It is rare to find an honest year-end album list. There are vested interests involved in those published by both online and print media. Individual people tend to be biased in favour of certain genres of music, musical instruments used, or types of artists, rendering their lists narrow. Blogs tend to discriminate against albums from popular artists because they use these lists to promote the obscure ones rather than simply state a true list of their favourites. We also wonder why any list of domestic albums which excludes Francophone releases calls itself Canadian. In compiling our list, we did not care about the genre or style of music or the relative popularity of the artist. We simply listened to all several hundred of the Canadian albums that were released in 2013. If the album held our attention throughout, and we found ourselves enjoying song after song, we shortlisted it (11% of the albums made the list). At the end of the year, we listened to the shortlisted albums several times and ranked them. Below is a roll of the top 15 albums from that list, our 15 favourite Canadian albums of 2013.
#15. Golden Age by Phèdre
Phèdre is an offshoot of Toronto’s Hooded Fang. Legend has it that Daniel Lee and April Aliermo entered an attic of an unknown location over three summer nights. What they found lurking within must have been profound, for the results present cutting edge material, the vibrations of which seem capable of transmuting copper into gold. Golden Age is a celebration of experimental (think Grimes, Bjork, Moev) and very catchy electronica. The vocals, intentionally at times slightly off-key and delivered in a spirit of boredom, add an extra dimension. In fact, the entire package seems to have been borne by the winds of a tesseract. Phèdre reminds us of music’s great potential to excite, and they have succeeded in tapping into a gold mine unleashing the magic sparklers of all things weird and wonderful.
#14. En love majeur by France d’Amour
Growing up just north of Montréal, France D’Amour took up the guitar and piano. Since her breakthrough in 1993, she has scored eight hit singles that made the CKOI year-end Top 50. Two of her albums have gone gold, and she has received two JUNO nominations. In 1998, out of admiration for Vancouver’s The Odds, she called up their guitarist Steven Drake and they ended up collaborating. En love majeur is France’s tenth album, an exceptionally rich production of gorgeous and intimate adult contemporary confections, dipped at times in heartland folk, blues, and jazz, and delivered by one of the sweetest voices in the country. The diversity of instruments played, complex instrumentation, and sunny style provide an even backbone of grandeur to such a heart-soothing voice.
#13. Fusée by Ariane Brunet
Kirkland is a residential community of about 20,000 on the island of Montréal, and it is where recording artist Ariane Brunet was born. With childhood piano and singing lessons underway, she won contests and awards, took up the guitar, and studied jazz. Her first album appeared in 2010 for which she was nominated for the Newcomer of the Year ADISQ Félix award in 2011. Brunet released her second album Fusée in 2013. It contains an assortment of delicacies like beautiful adult contemporary “Le temps de vivre”, the rousing “Vertige”, melancholy “Mon plus beau naufrage”, and funky “L’évidence”. Lead single, “Bagatelle” rocketed its way up into the iTunes Francophone Top 10. The music is soft, graceful, and smartly decked with strings.
#12. Echogenetic by Front Line Assembly
Austrian-born Bill Leeb, who settled in Kitimat, BC when he was 13, was attracted to industrial music (i.e. electronic metal) and joined the Vancouver band Skinny Puppy playing bass synth. He left the band a year later to launch his own projects, the best-known of these being Delerium which enshrined a more moonlit new age electronica. On the dark side of the moon, Leeb created Front Line Assembly as a more aggressive venture. After some 26 years of FLA releases, appeared Echogenetic in 2013. FLA sheds its off-and-on use of guitars over the years for a pure, all-synth brand of spook. Menacing, mangled vocals, brick-smashing electronic bass, razor-sharp percussion, and an ethereal orchestra of synthesizers punch craters in the floor and blast the listener up to cast-iron clouds of emotion and dream.
#11. Mitan by Tire le Coyote
Sophomore work Mitan from Tire le Coyote, or Benoit Pinette, sounds like a dark but vibrant spaghetti western soundtrack that could add some panache to films scored by Ennio Morricone. It even opens with the haunting peal of a harmonica and slow-motion strum with deliberately beefed-up reverb. It builds from a hot dusty tumbleweed bouncing around and shutter flapping in a vacated ranch house into an ensemble of determined instruments each doing its bit on a bandstand where the townsfolk sit listening in a transfixed state. Pinette’s twangy delivery of beautiful French poetry adds to the delight as does the odd pouncing of sad piano. Tire le Coyote has more tricks up his musical sleeve than a card shark in a poker saloon.
#10. Avril Lavigne by Avril Lavigne
Tapping into the spirit of rock and roll, Avril Lavigne’s 5th studio album opens with a revved up stick-it-to-the-man piece of battling bearsharks with band-saw guitars and world salvation. Party pop anthem “Here’s to Never Growing Up” follows, a nostalgic celebration of youth. Ghostly irony swings forth on a piano string in the hygienic, breakup-themed “Let Me Go”, a duet with husband Chad Kroeger of the world’s finest and most successful grunge band, Nickelback. A decadent and delicious collaboration with goth growler Marilyn Manson precedes homage to Japanese cartoon icon Hello Kitty which receives the electropunk treatment it deserves. The album closes with a pair of slow songs reminding us that Avril Lavigne can do it all and remains one of the world’s most talented superstars.
#9. The Midnight Mass by Louise Burns
Louise Burns’ newest album reminds us of Siouxsie and the Banshees with some added synth textures. Most importantly, it effectively showcases her songwriting genius. “Emeralds Shatter” unseals the album with a cinematic, nighttime opening followed by twangy, Twin Peaks’ bass, jamboree percussion, and heightened vocal reverb. The sweeping, melodic “Ruby” follows. A driving beat opens “San Andreas” where matter-of-fact, ominous storytelling bursts into an irresistible, perfectly-constructed chorus. A rocking chair on a hot, dusty porch at a country home comes to mind with spaghetti western influenced “He’s My Woman”. “Jasper’s” determined beat breeds addiction, while “Heaven” glides gracefully, leading up to the slow burning glory of “The Lodger”.
#8. Oothèque by Oothèque
Francis Mineau, the drummer of JUNO winning progressive rock band Malajube, released this album under the moniker Oothèque. Through these colourful tracks, you will hear ever so subtly the sweeping synths of The Cure, the theatrical rock of Prism, the perky new wave guitars of the Go-Go’s, and even the alternative thrashes of The Smashing Pumpkins. Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau is on the prowl bouncing around playfully as the opening bass-carried tune would suggest. The jazzy laid-back electro ballad “Secrétaire” yields to a sparkling power burst in its chorus, and “Spiegelbild” tips its toque to post punk sensibilities and dials up the party hotline, “Ligne ouverte,” which takes us to the funky fun of “Lycanthrope”. Going downtown, things get harder, faster, and alas we discover the whole time, we have been strolling through the shimmering thoroughfares of Kuala Lumpur.
#7. Escapology by Maylee Todd
Maylee is from Toronto and released her debut LP in 2010, an experimental dabbling in a switchboard of styles. Fusing the organic with the electronic, kneading in elements of 70s boogie, funk, bossa nova, and soul, she has honed her craft and channelled a torrent of mastery into her sophomore record. While a number of artists have attempted to recreate both the style and essence of yesterday’s grooves, Maylee has not only nailed it, she has actually managed to improve upon it. An overlooked key indicator to an album’s genius is when reviewers each cite a different track as their favourite. And this is what has happened here. The irresistible “Baby’s Got It” and “Hieroglyphics” were released as singles. The songwriting, instrumentation, production, and singing are all first rate. Maylee Todd is the real deal, folks.
#6. Loved Me Back to Life by Céline Dion
Like all superstars who manage to continue their success, the most successful Canadian recording artist of all-time is able to keep up with the changing trends in musical style while never losing her foothold on the foundation of her persona. We are quite amazed at the quality of this work, the year’s best-selling album at quadruple platinum sales. The vocal excellence is a given (check out “Breakaway”) but here Celine pulls off a surprisingly masterful handling of genuine modern pop music while at the same time never losing sight of her AC roots, and she gives the R&B tracks a more classy treatment than what we are accustomed to these days. Simply put, Loved Me Back to Life is Celine’s finest album of the new millennium.
#5. Live Out Loud by Jonas & the Massive Attraction
As the album opens, it is as if a massive boulder was launched from a catapult knocking the moon out of orbit. “Ultimate Low” is such a power-packed jam, it’ll have every muscle in your body convulsing involuntarily with its soaring, sky scratching chorus. “Riot” makes effective use of back and forth vocals, not to mention its chugging guitars and menacing drums. “Cover Me” contains some killer keyboards hoisting us into the 5th dimension. You know those days when you sleep through your alarm and have five minutes to get ready for work? Put on “Breathing” and you’ll accomplish it in four. Power ballad “Good Life” will inject you with such elation, you’ll be dancing on a tightrope … in a pair of skates. “Too Young to Be Broken” has the group getting creative with fresh sounds and an addictive beat to boot. All in all, Live Out Loud is one of the best rock releases of 2013.
#4. The Hurry and the Harm by City and Colour
Melancholy, dreamy, melodic, vocals as soft as flannel, poetic lyrics bold enough to be felt-markered onto Bristol board, and music so inspired it would distract Gretzky in the middle of a breakaway is City and Colour’s 2013 gold-certified, chart-topping album. Teaming up again with producer Alex Newport, The Hurry and the Harm was recorded in Nashville, USA. Though you will be swept away by the warm, ambient music on this disc, if you pause to listen in on (or read) the lyrics you will find subjects of internet trolls and online gossip, a big thumbs down to the US State of California, and grief over leaving the band Alexisonfire.
#3. Schizophrène by Anik Jean
Anik Jean is without a doubt Canada’s Joan Jett. She simply rocks. The album opener rolls in like a cartwheel of demons and sets up a disc packed full of grinding guitars, exciting rock drumming, and piano pouncing. “Minable” places Anik’s voice atop an iron pedestal circumambulated by the echo of a yowling guitar. “À la vie, à la mort” is a larger-than-life rock anthem and “Liste noir” soars as if the band is playing atop a junkyard pile of rusted, wheel-deprived cars without a care in the world. The album’s lone English tune “Bad Bad Girl” is the hardest rock piece offered. “Tu es mon enfer” presents some of the spicy alternative rock of Placebo. Schizophrène ends with a ballad, capping off a great masterpiece, which stands dangerously close to being overlooked by a populace fixed on male-bonding rock bands and female dance-pop soloists.
#2. Forêt by Forêt
Classically trained vocalist Émilie Laforest and guitarist Joseph Marchand, formerly associates of Karkwa, Pierre Lapointe, and Ariane Moffatt, let loose one of the finest albums of 2013, a pop mélancolico-romantique Félix-nominated tour de force with contributions made by several high-profile musicians. Creative beauty, songwriting prowess, and masterful instrumentation abound on this masterpiece. Emilie’s delicate, haunting vocals blended with music of mystery and charm imbues listeners with magic power. We are transported into a dream in which omens soothe, allure warns, and everything is not what it appears. Plants dance, animals talk, and pebbles cast themselves into brooms sweeping away all tangled twigs and mud traps from the forest floor.
Canadian Music Blog’s 2013 Album of the Year
Certified gold by the end of the year, spawning three hit singles to date, one of which went platinum, this album was praised by both indie lovers and pop enthusiasts as well as fellow professional musicians including British band Keane. But this is not the reason we chose it as the year’s best album. We selected it simply because the music is oh, so very, very good. It was a slow and steady climb before this act, who grew up beneath the shadow of the Saddledome, reached the playing field of the elite, as this is their seventh studio album. Leaving behind the blackboard scratching squeaks of acoustic guitars as a folk duo, they wove expert songwriting into a masterpiece of smoothly produced, electronic pop with a subtle 80s alternative vibe. And there is a twist. They express the emotion, be it bubbly or swaggering, through the music rather than their vocals which are usually delivered with Vulcan cool, not to mention natural stereo sound given that they are … identical twin sisters. From start to finish the tracks on the disc are consistently infectious. The Canadian Music Blog declares Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara as 2013’s Album of the Year.
Our story begins in Cranbrook, a city of 20,000 in southeastern BC. With a highly effective hockey program, the city has churned out some notable NHL players, like Steve Yzerman. But like all Canadian cities, hockey was only half of the equation to sell out its arenas. Cranbrook was in need of a local rock band. While in high school, the Duo-Tang wielding Evin sisters with Louise Burns and Sierra Hills came to the rescue forming Tigerlily in 1997. This all-girl group displayed enough talent to be signed by Madonna’s Maverick Records, and they changed their name to Lillix. Not only did they enjoy success across the country, but internationally, most notably in Japan. In 2004, the band received a pair of JUNO nominations.
Here we are concerned with the band’s bass player, Louise Burns, who eventually went solo. In 2011, this incredibly talented singer-songwriter released her debut album, Mellow Drama, infused with fuzzy, tambourine-jingling, head-bobbing pop. With such delicious tracks like “Drop Names Not Bombs” and the beautiful, electro beat capped “Ocean Grey”, the album was long listed for the Polaris Prize. Louise’s captivating voice was compared to Stevie Nicks’ and Chrissie Hynde’s. While enjoying a solo career, Burns joined the new Vancouver-based electronic rock band Gold & Youth who released their dazzling debut album, Beyond Wilderness, earlier this year.
And now, Louise has dropped her sophomore solo album, The Midnight Mass. In her own words, on this work, she wanted to create music that was “coherent and cinematic and beautiful and dark” like the products of John Foxx, the British electronic rock pioneer she admires greatly. Burns’ new album reminds us of Siouxsie and the Banshees with some added synth textures. Most importantly, it effectively showcases her songwriting genius. The lead single, “Emeralds Shatter” was launched back in April. It unseals the album with its cinematic, nighttime opening followed by twangy, Twin Peaks bass, jamboree percussion, and heightened vocal reverb. The sweeping, melodic “Ruby” follows, the album’s new single. A driving beat opens “San Andreas” where matter-of-fact, ominous storytelling bursts into an irresistible, perfectly-constructed chorus. A rocking chair on a hot, dusty porch at a country home comes to mind with spaghetti western influenced “He’s My Woman”. “Jasper’s” determined beat breeds addiction, while “Heaven” glides gracefully, leading up to the slow burning glory of “The Lodger”. The album concludes with a dark wave cover of the Gun Club’s “Mother of Earth”.
The Midnight Mass was produced by Colin Stewart (Dan Mangan, A. C. Newman) and the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner. We’ll be burning the midnight oil listening to this gem for a long time.