I’m following my scene to the great white north

It’s only November, but I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t been thinking about my “Best Albums of 2009” list lately.  I’d also be lying if I told you I haven’t outfitted my cubicle at work with Christmas lights in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season.  When it comes to time-honored traditions, I jump the gun.  Hell, my mom even asked me if I wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner while I’m back in Pittsburgh this weekend.  Moving on…

I can’t help but notice a pattern in my favorite records from the past couple years: They’re all from Canadian-based artists.  Maybe there’s something in the glacial waters up north, but I’ll admit – I never gave the Canucks credit.  Last year, Dallas Green’s acoustic project, City and Colour (notice the added oh-so-Canadian “u” in that spelling), released Bring Me Your Love in February.  I waited patiently for 10 more months with open ears, but no other release in 2008 attempted to dethrone that album from the top of my list.  That said, I’m a huge sucker for mood music, and Bring Me Your Love is just that.  I mean, it sounds like it could’ve been recorded in an empty, snow-covered cabin in Saskatchewan.  In 2009 though, these are some of my favorite releases that were created just north of the border.

Some Canadian-made bands that have blown the doors off 2009:

1. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste

propagandhi_supporting_casteLook, the late ’00s are going to be remembered as a time when major labels started to decline, music became cheaper to record and a flood of experimental indie rock suddenly became mainstream.  I personally think most of it is garbage (read: bland noise).

Almost 15 years ago, punk rock and DIY values ruled the underground.  Before you could post a Myspace page, bands were hitting the streets with flyers.  Indie upstart labels scraped together money to record, press and distribute artists that they really had faith in.  It was beautiful.  This was about the time Propagandhi released Less Talk, More Rock.  Amidst my Millencolin, Blink-182 and Pennywise records, Less Talk, More Rock felt a little more serious.  To call it preachy would be a gross understatement.  At the time, I wasn’t ready for that.  The music rocked – but what’s with that line about fucking your friend when you were 9 years old? I’ll admit that I swept into the far corners of my mind marked “nostalgia”.

I hadn’t listened to Propagandhi in 14 years (at least anything new).  Apparently I missed a pretty prolific album in 2001 (but you know what?  I went back and listened to Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes and I don’t feel like I was missing that much).  I saw that they were releasing a new album this year and in all honesty, I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to punk music these days.  There’s just no one making punk rock.  Unless you count MxPx – but they’ve been writing the same record since they were 16…

Propagandhi’s been around for more than 20 years, and they’re just hitting their stride.  Supporting Caste restocked the well when it comes to loud, brash, fast guitars and hard-hitting songs.  The lyrics are still preachy (One song recants the tale of Francis, a pig that escaped a slaughter-house and hid in a park in Red Deer, Canada; one song discusses the lunacy behind Humane treatment of animals in the meat production industry), but now at least I can comprehend what they’re talking about.  My favorite song of the bunch (on some days, depending how I’m feeling) is “Dear Coach’s Corner,” a 5-minute shot at Don Cherry masked as an open “letter” to his on air partner, Ron MacLean.  There are no refrains on the entire album.  Each song is a rant set to melody, which makes it all the more impressive when you can sing a song from start to finish in your car.  That said, the songs are catchy.  And my god, the guitar work is beautiful.  This album is the king of the hill right now in 2009.  Here’s a clip of Propagandhi playing the third track from the album, “Tertium Non Datur”, in Australia back in March:

2. Metric – Fantasies

metric-fantasies-album-cover1I was looking forward to this album for a long time.  Live It Out, Metric’s album from 2005 was an unexpected treasure that I discovered during my senior year of college.  Turn the bedroom lights out, plug in the christmas lights under my lofted bed and double-click “The Police and the Private”… instant cozy winter den.  “Posters of a Girl” is one of the slinkier, sexier, dirtier songs I’ve ever heard.  It mixes the raw sex appeal of the Faint with some sensual undertones a la Sade.  Definitely a hot jam.  Naturally, Pitchfork shat all over that record.

I don’t anticipate new electro dance-pop albums very often.  Metric is one of the exceptions though.  I was really excited to see if they’d come out swinging with tunes that matched those off Live It Out or if, like some other indie groups, they’d go in a more isolating, experimental album.  In most cases, I prefer the former.  I like hooks.  Apparently Emily Haines and Metric do too – they produced an album that’s full to the brim with lines that get stuck in your craw.  The whole album is cohesive and you can just listen to it from start to finish, and that’s something their last album lacked.  They do this whole thing where they layer bass tracks and synths in unison and it really makes the rhythm section sound locked up.  The guitars are free to riff, but the hooks in the melody are still stiff and robotic (the whole album feels very urban).  There are urgent tracks like “Gold Guns Girls”, and there are numbers that lull like “Blindness” and “Collect Call” – but the strongest tracks are the midtempo ones that .  “Help, I’m Alive,” “Sick Muse” and “Satellite Mind”, the albums three opening tracks, all sound like solid candidates for Best Song and Track Most Likely to Fuel Your Coke Binge at 3am. That’s just the sound Metric does best.  This album could cause trouble in the wrong hands.  Even without chemical assistance, this album provides an extremely enjoyable listen.

3. Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist

the_satanic_satanist-portugal-_the_man_480Alright – party foul.  These guys are from Alaska.  Sure, I could’ve forced Pink Strat by Feist’s guitarist’s band, Bahamas; but that would’ve been a stretch since the jury’s still out on that release.

Portugal. The Man is renowned for releasing a high volume of content.  The Satanic Satanist is, in fact, the 4th album from the group in four years.  That’s one album per year for all you Communications majors out there.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find any fan who wouldn’t want to get a new album from their favorite band every year.  Your average artist puts out an album every 2-3.  The problem I find is that with Portugal. The Man, you haven’t fully finished digesting the last album when they hit you with a new one.  The band isn’t slowing down, either.  A new album is slated for release early in 2010.  Sorry for generalizing, but these guys are total hippies and  I’m shocked that they’re so motivated.

I haven’t spent as much time with The Satanic Satanist as I have with the other two albums above – and part of that is because the group’s last album, Censored Colors, still sounds fresh.  I’m slowly warming up to Satanist though.  Most of the tracks are spacey and lazy but well crafted.  I’m particularly enjoying “Lovers in Love” and the album closer, “Morning”.  I heard that the band released an all-acoustic version of the album too, titled The Majestic Majesty on download sites like iTunes.  I better do that before they release a triple-disc in 2011.

So give these a listen.  And let me know what you think, eh?


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