The Top 10 Toronto Bands of 2009
2009 was a very prosperous year for the local music scene with already established acts gaining further national and international exposure and the formation of a wealth of new buzz bands, side projects, and collaborations.
As we eagerly await the surprises in store for us in 2010, I've narrowed down my picks for the best local bands in 2009 to a mere ten choices.
#1 Little Girls
The first time I saw Little Girls it was their second show, the first being earlier in the day at local promoter's Mark Pesci's place. It was Record Store day, and they were playing at Sonic Boom. It was incredible, their sound completely out of the blue amazing and they seemed to already be a legit band. I think I saw them like six times in two months and didn't tire of them at all.
Other bands are doing the same thing right now, it's that whole lo-fi reverb movement (which always gets a thumbs up from me), but they're also different. they're way more mysterious. Once "Concepts" was released on Paper Bag Records a few months later, the band had a few line up changes, but they were already easily the brightest band coming out of Toronto.
Super reverby vocals and fuzzy, blissed-out bass lines are pretty much Little Girls calling card. For my money it doesn't get any better than "Last Call." It's persistent and heavy and a sometimes sounds like you're stuck in a mystery level of Super Mario World. They take the really popular lo-fi sound and beat it to a pulp.
Part of the reason why I love Quest For Fire so much is that they're obviously the most stoner basement rock band going, but they still manage to be innovative and energetic. The band is comprised of former members of Cursed, No No Zero, and the Deadly Snakes, and the different musical elements can really been heard in the songs.
Their self titled album, released last June is a strange tale of classic metal, not unlike the Black Sabbath-esque Black Mountain. I played the record for my dad, who staunchly supports the bands of his youth (the Zep's and Floyd's of the world) and he totally dug it. No small feat, as the man can be quite stubborn. Live, they can completely take over a venue. It's simply not possible to sit in the back so as to try to have a seemingly important conversation with some random person you just met. They're commanding and insistant.
And then there's Metz. I couldn't narrow this one down. I tried and failed. I love the band so much it's kinda weird. They've got to be the loudest band in the city, hands down. They play in complete darkness, save for the jittery lightbulb behind the kick drum. They pump out the grueling sludge punk sounds mostly revered by those who love the early 90's sound.
But that's the extent of it. They may offer obvious homages to that era, but the band is experimental in such a way as to blur the lines between genres and labels. The best show I saw Metz play was when somehow a radio station was being picked up by the bands gear and they just ran with it. Or maybe it was more planned out than that, I can't remember, but it really reinforced Metz's raw battery-assault esthetic.
#3 Teen Anger
Teen Anger is not only one of the most vital bands in Toronto's music scene, I think they represent a lot of the good in the current route that music is taking lately. It's garage punk, but it's also evil and groovy enough to shout out to Captain Beefheart in a weird way. Every single time I see them, whether it's supporting the next big thing from the U.S. or headlining a show at the Garrison, it's always a good time.
Alex Lekay is up there in my books as one of the best frontmen in the city. I think every member of the band works together perfectly, and the sound they come up with is the product of that. They currently have a new album in the works, being released on Telephone Explosion Records (which in run by members of the band). The split record they released with San Francisco's Charlie & the Moonhearts has the quality gems "Brain Hiccup" and "Junkyard Wife" which were released beforehand on a cassette called "Banned From the Beaver".
#4 The Magic
The very first time I saw the Magic, I honestly wasn't sure what the hell I was watching. They we're all dressed up in Zorro evening wear and this tiny little dude (singer Geordie Gordon) was crooning his heart out to synth pop dance grooves. The Tranzac can be an odd place sometimes. They're insanely catchy though. It took maybe five minutes for me to get hooked.
I would describe them as high-energy dance jazz/soul. They have yet to put out a full length album, due in part to most of the members being in other bands; guitarist Tim Bruton plays in the damn fine D'Urbervilles, and Geordie and Evan Gordon help out Human Highway when they can. The EP they have released is solid, though. It's definitely a precursor to what I can only imagine they'll sound like on the album. "Night School" will make you shake your ass and question what the hell is going on. It's eerie and confusing and Sylvie Smith's backing vocals are the best part. They're completely unique and stand far ahead of most other similar bands.
#5 Fucked Up
Obviously it's no small feat to win the Polaris Prize. But I think it's a little bit harder for a band like Fucked Up. They were up against some serious acts this year (like heavy hitters Metric and Joel Plaskett), and I think it says a lot about the changing face of Canadian music that they were recognized as having the best album this year.
Not only can the radio friendly monster tunes be acknowledged and considered creative, but a subversive punk band can as well. The Chemistry of Common Life is assaulting and layered. It's a hardcore album that anyone can appreciate. Fucked Up, as a band, make me proud of what this city is accomplishing. The Fucked Up Halloween shows (a weekend mini festival of insanity featuring dozens of bands from all over North America) we're some of the best times in the city this year. 2009 also saw Damian Abraham (vocals) take part in the documentary series City Sonic which showcased the various locations around Toronto that were influential to exceptional artists.
Kat Taylor-Small and Justin Small are a serious dream team. They pack more sound into a drum and bass only outfit than some bands with twice as many members. Threats/Worship, their second album, was picked up by Vice and released earlier this year. The album captures the essence of the raw and unbridled crush of the band, and coupled with their blistering live show, they're easily one of the most important bands in this city.Justin could beat you into submission with his drumming, and Kat's bass playing could slay your soul with one riff.
I once got into Toronto after a 13 hour plane ride from hell and went directly to a Lullabye Arkestra show. Jet lag knows no boundaries. The audience benefits greatly from the husband/wife dynamic, because they seem to let you into their own rock n' roll love story from the onset. Justin also plays in the city's best instrumental orchestral collectives, Do Make Say Think (who also came out with the brilliant "Other Truths" this year), which is a 180 degree turn from thee ark.
Anagram is probably the best house party band I've ever seen. Get them in a packed basement (say, 64 Nassau maybe), with the threat of police interference and they will blow the place up. The Mason Brothers (growling vocalist Matt and epileptic guitarist Willy) create a most unsettling and creative blend of punk and doom. It's almost like a sonic brain aneurism that you nevertheless don't want to stop. At the polar opposite of Willy's jerky freak outs is Jeff Peers' bass playing, which is pretty much bar none. It's a trudging death stomp, and it perfectly underwrites the Masons.
They've had a new album in the works for quite a while now, but if their most recent string of shows is anything to go by, it's gonna be so worth the wait. The guys destroy themselves and the crowd in every show and you can't even think by the end of it because your brain has been turned to pink goo. Seriously. They're that brutal. They should get that album out and go on tour already.
#8 Romo Roto
A two piece band made up of two drummers and a tape deck, don't sell Romo Roto short; they may very well be the most innovative band since Holy Fuck and their melee of assorted K-Mart instruments. Tomas And Alexandra play stand up kits facing each other, squealing into microphones. It sounds like far out stuff (and it is) but take my word for it, it's brilliant.
They released a split cassette EP with 10 Thousand Watt Head (who I would kill to see more often --they're terrifying) earlier this year, and it's this 18 minute long epic track that totally captures what they sound like live. They're so in tune with each other and what the other person is going to do that it's scary. It's obviously really bare and basic, but they squealing yelps and coordinated time changes elevate it to something more. It ends up sounding like nothing I've heard before and yet I can relate to what they're preaching. Tomas also plays in DD/MM/YYYY, arguably one of Toronto's best hidden gems, and Alexandra is a brilliant visual artist.
When I was coming up with this list ,I was having a really hard time narrowing it down to 10. I got stuck at 17, then 15, and when it came down to the final 10 I was having some issues picking between Cuff The Duke and the Great Bloomers. Granted they're from a similar gene and have a lot of the same elements, but it came down to the Bloomers "Speak of Trouble" and Cuff's "Way Down Here," and for me Speak of Trouble is the stronger album.
The brainchild of Lowell Sostomi, the album is a testament to the power and longevity of Alt-Country. The piano playing compliments the vocals, and a blend of urgent and convincing harmonies pull you in. Relentless touring on the band's part has brought them national acclaim and a fan base of loyal Bloomers. I think the album is beautiful, and I can't wait to see what 2010 has in store for these guys.
#10 Actual Water
Actual Water are kind of like a continuation of a more jam based Anagram, if Anagram hadn't kicked out their saxophone player a couple years ago. Actually the first time I saw them live was at a house party with Anagram. Funny how that works out. They have the sax, they have a flute, a vox (which is usually played on the ricketiest bar stool that can be found) and two guitars that are constantly dueling the rhythm section.
I put Actual Water right up there with the best of 90's shoegaze and 60's psych. The EP they released earlier this year, Leon, is interesting and surprisingly layered, but it still sounds off the cuff and not at all forced. The flute makes the band in my opinion, and since the other band (to the best of my knowledge) in the city to use a flute is the amazing Blood Ceremony, I think they've got that corner of the scene locked in. Loud and snotty, brash and crude; any way you put it, I really do think that in the next year this band will take over. I really hope so.
Of course, I'm not the only music fiend to write for blogTO. We all have different tastes so here's a look at the Top 10 Toronto bands in the minds of some of the other writers.
Matt McAndrew's Top 10 (in alphabetical order):
4. Do Make Say Think / Charles Spearin / Years
5. Evening Hymns
8. Spiral Beach
Gary Peter's Top 10 (in alphabetical order):
2. By Divine Right
3. Do Make Say Think / Charles Spearin / Years
5. Keys N Krates
10. The Wilderness of Manitoba
Carlos Weisz's Top 10 (in alphabetical order):
2. Keys N Krates
3. Little Girls
4. Notes to Self
7. Romo Roto
9. Todor Kobakov
Joe Zabukovec's Top 10 (in alphabetical order):
8. The Rural Alberta Advantage
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