The top albums and EPs released by Toronto artists in 2014 jump from the city's punk revival to its shadowy gutter synth scene. While many of the usual subjects are absent and it's refreshing to see so many emerging acts and new names behind the year's most impressive releases, we couldn't get by without one reunion.
If none of these strike your fancy, you'd do well to also check out 2014 releases by Toronto acts Austra, Zones, Bespoken, Nadja, Owen Pallett, Majid Jordan, Trust, WTCHS, Slowpitch, Black Walls, Bry Webb, Wolfcow, Man Made Hill, Fucked Up, Tre Mission, Alpha Strategy, James Clark Institute, Champion Lover, Teenanger, Cold Specks, Jerry Leger and the Situation, Most People, Jennifer Castle, Northumbria, Odonis Odonis, Century Palm, Sarah Burton, The OBGM's, Shahman, and Sarin.
Here are our picks for 2014's best releases by Toronto bands and artists.
Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World
10 years between albums. 10 years. And yet The Physical World picks up right on the heels of You're A Woman, I'm A Machine. Some shrugged their shoulders at more of the same, but looking back at the decade between, no one filled the stripped-down, aggressive dance punk niche they carved, so what's wrong with picking up where they left off? Seeing them live confirmed that it wasn't just studio magic - they're back. MF
Valery Gore - Idols in the Dark Heart
Challenging the boundaries of chamber pop, Valery Gore combined her classical influences and experimental tendencies on her stunning third album. While many of the songs are based around Valery's crystal clear emotive voice and piano, additions like metallic beats and noise create a broad sonic palette. The lyrics are consistently smart and evocative, especially on songs like "Character Girls, Quiet Guys" and "July," the latter adding a playful dose of jazz into the mix. Her vocal acrobatics and spare arrangements make closing track "S.O." a sweet ending. DB
Comet Control - Comet Control
I was super-disappointed when I heard that psych-rock visionaries Quest For Fire were calling it quits in 2013. Long a fan of their guitar-heavy explorations I felt as though Toronto was being robbed of their mushroom-induced magic. The wake didn't last long as though, as Comet Control soon took up the mission with a similar trajectory and phase pedals on stun. Their debut was a highlight to my year, with Chad Ross and Andrew Moszynski's guitar interplay laying spacial groundwork for Ross' otherworldly vocal melodies. ESP
Alvvays - Alvvays
Alvvays' self-titled debut doesn't set out to break new ground, but it felt like a rush of fresh air amongst the indie offerings of the year. Bands who traffic in vintage jangle-pop rarely have the songwriting skills to stand out from the pack, but Molly Rankin and co. proved themselves adept with instant earworms like "Next of Kin" and "Archie, Marry Me." Alvvays is hazy summer music done right. SK
Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise
Toronto isn't exactly known for its black metal scene, so you'd be forgiven if you thought Thantifaxath's Sacred White Noise was some ungodly Norwegian creation. But though it was birthed in our own backyard, doom-obsessed Europeans would readily approve. It's a dark, hellish masterpiece that's somehow both archaic and progressive in sound, and pulls off the metal holy grail of balancing technical virtuosity with powerful songwriting. SK
Babe Rainbow - Kinky Begger
Pressing play on this deceptively minimal album again, I remembered why I enjoyed it so much when it dropped. Cameron Reed has a disarmingly simple approach to electronic production, but the music plays between easy and engaging repeat listens. Babe Rainbow's drive to create discomfort through layered beats and melodies is less at the forefront than earlier releases, but tracks like "My Friends, I Remember" still play with dread. Wake up to this sleeper and enjoy with an avocado.
Absolutely Free - Absolutely Free
If patience were an instrument, Absolutely Free have reached Shankir-levels. After two celebrated EP's (2012's U.F.O./Glass Tassle and 2013's On A Beach/Clothed Woman, Sitting ), the build up for the LP was well-rewarded. Single "Beneath The Air" sounds like Neu! jamming with The Sea And Cake, and introduces us to a selection of sunny Krautrock grooves that sink into your pleasure centres. Absolutely Free wafts through the room like the smell of fresh cookies, with a lingering elation that suggests some special ingredient. CG
Bile Sister - Faucet
Between 2012's Octant Brim and 2014's Faucet, synth queen and former Wolfcow member Julia Reich has come a long way. The cassette is bent up, danceable lo-fi that never takes itself too seriously yet manages to ride the magic edge between sexy and menacing, and it's taking the city's scuzz pop scene to further into the foggy gothic territory first scouted by The Pink Noise and U.S. Girls.
Doomsquad - Kalaboogie
While their name suggests goth samba, the three siblings of Doomsquad operate on a whole other plane, mixing ethereal vocals, trance-like drums, and alien guitars. "Waka Waka" follows the Cocteau Twins tradition of silly song names while dropping a seriously heavy groove. Final track "Ovoo" (inspired by Drake?) offers a solid distillation of Doomsquad's skills. The auspicious debut is a worthy addition to the roster of Hand Drawn Dracula, and it's definitely an album to get lost in. DB
Greys - If Anything
This year's big contribution to Toronto's grunge revival movement, If Anything is a satisfying, skillful execution of planned chaos - just when you think the whole thing's going to fall apart in a distortion-filled heap, some insanely catchy hook cuts through the noise to pull it together. Yes, the In Utero influence and Fugazi nods are obvious, but a band that kicks their album off with the tune "Guy Picciotto" obviously isn't trying to hide it. SK
The top 5 Toronto EPs of 2014
Pick a Piper / Squalloscope / Love Cult
Drone/dance duo Love Cult's stellar Full of Nothing label, based in the northern city of Petrozavodsk, Russia hooked up with Squalloscope (Austria) and Toronto threesome Pick A Piper to produce collaborative and solo tracks together on this surprising, continent-jumping five song release. The resulting electronic EP, while way below the radar, is a gorgeous listen that shouldn't be overlooked.
Weaves - Weaves
Initially I thought I was applying the word "unhinged" to Buzz Records because of their love of all things noisy. But Weaves throws a wrench into that. Or do they? A youthful exuberance runs through their veins - a need to break every rule in the playbook and still come out with the hooks (or barbs) in tact. Singer Jasmyn Burke first captured my attention while fronting short-lived Rattail, but Weaves match it with incredible musicianship (see tracks like "Motorcycle"). Big things are coming for this band. ESP
Stacey - Stacey (Reconstruction)
Remix EPs were a minor trend this year (Weaves did it too), and while there's a stigma attached to the five letter word, few releases were as addicting as Reconstruction, YDID's electronic re-imagining of Stacey's 2013 self titled. Melancholic production soaks around lyrics of nostalgia and longing - it would be too sugary-sweet except for the hint of some sinister understanding. I don't want to make promises to Lana Del Rey fans, but I don't want to keep secrets here, either.
Vierance - Semblance
Toronto's newest label (or is it? I try to keep up), Kensington Market's gutter goth crew launched DETH Records with Semblance earlier this year. Old darkwave sounds meet with newer ideas in electronic production: at its worst this EP sounds like Crystal Castles blissing out on special K and re-recording Disintegration - and that's at its worst. A must-listen for fans of fog machines or Glass Candy.
Hermans - Zaires
The final Z O D I A C 4 4 release of twelve, techno duo Hermans' (Jerry Riggs and Maxwell Church) Zaires features a Basic Soul Unit remix, and the duo take house to a demonic place. When the clock strikes twelve on midnight, rely spooky Hermans disc to exorcize twelve months of bad vibes and bring on the golden age of good weird.
The top 5 Toronto compilations of 2014
- The Many Moods of Healing Power Records (Healing Power)
- Psych Pop 2 (Optical Sounds)
- Deth Vol. 1 (Deth Records)
- Bedroomer Vol. 1 (Bedroomer)
- CD Punk Revolution Vol. 3 (Offerings Magazine)
What did we miss? Leave your favourite Toronto releases of 2014 in the comments.
Contributions by Evan Sue-Ping, Shazia Khan, Colin Gillespie, Matt Forsythe, Dorian Barton.
Note: While Colin Gillespie is a member of Greys, he did not contribute to their appearance on this list.
Photo by Matt Forsythe
by Aubrey Jax via blogTO