In the last 10 years, the term “indie-pop” has been used, beaten, and abused ad nauseum; it’s gotten to the point that it barely signifies a coherent genre. Which is fine—everyone from Lorde to Arcade Fire have been called some variant of “indie” and “pop”—but be warned: This list isn’t about the Canadian indie-pop diaspora. Instead, we’re focusing on a more classic definition of the genre, one that marries guitar pop with D.I.Y. ethics.
The bands collected here channel very specific pockets of indie-pop: Some lean heavily on ’80s Britpop sensibilities; they might emulate Johnny Marr’s guitar jangle, or the econo-pop of Black Tambourine, or even expand their territorial worship to Scotland, where the Pastels reign. Others might look to the stripped-down pop scene that thrived in New Zealand, curated by the ever-relevant Flying Nun Records. Or they might pay tribute to the Pacific Northwest’s quirked-out D.I.Y. pioneers, who were curated by labels like Calvin Johnson’s K records and Oakland-based Slumberland Records. Who, after all these years, are still among the world’s premier independents.
For our part, we love it all—and we love these 9 twee-as-fuck bands. Welcome to the jangle.
It’s no surprise that Love Cuts draw direct inspiration from the Pacific Northwestern D.I.Y. scene—though they play stripped-down, sometimes rudimentary punk, it’s evident the band’s spent time digging into the back catalogue of K Records staples like Tiger Trap and Beat Happening. For the band’s delightful amateurism—it often feels like their tracks were recorded in one take, warts and all—Love Cuts still manage to craft genuine earworms, like the just-released “Back To You,” below.
Montreal-via-Lethbridge-via Osaka songwriter Mitz Takahashi has, in his press materials, been painted as a C86 connoisseur. No shock, really—Mavo creates authentic jangle-pop that feel like it could’ve existed in a different era and a different country. Beyond genre revivalism, though, Takahashi’s also hilarious: With dead-eyed delivery, he weaves self-aware tales in tracks like “Mock My Accent” and “Horrible Britpop Haircut.” Fixture Records co-founder Conor Prendergast rounds out Mavo’s lineup, and though we haven’t heard anything from the band of late, we can only hope for new material soon.
Old and Weird
Halifax’s pop underground has a reputation for its left-field approach to songcraft—one whose traditions are migrating to other parts of the country. (See: the ever-hyped quirk-pop of Each Other, who are made up of Nova Scotia expats in Montreal.) The city’s oddball aesthetic also applies to Old and Weird, who—while not being direct descendants of the York Redoubt school—have built a penchant for unpredictable earworms. While they’re capable of penning swooning, sunny-day melodies, they often layer jarring transitions and rhythm changes into their music, resulting in an aesthetic that resembles a malfunctioning tape deck. Trust us, that’s a good thing.
While Movieland—named for the arcade of the same name — possess more garage-bred grit than most on this list, don’t let the Vancouver-based band’s muscle fool you: There’re still melodies for miles. Green Burrito released their fuzzy, hooky Blows Up last March, and we’ll admit it—we slept on the release. Better late than never, right? We especially love “Craigslist,” their ode to digital tristesse, and the tom-heavy, stripped-down pop of “1-2-3-4 Get Fucked.”
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning B.C.’s Rose Melberg, one of the best indie-pop songwriters around. Her resume should speak for itself: She was an active member of the Olympia scene as part of Tiger Trap, The Softies, and Go Sailor, and along with her solo material, she’s also currently in Pups. (Not to be confused with the very
similarily-named Toronto punk band.) The band cut a split with Movieland (also on Green Burrito), and their half is lovely: All silken sleepy melodies set to elegant punk-pop, it’s a firm reminder that we should be listening to anything Melberg lends her name to.
We’d be foolish not to mention Melberg’s solo material, too. Placing Melberg’s velvet vocals in the foreground, her songs take on a different vibe: Sometimes, they’re frigid. Other times, they’re intimate. Other times, they’re yearning. We’ve featured “Distant Ships,” a single cut on perennial AUX fave
Kingfisher Bluez, below. But it’s be wise to track down her 2009 LP, the K Records-released Homemade Ship, too.
This Toronto-via-the East Coast band has been on our radar for a sec; we even named them a
band to watch at SXSW. Singer Molly Rankin (of the Nova Scotia Rankins, natch) spent time as a folk singer, but her casual sing-speak fits best atop a jangling, indie-pop framework—and that’s precisely what Alvvays provides. Bolstered by the sugar-coated guitar leads of Alec O’Hanley—who hails from P.E.I., where power pop was perfected by bands like the Danks and his former act, Two Hours Traffic—Alvvays hits the balance between cracking energy and pastel-hued relaxation. Their debut on Royal Mountain is among our most anticipated of 2014.
If we’re talking about summer-ready indie pop, we’d be fools to leave the Courtneys out of the equation. Their Hockey Dad-released self-titled EP was among our favourites of 2013, pairing Flying Nun-esque jangle with an obsession with beaches, Keanu Reeves, eternal adolescence, and ’80s pop culture ephemera. They’re gearing up for a follow-up—they’ve even laid tracks down at Gabriola Island’s Noise Floor—and if the vampire-themed “Lost Boys” is any indication, The Courtneys are only getting better. This single’s been rattling around our head for days, but hey, we ain’t complaining.
Less polished—but no less summery—than The Courtneys, Toronto’s BB Guns sound like a hazed-out Hogtown summer—that is to say, they’re our soundtrack for sneaking road pops and flying kites at Trinity Bellwoods Park (potentially fucking up Dave Bidini’s baseball game in the process). Pairing ’50s nostalgia—note: the spoken-word bits in “Dear Abby”—with muggy surf melodies, the Brian Borcherdt-produced Baby I Hate You makes us long for Slurpees in the dog park, dad sodas on Ward’s Island, and somehow, swamp crotch. Weird, right?
Lab Coast recently made their way across Canada, meaning they’re no longer Calgary’s best-kept secret. Not that they should’ve been in the first place: Drummer Chris Dadge runs Bug Incision, one of Canada’s most notable avant garde imprints, while their members have played alongside Calgo institutions like Chad VanGaalen, Samantha Savage Smith, and more. As for Lab Coast? Their Mammoth Cave-released Walking on Ayr claims Guided By Voices influences, but we’re caught up in how many sugar-shocked melodies the band can pack in sub-two minute songs.