Top 10 Calgary albums of 2019

Opinions. Assholes.

You get it.

Everyone has one, colostomy bag optional.

So it is we approach, as we forever do, the best albums released in Calgary in the year 2019.

The caveat, as always, is that they are the best we heard.

There is so much more we haven’t, which is both a fault of our (my) own, but also those of Calgary artists who don’t have the confidence or actual knowledge of how good what it is they’re doing, and are willing to promote.

The musicians in this city continue to impress, astound and challenge, make it impossible not to view them through a universal lens.

There is no “Calgary sound,” per se, just amazing people living and creating in a city that far too often doesn’t celebrate the arts that it (often begrudgingly) cultivates.

Oddly, despite personal issues that have fugged things up, the music heard last year left its mark in a way that it often hasn’t.


Before we get there.

May I please ask that if you’re a local musician who’s doing something you’re proud of and want to promote, send us (me) your music, your concert info, your happenings to

Make no promises, but still have that passion to showcase yyc awesome. Hope to always.

36? — Milk Mountain

It’s the hill you climb, the place you and your thoughts go on a dreamy, soulful, sexy, funky, warped, Weened, wondrous, pastoral psilocybicnic with Prosecco and bread and cheese. With sturdy and sure songwriting sherpa Taylor Cochrane leading the way, you’re above the clouds but in the haze — the sun breaking through as you lie in the cool clover patch of the bittersweet Pretending You’re Alright, seat yourself on the pysch-rocky perch of I Think My Dog Knows I’m High and run through the bramble bush of sell u love/rip u off; the stars coming out on the Mazzy, fuzzy EZFM and the milky, moody …but I don’t know myself (Suddenly). It peaks. And you’ll never want to come down. 36? remain one of the most interesting, most consistently surprising, inventive, challenging, entertaining, brave and artistic rock acts in this city, country or continent. On a summit all their own.

Evan Freeman — Beyond the Stars

When you get it so, so right the first time, what do you do to follow it up. If you’re Evan Freeman, you match it with something all its own. On this, the musician’s sophomore effort, nowhere is the weight of his near-perfect debut, 2016’s Luna, felt or even seem a passing thought. It’s as free as that first effort, sounding similar — a sweet and pretty shoegazey paean to Britpoppers past, from the Boo Radleys and Talk Talk to Radiohead and Pink Floyd — while not treading the exact same ground or rehashing the same sounds and ideas. But like Luna, you’ll want to consume it from beginning to end, take the journey all in in one sonic sitting, the ups and downs all part of a story that you can easily become invested in. So, perhaps not a followup, but rather a sublime sequel that stands on its own myriad merits. Now, let’s see if he can make it three in a row. No pressure …

Sabo Forte – The Most Obvious Loophole

He’s one of the city’s old-schoolers who doesn’t always get his due. Perhaps it’s part of the lingering stigma surrounding Cowtown hip-hop or perhaps it’s the fact that familiarity breeds complacency. Whatever the case, longtime yyc DJ and MC Sabo Forte re-plants his flag firmly at the centre of the scene with this ridiculously catchy and invigorating melody- and beat-driven positivity parade. His rhymes tight and delivered in spit-sing, the samples bright, brassy, pounding and pumping, the flow easy and enticing. Highlights, there are many, but head-and-shoulders above it all is Read em Wrong — the biggest, bounciest, brashest and bestest banger to come out of this city. Ever. If there was any justice in the world, you’d be hearing it 24 hours a day on commercial radio across the globe. And Sabo would get his due. Justly.

Emily Triggs — Middletown

A natural beauty. Those are always the best. Those who don’t care, just are and just do. They allow their flaws and blemishes and sorrow and pain to be part of them, yet not entirely define them. And you’re drawn in because of that, but find more depth and layers once you begin to truly appreciate that beauty and openness on every level. From the opening notes of Triggs’ astonishingly honest and easygoing collection of uber personal roots tunes, you’ll fall for it, for her, for those songs. An artist who vocally and musically recalls Neko Case, Dar Williams and other wonderful Alberta performers such as Jane Hawley and Rae Spoon — perhaps an easy comparison due to the fact Triggs’ producer here is longtime Spoon collaborator Lorrie Matheson, but still an apt one — Emily is as comfortable in a honkytonker as she is in a quiet, folk club handclapper. It’s a beaut of an album. One that you might just fall in love with.

Tim Williams — Corazones y Murallas

His unapologetic love of Mexican and Central American influences has always been a part of local bluesman Tim Williams’s music, due to his upbringing in Southern California. Here, the guitarist fully embraces the music and those influences in a way that’s reverential, seemingly innate, and, due to his world-class skills as a musician and interpreter, truly sensational. He’s surrounded himself with performers from around the world, including from the warmer climes he pays tribute to, who help him bring to life that affection. Like the aforementioned Sabo Forte, Williams is an artist we often take for granted due to his pervasive presence in the city’s blues clubs via jams and weekly residencies, but hopefully seeing and hearing him in a more concisely exotic setting will expand and reinforce the appreciation of his gifts and talents.

Amy Nelson — Educated Woman

Part of the charm of an old house is the creaks, the cracks, the cobwebs, the antiquated structure, accoutrements and feel. You can see the history, you can hear the history and, even if it’s not stabled in your memory barn, feel as if it’s part of your own history. Amy Nelson flings open the porch doors on one of this past year’s most welcoming homesteads with her latest album Educated Woman. Built on a foundation of twang and lonesome croon, she plinks and plunks her way across the floorboards, flowing above it as if a ghost of a century ago, while leaving definitive footprints in the dust. Old timey, yes, but in a way that makes you feel like one of the faded yet brilliantly rendered sepia-toned portraits watching from the walls.

Chron Goblin — Here Before

Labels are good guide posts. But rarely do they actually describe or define the destination. Using the term “stoner rock“ for Calgary hard-rock act Chron Goblin, for example, works, but, it also totally undercuts where they are as a band and how far they’ve come. Here Before is as pugnacious, bombastic, trippy and head-noddy as any of their other albums, but it hardly tells how refined, skilled and focussed their approach to the heavy has become over the past decade and on this record. Sure, Nebula, Kyuss, Fu Manchu even Tad — let’s go there. But the Gobbers take you further. Well past where the signs lead.

Future Womb — Babygirlgalactic

When you open a vein, you deserve attention. Maybe it’s not a cry for help, but rather a cry to vent, mourn and celebrate life. This album from Mikaela Cochrane — produced by her 36?-fronting brother Taylor — is as brutally naked and bloody and as tear-streaked as any moment where you question why and for how long. But it’s also delightful and airy and soul-affirming in the most human of ways. Tori Amos meets Throwing Muses meets life. It’s a gorgeous statement from someone who will heal and hopefully create again soon.

A.Y.E. — Soul Food the Audiobiography Of​.​.​.

Jazzy, conscious hip-hop at its best. Jahimba Hutson (a.k.a. A.Y.E.) is so pro that he jumps time and place, like a Dream Warrior who went solo and took a quantum leap. There are few in this city who have a vision as complete as Hutson’s, and who transcend their limitations — monetarily, geographically — as expertly as he does. There’s a steady hand and imagination on the wheel, which makes the slo-jam, so-pi tracks reach the port of their destination in a manner that makes docking a sensationally enjoyable and satisfying experience. Soul Food isn’t a snack, it’s the full-meal deal.

The Shiverettes — Real Shrill Bitches

Anger is an energy. One that should make a difference. And, it should be noted, the folks in agro-punk quartet The Shiverettes, have done. RSB is both an acknowledgement of the humble, angry and socially conscious origins that led to their pro-femme profile and a progression of who they are as musicians. It’s a pretty excellent listen, one that harnesses the anger in a way that gives you the energy to move forward.

Five more: Gone Cosmic’s Sideways In Time; Julius Sumner Miller’s We Teach Nothing; Downway’s Last Chance for More Regrets; Calgary Folk Music Festival (V/A) — Cover Art: Freak Motif — Hot Plate.

(Photo of 36? courtesy Sara Kuefler.)