Democracy works, despite the glaring evidence to the contrary. Even when our society and culture is besieged by all manner of incomprehensible behaviour, our faith in humankind can be reaffirmed with a vote in which the people’s collective voice can be heard. Now, our annual list of favourite albums of the year is nowhere near comparable to a Senate seat election or trial by a jury of peers, but for us, this list represents a distillation of the voices and sounds we’ve featured over the past year. Not every record championed by individual contributors made the cut, but collectively, we can stand behind these fifty as testaments of the work Canadian musicians and artists have undertaken to heal wounds, affirm equality, and give voice to the marginalized and forgotten.
Not every record carries the same emotional weight and response, but life would be boring and a lot less colourful if were carbon copies of one another. There again, those of us that cast our votes on this list are unique and individual. Our team is still small, but always looking to grow in diversity. We continue to work to bring new voices into our #CanadianMusicConversations, and are excited about the projects we’re working on for 2018. We hope this ranked list of our fifty favourite Canadian releases of 2017 engages you in discovering new music and starting conversations with us and your fellow Canadian music fans. I hope you’ll consider signing up for our soon-to-be-launched semi-regular newsletter, where we’ll share details about the projects mentioned above as they become available.
Without further ado, here are DOMINIONATED’s fifty favourite records of 2017.
After hearing “In the clinches” I speculated whether All This I Do For Glory would be the year’s heaviest album. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but Stetson did deliver a barebones showcase of his mind-blowing mastery of the baritone sax. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
There’s been an inordinate amount of excellent instrumental albums released in the past few years, and while I count Joseph Shabason’s Aytche among them, it’s by far the most eccentric instrumental album of the year. Shabason’s processed sax sound and compelling atmospheric arrangements prompt repeated listens. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
The guitars jangle throughout Bingo Bango and the drums are bouncy and lively; even some synths find their way into the mix. The debut release from Newfoundland’s little slice of Spanish indie rock is definitely recommended for next summer’s rotation. Es muy bueno. [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
Dan Misha Goldman has made a name for himself crafting translucent melodies and diaphanous arrangements as one-half of Snowblink, but on his recent solo outing Champion of the Afterworld, Goldman further cements his status as a master of musical experimentation. His blend of wordless musical textures and whispery lyrical numbers was one of 2017’s most unexpected delights. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Genre-defying and lyrically dense, Devon Sproule’s The Gold String is an impressive work from a songwriting perspective. The songs, entangled in meandering streams of rhythm and melody, delicately grapple with the intricacies of love and family with an objectivity that is entirely refreshing and enlightening. [Bandcamp] Rob Dickson
Toronto/London-natives Pony have had a stellar 2017 to coincide with the release of Do You, their sugary-sweet debut Buzz Records release that punches you in the mouth like a Pop Rock. Do You will hook you with its melodies and make you stay for the energy. [Bandcamp] Thomas Williams
On Cascades, neoclassical pianist Jean-Michel Blais and electronic composer CFCF collaborate beautifully, reimagining selected compositions from their respective back catalogues. It is an EP that elucidates the wonders that can be found in repetition—both in the recursive nature of the compositions themselves, and in the act of performing a piece of music over again in an entirely different context. Geoff Parent
B.A. Johnston’s Gremlinz III is the singer-songwriter album to end all singer-songwriter albums. Anyone interested in the zany, weird, or bizarre should find a copy of this album as soon as possible. That, and some Donair Sauce. [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
Calgary experimental group Ghostkeeper’s Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks is a wild trip. Using found sound, electronics, conventional rock instruments, and verse/chorus vocals, this album grinds and rides all over the line between sexy, grotesque, and beautiful in a way that is entirely fresh and darkly evocative. [Bandcamp] Rob Dickson
If the songs sound familiar, that’s because they are. On Canta en Español Vol. II, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Julie Doiron brings us some of her most popular hits—but sung in Spanish. [Bandcamp] Olivia Pasquarelli
Music To Draw To: Satellite was two giant leaps forward for Kid Koala: not only was it his first foray into composing with traditional instruments instead of his trusty turntable, he also brought Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini on board to add vocals. Inspired by the story of a pair of space-age star-crossed lovers, Music To Draw To: Satellite is a mighty tome and an engrossing ambient opus of the highest order. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Take equal parts doom metal, smooth jazz, and drone, and you have Lawful Citizen: an expertly crafted “thinking man’s” jazz project. Their self-titled release is soothing and dizzying in equal measure. Try it at your next dinner party! [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
With only five tracks, Bernice’s 2017 EP Puff is a deeply immersive and entirely captivating listen. Evoking the experimental pop of early Bjork records and polished grooves of Thom Yorke’s Eraser, Puff whisks you away completely and feels like witnessing your inner child’s imagination projected on a screen. [Bandcamp] Rob Dickson
Announcing their own voice within Toronto’s jazz scene with their original compositions, Bloom released their self-titled debut album in May. Bursting out of the musical seams with original ideas and thoughtful melodies (played mainly by saxophonist Emily Steinwall), Bloom the record signals that Bloom the band has a strong future. [Bandcamp] Thomas Williams
Toronto-based Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Ansley Simpson’s debut album, Breakwall, is arguably the hidden gem amongst this year’s Favourite Fifty. Her words are poetic, personal, and profoundly resonate in the mind well after her gorgeously rendered music fades into memory. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
The seven instrumental soundscapes on 在找 ::searching:: move as their titles suggest: “Twirl”, “Trickle”, “Drops”, and “Float”; their loops are filled with “Wonder” and “Glitter” and mark “Time” as if it were an ephemeral by-product of respectfulchild’s immersive musical exploration of identity. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Mac DeMarco is a songwriter with studied expertise—and that has never been more clear than on his latest record. Pairing melodies that feel like gently rolling waves with warm vocals, This Old Dog is his best and most tender album to date. [Bandcamp] Olivia Pasquarelli
Queens of the Breakers taps into our minds with inventive but instantly familiar melodies and grooves. The Barr Brothers have succeeded in following up their sophomore LP Sleeping Operator with a warm and subtly powerful record; creating moments of delicate beauty sweet enough for tears, later crushing out jams that will have you prancing around your kitchen. Rob Dickson
Faith Healer’s Try ;-) is all killer and no filler. It’s a charming, hook-filled rock album that is inspired by the classics but feels modern. Try ;-) has a distinct no-fucks-given sound and attitude. Paired with lyrics centered around giving way too many fucks, it is an album that speaks to the contradictory nature of modern life. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
The Toronto hardcore punk legends added to their well-loved Zodiac series this year with the eighth instalment Year of the Snake. Sonically exploring the world of ambient and drone music, Fucked Up leads you on a textural trip throughout this thirty minute record. Thomas Williams
For a record rooted in the sterile sounds of classic synths, KASHKA’s Relax is exceptionally human. Alternately confident and vulnerable (sometimes in the same song), Kat Burns delivers her strongest set of songs yet on her third—and best—solo release. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Land of Talk’s third full length album Life After Youth is a sonic departure from their previous release, Cloak and Cipher, exploring pop and R&B rhythms along with a pallet of synths. The album features Lizzy Powell’s explorative guitar progressions and her unmistakable voice delivering reflective lyrics peppered with muted intensity, conveying a motivating testament captured aptly in the title. [Bandcamp] Rob Dickson
There’s a very good reason why this album has resonated with me so long after reviewing it. Funeral Pieces recounts a rich, haunting concept of death and despair without uttering a single word. If you’ve yet to hear of Logan Hill before now, keep your ears to the ground. [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
It’s been ages since a bonafide rock record like Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs’ self-titled release made me sit up and pay attention. It’s a tight and taut power-chord driven collection that’s brash, ballsy, and fun to blast out of your car stereo in any season. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Ten beautifully delivered, intimate, woozy folk songs about death and life after you’ve come terms with it. Giant Hand sings from his aching soul directly to yours. You may not feel much better about the only possible outcome of being alive, but Old Cosmos reminds you that we are all heading towards that outcome together. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
Vancouver’s Blessed packs more into this twenty-six minutes of music than most guitar bands can fit onto a full-length release. Progressive but not bloated, technical but never masturbatory, II is an impressive display of musicianship and songcraft from one of Canada’s best young bands. [Bandcamp] Geoff Parent
Themes for a New Earth is an album fuelled by the allure of escape. Abbotsford’s Jamison Isaak has crafted nine finely-tuned, blissful soundscapes that add colour and dimension to the inner worlds we retreat into in order to drown out the cacophony of these modern times. [Bandcamp] Geoff Parent
Un bras de distance avec le soleil is poetry set to cosmic folk, propelled by washes of electronica and free-floating jazz flourishes. Catherine Leduc is a real-life musical time traveller, and her sophomore album will change your future and present for the better while leaving you with a new perspective on the past. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Memorial Ten Count is a bare bones record of expertly crafted rock and roll tunes from the pride of Amherst, Nova Scotia. Mckiel shows off his guitar heroics all over this record, but “Impossible GIF” is the best introduction to his abilities as a guitar player and songwriter. Also, “Conduit” is enough to help us forget that the Constantines haven’t released an album since 2008 (yet!). Peace sign to Jon Mckiel! [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
Introduce Yerselfcould have been a masterpiece. Whittled down to its twelve best songs, it would be up there with Day for Night and Fully Completely as one of Gord Downie’s best front-to-back albums. But if Gord showed us anything over his last few years on earth, it’s that he is extremely generous.
Hearing Gord sing these songs is a gift he didn’t need to give, but we are lucky enough to live with them now. Gord’s voice sounds as moving as ever, his lyrics more direct. There is sadness but there is also celebration—of a life well lived, full of love and full of music. Five years from now, ten years from now, Introduce Yerself will be easier to listen to; I imagine these songs will sooth rather than sting. I miss you, Gord. Thank you for the music. Mac Cameron
In 2017, Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk packed up the dusty El Dorado, left the banjos and acoustic accoutrements of his band’s previous albums behind in the rural folk cabin he was abandoning and headed to the dark and dirty city to create his dystopian masterpiece, Sincerely, Future Pollution. Synths, sexy bass lines, and a decidedly wry, sardonic tone colour Timber Timbre’s sixth album in monotone shades of grey, black, and black-as-all-get-out. David Lynchian comparisons and references peppered every review when the record dropped back in April, but Timber Timbre’s dirty future world feels less cinematic and more sincere as time passes. There’s a deep tenderness to opener “Velvet Gloves & Spit”, easing listeners into new musical surroundings and settings before bringing out the funk and “Fame”-aping sound of “Grifting”. The languid instrumentals don’t do much to help with the pace, but Timber Timbre were never ones to race to the finish line. Still, Sincerely, Future Pollution finds Kirk and company heading down new sonic roads, far ahead of their contemporaries. [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia
Weaves have gone from an underground force in Toronto’s dynamic indie scene to one of the nation’s brightest up-and-coming stars in just one year. The term ‘breakthrough’ gets thrown around alot in the music world, but for once it’s justified. Wide Open pushes Weaves’s sound in an anthemic direction, amplifying the loud-soft dynamics that put the band over the top. “Scream (feat. Tanya Tagaq)” is such a beautiful blend of raw talent (on both frontwoman Jasmyn Burke and Tagaq’s parts), and sets a new benchmark for what indie rock can accomplish. [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
I imagine Leslie Feist playing in a summer garden filled with glass bottles and chimes—kind of like the one in the Harriet the Spy movie—everytime I listen to “Get Not High, Get Not Low.” The quiet jingle and the sound of gently clinking glass remind me of easy days, but her lyrics aren’t as carefree.
Stripped down and dynamic, Pleasure explores loneliness, the wisdom that comes with experience and the middle road. On “Any Party” Feist sings, “You know I’d leave any party for you/Cause no party’s so sweet as a party of two.” In a culture gutted by gilded fantasies, it’s an act of rebellion to find pleasure in one another. Feist has no fear of missing out, as she approaches a creative and philosophical pinnacle.
With a bit of metal, blues and 70s charm, Pleasure is a powerfully honest album and Feist’s most original yet. Olivia Pasquarelli
Every journey has a rhythm. From the hypnotic blur of passing landscapes out a bus window to the low, monotonous hum of a jet plane engine, every expedition has a story to tell. Twin Solitude plays like a diary. The details are as sparse as that haunting piano sound that fills its first half, but there’s no denying the emotional impact Leif Vollebekk makes on his third collection of songs. From the mundane and minutiae of everyday living comes Vollebekk’s most profound and engrossing songs. “Elegy” continues to resonate deeply more than a year after first hearing it. “For years I’ve been working and traveling alone,” he intones on the elegiac closer “Rest”, “…recognized as a stranger every place that I went”. With a Polaris Music Prize nomination and a growing list of admirers, Twin Solitude guarantees that Leif Vollebekk’s days of obscurity are over. Jim Di Gioia
Very few instrumental rock bands can hook listeners the way that Do Make Say Think can with their prophetic art rock compositions and explosive performances. Their 2017 LP, Stubborn Persistent Illusions contains some of their most daring production and is one of their most unified works yet. The drumming and guitar work is immediately striking with the opening track “War on Torpor”. The drums take off along with an erupting chorus of swelling guitars and keys that sound like a pod of orcas descending on prey.
The second track “Horripilation” embarks on what feels like a desperate journey over an icy mountain pass. Oscillating drums and dreamy, crystal clean electric guitar arpeggios give way to triumphant horns, gently washing away in a wall of reverb, lifting with a sense of accomplishment and poise. Having reached a false summit, there is a rhythmic shift that climbs even higher into a dark and visceral finale of dissonant guitar noise like a hurricane blizzard, sending everything back down to the familiar arpeggios of the song’s beginning.
Each song on the album paints a different and distinct picture and tells a story with broad strokes, leaving room for the imagination to explore while listening. Songs will often shift from dark places to extremely bright, with moments of indifference and confusion. Overall, the music seems to serve as a sort of war cry or call to arms, calling out to humanity and asking if we are capable of fighting back against the darkness in the world that lately seems to only be gaining strength.
In addition to the strong themes found in the songs on this record, it is remarkable how smooth and natural the performances feel. The instruments are played with an almost divine delicacy. With a detached attitude, seemingly effortless musical performances pour out all over this album, baring teeth in all the right places. [Bandcamp] Rob Dickson
Throw Eric’s Trip, Sloan, and Tegan and Sara into a blender and you’d get a sense of what In Search of Lost Time offers. Between riffs galore, strong vocal harmonies, and clever, witty songwriting, there’s something for every kind of rock fan. And some laughs courtesy of the short but sweet skits peppered throughout.
Want some ripping solos? Check out “Everybody Knows” (complete with a reference to The Big Lebowski) and “Comfort Zone”, featuring an incredibly earnest ambition in the songwriting. Tracks like “Play the Field”, “Angels from Ontario”, and “Woman of Dreams” show Josée Caron and Lucy Niles are proud of who they are and expressing their romantic ambitions and comfortable as ambassadors for the LGBTQ community.
Not only was In Search of Lost Time one of the most fun rock albums I heard this year, it was a reminder that sometimes the best music is made from friends jamming in garages, playing wherever and whenever they can. And being themselves. Expect BIG things from Partner in the years to come, the world needs a good band. In Search of Lost Time is the soundtrack to your “Personal Weekend”, just add in some “Daytime TV” and you have a recipe for success. [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
The love and sensuality of “Sexus Plexus Nexus” (still one of my favourite tracks of the year; that chorus will get you) and “Rendezvous” will warm your heart all year round. Memories of family gatherings and personal triumphs flood back to the senses as Kwenders invites you in to see HIS world in “Welele” and “Tuba Tuba”; it’s like you’re right in the middle of the party! In addition to singing in both of Canada’s national languages, Pierre masterfully incorporates the Lingala and Shona dialects of his native Democratic Republic of the Congo.
MAKANDA… shows an artist in transition, combining songs of romance, family, and country into one conceptual and spiritual high. It’s one of the most eye-opening hip-hop/R&B albums Canada gave us this year. Book your sonic flight today! [Bandcamp] Josh Weinberg
One of the most imposing barriers against creating art is losing touch with yourself. It’s nearly impossible to create something with any resonance when you are adrift, disconnected from your daily experience, from your emotions, and from your history—the confluence of internal and external phenomena that makes you you.
Fool’s Paradise is Ladan Hussein’s—aka Cold Specks—stunning push towards a more nuanced understanding of the familial, cultural, and personal forces that comprise who she is. Hussein’s parents relocated to Canada after fleeing a Somalia embroiled in civil war. As a result, she was cut off from a place that has contributed so much to her identity. Much of the record, both in the lyrics and in the compositions, finds Hussein conjuring beautiful, sensory perceptions of her homeland in order to connect with it as best she can; she refers to it as “diaspora dreaming.” And Fool’s Paradise is certainly dreamlike. Lush synths play off of sparse drum samples on tracks like “Rupture” and “Ancient Habits”, whereas an infectious bassline worthy of Sade carries the excellent “Wild Card”. All that said, Hussein’s warm vocals steal the show from start to finish; they are a constant reminder of the passion and personal exploration that saw this record through to the end.
On the title track, Hussein sings a line in Somali that her grandmother used to say to her. The line translates to “understand the difference between your bones and your soul.” In many ways, it’s a line that sums up Fool’s Paradise. It’s a record that proves we are more than just blood, muscle, and bone; we are stories made animate, rich with details to be dissected and discovered. [Bandcamp] Geoff Parent
When you’re in a band, it’s extremely difficult to be tasteful. There are so many good reasons not to restrain yourself. To make things louder, more emotive, faster, more repetitive is often easier than to sit back, breathe, and find space within a song. Sugar at the Gate by TOPS is chalk-full of restraint and despite that—perhaps because of it—it’s one of the most exciting, and rewarding records of the year.
“Further” might be the best example of how maddeningly brilliant the members of TOPS are at writing songs and how wisely they preserve their resources. The choruses repeat right after each other: first the vocal hook is supported by bass and synth; on the second go, after a little harmonized vocal slide, the bass and synth drop out in favour of a guitar lick. If you aren’t listening close enough, you wouldn’t notice the subtle but highly satisfying and effective shift. Sugar at the Gate may seem plain at first, but listen close, and then listen again, and you’ll see it’s one of the smartest and enjoyable records of the year. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
It’s a familiar story: A loud, critically acclaimed noise rock trio head to Chicago to record their third record with Steve Albini and it results in the band’s strongest work yet. Comparing METZ to Nirvana is a bit lazy, I’ll admit, but when you listen to Strange Peace you can’t help but feel like METZ have taken the most fun and experimental aspects of Nirvana and become their own monster.
Strange Peace is the most dynamic record the band has released— “Caterpillar” is drum and bass free—and it shows METZ are capable of delivering much more than just head banger after head banger. The use of repetition throughout this album, especially on tracks like “Mess of Wires” and “Lost in the Blank City”, is hypnotizing and relentless, perhaps even more so than the volume. With Strange Peace, METZ have cemented their status as one of Canada’s finest rock bands and have laid the groundwork to continue to blow our eardrums and our minds for years to come. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
Bands go through musical transitions and evolutions. The core sound of the band stays in tact, but the slight characteristics that pop out at you within that sound catch your attention as a listener and as a follower of a certain band. If you were left wanting more from Toronto dream/indie-pop band Alvvays’ self-titled debut album in 2014 – their sophomore record Antisocialites will certainly scratch that itch.
Separating themselves from the rest of the dreamy/atmospheric-pop pack that so many bands have decided to be a part of, Alvvays has created a record full of robust songwriting and hooks that grab the listener’s attention with unrelenting force. “Saved By A Waif” is one track that keeps their atmospheric and dreamy sound as heard on their first album, but gives it more of an abrasive bite with angular guitar riffs. “Plimsoll Punks” continues with the album’s trend of including small quirky additions within the song structure to keep the listener’s attention. Towards the end of the song, there is a small ambient section with a pleasant synth, childhood memory-inducing melody, a stark contrast from the British invasion punk stylings all throughout the previous three minutes.
Molly Rankin’s emotional delivery on songs like “Dreams Tonite”—a song about a love-at-first-sight connection with a stranger—proves her ability to connect with an audience and to make them feel her yearning.
Antisocialites is a complete album. Each song adds something to the project and is necessary to create the full picture. It is entertaining as hell and certainly gives Alvvays a unique voice within the dreamy/indie/jangle-pop world. [Bandcamp] Thomas Williams
The City That Always Sleeps is a mesmerizing blend of metal, prog, shoegaze, and psychedelia. It is a guitar-rock record prime suited for a time when many consider the genre to be losing its relevance. There are clear antecedents—the massive drum sounds and guitar solos are reminiscent of Zeppelin, Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age, etc—but Biblical’s brilliance comes in how they deconstruct and distill the sounds of the past into something immediate, spellbinding, and contemporary. There is an undeniable swagger in the grooves of these songs, but the band are able to temper the bombasity with heady, more introspective arrangements like the beautiful “Spiral Staircase” and the title track. It is this level of nuance that separates Biblical from other bands who look to “classic rock” bands for inspiration.
Relevancy and originality are concepts that are too easily flung around to discredit not only guitar-based music, but many contemporary artists. There are only so many notes, riffs, and beats to go around, and in the age of limitless content and information, when every piece of music can be subjected to relentless scrutiny and comparisons, how can any artist be expected to be truly singular? The true standard of quality should always be how a band or artist use their inspirations and influences to build upon the artform and add to the conversation. The City That Always Sleeps does not reinvent the wheel. Instead, Biblical subvert a number of tropes that pervade guitar music and move the genre forward, not laterally. [Bandcamp] Geoff Parent
There is an absurd notion that claims that better protest music is a silver lining to periods of political and cultural unrest. To say nothing of this idea being an incredibly low bar of satisfaction, it also betrays the most potent idea of politically-charged art: that things can actually change. If we can be quelled into this type of passive acceptance about the state of our society—an acceptance based on the consumption of art and music being an adequate form of protest—then the systemic problems will endure cyclically, and we will run around in circles until we rot out from the inside.
Chris Hannah and Propagandhi are acutely aware of this problematic idea, and it forms the basis for Victory Lap. Protest and political activism have been at the core of every Propagandhi record since their formation, and that doesn’t necessarily change on this album. However, there is a pervading sense in these songs that, at a certain point, punk as protest doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Despite the rousing songs and rallying cries, we seem destined to repeat the same mistakes in different contexts. Hannah also seems far more content with shifting attention away from his voice to those of the communities that are on the true frontlines of the fight to restore sanity; those calling for justice and respect in a cacophony of ignorance and cynical hatred.
Despite Victory Lap’s sense of defeatism, it is unendingly fun to listen to. It features some of the best and most technically proficient songs of Propagandhi’s career. The lyrics cut deep, and are equal parts funny, impassioned, and scathing. Hannah’s insane ability to write such insightful, free-form prose over the band’s complex arrangements cements his place as one of the best frontman working in any punk band.
Music is certainly not sole answer to the insanity of these modern times, and Propagandhi will be the first ones to tell you that. But records like Victory Lap are still constructive in the sense that they get us thinking critically about the right things. They remind us of how much work there is still do before kindness, empathy, and justice gain a firm foothold in our society. Geoff Parent
“Gas came down from a buck twenty—the joke was how it broke the economy anyhow,” sings Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station. “Thirty”, the single from their self-titled fourth album, is a retrospection on the year Lindeman began her third decade. From welcoming new children to her relationship with her father and the falling loonie, Lindeman’s vocals rise and fall accordingly—and with expert phrasing, dense lyrics feel weightless. While her voice is full of conviction, an underlying sense of uncertainty is undeniable. “Thirty” explores the precariousness that faces our generation, even if just by observation—“I noticed fucking everything,” Lindeman sings. Whether she is dissecting our complicity in climate change or observing the failing economy, the ubiquity of the experiences she explores often makes The Weather Station feel like an album of anthems.
Though the electric sound might surprise those familiar with Lindeman’s quieter records, her hard-earned confidence must be heard. And it is, even in the sparser moments. “I Don’t Know What to Say”, one of the more stripped down tracks on the album, showcases the emotive power simply in Lindeman’s voice. The detail in the composition is the cherry on top.
Although Lindeman admits that her “music theory knowledge ended in childhood piano lessons,” she composed the string arrangements through the help of technology and friends. “I was able to write all the parts on keyboard,” she explains. As the strings, woodwinds, and piano soundtrack the story Lindeman is telling, the album swells with powerful imagery.
Self-produced and unequivocal, The Weather Station presents Lindeman as one of the finest songwriters of our time. [Bandcamp] Olivia Pasquarelli
Dan Bejar has been making music as Destroyer almost as long as I have been alive. I know him, for the most part, as the guy with the kookiest songs on The New Poronogrpahers albums but with ken, Bejar has finally gotten through to me.
ken is a tightly packed collection of post-punk inspired folk-pop songs all delivered with Bejar’s signature flare. ken is bottomless. It’s produced to sound huge, wide open, and dark. The saxophone that was so exuberant on his last two records has become muted with the post-apocalyptic synths taking its place in the mix. Bejar’s perspective, that of a man in a corner doing poets work, is as unbiased as the media is supposed be. He notices the beautiful, the ugly, the tragic, and the meaningless and describes each with the same fanciful wonder. It’s a pop album for the end times, which happens to also be anytime. Mac Cameron
Since the outset of their career, Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been scoring our slow descent to the end. Though almost entirely instrumental, their compositions have always spoke to the ills of our society on both a small-scale and in a broader sense. It is neoclassical music with a distinct political, and empathetic edge. These hallmarks of Godspeed’s music are all present and accounted for on “Luciferian Towers”, but the stakes are unmistakably higher. The brilliance of the record lies in its political and artistic immediacy.
“Luciferian Towers” is a bright, dynamic behemoth of a record. The loud sections are unrelenting, whereas the lulls still simmer with anticipatory energy. The brunt of the record is shouldered by two three-part behemoths. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are some of the heaviest, most satisfying arrangements the band has ever written. The former builds up methodically from a churning bass line, incorporating Constantines-esque guitar melodies, swarming strings, and a dynamic drum shuffle that carries the song to successively grander plateaus before the whole thing magnificently breaks. “Anthem For No State” begins with a rare moment of mournful calm that sustains throughout its first two movements, which only serves to accentuate the righteous fury of its third—the record’s final proclamation; it’s the song that will ring out should the curtain ever be pulled back on Godspeed’s utopian future.
Triumphant in tone, and unwaveringly clear in its aims, “Luciferian Towers” revels in the dismantling of our sickened global order while demanding a return to societal nascency, so that we may collectively build something better. Geoff Parent
Freudian is a debut bursting with musical promise and potential, but it also feels like an evolutionary leap forward for R&B and urban music. While it’s obvious Daniel Caesar takes inspiration from the female form on many of Freudian‘s finest moments, what’s striking is the absence of overtly hypermasculine tropes and attitudes that are oppressive to women.
What’s more impressive is that Caesar manages to do so while simultaneously flexing his confident strength and revealing a vulnerable masculinity. Even on “We Find Love”, a song about the dissolution of a relationship that stings for both parties in equal measure, Caesar steers away from over-the-top machismo pronouncements and stays very much in the moment. His emotions are exposed and raw, underscoring how real and romantic an album Freudian is. Jim Di Gioia
It’s no secret that we love Daniel Romano here at DOMINIONATED. When Modern Pressure was announced, hot off the heels of 2016’s Mosey, saying we were looking forward to hearing it would have been a massive understatement. The title alone had me wondering if Romano was going to give us a prescription to the woes of late-capitalist society. When I listened to the record though, I did not find those answers because—and I’m sure he would be the first to admit it—he doesn’t have them. What I did find was a love album … sort of.
Musically, Modern Pressure is the first Romano album in years to have nearly no hints of country. Never one to work in half measures, he has dipped his songwriting in the psychedelic stylings of the late 60s and early 70s and doubled down on his Dylan and The Band worship. Sitars, unconventional pop songs, la-la-la’s, and frantically intentional drum fills take Romano from the monochrome (but thrilling) Mosey to the kaleidoscopic. What makes Romano so exciting to follow and listen to is his ability to abandon a sound he’s explored and move on to a new one while keeping the lessons learned from those genres in his songwriting. The songs are not mere 60s ripoffs, they move with the forward momentum of punk rock, the intricacy of post-hardcore, and they are steeped in the sorrow of country music. He has incredible chemistry with every part of his musical self.
Romano’s lyrics have never been stronger than they are on Modern Pressure. He does a masterful job of addressing modern life through his own eyes, ears, and heart. “The Pride of Queens” could be about loving the Ramones and hating U2 for using the Ramones (and whatever band that will give Bono the opportunity to spout meaningless platitudes about rock n’ roll or America) to add to their legacy, but it’s really about the music industry being tainted by opportunism and capitalism. He writes about what he loves, but if you go even more macro it’s a song about things we love, untainted, being ruined by greed and money. He loves Jennifer Castle, he loves love, Roya, Maggie, the lady in the moon and each of these loves serve as a lens into how to best prescribe, treat, and move forward from the darkness of today and tomorrow.
Modern Pressure is Daniel Romano’s first pop masterpiece. The songs are tight, catchy, and mixed brilliantly throughout. His ability to write music, so clearly influenced by artists of yesterday, but so ardently devoid of nostalgia, is a wonder. He will not be an artist who sucks the old world dry. However, he won’t stop loving the music of the past and will do his part to carry on its magical tradition. [Bandcamp] Mac Cameron
On nights when sleep eludes me, I often think that it’s because there are too many ghosts in the house, haunting my thoughts and scaring slumber away. I won’t be surprised if Simone Schmidt says she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since she started working on Fiver’s Audible Songs From Rockwood. Each of the album’s eleven songs takes its inspiration from Schmidt’s methodical research into the archives of the real-life Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston, Ontario, and shares the forgotten and ignored stories of the women imprisoned there from 1856 to 1881.
Every song is a carefully crafted, period-authentic field recording in the North American folk tradition, and vividly captures the women in Schmidt’s fictional narratives. A thirty-page booklet of lyrics, illustrations, and notes compiled by Schmidt (under the nom de plume, Simone Carver) accompany the songs, providing historical context and commentary that challenges listeners to go beyond the standard lyric sheet and engage with the content on a deeper level.
Though she describes “Waltz For One” as a love song from the perspective of a woman admitted to Rockwood by her father, the liner notes expands upon the lover’s lament. Schmidt/Carver describes how, ashamed that his daughter became pregnant out of wedlock, the girl’s father forces lye and salt on her to abort the child. After having his daughter incarcerated, he sues the man she loves for “damaging his property,” reducing his offspring to a mere possession.
The woman at the heart of “Haldimand County” laments the life promised to her if she moved to the new world—a promise that she soon discovered was fictional. Now afflicted with a deteriorating memory, these falsehoods and reality begin to blur. “More than a few of the women of Rockwood were said to suffer deep depression for these shattered expectations,” Schmidt/Carver explains, detailing the parallel fact that this woman, like many other settlers, illegally squatted on lands promised to the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, who themselves suffered at the hands of colonialist expansion practices.
By its very nature, Audible Songs From Rockwood is an illusion: original music masquerading as 19th-century folk songs unearthed by an archivist-under-pseudonym. But in another sense, it is powerfully real and concrete. The research and work Schmidt has put into mining these stories and historical records makes it a timeless and very real document of an era in Canadian history that is essential, and necessary to unearth and shed light on. As was said in our original review, Audible Songs From Rockwood is “…important for our understanding of history, for the women who were sent to Rockwood, and for its ability to inspire the listener to educate themselves on other persecuted peoples whose stories have been lost to the annals of history. Schmidt, as well as her aliases, have given credence to a cherry picked line from ‘Hair of the Dead’, which sums up the entire project for me: ‘All that’s lost in good time will be found again’. The spirits of the women of Rockwood live on in these songs, and they are more free than ever because of them.” [Bandcamp] Jim Di Gioia