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Best Montreal Albums of the Decade: #5 - #1

Posted by Jer / December 18, 2010

Best MTL Albums of the Decade Mash Up #5 - #1Here we are. The big conclusion. The grande finale. The stunning, shocking, climax to our Best Montréal Albums of the Decade series. Over the last 5 days, 25 albums have been duking it out for the number 1 spot on our list. Today we reveal the winner, the only album left standing after this no holds barred, knock down, drag out musical battle royale. And while only one album officially takes home the ultimate prize (i.e. the respect and admiration of your peers and fans, which btw is not transferable or redeemable for cash) we're all winners here. As Montréalers of some form or another, we've all had the chance to take part in the production, circulation and consumption of these albums. We are all better for having these albums around.

The rest of the series is here: introduction, #25-#21, #20-#16, #15-#11, and #10-#6, but without further ado, here are the final 5 albums in our countdown (with a huge thanks again to MP contributor Andrés Canella for the wonderful mashed-up album art).

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists... #5Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
GY!BE disbanded early in the decade, but their influence only grew as the years went by. It's ironic, then, that they were always a band of the present moment. Beginning as a loose collective of Montreal musicians, the group played together for years before releasing a full-length album on a large scale, initially only putting out short cassettes and records in very limited runs. They were constantly changing, constantly engaged in the act of making music without saving it for the future. Somehow that limitless creativity comes across on their second of three LPs, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven - a record every bit as ambitious as The Wall or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But unlike either of these albums, there's no egoism, no overbearing statement, just one rapturous movement after another that, without hyperbole, pushes the limits of rock, post-rock, and music as a whole. (Greg Bouchard)

The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart #4The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart (2003)
The year was 2003. The winter was brisk, and my first year of university was difficult. I had a car then, and the only album that made it through the winter in that car's CD player was Logic Will Break Your Heart. It's one of those incredibly versatile albums that functions well for long drives in traffic, snowboarding in fresh powder, crying over a girl you turned gay (actually), or just background noise. It was the first by The Stills, and though it never made it onto any major charts in the US, is still considered their best. The track "Of Montreal" really confused me for a while when it came up in my pre-iPod mp3 player because I always mistook it for a track by the band of the same name. Don't get me wrong though... The Stills > Of Montreal. (Luc Doucet)

The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Your Hair When We're Gone? #3The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003)
Like the mysterious mythological creature, The Unicorns could not be pinned down. The band receded as it was emerging, imploded at its most brilliant point. Formed by Nicholas Thorburn, Alden Penner and Jamie Thompson, their three-year collaboration culminated in the 2003 release of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? A critical success, the band went on a whirlwind tour of the world from Europe to Australia and finally to Houston, Texas, where after months of in-fighting Penner walked off stage. Historiography aside, this solitary album notes the rise of indie rock in Montréal, a scene that would go worldwide the next year with Arcade Fire's debut. Poisoned and inspired by their lightning success, the three have branched off and have continued to contribute to Montréal music, though in decidedly more elusive unicorn-like ways.

What separates WWCOHWWG? from the pack is the album's ability to take you by surprise. On the surface, there is a tonal optimism and energy that defies traditional melody. Upon further listening, there is an epic quality to their songs, as certain segments latch on and play over and over in your mind. Then you listen to the lyrics, and realize it was an underhanded optimism you first experienced: the words are a laissez-faire morbidity that denote intelligence and wit in writing and composition. From the opening track's "Doo doo doo I die, It's true" to closing "Oh maker! (of such fine products As palm trees, and the dead sea)", irreverent comedic tales of death by hungry cougars, and the lonely extinction of the unicorn lie beneath the beat. There is much to like in the 13 tracks, and no better reason to be #3 on our list. (Andrés Canella)

Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary #2Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)
It was a long time coming, but Wolf Parade's first full-length album put them on the map and turned them into the Montreal rock darlings they still are. If you hear their music before seeing them live you might not understand exactly how much of a team they are; it's not a one-man-show, and they're not one-hit wonders. They've released continued to release fine albums since their debut, but they're still best known for the big songs from this album including "Shine a Light", "I'll Believe in Anything", and "You Are a Runner, I am My Father's Son". Even if you don't love this band, you're eventually going to be at a party with a group of people who do. So picture yourself 5 years ago in a Montreal music venue with screaming fans singing all the words to every Wolf Parade song as they own the room, and you'll fit right into the conversation. Wait, that image still happens albums later....This is one for the record books. (Amie Watson)

The Arcade Fire - Funeral #1The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
We warned you that the winner wasn't really a big surprise. But that doesn't mean the #1 spot is undeserved. It's hard to deny the impact of this album, musically and culturally, not just on this city, but on indie music more widely. The album brought widespread media attention to Montreal and its sounds. Thanks to articles in The New York Times and Spin, bands like Wolf Parade, Stars and the Dears were suddenly lumped into a vaguely defined "scene" and found themselves having to identify their music in relation to the Arcade Fire. Sure, the added attention was welcome, but it also put pressures on other local acts to live up to imagined expectations. Beyond the city, the Arcade Fire was praised for reclaiming the true meaning of "indie" and for advancing a model of music-making that centered on a refreshing mix of artistic integrity, technological smarts, and business acumen. With a music industry crumbling around them, they were undeniable proof that great music will still be made, shared, enjoyed and yes, even purchased (to the tune of platinum in Canada, 500K in the U.K and close to a million worldwide), with or without the help of major labels.

I won't try and sum up all that makes Funeral great. The bleak, painful and redeeming imagery the lyrics paint, "Wake Up", the rousing choruses and breakdowns, the dreams of Winn and Regine, Owen Pallett's string arrangements, or the feeling that even though the digital era brought us a deluge of new music there was something that made these ten songs different, perfect. For you, it could be all of these things or none of them. For me, Funeral is an album that will be forever tied with my move to this city. As I wrestled with difficult personal, academic and professional decisions, this album was the soundtrack. It was comfort, it was curiosity. It was excitement for something new mixed with the hesitation that comes with leaving what you know.

Whether you heard the songs from Funeral early in their lifecycle at Sala and Casa shows, or as they floated sneakily through the ether of p2p file sharing sites, or later on as they made their way to record stores, college radio stations and eventually mainstream media outlets, you've probably got your own story about what this album means to you. In fact, you probably have your own tales about what all these albums mean to you. Hopefully this series has helped bring some of those memories into focus. So we turn it over to you now, to share some of those thoughts below and to speak up for your favourite Montréal albums of the decade. (Jeremy Morris)

An extra special thanks to Andrés Canella for all his work on this series, and to all the writers who contributed reviews. An even heartier thanks to all the jury members and local music folk who sent in their votes for the survey. The rest of the series, if you missed it, is here: introduction,#25-#21, #20-#16, #15-#11, and #10-#6. See you in 10 years, when we do this all again.



Joy / December 18, 2010 at 03:09 pm
Totally agree with your top 3, and the rest of the list was fantastic!!! Glad to see that most of my favorites made it, and I have a few "new" ones I'll need to check out. :)
Kim Cooke / December 18, 2010 at 06:04 pm
It's a headscratcher how a list like this could not contain at least one Dears album.
Sean N. replying to a comment from Kim Cooke / December 18, 2010 at 06:48 pm
I totally agree. Overall, the list looks a lot like mine would, but no Dears?
Jer / December 18, 2010 at 09:12 pm
@Sean,@Kim. I was as surprised as anyone not to see the Dears there. I've never been a huge fan, but i know they have a strong following, especially here in the city. Plus, they have enough quality songs to put them at least somewhere on this list. But alas, they, like Jean Leloup, and a few others missed the cut.
Andres / December 18, 2010 at 11:55 pm
I think The Dears' End of Hollywood Bedtime Story should have been up here, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. I think while Jean Leloup is a great artist from Québec, his most recognized work was from the previous decade. Fans of non-indie stuff may have also liked to see artists like Amon Tobin or Tiga make the list. I think, in general though, like them or not, the top 3 are pretty unshakeable.
Louigi / December 19, 2010 at 06:40 am
The Unicorns beat Godspeed? I doubt that the members of the Unicorns would agree with that assessment.

Also, Godspeed never disbanded and in fact just curated the most recent UK All Tomorrow's Parties earlier this month:
Lucas Samuels / December 19, 2010 at 11:50 am
Very surprised to see that The Barr Brothers didn't make this list. Their self-titled album is unbelievable and dare I say they're the most exciting live act in Montreal right now? Brad and Andrew Barr have been all over the Montreal scene since 2005. Also, Plans and Animals - Parc Avenue is a great embodiment of Montreal's eclectic culture.
Margot / December 19, 2010 at 05:10 pm
Lucas - check out #10 for your favourite flora and fauna band. And yes, there are plenty of bands that didn't get a mention, we feel positively horrible. All the more reason to mention them now!
Lorraine Carpenter / December 19, 2010 at 06:46 pm
The Dears' No Cities Left and Gang of Losers are superior to anything by The Unicorns or Bran Van or Les Cowboys Fringants, to name a few of the lamer choices here. I'd have put one of them in the top 5.
Lucas Samuels replying to a comment from Margot / December 20, 2010 at 02:14 pm
Margot - I read the list right when I woke up and missed P&A by mistake. Glad you guy's included. Thought The Barr Brothers debut would be included largely because they have so much influence on the MTL music scene right now. Andrew Barr is the drummer for the Land of Talk. Brad guests on the new P&A record and they just gig in MTL more than any other band. That and the fact that the new album is absolutely brilliant.
Greg / December 20, 2010 at 04:42 pm
Godspeed disbanded in 2003 and played their first show since then about a month ago. I glossed over their current reunion in my album blurb in order to save space. But I'm aware of it, and I have a ticket for one of their Montreal shows in April. Sooooooo so so so so so sooooo excited.
Lorenzo / December 29, 2010 at 09:22 pm
You guys forgot about Akufen's masterpiece in 2002, My Way.
James Campbell / December 30, 2010 at 12:42 am
Man. Fantastic. Getting fussy about the specific order on someone's else's list has never made sense to me, what I love about this is the way you write about each album. All I could want from the music I create is for one person to write about us like that
GeorgesK / January 10, 2011 at 10:18 am
Yeah, yeah, I know, these kinds of comments are annoying, but i'll add my voice to the annoying chatter: No Sunset Rubdown?! Seriously, Random Spirit Lover is my top album of the decade, all cities considered. Sigh, Sunset Rubdown is just one of those bands you either really really love or just sweep under the rug. In the 2007 Pitchfork readers' poll, the album came it at #14 but actually got the most #1 votes: Funny what devoted fans will do, eh?
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