Canada's first wave of punk is finally getting its due with a steady stream of books hitting bookstore shelves. Ugly Pop Records stoked that interest by reissuing a number of seminal seven-inches for bands that blazed a path for countless groups since, including Windsor's the Spy's, Hamilton's the Dream Dates and Toronto's Arson.
Today, Hot Nasties are probably best known as Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella's old band or that old Canadian punk group UK upstarts Palma Violets covered. But they were one of the first punk groups in Calgary, and 1980's The Invasion of the Tribbles EP (Ugly Pop) is the only material they managed to release. A lot of first-wave punk acts get a lot of credit just for making it into a recording studio, but it's clear Hot Nasties were a cut above many of their peers. "I am A Confused Teenager" alone shows they were a band more concerned with penning catchy tunes than battling the establishment.
But the real gem is the reissue of "What Do You Do at Night?" (Ugly Pop), the 1980 debut seven-inch from Toronto group Crash Kills Five. Besides being a precursor to Canadian instrumental rock heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, this, the band's sole release, also acts as something of a bridge between the gritty punk of the Viletones and the then-nascent new-wave scene that would come to dominate the Toronto underground. The title track in particular shows that the band had tremendous promise, but like so many groups from the era, they weren't able to keep it together long enough to follow up on the record's success. Kudos to Ugly Pop for including a handy band history written by group member and scene photographer Don Pyle.
Fast-forwarding things a few decades, bi-national Vancouver/Seattle trio Supercrush are a contemporary band with a serious '90s hangover. That their name wasn't already scooped up by one of the many distortion drenched power-pop groups they worship, like Superdrag and Super Deluxe, the Posies and Teenage Fanclub, is a minor miracle on its own. But don't let that take away from the sheer brilliance of these two tracks. Like their likeminded UK peers the History of Apple Pie, "Lifted" b/w "Melt Into You (Drift Away)" (Independent) perfectly distils so many groups into soaring, dreamy and catchy-as-hell alt-rock. Group mastermind Mark Palm cut his teeth in hardcore bands and San Francisco shoegazers Modern Charms, but it's clear that he's found his true calling here.
New Jersey's Lifetime have been pretty quiet since reforming and dropping a new album back in 2007, giving guitarist Dan Yemen time to work with his hardcore group Paint It Black. After a pair of sevens back in 2009, Invisible (No Idea Records) delivers six hammering tracks that find the group in fine form. Pressed on purple wax, the band sound neither aged nor like they're trying to keep up with the kids; instead, Paint it Black do what they're best at, finding a tight balance between hardcore rage and melodic hooks that will please old-school fans and those who've come to the band through Lifetime's recent activity.
Saskatoon's Shooting Guns finally broke out of the prairies in 2012 with their debut, letting the rest of the country in on their brand of heavy instrumental psych-rock. Their split with Edmonton's Krang (Psychic Handshake), however, went relatively unnoticed. Maybe that's for the best: both band's tracks sound like vocal-less, Black Mountain B-sides, with Shooting Guns' song "Sky High and Blind" winning out by virtue of being recorded professionally. Krang's contribution sounds like it was dubbed to a cassette on a boombox.
Vancouver has always bred art-damaged punk bands, so the current crop of groups spitting out roughly recorded vinyl in No Fun City is certainly in keeping with their hometown's history. You could lump the Poles into that world, but the band's debut, Merman/the Pest (Independent) owes as much to sludgy groove as anarchic noise. Driven by a heavy bottom end and manic vocal delivery, "Merman" is a solid and unique sounding slab of grunge revivalism, while its B-side, "The Pest," cuts through the murk to showcase some pop-minded songwriting a la Bleach-era Nirvana.
Finally, it's to Seventh Fire Records' credit that they're keen to spotlight local talent. Situated between Toronto and Montreal, its home base of Peterborough, ON often gets overlooked in favour of Canada's two biggest metropolises. Billing themselves as "Canada's only 7" Record Club," the label has an impressive roster of talent, including releases from Matthew Barber, the Spades and former Crash Vegas member Michelle McAdorey.
Nick Ferrio and his Feelings' Half the Time (Seventh Fire Records) contribution to this ongoing series is a particular highlight. Plenty of artists are trading in in traditional country these days, but few have the writing chops of Ferrio. The title track finds the sweet spot between classic Nashville country and Todd Rundgren balladry, while its flipside, "The Other Side of Town," details a lover's infidelity with someone from across town.