N0V3L have made international waves with their debut, topping this year’s list in a psycho-post-punk fashion statement.
The album is just shy of 20 minutes but grows on the mind like a well-dressed fungus, so effortlessly re-listenable that the shorter run-length is hardly noticeable.
The six-piece art collective capture a post-punk sound reminiscent of 70s and 80s counterculture, when socially conscious bands recognized dancing was an equally effective form of catharsis.
N0V3L takes advantage of nontraditional time signatures and guitar tuning that feels slightly off key to send listeners into a calculated dance spiral. Pitchy guitar riffs drive each of the eight tracks from front to back, intertwining the sturdy basslines with cymbal-heavy drumming. At times, in songs like “Are They,” the guitars take on a dreamy, shoestring-like quality and at the heart of it all is the Clash-like cries that are unrelenting in a lyrical message oozing vibes of non-conformity.
The experience reaches a climax with the finale, a song called “Division,” that starts with a Blade Runner-esque warble of synths and grows with a vivacious rhythm that peaks in a forlorn horn section, ending abruptly, like a slipped misstep off a sheer cliff edge.
It’s easy to get lost in NOVEL, imagining yourself on a dim-lit dance floor with a swell of nodding heads and swaying bodies all in sync to the same hypnotic beat.
N0V3L have delivered a layered album that teleports the listener to another time, somewhere far from the grips of 2019, leaving them there to explore the depths of their magnificent new world.
• Brendan Lee
Louise Burns Portraits Light Organ
Louise Burns has been building a reputation as an unstoppable force in the singer-songwriter sphere since she first came spiralling back into the spotlight with her 2010 debut, Mellow Drama.
The narrative she’s chosen for Portraits is that the rising chanteuse is returning to her pop roots. After all, she did cut her teeth in the music industry as a member of pop group Lillix, signed and endorsed by none other than Madonna.
However, Portraits is not vapid pop music looking to fulfill the next “Call Me Maybe” fix. There’s truth, vulnerability and a strong sense of maturity hanging on the wall with this release, each track of Portraits looking back at us with an informed nuance of calculated new wave precision.
• Glenn Alderson
Snotty Nose Rez Kids Trapline SNRK Music / Fontana North
Trapline is the latest assault of hip-hop bangers from the Haisla rap duo out of Kitimat that’s equal parts celebration and commentary on a rapidly disappearing culture deserving of the spotlight.
Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce can spit with the best and the long list of beats will make even the most casual rap fan howl like a junkyard dog.
SNRK have a contagious momentum and forceful sound that ignites a little light in the depths of the soul. Trapline is much more than just a rap album, something closer to a mainstream brand of poetry that demands recognition but begs, “don’t get caught in the trap.”
• Brendan Lee
K!MMORTAL X Marks the Swirl COAX Records
“Stars,” the opening track to X Marks the Swirl, sets the tone for K!MMORTAL’s ascension to a celestial sphere in their music career.
A departure from the organic, acoustic quality of their debut album, Sincerity, X spins hard-hitting verses in brisk succession, soothed by soulful hooks and enlivened with impeccable electronic production.
Everything we loved about K!MMORTAL in Sincerity—a voice of raw honey, whip-smart lyrics serving inconvenient truths, community awareness—abound in X, only amped up.
Magnetic from the upbeat “Questions” and swaying “I’m Blue” through to hip-hop heavy “88 and Beyond,” K!MMORTAL hits every note with confident transcendence.
• Dayna Mahannah
Dead Soft Big Blue Arts & Crafts
Both grunge-heavy lament and indie-punk sentiment find genuine space in Big Blue, Dead Soft’s second album.
Hazy instrumentals and frontman Nathaniel Epp’s mollifying-to-inflamed vocals prove the dynamic underground paragons have outgrown the living room rock scene.
The polarity of frustrations around the high cost of city living and bliss in their new home on secluded Gabriola Island inspire Blue, notably on the melodic pop-punk “I Believe You” and the shoegazey saunter-to-run of “Step Out.”
Bassist/backup vocalist Keeley Rochon’s voice is a deviation and delight on “The Static.” Big Blue’s big sound and mushrooming dynamism is worth making space for.
• Dayna Mahannah
Strange Breed Permanence. Independent
Rising swiftly from the musical outskirts of Vancouver and headfirst into the maelstrom of the current political climate, Strange Breed is a cathartic hit of head-banging, feminist garage rock.
The four-piece band’s debut studio album forges into issues evocative of the 90s riot grrrl movement (brutally, as relevant as ever)—the patriarchy and gender inequality being at the forefront.
Gritty punk ballads dedicated to female empowerment and consent breakaway to all-out rock and roll exaltations of sexuality.
Permanence. contains the rebel spirit of The Runaways and legitimizes the simple joy of jumping on your bed, screaming along to the lyrics.
• Dayna Mahannah
Kristin Witko Zone of Exclusion
While filled with hooks and undeniably danceable, listeners dare not underestimate the grit and swagger at the core of Kristen Witko’s Zone of Exclusion.
The high-energy album from Abbotsford performance artist features boppy percussion and delightful guitar riffs while tackling themes such as loneliness, exclusion and identity.
Witko’s sharp lyricism is a punch to the gut while her arrangements swing from fun, funky and catchy disco rhythm to wild and unabated chaos.
An unpredictable boomerang of emotion underpins an album that effortlessly talks about love, identity and isolation without sacrificing old school rhythm.
• Kathryn Helmore
Apollo Ghosts Living Memory Independent
In October, Apollo Ghosts transcended their indie-rock roots and climbed the ambient stairway to ethereal heights with Living Memory.
A slow and meditative album, it is a eulogy to frontman Adrian Teacher’s father, a victim of alzheimers disease. Undulating instrumentals and meditative humming are hypnotizing, taking the listener on a sorrowful yet cathartic trip.
Seeing parallels between the death of his father and the systematic death of BC’s cedar forests, the album is also a meditation on climate change.
While it’s gloomy, it’s not all doom: 100 per cent of proceeds are going towards Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the UNIST’OT’TEN Legal Fund.
• Kathryn Helmore
Swim Team V Independent
V is the quietly remarkable avant-garde trio Swim Team’s third official release.
The self-recorded album is poised on an exquisite knife edge between dark wave and no wave. The vocals oscillate between punk (see opener “Brick”) and aching tenderness on artfully interspersed tracks “Garden” and “Rabbit.”
The record follows this undulation of spiky urgency (“Mango”) infused with soft, eerie pop, ending in tightly wound dissonance – an incongruence best consumed in conjunction with trippy visuals at the band’s website.
Swim Team has gone quiet on the live front since summer, but V deserves way more attention than it received upon release.
• Emily Corley
Devours Iconoclast Artoffact
An Iconoclast is someone who attacks another’s cherished beliefs or institutions, and Devours’ Jeff Cancade has been made to feel that way at times throughout his life. But the pain of living in such a marginalized way has culminated in a deeply thoughtful collection of songs.
The album is a ten-song testimony towards the darkness that creeps in the heart but at the same time is a blast to pick up your sneakers and vibe to. There’s a digitized madness that bubbles in each electro-pop track, and the album is a must listen for anyone who broods yet yearns to feel alive.