Stars, Sam Roberts, the Arcade Fire & Feist
rash and trend
old newspapering maxim says once is an outbreak, twice is a rash
and three times makes a trend.
a trend: a string of worthwhile albums out of Canada, eh? ["O Canada!"
by Mary Bergherr]
A string of worthwhile albums out of Canada is strongly
suggesting a trend.
Last year came CDs from Sam Roberts, the Arcade Fire
and Feist. Next month there's a new one from the Toronto collective
And in 2003, the year of the outbreak, Broken Social
Scene won a Juno (the Canadian Grammy) for their evergreen 2002
album, You Forgot It In People.
Yet between lack of airplay, scant media attention
and a hinky distribution system whereby Canadian albums often hit
stores in their homeland months before stateside release, well,
anyone who has overlooked these acts can't be blamed.
Set Yourself on Fire: no shortage of teeth.
The new album by Stars, for instance, was a 2004 release
in Canada, but won't reach the states till next month.
Set Yourself on Fire, the band's third album,
features fresh melodies, engaging his-and-hers vocals, a gothic
tinge and no shortage of teeth often in the form of impassioned
singing and slashing guitars.
The album actually gains strength as it goes. By the
tenth song, a jagged, rhythmic rocker called "He Lied About
Death," the band finds full throttle and squeezes out a manic
frenzy of sparks.
Stars is probably best uptempo, but many of the album's
calmer moments are also impressive.
We Were Born In A Flame: music that might make the Beatles
The backstory on Sam Roberts is a notch more curious.
We Were Born In A Flame got stateside release in 2003 and
went nowhere, but ended up earning three Junos last spring.
Then, upon re-release in the U.S. last summer, the
album's best song, "The Canadian Dream," got lopped off.
Maybe that's because "S-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m"
is spelled out each time the chorus comes around.
Never mind that it's less a political creed than a
really great song. Apparently, the timbre of the times says we won't
have that sort of sedition creeping into our all-American
But even without its best, We Were Born In A Flame
is filled with music that might make the Beatles smile, while Roberts,
a native of Montreal, is credited with playing most of the instruments.
Fire's Funeral: a roiling, swirling, beautiful mess.
Meanwhile, the Arcade Fire's Funeral is one
of the most interesting albums coming out of any country
The Montreal-based band's debut is a roiling, swirling,
beautiful mess that has actually found its share of critical fanfare
(although rumor says it's not the easiest CD to find).
Here the his/her stakes are raised to husband and
wife, as Win Butler and Régine Chassagne weave intense, high-minded
vocals around an incendiary art-rock motif. Said to be inspired
by a trend-like spate of death among families of band members, the
album's themes are reflectively dark. But the music is buoyant in
spirit and becomes increasingly irresistible with repeated spins.
Let It Die: not just some backwoods bohemian retreat.
Perhaps best of all is a totally refreshing album by an enigmatic
Calgary native, Leslie Feist.
Let It Die is a strange and special disc parts pop,
folk, rock and disco flecked with timeless, eclectic instrumental
flourishes and sneaky, danceable beats. Feist's singing adapts to
the blizzard of styles like a Canadian to subzero temps.
But that's not to say Let It Die is some sort of backwoods
bohemian retreat. In fact, it's urbane and witty and seems like
an ideal sonic solution for sophisticates and the unwashed masses
Feist is said to have bounced between a smattering of groups (including
a stint with Broken Social Scene) before she recorded Let It
Die over several months in France a few years back. The album
boasts quirky international charm, but hit-sounding songs lurk at
An unlikely cover of "Inside and Out," a squirrelly 1979
Bee Gees dance-floor sensation, is the CD's showstopper. But to
start and end there is like describing a great and sprawling country
only in terms of its amusement parks.
Social Scene's You Forgot It In People: when outbreak
turns to rash.
Odd, then, that a quick check at Amazon.com
shows Let It Die available only as a pricey import. What's
Canada, of course, has never been a slouch in the
world of music birthing front-line hall of famers (Neil Young,
Joni Mitchell), hit-making '60s/'70s icons (Gordon Lightfoot, the
Guess Who), fringe-dwelling geniuses (Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen),
concert-hall cash machines (Sarah McLaughlin, Celine Dion), youngish
hipsters (Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne) ... and that's just
Those acts probably had some border-crossing issues,
Now our intrepid northward neighbors have spawned
Stars, Sam Roberts, the Arcade Fire, Feist and Broken Social Scene.
(At some point it should be noted: word of mouth says all five of
these acts can put on remarkable shows; Stars, in fact, opened for
Broken Social Scene at
Dante's in Portland in late 2003 and it was most memorable.)
So the news isn't that they can't live without us.
It's more that anytime we think we've cornered the market on anything,
something better is likely to show up from someplace else. Lucky
thing this trend is there for anyone with ears and the necessary
level of perseverance.
It's also a trend we can dance to. How cool is that?