As we continue to explore a banner year in releases province by province, we come to Alberta and Manitoba. Once again, I’ve found a crop of new artists to explore, and my playlist has grown to even more unmanageable proportions (but it’s totally worth it).
2016 Favorites – Alberta
100 Mile House – Hiraeth
We had the good fortune to interview Peter Stone from 100 Mile House this fall about this gorgeous album. This set of quiet, introspective songs has been stuck in my head since the first time I heard it – it’s truly one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
Altameda – Dirty Rain
This is a great album of folk rock songs, perfect for a long commute (or, as in my case, to fuel a lengthy day of data crunching at work). The group has some great stories to tell, and they do so beautifully in songs like “Blackmarket Blues” and “Queen of the Street.”
Boreal Sons – You & Everyone
Introspection perhaps is a common feature of Albertan projects this year; this is another set of reflective songs, delivered with sparkly keyboards and various electronic effects. “What Becomes” really pulled at my heartstrings, as it will anyone who has lost a loved one and is trying to cope. “Light of a Low Sun” is a lovely ode to unexpected love.
Nuela Charles – The Grand Hustle
On our last couple of trips to Canada, we saw this CD everywhere, and now that I’ve heard it, I totally understand why it deserves heavy promotion. Nuela Charles has a fabulous voice and the songs on this project give her ample opportunity to showcase it. “Crumbling Down” provides a powerful opening to the album but “Curtain Falls” is the track that really captured my attention with its mournful strings and slow burn.
Maria Dunn – Gathering
This album was recently shortlisted by Alberta Music for the 2017 Edmonton Music Prize, deservedly so. Maria Dunn defines herself as a ‘storyteller through song,’ and she does not shy away from the tough tales – the opening track is about Malala Yousafzai, while “Little One” tackles the story of a child taken from their family and denied their heritage and birthright. The music may be stylistically quiet but the lyrics are passionate and extremely moving.
The Misery Mountain Boys – Moon Dog and the Familiar Spirits
A jazzy, folky blend of sounds, this was an incredibly pleasant surprise, especially at the first sound of the clarinet. I’m always intrigued by unique instrumentations and I’ve long loved clarinet – it fits well and I like how it mixes with more traditional folk instruments like mandolin and folk. Hint: as of this writing, the group is offering a great package deal on all three of their albums on Bandcamp, which means even more to download and love.
Jeff Surtees – Peace River
This gently rollicking album has been a delightful find as I’ve been working on this post. “Dance With Me, Darling” is simply lovely, and “No Worries” is a gentle instrumental that fits beautifully within the project. Hopefully we’ll hear more music from Jeff in the near future.
2016 Favorites – Manitoba
Lanikai – Lanikai
This sunshiny, retro-sounding EP has only one flaw – it left me wanting more. Seriously, this is really enjoyable music that reminds me a bit of the keyboard-driven 1970s music I grew up adoring. Lanikai is led by Marti Sarbit, with whom we were previously familiar via her work with Imaginary Cities, and hopefully this is only the beginning of great music from this group.
Kevin Roy – Heartworn Highways
Kevin Roy’s voice, by turns mournful and tender, is a perfect foil for these folk/country tunes. If you prefer your music a bit country, this is a great choice. “Mighty River” is a highlight, marking the challenge and trial that rural prairie life can often be, while “Gone With The Wind” takes me back to 1940s/1950s-style honkytonk country.
Royal Canoe – Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit
My addiction to this album is such that I decided recently that I needed it on vinyl as well as CD – since I bought this on a whim, I’ve not been able to stop listening to it. Every song on the project is unique and intriguing; even if you don’t think you’re a fan of electronica (and I wouldn’t classify this album solely as electronica although it has elements of that), give this album a try – it will be worth it.
John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
This project (from the singer of the much-missed Weakerthans) starts with what surely must be an anthem for 2016 (great music releases aside): “Select All Delete.” I suspect many of us can also relate to “Postdoc Blues,” even if we’ve never pursued a doctorate – we’ve all given that really awkward speech, or presentation, and wished we could crawl in a hole afterward. All of these songs are wonderfully relatable.
Micah Visser – Forward
This EP from Micah Visser is curiously hypnotic and slightly addictive. (And I hadn’t heard the sound of an old-style modem in forever – fun to hear it as a sample.) This is a great example of electronica that is also vibrant and passionate. An intriguing project – I’ll be curious to see how his music develops over the next few years.
Yes We Mystic – Forgiver
When the opening track of “Forgiver” started playing, it immediately rang bells, and I realized that “The Contest of Strength” has received a fair amount of airplay on SiriusXM’s Verge this year. It’s a strong piece and the songs that follow don’t let up by any means – this is a great album, somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay in its anthemic nature.