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Top 5 Canadian indie bands that didn’t hit it big (but should have)

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Let’s be frank. Canada had been somewhat of a rough place for alternative musicians, and to some degree mainstream artists, for quite some time before the mid 2000’s. The thinly dispersed geography of the great white north was characteristically a cold and inhospitable environment for guitar-strapped Joe or Jill indie, up until about the time the internet indisputably took over the hard-copy  music distribution systems of the twentieth century. The first Canadian band to really tap into the internet’s ability to unite alternative music fans was Arcade Fire, whose 2004 LP debut was awarded a 9.7 on Pitchfork, and successively broke the internet.

Great music, questionable company.

Great music, questionable company.

Not since the days of Neil Young had being in a Canadian band (albeit fronted by an American, but hey! who cares?) been so seriously cool. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever for a Canadian band to achieve world domination, with groups like Metz, Plants and Animals and Diamond Rings riding the high of good reviews, and a more vibrant than ever concert and festival scene at home. The real tragedy of this post is the handful of brilliant bands that emerged just around the conflux of the Pitchfork boom, and the internet-fuelled crowning of indie as a mainstream genre, but never fully achieved their full potential  Some of these groups have been dealt un-lucky hands by fate, some never had the label backing to make serious efforts marketing efforts, and creating a powerful online presence, others achieved minor, or even great success and simply never followed up with that one album that would’ve truly, truly broken them. So here you go world: Here are five Canadian bands that you shouldn’t have let slip through the cracks.

5. Shout Out Out Out Out

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I know, I know, I know. The name. What does it mean? Why is ‘out’ repeated four times? Well let me put your fears to rest. When I saw these guys on tour in 2006 they definitely backed up the gratuitous name with a bona-fide, ass-kicking show. At some points there were two drummers, at other points there were two bassists. There must have been eight people onstage pumping out live instrument made electronica, sort of an E-Street band approach to the party rhythms of Daft Punk.

Why no Grammy?

Why no Grammy?

Their live show simply didn’t translate into studio recordings, or, they just never found the right producer for the job. Also they’ve kept it real and stayed in Edmonton.

4. Land of Talk

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Montreal three piece, who ironically enough have toured with Shout Out Out Out. Their pure-garage and crunchy guitar sound made for both a great live show, and a number of excellent angst filled ballads. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Elizabeth Powell carried the band with her witty lyrics which accurately disseminated the absurdness of gender politics (“Holy god, we are just bags of blood, stop hitting on girls you love, stop spitting on girls you love”).

Why no Grammy?

They could’ve been the next Metric, but Land of Talk never really re-captured the furious energy of their first E.P. ‘Applause, Cheer, Laugh, Boo, Hiss’. The next two albums were solid offerings, but it looks like multiple label changes, health problems, changing of members and a lack of consistent marketing efforts exhausted the trio.

3. The Unicorns

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Another Montreal wunderkind project, The Unicorns 2003 album ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone’ was released to much fanfare, including extremely positive reviews. The band is still extremely notable and influential in the Canadian indie scene, and was released just 11 month’s before Funeral was released.

Why no Grammy?

The band’s spastic, lo-fi, keyboard heavy riffs we’re highly celebrated for all of a year before hectic touring and internal riffs brought about the tragic end there breakthrough album’s title foresaw, before they could ever follow it up. Some of the members went on to form ‘Islands’, whose 2006 debut album caused a brief resurgence in popularity, before falling off again.

2. The Constantines

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This is where things get messy and emotional. The Constantines are one of Canada’s greatest recent rock offerings, and will hopefully go down in internet lore as one of the best Canadian bands ever. Started in Guelph, with members from across south western Ontario, The Constantines once were in a review as a mix between Springsteen and Fugazi, an analogy which is 100% accurate.

Why no Grammy?

Unfortunately, their Canadian-centric world view, and respectable Toronto-indie ethic didn’t elicit a significant break into the American market, and their best and most celebrated albums (‘The Constantines’, ‘Shine a Light’) were both released just before the cusp of the age of internet indie fame. The Constantines re-invented the notion of how good a Canadian indie band could truly be, and put Toronto back on the map of bands with crunchy guitars. It’s almost impossible that ‘time will forget’ The Constantines, but the risk of losing this valuable piece of culture to digital obscurity is definitely a scary thought.

1. Wolf Parade

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I know what you’re thinking. Wolf Parade? But Wolf Parade did make the boat! Three lauded albums, world-wide indie fame, and at least one Youtube video with almost 750,000 views! Sure, but that’s just the thing. Had they continued on, Wolf Parade could’ve been The Rolling Stones of the early 2010’s, the Canadian saviors of rock and roll. A trans-national success story with members from both Montreal and Vancouver, if you haven’t listened to Wolf Parade yet you should probably stop reading this and start downloading.

Why no Grammy?

As each successive album became less and less critically acclaimed (even though their popularity and virality was assumedly increasing) it’s easy to see how the members of Wolf Parade came to an ‘end of the tunnel’ view point, especially with the alternating, competing genius of songwriters Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug. Wolf Parade rode the Montreal-hipness wave of Arcade Fire fame, arguably doing it better, but one still has to wonder if their greatest popularity potential had ever been tapped. One thing that’s certain is that whatever happens to the band, ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary’ will undoubtedly go down as one of the best Canadian albums, nay, albums period, ever recorded.

By Aaron R

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2 comments on “Top 5 Canadian indie bands that didn’t hit it big (but should have)

  1. Angela
    October 11, 2013

    SuperstacK… the greatest band ever…where is their recognition?

  2. ray
    August 23, 2014

    It is a shame that even with the mandated CRTC Canadian content, many of our talented INDIE bands will simply fade away to their local following since many stations won’t them the time of day. Groups like “HEY OCEAN” continue to plug away and will one day hopefully be a mainstream group with their unique sounds and much talented group. I 100% agree with Angela that SuperstacK belongs in this list. Take notice people, this is a very very talented group of musicians that will remind you of a young BLACK CROWES, but the similarities quick ends since this group of young men carry more enthusiasm and passion that I haven’t seen in a long long time. I recently saw them play an “unplugged” show in LORA BAY and was simply and utterly blown away. Their sound is magnificent and vocals truly mature and very powerful. I look forward to following their progress since this band is an up and comer and will hopefully be around for a very long time. Ray

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2013 by in Culture, Top 5 and tagged , , , , , .

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