All week long, Noisey Canada has been giving you the business with regards to the best Canadian music that came out in 2014. While it may be true that we'll look to our neighbour in the South for most of our cultural capital, it's important to recognize that the music scene in our own backyard is as strong as it's ever been. Whether they be legendary producers like Daniel Lanois, young bands like Weaves and Single Mothers, or critical darlings like Mac DeMarco and Death From Above 1979, Canadian music offers something for every dot along the spectrum. We often judge the merits of music that comes from Canada by placing it in direct comparison with American artists, an act that needs to cease if we ever hope to have a truly unique artistic culture, and that starts by being proud of what we make.
Canada's charm lies in the fact that it breeds artists that are exposed to so many influences, the work they put out is hard to classify. The albums that made our Top Ten list are the ones that not only pushed the standards of Canadian music, but also the genre. With the exception of a few projects that didn't make the cut, like Tanya Tagaq's Animism, these picks showcase the best of what Canada has to offer in every field of music. These are albums that should instill a strong sense of nationalism and cause you to stand up for Canada next time someone says that the only thing we contribute to music is Drake or Justin Bieber. These are the ten best Canadian albums of the year.
10: Single Mothers — Negative Qualities
As a band that has managed to garner a cult following, the support of international press, and record deals with both Dine Alone and XL Recordings all before they had even released their debut album Negative Qualities, on October 7th, 2014, London, Ontario’s Single Mothers have long been the talk of the Canadian musical underground. But, how does an independent band achieve such heights in this day and age? Well, for Single Mothers, the answer was to sell all their shit and get their own asses out on the road long enough to tour Canada, the US, and the UK, all while developing an explosive and unrelenting live show that people just couldn’t ignore. At that point, the hard part became committing the appeal of their live show to the album format. Negative Qualities, which was produced by Joby J. Ford of Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx, succeeds in doing just that. Featuring 26 minutes of sweaty and merciless, punk rock, the album is an absolute behemoth and is fueled by the frustrated and monotonous nature of small-town-life. It also reveals an unabashedly blunt lyricist in frontman and vocalist Andrew Thomson whose fly-on-the-wall perspective on topics such as sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, relationships, and pretentious people, all seem to emerge from a place of true restless desperation. Negative Qualities knowingly plays out amidst the landmines of the mind and unapologetically detonates around every corner. It was hands down one of the strongest overall Canadian rock releases of 2014 and marks the long-awaited beginning of a new chapter for Single Mothers. — J.J.
9: Lydia Ainsworth — Right From Real
When the music video for Lydia Ainsworth's "Malachite" came out, we knew it was the beginning of something special. The video's choreographed dancing, which revived "waacking" from the 1970s, was so beautiful and weird that we could never image replicating it no matter how hard we tried. That basically sums up all of Right From Real, the LP that followed. Despite coming from a traditional music school background, Ainsworth has one of the most unique voices in music and the technical skills to do great things with it. Even though it stands alone as one of the best Canadian albums of the year, Right From Real is a blueprint for something bigger, and we can't wait to watch Ainsworth keep building. — G.B.
8: Death From Above 1979 — The Physical World
Well, this one’s sure to make it onto more than a few yearend lists this season and for good reason. Released September 9th Physical World (Last Gang Records), has been a long time coming for fans of the Toronto drum and base duo. As the band’s first official album since their break up some ten years ago, The Physical World is earmarked by the same pounding drumbeats, fervorous basslines, screeching peeks, and sweaty, libido-charged lyrics, that made DFA so damn appealing the first time around.
You have to hand it to these guys, they do have one hell of a story and in this day and age, a really great story has the ability to sell records. It also has the ability to knock a band back on its ass if the album falls short but thankfully The Physical World does not. The album is a step up both musically and melodically for DFA. It successfully builds upon the framework of the band’s early sound but also completely delivers when it comes to capturing that thick, palpable tension that was a cornerstone of their first release.
Selecting “Trainwreck 1979” has the album’s lead single definitely proved that vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler understood that they would only have one chance to make a serious comeback, and comeback they certainly did. Though it was a calculated first release, for a band in their particular situation, it was everything a DFA fan could have hoped for. Driven by the kind of melodic, reverb drenched bassline that has always been a focal point of this band’s sound and that killer hook that just goes straight for the sweet spot, it was hands down the Canadian radio rock song of the year. — J.J.
7: Mac DeMarco — Salad Days
Mac DeMarco's Salad Days was supposed to be his grown-up album. After becoming the loveable goofball musician who didn't take to the seriousness of indie music, Mac attracted the love of fans and fellow artists—including Tyler, The Creator—for his devil-may-care attitude. His album 2 was easy-going to a fault, and his stage show and lack of self-awareness made him someone fans could see themselves in. He wasn't trying to be perfect, and his music reflected the same carelessness. But on his third album, Salad Days, DeMarco perfects the sleepy strumming and sleepy singing that he's become so beloved for. Salad Days isn't a project where you can see DeMarco continue to be careless, since it's the first project where he seems to give a shit. He cares that the singing is more crisp, or that the guitars are less so. He cares that some of the songs are sad and not always about having fun with your friends. He probably doesn't care if you think that "Chamber of Reflection" isn't even a real indie rock song, but he cares enough to have made it that way. Mac DeMarco's attitude may be the reason some people listen to his music, but the apparent change in his attitude has clearly caused his music to grow up too. — S.P.
6: Loscil — Sea Island
It's rare that an album so deeply and viscerally captures a time and place, but Loscil's Sea Island is the sound of standing on the British Columbia coast today. Its 11 tracks capture the dark, cold, vast Pacific Ocean on a foggy night, and we can imagine Loscil's Scott Morgan taking midnight trips to the water for inspiration. In an age of uncertainty and paranoia, when we're pondering big, looming disasters like climate change and cyber attacks, Sea Island is oddly comforting. It's the sound of being alone, venturing into the unknown, and taking with you whatever familiar things you can. Rarely is an album so calming and unsettling at the same time, and Sea Island is greater for it. - G.B.
5: Owen Pallett — In Conflict
Which Owen Pallett are we hearing on In Conflict? Throughout the record pronouns slide from “I” to “we” to “us” and back again, while Pallett, ensconced by his new/old band, covers as much musical ground as one might in an entire career. On Heartland, his use of instrumentation was very much a thematic device, with his trademark violin being used to signify his presence in his own songs, often falling silent when “he” was not around. This time out Pallett is freed from any overarching narrative devices and is left to fully integrate his previously warring analogue and synthy selves, with the resulting sounds falling somewhere in between Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Kate Bush. What’s remarkable then is how an album so focussed on fissures, tears and flaws can sound so flawless. — M.R.
4: Thantifaxath — Sacred White Noise
Sacred White Noise raised the stakes for what independent Canadian metal is capable of (both musically, and production-wise) and had an air of intrigue around it that inspired fans to look a little deeper. Even though the group are based in black metal traditions and sounds, there’s a solid mix throughout of “blackened” and “clean” elements. A lot of room is given to each instrument, while the vocals sound as though they’re disintegrating into ash with every word sung. The blistering “Lost in Static Between Worlds” is at it’s climax like the entire earth is crumbling apart via incredible double-kick work while guitar and strings scream in unison, vibrating closer and closer to one hellish truth. Mysterious, genre-bending, and bleak-- it’s no surprise why Thantifaxath’s Sacred White Noise caught the attention of so many metal fans both at home and abroad. — M.R.
3: Weaves — Weaves
Weaves’ EP is one of the most stunning Canadian debuts of the year. It’s a just a glimpse into what the band have to offer, but a solid introduction to the group’s playful weirdness. Whether it’s the push/pull between principle songwriters Jasmyn Burke and Morgan Waters, or the way in which the fantastic rhythm section of Zach Bines and Spencer Cole balance out Burke and Waters’ bounce, Weaves always walk (a very squiggly) line between extremes. In their corner is producer Dave Neufeld, whose own weirdness shines through on this record as he upsets the band’s mojo only so that we can hear them get it back again. Live, the song “Closer” is an urgent and driving number from start to finish, but on record, Neufeld chops the song up, disturbing it’s urgency to make Burke’s pleas to get closer all the more resonant and meaningful. This is a smart, fun, and honest record, and is amazingly only the beginning of what Weaves have in store. — M.R.
2: Daniel Lanois — Flesh And Machine
Daniel Lanois is a quiet master of pop music. As one of Brian Eno's proteges in the 1980s, he learned to push sonic boundaries while staying true to his deeply ingrained, folk and gospel-based sense of melody. The end result came in producing U2's Auchtung Baby, simultaneously one of the most radically innovative and straight up catchy pop albums ever made. But Lanois's solo career was only getting started, and watching its arc has been endlessly exciting and rewarding. Never one to retrace his steps, he started by writing the gospel/soul song to end all gospel/soul songs, "The Maker," and then moved into rock, ambient, and dub. On Flesh and Machine, he lets the instruments do the talking, and throws in some production techniques he learned from Lil' Wayne. It's the primordial soup for a new kind of music coming from one of Canada's finest elder statesmen. — G.B.
1: Daniel Caesar — Praise Break
Some albums feel like they were made to soundtrack a special episode in your life. Daniel Caesar's Praise Break wasn't an album, it was an EP hosted on Soundcloud—it wasn't even available for download. It felt like it wasn't supposed to be taken with you, like it wasn't made to be your soundtrack. It was meant to be listened to and enjoyed like a movie, a movie about love, loss, and Daniel Caesar. The songs sounds as though the music is being pulled, closing credits style, in front of your eyes. From the far away conversation and shuffling that starts off the album with the ironically named "End Of The Road," making you feel like a voyeur dropped into another world, one soundtracked by Caesar's repeated ovations, sung over and over in admiration of an unknown love interest in a choral refrain that trails off into the distance. Just as suddenly, the opening notes of "Violet" bulge forward like a shot of a couple in love with the horizon in the background. "Violet" only has one verse, and it appears to be sung from the perspective of the same love interest in reaffirmation towards Caesar's gift: "Don't hit the floor / Not anymore / You brilliant boy / Just chill, you're made to sing / On anything, you golden child." The last third of the song has Caesar flexing his gift in a live setting, almost as if to acknowledge the admiration and show that it wasn't misplaced.
"Chevalier" is a reworking of Irish singer James Vincent McMorrow's "Cavalier," a song dense with songwriting that's cinematic in its own right. In Caesar's hands, the line "I remember my first love" is delivered with such power and control that it sends chills, even after months of repetition. The album/movie then shifts to a literal interpretation as a skit from "Casablanca" is thrown into the mix. Michael Rancic already broke down the beauty of this skit and the accompanying "We'll Always Have Paris" in his praise of the album, but it's worth repeating here in full. "Here he combines a loop of the e-bow driven guitar part from Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” with dialogue from the film Casablanca. Given that the track prior featured just Caesar and a piano, the dialogue from Casablanca seems to suggest Caesar is comparing himself to Sam, the piano playing character in the film. Not quite. Caesar sets you up to think that so he can then sing the line “Fuck you, I’m Humphrey Bogart” in “We’ll Always Have Paris” putting himself at the centre of the song’s narrative, and taking charge in the situation."
If "We'll Always Have Paris" is the last celebration after the break up, "Pseudo" is the hangover coupled with the realization that you're free to do whatever you want. "Welcome to my funeral" sings Caesar playfully, as though finally being clued in on the joke—this idea that you need other people to validate a gift you know you posses. The people that boosted Caesar's gift may have something to say about what Caesar's doing with his life, but their opinions don't dimish his talent. "Porn Star" is the last song, the one that plays as the credits roll and Daniel Caesar walks off into the sunset, closing this chapter of his life. The song ends with the same far away conversations and shuffling that you heard on "End Of The Road" to start the tape, leaving you wondering if this whole spectacle had simply unfolded in Caesar's head while he sat around a large crowd, bored and in his own head.
When I spoke to Caesar after he released Praise Break he didn't seem to be in any rush to release a new project, citing Frank Ocean's rise in value in the industry after the release of Channel Orange. A selfish part of me hopes that Daniel doesn't keep from releasing new music in 2015 for the sake of keeping his stock high. However, another part of me would completely understand if he chose to do so. The above interpretation—the one about a boy who finds himself falling in, the out of, love—might be totally wrong. There might be a deeper meaning to the songs contained on Praise Break, or there may be no meaning at all. But if Daniel Caesar never released another project in his life, he could take solace in the fact that he released the best project to come out of Canada in 2015. — S.P.