It was a year when the local music scene got back to normal, kinda. We celebrated little miracles like the return of the full Calgary Folk Music Festival after the scaled down Folk Fest Lite but still charming Summer Serenades of 2021. Sled Island, Wordfest, and others rolled along without a hitch. Calgary’s songwriting marvel Carter Felker continued to host Songsmith Sundays at the King Eddy, Patrick MacIntyre brought endless great music to the Ironwood after a fundraiser the year before staved off a brush with closure, and Festival Hall somehow suddenly turned 10 years old.
Jason Schneider’s long-awaited Art Bergmann biography, The Longest Suicide, finally saw the light of day and dug into the musician’s tale while still leaving some of the bodies buried (see Page 18), and the delightful Amazon Prime series High School, based on the memoir from city pop star sisters Tegan and Sara, begged for binge watching as viewers delighted in the authenticity of the story while playing games of I-Know-What-Street-That-Is regarding the Calgary locations.
And, most importantly, as we’ve come to expect, many memorable albums from area musicians were released, including these excellent records we were lucky to hear, and which are presented in no particular order.
Mariel Buckley – Everywhere I Used to Be
From the first notes of this Marcus Paquin-produced marvel you enter a world of brutal candour dressed in beautiful chords. With lyrical moments that catch your breath in your chest and your guilt in your dreams, Buckley stares herself in the eye and never blinks. (MLW)
36?/Laura Hickli – Naturally/Both Feet in the World, At Least I Can Stand
This dual sided album, which features the genius of Taylor Cochrane and their partner Laura Hickli, is a study in swirling diversity, as each side of the album is very different from the other, yet both have the effect of pulling you further away from the world while grounding you in it. Weird, wild and alluring, you’ll find yourself pressing repeat over and over. (MLW)
Gone Cosmic — Send For A Warning, The Future’s Calling
While the band’s debut, 2019’s Sideways in Time, featured them learning to mesh with powerhouse frontperson Abbie Thurgood — the songs all but written before she joined the dude crew — with this sophomore release she was a part of the proceedings from the get-go. And it shows. Sounding like Placebo-era Feist with some heavy, bloozy Grace Slick hippy, tripiness thrown in for good measure, Thurgood and Co. bring out the best from one another. It’s a nine-song, sonic slab of beef and smoke, soulful and stoned, while utterly, completely in control. (MB)
NIKU — Sugar Metal
Ambition is sometimes a tricky thing to navigate in a local band. Often you can hear it, and it can come off as desperate, contrived or careerist. But on other occasions, it’s less a bug than a feature — appealing to a broader audience while still maintaining a perceptible sense of integrity, skill and sense of self. Not pandering. Merely naturally engaging. On their full-length debut, this slick, ready-for-FM four-piece sound like a tamed, de-punked Pup, with the roots and rockabilly of Guadalcanal Diary, and the pure ’90s alt-rock earwormery of acts such as Better Than Ezra. It’s catchy, it’s cool and it doesn’t chase away an audience, it welcomes one, with open arms. Nothing wrong with that. (MB)
Twenty Centuries of Stony Sleep – Winter
You want music you can’t glue a label on? Music that goes where ever it wants, when it wants, and if you come along, great? If you don’t, so what? This music is going over there, then up on that mountain and then, for kicks, to the bottom of the river a few hundred miles away. Listening to these songs is like running one of those claw cranes; you put your money in and never know what’s coming out from under all those other shiny toys; but whatever it is, it’s sure to delight. (MLW)
Samantha Savage Smith — Fake Nice
It would be unfair to call S-cubed’s third outing a return to form. True, her 2011 debut Tough Cookie remains one of the best albums released in this city over the past two decades (at least) — a complete and focussed work of art that has only aged like wonderful, dreamy, despondent yet beguiling fine wine. Its follow-up, 2015’s Fine Lines, wasn’t that. But it wasn’t supposed to be. It was something else, not without its charms or notable songs or performances, but seemingly with a little uncertainty guiding it. Or rather, guiding Smith. Admittedly, she thought it might actually be her swangsong. Thankfully not. Fake Nice is the sound of an artist rediscovering herself, discovering her love of music again, and bringing us along for the ride. And what a ride it is. So confident and assured is the 11-song outing, she sounds ready to take on the world, finding melodies and popsmithery that could anchor any John Hughes film, have Duckie dressed up and ready to escort her and her bunny to the ball, even if it’s on a purely plutonic level. He still loves her, though. And so will you. (MB)
Richard Inman – Waiting on the River
A return to Alberta brought the cowboy in Inman to the surface with this album of spare, gorgeous songs about turning horses loose to live or die in wildfires, cinches and hearts breaking at rodeos, and games of spin-the-whiskey-bottle with the truth. (MLW)
Self-Cut Bangs — Circle Around the Free
Calgary power (pop) couple Cayley O’Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) serve up a second helping of sass and candy floss, with a smidge more crunch, crotch and nu wavery than their eponymous outing. Helping them realize and fill out their sweet Sweet, jangly Bangles-y and Cars-ish guitar-synth sound is a collection of fellow scenesters including members of Cardiograms, Night Committee and Hot Little Rocket. Only one track cracks the four-minute mark, yet, like the Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame About Ray, the entire record feels like an epic of melody and memorability, singalong, clapalong songs that, on the surface seem like empty calories, but satisfy in a way few can. A brilliant power-pop album. (MB)
Ghostkeeper – Multidimensional Culture
Shane Ghostkeeper and his wife Sarah Houle continue to follow their hearts and musical muse to break trail through untouched terrain to earn the prettiest view, a view with no one else nearby. Opener Doo Wop is pure Ghostkeeper, random and playful, setting the tone for what’s to come. Now, we can’t wait for Ghostkeeper to put out that album of more traditional country tunes to appease the family back at the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement near High Level. (MLW)
Mixed Blame – Bottle Rocket EP
Sure, they get attention because they’re all teenagers, but that’s what makes these four songs so delightful. They’re not trying to be anything but who they are, a group of young people from High River making music because it’s fun. Boisterous and unassuming, the songs feel free of the burden of expectation, and, in that manner, are reminiscent of the sounds coming out of the Calgary punk movement over 40 years back. (MLW)
Further Listening: Sunglaciers’s Subterranea, Kaeyae Alo’s 17Times, Clea Anais’s Circle Zero, Selci’s Fallen Woman I and II, and Wake’s Thought Form Descent.