Toronto Rock City
Toronto’s cityscape is defined by the CN Tower, which, at 553 metres, towers over the metropolis like a benevolent patriarch. The city sprawls out underneath the phallic tribute to the power of capitalism as far as the horizon. It is a youthful city, barely over 200 years in age. The native Iroquois and Wyandot people are long gone, displaced by French, British, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Russians and the Chinese. Seemingly randomly named districts such as Cabbagetown, Runnymede and Lambton make up the suburbs of the famously multicultural conurbation.
Toronto is a city with a storied past. It’s multitude of inhabitants have borne witness to the wonderful and bizarre. The city banned slavery outright in 1834 and acted as a haven for Irish immigrants in the wake of the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s. Their mayor, Rob Ford, was caught on camera smoking crack last year and is somehow still their mayor. The city has produced the author Margaret Atwood, actor Christopher Plummer and the hilarious Will Arnett. With teams in seven major league sports, it is a city that is renowned for its sporting achievement.
In spite of this mottled milieu, Toronto is hardly a place celebrated for its contribution to the annals of music. Sure, Rush sprouted from the Willowdale neighbourhood of Toronto in 1968, Neil Young was born there before leaving as a child and plying his trade in Winnipeg, while The Band developed their craft in the city in the 60s, but it’s been relatively slim pickings since then. That is until about fifteen years ago.
Since then a succession of critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and varied bands have burst out of the city as if they’ve opened an awesome music factory in some forgotten part of the industrial district of Toronto. There’s the indie rock focused Broken Social Scene whose 2002 effort You Forgot It In People was listed 27th in Pitchfork‘s Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 and won, in 2003, the Juno award for Best Alternative Album. There’s the baroque indie pop of Feist whose 2007 effort The Reminder was listed 3rd in Time‘s Top 10 Albums of 2007, 112th in Pitchfork‘s list of The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s and eventually sold over 700,000 copies in the United States. There’s the rock opera post-hardcore of Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life, which Spin listed as it’s best album of 2011 and Popmatters listed as it’s 3rd best album of 2011. That’s not even taking into account Peaches, the newly reunited Death From Above 1979, The Weeknd and METZ. While these awards are not a direct indication of the quality of a record, they are indicative of the burgeoning influence of Toronto bands on the music world at large over the last decade.
What follows is a list of bands that have come in the wake of these trailblazing Toronto based bands. They’re young and full of spunk. Listen to them now to avoid your friends getting to them first. There’s not really much criteria for the list. They have to be based in Toronto and by “new” we mean no more than one released album (although I am highly unlikely to stick to even these minimal criteria). If we’ve forgotten any awesome bands let us know in the comments.
This quartet of childhood friends play a highly infectious propulsive brand of punk rock. There’s a touch of At The Drive-In in their unrelenting use of anthemic group vocals, but these guys are a lot more fun than the El Paso legends. Their humble claim that they are, “4 dudes who play punk rock. That’s all,” belies the ambitions of their self-titled debut album, released via SideOneDummy Records, which deftly and effortlessly explores indie, classic rock and punk. Aptly, the moniker PUP is an acronym for Pathetic Use of Potential, and their lyrics largely deal with the lethargy and desire to escape that are synonymous with the dichotomies of youth.
ALVVAYS have been turning heads and catching ears with their brand of summery, sugary, shimmering indie pop since forming, presumably in a lost crate of C86 tapes, in 2012. Molly Rankin’s talent for penning offbeat, romantic lyrics is showcased perfectly on “Archie, Marry Me”, their first single. The song is imbued with a lackadaisical confidence that is as engaging and is it enchanting. Their self-titled debut album will drop on 22nd July via Polyvinyl and has the potential to be an ideal soundtrack for a summer of cider and beer gardens.
8. Ark Analog
What is it about jittery synthpop that sets my heart aflutter? Chvrches, M83 and The Naked And Famous have all hooked me with their delectable way with a melody. Now, here’s Ark Analog, Toronto’s answer to the synthpop revival. While they are more subtle, fragile, and subdued than their forebears, their music is still slinky and seductive. Crafted more for bedrooms than the charts, they released their debut EP Dirty Power in January and you can acquire it here. For free no less!
“Chick Singer” is a perfect example of Greys’ strengths. It’s catchy but abrasive and contains the breed of intelligent, socially conscious lyrics sorely missed from much aggressive rock music in recent years. In the song, singer Shehzaad Jiwani sardonically adopts the persona of a macho pigheaded concert goer watching a band with a female singer. His lampooning of hypermasculine rhetoric brings to attention the kind of every day sexism that we, as a society, accept unquestioningly. Their debut album If Anything was released on 17th June via Carpark Records and it rocks. Buy it now. Edit: “Chick Singer” has been taken down from Soundcloud, so watch “Use Your Delusion” instead.
How do you feel about idiosyncratic bands? Here at Overblown, we love them. Weaves are all over the place like a drunken sailor on his meandering inebriated journey from brothel to cathouse to brothel. Jasmyn Burke’s oddly endearing alto surfs over the top of Weaves at times cacophonous meld of, seemingly at odds, musical styles with grace. In a sensible world, this bizarre combination would fall flat on it’s face, but Weaves don’t live in our world. Strange isn’t the word. There’s no news yet on their debut album, but they claim to be constantly recording. In the meantime, enjoy their latest offering “Buttercup” from their self-titled debut EP released through Buzz Records, and rejoice.
5. Bile Sister
Electro Pop Scuzz. That’s how Healing Power Records describe their charges, Bile Sister. We’re not really too sure what that is, but it sounds good to us. Their debut album Faucet was released on February 8th and is as odd and is it is catchy. It is at times intense and is constantly taut. The recording is suitably lo fi and fuzzy, belying the care with which the songs are constructed. Opening track “Ponds” kicks their album off in apt fashion. The sluggish track crawls through minimal beats and church organ-esque synths. It’s more hymn than pop song.
Beliefs obviously adore My Bloody Valentine. They also love pop melodies. The result? Dense, shoegaze pop. If they were a sweet if would be fudge. Sugary and chewy. Josh Korody met Jesse Crowe at a birthday party and bonded over their mutual love for The Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. The result of this unholy bond is their self titled debut album which was released just over a year ago via No Pain in Pop. Stream the first single from the album below.
3. The Beverleys
Buzz Records, the label on which The Beverleys make their home, have stated that The Beverleys began creating music “on a whim”. To be fair, it sounds like everything they do is on a whim. Their music is suitably lo fi and rough around the edges. They released their debut EP in January. Their sound is grungy and loose, reminiscent of a more playful version of Hole. “Bad Company” barrels along with an easy but infectious melody while the drums and guitar battle it out to sounds as skillfully sloppy as possible. Good times.
2. Fresh Snow
These characters are nothing if not ambitious. The instrumental quartet create an indie influenced variation on post rock. There are no stately drums and pondering breakdowns on show here. The tempo is rather upbeat and rocking for a genre that is usually more interested in slowing the momentum to a crawl in the effort to create tension. Fresh Snow are plenty tense without having to resort to this worn tactic. Their debut album I was released a year ago and it is a breath of fresh air in a relatively uninspired time for post rock.
This list has probably been unfairly biased in favourite of guitar based bands. Let’s challenge that bias. Digits ala Alt Altman is an independent musician who crafts mournful electronica. He has been praised for his unusual business model. Like Bomb The Music Industry!, he gives all his music away for free. Yes, you heard me correctly, absolutely free. He is also ridiculously productive and prolific. Since 2009, he has released 8 EPs and LPs (damn, nearly made it to the end of the article without ditching the criteria!) to much critical acclaim. Nothing like a bit of seductive, low key electropop.