sonic presence of the four-piece grunge-punk band is immense. “ALL CAUGHT UP” and “WHEN WILL YOU KNOW” are at the centre of the EP at 29 and 59 seconds long, respectively and ramp up the energy so that tracks like “ALRIGHT” and “THE STAINS” gleam. The variety of noise on “THE STAINS” finishes the album with solo vocals proclaiming CONDITIONER’s mysterious bio phrase: “Like the Irving sign on the highway”. When you need something to shout along with, something to pull you into the messy world and give you permission to feel it all at once, CONDITIONER are here. I know that I’ll have this debut on standby for a while. – Kaitlin Ruether

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

In With The Old – My Mother’s Couch

Have you ever owned a piece of clothing for so long that it was in style and then it went out of style and then it came back in style again? Maybe your mom’s floral couch that you were once embarrassed by can now be labeled “retro-chic.” Saskatoon trio In With The Old are retro-chic. Their bluegrass style is from the past but like high-wasted jeans, In With The Old make it cool and comfortable. The trio (Ellen Froese-Kooijenga, Jaxon Lalonde and Kasia Thorlakson) play off of one another nicely and inject their tracks (which are mostly tales of failed relationships) with sharp humour and charm. “Adeline” and “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” are the highlights. – Laura Stanley

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

¡FLIST! – Songs of Love For Jewish Girls

Fuck You I’m Dead remains, to me, the scariest-sounding album outside of the metal genre. Charlie Twitch seems to have dipped his pop(?) music in the rivers of hell and created some wonderfully nightmarish music. His first release since 2014 continues that terrifying trend and he manifests that in different ways. “Bug” completely reimagines falling in love as something out of a horror movie, complete with graphic descriptions (“I just can’t get it out, it crawls around behind my nose and mouth.”) “Imagine” is an amalgam of terror and “This Is How We Null” fuses dark synth-pop, dance-punk and disco into something that’s at once smooth and hair-raising. The lines Twitch gets in are especially snarling. As a package, it’s exactly the kind of weird I need in my life right now. – Michael Thomas

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Emmett McCleary – There’s a Better Something

The first thing that strikes you when listening to Montreal-based Emmett McCleary’s debut album is the backing vocals. In almost every track, there comes a swell of vocals that fill out the sound, putting a spin on the bedroom pop to which his style could be attributed. Pair this with the constant flux of of the guitar and a now-and-then dash of jingling bells and There’s A Better Something becomes a pop-rock ride. While the “ooh”’s of the pensive “Amelia” and the “ahh”’s of the kicky “M. Avenue” help to make these tracks standout, it is “Twine and Straw” that really shines: here, the genre bends into semi-psychedelic and finds an edge akin to acts like Silversun Pickups. Even the guitar carries an impression of agitation, and this commitment keeps the track alive. The sweetness and precision of “There’s A Better Something” becomes — through the addition of harmonies— another example of this care. Throughout There’s a Better Something, McCleary keeps his vision on the broad side, and it makes for effortless fun, and to add emotional depth to the tracks that linger on the nip of reality. – KR

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Trinisha Browne – Thought You Should Know (TYSK)

Thought You Should Know (TYSK) – a minimalistic rap recording – is a glimpse into Trinisha Browne’s life, her hopes and fears. On “Northside” she lays the foundation for her empire, “Money” begins with a speech from Lauryn Hill about authenticity and perseverance, sentiments that Browne then mirrors in the rest of the track – “I can only be me, I can only be real” – and on “Cash Ruins” Browne tries to find her place in the world. On these tracks, Browne raps  barely above a whisper but she doesn’t need to. Everything she says is loud and clear. – LS

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Ludovic Alarie – L’appartement

Ludovic Alarie cites his influences as everyone from Neil Young to D’Angelo, Bill Callahan to Serge Gainsbourg, which is a pretty ballsy way to describe what your music sounds like. But somehow that label seems to fit perfectly. Even if you don’t understand French, you’ll easily be able to appreciate the beauty in this album. The music feels tremendously thoughtful and gentle, like in closer “Berceuse,” an instrumental that feels like the soundtrack to watching falling snow. “Comme un rêve” is, like its name, truly like a dream with the long instrumental intro of guitar and just a dash of keys. He decided to include two versions of “Sang-froid,” one that’s jazzier and one that’s more folk-oriented, and on a longer song like “Chanson pour Suzanne” he proves that meditative doesn’t have to mean boring. – MT

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Shirley Moon – S/T

Though Shirley Moon’s brand of West Coast post-pop is concentrated in a one-time release, the now defunct band brought a unique sense of playfulness to Victoria’s jangle-pop scene. The playfulness shines on album opener “Against Place”. The lyrics list, well, places, and all the memories and potential that they hold. “Maps of Possible Futures” has a staccato jazziness to it; the structured opening is complimented by the jam-sesh ending, which flows into the narrative of “Honey, Be” — which by the middle could be at home in a musical. “Can I see you, down the road, being a waste of my time,” Joe Leroux wonders, and the aversion to common romance becomes all the sweeter. The album ends on a rather melancholy note — a different vibe than the rest of the album — with the mellow “I’m Still Here”. In the wake of Shirley Moon’s end, the title makes an attempt at soothing, but it comes out as wishful. The poignant lyrics pierce with, “I’m not the same, but I’m still here.” Sometimes changing is necessary, and the risks and propulsions made on Shirley Moon’s S/T can confirm this. – KR

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Freeless – Happily Erased

“I should fix myself up/I should shut the fuck up…I can’t deal with myself,” sings Freeless (Jeanne Gagné) on EP highlight “Saddening.” It’s not a gentle way to treat yourself but it sounds like Gagné needed to make this declaration to move on and to erase the past, happily. Happily Erased is a downtempo electro album with each song layers of beeps, bloops, and beats. Sometimes the layers get stifling but at other times the layers are perfectly placed. The fragments – the vocal loop, the keyboard riff, the synth-beat – of “Broken Glass,” for example, come together like a mosaic.

Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)

King Buzzard – husk

When I saw the tag “anxiety-folk” I knew I was in for a good listen. Vancouver’s King Buzzard takes deeply personal songs and backs them at first with acoustic guitar, but things quickly get louder and more frantic as the album goes along. The album name comes from the idea of leaving behind the shell of what you were and emerging as something better, and husk shows King Buzzard overcoming a lot of turmoil. With “i’m so sick” he explains he’s tired of loving someone, and in “explain” he uses a worrying few phrases as a chorus: “I don’t want to sound to messianic, but I think I’ve found a solution for all of this/my eyes project unyielding white light/I can explain.” Things reach a breaking point at “cell sharpened,” where the creaking guitar and occasional touches of lo-fi weirdness blossom into a full-blown rock song. From that point, the songs get louder while remaining no less tragic, like “vivadixie” which references someone who committed suicide. We end with “august 1616” and someone who is completely devastated by a breakup, alternately angry and depressed. King Buzzard seems positive in his album notes, so perhaps putting these songs to record helped him create his husk, which is husk. -MT

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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