In this year’s Chicago Council of Global Affairs annual survey rating how Americans feel about other countries, most respondents rated Canada as their favorite foreign nation (wow, I didn’t know that most Americans even knew there was another country in North America!). Amidst this warm gesture of neighborliness by us Americans (or, I guess I should say “citizens of the United States”), I have chosen to discuss what I think is totally awesome about Canada. Of course, who doesn’t love Dudley Do-Right, the Canadian Mounted Police, Maple Syrup, John Candy, people who identify themselves as “kanuks,” real hockey, natural gas, French-speaking women, Canada Geese, and frozen tundra? Goofy stereotypes aside (except French-speaking women), I am constantly amazed by the mass of talent that emerges from our friendly neighbors to the north. From musical artists to actors, comedians, as well as settings for various Sci-Fi channel TV shows, Canada produces an incredibly significant amount of our popular culture – pretty shocking for a population of 35 million (just a few million under the total number of people living in California). I also love travelling to Canada. In fact some of my favorite places in the world reside up there (Banff, Montreal, Prince Edward Island). In addition to all this, some of the best tunes in 2014 shot out of Canada, so in celebration of all things Canadian, and in recognition of the some of the great music that emerged from my second favorite country (right after Kazakhstan), I thought I would compile a Best of Canadian Rock Music 2014 list – complete with some of my “best of” picks for other cool stuff that is absolutely Canadian.
Best of Canada 2014
10. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield
I begin my list with a pop album that I just straight-up loved listening to. Similar to some other albums in 2014 that were infectiously syrupy, well-crafted, and fun to listen to such as Manchester Orchestra’s Cope, Young the Giant’s Mind Over Matter, and Foster the People’s Supermodel, Forcefield became a disk I reached for when in desperate need of a natural stimulant. Forcefield also represents Tokyo Police Club’s foray into more complex song structures with its opening track, the nearly 9-minute triptych “Argentina I, II, III.” “Argentina” ranks as probably the most interesting song on the collection (and takes up nearly one-third of the entire album). Yet in spite of the opus’ run time, which on the surface might appear as a flirtation with prog rock, “Argentina’s” catchy hooks signal the commencement of a cool alt-rock dance album confirmed once such high tempo tunes like “Hot Tonight,” “Miserable,” and “Tunnel Vision” make their way through the album’s playlist. Forcefield received unfortunately little to no attention this year, but I listened to it until the mp3s nearly wore out on my phone (is that even possible??) and definitely ranks as one of my favorite pop albums of the year.
Doug and Bob McKenzie and SCTV
From cheesy (but brilliant) alternative pop to cheesy (but brilliant) Canadian comedians. When I was a kid in the early 80s, I was an avid watcher of the iconic SCTV Show when it aired late nights on NBC (I remember being especially intrigued with the image of TVs being thrown out the windows of an apartment building in the shows introductory spot). SCTV gave me my first exposure to classic comedic actors like John Candy, Eugene Levy (talk about cheesy), Rick Moranis, and Catherine O’Hara. The best of SCTV, however, was the conclusion of each show featuring “The Great White North” with Doug and Bob McKenzie. Rick Moranis played Bob and Dave Thomas was his brother Doug, who spent the two minute spots discussing such topics as novel ways to open beer bottles, the Canadian “delicacy” back bacon, and the inappropriate number of parking spaces at doughnut shops, all while completing each sentence with “eh” and frequently calling each other “hosers.” All of the crazy skits and topics addressed in “The Great White North” culminated in the classic film featuring the McKenzie’s called Strange Brew, which I watched at least a hundred times on HBO in 1984. The film depicted the brothers pursing the dream of free beer while landing jobs at a brewery, being convicted of murder, and sent to an insane asylum, and consuming all of the beer in a brewery tank (I will never forget the line at the end of that scene; “I need to take a leak, eh”). The movie sounds stupid (and it is), but it also hilariously funny and firmly ensconced the McKenzie brothers and their wacky portrayal of Canadian stereotypes as some of the best comedy of the 80s.
9. Cold Specks – Neuroplasticity
My intro to Al Spx, aka Cold Specks, occurred in a crowded little bar in Montreal. At a certain point during the show, the sheer force of her voice completely shut down the clatter at the bar (no mean task in a room of drunk French Canadians) to the point where the only background noise was the horns of taxi cabs traveling down St. Laurent Boulevard. This young, bantam-sized black lady from Ontario belts out folk-based rock tunes like a troubadour, but has established a tone and style that is all her own. The songs she writes widely transcend contemporarily popular folk rock and soul aesthetics to create something that Spx herself described with the weird description “doom soul.” Such identifications aside, Spx and her raspy, soulful voice seemingly belong in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere in the Deep South with a guitar belting out some gospel-based soul. Cold Specks latest album, Neuroplasticity, spotlights her band more aggressively than that expressed in Spx’s much more folkish and shadowy 2012 effort, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. This emphasis on Cold Specks as a band rather than Spx as a solo artist occurring on Neuroplasticity nicely arises on songs like album standout “Absisto” with an orchestral tension broken with an unexpected pause then a crash of aggressive drumming and synths, and “Bodies at Bay” which is as much of a straight-up rock tune that Spx has ever produced. Another swell instrumental touch on the album involves Ambrose Akinmusire’s spooky trumpet that weaves through songs in a way one might expect at a New Orleans funeral march, like the opener, “A Broken Memory” and “Old Knives.” In any case, Neuroplasticity represents a startling and satisfying step forward into a new take on indie rock for this intriguing artist. Here is a link to my review of the Cold Specks show I saw in Montreal back in 2012.
Orphan Black and Tatiana Maslany
Cold Specks’ often dark and atmospheric vibe on Neuroplasticity could serve as the sound track of the just as excellent dark and atmospheric Canadian television show, Orphan Black – my favorite series on TV right now (Canadian or otherwise) featuring one of the best actresses on the small screen, Tatiana Maslany (hailing from Regina, Saskatchewan – a city whose name I love to pronounce correctly). In a nutshell, Orphan Black is about a set of women who were born as “sister clones” in 1984 to various women through in vitro fertilization – all of whom are played with extraordinary diversity by Maslany – but were not aware of their cloned identity until becoming adults. The series focuses primarily on one of the clones, Sarah Manning, who gradually becomes aware of her state as a clone after randomly witnessing the suicide of one her “sisters” in a Toronto subway station. The underlying premise of the show revolves around the activities of a spooky scientific evolutionary movement and a contending organization known as the Prometheans who compete using the clones as pawns to control the creation of human life. In addition to the troubled and complex character Sarah, other series standouts include her flaming gay, prostitute foster brother Felix (played with hilarious aplomb by Jordan Gavaris) and soccer mom with an attitude sister clone Allison Hendrix (played of course by Maslany). The series is suspenseful, dark, side-splittingly funny, thoughtful, and sci-fi-ish in a slick way. If you haven’t seen it, get some Netflix discs (or an Amazon Prime account), watch the first two seasons, and brace yourself for season three on BBC America in April 2015.
8. Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight
Who knew such bright and infectious indie pop could emerge from such a dark place (at least in the winter time) as far northern Atlantic Canada. With their fourth album Second Sight, the band from St. John’s Newfoundland unveil an album polarized between moody folk tunes and poppy alt-rock. Ascending out of just about the furthermost northern mark of North America, one would expect Hey Rosetta!’s sound to come across as something super morose akin to the Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver’s alpine stylistic identity. Second Sight, however, manages to diverge a bit from its preceding albums (which fell more on the sugary side) to simultaneously create both a thickly atmospheric vibe in tunes like “Promise,” “Cathedral Bells,” and “Alcatraz” and something a bit more pop-oriented evident in the lead single “Kintsukuroi,” the percussive album opener “Soft Offering (for the Oft Suffering),” and the enthusiastic “oh-ho-oh-hos” laden throughout “Dream.” Differences aside, there are some absolutely killer tunes on this disc that I rank as some of the best of the year. The slow-burner with a crescendo “Promise” and the Bob Seger-ish roadhouse rocker “Harriet” haven’t left my playlist since I acquired Second Sight. Certainly, this album presents two contrasting poles, but I think both extremes offer some satisfying tunes to remind one that the sun both rises and falls in the Canadian northlands.
Atlantic Canada/Maritime Provinces
The members of Hey Rosetta! are from St. Johns in Newfoundland and Labrador, a part of Canada’s remote and gorgeous Atlantic Region. I don’t quite understand why Newfoundland isn’t classified as a Maritime (which means simply “of the sea”) along with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, but since its super close (I have never been to Newfoundland or Labrador by the way), I will rhapsodize over the Maritimes (mind-numbing Anne of Green Gables’ stories notwithstanding), which I have visited and love. I absolutely hate suburban sprawl with all its tedious traffic, strip malls, and pollution, and having lived in Vermont for several years, I gained a definite appreciation for pastoral and lush unpopulated regions, and the Maritimes are full of them. Provinces such as Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia offer some awesome coastal sights, like the red sandstone cliffs found on PEI’s coastline and small fishing villages such as Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the swimming is bit warmer on the nearly desolate beaches of maritime Canada than down in the northern New England beaches of Maine and New Hampshire. Eastern Canada, much more so than the Atlantic cities of the US, has maintained some of the old world, European feel in its cities, which is explicitly true of Quebec’s two major towns (more on that below). With the lack of hardcore commercial encroachment, towns like Halifax and Charlottetown offer a vibe that is reminiscent of small British coastal ports. Both towns are also packed with college students, which makes for a cool alternative vibe, and some awesome music venues and bands. One of my favorite Halifax bands is the very Canadian-looking Wintersleep. Check out their Letterman performance from 2012 of “Weighty Ghost.”
7. Motel Raphaël – Cable TV
Welcome to Candy Land folks. The debut album from this highly photogenic bunch from Montreal is about as bubbly as my eight year old daughter’s bath time. Normally I don’t fall for such sky-high levels of sweetness, but the three chicks who front the band (Clara Legault, Emily Skahan, and Maya Malkin) are just sooooooo adorable, I can’t resist. Besides, throw any concoction of cutie pie lyrics utilizing three-part harmonies backed up by a solid rhythm section (including a stand up bass), trumpet (love the horns baby), and the constant presence of a xylophone is beyond doubt a recipe for my veneration. Amidst all of the sugariness, however, Cable TV unveils some interesting moments demonstrating a few unexpected musical influences, such as the nod to Jimmy Page during the opening sequence of “Walk Back to Me” and how about that salute to June Carter Cash in “Jameson.” Motel Raphaël and its bustling big-indie band aesthetic has been compared to fellow Montreal darlings, Arcade Fire. Don’t buy the comparison for a second, though – for starters, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne are not as cute and the tunes on Cable TV come across much more subtle compared to Arcade Fire’s colossal compositions. Their monster single “Ghosts” has netted Motel Raphaël some Canadian awards, and I’ve listened to it so many times that I sing it in my sleep. Unfortunately I can’t manage the awesome French-language version of the song (“Fantômes”), so here it is for all of those nerds (like myself) who love to hear women speak (or at least sing) French.
The Francophone Province of Quebec features one of my favorite cities in the world, alongside Venice, Brooklyn, Moscow, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Lübeck, Germany. In addition to having one of the best indie rock scenes in world, Montreal is the apotheosis of cool – the town offers a mix of Old World European flair and North American modernism as well as a fantastic restaurant scene. I think what I love best about Montreal though is the idea that just a few hours north of Albany, New York exists a place where one can hear fluent French (as least French Canadian French) and enjoy a city reminiscent of a few medium-sized European towns like Dublin, Ireland and Basel, Switzerland. I also like a city with excellent public transportation (Montreal has a clean, comfortable subway system) historic streets that are fun to stroll (Old Montreal), an underground city (the largest underground complex in the world), a strong youth culture (Montreal has two major universities including the “Harvard of Canada,” McGill University), and a network of cool clubs where one might discover the next Arcade Fire. Montreal is a unique place in North America and one of the few places in the world where one can order poutine (and listen to women speaking French while eating it). What the heck is poutine? See below.
6. Stars – No One is Lost
I should just move to Canada – with awesome bands like Stars and New Pornographers around up there featuring middle-aged members, I could finally go to live shows and not feel like such an old creep amongst all the 20-something hipsters. I’m not sure what to make of Stars – they characterize themselves as an indie pop band, which suits their sound well enough I suppose, however, their current efforts seem to rely heavily on a dance/disco orientation. Perhaps the spirits saturating the closed down gay disco in Montreal located one floor below the studio where No One is Lost was recorded influenced the general vibe of the disc. Yet, even in the midst of the dance aesthetic present on several of the tunes (most evident in the amazing title track and opener “From the Night”), No One is Lost manages a considerable amount of genre bending from its flirtations with an 80s Roxy Music sound (check out the saxophone on “Trap Door”), to country pop (“Look Away”), and even echoes of hip hop (via the interesting choice of a triplet bass sound cascading through the Morrissey meets Outkast implosion in “The Stranger”). With all the jumps through various genres, what gets lost in the album is the strength of its musicianship nicely backing all the stylistic swagger. Critics have panned the lyrics of No One is Lost as bubblegum masquerading as pessimism, but I find the seeming glumness of lyrics such as “put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies” a mature and thoughtful examination of the communal nature of human weakness and fallibility. The notion that we’re all a bunch of scared, grave-bound losers, including all twenty-something hipsters hanging out at music venues, certainly provides welcome comfort to this old creep.
What the heck is poutine? After writing about another great Montreal-based band, I take this opportunity to gush about a Quebec-based fast food delicacy – poutine! Poutine is a dish consisting of french fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds (ummm, who doesn’t love cheese curds?). Poutine is wildly popular in Quebec and around other places in Canada, so much so that one can get this stuff at just about any diner in Montreal, and even in some McDonalds and Burger Kings there. I’m a huge fan of cheese curds generally (especially when they squeak while chewing them), and I’m also a casual fan of gravy and french fries (when I was a teenager I used to order a dish at Dees Family Restaurant consisting of french fries and gravy), so discovering poutine one day at a french fry stand (cabanes à patates) near McGill University made my year, and overcame the Philly Cheese Steak for my all-time regional junk food favorite. Who would have known the French could have come up with something so schlocky (attribute this to French Canadian culinary radicals).
5. Death from Above 1979 – The Physical World
What a totally awesome comeback album for these two Toronto dudes who dropped off the map following their first album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine in 2004. Whatever the reasons for their early demise and recent comeback, Death from Above 1979 deliver a consistently solid 11-track set on the The Physical World. I love the aesthetic of this band – a two piece featuring my two favorite instruments, bass and drums – with songs packed with awesomely hard riffing off a bass guitar and some relentless drumming. Of course the major standout of the album is the first single “Trainwreck 1979,” kicked off with the breathy “who-ha” dwelling amidst the song’s addictive riff, (I love those “who-has” that nostalgically recall the “hahh-hahh-hahh…” employed in AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). As catchy as “Trainwreck 1979” is, the massive appeal of this album for me lies in the work of bassist Jesse F. Keeler. The intermediate bass solo in “Right On, Frankenstein” and the riffy bridge in “Virgins” are some highlights among a cadre of really cool ideas that Keeler explores in The Physical World. More than any other album I listened to this year, The Physical World is one to “sit back and enjoy the magic or rock!!!!”
Parti Québécois and the Quebec secessionist movement
The Physical World provides a good point from which to discuss my favorite Canadian political movement – the Parti Québécois (PQ) and its platform to split from the rest of Canada. After all, Death from Above 1979’s drummer Sebastien Grainger was born in 1979 (and hence the band name), which is the same year the PQ proposed a referendum in Quebec to pursue secession from the rest of Canada (which was defeated by a 59.56 percent to 40.44 percent margin in the 1980 referendum). At this juncture, most Canadians (especially those over 40) will dismiss me as an idiot. However, in the midst of the fall of Jimmy Carter and the rise of Ronald Regan, René Lévesque, and his leadership over the PQ provided the most interesting political movement going on in North America in the early 1980s. I remember attending a lecture given by former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who suggested that if Quebec were to leave Canada and become a sovereign nation, it was conceivable that the western Provinces would apply for U.S. statehood. Likely a terrifying proposition for many Canadians living from Manitoba to British Columbia, but entertaining nonetheless.
4. White Lung – Deep Fantasy
With the release of the excellent Deep Fantasy, White Lung has been heralded as the best feminist punk band on the planet. I guess I support that assertion, but what I like the most about the album is the stuff that doesn’t really sound very punk. My favorite songs on the disc, for example, “Face Down” and “Wrong Star” with their clever interplay between Mish Way’s vocals and Kenneth William’s super tight guitar come across as tidy and dense hard rock tunes. When Way harmonizes in these instances on the album, she also has the remarkable look and feel of Debbie Harry circa tunes like “X-Offender.” The straight-up punk songs on the record are pretty good too though – I especially like the powerful opener “Drown the Monster” and Way’s infectious vocal delivery in “Lucky One.” Deep Fantasy is a special record, and definitely the most challenging lyrically and musically among all of the albums on this list. The lyrics on tunes such as “I Believe You,” which addresses rape, are sobering and thoughtful, and although the band is dubbed “feminist,” nothing they express is overtly militant. Rather, White Lung seems more interested in simply conveying honest, albeit angry-sounding, observations about gender inequalities and their implications.
Bizarre and Super Dave Osbourne
As White Lung is a band that is intent on addressing the injustices of gender inequalities, I will take a moment to criticize probably my favorite Canadian cable sitcom from the 1980s – Bizarre. The show, hosted by Canadian comedian John Byner, was a half-hour skit comedy that single handedly introduced me to women’s breasts when I was 12. Every show had at least one segment with a women tricked into revealing herself to the host. From my pre-teen perspective, Bizarre was heaven, yet looking back at Bizarre, the skits of women taking off their tops seem nearly shocking and potentially provided the inspiration for Howard Stern’s approach to female sexual objectification (although not as explicit). Teenage fantasies notwithstanding, I will say that the most brilliant aspect of the Bizarre show was the segments that featured Super Dave Osborne. Played by Bizarre regular Bob Einstein, Super Dave would perform a stunt during his segment which would go catastrophically wrong, reducing his anatomy to pretzel-like proportions and causing him to go off on a litany of profanity usually directed toward broadcaster Mike Walden and his assistant Fuji Hokiyito. Check out this classic Super Dave skit where he gets all smashed up in a playground.
3. Caribou – Our Love
The tunes on Our Love remind me a lot of the techno music I discovered in German clubs when living there in the early 90s. Without really aspiring to be one, the album also stands as my favorite chillout album of the year. Dan Snaith, the dude behind Caribou, manages to keep the album cohesive-sounding despite of all the influences he incorporates from the last few decades of electronic music, making the disc without question the most fun (can’t I just say funnest?) electronic album I listened to all year (in your face Aphex Twin!!). The tracks on Our Love range from sounds that call back to early 90s European techno (“Our Love”), 80s synth pop (“Back Home”), chillout electronica (“Dive”), to even something reminiscent of excellent Japanese video game soundtracks (“Mars” could have totally fit on one of Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtracks). And of course Our Love contains one of the best songs of the year, the dancefloor dandy “Can’t Do Without You.”
The cultural group, often referred to as “Eskimos” but gradually becoming known as the more politically correct term “Inuit” (meaning “human being” in most Inuit dialects) from the far Canadian north are without question my favorite Canadian First Peoples. Historically, the Inuit’s primary source of protein is Caribou meat (for those unaware, Caribou is the western hemisphere’s version of the reindeer), which they acquire through nearly year-round hunting. Tens of thousands of Inuit live throughout the Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut and have historically adhered to a nomadic foraging lifestyle (meaning they lived in igloos during the winter and ventured throughout the Canadian tundra during the other seasons to hunt Caribou and fish for salmon). As an anthropology teacher, I have read several books and seen a handful of movies depicting the lives of this interesting people. I have included a clip from my favorite Inuit movie (which is surprisingly mystical, violent, and sexual) called Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. If you ever wanted to know what a naked Eskimo looks like running across a frozen lake while being pursued by would-be murderers, now’s your chance. Here is a great set of clips from a great movie about a great people.
2. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended with Gold
I have admittedly never taken this three-piece from Toronto seriously – mostly because of its silly name – until I took my first spin through Mended with Gold … and hooked! Looking through Rural Alberta Advantage’s history it is clear that the difference between Mended with Gold and the band’s past efforts is the work of drummer Paul Banwatt, which is the absolute highlight of the disc. The eclectic combination of RAA’s tight and simple pop arrangements with Banwatt’s hyperactive drum kit is rather striking and adds a razor sharp edge to what would otherwise resemble the “hey ho-ness” of bands like the Lumineers. Although I usually dismiss anything that Ian Cohen from Pitchfork writes as useless schlock, he was spot-on when he wrote the following about Banwatt’s performance on Mended with Gold; “Regardless of your tastes, if you care about drums at all, Mended With Gold is a must-listen.” Never a truer statement has emerged from your keyboard Mr. Cohen. Anyway, those amazing beats, coupled with some pretty catchy pop tunes, decent lyrics (Nils Edenloff comes off as Colin Meloy before the Decemberists started making Jethro Tull albums), and cute back-up vocals from Amy Cole made this album my go-to for long trips along the lonely roads of the Navajo Nation. This performance of “Our Love” makes my hair stand on end every time I listen to it.
While recognizing an amazing percussive performance, it seems fitting to commemorate another three-piece Canadian act that happens to be one my favorite bands of all time featuring one my favorite drummers of all time – RUSH!!!!! There were periods in my teenage life when I listened to Rush and Rush only for months on end. I not only sequestered myself to the singles from Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves that made it onto rock radio, but also religiously listened to the stuff none of my friends cared about like Caress of Steel and the self-titled debut, and had a particular devotion to the post-Signals electronic-influenced music like Grace Under Pressure and Hold Your Fire. Rush certainly has had its share of critics (largely due to Geddy Lee’s often awkward-sounding voice), chicks hated them, and the dudes from Rush were obviously nerds, but the imagination that went into their work from the arrangements to the lyrics I find to be nothing less than astounding. I recently re-watched the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, which features a hilarious quote from Gene Simmons (Rush and Kiss were early tour buddies) that nicely expresses the identity of the members of the band, and probably why I find them and their goofy image and style so endearing. Simmons said “every night on tour the girls would line up and even an ugly bastard like me could get laid, but the Rush guys would never do it …they couldn’t be gay, but what the f**k did they do when they went back to their hotel room?” It turns out that they were sitting around reading books and watching black and white science fiction flicks on TV (evidently the origin for such far out lyrics in songs like “Xanadu” and “The Trees”). The members of Rush are always extremely precise in their live performance so their shows sound nearly like their recorded music (see the classic live albums Exit Stage Left and All the World’s a Stage). Check out this live performance of my all-time favorite Rush song that I fell in love with while listening to Exit Stage Left, “Red Barchetta.”
1. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Having been a huge fan of Dan Bejar and Destroyer for the last few years as well as a casual admirer of Neko Case and A.C. Newman, I was primed to fall in love with the latest effort by the Canadian super-groupers, the New Pornographers. Brill Bruisers is the very definition of “indie pop” if it were actually a legitimized musical genre. The album’s greatness stems from A.C. Newman (as the default bandleader) who brilliantly manages the eccentric nature of New Pornographers’ guest star-esque lineup with a consistent sound and feel as though it were the sole musical project of each of its members. For example, even as wacky and distinct as the lyrics and Bejar’s unique crooning are on “War on the East Coast,” the tune doesn’t sound out of place coupled with the powerful opener and title track “Brill Bruisers,” or the super swan song closer, “You Tell Me Where.” However, the success of Brill Bruisers occurs for the most part within the unapologetic pop-fun of its delicious hooks found in just about every song on the disc.
Dan Bejar is a Canadian national treasure. Of course he can be jerk as evidenced by his hanging back stage during his non-singing parts at New Pornographers shows and his tendency to sit or kneel on stage during Destroyer gigs when he is not singing. Nonetheless, if people can applaud the efforts of the absolute asshole, biggest jerk in rock who is Jack White, I can worship Dan Bejar. In terms of his stylistic choices, Bejar also comes across as fearless. The move to a Roxy Music via Avalon sound in 2011’s hands down best albums of the year Kaputt followed such deviations as the largely MIDI composed sound in 2004s Your Blues, to a full band sound in 2006s Destroyer’s Rubies, to largely synths and strings as backers in 2008s Trouble in Dreams. A.C. Newman said a few months ago that Bejar was swinging his dick around when he released last year’s Spanish-language EP, Five Spanish Songs (a record filled with covers of songs originally recorded by Spanish band Sr. Chinarro). Maybe so, but regardless of the language, the songs on that EP are just as thoughtful and awesome as anything else in his cannon of work (especially if you speak Spanish). Bejar is indeed everything that everyone thinks Mac DeMarco is – namely a smart alecy slacker who can crank out some amazing jams while offering up richly descriptive and unusual lyrics. As evidence for this assertion, check out Bejar’s sizeable discography that includes early burners such as the David Bowie-influenced “Destroyer’s the Temple” in 2000s Thief and the sublime “The Bad Arts” from 2001s Streehawk: A Seduction, to later achievements including the saccharine riff-driven “Dark Leaves from a Thread” from Trouble in Dreams and just about every song on Kaputt. Through all of the seeming slackerism that Bejar portrays in his performance and even lyrical output, connecting the dots of his work reveals a definite earnestness invested in his distinctive aesthetic – take some notes DeMarco.
I obviously love Canada, but honestly, having only visited about a half dozen times, I’m sure I’ve left a lot of cool stuff out, so “très grandes excuses” (don’t laugh at my French). Anyway, I look forward to some awesome sounds coming from the hinterlands in 2015 (including highly anticipated albums by Dan Mangan, Purity Ring, and of course Grimes!!), and also a visit to the western Provinces (hmmm, maybe Vancouver finally?). Oh, Canada!
Nate Jones is middle-aged, rapidly balding man with chronic bad breath who writes about culture, identity politics, and sometimes music. His published work includes pieces in Ready Player None: A Ready Player One Fanzine, Old White Dudes’ Quarterly, various want ads seeking vintage Atari 2600 cartridges, and his blog entitled “My Heaven is 1973.”