There has arguably never been a better time to tell everyone who will listen that all your favourite musical acts happen to hail from your hometown. Whether it’s left-field hip-hop duo So Loki, Juno-darling dance-rock outfit Dear Rouge, indie-rock heroes Yukon Blonde, or globetrotting electronic twosome Bob Moses, some of the best music right now is being crafted in rehearsal spaces and bedroom studios right here in our backyard. (Well, okay, Bob Moses doesn’t spend much time here anymore, but we’re claiming them as our own anyway.)
As part of Best of Vancouver, our annual celebration of all things local, we’ve picked a few up-and-coming acts that could very well be the next So Loki. Or Dear Rouge. Or Mother Mother. Or Said the Whale. Or Dan Mangan. Or, well, you get the idea.
Georgia Lee Johnson
In this posteverything age, it’s easy to be cynical, which makes Georgia Lee Johnson something of a rarity. The singer-songwriter is earnestly plainspoken, almost to a fault, but you’ve got to admire someone who can step out on-stage and sing simple, soul-baring lines such as “Give me a kiss goodbye/I will try not to cry.” Johnson sells the sentiment with her bell-clear vocals, and the lush arrangements on her debut album, Wanderling (courtesy of producer Jordan Klassen), don’t hurt a bit.
The band is clearly not in any hurry to pump out product—its sophomore full-length, Infinity Rope, was five years in the making—but Heavy Steps’ timing is impeccable. The reverb-drenched mope-rock LP is perfect accompaniment for watching autumn leaves fall, and come Halloween you’ll want to put “Blood Scrubber” on any playlist that also includes Chelsea Wolfe and Esben and the Witch.
Bedroom chamber folk
“Dream-hazed” is a good starting point for the songs of Sam Tudor, the Williams Lake–raised singer-songwriter seemingly happiest when the curtains are drawn and the November skies are charcoal grey. The 23-year-old’s mesmerizingly melancholy sophomore album, Quotidian Dream, is a study in the beauty of solitude, creating a world of 3 a.m. Facebook feeds and solitary days in strange new apartments. Most impressive of all, given his decidedly youthful age, he pulls off the difficult task of taking one’s influences (Radiohead, Destroyer, David Lynch) and synthesizing them into something new and original, with guitar and multilayered vocals fleshed out by ’20s-jazz horns and regal string swells. In an interview with the Straight earlier this year, Tudor explained himself as follows: “I wanted this album to sonically reflect how I was feeling. It was like I was living in this manicured world in Vancouver where things—especially in the summer—were all rosy and impeccably placed. I’m a film student, and I really like David Lynch, so I love the idea of a perfect Barbie-doll world where, underneath, there’s this slow oozing pool of sadness.” If Tudor’s already this good, just wait until he finds his footing.
It’s anyone’s guess if Snoop Dogg is a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic or Littlest Pet Shop: A World of Our Own, but local actor-singer-rapper Travis Turner voices characters on both and he got the Doggfather’s attention somehow. Snoop drops a characteristically horny verse on Turner’s “Star Girl”, but it’s the Vancouverite’s own way with a melody and a clever turn of phrase that is really worth your attention.
Experimental electronic pop
Lief Hall’s music is far from easy listening. Previously a member of experimental noise band Myths and the abrasive Mutators, Hall turned heads with her vocal-electronic album Roses for Ruins in April this year. Her most melodic offering—a far cry from her noise-punk origins, and even featuring an angelic harp at one point—the record took her on a North American tour, showcasing her unconventional song structures and bass drones from coast to coast.
There are days—mostly in months that contain at least one vowel—when living in Vancouver seems like a losing battle, especially if you’re committed to making art for a living. It’s not like we haven’t been here before, with iconic venues from Richard’s on Richards to the Luv-A-Fair bulldozed over the years to make way for condos. The problem these days is that no one with a 604 birth certificate can afford those condos. Or, for that matter, a “garden level” basement rental suite in Grandview-Woodland. Give newly formed Blue J credit for catching the creeping horror that Vancouver as we know it is vanishing with its beautifully downbeat single and accompanying video “Both Your Hands”. Those currently on the maximum allowable dose of Paxil might take some comfort in lines like “I was wishing for my life to be over/Till you decided to invite yourself over.” As for the rest of us, sometimes it’s good to have soundtrack music for those days when the only thing you want to do is stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head, praying to God this isn’t the month the renoviction letter finally comes in the morning mail.
I M U R
It’s been a big year for Vancouver’s best electronic-soul upstarts. After dropping a debut in 2017 that got music critics scribbling, the trio clocked up a stellar performance at SXSW, opened for Hayley Kiyoko at a sold-out Vogue Theatre show, and were the talk of the Shambhala festival. With new music on the way in the first week of October—an EP named THIRTY33—I M U R have tightened up their rich production, with singer Jenny Lea’s vocals dancing over full-bodied chords.
Sure, Gordon Grdina and Kenton Loewen are Vancouver music-scene stalwarts, having collaborated on various high-profile projects around town for the better part of two decades. But the pair’s debut album as Peregrine Falls, which was released in 2017, was an overnight success—no mean feat for an instrumental jazz record. Grdina—a guitarist and oud player—creates a frenetic rhythmic interplay with drummer Loewen, resulting in a largely improvised, toe-tapping groove that sounds somewhere between Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa. It’s little wonder the record was nominated for a Juno.
Drown in Ashes
Sometimes all you want out of music is cathartic aggression without the frills. Drown in Ashes knows this, and the trio has your hook-up. Fist-to-the-gut riffs? Check. Runaway-train drumming? Check. Voice-of-rage bellowing? You’d better fucking believe it. Did Vancouver in 2018 really need its very own answer to Sick of It All, Madball, and, uh, Fudge Tunnel? That depends on your definition of the word need, but when that kick-down-the-walls mood strikes—and it always does—you’ll be damn glad Jay Townsend (bass and vocals), Valek Morke (guitar), and Owen Lewis (drums) are out there creating blistering screeds with titles like “Plague of Discontent”.
It would be easy to hate Peach Pit, doubly so if you’d spent the past six years taking orders at Starbucks while waiting to be discovered on Bandcamp. You might recall the quartet first surfacing with the EP Sweet F.A., and then promptly getting offers to play not only Bumbershoot, but far-flung locales like India and Indonesia. Proving that the Internet can sometimes be an indie artist’s best friend, the lazy-summer-day bonbon “Peach Pit” has clocked a mind-blowing 18 million views on YouTube to date, with comments-section raves including “This song makes me nostalgic for things that i haven’t even lived yet” and “i feel like this is what a milkshake would sound like.” Evidently of the opinion that karma is something you can’t put a price on, the members of Peach Pit (which headlines the Vogue on October 26) are paying things forward this fall: the band is running a contest on its Facebook page titled “Take Our Van; It’s Free”. That’s right, if you’re in a band, all you have to do is fill out the form, adds some links to your music, and then explain why you and your bandmates deserve their van. And here’s a quick tip: make it more creative than “We’ve spent the past six years taking orders at Starbucks while waiting to be discovered on Bandcamp.”