When music critics based in California, or even Vancouver, review the work of a Calgary musician, it usually comes with an assertion that “the cold, stark nights of [insert artist’s name] hometown have bled into each song.” Granted, seasonal weather changes can catalyze insular pieces of artistic achievement, but the process isn’t unique to Calgary (Yellowknife is a far better candidate for this type of cabin-fever-musician-phenomena). Either way, 2011 unveiled some more terrific albums recorded in Calgary studios, basements and apartments, and showed once again that our city is a quirky haven to a bevy of highly evolved talent. Here, five albums in five different genres to prove the point and the passion.
Chad VanGaalen, Diaper Island
Since 2004’s Infiniheart, VanGaalen has gained considerable acclaim for his lo-fi experimental production style, and while his albums have been lauded for their basement cool, they’re usually also criticized for a lack of cohesion. Diaper Island strips some of the tonal bark off this songwriter’s usual over-dubbed indie-rock to reveal many incredible moments and nuances; as the title suggests; VanGaalen paints a more complete self-portrait than ever before by sonically exploring much darker, uglier territory.
Recommended track: “Peace on the Rise”
BRAIDS, Native Speaker
This debut from Calgary-bred-Montreal-based Braids serves a delicious bowl of electronic punch, spiked with absinthe. Swirling, savage dreamscapes are created through layered synth-driven compositions (that play as long as eight minutes) and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s euphoric vocals perfectly channel the romantic, sexual undertones to many of Native Speaker’s lyrics.
Recommended track: “Lemonade”
>>Montreal wants some well-deserved BRAIDS credit: click here for an eastern take.
Dragon Fli Empire, Time and Space Tour Mixtape
As a way to raise cash and play shows in support of their recently announced European tour, Dragon Fli Empire’s Teekay and DJ Cosm released the Time and Space Tour Mixtape. The 17-track collection covers seven years of DFE’s career (2004 to present) and features some classic collaborations; Moka Only, Josh Martinez, Masta Ace and Cadence Weapon all make appearances. As Calgary’s hip-hop scene walks toward the world stage, hearing the near-decade of dues paid on Time and Space reminds us that DFE is a big part of what helped get it there.
Recommended track: “2-Man Team”
Samantha Savage Smith, Tough Cookie
Tough Cookie may be Samantha Savage Smith’s first album but the bluesy grit pulsing through opening track “Devilman” will convince any listener they’re hearing the work of a true vet. Producer Lorrie Matheson allows Smith’s incredible voice to serve as the foundation for each track and Tough Cookie uses simple guitar, organ and piano pieces to build inspiring songs about love, loss, and youth. Like Feist’s Monarch, Tough Cookie is a coming-out party for one of Canada’s next big musical forces, and Smith’s hauntingly divine voice is sure to keep us rapt for what’s next.
Recommended track: “What I’ve Tasted”
Chron Goblin, One Million from the Top
A fun mixture of thrash metal and punk, Calgary’s Chron Goblin worked hard (for ten days) this past June to create the soundtrack for your next kegger: One Million from the Top. The rowdy, in-your-face rockers captured the energy of their vibrant stage shows on this sophomore effort and the band seems poised for a long career of shredding tasty licks in beer-soaked mosh pits around the world.
Recommend track: “Bring Your Idols”
Image courtesy of philipe_marcell.