A few weeks ago, I was in a group conversation when someone from New York began asking me about my taste in music and how I liked the local music scene in Toronto. Based on my enthusiastic response, my subsequent rhyming off great Canadian artists – and, most rewardingly, the American’s astonishment that the world-renowned bands I was listing were all Canucks – I realized I’d never been more stimulated by the state of Canadian music. I boldly stated that Canadian music had never been so good. And I meant it.
I thought about it a little longer, and realized that I’ve actually always been an avid supporter of my country’s musical endeavours; I grew up listening to Neil Young and Randy Bachman, never missed the release of a Women & Songs or Big Shiny Tunes compilation and learned about the spiderwebbed arts industry from bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I stand by how good we’ve gotten in recent years.
Maybe it’s the hip era we’re living in. Maybe it’s the tough job market encouraging creative people to just be creative, regardless of paychecks. Maybe it’s the public and private grants we can score to be that creative. Maybe I’m just more aware than I’ve ever been. But the bountiful amounts of Canadian bands – so many of whom, regardless of widespread notoriety, are boasting creative and complex musical genius on a local and international scale – tell me we’ve reached a peak of musical brilliance. Here are only some of the Canadian musical acts – new and old, old and young, playing Toronto stages and farther in harmony – that I mentioned as evidence that we’ve never been better.
Broken Social Scene: As the pioneers of indie rock in Canada, this “supergroup” collective has rocked all over the country and beyond since the release of the famed You Forgot It In People ten years ago. Spawning some of the most influential pop-rock albums and birthing many of Canada’s biggest names in music (Leslie Feist, Jason Collett, Emily Haines, etc.), the members of this group alone could have been rhymed off as evidence of our homeland’s successes. Thanks to BSS and their loyal Toronto-based label, Arts & Crafts, Canada’s musical creativity has long been realized on an international scale. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Arts & Crafts, the whole gang reunites this month in Toronto for the hugely anticipated Field Trip Music Festival, which will also feature Stars, Feist and Bloc Party.
Drake: Say what you will about Drizzy, his whole OVO crew and whether or not he actually started from the bottom – but the young rapper has undoubtedly shed a bright and blingy light on Toronto and the potential of Canadian hip-hop in the past three years. Whether mentoring the 416’s most up-and-coming R&B and rap artists or including constant mentions of Canada in his mainstream radio domination, this 26 year-old Degrassi-alum-turned-household-name deserves a little cred for his proud toot of the hometown horn.
Arkells: As one of my very favourite bands, I thought I might be biased in pumping the Hamilton rock group’s tires more than I already do on a daily basis (I just convinced my Mom to purchase their whole hard copy discography), but, when speaking to someone from outside of Canada – they deserve to be alerted of this sensational and lovable group if for some reason they aren’t converts. With two chock-full-of-charm albums, a completed tour with The Tragically Hip and the ability to soulfully story tell the way greats like Springsteen, Downie and Petty have for decades – these JUNO Group of the Year winners possess that certain je ne sais quoi that denotes obsession and industry longevity.
Serena Ryder: Having just nabbed Platinum sales of her newest single “Stompa,” Ryder is by no means new to international acclaim. In the past 14 years of playing music, the Peterborough native has been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl soundtracks, opened for the likes of Elton John and Steve Earle and had her fearless, growling vocals compared to a teenage Aretha Franklin. In bringing her catchy pop-rock to global stages, she’s maintained her big place in the hearts of millions back home.
Arcade Fire: Montreal’s coveted husband-and-wife fronted indie-rock group have the entire act nailed down, and have for years. Write an anthemic album full of emotive layers, captivating lyrics and instruments paired in ways you’ve never heard them before. Wait a few years. Work on second album with similar purpose, but totally fresh and eclectic dynamic. Repeat. Win Grammys. Change lives. In the studio at this time (with former LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, might I add), there’s never a single doubt in the mind of millions that when Arcade Fire return with their latest – no amount of hockey wins could render us more proud to be Canadian.
Bahamas: One man Canadian act Afie Jurvanen has been kicking around Toronto for years as a talented guitarist, but only in recent ones has his bluesy-folk solo sound creeped into the limelight – earning multiple JUNO nominations and spots on critically-acclaimed lists after the release of his beautiful first and second albums. His subdued raspy hum and tender whining riffs never get tired, and there’s no question that as the industry chatter of his subsequent albums gears up – so will the cross-continental noise about this mind-blowing talent. When we look back in decades, I strongly believe Bahamas’ contribution to great Canadian music will have been immense.
Grimes: Vancouver-born, Montreal-studied Claire Boucher zapped onto the underground electronic and industrial music scene in 2010 after the release of her debut album. The 25 year-old has since won over the hearts of Lykke Li, Lena Dunham, Passion Pit and just about every music critic as Canada’s bizarre but beautiful synth-pop darling. In a musical age of anything goes, her original, beat-driven tunes and pixie vocals are just the oddities that Canada needed to round out our roster of diverse super-talents.
Japandroids: And, while we’re jumping across genres, we might as well mention the most-talked-about punk duo of 2012, Vancouver-bred rockers Japandroids. With their sophomore album Celebration Rock a runaway hit, the pair topped almost every international “Best Of” list in 2012 – receiving praise for their upbeat and thrashing “House That Heaven Built” (the newly crowned entrance song for the Vancouver Canucks) and the rest of their deliciously noisy punk repertoire.
Austra: Canadian electronic songstress Katie Stelmanis possesses a piercing yodel (a lovechild of Bjork and Enya, you could say) that Torontonians hold very near and dear to their hearts. Breaking on to the scene in 2011 with her widely acclaimed first album Feel It Break, Stelmanis became the latest instalment in Toronto’s list of hometown darlings who were going to make huge waves on an international scale. New York Magazine named the album the best of its year, while Stereogum alerted readers to watch where the electronic dance outfit went in the future. With the release of her follow-up exactly two weeks away, all eyes are on Austra.
Hayden: The best part about Canadian artists is that, just when you think they’ve called it a day and ditched the spotlight, they swing back in with a comeback album that puts them in the same spotlight they shared decades ago. Current case in point: our beloved indie icon Hayden Desser, the soothing folk-rock Torontonian who recently penned his seventh album since 1994 and released it on Arts & Crafts. In a recent Grid TO interview with long-time pal Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National (awesome), Berninger said, “You know how some records just line up with your life and they kind of become a friend? Your record was definitely a friend when I needed it, so I was nervous to meet you.” Double awesome.
And this is only a tiny dip into the deep pool of Canadian talent. To feel the palpable pride of our labours, take a closer glimpse into your collection of favourite records, ticket stubs and pre-orders on iTunes – I promise you’ll see that Canadian music is such a remarkable presence on the scene – and we just need to keep remembering to sing its praises.