Last month, Weird Canada launched National Drone Day, and while it was an undeniable success—it had more than 10 events across Canada, many with live performances—it also pointed to a larger trend: Ambient, drone, and post-rock is alive and well in Canada. And they’re not only niche genres, too—let’s not forget that post-rock mainstays Godspeed! You Black Emperor won (and subsequently criticized) the Polaris Prize last year. Tim Hecker’s work has deservedly received Polaris consideration. Aidan Baker’s projects have earned heaps of critical accolades. And, of course, labels like the Dub Ditch Picnic-associated Prairie Fire Tapes cut releases from Canada-over.
Aside from being largely instrumental, though, there’s a lot of variance within the ambient, drone, and experimental worlds—these artists come from disparate worlds, from metal, punk, house, neo-classical. They use guitars, synthesizers, field recordings. And they derive inspiration for influences so far-flung, it’s hard to call this grouping of bands a movement. So, far from being a comprehensive list, here are nine new Canadian ambient, drone, and post-rock bands we’re digging on.
We stumbled upon Pulsewidth’s Soundcloud page recently, and we’re glad we did. Far from being consistent, the sets on offer are chameleonic, prolific, and scatterbrained. His set, opening for Merzbow, is ear-canal shattering power electronics; An Elevated Plane is a collection of ghostly, beat-based pop; and Soundtrack For The Cosmos In Which We Are, which he’s labelled as isolationist folk, is an excercise in eerie minimalism. The point? Whatever dude tries is exceptional.
Inner Oceans—a boutique digital label launched in 2012, and home to Valiska—correctly notes that Krzysztof Sujata’s music is an accurate reflection of his hometown of Calgary. Using neo-classical pianos, stuttering guitars, droning ambient, and a selection of field recordings—naturally—Valiska’s sweeping songs draw on the binaries of his city: Sometimes, they’re organic and pastoral, but other times, they’re mechanical and noisy. Sometimes, they’re busy with feedback and white noise; other times, they’re sparse and lonely. It’s just like riding the C-Train, right? Valiska also has released music for Unit Structure, an upstart Calgary-Vancouver label who, like Sujata, are very much worth investigating.
Toronto’s Healing Power Records releases some of the city’s best, forward-thinking music—and through comps like F R U I T S and Heart of Toronto, the imprint’s been curating Hogtown’s weirder corners. And while it’s worth investigating their entire roster, for the sake of this post, we’ve been especially enamoured with Hoover Party’s Some Liquidity for these Troubled Times, Vol. 2.—it’s all spaced-out, expanding and retracting soundscapes, occasionally tied together with retro-futuristic keyboard melodies. This one’s for the stargazers.
Devin Friesen is a solo guitar experimenter, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent—the music he creates with fistfuls of pedals is remarkably accessible. Left to his own devices, and he delivers shrieks of noise, circular feedback drones, and snippets of finger-picked or strummed melodies, but pair him with saxophonist Nate Waters—of Calgary band Cable-Knits—and it’s the perfect intersection of free jazz and ambient guitar.
Back at the beginning of the year, Ken Reaume’s Black Walls project released the excellent, Pleasence-released Communion, which we named one of our early 2014 favourites. Listening to Black Walls, it’s easy to hear why: Moving beyond his Mark Kozelek-inspired roots, Reaume converts folk songs into wonderfully emotive, sweeping drone-scapes with occasional sprinkles of post-rock guitar. At turns crushingly glacial, at times sunnily optimistic, Black Walls clearly puts very real—if often dour—humanity into his songs, all led by Reaume’s detached vocals. A must-listen.
Both menacing and dreamy, Echo Beach’s approach to drone is one filled with contrasts. Near-threatening spoken-word passages balance out sweeping stargazers; harsh industrial noise is delivered at hushed volumes; formless drones are balanced out by oscillating kraut melodies. Confused? So are we. But ex-Vancouverite (and current Montrealer) Julie Matson makes it work.
Northumbria’s Dorian Williamson sent me band’s his latest split, with North Atlantic Drift, via a Facebook message, and in its two songs, we came away heavily impressed—so much that we listed it among May’s best releases. Dig deeper into the Toronto band’s discography, like to All Days Begin As Night, and you’ll find an act who delivers many of the qualities associated with metal—the crushing heaviness, the implicit menace—while stripping away the genre’s recognizable structures. It’s metal for those who are over post-metal.
If there’s an image the Citadel evokes, it’s sunlight pouring through stained-glass windows. Indeed, this Montreal project places a high value on melody—and compared to many acts on this list, they come off as far less atonal and far more personable. In a way, Torchbearer almost feels like agnostic church-organ drone—it’s airy, well-paced, and meant to fill up cathedral-sized spaces. Praise be, we say.
North Atlantic Drift
The flipside of the aforementioned Northumbria split is North Atlantic Drift. Less austere—and far less metallic—than their Toronto counterparts, the duo of Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps create sweeping, cinematic music. Resolven, below, displays a penchant for gorgeous drones, tasteful electronics, and, of course, shimmering, light-filled guitars—it’s an excellent slice of post-rock.