2014: Another year where local music impressed the pants off of us
Congratulations Saskatoon, you just had another stellar year for locally-released music.
But before we dive right into this list, we’d like to add a disclaimer of sorts.
There is far, far more great music than what we have listed here. True shit. Even we can’t keep track of it all, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Every year there are tonnes of great musicians who pour their collective hearts out into recordings that are all worthy of a listen.
So thank you, all of you.
Also worth noting: While we would have loved to included more of everything that came out locally this year you have to draw the line somewhere. But if you think we forgot something, please let us know eh?
See you next year, yes?
Without further ado, may we present Ominocity’s Top Local Albums of 2014!
Economics – The Wastes
Dean Summach, also known as local instrumentalist economics, has been quietly making music in his basement since the early 2000s. From choppy yet eloquent 4-track recordings to opulent multi-layered accomplishments, Summach’s proficiency for his craft has grown with him. On his second full-length album The Wastes, Summach is still wound in luxurious layers of simple sounds, but this album incorporates much more electronic and poppy noise than his first LP. While his earlier recordings were really, this effort is a blend of new synth toys and those subtle, earthy details that makes his music so interesting to listen to. Simply put, The Wastes is a dance record that starts with a beat and launches into heady adventure that ends in a rewarding, and highly unexpected, ways.
The Ultimate Power Duo has always had a strong sound that’s been rooted in power pop riffs and punk rock playfulness. That said, Space Joe: Ad Astra is the band’s masterpiece. A 22-track concept album that follows a continuative story line, the songwriting is more compelling – and hugely ambitious – than their past material. The riffs are anchored by pulp science fiction verses and pummelling rhythms, but the group never loses their keen sense of harmony. The album is complemented by a graphic novel, which similarly is a sprawling, and rewarding, effort.
Shooting Guns – WolfCop soundtrack
WolfCop is a furry Canadian horror film about a lycanthropic police officer. But despite the medium, the soundtrack provided by sludge-instrumentalists Shooting Guns still sounds more like a proper album than a loose collection of songs. Riff-heavy guitar lines and creeped-out drones abound amidst the occasional spaghetti-western foray – and it all holds up to everything else that the group have put on disc to date.
It’s been just over a year since the release of Close Talker’s debut eight-song LP, Timbers, but already the Saskatoon quartet has accumulated sizeable buzz around their live show. And on Flux, their second full-length and what will be their first studio offering to a larger audience, the group doesn’t disappoint. On the first track, “Heads” – the closest thing the group has written to a radio-pop anthem to date – layers of guitar follow a quiet-loud formula without ever feeling formulaic, while the vocals mould a sing-a-long. Elsewhere, the guitar-work occasionally forays into something resembling a lead line. A large part of their songwriting charm is the combination of warm melodies and muscular rhythms that never stoop to posturing (no pun intended). This holds true even at the zenith of the album, “The Silence I”, when the band bangs out a truckload of noise accompanied by a string section.
On what may be their last full-length album, The Seahags have finally captured the rambling energy of their live show on disc. The instrumentation has traveled in leaps and bounds from their previous release, Gospel, and on Tarnished Gold the group manages to find that comfortable groove between dance floor revelry and church pew stomp, while the vocals pack the loveliness – and the punch – of a fine amber whiskey.
House of Burners – various
A local compilation album featuring several Saskatoon groups – Powder Blue, Switching Yards, Lavagoat – along with bands from across Canada, including The Pack A.D., Mahogany Frog and more. The House of Burners opens with Powder Blue’s excellent dream-pop track “Go On Forever”, before launching into Public Animal’s “One Way Ticket”. It’s a bit of a jump transition-wise, but despite the Blurton-isms – the driver seat sledgehammer guitar riffs – the two groups manage to find common ground in their dueling vocals and droning organ lines. Another stand-out track comes from The Switching Yard, another Saskatoon group that seemed to gain some momentum after putting together a unique sound within a small scene and pairing it with a roaring and trippy live performance. “Tanya” is appropriately noisy but keeps a consistent groove throughout.
Little Criminals – Inclement Weather
The album, which band member Amanda Bestvater says was named after a line in one of the songs that was written during a particularly gloriously snowy April last year, was recorded by Cody Pauls of the Wizards at Christ Church Anglican and mastered by Jonathon Anderson. Featuring six originals and a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover, the album also includes musical guests such as Melissa Gan from Wolfen Rabbits and Maxwell Raeburn-Warner from Pandas in Japan. On lead single “You Smell Like Lies”, Bestvater and Taylor Long-Read combine their formidable individual talents to produce an eclectic mix of forest folk and psychedelic balladry. Oddly alluring with a penchant for playful vocal harmonies and spritely arrangements, the song is whimsical, even theatrical, yet is concise enough to never completely lose its way.
The Pistolwhips – On Your Side
Flawlessly executed, On Your Side is a strong effort from The Pistolwhips, a group that seemingly has an endless supply of searing guitar solos and gruff, radio-ready vocals. Within the span of 10 tracks, the band runs through a myriad of styles while retaining a signature sound that never grows thin.
Haunting and foreboding, there is a certainly loveliness to Gunner and Smith’s He Once Was a Good Man. Found in both the execution and the delivery, the resounding vocals weave lingering trails of mournfulness within folk rock that seemingly has endless patience and talent to match.
If there was ever a patron saint of fucked up Saskatoon noise rock, the distinction would most certainly lie within the twisted neurons of Chris Laramee, guitarist of Shooting Guns and mastermind of Wasted Cathedral. On Pleasant Valley, Laramee spends much of his time mucking with ethereal melodies and raking them over static and space blips along with forays into weirdo territories.
New Jacobin Club – Soldiers of the Mark
On their most recent full-length, The New Jacobin Club – likely Saskatoon’s longest-running punk bands – are adopting a more complex style of songwriting, adding layers of instrumentation overtop of razor sharp goth-ridden guitar riffs, along with an increasingly diverse array of voices. The songs still sound anthemic and evil, along with some perfectly placed theremin “leads”, which is likely not something you hear every day.
Phalec Baldwin come from a world where pellucid soundscapes crash nonchalantly into dance sways and awkward singalong choruses. On “Burnout Goldmine” the group combines morbid psyche riffs with shimmery pop drones, and surrounds it all with a dystopic sense of foreboding.
Sparky – #Humanimation
It’s been eight years since the band released their last album, 2006’s Brutish Pina. But during that time Sparky has significantly tightened their already razor-sharp sound. On “Neat Mission” the band alternates between enigmatic and crushing, adding textured layers of vocals and machine gun drum rolls along with a persistent, driving guitar line. But while Sparky has always managed to straddle the line between chaotic complexity and melodic grooviness, #Humanimation – which was recorded at Suntemple Studios and engineered at Toneshift Audio – sees the band relentlessly burrowing into new sounds. Also, this album is a contender for album artwork of the year!
Once upon a time two bands came up with some songs and put them on a record together. The songs were pretty good, and sort of complimentary to each other without being outwardly, or overly, similar. Lots of weirdness ensued and basement shows were played and everyone mostly had a good time and no one lost a limb or a tooth or anything like that.
Pandas in Japan – Suburban Desert – Inner City Oasis
Suburban Desert – Inner City Oasis treads across mucky prairies surf-pop realms. The vocals are often disorienting, propelling the trio into party-punk territory. On the lead single “BLK 59” Pandas in Japan conjure a dense collage of skronk and teeth-gritting noise. But underlying throughout is a keen sense of pop, which is anchored by carbonated rhythms and that ubiquitous guitar hook that you can’t help but hum along to.
Castaway – Space To Run
Castaway’s most recent EP comes after a line-up shift, which saw them gaining two new members last fall. It’s also resulted in a progression from the old material. On Space to Run, the band takes sludged-out guitar riffs and stack them up amidst pummelling rhythms and hoarse vocals. While the majority of the songs never stray far from the mid-tempo mark there’s a good sense of energy and earnestness throughout. This is especially evidenced on the EP’s closing song “Tatler North”, which begins with a clean guitar tone and vocals that eventually explodes into layers of fuzz and howls. Aggressive without being menacing, on Space to Run Castaway manage to write upbeat punk rock anthems that are raw without sacrificing the melody.
The Basement Paintings – Time Lapse City
The Basement Paintings, a Saskatoon instrumental group that combines prog, metal and ambient textures, have brought in some big names with their latest EP, Time Lapse City. Turning to Aaron Harris – the drummer for the now-defunct California-based post-metal band ISIS – to provide album mixes, the four-piece lay down increasingly complex riffs that showcase the band’s endless well of songwriting virtuosity and formidable sense of dynamics. Very much looking forward to hearing what they come up with next.
Black Hell Oil – Smoke You Up
Snarling like a cantankerous pick-up truck that spent a little too much time in the slough, Black Hell Oil’s Smoke You Up is similarly full of rumble and drive. Balancing plenty of low end thud with beer-breath howls, this EP is the perfect soundtrack for a rip around the wrong side of the tracks.
Paranoid Castle – Welcome to Success
On Welcome to Success, the Saskatoon/Detroit duo’s third album since they first began writing together 13 years ago, Paranoid Castle still brings the party. From the opening ominous beats, in-between harsh rhymes and the smooth crooned choruses and vocal hooks, Kirby Dominant sounds as on point as ever. But this time around the party is tempered with a little more restraint.
“Yes I’m hungover, my liver don’t fight the same, so I feel the pain, I guess I’m getting older,” raps Dominant on “I Know I Know”. Me too, man.
Stasis, the debut release of ambient-folk project Living Room, is a journey from introduction to conclusion. Listening to the whole album is like tapping into the imaginative process of songwriter Alex Stooshinoff, if only for six tracks. Lithe guitar lines echo throughout slight soundscapes and sparse percussion while the vocals excavate the melody amidst the electronic flourishes.
Not meant to be last or least or whatever – Me The Guts, a melodic hardcore-punk band, delve into the sounds of yesteryear without sounding contrived. Ripping seamlessly through seven tracks of hard-hitting pit rock, this group is reminiscent of everything I loved about skate-punk, minus the sprained ankles and jam-thumbs. Now, if only they had uploaded some album artwork…