On Canadian Music


in Canada, Music

One thing I have really enjoyed about being in Oxford has been having the chance to introduce friends here to some of my favourite Canadian music. It’s a really gratifying bit of expat nationalism to be able to impress someone with the quality and variety not only of music from your home country, but of music from there that has been made by people you’ve met.

There is a heavy folk component not only to my introductory Canadiana showcase, but also to the general collection of music I’ve been listening to while here. Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and even Tori Amos have been getting much less play than such superb Canadian folk artists as Tegan & Sara (whose albums Under Feet Like Ours and This Business of Art I consider especially brilliant) and Melissa Ferrick. I’m proud to be able to say that I grew up in the same part of Vancouver where Spirit of the West is from. Nobody here has heard of them, which makes it all the more rewarding to introduce them. Their album Save This House is great from start to finish.

While I can’t remember who introduced me to Loreena McKennitt, she should definitely be counted among the great Canadian folk artists, though one who definitely sits on the more lyrical side. There is considerable elegance to a woman who plays the harp while singing. Her rendition of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallott” is the best poetic interpretation I can think of. Another talented artist who I don’t associate with a particular friend, with an appealing bilingual character to his songs, is Jean LeLoup, which I was introduced to during my time at L’Universite de Montreal.

Basically all of my favourite music – both Canadian and otherwise – has been introduced to me by friends. I’m particularly grateful to Tristan, Holden, Astrid, and Neal for introducing me to some of the best music I’ve ever heard. I find that sorting music according to who gave it to me is an interesting way of maintaining complex thematic continuity between randomly ordered songs, while still producing something varied and frequently unexpected.

Thinking just of Canadian stuff, there is the small but compelling collection of tracks by Alithea that Tristan gave me. “Starting Point” deserved to be a really well known piece of music, though chances are nobody who I haven’t got it from or sent it to will have heard it. Along with the CBC Radio 3 podcast, Tristan introduced me to The New Pornographers. They are a bit too far on the radio pop edge of music space for me much of the time, but a few of their songs I really love, especially “Letter from an Occupant.” Being introduced to The October Trio (a very talented Vancouver jazz group) at The Cellar on Broadway was also a welcome experience. I also really like the songs that he has had a hand in making that he has passed on to me, especially his “Postmodern Blues.”

I am grateful to Neal for The Vincent Black Shadow, which I really regret missing the chance to see live while I was in Vancouver. Their energetic but difficult to classify style is embodied by songs like “This Road is Going Nowhere.” Neal even defeated my general hesitance about country music, introducing me to such edgy, modern country artists as Neko Case and The Sadies.

Holden and Astrid jointly introduced me to Tegan & Sarah: Holden by appending a couple of tracks to a CD of Tori Amos, allowing me to understand the meaning of the fact that Astrid had a photo of two newborn twins who she had nicknamed Tegan & Sara on her wall in Gage, when I first met her. Anyone who knows UBC will understand how incongruous it is to imagine these two energetic, upbeat guitar-playing twins playing in the smoky (by Canadian standards) and vaguely seedy subterranean lair that is UBC’s Pit Pub.

Astrid also introduced me to Martina Sorbara, whose “Bonnie & Clyde II” is still one of my favourite songs. Similar to Melissa Ferrick in same ways, Astrid also introduced me to Ember Swift. The commonalities: strong female vocals, acoustic guitar, and a prevalence of feminist and political messages. Taken together, definitely some of the most uplifting and charged music you’re likely to find.

The UBC Debate Society also deserves a mention here, for introducing me to both Stan Rogers and the whole collection of The Arrogant Worms in the best possible way: through groups of drunken debaters singing them in pubs after meetings and tournaments. Meghan will surely agree that “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate, ” “Barrett’s Privateers,” and “The Scotsman” are all the kind of songs you want to have in reserve after three or four hours paddling through an impossible downpour.

While I don’t have much from her (eight songs compared to 296 from Tristan and 160 from Neal), everything that Lindi has sent me has been excellent. While not Canadian, the beautiful Hebrew song “Mima’amakim (From the deep)” by Idan Raichel is one of the best things I’ve heard in months. For some reason, the melodies and vocals in it remind me of the West African French music that Kerrie has sent me over the years.

In closing, to anyone who thinks the above is a catalogue of musical piracy:

While it’s true that basically every artist and track listed above either came into my possession as an emailed mp3, an AAC file transferred off a memory stick, or a burned CD, I went on to buy albums and concert tickets from every artist listed above: my major regret being that the people actually producing the music get such a small cut of the money.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

B January 25, 2006 at 1:04 am

Why does it seem so obvious that the Future Dr. Fish loves a song called “From the deep?”


I’m betting you will get some good comments on this post. Quasi-wiki format blogging works really well for you.

Anonymous January 25, 2006 at 1:57 am

Interesting how tastes evolve. I remember when you used to be all about Our Lady Peace, Matthew Good Band, Moist, and Tea Party.

Of course, none of them have put out anything decent in many years.

Seth January 25, 2006 at 8:48 am

I love Loreena McKennitt, and I never knew she was Canadian. She has an ethereal voice and a great flair for melody, although some of her songs are a bit overworked.

Milan January 25, 2006 at 6:17 pm

If people are going to call me “Dr. Fish” I am definitely doing my thesis on something else.

benning76 January 25, 2006 at 7:38 pm

See, now I thought Canadian music meant Anne Murray. You mean there’s more?


Anonymous January 27, 2006 at 6:35 pm

heehee…i just read the comment about from the deep at mr fish. The more correct translation of mima’amakim is “from the depths (i.e. of a soul”)

anyway, I’m glad you like it. There are rumours about a tour that may pass near to me in the near future. !!!!.

Anonymous January 27, 2006 at 7:13 pm

You’re spot on, with regards to the African connection in Raichel’s music.

The Idan Raichel Project is an exciting mix of Israeli and Ethiopian influences, resulting in an interesting blend of urban pop, world beat and electronica.

Ben January 29, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Canadian music doesn’t have too good a reputation over here. Respect to Tea Party (who put out a reasonable album last year) and Our Lady Peace though. And, of course, Skinny Puppy (and Frontline Assembly and other off-shoots…)

B February 10, 2006 at 10:48 pm

I love Tegan & Sara.

I’ve said it before, but it deserves reinforcement. They are even better live than in studio.

R.K, May 16, 2006 at 1:20 am

You might appreciate this interview with Neko Case.

B May 24, 2006 at 6:11 pm

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: