Music

The Best Canadian Albums of 2011

Joshua Kloke

Canadians seeking to understand the identity crisis which plagues the Great White North need look no further than the musical class of 2011.

Canadians seeking to understand the identity crisis which plagues the Great White North need look no further than the musical class of 2011. They’re an earnest bunch, all of them having paid their dues. Through frozen tundra, blank fields of endless wheat, and dozens of sweaty clubs, these are the artists with the eyes focused continually on the horizon. Whether it was a triumphant, road-tested debut record, one man stepping out from the shadows of his fallen band, or a punk band attempting to make a record as grand in scope as the country itself, everything on this list is the result of hard work. Considering the size of the country they call home, it’s also ironic how many of these artists have managed to fly under the radar for so long. Joshua Kloke

 
Artist: Hey Rosetta!

Album: Seeds

Label: 101 Distribution

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Hey Rosetta!
Seeds

What remains so striking about Hey Rosetta’s third full-length is how ambitious it is, without sounding overbearing or preachy. There remains a humility to their overall aesthetic, an “aw, shucks" mentality that one wouldn’t normally associate with a grandiose mix of horns, strings, and mandolins and engulfing, literate rock.

On Seeds, each track blends into the next with a warmth that turns the record into a contagious listen. It’s easy to get swept up in the punchy build of tracks like “Yer Spring" and “Young Glass". However, in and as much as Hey Rosetta! expose the growth of their tracks and let the apex of each track spread as far as it can, they make great efforts to render where each track grows from. Seeds is an appropriately titled record, as we can track the progress of each song and become drunk on the evolution.

 
Artist: The Pack A.D.

Album: Unpersons

Label: Mint

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The Pack A.D.
Unpersons

In the past, the Pack A.D. have generally been known as the kind of gutsy, ramshackle garage punk act that, while a guaranteed good time, still carry very little cerebral resonance. But on Unpersons, the band dives deep into the gutters of their psyche and tell the kind of harsh break-up story we’ve all experienced. Unpersons simply articulates that universal pain, anger and frustration. Sure, it might be brazen, but the Pack A.D. have finally figured out how to turn their garage rock into a gloomy but effective vehicle.

The Pack A.D. are no strangers to touring, and the thousands of kilometres they’ve logged are really beginning to pay off. Produced by heavyweight garage producer Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, Detroit Cobras) Unpersons could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Pack A.D. The gloomy edges of their sound are brought to light with the kind of spot-on scuzz that many of their contemporaries meander in and they have mastered.

Canada is often mistook for a consistently friendly and affable country. One spin of Unpersons will acknowledge that there’s a lot of anger amongst the snow.

 
Artist: Sun Wizard

Album: Positively 4th Avenue

Label: The Royal Potato Family

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Sun Wizard
Positively 4th Avenue

Ah, but for all the doom and gloom that encapsulates a Canadian winter, there are days when the sun refuses to set. Sun Wizard, aptly named indeed, managed to cull not only their luminous influences, but also the unadulterated joy that comes along with these kinds of days. With an unabashed ear for hooky pop rock, the band sticks its nose up at the snobby “cooler than thou" kids who believe music should be an exercise in destitution. Instead, laden with harmonies and melody, these four Vancouverites channel their inner Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, and sound wise beyond their years.

There is a certain boldness required to do what Sun Wizard have done on Positively 4th Avenue. Vancouver, being a hipster-heavy city, can be critical of bands that are eager for success on a major level. Sun Wizard give into the sounds that got them into music in their first place and deliver a record that is remarkably void of filler.

At its very root, Canada is a passionate country. Sun Wizard have acknowledged their passions and refuse to hold back.

 
Artist: Bry Webb

Album: Provider

Label: Idée Fixe

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Bry Webb
Provider

Canada, a land known primarily for its harsh climate and endless wilderness, is also home to a nation of heroes. As one can imagine, however, many of these heroes don’t receive worldwide acclaim. Names like Paul Henderson, Tommy Douglas, and Terry Fox might not inspire history lessons around the world, yet Canadians cling to these mythological figures as representatives of our staunch national character.

Enter the Constantines, the infamous art-punk outfit that either disbanded or went on an extended hiaturs in 2010, who achieved legendary cult status in Canada during the past decade. Their thick, crunchy sound was so deeply entrenched in Canadiana that when the band did part ways, depression quickly set in. Little was heard of the band members. The good had, once again, died young.

The one thing that unites the above listed Canadian heroes is their sense of courage. To step out of the shadows of the Constantines is not an enviable task, especially considering Bry Webb had nearly given up on songwriting. That is, until the birth of his first son, Asa, inspired him to pick up a guitar and write an album’s worth of songs that are painted with an endearing sense of respect for those around him.

Sounding nothing like the thrash and build that the Constantines were known for, Webb walks alone, holding lap-steel and pedal-steel guitars close to his touch in his acoustic melodies. And, in writing a record that was inspired in part by the birth of his son, Webb allows his normally raspy voice to find a new clarity. He sheds insight on the realities of playing in a punk band, and accepts adulthood with the kind of courageous attitude that most in their late 20s and early 30s couldn’t dream of adopting. Provider is the sound of a man walking calmly on a path he seems destined to have walked all along.

While the Constantines have certainly deserved their place in the canon of Canrock, it is the blue-collar poetry of Provider which should cement Bry Webb’s legacy as one of Canada’s greatest songwriters.

 
Artist: Fucked Up

Album: David Comes to Life

Label: Matador

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Fucked Up
David Comes to Life

Calling Canada a big country would be like calling David Comes to Life an epic album. Sure, you’re right on both counts, but you’ve given in to something of an understatement.

Canada is so massive that many of its own inhabitants rarely get to visit every country, territory, and coast. And David Comes to Life is so grand in scope that even by spinning the record a thousand times, there would likely still be hidden layers that went undiscovered. Calling it punk would be a start, but manner in which the six members of Fucked Up accept the spotlight which has been afforded to them with past releases showcases a band that, for one record, worked without limitations.

It’s a rock opera with a complicated plot, rich with protagonists, antagonists and the unabated search for truth. Sure, Fucked Up has always been an ambitious band, but David Comes to Life certainly feels like the band’s last kick at the can. They reach with their arms stretched wide and admittedly, when every one of the 18 songs on the record come to a close, listeners can feel redeemed yet exhausted.

Rivalling Canada’s last great export (2010’s The Suburbs by Arcade Fire) in its ability to blend a complex narrative and system of beliefs with well-crafted songs, David Comes to Life never ceases to amaze. Lead singer Damian Abraham’s trademark husky growl tells the trials and tribulations of protagonist David Eliade with such potency that the 78-minute record leaves an emotional resonance that is certainly indelible.

David Comes to Life has it all: heart, soul, hooks, drama, tragedy, acceptance, and understanding. Is it intimidating? Sure. However, when you drop the needle and step into the world Fucked Up has created, you understand that limitations are only for those who want them to exist. And anyone who’s spent some time in the Great White North would likely agree.

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