Music

The Best Canadian Albums of 2014

Zachary Houle, Adrien Begrand, and Alan Ranta
Tanya Tagaq

From Steph Cameron to White Lung, these 15 releases showcase the very best of Canadian music in 2014, and illustrate that the Canadian music community is definitely thriving and maturing.

To pull a phrase from Queen Elizabeth II, 2014, in many ways, was Canada’s annus horribilis.

The country made international headlines for all of the wrong reasons, whether it was through now ex-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s antics, the daily horrors of the Luka Magnotta trial (he’s the guy accused of filming the dismemberment of the body of a man and then posting it online), the actions of a lone wolf gunman who laid siege to Canada’s Parliament, or the horrific nature of physical and sexual assault accusations being levelled at now fired CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who was just starting to make inroads into the US market.

Indeed, 2014 was an acutely terrible year for Canada. However, and more happily, 2014 was also a pretty stellar year for Canadian music.

It was the year of the Canadian woman, which is reflected in the list you’re about to read: more than half of the musician or artists covered here are women or have a woman in their outfits. And, certainly, there were more strong releases from women that this Top 15 list could cram in.

Francophone artists also have a place on this list. One of the acts released a French language album, while another had released an album in French in the past. This goes to illustrate that the Quebec and French Canadian music scene is certainly fertile and is getting noticed.

There was an interesting trend that I personally saw in Canadian music this year. At least three artists that I encountered – Eamon McGrath, SoHo Ghetto and the Arkells – released music that owed a great debt to the works of Bruce Springsteen. This is not a terrible surprise – the Constantines were once dubbed “Springsteen meets Fugazi” – so this is something that feels like a continuation than anything else. Still, it was particularly noticeable this year in Canadian music. It’ll be interesting to see if Canadian sounds that owe more than a passing debt to the Boss continue.

While this list is fairly representative of music released in all corners of this great and vast country, there were few albums that could be classified as disappointments (bearing in mind that I personally haven’t heard the new Nickelback record). I was fortunate enough to get exposed to a vast amount of Canadian music this year in all genres, from blues to folk to metal to hip-hop, and a great deal of it was strong. I am hopeful that this continues, and Canadian music will maintain to make inroads into the international marketplace.

And, in case you were wondering, there were far more artists that the three PopMatters contributors that worked on this list – myself, Alan Ranta and Adrien Begrand – could have included. I capped this off at 15, as that felt like a good number: not too many, not too few). However, the runners-up included the New Pornographers, SoHo Ghetto, Comet Control, Chad VanGaalen, the Crooked Brothers, Odonis Odonis, Biblical and more. While I certainly hope that you check out the artists on this list, one can certainly go much, much deeper if you choose to.

All in all, 2014 will go down as a great year in Canadian music. Here’s hoping that 2015 offers just as strong a year end list, and that the New Year is a much better one for Canada on the world stage, if not all Canadians at large. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: White Lung

Album: Deep Fantasy

Label: Domino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/whitelungdeep.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 15

White Lung
Deep Fantasy

Mish Way doesn't pull any punches in her op-ed writing, and certainly not as the lead singer of Vancouver punk menace White Lung. Set to the thundering drums of Anne-Marie Vassiliou and frantically nuanced guitar work of Kenneth Williams, Deep Fantasy saw Way crush her way through ten high-impact tracks compressed into 22 minutes, tackling subjects like celebrity entitlement, body image and the reluctance of rape victims to come forward. Produced by Jesse Gander, who helmed the band's 2010 debut It's the Evil and their breakthrough 2012 album Sorry, the band's template didn't change much for Deep Fantasy outside of William taking over Grady Mackintosh's bass duties, but it didn't need to. They already had their aural onslaught locked down, and Deep Fantasy only tautened the screws. The band delivered a tighter, more dynamic and provocative version of its brand of trashy, melodic punk rock, which was perfect timing for their first album on the legendary Domino Records. Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Cold Specks

Album: Neuroplasticity

Label: Mute / Arts & Crafts

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cold_specks1.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 14

Cold Specks
Neuroplasticity

Al Spx, who records as Cold Specks, has had a rather triumphant few years, due to award nominations, an invitation to play at Joni Mitchell’s 70th birthday party, and guest spots on recent albums from Moby and Swans. This year saw her capping off her success with her silky and seductive sophomore LP, Neuroplasticity. What makes the record so remarkable is that there’s always something new to hear each time you revisit it, whether it be the slide guitar on “Old Knives” or Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet work. Bendy and brilliant, Neuroplasticity is a disc that exists in its own domain. By merging indie rock sounds with R&B, Spx has crafted something meticulous here, something soulful, something immensely powerful. Clearly, this is the work of a musician with her own dramatic voice, and that makes her one of the most important Canadian artists of the year, bar none. Brainy and brawny, Neuroplasticity should go a long way towards earning Spx more award nominations and invitations to play for others. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: Dada Plan

Album: A Dada Plan Is Free

Label: Kingfisher Bluez

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/d/dadaplan_adadaplanisfree_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 13

Dada Plan
A Dada Plan Is Free

Malcolm Biddle flirted with success as a former frontman for Sun Wizard and Capitol 6 and solo as Malcolm Jack, but he outdid himself with his Dada Plan project. Working with Colin Cowan on upright bass, brother Dave Biddle on saxophone, Matt Krysko on synth, and Justin Williams on congas, while Josh Wells of Black Mountain and Lightning Dust fame recorded their efforts on analogue tape, A Dada Plan Is Free captured an important moment in Vancouver's ever-evolving scene. The album serves a particular confluence of talent and vision essential to the city's vibrancy that finally found its stride with this record. The music taps a vein of Roxy Music-indebted metropolitan pop, detuned melodies and jazzy embellishments with sparse retro drum machine programming chugging away to create meditative lysergic textures that swirl amidst Malcolm's psycho-spiritual social commentary. It may sound outsider, but feels inclusive, larger than itself, its covers of White Fence and Aceyalone showing how wide its influences range. Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Fucked Up

Album: Glass Boys

Label: Matador

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/fdupglass.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 12

Fucked Up
Glass Boys

After three of the boldest and most innovative albums in punk rock history, what was left for Fucked Up to do? In the wake of so many records that embraced storytelling, the answer for snarly-voiced vocalist Damian Abraham was to cast his gaze inwards, examine his own approaching middle-age, his notoriety in not only the punk scene but the North American music scene in general. Consequently, the end result is a surprisingly introspective, meditative album for even this band, one that opts to eschew any attempts at breaking new ground, staying the course musically, which has always been rock solid, and leaving plenty of room for Abraham to muse and pontificate. But Glass Boys is a sneaky little album, in that those arrangements, which don’t exactly blow your mind upon first listen, wriggle into your head weeks and months later, guitarist Mike Haliechuk once again proving to be this band’s not-a-secret weapon, bringing great richness to tracks like “Touch Stone”, “Sun Glass”, and the shimmering title track. Adrien Begrand

 
Artist: The Hidden Cameras

Album: Age

Label: Evil Evil

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/h/hidden-cameras1.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 11

The Hidden Cameras
Age

As a vehicle for Joel Gibb's creative expression, the Hidden Cameras made its name on a series of upbeat yet melancholic indie-pop records, each more elaborate than the last. True to form, the quality of variety squeezed into the eight tracks on Age was remarkable, dropping sweet hooks from reggae to orchestral pop, but the sixth Hidden Cameras full-length, and first since 2009, was particularly notable as the angriest record Gibb has yet made. On the surface, it's a coming-of-age album, outlining the moments that push us from adolescence into adulthood whether we want them to or not. The Bauhaus homage on "Year of the Spawn" and the voice of Mary Margaret O'Hara on "Gay Goth Scene", a song actually written over a decade ago that stands on equal footing with the rest of the work here, enhance the album's semi-autobiographical depth. Yet, more complex politics of moral responsibility simmer therein, a point hammered home by the drawing of controversial hero Chelsea Manning in the liner notes. It's very much an album about age and of the age, one that should see its appreciation grow for ages to come. Alan Ranta

Next Page


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.