Canada has always been envied as a sort of music utopia, with the Polaris Prize shortlist reading like every record-buyer’s annual Christmas wishlist (Buffy Sainte-Marie fought off tough competition from the likes of Drake, Caribou and Tobias Jesso Jr for this year’s accolade) and arts funding considerably higher than in other Western countries. Things don’t look set to change any time soon either – newly-elected Liberal leader Justin Trudeau recently pledged to double funding for the Canada Council of the Arts.
Since its inception in 2006, Canadian festival and music showcase M For Montreal has been central not only to the Quebec scene but the country’s upcoming musicians as a whole, handpicking and casting a spotlight on the best sounds found north of the Niagara. Instrumental in launching the careers of Grimes, Mac DeMarco, Half Moon Run and more, over 100 acts – many new and emerging artists – looked to impress this time round over the three-day weekend. Here were the best Montreal and its surrounding areas had to offer.
Dilly Dally’s obvious comparisons to Pixies are inescapable: there’s hazy production, sludgy guitars and the band utilise the legendary grunge outfit’s famed quiet-loud dynamics to great effect. But what makes Dilly Dally so much more than mimicry is their ability to penetrate your very core senses. Led by Toronto-based Katie Monks (whose brother fronts Tokyo Police Club), the group’s recently-released debut ‘Sore’ perfectly illustrates what it’s like to grow up in this day and age: full of angst, lust but also astute self-awareness. A live highlight comes in the form of a surprisingly great emo-rock cover of Drake’s ‘Know Yourself’. A must-see-to-believe kind of moment.
Best song: ‘Desire’
For fans of: Speedy Ortiz, Wolf Alice
A retro-futuristic pop duo comprising of singer Audrey Ann and beatmaker Kyle Jukka, everything that She-Devils do well hinges on subversion. Jukka (who previously went by the name Flow Child) takes sprightly surf-pop samples and turns them into something otherworldly, almost menacing, in the same way David Lynch digs his nails into the underbelly of American suburbia, while Ann ultilises lyrical tropes from 60s girl group ballads, portraying female sexuality not as submissive but dominant and self-assured. Live, their music’s sense of tension and unease is upped an ante, with the production warped to deafening levels and Ann’s vocals sounding willfully off-kilter.
Best song: ‘Come’
For fans of: Lana Del Rey, Doldrums
A rapper hailing from Toronto is always going to be marked against the benchmark of Drake but as upstart Jazz Cartier says: “I’m from Downtown Toronto, and Drake’s from Uptown, so that’s a totally different mindset”. While his hooks are comparable to Drizzy’s on occasion, with autotuned vocals and scattergun beats, Cartier has more in common with Atlanta’s trap stars, with Drake’s recent collaborator Future perhaps Cartier’s closest kindred spirit. With mixtape ‘Marauding In Paradise’ recently longlisted for the Polaris Prize, songs like ‘Dead Or Alive’ and ‘New Religion’ show that there’s more to Toronto than just the 6 God.
Best song: ‘Dead Or Alive’
For fans of: Drake, Future
‘Natural Born Losers’, the recent album by cyber-pop artist Nicole Dollanganger, is perhaps the most disturbing yet intriguing record you’ll hear all year. Beneath the Canadian singer’s whispery vocals and soft piano lines, there’s lyrics about violent sex (‘BDSM’), the afterlife (‘Executioner’) and “the skulls of the high school champs you keep in rows above the bed” (‘You’re So Cool’). Discovering her fellow Canuck through Tumblr, Grimes launched her own label to release the album, saying the songs “blew up my brain so hard” and that it’d be “a crime against humanity for this music not to be heard”. If Dollanganger manages to do what her mentor has before her, and blend this underground world with the accessibility of pop then we’re in for something truly special.
Best song: ‘You’re So Cool’
For fans of: Grimes, Grouper
More known as a model in her home land than a musician, there’s not much to go off when it comes to Charlotte Cardin’s early career. Having uploaded a series of typical beginner-staple covers to YouTube (Elliott Smith, Radiohead and Lana Del Rey included), Cardin has only released two songs proper to date: the Amy Winehouse-indebted ‘Big Boy’ and the French language ‘Les Échardes’. It’s her work in her mother-tongue that impresses most, as her velvety vocals lilt over minimal production. A rough, uncut gem worth looking out for.
Best song: ‘Les Échardes’
For fans of: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Amy Winehouse