Reasons to Pay Attention to Canada Besides the Olymipcs

Most of the time, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what our northern neighbor is up to…. until the Olympics, that is. Suddenly I’m seeing more advertisements for whale-watching in the Canadian outback than commercials featuring creepily mature babies talking about their stock options. And for me, that’s a problem. That, and getting whooped by both the British and the Canadians in curling. (Full disclosure: I’m watching curling right now, and the match is not going so well.)

The point I’m trying to slowly meandering towards is that Canada has great music, and the Canadian music scene is something definitely worth paying attention to.

The Band, on a beach near Robertson's house in Malibu in 1975

There are the big names in Canadian music. Perhaps the biggest being The Band, from Toronto, which was four-fifths Canadian, with legends Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson (fun fact: Roberstson just masterminded the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island). The one non-Canadian in the band was “the only drummer that could make you cry” – America’s own Levon Helm.

Also from Toronto was a band I talked about last week, the prog rock gods, Rush. Their last album, Snakes and Arrows, came out in 2007 but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. The Sports Network (TSN), Canada’s ESPN, was looking for a way to add some pizazz to their outdated “The Hockey Theme”, originally composed in 1968. The solution? The theme, which plays before all NHL games on the network, would be re-recorded by Mr. Peart which means many, many drum fills. Oh, so many drum fills. Check it out:

The new theme is set to play for the rest of the season, and hopefully will last longer than a previous tongue in cheek version recorded by the Barenaked Ladies, who also happen to be from Toronto.

Back to music that is actually written by the artists themselves: From Midland, Ontario comes one of my favorite bands, The Born Ruffians. Formed by Luke Lalonde, Mitch Derosier and Steven Hamelin, the band makes some great music that is sparse and erratic yet wonderfully rich. Take a listen to this song, and be warned that it gets a little gory towards the end:

Luke’s unique voice is what sets the band apart from other small-time indie bands, and in terms of classic vocalists he can doo wop with the best of them. In preparation for the release of their upcoming album, Say It, the band will be playing in March at the SXSW music festival but they’ll be stopping by New York before then for two private shows, one at Colgate University and the other at NYU, for the lucky students who attend those schools.

We head back to Montreal for the so-called “trip rock” band, Beast, consisting of just two members: Betty Bonifassi, and Jean-Phi Goncalves. They’ve been growing in popularity because in addition to their main single “Mr. Hurricane” being a free download on iTunes, it was nominated at the Grammys for Best Short Form Video. Despite Bonifassi’s annoying tendency to add unnecessary syllables to words (“me-a”, “safety-a”, “sea-a” etc.), the song’s really fun to listen to thanks to a fantastic drum and bass section and some spiffy production courtesy of Goncalves. And the video has some pretty cool special effects, done at a discount by Joshua Sherrett who worked on 300. But the song is the best part, and if you don’t like bees, don’t watch this:

But no Canadian group has been so prominent in recent years as The Arcade Fire, indie-rock superstars. Husband and wife duo Win Bulter and Régine Chassange have led the band to incredible fame. They have been all over the place: possibly working with Owen Pallett (the indie-violinist who formerly released solo works under the name Final Fantasy) on the soundtrack for Richard Kelley’s (who directed Donnie Darko) upcoming film The Box (incidentally, The Box is also a Canadian new-wave band from the eighties); re-recording their song “Wake Up” for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer; and licensing that same song for this past Superbowl – all the while coming in and out of the studios so they can release their third LP sometime later this year. Wow that was a mouthful.

Some of the members of The Arcade Fire, with Butler and Chassange and their duplicates in the center

For the ardent Arcade Fire fans, here’s something at least I hadn’t heard about until this week: Three other members of The Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld, Kelly Pratt and Pietro Amato, play in the six person instrumental band Bell Orchestre. Here’s a sample of what their hauntingly beautiful music sounds like:

I’ll come back to Bell Orchestre and Owen Pallett  as well as the progressive bluegrass band, Nickel Creek, and others next Monday as I take a look at some bands that have been pushing the boundaries of rock and roll.

Well, we lost our match against Britain, effectively dashing our (my – and his) hopes at a curling medal. Canada is 6-0 at the time of this post… I guess they know what the sport is all aboot.

Shoot. I promised myself that I would contain my Canadian accent… but no one’s gonna take it to heart, eh? OKAY, I’ll stop. As long as Canada keeps turning out great tunes, I’ll leave them alone. I can take solace in good music. That, and the fact that we beat them in hockey. USA!

Happy listening,

~Josh

[If I missed your favorite Canadian band, please feel free to let me and the rest of the readers know by leaving a comment down below!]

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PEAK KEYWORD: JINGOISM

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3 Comments

Filed under Music

3 responses to “Reasons to Pay Attention to Canada Besides the Olymipcs

  1. OMG – so many not there; where to start????

    The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Prairie Oyster, Great Big Sea, African Guitar Summit, Daniel Lanois, The Be Good Tanyas, Bif Naked, Downchild Blues Band, Elliott Brood, Jacksoul, Moxy Fruvous, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, The Guess Who, Lenny Gallant, Spirit of the West, Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Shuffle Demond, Patrick Watson, Jann Arden …on and on and on

    And don’t get me going on singer/songwriters, jazz groups, Celtic groups and world music!

    I’ve also tried to stay away from those 70’s groups!

    But thanks for having The Box in your tag list. Great group I haven’t heard for ages. Gotta dig out those old tapes of theirs!

    Whew, what a flood of musical memories.

    • Wow, Gwen thanks for that great list! I was just hitting some of the main ones we play on The Peak, but If we’re putting together a comprehensive list, I would hate to leave out some great new bands, like Shout Out Out Out Out, Sunset Rubdown, Torngat (who have a member in Bell Orchestre as well), Land of Talk, Rural Alberta Advantage, Chocolat (a great francophone band from Montreal), The Duhks, The Japandroids, and some older bands like The Inbreds and Godspeed You Black Emperor – just to name a few. In terms of jazz, I just heard this great artist Harris Eisenstadt (who appropriately, named his album “Canada Day”. Also, my friend who’s sitting next to me is begging me not to leave out Nickelback.

      But I’m going to look into those bands right after this. Here’s a supremely comprehensive list, courtesy of Wikipedia.

      Anyway thanks for reading, and check back next week for some cross-genre goodness!

      ~Josh

  2. Canada? I was a little worried but.. Wow! “Beast,” who knew? Thanks for teaching an old dog a new trick Josh – Terry

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