Back at the end of 2017, I counted down my favourite albums of the year in a weekly series that culminated with me posting words about my #1 favourite album on the final Friday of the year. In the initial post for that series, I hinted that I might continue to intersperse my favourite tune posts with a few more of these ‘best album’ series over the course of this year. I figured that the first day of February was as good a day as any to start off the first of what I hope will become many such series.
For starters, I’ve travelled back a decade to 2007, a pretty incredible year for indie rock, particular for those bands hailing from Canada. I’d been pretty proud of the music coming out of my home country for the previous couple of years already. My favourite magazine in those days, Under the Radar, had done a special issue focusing on Canadian indie rock in 2005. The Polaris Prize, the Canadian equivalent to Britain’s Mercury Prize, was established in 2006, the inaugural prize won by Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy). And pretty much every Canadian indie band, whether from Montreal, Toronto, or the Vancouver area, was exploding on the scene. So you shouldn’t be too surprised to see that this list will feature a sampling of these talented Canadians.
To sum up, starting from today and continuing over the next five weeks, I will honour the Throwback Thursday theme/meme (#tbt) with a series on my favourite albums from 2007. Enjoy.
#10 The Besnard Lakes “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse”
I feel like it was the resurrected MuchMusic alternative show, “The Wedge”, that introduced me to The Besnard Lakes in 2007 with the video for “Agent 13” off this, their second record. “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse” is eight beautiful and dreamily atmospheric arrangements that meander at their own pace and might dissipate into the ether altogether it weren’t all held together with those Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. This was the album that really put the Montreal-based sextet, led by husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, on the map.
Gateway tune: “Devastation”
#9 Okkervil River “The stage names”
Like many other people (in my head, anyways), “The stage names” was my introduction to the Austin, Texas-based indie rock band led by Will Sheff. What initially drew me to the album and keeps me coming back is that it has all the traditional Americana elements and instruments but plays with song structure and lyrics in a very different way. Will Sheff sings with a voice that belongs more in the post-punk era (think Gordon Gano or David Byrne), telling intricate stories in a very literate way, overtop a cacophony of Hammond organs, xylophones, pedal steels, woodblocks, and mandolins.
Gateway tune: “Our life is not a movie or maybe”
#8 Handsome Furs “Plague park”
Handsome Furs was Dan Boeckner’s (also of Wolf Parade, Divine Fits, and Operators) side project that he formed in 2005 with his then wife, Canadian poet Alexei Perry. Named after a park built overtop a mass grave for plague victims in Finland in the 1700s, “Plague Park” was the first of three albums the Montreal-based duo would release before dissolving (and separating) in 2012. Of the three, it is the most guitar heavy but it is characteristic for the heavy bass, raucous synths, and of course, Boeckner’s raw Springsteen-like vocals.
Gateway tune: “Dumb animals”
#7 Cuff The Duke “Sidelines of the city”
For their third record, Oshawa, Ontario’s Cuff The Duke rotated their lineup some and expanded their sound from their alternative country roots to include a bit of blues and psych rock. Wayne Petti, the band’s driving force doesn’t eschew everything that worked for the band in the past, however, staying with Paul Aucoin for the album’s production and writing some quality, quality lyrics. I’m especially fond of Oshawa love letter, “Rossland square”, because the city is incidentally the town where I was also born. But that’s not the only reason I’m fond of the album. Listen to the track below for more firepower.
Gateway tune: “If I live or if I die”
#6 Arcade Fire “Neon bible”
To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed with this album when I first heard it. But how could I not with the insane expectations I found myself heaping upon it after the brilliance of the Montreal-based indie rock collective’s debut album, “Funeral”. Nonetheless, “Neon bible” grew on me over the years. For the sophomore album, the group added Ottawa’s Jeremy Gara on drums and included violinist Sara Neufeld as a full time member. Frontman Win Butler has stated that he had wanted a stripped down sound for the album but the big themes of televangelism and religion begged for equally big instrumentation so the layers and the final sound ended up being immense.
Gateway tune: “No cars go”
Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my favourite albums of 2017.