There’s a thrilling breadth of styles and approaches explored by the best albums hailing from Canada in 2013, ranging from good ol’ garage rock to East-West “noh-wave”, from traditionalist country to First Nations’ EDM.
You Can’t Serve Two Masters
Paul Lawton made waves early in the year for taking serious digs at the Canadian music industry on his Slagging Off blog. Fortunately, the Ketamines frontman was able to back up his smack talk with the wild, weird, but incredibly enjoyable You Can’t Serve Two Masters. Previous releases leaned too much on the weird side just for the sake of it, yet Ketamines have pulled in the reins just enough. There’s a ton of punchy, garage-influenced hooks and it’s tough to imagine Ketamines slowing down anytime soon. Lawton and Ketamines are waking crowds up to the thriving garage scene north of the 40th parallel. Joshua Kloke
On his fourth album, Vancouver-based rapper Shad offers a mature, utterly assured collection of often personal, always thoughtful tracks that feel revolutionary in their refusal to play ball with the conventions of hip-hop. I mean, here is a rapper who doesn’t curse, is respectful toward women, has a head for politics, and a healthy but not inflated ego. Shad seems, to put it plainly, like a pretty nice guy. And this nice guy offers infectious jams like “Fam Jam” (about his postcolonial consciousness as a Kenyan in Canada), slow-burning political mind-benders like “Progress” (which reimagines Don McLean’s “American Pie” as a kind of forbidden fruit), and groovy head-bobbers like “Love Means” (featuring Eternia, possibly Canada’s best rapper), each of which lives in richly constructed soundscapes and rides on irresistible beats. Stuart Henderson
13The Highest Order
If It’s Real
Out of the ashes of One Hundred Dollars came the Simone Schmidt-led the Highest Order. (Not to mention Fiver, another Schmidt project which released a full-length in 2013.) If It’s Real is a perfect marriage of psych and country, and allows Schmidt’s songwriting the room to breathe and wind as it perhaps has always needed to. Schmidt is at her pensive best and listeners get a clear look into the haunting minds of the characters she writes flawlessly. Canadians have always prided themselves on rooting for the underdog. If Schmidt keeps up her pace she won’t be considered an underdog at all. Joshua Kloke
Alongside the extraordinary record the brothers Good made with their parents and friends under their family name, the Sadies managed to produce one of the year’s most flat-out pleasurable alt-country albums. Internal Sounds takes the by-now fairly well-worn Sadies sound and pushes for new ground to let it run. Their brand of psychedelic Americana songwriting is exemplary (as always), as is the fine musicianship on display here at every turn. None of this is a surprise. What is surprising for this longtime listener is just how great it all sounds. The Sadies have always been an amazing live act that, frustratingly, turned out iffy studio albums. This time around, those shoes won’t fit. On this, their best record yet, perhaps they’ve finally found the way to put that persistent pattern to rest, once and for all? Stuart Henderson
Tall Tall Shadow
On her third record, the haunting Basia Bulat has finally achieved the level of songwriting and performance to match her rather peerless voice. And with its honeyed vibrato conveying both wisdom and vulnerability in equal measure, Bulat’s voice has never sounded better than on this terrific collection. Though live these songs are routinely performed in the bare-bones style in which they were likely written—Bulat’s instrument of choice is the autoharp—here they have been fleshed out to dramatic effect. Rhythmic, pulsing, and dynamic, Bulat’s best work here (the title track and “The City with No Rivers”) is hypnotic in its groovy darkness. And it all winds up in the dreamy, sublime “From Now On”, perhaps the best album-closer of the entire year. Stuart Henderson
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// Sound Affects
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