The top 10 Toronto albums of 2013 successfully connect the dots between commercial hip hop (guess who!), indie mirror-gaze ('sup The Darcys), and avant jazz. The countdowns are on, and while it's easy to release the scorn at the end of the year, the warm holiday fuzzies have got to mean something, too. This past year's seen a lot of great Toronto bands and artists create good things and receive recognition both throughout the city and internationally, and it's damn time to celebrate that.
With all the middling-to-massive music that's come out this year, we'd like to point your eyeballs and earholes in the direction of some of the better albums, EPs, mixtapes, and compilations that we had the good fortune to hear in 2013.
Drake - Nothing Was The Same (Cash Money Records)
This was the album (predictably dripping with Toronto references) that finally brought the city together. For about a month there NWTS was playing from every passing car/cab and every open window. You'll still hear tracks pumping in Toronto's hippest bars and sketchiest variety shops. I could go through the quotable, stick-in-your-head-forever tracks one by one, but you get it, you get it. The only thing that bugs me is that "5AM In Toronto" didn't make it on here. That's my late night raccoon spotting jam.
DIANA - Perpetual Surrender (Paper Bag Records)
DIANA built a lot of buzz in 2012 on the back of two tracks on Soundcloud, such that the eventual release of their LP Perpetual Surrender was met with near ravenous anticipation by local music fans. How'd it fare? On the one hand it solidified the band's status as the next big thing in Toronto, and on the other it confirmed what many already knew about this music: its ultimate currency is nostalgia. Both safe and familiar, the synth-heavy song structures are irresistible to '80s pop fans, while Carmen Elle's voice gives the group a sound that seems something more than merely a throwback to the era of Roxy Music and The Human League. Perhaps the biggest question that remains unanswered heading into their sophomore effort, however, is whether or not this band has anything important to say.
Aidan Baker - Already Drowning (Gizeh Records)
As good albums often are, Aidan Baker (Nadja)'s Already Drowning is a grower. At first both difficult and beautiful, every listen exposes something new. The jazz-influenced disc features seven compositions inspired by myths about female water spirits, with vocal interpretations by eight female vocalists including American songstress Carla Bozulich (Evangelista), and two Toronto artists: Liz Hysen (Picastro), and Clara Engel. This is a gorgeous and sinister work that you'll want to spend some time with. No hard here feelings that Baker lives in Berlin because he hates Canada's music infrastructure. Read our review here.
Austra - Olympia (Domino Records)
Austra's been abuzz in Toronto and beyond for a while now, and their latest sultry, electropop album has been making the rounds, even grabbing Vice's attention for the 7th spot on their "worst of" albums of the year. I hope the band are patting themselves on their colourful vintage clothing adorned backs for that one - they must be doing something right.
Hayden - Us Alone (Arts & Crafts)
Released in the long winter of February just in time for the year's cold nights which begged for bittersweet, warm sounds, Hayden's 7th studio album "Us Alone" continued the artist's 20-year-long career of delivering drowsy, alt-folk to Toronto's indie music scene. He went on to deliver a rare set at Arts & Craft's Field Trip Festival, followed by a tour this fall. You can read our review here.
The Darcys - Warring (Arts & Crafts)
With their self-titled debut album in 2011, The Darcys established themselves as a band to be reckoned with. Noisy, cerebral, precise, drawn to long builds and bittersweet payoffs, their music's distinct flavour hits Toronto like a cold bucket of water on a hot day (or maybe a warm bucket of water on a cold day). We chatted with them about their favourite subject - the ups and downs of being The Darcys - earlier this year.
Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back (Hyperdub)
This is not the first year-end list (or blogTO post) to praise Jessy Lanza, a Hamilton native, for her contributions to Toronto's music scene. Collaborating with Junior Boys member Julian Greenspan, Lanza's deep electro-R&B rings with breathy vocals and distinct lyrics, punctuated with percussive mastery. She may be a Steeltown artist, but we're still proud of Pull My Hair Back's smooth sounds in TO.
PUP - PUP (Royal Mountain Records)
Aggressive and addictive, PUP (formerly Topanga) walk the line of punk with just the right amount of pop; they'll never be accused of being Sum 41 or Blink 182, but the songs are just as catchy. Gang vocals with the requisite 'whoa-oh's' make this a collection of anthems you'll have on repeat in your head, ready to shout every chorus back at them when you see them live. Fun fact: the amazing album art is actually a pencil drawing.
SINS - I Die (Pretty Pretty)
Possibly Toronto's most overlooked album of the year is ϟ†Nϟ' debut full length. While the city slowly seems to be embracing electronic music that lurks in the shadows, I Die was pretty, pretty slept on - maybe it was too goth for a summer album. The disc features guest spots by Anna Coquette, Rich Forbes (Mauzoleum), and Ell V Gore, and while the retro-meets-internet production alone is bliss for the blissless, the decision to bring on guests gives it an extra push. Get caught up on this one - before you die.
Fresh Snow - I (Reel Cod Records)
This year has seen Wavelength's yearly music festival kick off some of the hottest bands in Toronto. Fresh Snow - garnering an "incubator band" status with Wavelength during its fest this past spring, despite the fact that one of the band member's broken wrists prevented the band from playing a full set - continues to gain recognition for their cerebral, noisy, experimental sounds, making the cover of NOW last week. Expect to hear more about them in 2014.
Shad - Flying Colours (Black Box)
City-hopping Shad may have been born in Kenya and recently decided to give Vancouver a try, but there's no question that Toronto is at the heart of this rapper's latest, and while opinions will be split on whether he's TO claimable we wanted Flying Colours on this list. Amid the intelligent rhymes and perfect wordplay that he's has made his calling card, he drops references to Forest Hill, the diversity of our city, and one passing mention of Rob Ford. This should be the album that takes Shad to that next level he's been pushing for.
The top 5 Toronto EPs / mixtapes from 2013
These releases were short and sweet, so our list is too. Here are five can't miss EPs and/or mixtapes from Toronto in 2013. Look for more from these artists next year - they're a sure bet for putting putting more great music into the world.
- Petra Glynt - Of This Land (Healing Power)
- Tasha the Amazon - FiDiYootDem mixtape
- Moon King - Obsession II (One Big Silence)
- High Park/Roman Kov - Northern Hospitality (Castledrum)
- The Soupcans - Parasite Brain (Telephone Explosion)
The top 5 Toronto compilations from 2013
A Toronto good compilation captures the spirit of a section of the city's music scene and acts as a gateway for listeners to new sounds, plus often lets listeners get a feel for a particular label. Dance and electronic ruled the comp list this year, and a double appearance by Healing Power Records might hint at big things to come.
- Heart of Toronto (Healing Power)
- Dovercourt EP (3024)
- Castledrum Companions (Castledrum)
- Fruits (Healing Power)
- NW001 (Neighbourhood Watch)
Other staff picks from 2013
- US Girls - Free Advice Column
- Black Walls - Mary Of The Shrines
- Fiver - Lost the Plot
- Beliefs - Beliefs
- Pachamama - Pachamama
- Gay - Dance Mix 95
- The Weeknd - Kissland
- Hooded Fang - Graves
- Light Fires - Faces
- Wildlife - ...On the Heart
- The Sadies - Internal Sounds
- The Cliks - Black Tie Elevator
- Not The Wind, Not The Flag - Garments Of Light
- The Box Tiger - Set Fire
- Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - UZU
- Dinosaur Bones - Shaky Dream
- Cale Sampson - The Big Picture
- Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow
- By Divine Right - Organized Accidents
Writing contributions by Lori Steuart, Matt Forsythe, Derek Flack and Aubrey Jax
by Staff via blogTO