This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

January-February 2013

Next big thing

Mason Wright

Canadian musicians to watch in 2013

As has become customary each year, 2012 saw many new Canadian artists earn their way onto best-of lists: the sample-heavy serenades of Grimes’s Visions; METZ’s self-titled, high-octane punk debut; and the breakout folk-soul record from Bahamas, Barchords—to name just a few.

Now, it’s time to take a look at the next set of musicians likely to garner international recognition, awards accolades, festival buzz and critical (possibly even commercial?) success.

Army Girls: Make sure you see their video for “Barkin’” on before we carry on. You can see why the Toronto duo, featuring Andy Smith on drums and the incomparable Carmen Elle on guitar and vocals, seems to be bubbling just below the surface. This despite not releasing the two albums they promised during their June 2012 during their NXNE set. Still, don’t expect Army Girls to stay unknown for long. The raw emotion and technical skill they put into their spare, inventive rock will help them rise to the next level.

Slam Dunk: This party band from Victoria is already known for its house-on-fire live show, but that energy can be hard to recreate in the studio. The band’s five members give it a convincing try with their latest album, Welcome To Miami. I don’t know if the pop or indie worlds are ready for horn-accented rock songs that are one part surf rock, one part frenetic freak-out, and one part comedown, but you never know. There’s a touch of Wolf Parade in the desperate vocals that certainly can’t hurt. One thing is for sure: Slam Dunk is a tight band playing great songs, whether or not a broader audience agrees.

Eamon McGrath: At first, the gritty sounds found layered beneath this Edmonton-born singer-songwriter’s brooding roots rock suggest a new entry in the road-weary troubadour category. But McGrath’s songwriting comes from a deeper, darker place than most, making him a more sinister Springsteen type. McGrath has a couple of things going for him this year: his 2012 album Young Canadians reveals a singer with a trademark howl and serious songwriting chops, and his collaboration with two members of the Cancer Bats and Julie Doiron in her new band will put him in front of a wider range of audiences.

Modern Superstitions: “Dead beats pound in our chests,” singer Nyssa Rosaleen calls out on “Bandits,” from Modern Superstitions’ self-titled full-length debut. But it’s clear that what really pounds in the chests of these childhood Toronto friends is the tradition of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a personality trait that belies their relative youth, but is made clear by their confident rhythm section, overall songwriting swagger, and Nyssa’s cool stage presence and style. If it all works out, this combination could see the band follow in the footsteps of such woman-led greats as Metric, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Runaways, and Blondie.

The Holiday Crowd: A band with a sound that momentarily makes you want to believe that Morrissey and Johnny have patched things up is most likely to grab attention in the U.K., which is fortunate because Europe is exactly where their efforts are being focused this year. Last year’s Over The Bluffs is getting a re-release overseas in February on Manimal Vinyl, the small label that brought you Bat For Lashes and Warpaint. A European tour is expected to follow. And, lest you form a hasty first impression based on Imran Haniff’s vocals, know this: OveMr the Bluffs is a sophisticated bit of guitar pop inspired by the very Canadian suburb of Scarborough.

Mac DeMarco: Formerly known as the singing-and-guitar-playing half of Makeout Videotape, Montreal’s Mac DeMarco is now cultivating his own wild-child identity. He’s got a prominent spot in South By Southwest’s pre-festival lineup chatter, and fresh momentum from his pair of albums released in 2012, the springtime EP Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2, his first full-length released in the fall. The trick will be in striking the needed balance between his strengths as an unpredictable artist and a consistent songwriter and vocalist, without detracting from either one.

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