A,B,C, it’s as easy as 1,2,3. My allegiance to the lengthy alphabet of Canadian artists is certainly no secret at this point – so join me in a leisurely stroll through only a few of the countless greats you’ll find coast to coast. If you’ve heard these names before but haven’t gone any further in the discovery process, I’ve outlined for you which hits and hidden gems are those worth looking into to get you started. God bless Canada for sounding so great.
AUSTRA: This Toronto space-pop group has hit me like a ton of bricks recently, leaving me stunned as lead Katie Stelmanis’s piercing new wave vocals (wo)man-handle the clang of the catchy industrial instrumentals. Must hear: “Lose It” or “The Choke”
BLUE RODEO: Rock daddies, folk brothers and our equivolent of a musical golden retriever – every man and woman’s best friend. Almost three decades later with a slew of tour dates to boot, Blue Rodeo bring it home every show – reminding us what it feels like to be from Ontario. Must Hear: “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and “Lost Together”
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: This longstanding Canadian collective has the hearts and minds of our nation in the bag, and has for quite some time. Whether it’s breathless indie-rock, instrument-heavy hits or atmospheric oddities – this “Scene” has been the breeding ground for some of the most successful Canadian acts to date. Must hear: “All to All (Skeet Skeet remix)”, “Almost Crimes” or “Lover’s Spit”
DRAGONETTE: Originally a Women&Songs solo favourite of mine back in ‘02, Martina Sorbara’s folk-acoustic career must have not done it for her – because she emerged as the lively lead of Dragonette, a four-piece electric-pop dance group that stirs up craftier melodies than any of Catherine’s Dance Mix ’95 tapes did. Must hear: “I Get Around”, “Stupid Grin”, and “Easy” (below)
DRAKE: Drizzy, Aubrey Drake Graham, Jimmy Brooks, or international superstar; whatever you want to call him, the guy is undeniably colossal. He’s got his hand in every hip-hop royalty cookie jar on the planet, and despite maybe not having lived the hard-knock life his rhyming peers have – the 24 year-old airwave-hog waves his maple leaf proudly. Must Hear: “Forever” or “Fancy”
FEIST: The sweetest girl in town. Gorgeous flower-child and innovative songstress Leslie Feist actually arose out of Broken Social Scene, taking productions like Grey’s Anatomy and 500 Days of Summer by storm with her distinctive croons, genre-savvy concepts and likable melodies. Must Hear: “Sealion”, “I Feel it All” and “Inside and Out”
GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS: Lead singer Tony Dekker’s haunting howls and folk balladry are just one of a kind – in Canada and internationally. The combination of acrobatic yodels and earthy grassroots strums has tagged these guys as some of the most magical songwriters in the country, snatching the breath out of my chest every time I click play. Must hear: “Still” and “Your Rocky Spine”
JOEL PLASKETT: …tells it like it is. This honest alt-rocker, who has toured with and without The Emergency, writes what we want to know other people experience as well. His observations are bang-on, his messages are annunciated and crisp, and his rock equipment chars the stage beneath him. Like many of the others on this list, Plaskett is a classic, a favourite, and a fixture in our hearts. Must Hear: “Nowhere with You”, “Face of the Earth” and “Nothing More To Say” (below)
MATT MAYS: Strolling unexpectedly onto the music scene as part of the Halifax jangly-rock group The Guthries, Mays branched out on his own to pick up the pace a little as Matt Mays and El Torpedo. A killer set of pipes that topple over laid-back ripping guitar have drawn huge comparisons to the likes of Tom Petty, especially after having worked with Don Smith before – who helped launch Petty and Keith Richards in their own scorching rock careers. Must hear: “Tall Trees” and “On The Hood”
METRIC: Everyone likes a little Metric. Tough girl Emily Haines got her start in BSS before dragging female-fronted alt-rock up from underground and into the mainstream with her band Metric. Sparkling dresses, a blonde coif and her cheeky rasp certainly haven’t held this broad back from spitting hits, sassing strangers and helping put Canada’s leading ladies on the map. Must hear: “Monster Hospital (Mstrkrft remix), “Police and The Private” and “Sick Muse”
NEIL YOUNG: The man who’s laid the foundation for all rootsy-rockers, the king of the squealing harmonica, the visionary, and the godfather of all country-rock – enough said. Must hear: “Harvest Moon” and “Heart of Gold”
PATRICK WATSON: (Sigh) Oh, Patrick. This former Polaris Prize winner, in the words of Janis Joplin, always manages to take another little piece of my heart. Watson has the country’s most calming voice, which has landed him countless gigs on television show soundtracks, sold out shows on the global stage and creative projects with acts like the Cinematic Orchestra. Penning many of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard, his progressive pop will command my attention for years to come. Must hear: “The Great Escape”, “Sit Down Beside Me“, “Luscious Life” and “To Build A Home” (below)
STARS: This group deserves a nod most definitely because they nursed me into my appreciation of Canadian songs; guiding me through the scene with whimsical indie-rock albums like Set Yourself On Fire and In Our Bedroom After The War. Lyrics like, “live through this and you won’t look back” still walk me through the motions of life – and bring me back to nights spent swaying to their booming concert encores. Must hear: “One More Night”, “Tonight” or “Your Ex-lover is Dead”
TEGAN AND SARA: Born only minutes apart, these West Coast twins have equal amounts of kick. Both hard-hitting and exposed at times, they’re another act that’s also cannon-balled to make an international girl-rock splash. Something similar to what we heard during our recess antics applies to this T&S – they’re not just good for two girls. They’re good for anybody. Must hear: “You Wouldn’t Like Me” or “Fix You Up”
THE TRAGICALLY HIP: Kingston, represent! I can’t help but be biased in describing my hometown favourites. Despite adoring them because they always wave back when sitting next to you at a tiny coffee shop in the Limestone City, it’s more of the fact that I can’t get enough of their original and timeless Canuck rock. To this day they know how to deliver, and it’s got to be a good sign the number of times I’ve heard of concert attendees making the trip yet again – “just because it’s The Hip.” Must hear: “Bobcaygeon”, “Blow at High Dough” and “Long Time Running”. Want to see one of the best performances of all time? See below.
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: 15 years after their inception, this AC Newman-lead Canadian power-group has become one of the most renowned music conglomerates in the country. A microphone-commanding combination of singer-songwriter Neko Case and Newman, this band’s soaring instruments and hearty vocals landed their album Mass Romantic at spot 24 on Blender Magazines’s best indie albums of all-time. Must hear: “The Bleeding Heart Show”, “Use It” or “Challengers”
Spark the BBQ, sport your red and white with pride, and make a playlist of these tunes – you’ll feel closer to your nation after the first tune. Happy listening!