Late last week, M texted me (L) that he wanted to do a set of snappy snippets of his four absolute favorite albums from 2017. Okay, I said… but it didn’t seem quite right that his favorites should go up without mine. I’m always hesitant to try to narrow down my favorites beyond the twenty we posted this morning (and even that was a challenge), and I can’t honestly say that these four are necessarily better than the other sixteen (or, for that matter, any of the albums on the regional lists), but we’ve each given it a shot.
~ M’s Final Four
Following up from my list of the 20 album releases in 2017, I stated in that article that it was near impossible to rank all 20 in any order of preference. And while this sentiment remains true, I hinted that some stood out above the rest. Enjoy this year end Snappy Snippets, and the four albums I consider the best Canadian works over the last twelve months.
4: Kacy & Clayton, The Siren’s Song
This was the biggest surprise for me this year. It was during a review of “Yarrow,” the recent album from The Deep Dark Woods that I discovered Kacy & Clayton. It was just a couple of months ago when L found “The Siren’s Song” in an independent record store in Syracuse, NY, and upon the first play, I was completely blown away by this Saskatchewan duo. With a very retro looking album cover, the alt-country on offer proves to be a great throwback that combines old country music with a British Invasion vibe.
Go ahead and listen to the likes of “This World Has Seven Wonders” to fully appreciate the way both musical genres are fused. Looking for something a little more ‘folk’, skip to the title track and become lost in Kacy Anderson’s very haunting vocals. Now head back to the opening number “The Light Of Day” and immerse yourself in that upbeat sound complete with dirty guitar and twang. And for something completely different, I strongly recommend checking out Clayton Linthicum’s vocals on “White Butte Country,” where the 60s pop back-beat perfectly accompanies this tune. With both the influences from their friends The Deep Dark Woods, and the production duties handled by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Kacy & Clayton were in very capable hands for creating this musical gem that is an absolute delight to listen to.
3: Fast Romantics, American Love
Probably one of the most eagerly awaited albums for me in 2017, this sophomore release proved to be completely beyond the realm of being worth the wait. I could not get enough of this album when first purchased, and even now, several months later, this one still rates highly and is played frequently. While many artists embraced the synth-pop sound of the 1980s over the last few years, the Fast Romantics leaned more towards the ‘new romanticism’ from that same era; separating themselves from the pack with some great retro sounding pop tunes.
The first release, “Julia,” was a toe-tapping number that shared similarities with the sounds of Elvis Costello. But the follow up, “Why We Fight,” whilst still a toe-tapper, offered slightly darker overtures more synonymous with British indie-pop acts such as Blur or Pulp. Tracks such as “Runaway Girl” (later released as a single) and “Alberta” both tantalize the senses, with plenty of imaginative creativity on offer. The Fast Romantics provide a momentary feeling of pure escapism with their music, yet delve a little deeper into those lyrics and some political commentary can be found lurking there in the recesses. For any fan of the new romantic sound, “American Love” may well be the perfect choice for those still lost in such times, yet who possess a craving for something so incredibly fresh.
2: Bill & Joel Plaskett, Solidarity
It is well known that Joel Plaskett is one of our favorite Canadian artists, and when the announcement was made that he was collaborating on an album with his father, Team GDW were very much intrigued. After all, just how would Joel’s punk/folk-rock style combine with the traditional folk leanings of Bill’s music? One spin of “Solidarity” and I quickly learned that father and son proved to be a great combination. Admittedly, this album will appeal more to a folk audience, but listen carefully to tracks like “Dragonfly” and “Blank Cheque” and you will no doubt detect the influences of the younger Plaskett’s trademark sound.
Not only are the combined vocals a delight here, but so too are the choices in instrumentation. We all know of Joel’s mastery of the electric guitar, but here we experience mandolins and bouzoukis too. And lest we forgot the songs offered across the album that allow both to shine, Joel takes the lead with new cuts such as “The Next Blue Sky,” while Bill provides a modern twist to lesser known traditional pieces such as “We Have Fed You All For 1000 Years.” Both father and son share the duties evenly across the album, in terms of lead vocals, harmonies and instrumentation, and both clearly had a great time doing so – as evidenced when we caught them during their “Solidarity” tour in the Spring. In an interview with us this past summer, Bill hinted that he would love to go another round in the recording studio with his son, and here at Team GDW, we are fully behind such a sentiment. In the meantime, however, this one is here to stay, and continues to be a very much enjoyed release from 2017.
1: Alvvays, Antisocialites
If anybody had told me twelve months ago that Alvvays would rate as my pick for best Canadian album of 2017, I would have told them that they were crazy. Knowing that larger established acts planned to unleash a plethora of new material this year, I would have never believed that the follow up to the 2014 self-titled album from Alvvays could even be part of the conversation. Sure, I loved the single “Archie, Marry Me” that elevated this band’s music to a much wider audience – but still, competing with the likes of The Sadies, Stars, Gord Downie, and other household names, was this even possible?
Fast forward to the September release of “Antisocialites,” and such questions would be answered with a very resounding “YES.” How could a relatively little-known indie-pop act be in such a position? Upon reflection, the likes of Stars and The Sadies have put out new material that is both formulaic and as expected (although naturally very good), where Molly Rankin and co have tapped into something both unique and fresh. With their finely tuned melodies and neo-romanticism lyrics, encased in dirty guitars and synth-laced instrumentation, Alvvays have embraced an indie-pop vibe reminiscent of a musical scene that rode a wave of popularity in the late 1990s.
“Antisocialites” offers an incredibly pleasant trip down memory lane for me; a music fan that rode the indie-pop bandwagon back in the day. The influences of popular acts such as The Breeders, James, The Cure and Echobelly are all present here – go ahead and listen to “In Undertow,” “Hey,” and “Forget About Life” to experience it for yourselves. “Dreams Tonite” carries on where “Archie” left off as a radio-friendly single, while the most recent release “Plimsoll Punks” demonstrates an edgier side of Alvvays that shares much more with The Ramones and the pop-punk revival. This is an amazing, fresh, well written, well performed album that sets the bar high for all that follow. Don’t just take my word for it. Exclaim, CBC, and many others have jumped on the Alvvays bandwagon too – if you have not made the leap yet, what are you waiting for???
~ L’s Final Four
Note: M ranked his choices, but I simply couldn’t choose – so mine are sorted alphabetically. Because I’ve already waxed poetic on these albums elsewhere this week, I’ll simply reprint my comments from the roundup articles. 🙂
Brishen, Blue Verdun
This swing jazz project from multi-talented Quinn Bachand (who we saw live in September with his sister, Qristina) demonstrates just how versatile he is – this is a tremendously confident and frankly spectacular album that’s been on both our playlists since we heard it.
Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, Apocalipstick
This album has been like musical crack for me since it came out earlier this year – it has consistently stayed on my commute playlist ever since. You can read our more detailed review here – but go listen to it now.
Kacy & Clayton, The Siren’s Song
Trust us to find an album from a Saskatchewan-based pair in Syracuse, NY – but there it is, and there was no way I was leaving it there once I saw. And I’m SO GLAD we picked this up! This is an absolutely splendid feast of retro-styled songs and beautiful songs. Highly recommended.
Karpinka Brothers, Talk Is Cheap
Regular readers will have noticed that we’re big fans of the Karpinkas here at Team GDW. Their latest album stays consistent with the positive surf-rock vibe of their previous work, but it’s a great leap forward in their songwriting and vocal collaboration. Don’t miss this one. (Read our album release interview here.)