Top 5 Calgary albums of 2018

Another year, another blissfully bountiful bumper-crop from Calgary music makers.

It really is ridiculous the amount of talent in this community — and it should be stressed how much it is a community, one that’s welcoming, open, collaborative, supportive, diverse, engaging, willing to experiment, push boundaries and make the scene something special.

And to make music that matters.

It goes without saying, I didn’t, couldn’t hear all of it. But. Much of what I did hear, I loved.

And I want to hear much, much more in 2019 and promote much, much more with previews, exclusive listens or however we can get the word out. So if you’re a local artist, know a local artist, are aware of a local artist, please send them this way by emailing (If you don’t get a response right away, please try again, as it’s still a pretty skeleton crew here and often a second nudge is needed.)

So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 local albums that made their way to my ears this past year, with some bonus albums to definitely check out.

1. Astral Swans, Strange Prison: Matthew Swann remains one of this city’s, no, country’s, most enigmatic and beautifully bleak psych-folk poets. His second full-length is another astoundingly, confoundingly dreamy descent into the darkness of a psyche that turns mental torment into something that awes, inspires, elevates and leaves a mark on your heart. The first three songs alone — Blow Away, Controls and What Are You Gonna Do With Yourself — are enough to cement his songwriting genius. In an alternate and much better universe, Astral Swans is a goddamn superstar. 

2. Mariel Buckley, Driving In the Dark: Long has Buckley been lauded in the local landscape — an alt-country darling that was highly respected and expected to become something bigger and better. That she did with her sophomore release, one that crosses over into something still AC&W but also so much more. Recalling Kathleen Edwards at her most immediate and intimate, Bucks takes a great leap forward with this Leeroy Stagger-produced warm and wonderful collection of gems. It’s the perfect prairie road-trip record that also doubles as a truly wonderful whiskey tumbler to take away your troubles while leaving no regrets.

3. Chris Reimer, Hello People: This posthumous double-album release from former member of iconic Calgary act Women is a gorgeous, bittersweet thing of wonder and what-ifs. Spearheaded by those who loved him including his partner Rena Kozak, who performs under the name Child Actress, and released by the Flemish Eye label, it collects unreleased material from a decade prior to his unexpected death in 2012 at the age of 26 in a surprisingly cohesive way. Mixing elements of Philip Glass, Glenn Branca and Brian Eno, Reimer was an ambitious and remarkably unfettered artist whose loss should be mourned both personally and musically. On a comforting note, proceeds from its sales will go to the Chris Reimer Legacy Fund Society, which was established by his family and friends to support dance bursaries, a music award, the production of his music, and various other projects, many of which involve children.

Jess Knights (Photo courtesy Sebastian Buzzalino.)

4. Jess Knights, Won’t Wait (EP): Longtime local songstress Knights finally had her solo coming out with this sassy, brassy, saucy, sexy and superb five-song soul-country EP. Her voice is so confident and assured that you’ll see how much that seasoning — on stages in Calgary clubs, often performing covers to indifferent crowds — has benefited her. She owns every single note, she sings in a way that demands your attention and sirens like a denim-clad diva. It helps, too, that her backing band is a stellar collection of some of the city’s best (Russell Broom, Chris Byrne, Spencer Cheyne, Mike Little and Aaron Young). But the real star here is the enchanting vocalist, who you can file beside Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Eliza Doolittle in your collection of some of the best.

5. Carbolizer, S/T: You know the old saying: If you remember the ’80s, well, you remember the ’80s. And if you don’t, this eponymous debut from musician/producer L. Adam Fox will definitely help you remember. Or take you back there. Or introduce you to it. Warm, pillowy, pastel-coloured, nu wave synth-pop that pulls you into its cashmere embrace and pulls out memories of buying broaches from Le Chateau, pleated pants and your Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy crushes. But rather than being derivative or relying entirely on the retro, it manages to be something very in the moment. If you miss those days, or, hell, miss the revivalist music of MIA Canpopper Diamond Rings, then this one is for you. And if you just want a new electro experience, Carbolizer will plug you in.

Some more in no particular order of excellence: Ellen Doty’s Come Fall, High Parade’s The Ocean, Copperhead’s Touch (EP), T. Buckley’s Miles We Put Behind, Miesha and the Spanks’ Girls Girls Girls (EP), Des Arcs’ Take Me To Your Island, and Forbidden Dimension’s Muchas Moscas /13 Bloody Greats Live.

(Astral Swans photo courtesy Ben Painter.)

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at