Published Nov 28, 2011Being a Canadian was once a dirty word for bands trying to break internationally. But over the last decade an increasing number of eclectic groups proved that old adage wrong. This year saw two of the groups primarily responsible for this shift move onto new phases of their careers; the Arcade Fire's Grammy win threw the group into the mainstream and launched a thousand "are they still indie?" debates. Meanwhile Broken Social Scene, the band who brought the idea of a musical "collective" to the masses, announced an "indefinite hiatus." With these leading lights of Canadian rock out of the picture, who might step up and become the nation's next great export?
We often talk of the best artists having a "voice" when it comes to their music and lyrics. But Montreal singer Claire Boucher processed her trademark coo through looping pedals to create a haunting sound that is a truly unique. To date she's backed her pipes with echo laden dance and R&B tracks, culminating in this year's brilliant Dark Bloom split with D'Eon raising her profile both at home and down south. Defined by her music through her voice rather than her instrumentation gives Boucher a lot more wiggle room to follow her stylistic muse. With her star on the rise and a new album set to drop in January, the possibilities for Boucher appear endless.
A band's initial burst of creativity has always been followed by backlash; that it now happens around the time most group's debut drops is simply a sign of our accelerated times. That Braids emerged so fully formed (they produced their debut themselves) and managed to exceed expectations is a rarity. Ambitious and sprawling, Native Speaker was a hard to categorize record that straddled the line between post-rock and modern electronic music. But Montreal group's greatest coup was crafting a record grew on listeners as the year wore on, their spiraling guitars and stuttering rhythms unspooled themselves in our ears. And this was just the quartet's first kick at the can. Self-assured and without creative constraints, Braids are a band unlike any other.
At their core, Vancouver's Japandroids are just another noisy garage rock duo. But buried beneath their wall of distorted guitars and thundering drums Brian King and David Prowse write anthems, plain and simple. Setting the band apart from their contemporaries, debut full-length Post Nothing, was filled with clear, to the point messages, screamed in unison over and over again ― impossible to ignore and hard to forget. Coupled with their affinity for '90s shoegaze fuzz, the pair have already found a pretty strong foothold with American listeners, with last year's trio of seven-inches only whetting appetites for 2012's much anticipated follow-up. These guys remain the standard bearers for uncompromising rock at a time when such a thing is increasingly becoming an anachronism.
Rich Aucoin is so likeable it's hard to imagine anyone not falling for him the minute they walk into one of his parachute and confetti-laden live extravaganzas. So as he expands his touring reach it seems inconceivable that he won't find new throngs of supporters outside our borders. But the release of his debut full-length shows that he's more than a party starting performer; We're All Dying to Live is an emotionally uplifting record that finally allows the Halifax musician to reach an audience without having to sweat all over them. That he invited over 500 Canadians to take part in the recording process only makes him a better ambassador for the scene.
For the last decade Sandro Perri has operated as a genre tourist, adopting new monikers for each new sound he works with. A laptop maestro who dabbles in cello and lap-steel guitar, his various iterations have caught the ear of both savvy music fans and his peers. But all that sonic experimentation came to full fruition with this year's Impossible Spaces. Blending together the disparate elements that have marked Perri's career, the record is both a summation of his work to date while pointing to a new way forward, where genre increasingly becomes meaningless. Similar aural journeyman Arthur Russell, to whom Perri is often compared, also operated outside the constraints of genre, but he did so a few decades too soon. But for a generation for whom genre has always been more of a way of organizing files on a computer than lifestyle choice, Perri couldn't be hitting an artistic peak at a better time.