Feeling a little patriotic? Want to add a little CanCon to your weekend listening? No problem, eh. (Sorry about that.) Here are the best homegrown releases I heard this week, in order of preference:
CANADIAN ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Are You Gone
MY TWO CENTS: Despite a decade away, singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer sure doesn’t sound rusty on this long-overdue return. In fact, she seems positively invigorated, bouncing between energetic pop singles and rootsier, more introspective fare. No matter the setting, it’s great to hear from her again. As long as she doesn’t make us wait another 10 years.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Multi-award-winning, platinum-selling singer-songwriter and environmental activist Sarah Harmer will release Are You Gone, her first album in a decade. A deeply personal and political collection of songs motivated by the beauty of life, the urgency of the climate crisis, and the question of loss, Sarah called the album a spiritual successor of sorts to her acclaimed 2000 debut, You Were Here, which made many year-end critics’ lists. Its simple title, Are You Gone, is a meditation on the idea of presence, and a bookend to the questions posed on You Were Here — a sharpened, more electric confrontation with the realities of nature and human nature. The result of an unshakeable inclination to make music in conflict with a lifestyle more attuned to privacy, quiet, and activism, Sarah wrote Are You Gone gradually over the last decade as she traded music for grassroots organizing as her “day job.” Between co-founding the citizen’s organization PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) and leading the coalition’s successful efforts to prevent a quarry from being built on the Niagara Escarpment, she became a fixture in local politics and advocacy, while keeping her musical chops fresh by writing and playing casually with friends. Finally, in 2019, while pondering the “ghosts” of loss, capitalism’s gluttony and music’s potential as a public platform, Sarah got to work on Are You Gone, her most sophisticated record to date.”
ALSO ON THE PLAYLIST
MY TWO CENTS: Musician and mathematician Dan Snaith changes his tune on the aptly titled Suddenly, his fifth Caribou release and 10th album overall. Leaving the dance floor behind, the singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist heads home to get high, get down and get weird on these unpredictable, shape-shifting jams. Thankfully, in the end it all adds up to good time.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Suddenly is the most surprising and unpredictable Caribou album to date. Though it retains the trademark Caribou warmth and technicolor, this album is littered with swerves and left turns. Songs drop out and morph into something else entirely just as they’re hitting their stride, samples chopped up beyond all recognition burst out of nowhere. You and I starts as a dreamy, undeniably Caribou-esque love song before breaking down into a huge chorus peppered with sampled yelps, and finally going completely rogue with a screaming guitar solo, which swaggers into being from nowhere.”
MY TWO CENTS: Matthew Good has had his well-publicized ups and downs over the years. Lately, it seems like things aren’t exactly, well, good. Now divorced and living with his parents — partly to help care for his father, who has dementia and terminal cancer — the Can-rocker vet penned his latest album in a cleared-out space in the family garage. Big surprise: It’s mostly a downbeat affair in every respect — musically, rhythmically, emotionally, and right on down to the dour cover pic. Don’t get me wrong: It’s gorgeous, superbly crafted and appropriately moving. But still, damn, dude.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Ask Matthew Good — peerless singer/songwriter, bona fide if reluctant rock star, notorious straight-shooter — to sum up his dazzling new solo album, the sumptuous, orchestral, and wildly multifaceted Moving Walls in an elevator pitch, and the B.C.-based performer responds not with a snappy list of styles and moods but with a clearheaded analogy fit for the era. “Twenty years ago I’d be dying to tell people what my music sounds like and where it should be slotted in,” Good says. “Not now. I made a piece of art and it’s out there in the world for anyone who chooses to find it. Given my age and that it’s mostly acoustic, I guess you could call Moving Walls adult contemporary. It’s not a rock record, that’s for sure. But in this day of everyone knowing everything, I really like the idea of people figuring things out for themselves.”
Under the Surface
MY TWO CENTS: “Sometimes you wonder what goes on in my head. I wish I knew but I don’t,” admits 23-year-old Owen Hooper, the alter ego of indie oddball Mouth Breather. Fair enough. But as long as he keeps crafting the meticulously quirky pop found on his second album Under the Surface, I’m willing to give him a pass.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The ideal artist is Mouth Breather. Of course Mouth Breather is not the only ally wanted in this world — but arguably the best. Portable. Stackable. Focused. Infinitely reliable and wholly self sufficient. What else in this world speaks as much and keeps as quiet. He is more patient than any friend. More ready with “mystic truths” than any artist. No living high-priest or scholar fits into an architectural niche like Mouth Breather. No witch knows as many spells as Mouth Breather. He is even above influence and bribery. Suffice it to say, Mouth Breather is a ridiculously good tool in this muck of a world — and risking redundancy — an ideal companion.”
MY TWO CENTS: With Hey Rosetta! on indefinite hiatus, string player Kinley Dowling continues her solo career with a self-titled second album that smoothly and sweetly blends her contemporary indie-pop sensibilities and frankly personal lyrics with her timeless vocals.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Kinley Dowling is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Kinley was well-known as a member of Newfoundland’s indie ensemble Hey Rosetta! for 10 years. She is now known a songwriter and released her first solo debut album, Letters Never Sent, in October 2016. As many local and regional acts know, Kinley is one of the most sought after string players when a group decides to make an album. She has recorded on over 70 records over the span of her career and her album credits include: Hey Rosetta!, Matt Mays, Jenn Grant, Two Hours Traffic, Molly Rankin, In Flight Safety, Buck 65, Classified, Rita McNeil, Dennis Ellsworth, and many more. She’s also seen multiple appearances with Grammy-winning artist Anne Murray.”