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Best Montreal Albums of the Decade: An Introduction

Posted by Jer / December 13, 2010

Spotlight on Montreal.jpg When all the "Best Music of the Decade" lists started going up around this time last year, Montréal had the right to be proud. Arcade Fire's Funeral cracked several top tens, Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary and Stars' Set Yourself on Fire made appearances further down the ranks. Whether or not you agreed with the rankings, few would quibble with the argument that Montréal was one of the prime hubs of original music over the last decade. Like Seattle or Halifax in the 90s, the unique sounds crafted by local and adopted Montréalers influenced music here and abroad.

The New York Times and Spin officially declared the city a "scene" halfway through the decade, bringing mainstream media attention to the city's music and provoking reactions from local musicians, journalists and audiences who rejected the label as a trendy marketing tactic. That's the thing with scenes. They exist and yet they don't. The term can alternately refer to a shared musical aesthetic (e.g. the grunge scene), a collection of like musical or cultural practices (e.g. the rave scene), or an inferred link between sound and place (e.g. the Athens scene). Scenes can also take their name from individuals, instruments, or methods of production.

My favourite definition comes from Will Straw, a professor at McGill, who says that scenes are that cultural space in which a range of musical practices coexists. Scenes develop in relation to musical heritage (time) and local communities (space). Scenes are groups of people in a particular place, the movement of those people into and out of other places, and the very infrastructure that allows for and encourages that movement. Scenes create an image of a city, one that is often indistinguishable from its social character.

When mainstream media started writing about Montréal's music scene, they suggested that cold winters, cheap rent, political and linguistic tensions, etc. provided fertile grounds for musical innovation. While these generalizations may have some truth to them, they are by no means unique to Montréal. And they by no means occurred suddenly in time to create the Arcade Fire's debut album. This truth is, this city has many scenes. It has infrastructure, individuals, and pathways that feed these scenes. There's an ebb and flow in what comes out of this city, sonically, that depends on who's here, why they're here, what brought them, and what they do while they're in the city. As outside media attention waxes and wanes, Montréal's various (and varied) music scenes will remain, bound by the places, people, and practices that constitute them.

This is a long-winded way of saying thank you, Montréal. It's a local love letter to the people who make music here, the promoters who hype shows, the organizers who run the countless festivals, the venues who host quality shows every single night, the journalists, bloggers, podcasters and radio hosts who write and talk about new sounds, and the audiences who enjoy and support the city's vibrant musical cultures.

To recognize the monumental contributions of this city to the decade in music that was, intrepid Midnight Poutine contributor Andrés Canella had the idea to send out a survey on the best Montréal albums of the decade. Sure, we should have done this last December at the close of the decade, but we wanted to take our time and get in touch with as many people involved in this city's scenes as possible. We polled MP contributors and sent ballots out to promoters, journalists, and bloggers. We asked them to nominate their top ten favourite "Montréal" albums of the decade. We tried to do our best to find a balance between Anglo and Franco sources, but like the rest of this site, we probably skew a bit on the English side. We also tried hard to find people that could speak to different genres, but again, this list has an indie rock slant. Once all the submissions were in, Andrés dutifully compiled the results. Tomorrow, we start our countdown to number one.

We won't spoil the surprise, other than to say the winner is pretty obvious. Still, the list is a testament to how talented music-makers are in this city. Since getting involved with the Midnight Poutine podcast several years ago, I've been in touch with countless local artists, promoters and labels. I'm consistently amazed and humbled by the quality of music I find in my inbox, week after week. This countdown confirms the last decade in Montréal music was great. But I can't wait to see what comes out of this city's music scenes in the decade to come.



Olivier Plessis / December 16, 2010 at 08:59 pm
Love it Jeremy. Making me homesick.
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