A snapshot of the year in local music
If you have doubts that Calgary is great let’s reflect on the last 12 months and change your mind. With several events happening each of the 52 weeks it’s impossible to touch on everything but here are the musical highlights that can fit onto a page: new labels new festivals new venues new bands as well a couple of new albums from some old favourites.
So bad news first: There was a flood and it washed Sled Island out to sea (or being an island was it already out to sea?). It was a bummer but on the bright side we got a few other great festivals rolling through town.
Before floodwaters rose Music Calgary hosted SoundOff which highlighted some of Calgary’s most promising indie bands at two nights of sold-out shows. On those bills were acts like Fist City and Lab Coast (who both went on to successful European tours) as well as Miesha and the Spanks Raleigh and Reuben and the Dark who we’ll get back to later.
BIG festival founded by Calgarians celebrated the city with film theatre dance art and lots of music in a day-long event. It showed off all the wonderful homegrown talent of this fine city.
Calgary was also blessed with Western Canada’s annual music awards show and festival BreakOut West. The weekend brought the West’s best performers of any and all genres. A couple months later the Canadian Folk Music Awards rolled through town bringing Canada’s top-notch folk artists.
On that note country songwriter Tim Hus released his sixth album Western Star . It’s an expansive country album in the truest style telling tales written on gravel roads between shining seas.
In the chill of winter 2013 a new venue opened up in Inglewood. The Calgary Folk Music Festival held a grand opening for its new offices and a stunning new concert venue Festival Hall. The venue has been home to many renowned international and national performers as well as hosting local acts like Boreal Sons SAVK and Axis of Conversation who all have new albums. Each of these bands has honed a unique style that exemplifies the adept songwriting ability of Calgary artists. Boreal Sons’ indie folk approach on Threadbare swells brilliantly. SAVK offers a refined and slightly minimal folk style that utilizes flourishes sparsely but effectively. Meanwhile Axis of Conversation kicks it up with lots of strings and playful instrumentation that takes you to unexpected places.
One of Calgary’s favourite folk artists Reuben and the Dark signed to Toronto indie powerhouse label Arts & Crafts. They released a breathtaking single “Rolling Stone” in anticipation of their forthcoming debut album.
All-ages venues seemed to get the bum end of the stick. The long-running New Black Centre had to close its doors. Its close neighbour The Area also shut down. Even the newest addition to the scene The Alibi Room had a tumultuous 2013 and had to cancel all its shows last month. That didn’t stop a few local all-ages bands from putting out some phenomenal albums. To name a couple Abstract Asylum released a demo of groove metal that’ll rattle your bones and The Blue released Yard Sale .
Yard Sale is an incredibly solid hip-hop album. It shows maturity and talent far beyond what you’d expect. Hemen Tor-Agbidye makes his own beats peppering them with jazzy R&B that will make you weak in the knees.
While The Blue is just starting to rise local veterans DJ Cosm and Teekay have been busy this year too. Teekay finished up his first solo album PsYYChology which intentionally features Calgary’s finest hip-hop as a means of showing off who to look out for from YYC. The result is a concrete cut of freshness. The duo also came together for a number of collaborations and finished off the year with Dragon Fli Empire’s fifth album Mission Statement .
On the electronic music side Calgary welcomed its newest record label: Modern Math Recordings. The club night-cum-label launched with a new self-titled EP by co-founder Dan Solo’s project Sanctums. This EP flexes some serious chill beats. Keep an eye on this label for some top-notch electronic releases Calgarian and otherwise.
While some labels are just breaking out of the shell Mammoth Cave celebrated its fifth birthday and released a brand new Lab Coast album Walking On Ayr which features a remarkable 16 lo-fi tracks of swoon-worthy indie rock.
Calgary offers a breadth of talent and styles including the emerging experimental guitarist known as Bitter Fictions who released his self-titled LP in the early months of the year. The album offers a plethora of effects that make the melodies pulse drone and feedback into diverging then converging paths.
After a couple years of kicking high and rockin’ hard the Highkicks released a juggernaut of an album. The seasoned duo of Danny Vacon (The Dudes Dojo Workhorse) and Matt Doherty (Raleigh Axis of Conversation) made some throbbing rock with just a bass and some drums.
While working with Vacon Doherty also kept busy on Raleigh’s new album Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies . This has to be one of the most beautiful local albums to hit shelves this year. Clea Anais Brock Geiger and Doherty paint vivid aural pictures of Calgary’s moving streets and colourful skies.
Back in the land of rock and roll the hard-working and hard-rocking Miesha Louie and cohort Stuart Bota recorded their third full-length album called Girls Like Wolves . Catchy loud and fierce Miesha and The Spanks continue to grow the recognition they deserve across this country.
Not long ago Jung People released a beautiful LP recorded at Hotel2Tango Studios (Godspeed You! Black Emperor Arcade Fire) in between shows at SXSW and Canadian Music Week. The record comes with a full illustrated story to accompany the experimental-leaning post-rock concept album.
Getting even louder the seventh annual Calgary Beer Core (CBC) awards highlighted a ton of awesome talent. Chron Goblin took home the best CD award. Their newest offering Life for the Living is heavy stoner-rock that lays it out loud and proud.
Cowpuncher also got an award from CBC for best performance and put out a new album Ghost Notes . Their tongue-in-cheek rock and roll meets country with some of the catchiest and best sounding music the band has made to date.
You can’t get any louder than metal. Noctis (a metal festival and conference running since 2007) decided to shut things down after this year’s 666 edition but Calgary Metal Fest had a successful second year featuring such local acts as Wake Chron Goblin and Kataplexis among many others. There’ll be plenty to look forward to in years to come.
Even older than Noctis (and most of the bands mentioned thus far) is Calgary’s venerable horror punk band Forbidden Dimension who had their 25th birthday this year. To celebrate 19 brave souls decided to take on their favourite FD track and put it on a tribute album lovingly called Creepsville ’13 .
Not far behind Chixdiggit came out of hiding to play their only show of 2013 and close off their second decade of existence. Fat Wreck Chords released Double Diggits which contains the “Born on the First of July” and “From Scene to Shining Scene” albums in their entirety plus eight rare bonus tracks.
Punk lives on in the younger generations with bands like The Mandates and Hag Face both coming out with new self-titled full-lengths this year. Hag Face is a fierce and noisy girl group while The Mandates keep it real with their powerful and catchy rock tunes.
Loud rock and roll from The Martyr Index caused amps to vibrate and shake this year. After returning from a two-year hiatus they put out Songs in the Key of Strife in early 2013. The band keeps to their ethos of loud rock with undertones of anarchy.
The Pygmies are putting out some of the darn near catchiest and coolest garage rock in Southern Alberta. Founded by former members of The Neckers the now foursome are writing songs reminiscent of ’60s rock and roll complete with psychedelic organ sounds and otherwise crazy energy.
Another favourite Ghostkeeper came out with Horse Chief! War Thief! The band has a unique sound that incorporates noise and psych while still managing to write meaningful lyrics and poppy melodies.
There you have it just a slice of what happened in Calgary’s music scene this year. But don’t take my word for it. If you haven’t done so already make it your resolution to get out in 2014 and enjoy the fabulous sounds of this crazy diverse city.