The year’s best Vancouver albums you probably haven’t heard – 2015 edition

Chandra Melting Tallow released one of the most idiosyncratic records of the year.

Chandra Melting Tallow released one of the most idiosyncratic records of the year.

2015 was a landmark year for Canadian music, what with Canuck artists topping the Billboard singles charts on a frighteningly regular basis. Maybe you’ve heard of a couple guys named Drake and Justin Bieber? Yep. Ours.

It was also a good year for Vancouver musicians. Tobias Jesso Jr., Grimes, Carly Rae Jepsen and Destroyer, all of whom have local roots, released albums that were met with almost universal critical claim. (Jesso’s Goon made #46 on pitchfork.com’s list of the 50 best albums of the year; Destroyer’s Poison Season came in at #43; Jepsen’s e•mo•tion, 34; Grimes’ Art Angels, #3).

Dan Mangan, a Vancouver singer/songwriter who has achieved national success and some international recognition, released his most adventurous album, Club Meds, with his backing band Blacksmith. 2015 was also the year that Dear Rouge, winner of the local talent competition the Peak Performance Project in 2012, released its debut full-length, Black to Gold (check out the video for the title track here). We Are the City (originally from Kelowna) and Teen Daze (from Abbotsford) also released well-received records, Above Club and Morning World respectively.

But there were a number of other releases that didn’t receive the attention that they deserved. Here are 10 of this writer’s favourites, along with a couple of honorary mentions and other notable selections.

Thee Ahs, Names (Kingfisher Bluez) – An album on which every track takes its title from someone’s name (“Olga,” “Andrew”). In choosing this record in his top ten list for local weekly the Georgia Straight, Alex Hudson writes that the indie-pop band has “shed their cuteness without losing their heartfelt sweetness.”

With Names, Thee Ahs released one of the best albums out of Vancouver this year.

With Names, Thee Ahs released one of the best albums out of Vancouver this year.

Tommy Genesis, World Vision (Awful Records) – In a list of The Best Canadian Albums of 2015, complex.com said this of Tommy Genesis and World Vision: “A few years ago, Vancouver-born Tommy Genesis grabbed the attention of Father and KeithCharles Spacebar of Awful Records, bearing left-of-centre beats laced with pliable flows. With songs about Angelina Jolie, Catholic School, and suburban drug culture, World Vision is a trip—if it is just a vision, look for world domination in 2016.”

Photo courtesy of Tommy Genesis/Awful Records.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Genesis/Awful Records.

Soft Serve, Soft Serve (self-released on cassette and digital album) – In its recent piece Best of 2015: Unearthing 25 of Vancouver’s local music gems from the past year, BeatRoute.ca says that Soft Serve’s self-titled debut full-length “is melty and sweet; it sticks to you, it refreshes you, it reminds you of your favourite summer days. Soft Serve jingles and jangles about, hopping from songs about self-actualization to family matters.”

We Hunt Buffalo, Living Ghosts (Fuzzorama Records) – In the Vancouver Sun, Francois Marchand named Living Ghosts an “Album of the Week” and wrote, “We Hunt Buffalo have certainly upped their game on their second full-length album. They lay the grunge/fuzz guitar foundation hard and heavy, with pummeling drums and bass, but the delivery is smooth and consistent. Living Ghosts is dark and dreary, but also quite dreamy… like the better examples in the genre (stoner rock) over the course of the past few years (see: Baroness’s Yellow & Green), it’s a fist-pumping, grin-inducing ride.”

We Hunt Buffalo released their second album, Living Ghosts.

We Hunt Buffalo released their second album, Living Ghosts.

Fake Tears, Nightshifting (Mint Records) – The UK website Gigslutz says of Fake Tears that “It’s tricky not to fall in love with their quirky synth-pop. There’s a definite femme fetale feel to Fake Tears: charming and sexy, but simultaneously haunting. You can’t help but be a little wary of the girls” (Larissa Loyva and Elisha Rembold) – after all, if their songwriting abilities are anything to go by, they’re bloody powerful.”

Fake Tears received a bunch of glowing reviews for their Mint Records release Nightshifting.

Fake Tears received a bunch of glowing reviews for their Mint Records release Nightshifting.

Weed, Running Back (Lefse Records) – Dinosaur Jr. fans will find much to like on this album. In a review of the album for PopMatters.com, John Paul writes, “Weed crafts finally tuned, fuzzed-out guitar pop, the majority of which clocks in under three minutes. By favoring brevity and hooks within their very particular brand of oft-practiced noise pop, Weed position themselves at the head of an increasingly crowded field. Fans of the noisier end of the indie spectrum will find much to like on Running Back.”

Weed make a melodic, Dinosaur Jr.-like racket on Running Back.

Weed make a melodic, Dinosaur Jr.-like racket on Running Back.

The Ballantynes, Dark Drives, Life Signs (self-released) – A new album from these Vancouver-based Northern Soul outliers. “Dark Drives is a mix of ‘60’s Motown/Northern Soul hip shakers, gospel, R&B and touch of ska that fills your musical heart like a well cooked meal fills you belly,” according to audioammunition.blogspot.ca.

Knife Pleats, Hat Bark Beach (Lost Sound Tapes) – Indie-pop vet Rose Melberg returns with a new band and a sound somewhere between surf-rock and dreamy, shoegazing pop. BeatRoute.ca said, “Melberg’s latest project Knife Pleats showers its listeners in sunny, lo-fi vibes filled with playful guitar and chipper vocals. As a whole, this album delivers the perfect amount of twee and heavenly riffs to form an indie-pop gem.”

Knife Pleats made one of the best pop albums to come out of Vancouver in 2015.

Knife Pleats made one of the best pop albums to come out of Vancouver in 2015.

Francesca Belcourt, Zongs (Genero Sound, limited edition cassette and digital album) – From BeatRoute.ca: “Zongs is a polished alt-pop album bursting with the simple stream of consciousness flavour Francesca Belcourt brings to all her projects. Inspired by sounds made with a Roland JX-8P synthesizer, the album was recorded and produced by Belcourt in her bedroom on Commercial Drive. This record is fun and loose in some moments, while morose and self reflective in others. Belcourt treats us like her closest friend, confiding in us her fears and victories, and expressing her history in whimsical electronic noise.”

Francesca Belcourt released the fine Zongs with the help of all-women's label Genero Sound.

Francesca Belcourt released the fine Zongs with the help of all-women’s label Genero Sound.

Mourning Coup, Baby Blue (No Sun Recordings) – Certainly one of the most experimental and challenging releases on this list, Baby Blue is the five-year-in-the-making debut album from Mourning Coup, a project fronted Chandra Melting Tallow. Tallow, who is of mixed ancestry from the Siksika Nation (according to her bandcamp.com page), is a singer with “foundations in performance art.” Influences mentioned include the Eurythmics, Bruce Haack and Freddie Mercury, while the album is described as an “emotionally-charged piece developed through the processing of the effects of inter-generational trauma in a world of fantasy and ethereality.” From a review on ridethetempo.com: “… Tallow taps into the mystical while exploring the nature of our place in the cosmos. It’s a fascinating trip, even if it is sometimes terrifying… Vocally, Tallow is something of a chameleon, switching from an earthy pop style (‘Burn One for the Saints’) to an otherworldly yelp (‘Master’) and several places in between. She often adopts a quirky child-like voices, such as on “Saturn Sakura”. Even here though she does not sound exactly naive. There is a wisdom – perhaps a wisdom that children possess and that we have somehow lost.”

Honourable mentions:

Kym Brown, Cursery Rhymes – Now living overseas – in London, to be exact – Kym Brown is a former Vancouverite who this year self-released her full-length album Cursery Rhymes. It’s an album of smart, sophisticated and accomplished pop; check out the video for “Almost Happy.” Buy the album here.

Combine the Victorious, Autonomous – The second full-length album from Combine the Victorious, aka Mark Henning and Isabelle Dunlop, is an unpredictable affair, with songs that encompass industrial noise, funky guitar, electronic rock and more. “Hardly Spoken” is full-on, Garbage-like synths-rock; “California ’15” is road-trip-ready electro-pop.

There were several other notable albums out of the city this year. Some of them are:

Cindy Lee, Act of Tenderness

Tim the Mute, Why Live

Did You Die, Weird Love

Mississippi Live and the Dirty Dirty, Going Down (thanks to Kate MacDonald for this suggestion)

Savvie, Night Eyes

Revered, But What If I’m Right? (thanks to Graham Clark for this suggestion)

Kelly Haigh, Post Apocalyptic Valentines

Dralms, Shook

Petunia, Free As the Wind

Dead Quiet, Dead Quiet

Frog Eyes, Pickpocket’s Locket

Unleash the Archers, Time Stands Still

As always, Georgia Straight writer Alexander Varty provided one of the most eclectic year-end lists. He included a number of local artists, most of them from the experimental and/or jazz end of the city’s musical spectrum. His picks include John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra’s Crush, Waxwing’s a bowl of sixty taxidermists (a tribute to Canadian pianist Ross Taggart) and the Tony Wilson 6Tet’s A Day’s Life.

For a best-of-Vancouver list that includes 25 local artists, visit beatroute.ca.

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