You really don’t need a comprehensive band-by-band guide to Sled Island. Either you know exactly what you want to see and you’ll make sure it happens or you’ll blindly go into shows and discover new acts every night. Both options are excellent but a perfect mix of the two is the ideal option for Sled adventuring. Still it’s in our DNA as music writers to tell you what to do so we couldn’t help but offer some top choices for this year’s festival.

Androgynous Mind

Androgynous Mind is the newest project from former Women guitarist-vocalist Pat Flegel and while there’s only a five-song EP on which to base a write-up of Androgynous Mind just hearing him with a guitar should be enough to get excited. Androgynous Mind’s debut Nightstalker EP opens with a pair of tantrums that sound like some lost Harry Pussy recording session before segueing into “Knock at My Door” a spectrally understated pop gem worth playing bleary-eyed at four in the morning. “Knock” revels in Flegel’s distinctive guitar presence working shapely lattices of notes into descending sheets of melody in a manner both lulling and forceful but you remember that from Public Strain right? Elsewhere I’m thinking of Lou Reed nursing a hangover (“Juanita”) but forget reference points: I just can’t wait to catch up on what he’s been working on since relocating to Vancouver. Post-punk guitar intricacies rarely mesh with pop hooks so masterfully yet Flegel has proven himself many times to be staggeringly adept at both — who wouldn’t be excited?

— Devin Friesen

Bennink/West/Ex

I’m probably preaching to the choir here but for fans of avant/experimental/free music this one’s a must. Dutch drummer Han Bennink brings decades of experience behind the kit as a co-founder of the I.C.P. (Instant Composers Pool) Orchestra plus combos with Dexter Gordon Sonny Rollins Eric Dolphy and more. Brodie West is Toronto’s most sought-after sax player whether blowing solo or collaborating with projects like Broken Social Scene and Tenderness. Lastly Terrie Ex provides the signature barbed wire guitar sound of political post-punk band The Ex active since the early ’80s and showing no signs of slowing any time soon. Together the trio’s woolly strain of free jazz will redefine all preconceptions. Prepare for a face melting.

— Jesse Locke

Boris

Genre-mutating psych-rock powerhouse Boris may take its name from the opening cut to The Melvins’ Bullhead but they probably have more in common with the muscular threat of the album’s second track “Anaconda.” This feedback-flooded trio promises to drag you into Nietzsche’s abyss. Executing the ablutions of amplifier worship guitarist Wata bassist Takeshi and vocalist-drummer Atsuo perform sprawling futuristic soundscapes that resonate with sublime undercurrents of malice.

Distant galaxies beckon as Boris seamlessly slides between the glass gateways of black metal and ambient pop. At once weighty and ethereal Boris has found success producing concept-driven commercial work alongside progressive pieces that remain utterly free in form aspect and intention. Consider them a cutting-edge clan of sonic samurai who pour emotional vitriol and Zen-drone serenity into every mind-blowing composition.

— Christine Leonard

Dog Day

Rarely do bands peak five albums deep into their career but that’s exactly what happened with Dog Day. In releasing Deformer in 2011 the Halifax band stripped down to its guitar-and-drums core — couple Seth Smith and Nancy Urich — and resultingly delivered a stadium-sized bedroom recording that straddled pop-punk dream-pop and hazy indie territories. Still don’t confuse Dog Day with Best Coast (or any of the other pieces of shit who appropriate Navajo fashion). Listen closely and beneath the dreamy haze you’ll find bludgeoning guitar riffage tom-heavy fills and sleepytime — yet wonderfully executed — boy-girl vocals. It’s sweet without verging on saccharine; muscular without being testosterone-driven; catchy without feeling like an Urban Outfitters comp. Which is to say that Dog Day’s music is effortlessly complex — and endlessly rewarding. Go to.

— Mark Teo

Duchess Says

As far as dance-floor romances go Montreal quartet Duchess Says isn’t subtle and it isn’t seductive. It’s more of a hair-pulling face-slapping “what the hell just happened to me” situation. With a backbeat somewhere between dance punk (I know but trust me here) and no wave and a vibe that splits the difference between a club night and the apocalypse Duchess Says will provide plenty of grooves and hooks to get lost in but also the occasional wall of shrieking noise to snap you back into reality. Between singer Annie-Claude Deschênes’ often-wordless howls Simon “Says” Besre and Philippe Clémont’s lock-step rhythms and Ismael Tremblay’s guitar and Moog squeals you can expect to leave the show dazed sweaty and desperate for more. Fortunately they’re playing three sets at Sled this year which just might be enough to get your fill.

— Peter Hemminger

Fiver

It’s a shame that after releasing the wonderful Polaris-deserving Songs of Man Toronto swoon-country act One Hundred Dollars quietly went on hiatus. But the band’s creative restlessness — and insistence on telling the devastating vividly authentic stories of Canada’s working class — continues with Fiver the new project from OHD singer Simone Schmidt. Fiver’s debut single Two New Songs simultaneously polishes Schmidt’s songwriting chops while losing the Rumours -owing polish of Songs of Man ; here instrumentation plays second fiddle to Schmidt’s most affecting weapon — her show-stopping gravelly pipes. And after witnessing her silence a crowd with a stripped-down acoustic-only rendition of “Black Gold” — as I did years back at Graffiti’s in Toronto — I’d hazard a guess that Schmidt’s soul-crushing narratives only benefit from the minimalism. For full effect come armed with a lyric sheet.

— Mark Teo

Tim Hecker

Tim Hecker is one of Canada’s greatest exports at least in terms of electronic music. He hails from Montreal and his electronic drones and soundscapes feel like a cold winter’s night. It’s desolate foggy and oftentimes alienating. It’s a ghostly kind of sound where the last thing you feel like doing is dancing. This is the perfect soundtrack to cool off after a day out in the sun. Hecker creates these vast soundscapes that are heavily layered into one chaotic bunch eventually falling into some sort of composition that makes sense. Drones whirr under clicking loops and what sounds like distorted machinery all meshing into one beautiful hunk of sound. Hecker won a Juno this year for best electronic album (if that makes a difference to anybody) and recently played with Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) fame at MUTEK in Montreal. He’s also playing in the Hillhurst United Church so expect it to sound really fucking cool.

— Jeremy Curry

Thurston Moore

When was the last time Thurston Moore was in Calgary? I’m going to guess April 13 1991 when Sonic Youth opened for Neil Young at the Saddledome. I was born in the ’80s so obviously I wasn’t there but that tour retains at least a tinge of infamy — as revered as Sonic Youth are today it’s tough to imagine most Neil Young fans of ’91 having much interest in the year punk broke.

So 2012: Thurston Moore finally returns to Calgary albeit after releasing the lush and acoustic Demolished Thoughts a much different album than Goo . Still acoustic or electric I’m sure I’m not the only Calgarian that feels as if we missed out on years of noise from Moore (and co.). It may have taken two decades but a new generation of Calgarians will finally get to see one of the most important and distinctive musicians of the last three decades performing at Theatre Junction Grand this Friday June 22. Forget 1991: this time it will be different.

— Devin Friesen

Nü Sensae

No longer a two-piece Vancouver’s Nü Sensae have only gotten more terrifying with the addition of Mutators guitarist Brody McKnight. Now Andrea Lukic’s skull-damaging bass and haunting shrieks combined with Daniel Pitout’s impossibly complex drumming is made more dynamic by the sonic glue of McKnight’s thickly layered guitars. They’re still the same beast of a band that we’ve all grown to love but now their sets ebb and flow with higher highs lower lows and heavier heavies. Performing in advance of their Suicide Squeeze debut Sundowning witness them transform from a menacing doom-laden caterpillar into an even more menacing doom-laden butterfly.

— Josiah Hughes

Quaker Parents

While weird-math outfit Each Other might be the most inventive of Sled’s Halifax-related acts — they feature members of Long Long Long who cancelled their fest appearance last year before promptly disbanding — they’re hardly the hookiest Maritime act playing. No that distinction belongs to Quaker Parents the project of brothers Scott and Mark Grundy. Brimming with ear-pleasing Halifax power-pop harmonies and jerky caffeinated guitars Quaker Parents deconstruct trad-pop and builds something entirely new. Their debut album Huge Mask was a jittery collection that’d be welcome by western New York weird-folk communes while cassette Tap Turns Off and EP No Crime When Covered in Grime are lean punchy and sing-songy — it’s the logical extension to the aesthetic championed by Halifax new-guarders (and former Sled faves) York Redoubt. Catch Quaker Parents while they’re still celebrated by the art-school set as they’re destined for much greater heights.

— Mark Teo

Shabazz Palaces

Sled’s hip-hop lineup is relatively thin without the Wu-Tang alumni we’ve grown accustomed to but the appearance of Seattle crew Shabazz Palaces is a bona fide treat. Never mind the fact that frontman Ishmael Butler cut his teeth in the venerable Digable Planets crew — this isn’t about some needless retro throwback. Instead the group blew minds and pushed hip-hop into weird places with last year’s twisted Sub Pop-released masterpiece Black Up and will undoubtedly keep that momentum going in a live setting.

— Josiah Hughes

Terry Malts

San Francisco trio Terry Malts is one of the more under-hyped acts hitting Sled but they’ve got all the makings of a great live band. Despite finding a label home on the twee-centric Slumberland imprint and sharing some sonic similarities to the lo-fi garage movement the reality is that Terry Malts is essentially making party-starting pop-punk that’s at once hilarious (“Mall Dreams”) and pointedly topical (“Not a Christian”). There’s a small chance that if you catch ’em now you’ll get to be one of those braggarts who saw Terry Malts before they got huge.

— Josiah Hughes

The Urinals

The Minutemen may have coined the term “jamming econo” but it’s The Urinals who made the most out of two chords in two minutes or less. The hyperactive pogo-punk of these SoCal scrappers only resulted in 31 songs during their original run of 1977-1980 yet that was enough to inspire covers by Yo La Tengo Gun Club The Butthole Surfers Grass Widow No Age Mika Miko Ceremony and even Calgary’s Women. Bone up on your history with the Negative Capability… Check It Out! comp and make sure not to miss these goofballs if you like having fun.

— Jesse Locke

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan

One of the more intriguing and satisfying music releases so far this year arrived in a rather compact package — an eponymous seven-song 31-minute EP by Montreal duo Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood who perform under the unwieldy (but kinda cool) moniker Yamantaka//Sonic Titan.

The two have created a genre unto their own which they’ve dubbed “noh-wave” — a heady mélange of eastern and western influences ranging from psych-rock to J-pop.

What could’ve easily been an art-damaged mess is instead a beguiling musical pastiche by turns beautiful and jarring — “Hoshi Neko” being an example of the former “Star Over Pureland” of the latter and “Crystal Fortress Over the Sea of Trees” exemplifying a bit of both (it wouldn’t sound out of place on Miles Davis’ sinister Get Up With It ).

Their live show looks like it’ll be worth checking out too with B and Attwood performing with an expanded collective of musicians and visual artists. Plus having them take the stage right before Thurston Moore on Friday June 22 promises a blissful one-two punch of noise therapy.

— Zoltan Varadi

Nate Young

Sled Island usually fills the lineup with a bunch of garage rock bands and throws in a few “alternative” acts for good measure. Luckily this year they managed to throw Nate Young into the mix. Nate Young is known for his devastating noise group Wolf Eyes and zonked-out experimental blues act Stare Case. He is a devastatingly loud force that cannot be tamed. His solo work under his own name is just as intriguing as every other project he is involved in. His series of Regression albums is a slew of distorted samples crummy electronics sad feedback tones bouncing drum sounds squeaks chirps and a gaggle of other weird moments. It’s some of the most interesting noise you will ever hear. Most “noise” acts pride themselves on making the loudest most irritating racket possible. Nate Young will engage you with an insane array of playful and foreign sounds bouncing around your big dumb skull.

— Jeremy Curry

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