In part 1 of our round-up of notable 2016 Vancouver albums, we covered most (we hope) of the latest releases from established musicians, from pop hitmaker Carly Rae Jepsen to indie-rockers Black Mountain to long-running local garage-rock band The Evaporators.
In this second instalment, we’re looking at records from local artists that might have been missed, or not received the attention they deserved, from the last year. We’re going to look at 12 releases that we think are worthwhile, with an emphasis on debut or second full-lengths from new and emerging artists (with one major exception). The albums are listed chronologically, according to release month.
Final notes: for our purposes, we’re defining “album” as nine songs or more. There were plenty of worth releases of eight songs or less (though eight seems to have been the sweet spot for a lot of artists in 2016), and I’ll cover those elsewhere.
Also, there were plenty of releases from more established artists that were overlooked, and we’ve covered at least some of those, under “honorable mentions (veterans).” We’ve also listed some other worthwhile albums by emerging artists under “honourable mentions (newbies).” And yes, we realize that the city’s EDM and hip-hop scenes are under-represented in this list, so by all means let us know in the Comments if there were any notable full-length releases you think should be included.
Finally, thanks to the hard-listening writers at BeatRoute, whose year-end list Best Vancouver Releases of 2016 turned us on to a number of records and artists we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. And a big tip of the hat also to Brack Wired (for his Bad Beats suggestion), Stephen Lyons (for Tony Wilson), and Nardwuar the Human Serviette and Randy Iwata from Mint Records for their help.
We Found a Lovebird, Lobby – The second full-length from this Vancouver indie-rock/pop band is smooth sailing from the start. The group’s website strikes a woe-is-Lovebird note – “Stuck in the proverbial lobby of Vancouver’s music scene, We Found a Lovebird find themselves perched on the edge of genres; not hard enough to hang with the metal guys, not poppy enough to bop with the indie folk, and certainly not punk enough to rage with the punks” – but not fitting in seems to agree with them.
The Bad Beats, His Vengeful Hand – The Pacific Northwest tradition of garage-rock is alive, well, and in good (vengeful?) hands. This debut full-length from The Bad Beats is wall-to-wall Nuggets-style rockers, with originals as well as covers of songs by The Sparkles, Shocking Blue, Mono Men and The Miracle Workers.
Tony Wilson 6Tet, A Day’s Life – Homelessness and drug addiction, specifically on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, inspired this instrumental album from guitarist Tony Wilson and some of Vancouver’s best new music players/improvisers. “The songs here boast strong melodic leads, delicate textures, occasional bursts of noise and strong composition to which these sensitive players bring their top game,” said Radio Free Canuckistan.
Lee Aaron, Fire and Gasoline – While it’s true that Aaron is far from a new artist – she’s a multi-platinum singer who reigned as Canada’s Metal Queen in the eighties – this is her first album since 2004. Released in March on her own label, Big Sister Records, the Vancouver-recorded album has been largely passed over in her home and native land (and in Vancouver, where Aaron lives). In fact, it took stumbling upon this list of The Best Overlooked Records of 2016 (in the New York Observer) to find it. Said the Observer: “Her first rock album in 20 years, Fire and Gasoline is not as hard edged as her early efforts, but it’s a hook-laden, grooving affair with mature lyrics about life and love. Aaron is that hot rocker mom down the street who makes you swoon and will also kick your ass if you mess with her. Respect.” Respect, indeed. Watch the video for “Fire and Gasoline” here.
Sophia Danai, Love Royale – Ready for radio but without pandering (too much) to current trends, singer Sophia Danai’s second album seems to have been overlooked by both the mainstream and the alternative press. That’s too bad, because Love Royale’s smooth, solidly crafted lovers’ R ‘n’ B deserves to be heard.
Spring Breaks, Time Wounds All Heals – Valerie Graham, Bianca Carr and Jordie Two-Camps make up this trio, which released one of the most creative, punk/garage records we heard this year. Short sharp songs that keep surprising with their mix of aggression and humanity.
Twin River, Passing Shade – Blending roots, pop, and shoegaze, the Vancouver indie-rock band found its voice on album number two. “Knife” was one of this writer’s favourite tracks of the year.
Jay Arner, Jay II – Second solo album from Vancouver musician/producer. Beatroute.ca: “The outstanding Jay II is full of good-natured jokes, but the overwhelming mood is one of glum existentialism. Whistle along while contemplating the void.” Pitchfork.com (7.0 review): “More taut, concise, and sweeter than its predecessor, Jay II finds its namesake lovingly and enthusiastically exploring new influences and reference points.” With nine songs, this one scrapes in under our definition of album.
Art D’ecco, Day Fevers – Lots of buzz for this one, like this Beatroute.ca quote: “This album is eyebrow-raisingly good; a self-reflective journey, a heroes wandering through a glammy abyss. A lot like what would happen if T-Rex did a duet with Orbison in Venus’s best-kept-secret underground Euro pop club.” Art D’ecco opens for famous guy Midge Ure (Ultravox, Band-Aid), at the Rickshaw Theatre Jan 5 2017.
Douse, The Light In You Has Left – There’s a little bit of Everything But the Girl’s Tracy Thorn in lyricist Alea Rae Clark’s cool vocals on the debut album from this New Westminster-based indie-pop trio. But calm waters lead to big waves of sound: “Unrest” builds to a dramatic, string-laden peak; the muted guitars in “Worsening” explode into noise. A defining moment comes in “I Am More Directed,” where Clark sings, “If you get aggressive/I can bet aggressive” – screaming out the last word with final girl ferocity.
The Tourist Company, Apollo – “Taking its musical and lyrical cues from documentaries on the history of the Space Race, the record showcases big canvases of sound with sweeping ’80s synths, intricate time signatures, and lyrical imaginings of the extraterrestrial world. So nerdy, but so powerful,” Kate Wilson wrote in the Georgia Straight.
Rykka, Beatitudes – Rykka had quite a year: the Surrey-raised singer, who divides her time between B.C. and Zurich, represented Switzerland at the international 2016 Eurovision Song Contest (Ukraine won this year). She also released her second full-length, a glossy dance-floor banger with Eurovision-sized hooks.
Honourable mentions (veterans – artists with at least three full-length albums to their credit):
Fond of Tigers, Uninhabit – The “post-everything” instrumental septet followed up its 2010 Juno Award-winning album Continent & Western with another unpredictable, gratifying foray into their own craggy world of instrumental rock/not-rock.
Strength of Materials, Inclusive Fitness – Singer/songwriter Ford Pier is one of the city’s most consistent (and consistently undersung) treasures. Inclusive Fitness, the latest from his string quartet Strength of Materials, is deranged yet accessible, and as rewarding as a sweat-filled hour at the gym (with better music).
Chris Storrow, The Ocean’s Door – The singer/songwriter now makes his home in Montreal, but locals with long memories might recall a time he fronted a Vancouver band called Bossanova. We’re including The Ocean’s Door for a bunch of reasons – recording was begun in Vancouver; the record includes a number of local musicians; and everyone needs to hear glittering indie-pop should-be hits “A True Christian” and “Raised the Bar.”
Loscil, Monument Builders – This release probably belongs in the first part of our album round-up, since Loscil (Scott Morgan) is an established artist – he has been releasing music for 16 years. Sorry! In his pitchfork.com review (7.4) for Monument Builders, the 11th Loscil release, Brian Burlage writes: “Monument Builders is a highly visual album, a mosaic of images depicting construction, erasure, devastation, redemption, and transformation. The sounds of micro-cassette recorders, decrepit samples, and grinding chains of percussion evoke a strong sense of place, the same way fuzz on a vintage videotape evokes age.”
Petunia and the Vipers, Dead Bird on the Highway – The second full-length from Petunia and the Vipers, a band fronted by Quebec ex-pat Petunia (who has a number of solo releases to his name), is an idiosyncratic combination of bluegrass/roots/country/rock, with a few covers. These include The Blasters’ “I’m Shakin'” (recently covered by Jack White) and “Put Yourself on the Market,” a Hugh Laurie (!) tune that sounds like the best song Tom Waits never wrote. See Petunia and the Vipers at the WISE Hall Lounge Dec. 26.
The Zolas, Swooner – “Vancouver’s own Mickey Mantles of indie pop knock it out of the park on their fourth album, cannily switch-hitting between synth-buzzed electro (‘Molotov Girls’), guitar-driven strut (“Swooner”), and sad-boy balladry (‘Why Do I Wait [When I Know You’ve Got a Lover]’),” writes the Georgia Straight’s John Lucas.
The Flypaper Orchestra, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: New Songs for An Old Depression – A loose collective of local musicians, visual artists, and performers cover classic and obscure songs drawing on Depression-era experiences. Songs include “We’re In the Money,”Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore” and the title track; Luke Doucet, The Sojourners, Harry Manx, Jim Byrnes and Ron Sexsmith play on the album.
Honorable mentions (newbies):
Spruce Trap, The Wise Prefer to Perish – This new Vancouver instrumental post-rock trio is getting a lot of local buzz for The Wise Prefer to Perish, its debut full-length.
Late Spring, Invisible – Your humble blogger herewith admits his weakness for dreamy noise-pop with lady vocals. Late Spring’s debut full-length, Invisible, fits the bill nicely. Self-described on their Facebook page: “They frankenstein together psych, surf, shoegaze, and noise influences.”
Glad Rags, Smile – Terrific, hooky take-no-prisoners punk. Best line: “She made these plastic pants herself.”
Future Star, Try Hard – Lo-fi indie-pop, self-described with these tags: “crying baby feelings first album friends keyboard singing.”
Astrakhan, Reward in Purpose – An enthusiastic review at newnoisemagazine.com called the debut full-length from this local sludge-metal unit “a masterpiece”; brokenneckradio.com called it “a sure gem.” At the Rickshaw Jan 20 2017.
Adrian Teacher and the Subs, Terminal City – The debut album from Adrian Teacher, former frontman for Vancouver band Apollo Ghosts, is notable for its Brooklyn-style indie-rock (think Parquet Courts) and for pointed references to Vancouver in songs like “Emily Carr Punks,” “Victory Square” and the title track.
Evy Jane, Breaking – The singer now resides in New York, but the former Vancouverite is calling her second full-length her “Vancouver album.” Downtempo, moody, electronic R ‘n’ B. Read a review at residentadvisor.net here.
Winona Forever, this is fine. Kickin’ indie-rock.
The Prettys, Soiree – Sophomore full-length, packed with power-pop hooks.
Cheap High, Subterranean Suburbia – Post-pop depression from Abbotsford.
Adrian Glynn, morelightthannolight