One of those clever lists again, this time with the help of fellow music enthusiast Richie Ainger, we pick through our recommendations of the best albums produced from the shores of Canada.
This was one of the first ever features on Monolith Cocktail, back in the summer of 2009.
For some reason Canada has really got their act together this century. The sheer quality and amount of amazing bands coming out of our North American cousins is staggering, just feast your eyes over this small quality list of bands – Arcade Fire, Besnard Lakes, Broken Social Scene, Metric, The Dears, Wolf Parade and Holy Fuck – just to mention a few.
Maybe those guys have just been sitting in wait all those lost years, planning an invasion of such intensity that we poor Brits can’t actually muster a defence. I mean we have churned out some right old shit and even our top bands can’t seem to manage to put together a complete LP.
Every example below has been heaped with, which is rightly so, huge critical acclaim; though sometimes sales have not followed.
So here it is, me and Richie’s guide to twenty Canadian LPs that you should rightly own, if you dare call yourself a music fan.
Arcade Fire – ‘Funeral’ (Rough Trade 2005)
The best debut I have had the pleasure of hearing this (almost) decade. It came from nowhere and took me by surprise but the album on the first listen took me. It is just simply stunning.
This really changed the music scene for the better and upped the anti, there can never be enough praise for this LP. Kids when your Dad says the bands of his era were better tell him he’s a fool.
Rarely has the immense power of their songs been rivalled, I cried when I first heard it – really that did happen.
God bless you guys.
Arcade Fire – ‘Neon Bible’ (Rough Trade 2007)
The follow up to the almost unbeatable Funeral, but Win Butler and his band almost do it. Amazingly upbeat songs about dark subjects, but it is let down by a weak moment or two. This doesn’t stop it from being an outstanding effort.
Controversial but I actually prefer this to Funeral, it has a much darker edge and alludes political tones, as well as being to my ears, a more mature listen.
They manage to actually get better. I’m looking forward to the third effort.
Besnard Lakes – ‘Are The Dark Horse’ (Jagjaguwar 2007)
Classic underground LP from one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Again critically acclaimed at the time but failed to make an impact which is unjustifiable.
Brian Wilson heavy vocals with songs about war, apocalypse and history all played out to the most beautiful and sensuous melodies imaginable. One of the most pleasant listens you will ever have the fortune to pass through your ears.
Broken Social Scene–‘You Forgot It In People’ (Arts and Crafts 2003)
Twee as fuck but a very good listen, a mixture of Yo La Tengo’s longer rambling tracks, and Belle And Sebastian, makes this album one of the must have Canadian efforts.
The Canadian super group of sorts, every member has played in every band that’s come out of the country. Feist maybe the biggest name so far to have come out of BSS but the rest of the band have been behind some of the best tunes this decade.
Great introduction LP that sets out their experimental stall for all to see.
Clues – ‘Clues’ (Constellation Records 2009)
With the founding member of The Unicorns, Alden Penner, and a member of Arcade Fire, Brendan Reed on board, this Montreal ‘super group’ have made one of my favourite albums of 2009. With nods to the Fiery Furnaces and produced by Canada’s own genius Efrim Menuck, Clues is a jittery album full of quality.
Dears, The – ‘Gang Of Losers’ (Bella Union 2006)
One of the most underrated bands of recent years; releasing seminal LP after LP, if there were truly any justice these guys would be huge. Indie anthems, which use startling melodies and multi layers of such exquisite lushness that you, find yourself welling up.
You almost forget how actually poignant the lyrics are as homelessness, suicide, lost love and the government putting us down all emanate forth in a blissfully resigned manner
From start to finish this is one of the greatest LPs ever.
Death From Above 1979- ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ (Last Gang 2005)
A wonderfully dirty, brutal album., two guys, a drummer and a bassist, making music about sex and doing it very well. A very good album if you want to get a party started or vented some frustrations. Very fun indeed!
Heavy as hell, electro played out as hard as it can get. This disco metal LP will kick start any party or riot off. Who’d have thought that just a drum kit and a bass guitar could make such great tunes, though it only lasted this one LP and the guys went off to form Masterkraft.
‘Pull Out’ and ‘Turn It Out’ are examples of turning metal into dance floor fillers.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor -‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven’ – (Kranky 2000)
If you don’t know about GY!BE then this is the place to start. Truly amazing, this record is both uplifting and heavy in the same chord. The album is untouchable. Everything about it is well thought out, Coney Island quotes et al. GY!BE had no peers but post rock will never reach the same heights again without this band.
Experimental soundscapes and snippets of media played out to the merest hint of a tune, like cLOUDDEAD without the vocals. Less is indeed more with GSYBE.
Great LP to lose yourselves in, soundtrack to a movie never conceived.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ (Constellation 2002)
The final album released by this Montreal outfit before they went on a hiatus. An album filled with angst at the world around them (major record companies monopolising the market and the illegal wars America was fighting at the time). Not a patch on earlier efforts but still very good.
Like Aphrodite’s Child’s seminal 666 but without any tunes this LP certainly pushes the listener. Like the music Eno should be making instead of pissing around with MOR rock bands, GSYBE manage to craft a slice of post rock excellence worth every second of your precise time.
Holy Fuck – ‘Holy Fuck’ (Young Turks 2007)
A relentless, unforgiving and mad brilliant indie-electro album that will have you moving your feet in no time. Check these guys out live if you ever get the chance. Even better!
A worthy take on the krautrock genre played to a modern electro sensibility. Canada do dance music just as well as they do indie and post rock.
Awesome heavy beats and twiddle twitchy sounds overlaid to the coolest baselines.
Metric- ‘Live It Out’ (Last Gang Records 2005)
With sultry female vocals courtesy of Emily Haines and outstanding songs (Monster Hospital and Glass Ceiling), this band have made a ‘controversial’ album in Live It Out, Pitchfork gave it 4.2/10. But I love it so there!
New Pornographers, The – ‘Twin Cinema’ (Mint Records/Matador Records 2005)
Critically acclaimed and one of Canada’s most popular bands, The New Pornographers haven’t quite made the impact that Arcade Fire achieved.
This third of their four LPs so far, it features complex chord structures and melodies it even features on the Rock Band game.
Search these guys out as they are truly a visionary band.
Ohbijou- ‘Beacons’ (Bella Union records 2009)
Too soon to fully take stock of the impact this album may have. But on first impressions, this band has a good future in front of them. Influences include fellow Canadians Arcade Fire.
Stars – ‘In Our Bedroom After The War’ (Arts & Crafts records 2007)
Now this is a grower. Initially, it comes across as too polished and bland to listen too. But on further investigation, it is a quite sumptuous album with lovely duets and harmonies, mixed with spacey synths.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra And Tra La La Band- ‘Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards’ (Constellation)
And the award for the most pretentious band and album name to come out of Canada is….. but joking aside, what an album. Efrim Menuck and co carry on where GY!BE left off, plenty of epic instrumentation and original ideas, which leave the listener wanting more.
Tokyo Police Club- ‘A Lesson In Crime’ (Paper Bag records 2006)
Ok, so this is technically an EP or mini album depending on your point of view. But it is stuffed full of good indie pop songs, Nature Of The Experiment and Shoulders & Arms (this track borrows the Bloc Party blueprint). It is a shame they couldn’t follow this up with their album ‘Elephant Shell’.
Yes yes The Strokes whatever! They actually manage to surpass them on this record, heavy distortion and vocals through a megaphone may not be on first listen highly original but take time and you’ll find it’s very infectious.
Not bad for a set of young rascals debut, though as Richie says they couldn’t quite follow it up on their anticipated next LP.
Unicorns, The – ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone’ (Alien8 Recordings 2003)
Odd and strange in equal measures, this Canadian underground three-piece write campfire tunes to cut your wrists by. This shouldn’t put you off, just look at the track list ‘I Don’t Wanna Die’ and ‘Inoculate the Innocuous’ for fun.
They even manage to reference fellow peers Arcade Fire by featuring a sample of their song ‘Headlights Look Like Diamonds’ reversed in the track ‘Tuff Luff’.
Woodpigeon- ‘Treasury Library Canada’ (End Of The Road records 2009)
Sounding like the child of Grizzly Bear, Camera Obscura and belle and Sebastian, this Canadian outfit are in the same predicament as Ohbijou. But as The 405 (a well respected online music site) gave this 9/10, expect more from these guys.
Wolf Parade- ‘Apologies To Queen Mary’ (Sub Pop 2005)
The second best debut I have had the pleasure of hearing this (almost) decade. Plenty of evidence of sublime song writing and odd melody structures. Listen to ‘I’ll Believe In Anything’ and you’ll understand. Amazing album by an amazing band!
Quite possibly the greatest debut LP of the last decade, even surpassing Arcade Fire – what do you think about that!
Every track is instantly a classic, believe me when I say this is a must have LP.
Elegant, melodies a plenty, interesting chord changes and a vocal style you either love or hate. Jesus please just get a copy, I can’t possibly do this record justice.
Wolf Parade – ‘At Mount Zoomer’ (Sub Pop 2008)
Almost an impossibility, At Mount Zoomer comes close to bettering Apologies To Queen Mary. Full of quirky numbers and catchy insightful songs, but it doesn’t have the impact of the debut, which is shame really because many bands wish that they could record an album as good as this one.
I have already written a pretty compressive piece for FAULT on this LP but I will just say it’s a worthy follow up to one of the most seminal debuts ever made.
Great playing and great tunes culminate in a future lost classic.
The opening salvo of ‘Soldiers Grin’ and ‘Call It A Ritual’ represent one of the highlights of last year, worth the three-year wait.