Monday, August 26, 2013

Canadian Music!

Last year, in October, I got my first car, an 09 Toyota. Since then, it's opened me up to some amazing, much broader horizons.

Like the radio.

Following the advice of Imad, a co-worker of mine who's hilarious, I tuned into Boom FM (99.7) and kept it on there instead of the traditional 93.9 'Bob' FM; I've tuned into 93.9 ever since I was a child and got my first alarm clock radio for Christmas in the late 90s. Back then it was called 'Kool FM' and I'd listen to it every night, falling asleep to it. I can still remember, with nostalgia and fondness, the morning jingle music - 'coolest hits in the morning - 93.9! Kool FM!' The very attractive, directional, colourful synesthetic landscape it provided keeps it alive and fresh in my mind, as if I heard it yesterday.

I'm getting off topic. Boom 99.7 - similar to Bob but without the 'whatever.' I've come to find that 'whatever' refers to current music, at least current as of the early 2000s, which I don't particularly enjoy, so Boom FM (which doesn't sometimes hover over the same song often like Bob does now and then) just focuses on the 70s, 80s and 90s, a time period of music I actually enjoy a lot.

The big thing about that station, though, is that like every station or program in this country, while it legally has to provide some Canadian-based content, this station does it remarkably well and in generous amounts. It's opened my eyes to almost countless previously unknown or obscure Canadian artists - and within a time-period I find music appealing.
Top Row:
Men Without Hats, Tenants, The Box, Len
Upper Middle Row:
Idle Eyes, Martha & The Muffins, Spoons, Sherry Kean
Lower Middle Row:
Kim Mitchell, Payola$, Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo
Bottom Row:
Eight Seconds, Gowan, Toronto, Gino Vanelli

I did this montage of music videos from Canadian bands/artists between the early 80s and the late 90s; the earliest one is Men Without Hats, and the most recent one, from 1999, is Len. They all come from largely the Toronto area, though The Box, Vanelli, and Men w/o Hats are from Montreal and Payola$ and Idle Eyes are Vancouver-based. Eight Seconds is actually composed of, guess what, Ottawans. The screenshot I used for their video was from their song 'Tell Diane' (1990) and intentionally features a Bank Street sidewalk at night, the old familiar 'Bank Street Promenade' lamppost roundel clearly pictured.

When one thinks of Canadian music, they probably think of it in terms of current music, or music that's iconically Canadian - other than current stuff like Hedley, Nickelback, Carly Rae Jepson or whatever, there's the iconic stuff like Barenaked Ladies, Bryan Addams, Rush, or perhaps even the Tragically Hip. They probably also think about the celtic-like music of the Maritimes, or the French-language stuff. But there's so much more to it than that.

Prior to being exposed to all of this stuff on the radio, my musical interests were almost entirely - probably 98% of it - British stuff. Not just Madness but Genesis, The Beat, many others. There might have been one or two American artists or bands, but American content was always limited with me. It was largely music from Europe that I liked.

Not anymore. And it makes me happy. I don't have time to give reviews on every newly discovered Canadian artist, because there's too many and they often only had one or two hit wonders in Canada only (explaining how I only really came across them on that wonderful radio station) but they are definitely worth a mention here.

Gowan has a few great pop-oriented songs, particularly 'Strange Animal' and 'Cosmetics' (the latter of which I love its stylistic bass line and superficial glamor). I've mentioned Sherry Kean on here already, more than once, though commenting on her face more than her one-hit wonder 'I Want You Back.' The song has an unusual but 80s-standard warbling keyboard effect to it that kind of drew me to it for its eccentricity. I'm in love with The Payola$' 'Eyes of a Stranger,' with its main chorus riff, bass, and guitar rhythms. The verses are laid back and the singers' sustained, deep main refrain - 'you've got the eyeeeees...' is memorable. Idle Eyes' 'Tokyo Rose' is dark and has an eerie tone to it, while Eight Seconds' 'Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)' is dancy and well-written. It has a great beat and atmosphere to it.
Kim Mitchell is the standard rock and roll man with uplifting songs like 'Go For A Soda' (simple yet catchy) and the dreamy 'All We Are' which blends in keyboards with soft rock. 'Rocklandwonderland' is also a good, catchy song. Then there's Montreal-based Gino Vanelli, who is mostly known for the keyboard-heavy 'Black Cars,' which I love while driving my own during a hot summer day - there's nothing more appropriate than those lyrics in that situation, literally. Black cars look better in the shade? Oh yeah. They're tolerable to be in while in the shade. The lyrics are metaphorical, though: the song talks of an older woman who slaps on makeup heavily in vain to make herself appear younger, to appeal perhaps to younger men. She looks great from a distance, even better in the shade. But his song 'Just A Motion Away' is what I like most, for its lyrics, tone and main piano riff - A-B-C. That's all that's played, really, other than the quieter notes that follow immediately after. But the ABC ones are the main, catchy ones, so basic yet so catchy.
Martha & The Muffins - the name sounds light-hearted yet they were a serious band - did a great debut with 'Echo Beach,' which has a great, fast-paced chorus with relatable lyrics. I love the catchy guitar riff and constant, happy-sounding organ. They later had another song called 'Song in my Head' which was all right as well.

There's many more. Originally I thought Men Without Hats was Australian thanks to the lead singer's voice. The Box is funny and witty - 'Walk Away' is exactly that, while 'My Dreams of You' is forlorn and full of yearning. Spoons were synthy and electronic with 'Nova Heart' and then pop-adult with 'Romantic Traffic' (life and love in complete transportation metaphors that seem kind of like they couldn't come up with enough, so they just went 'do-do-do' for a chorus). The song's music video was filmed entirely in the Toronto subway system, and, interestingly, at one point you can see a billboard for 'the Green Machine' with a slogan that reads 'withdraw $40 in 32 seconds flat.' Apparently TD bank's ATM first appeared in 1977, yet the video was done in 1984. I guess it was still considered worth advertising at the time.

I'd recommend checking out all of these artists as well as Blue Peter ('Radio Silence'), Toronto, Tenants (the only band I discovered on YouTube rather than the radio, out of enthusiasm for locating more Canadian 80s content online) Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Len, FM ('Phasors on Stun' is energizing) and good ol' Philosopher Kings - a 90s outfit with a sometimes jazzy, sometimes sincere sound.

This website also has information and listings of every recorded Canadian artist out there, too. It's quite comprehensive.

Justin C.

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