Best of 2015: Celebrating another year of Western Canadian music

Thursday 10th, December 2015 / 02:09
By Team BeatRoute

CALGARY — Now, more than ever, we want to support and celebrate all the amazing music that Western Canada has to offer. Today, our Alberta edition is available in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Lethbridge, and Red Deer; our goal is to reflect the incredible diversity of Canada’s underrated music scene and we’re happy for all the tips from readers and bands about impending album releases!

In the spirit of representing this part of our country, we present a timeline of our favourite Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba full-length releases from 2015. Due to space constraints, we couldn’t fit EPs, demos or splits, but encourage everyone to seek out all the Canadian music they can.

January 2015

Samantha Savage Smith, Fine Lines, Pipe & Hat

With much more musical experience under her belt, cooing indie-folkster Samantha Savage Smith revealed Fine Lines, her sophomore album. Delivering a more refined, evolved “grown-up” sound that stays true to Savage Smith’s identity, the album is very authentic, yet charming and better defined. – Claire Miglionico

Viet Cong, Viet Cong, Flemish Eye

This record is positively feral, with wiry guitars splayed out all over, and an underlying sense of insanity and reckless fervour. The sonic structure of Viet Cong is experimental, progressive art rock; an oscillation between open spaces filled with articulate guitar staccatos to rolling slabs of noise and pulsing rhythms. Although the band is now navigating the aftermath of their poorly chosen band name, rest assured whatever music they release next will be similarly captivating. – Nick Laugher & Brad Simm

February 2015

Artisan Loyalist, Lonely Ghost, Independent

Lonely Ghost is dynamic and shapely, a gorgeous blend of sleepy synth with edgy guitar harmonies, inspired in part by Johnny Marr of The Smiths. It’s smothered in melodically warm vocals, proving that Artisan Loyalist’s mastermind Rob Batke has undeniably prowess as an architect of dreamy, sweet mood music. – Brittany Rudyck

Astral SwansAll My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson, Madic Records

Matthew Swann, the “chaotic space cadet” behind Astral Swans, sings about the darker side of life to the backdrop of blended distorted indie-folk guitar, abstract percussion and synth on his warmly received debut. Though Swann offers murky themes and lyrics, the album is full of catchy melodies and warm soundscapes, contrasting playful humour with dark undertones. – Michael Grondin

Transit, Occupy Tall Trees, Independent

Featuring six new songs alongside tracks from previous albums that he feels best represents him as an artist, Occupy Tall Trees was engineered as an essential Transit collection. In his darkest and most honest release to date, Transit’s echoing raps are delivered overtop indie rap beats and layered vocals. – Willow Grier 

Solid Brown, Our Rich Heritage, Independent

Two drummers, two bass players, a video projector, and audio sampler. They call themselves Solid Brown and they’re straight from the vaults of a freaky, mid-‘60s psychedelic funhouse. They’ve got terse, grinding grooves that sway between industrial funk and tripped out prog-jazz. Dance music from Mars, or the centre of your mind – this is weird, hip-shakin’ stuff. – Brad Simm

March 2015

Purity Ringanother eternity, Last Gang Records

Despite pushing their “future pop” sound to new landscapes, another eternity is still recognizable as Purity Ring; there is a sense of lingering evil that dwells just underneath all of their tracks, a demon waiting to rise to the surface. While the sonic qualities of Megan James’ vocals may differ, her ability to sound otherworldly remains. – Jamie McNamara

Suicide Kings, Rock ‘Em to Sleep, Panda Claw Records

Hip-hop group Suicide Kings refined their sound for the release of their third album, creating nine tracks of ‘90s infused beats with a wide range of lyricism. Describes producer King Cole, “Our last album was a lot heavier with hard beats, and in this one we threw in some soul and jazz samples.” – Jennie Price

Faith Healer, Cosmic Troubles, Mint Records

Cosmic Troubles swirls a delightful cocktail of Velvet Underground influences, Serge Gainsbourg flourishes and Iggy Pop swagger with the occasional dad-rock blues riffs. It represents the biggest step forward and the biggest stylistic risks Faith Healer mastermind Jessica Jalber has taken thus far. – Sebastian Buzzalino

April 2015

The Mandates, In the Back of Your Heart, Taken By Surprise Records, Teenage Rampage Records and Hosehead Records

This power-pop, punk four-piece feeds off of the ideals of traditional rock and roll. Accordingly, their 11-song album is mature, with no gimmicks, just big, punk-rock tunes that scream the ‘70s. – Michael Grondin

Rhythm of Cruelty, saturated, Pseudo Laboratories

Saturated follows the band’s debut down the same brooding rabbit hole of abstract; seven tracks of post-punk that feature the band’s modus operandi in strong form. Rowley’s guitar slashes around the air; meanwhile, the combination of Strauss’ bass and an industrial-sounding drum machine achieve a feel that is not at all human. – Jibril Yassin

Living Hour, Living Hour, Independent

Living Hour’s music is patient, blissful and strangely animate. “Steady Glazed Eyes” gently fades into being as an ambling, cymbal-heavy beat anchors gossamer, sensual male-female vocals and ethereal, reverb-saturated guitars for four minutes of pure, transcendent dream pop. “Miss Emerald Green” meanwhile finds the band mixing Heaven or Las Vegas with the Beach Boys as buoyant, soulful melodies underlie chilling, passionate vocals and softly strummed surf guitar, completing a sound that is familiar, yet distinctly their own. – Liam Harrison

May 2015

Raygun Cowboys, Heads are Gunna Roll, Stomp Records

After being on the scene for 15 years, putting out numerous records, losing and adding members, touring relentlessly, it seems things are only just beginning for the Edmonton rockabilly vets. Their newest album, Heads… is more polished and also accented by friends who added pops of harmonica, fiddle and extra vocals, giving the album a bigger, deeper sound. – Brittany Rudyck

Cold Water, Cold Water, Revolution Winter

Regularly dubbed one of the hardest working musicians in Alberta, Kevin Stebner is well known in DIY circles for his eternal dedication to the scene. All of his work ties into a larger aesthetic, one that is deeply rooted in raw, unmasked emotions and the kind of stark, windswept gravitas that dominates his prairie home. Cold Water is his heavy-folk-meets-post-hardcore project; armed with “some of the most personal songs” he’s ever written. – Sebastian Buzzalino

Run Deer Run, The War, Independent

Laura Halvorsen, the band’s guitarist and singer, utilizes ethereal, earthy and soulful vocals, alongside groovy melodies. Adam Warner’s intuitive, multifarious drumming style creates a deep bed of textures for Run Deer Run’s sound. On their second release, the duo added bass, cello, brass, violin, piano and acoustic guitar to the mix, giving collaborators free rein with ideas. – Willow Grier

HROM, Legends of Powerheart Part 1, Independent

Musically, this is classic power metal with operatic vocals that soar above the squealing solos, beefy bass lines and driving double-kick of the thunderous bass drums. The nine-song release far supersedes their last offering courtesy of it sounding slicker, more driving and better captured. – Sarah Kitteringham

Leeroy Stagger, Dream It All Away, Independent

Stagger’s 10th album is laced throughout with reflective details voicing strong, sober sentiments and a deeper insight that experience brings. Stagger fully admits that there’s an acute sensitivity on display that he’s relieved to get to the core of, parlayed through roots rock ‘n’ roll with robust, organic melody with strands of R.E.M., Big Star, The Byrds and Beatles streaming throughout. – Brad Simm

Netherward, Fallows, Independent

Self-described as “a mix of melodic/thrash/death metal, influenced by years of music experience,” the songs of Netherward feature “fat bass grooves meld[ing] with virtuoso guitarmonies, noise/math beats and a vocalist with a baritone roar to cement it all together.” Fallows is their best album yet. – Jenna Lee Williams

June 2015

Calvin Love, Super Future, Arts and Crafts

No stranger to hard work, synth pop musician Calvin Love spent the better part of a year creating Super Future alone in his bedroom. The result is a whimsical, yet brooding style of experimental music that blends hints of ‘80s synth and the darker, more dramatic aspects of new wave. – Brittany Rudyck

KEN mode, Success, Season of Mist

For noise-rock unit KEN mode, who came of age on the loud, abrasive riffs of Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Neurosis, recording an album with master of noise Steve Albini had been on their bucket list since forever. With the trio tapping the legendary engineer to record their new album—in their hometown of Winnipeg, no less—KEN mode’s sixth full-length, Success, shows the band hitting a career high-water mark. – Julijana Capone

MANcub, Hangman, Independent

Woven around the tale of an executioner seeking revenge for his wife’s murder, Hangman is a game, but gritty, homage to‘70s rock. This “brazen brand of riff rock” is part gunslinger, part guitar hero, and 100 per cent Alberta prime beef. – Christine Leonard

Adolyne, of Ash / of Shit / of Shame, Independent

If spectacularly jarring, wildly deviant chaotic noise rock is your jam, Adolyne will fulfill all your needs. Hideously abrasive, screeched and screwy, the album is either an endurance test or a delight. – Sarah Kitteringham

July 2015

Human Music, Sup, Dub Pitch Picnic

Channeling ‘90s lo-fi forbearers Eric’s Trip, Human Music’s debut effort Sup embraces jangly pop with hazy psych-stains, and features adorably earnest songs about cool parties and hanging with jazz kids “rolling up jazz cigs.” – Julijana Capone

August 2015

No Famous Death, Dark Joy, Independent

Quietly disconcerting and incredibly effective, Dark Joy is gentle, precocious shuffling folk rock that should be spoken of in the same reverent tones as those reserved for Clinton St. John. The lyrics are highly evocative, while the instrumentation is delicate, sparse, and diverse; the vocal style is unusual and affected. – Sarah Kitteringham

Pigeon Breeders, Concrescence, Shaking Box Music

This improvisational group has a penchant for “introspective ambience, tense and spastic electroacoustic interplay, scrappy free jazz, apocalyptic free-form drone rock,” and on their fourth album, they’ve refined and developed their sound. – Jenna Lee Williams

HexRay, Coin of the Realm, Independent

Spinning his fondness for cultural nostalgia and boundless sense of adventure into indie-pop gold, vocalist/guitarist Dallin Ursenbach let his true colours shine through on HexRay’s summer release. A disarmingly melodic and affable production, HexRay’s thoughtful approach and measured musicianship is further heightened by a talent for story-weaving. – Christine Leonard

September 2015

Concealer, fêted:fetid, Coax/Weatherbelle

What do you get when you mix an established singer-songwriter with a flamboyant socialite? A bizarre sound best described as if “Fairport Convention meets Suicide.” It’s a darkly whimsical electronic approach that’s often jaunty, often melancholic. – Jenna Lee Williams

The Karpinka Brothers, You Can Count on Me, Independent

While the Karpinka Brothers are often thought of as a folk band, they have solid pop sensibilities that glimmer all throughout their jaunty beats and offbeat, dueling vocals. Herein are definite hints of Unrest, Lemonheads, Smoking Popes and other early ‘90s alt-rock luminaries, along with more contemporary influences such as John K. Samson and Joel Plaskett. – Spencer Brown

Copperhead, Copperhead, Independent

Liz Stevens provides the wavering, dark vocal lines and warm keys for this avant-garde folk rock project; Kirill Telichev plays the psychedelic blues licks. Their debut self-titled album is soul infused, honey-soaked sound and pleasing. Music purists, prepare to melt. – Danni Bauer 

October 2015

The Bitterweed Draw, Dynamite Mountain, Independent

The Bitterweed Draw makes country music that even the type of people who adamantly state, “I like all kinds of music, except country,” can get down with. Dynamite Mountain muddies the lines with bluegrass, honky-tonk and rockabilly, and is rife with twangy melodies, tongue-in-cheek lyrics belted out beautifully, and a musical cohesion forged over countless shows. – Paul Rodgers

The Weir, Calmness of Resolve, SunMask Records

Calmness of Resolve gains the cohesion that The Weir’s previous album Yesterday’s Graves lacked while sacrificing none of the inventiveness that electrified their debut. The songs are pitched somewhere between Bell Witch’s doom-with-a-capital-DOOM and ISIS’ meditative post-sludge, with variation in tone and tempo running through it like blood through veins. – Gareth Watkins

Chic Gamine, Light A Match, Independent

With no front person or leader of the group, Chic Gamine is a shared responsibility that reflects a display of tremendous talent and diversity ranging from soul burnin’ black gospel and American R&B to early ‘60s Brill Building girl group sweetness to gorgeous, sparkling-fresh folk-pop. – Brad Simm

Vile Insignia, Bestial Invocation, Independent

The powerful, gritty tone of this record stands out. The discordant guitar tone sets a mood that is both brutal and melodic, the drumming features fast double bass rolls and blast beats, and the vocals oscillate between the low, guttural death growl and the nasal scream indicative of most black metal. – Matt Telgen

Cannon Bros., Dream City, Disintegration Records

This record is undeniably immersed in feelgoodery, and that’s alright with us. This power-pop duo has a sunny, ‘90s alternative feel, with jangly guitars and sweet harmonizing vocals. Everything is punchy and to the point: herein lie 19 songs, only two of which stretch past three minutes, and they’re glorious. – Sarah Kitteringham 

November 2015

The Hearts, Equal Love, Independent

Romantic, spatial and gorgeous imagery are peppered throughout The Hearts retro-folk pop base on their third offering Equal Love, offering the perfect backdrop for a fall picnic or other dreamy endeavour. With the synths turned up and the emphasis on frontman Jeff Stuart down, the band shines as a unit. – Brittany Rudyck

Blades of Steel, Kind Face, Independent

“There’s definitely some major funk, electronic, and blues elements in our music,” says Blades of Steel. Through their razor sharp rhymes, the album features producer and key player Brian “Roop” Campbell exercising his demons following a tough period in his life that his bandmates parlay via classic hip-hop. – Jennie Price 

The Provincial Archive, The Provincial Archive, Independent

With the departure of their keyboardist only weeks before entering the studio, The Provincial Archive decided to continue on as a power trio. Their newest was recorded live-off-the-floor, and is a dance inducing dose of classic indie pop with evocative vocals and rich synthesizers. – Brittany Rudyck

PMMA, Serotonin Syndrome, Imminent Destruction Records

Integrating elements of Danzig’s unusual Elvis meets Jim Morrison vocal style, PMMA’s full-length contours some of the band’s jagged, post-punk meets darkwave edges, better consolidating their slick, eerie sound peppered with ferocious hooks. – Sarah Kitteringham

Chron Goblin, Backwater, Ripple Music

Surrendering to Backwater’s weighty undertow, vocalist Josh Sandulak’s lupine howls are a fitting match for the moonshine tides and churning vortexes of Devin Purdy and Richard Hepp’s promethean ball of strings. An utterly compelling and gut-liquefying achievement, Backwater overflows with raw vocals, black-and-blue bayou breakdowns, and hallucinatory quagmires. – Christine Leonard

December 2015

All the albums we wanted to highlight from December are peppered throughout these pages. Check our print edition and online to read about new releases by Sabertooth, Prepared, Spekters, Switches, Wilt, and more!

For highlights of great B.C. music, also see BeatRoute BC’s list of 25 local Vancouver albums.

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