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.

10 - 6

Artist: Owen Pallett

Album: In Conflict

Label: Domino

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List number: 10

Owen Pallett
In Conflict

Violinist/composer/frequent Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett has always hinted at greatness on his previous albums, whether as a solo artist or under the moniker Final Fantasy, but his art rock pretentions have never come closer to true greatness until In Conflict. Featuring such guests as the great Brian Eno and the renowned Prague FILMharmonic orchestra, Pallett creates art pop that, while never for a second short of ambition, is always mindful that all the experimentation is at the service of the song, which results in music whose easy accessibility will come as quite a revelation to listeners of more middle-of-the-road material. The more the album goes, the more brilliantly it shines, veering from lithe new wave (“Song for Five & Six”) to swooning balladry (“The Secret Seven”) to stunning, unadulterated progressive rock (“The Infernal Fantasy”). In turn, Pallet’s florid imaginative arrangements complement his often arch singing wonderfully, making for a wildly original, shamelessly beguiling pop experiment. Adrien Begrand

 
Artist: Alvvays

Album: Alvvays

Label: Royal Mountain

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List number: 9

Alvvays
Alvvays

A descendent of one of the most famous families in Canadian music, Molly Rankin takes the torch once held by her late father and runs with it on the charming debut full-length by her Toronto-based band Alvvays. Cleverly produced by Chad VanGaalen, this album is steeped in nostalgia, bridging two distinct sounds from 20 to 25 years ago: the DIY indie rock sound of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and especially the twee sound from the UK, namely the influence of Scottish bands like Orange Juice and Belle and Sebastian. What separates Alvvays from the Best Coasts and Pains of Being Pure At Hearts of the indie world, however, is a surprisingly rich sound, thanks in large part to guitarist Alex O’Hanley, as well as enough dry wit from the dulcet-voiced Rankin to rival that of Camera Obscura. With such gems as “Party Police”, “Ones Who Love You”, and the knockout “Archie, Marry Me”, Rankin and Alvvays make a tremendous, confident statement on their first album. Adrien Begrand

 
Artist: Lisa LeBlanc

Album: Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted EP

Label: Bonsound

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List number: 8

Lisa LeBlanc
Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted EP

Acadian Lisa LeBlanc is virtually a superstar in Quebec, where her debut 2012 French language self-titled album went platinum in sales and she picked up many an award for it. This year, she decided to tackle the English Canadian market by issuing a stellar EP of material. LeBlanc fuses the ethereal homespun nature of bluegrass with the frantic, maniac energy of punk rock. Basically, the whole disc is one big hoedown that you’ll want to yell “Yee-haw” to. (Well, maybe I should say small since it is only 18 minutes long.) With nimble banjo picking played at lightning speeds, this EP basically makes you not only want to hear a full-length statement in English but get a ticket to see her and her band live. Given the goods on this disc, the concert experience has to be one where things really cook. It says a lot when an artist, male or female, English or French, can make such a lasting impression in just a smidge more than a quarter hour to wind up on a Best Of list such as this. Put another way, that’s your summons to go out and hunt this down. LeBlanc is a rising talent, no matter what language she’s singing in, and my bet is that you’re going to be hearing an awful lot about her down the road. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: Mac DeMarco

Album: Salad Days

Label: Captured Tracks

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List number: 7

Mac DeMarco
Salad Days

Mac DeMarco is often painted as being the clown prince of indie rock, his bizarre antics fuelled by unbridled compulsions. Even his mom has said on record that he's always been a kook. Granted, he may look like the kid in the classroom who always has a runny nose and eats the paste, but DeMarco has done his homework. His second studio full-length sees the Canadian provocateur as being more like the musical lovechild of Andy Kaufman and David Byrne, drawing on serious aspects of his personal life to create deceptively thoughtful musical happenings while leaving those only vaguely familiar with his work discombobulated. Salad Days bottled the sound of summer, a record full of dilapidated '70s radio pop-rock delivered in hazy dissonance that wraps listeners in a warm blanket of analog nostalgia. Yet, its lyrics and lilting tones hint at deep pools of introspection below the surface, ruminating on fizzling relationships and the expectations of aging. The heartfelt thanks in the outro of "Jonny's Odyssey" hammers home the personal nature of this record, not to mention the fact it was written and recorded in his Brooklyn apartment by himself. It's like you're right there in the room, hanging out with him. Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Julien Sagot

Album: Valse 333

Label: Simone

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List number: 6

Julien Sagot
Valse 333

Julien Sagot is better known as the percussionist in the French-language band Karkwa, which seemingly came out of nowhere to win the 2010 Polaris Music Prize. However, he has concurrently had a solo career, and Valse 333, which is so named because most of the songs are waltzes, certainly shows that the Karkwa magic extends to its individual members. This album has all of the artistic flourish and richness of something Parisian, and Sagot mines a muse that transcends language barriers. Using drum machines along with standard skin pounding, Sagot purrs over these 12 tracks with a richly baritone voice. The amount of variety on the record is staggering, whether it’s the piano-pounded “Ficelle” or the folksy music box strum of “Katheline”. And yet it holds together, each piece being part of a larger tapestry. Basically, Julien Sagot is an Artist, using sounds in a way that recalls fine sculptures and paintings. If you live in an area where art museums are inaccessible to you, you could do no wrong in picking up Valse 333. It is, quite simply, world class and shows that vital, rewarding and important music is being made in Canada’s French language music scene. Zachary Houle

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