25 Reasons Why Saskatoon’s Music Scene Kicked Ass in 2013

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2013: Another year where local music impressed the pants off of us

Congratulations Saskatoon, you just had another stellar year for locally-released music.

I know we say that every year but it especially rings true in 2013.

Far more bands are working at it harder than ever before. In fact, I would dare conjecture that Saskatchewan has lost it’s obsession with being the underdog. Bands like The Deep Dark Woods and Regina’s Rah Rah are constantly touring, while working artists like Zachary Lucky actually spend more time on the road than at home.

It was especially gratifying to attend festivals across North America this year and to be constantly running into friends from back home, whether it was playing a packed show at Broken City in Calgary with The Young Benjamins or partying in New York with Castle River. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – Saskatoon’s Reignwolf playing in front of a massive crowd at Lollapalooza? Geez!

And while our local studios are producing more great records – many of the albums on this list were recorded right here in town – it seems as though more local bands are branching outside the province as well, working with labels, distributors, producers, illustrators, etc.

It’s a great momentum: We can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

Without further ado, may we present Ominocity’s Top Local Albums of 2013!

shooting guns brotherhood of the ram

Shooting Guns – Brotherhood of the Ram

One of the coolest things I saw all year: A lineup forming across Amigos as fans clambered to purchase a copy of Shooting Guns’ second album Brotherhood of the Ram on vinyl. Yeah, it’s good. The guitars are as guttural and doomy as ever, but the instrumental flourishes are almost melodic at times, with the band embracing psych and Krautrock influences. Brotherhood of the Ram is the slow boat into the apocalypse.

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Factor – Woke Up Alone

On his ninth solo full-length, Saskatoon’s Factor — a.k.a. Graham Murawsky — has crafted a musically complex hip-hop album that blatantly obsesses over love, loss and death without giving in to moroseness or heavy-handedness. And damn, the boy looks good in a black suit and tie. The album is “a necromantic play told in five scenes,” and it’s laid out in a guest appearance by Oakland rapper Kirby Dominant in “The Empire Has Fallen”. “It’s called necromancy/when you bring the dead back to the zone of living, actually,” raps a smooth-tongued Dominant, who also appears on two other tracks. Death is rarely so catchy.

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Weak Ends – Eyes of the World

Eyes of the World is 15 tracks of stripped down, no-frills hardcore that barrels and grinds with the tenacity of a teenage buffalo. With the majority of the songs hovering around the one-minute mark, Weak Ends take gnar punk riffs and combine them with the howls of a gentleman getting his toenails ripped out – thankfully this isn’t literally the case.

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Foggy Notions – Sussed

On Sussed, the Foggy Notions begin with a jubilant synth buildup before exploding into wall-of-noise guitar pedal heroics and fuzzed-out pop, a sound that makes up the majority of the album. Bending shimmery choruses into a sway of mid-tempo pop, Sussed is a highly satisfying exploration of melody, off-kilter harmony and dissonance.

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The Deep Dark Woods – Jubilee

While their live shows tend to border on ramshackle genius, I’ve never been a rabid fan of the recorded output of The Deep Dark Woods. Heresy? Maybe. And yes, “All The Money I Had Is Gone” from 2009’s Winter Hours is impossibly catchy, but they were always a band I’d prefer to watch on stage. The Woods’ latest album Jubilee is the exception. Opening with the decidedly psychedelic “Miles and Miles”, Jubilee is a collection of sessions that were largely recorded live off the floor that shine both live and on disc.

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The Moas – self-titled

The Moas’ self-titled album, which was released on cassette earlier this summer, is a whirlwind of muscular guitars alongside earthy synths and breathy vocals. Piling layers of shoegaze drone upon spritely melodies, the Saskatoon five-piece have the uncanny ability to make haunting, trance-like pop songs that are similarly driving and anthemic.

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Powder Blue – Dream In Black

Powder Blue is a dreamy, washed-out psych rock band that plod along with plenty of warm harmonies. And on their debut album Dream in Black, the group takes moody rhythms and layers them with drone-like atmospheres and guitar lines that provide lithe-yet-powerful hooks.

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Wizards – Loser Surf Death

Loser Surf Death opens with some total surf-y ‘verbed-out guitar washes amidst sludge thumps before completely taking a stylistic left turn towards sun-baked psych rock. The vocals are appropriately understated with retro guitar noodling taking over the reins on this fantastic voyage. I’ve always wondered how the prairies could produce such authentic sounding surf-rock. The Wizards totally nail it.

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Close Talker – Timbers

Timbers is a roadmap that doesn’t shy away from the peaks and valleys of mature songwriting. There are moments when the tension is kept taut with slow builds and low simmers of guitar pedals among the one-off detours that keep things interesting. But the album’s best moments are typically when the band locks in together for the crescendoing chorus lines and backing vocals. The album opens with feedback squalls and drones before veering into strummy guitar lines that are bolstered by some beautifully toned bass muscles.

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Autopilot – Diamond Rough

Autopilot’s years of live chemistry have come together on their latest full-length album Diamond Rough. In the space where power pop meet shoegaze-y guitar layers, the band has crafted an album that is impossibly hook-laden while maintaining a dark atmosphere. Dream-like vocals dance lightly overtop of pummeling rhythms while layers of noise and delay trail off intermittently.

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We Were Lovers – Pyramids

Comprised of core members Elsa Gebremichael and Ashley Lamothe, We Were Lovers sass and shimmy their way through startling loud beats, soulful yelps and slinky guitar lines. And by utilizing the ultimate tool in dance music – the remix – We Were Lovers seamlessly mash-up indie pop dance cool with post-prairies beats-driven dissonance and a badass pair of cheap sunglasses.

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Young Benjamins – Less Argue

Less Argue begins with “The Colonial Pt. 1 (You’re Only Twenty)”, a song fronted by multi-instrumentalist Vaero Poulin. It’s a bit of an off-kilter start – the sounds are fairly spacey and sparse. But it might be best to think of it as a bookend; the majority of Less Argue, led by front man Neusha Mofazzali, carry a much more robust flavour of indie, folk and traditional sounding instrumentation. The four-piece meander through 11 tracks of typically upbeat pop anthems. Violin interludes wind themselves throughout driving percussion. But the band’s strengths lie in the vocals; tracks like “Common Thief” employ catchy choruses amidst eccentric-yet-danceable harmonies.

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Zachary Lucky – The Ballad of Losing You

While the songs of his latest full-length album are in the same vein as his previous work – The Ballad of Losing You is filled with prairies folk songs that resonate with romance – Zachary Lucky’s musical gift is his ability to sound timeless and classic. Despite his relatively young age, Lucky still has decades ahead to perfect his craft despite sounding like he is already hitting a respectable stride.

Untimely Demise systematic eradication

Untimely Demise – Systematic Eradication

Saskatoon has long served as a base for devoted metal musicians, but few are more dedicated to the cause than Untimely Demise. Formed in 1999 as a punk band, the group slowly began developing their metal roots before evolving completely into a complex thrash unit. And on Systematic Eradication, the band swaps between guttural evil growls and the occasional clean break with the rest of the album following suit. There are plenty of melodic guitar breaks amidst a furious bludgeoning of drums and bass. The album also features the band’s most mature songwriting yet, but Systematic Eradication is still a full-throttle headbanging classic that swings between thrash and death metal.

Haunted Souls cover

Haunted Souls – self-titled

Making their debut on The Bloodstains Across the Prairies 7” vinyl compilation, Haunted Souls continue their path of destructo-garage pop snot on their debut self-titled cassette album. Skittling over bratty, rapid-fire rhythms, the band sounds like a furious-yet-fey guitar-graffiti love note that was written simply to raise the ire of the neighbours.

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soso – Not for Nothing

On his fifth full-length album, Not For Nothing, artist and musician soso aka Troy Gronsdahl delivers a complex series of vignettes and essay snippets overtop of a haunting, self-composed soundtrack. It’s heavy stuff, for sure, but consider it good for the soul. Produced by long-time producer Maki, Gronsdahl has always made connections with hip-hop in his compositions, the songs on Not For Nothing are far more unique to be pigeonholed as rap – soso is equal parts MC and spoken word trapeze artist.

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More Saskatoon albums that we were digging in 2013

We first caught wind of The Basement Paintings through Kindersley’s excellent Grilledcheeseapolooza Festival. Earlier this year they released their debut self-titled album, which combines prog, metal and ambient textures. Despite adding several unorthodox instrumental flourishes, the album is very much centered around complex guitar riffs and leads, allowing the rhythm section to fill in the gaps. On the track “Sharp & Dull”, spacey noises permeate throughout grinding bass riffs while never losing a sense of groove.

Kay the Aquanaut, along with producer and cohort Factor, dropped the excellent album Letters From Laika. Featuring a dizzying array of musicianship that builds and releases tension without distracting from Kay’s cadence and spitfire rhymes, the album also did something previously unseen in Saskatoon – Letters From Laika is a download-only affair, albeit with an accompanying book of lyrics. Smart.

While there has been plenty of buzz leading up to this, Friends of Foes are releasing their debut album Chronophobic on Dec. 26. Featuring plenty of chill, delay-heavy guitar lines and melodic vocals, the band’s songwriting often meanders into uniquely complex structures and arrangements.

Thanks to Ominocity contributor Craig Silliphant, we recently showcased Caves, whose album Idle Worship recalls a loose Crazy Horse or Guided by Voices aura, with upbeat shuffles like ‘Fuck Food’ (now with 33% more cowbell!) and downbeat slacker dirges like ‘World’s Biggest Breakfast,’ all delivered with off the cuff, deadpan vocals.

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Saskatoon-released EPs that caught our ears in 2013

Rehashed a punk/thrash group, released a killer split 7” along with Calgary’s Wake. Similarly, I heard a rumour that Rehashed could be putting out a full-length LP in the new year. Hope that’s true.

Jeans Boots similarly delivered a great EP titled Z0RG C1TY, which coincided with the release of a split 7″ with London, Ontario band So Young entitled “Summer Hits”. Both releases are vaguely abrasive amidst some serious simmering pop melodies. It’s like a sunny kiss that is part love and part blemish.

Six Moons Later, a Saskatoon grunge-y folk band, dropped their debut 7” EP, which fused folk leanings with alterna-guitar power pop. While the first song is powered by sultry vocals and laid-back beach jams, the B-side is a surprisingly fresh fusion of sweet melodies and gritty, wistful pop crunch.

The Browntones, an alt-country group led by Craig Silliphant and Jody Cason, dropped their EP Brass Knuckles. Following in the footsteps of their previous release Grit and Glory, the duo once again explore – and maybe even completely disregard – several different genres of music. Lead track “Beer Hall Punch Up” is an infectiously fuzzy bit of garage rock muscle with a tagalong boozy-stewed horn section.

HairDu Records has also been presenting a ton of material from local artists like 911 Turbo, Bitchface, and the debut 7” from Ravewind – a single which accompanies the hilarious and kind-of-amazing video for the song “Feels So Good”.

And finally, we really dug the collaboration between Charly Hustle and Chapter Thrive, who dropped their five-track EP entitled The Super Professionals. Released on local beats ‘n’ rap concern Phonographique, the duo blast through a combination of smooth beats, samples and plenty of clever rhymes, along with some truly excellent cover artwork – Hustle and Thrive look both dangerous and dainty as they party rock their way through a bottle of Jack Daniels.

PS – Yeah, yeah, it was actually 26 reasons (mostly because I keep thinking of more local music – and there were probably even more reasons than that!). But what an awkward number!