Posted on Dec. 2019
With the sheer volume of music hitting the streaming services every week, it was easy for the albums to get lost in the reshuffle. There were a lot of amazing albums that caught the eye – see our best lists of 2019 as proof – but there were just as many who didn’t quite get the love they deserved. The 10 Most Underrated Exclaim Records! in 2019 come from all genres, many from here in Canada.
There is only a limited number of times you can tell people to check a recording before agreeing that it won’t be heard. from Africa Colored does more ripple than splash, but frankly it deserves a crater. It’s the only record this year that was different and at the same time very similar to everything that came before it. It’s funky, quirky, innovative … Hell, I’ll try again: you should take a look.
With its double-helix combination of sharp pop and warm soul, Fear positions the Winnipeg Begonia (Alexa Dirks) as a locomotive on the Prairies. Her voice is the anchor here: she animates “Hanging on a Line” with vibrating and throbbing hooks; it rises to the stratospheric belt which crowns “Two Beers In”; and switch to quieter, more thoughtful ruminations like “Dead Flowers”, all with ease. Smooth synths and steady beats connect when needed – but just as often, FearBegonia’s production comes down to minimal elements, where Begonia’s vocal range and constant craftsmanship prove equally imposing.
Whitby, Ontario emo-rock heroes Chastity are the driving force behind a growing indie rock trend: a major talent for pop sensibilities. Homemade satan It’s reminiscent of popular rock bands from the early 2000s, and it looks like this trend has grown into the buzz for a lot of indie rock and post-punk this year. The first single from the album “Sun Poisoning” is extremely magnetic, prompting listeners to explore the dark magic the rest of the album casts.
Hua Li 化 力 mixes the fire of hip-hop with melancholy R&B and his own Chinese heritage in Dynasty, a stormy affair wrapped in its thoughtful but powerful verse. Much of the dossier expands on the unfair treatment of Chinese immigrants, as the opening of “Paper Sons” discusses (while working in dialogue with family members to further illustrate the message). The minimalist synth passages on “Recitation (Interlude)” and the deep self-reflection of “This Chaos” reveal an introspective and uplifting MC. Dynasty is an exciting experience, enabling a new generation of Chinese Canadians to exceed expectations and challenge cultural and societal norms.
Vancouver’s Necking is building its reputation on its live performances and it shows. Their searing gaze on post-punk exudes contempt for VU-meters, capitalism and patriarchy. But it’s their ability to transform the political figure of their early days that really sets them apart, as they lament the status quo while acknowledging their own role in it. Visceral and cutting, Cut your teeth blows up headphones and speakers like few others, never shying away from the hard truths.
Sarah Louise’s third album is both deeply traditional and totally unconventional. Adopting the voice and guitar configuration of the stock folk troubadour, Louise takes the common sounds of the genre and rearranges them into an expansive collage. Night birds and morning stars is both viscerally tangible (the metallic scratches sound like violin strings on “Ancient Intelligence”) and respectfully natural: “Daybreak” opens the album to the rhythm of birdsong, and “Rime” hums like the sun through a hot summer day.
The best pop album of the year did not belong to Taylor, Ariana Where Carly rae. Instead, it belonged to a few Montreal transplant recipients who originally had no intention of doing so. Deborah had little chance of reaching the masses, but on a shoestring budget Dylan Konrad Obront and Heather Foster Kirkpatrick created an immaculate ’80s pop comeback from soft-hued synths, cheerful but powerful hooks, and lyrics melancholy who are far too inaudible.
TOBi’s blend of introspection, honesty and natural arrogance makes it easy to ALWAYS an extraordinary record. Witty puns abound, with “City Blues” recalling his experiences immigrating to Canada and the struggle to integrate into a new culture. Mythology finds its way into “Shot Me Down” as Cupid, Icarus and Poseidon become clever metaphors for passion, determination and vulnerability. There is great potential for TOBi to excel, and ALWAYS perfectly sums up a motivated artist eager for more.
The power of the remarkable WHOOP-Szo Warrior Down is enveloped in strange sound textures – emotionally direct at times, murky and confusing at others. Anishinaabe musician Adam Sturgeon faces things that some of us cannot relate to. He writes and sings about Canada’s stained history of willful abuse and neglect of its indigenous people from a personal perspective (see “Gerry”, “Cut Your Hair” and “Oda Man”). He and his bandmates mark such narratives with a vicious rock assault, inspired by metal, prog, post-hardcore and folk grunge for a truly moving, overwhelming and unleashed roar. It’s scary how good this band is.
Death metal is arguably bigger than it has been in ages, bolstered by its two old-fashioned factions – Neanderthals and Astronauts – but luckily there’s room for some fun monsters too. like Witch Vomit, who offer a grim take on their Swedish-style attack with their second effort, Buried deep in a bottomless grave. Look no further than the album title and the roles assigned to the band members, which include “Cranium Crushing Gore Fucker” and “Meathooks of Doom”.