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11 Up-and-Coming Montreal Bands of 2011

Posted by Greg / December 30, 2011

20111230-TechnicalKidman.jpgRecently, the New York Times named 2011 "The Year When Rock Just Spun Its Wheels," lamenting a lack of innovation and grit from new and established artists alike. It was a year, they complained, when a Sublime copycat and cover band called Sublime With Rome had at least one hit on the Billboard charts per week from May onward. That's pretty bad. But I say to the Times, and to anyone else who thinks this statistic matters: you are looking in the wrong places. There is more excellent music out there than ever before and more of it is available all over the world than in any previous era. Luckily for Montrealers, a prodigious and probably unfair amount of it is tucked away in our city, ready to hear at a bar or club or loft around the proverbial corner. When I appeared on Icelandic radio this summer, I was asked whether the music scene here was changing. My honest answer was no, it's not changing; it's just getting bigger and better.

Below are 11 reasons why indie music is alive and well and thriving in Montreal. With a few exceptions, these artists represent the city's newest offerings, and all of them rank among the best music I've heard all year. Most of the bands listed here only have an EP, CDR or website to their name. A few released debut LPs in 2011, and a couple garnered coverage from major music media outlets like Pitchfork and NPR. Listeners of our Montreal Weekend Playlist Podcast will be familiar with most of them. On the whole, though, this list could double as "bands to watch in 2012," since most of them have only revealed a small part of what they have to offer. Thanks to artists like these, it's an exciting time to be here.

Before getting into it, I want to make clear that this list represents one writer's opinion and is not meant to speak for Midnight Poutine as a whole. And hell, my opinion just represents my own idiosyncratic, unscientific, and beer-infused sampling of the scene in 2011. No one should read this as a definitive "best of" list, but rather a friendly offering of excellent tunes by bands you wouldn't hear about in the New York Times (even though one of them actually did grace its pages). It's all about sharing, and I encourage readers to chime in with their picks from the year.

In alphabetical order...

Country

Country offer the perfect starting point, because in a list of new bands they are by far the newest. These guys performed their first ever show at the Silver Door during Pop Montreal, just three months ago. Their difficult-to-google name makes it virtually impossible to know anything more about them than what's contained in their two clips on youtube. But there's more than enough here to pique my interest: hard, melodic, emotive rock for the night. It's Joy Division meets the last thirty years. Keep an ear to the ground.

CTZNSHP

A wise man once said maybe everything that dies someday comes back. This is certainly true for CTZNSHP, who originally caught my interest in 2009 under the name Murder Ford Monument. Recalling a show at Casa del Popolo (before the expansion), I initially wrote of them, "Murder Ford Monument have outgrown small rooms, and I hope (and fully expect) them to move to bigger and better things in 2010." That show was the last I saw of them for nearly two years. I worried they had broken up, failing to follow through on some of the most intensely transcendent pop-rock outside of The National. Imagine my excitement when two of their members returned, even better and stronger, as CTZNSHP. Their three-song "Swan Dive" EP is painfully short, offering a glimpse into the band's lush musical world full of beauty and noise, late nights and dangerous love. They've matured and grown under the new name, finding an original sound with greater urgency, and I can't wait to see how much further they go.

Goose Hut

Not to sound one-sided, but I can't imagine anyone disliking Goose Hut. The moustached-and-turtle-necked trio strike the perfect balance between catchy melodies and driving percussion, singing together in concert and often devoting 2/3 of their manpower to banging the shit out of a couple drums. Their digital EP, "Money Money Love Love," (available at shows as a personalized CDR) is a veritable feast of hooks. Theirs is the level of songwriting intuition that makes it look easy, but try copying them and you'll see it's all talent. I signed their petition to open for Hanson at the Corona Theatre next year and encourage you to do so, too.

Grimes

Of everyone covered here, Grimes is probably the biggest breakthrough act. She probably doesn't need my endorsement after being named a rising artist by Pitchfork and playing at the MoMa in New York. However, I feel a need to pause on Grimes because because I spent a while not particularly liking her and want to make up for lost time. My earliest encounter with Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, was two years ago at a loft party where she played one of her first Montreal shows. Though clearly a very talented individual, her songs were not yet very well developed, her stage presence lacking the grace and virtuosity that define it today. She apologized between songs for being drunk. Mind you, none of this bothered me or anyone else, since she laid down solid tunes and everyone there was drunk too. But then over the following year, I saw her name popping up virtually everywhere without the quality of output to justify it and I took on a she's-good-but-not-THAT-good attitude. All previous opinions were shattered by the song above and "Darkbloom," the split-EP from which it came. Here she provides some of the most innovative and catchy dance music around, combining hip-hop, K-pop, and about a million other influences with her hypnotically dark aesthetic sense. Her next full-length album should propel her to very big things.

Honheehonhee

Anyone who pays attention to this website and our podcast knows we have a bit of a love affair going on with Honheehonhee. We can't help it, they're just so good. We first caught an online demo of "A is for Animal" about a year ago and have since watched them record and release a full-length album, "Shouts," that shockingly never strays from that song's shout-out-loud level of energy. They are very deservedly becoming one of Montreal's top bands to see live. Go here to listen to their live performance for us and multiply that by speaker climbing and shirtlessness. Or, actually, just go see Honheehonhee next chance you get.

Majical Cloudz

Majical Cloudz, the solo project of Devon Welsh, has a tendency of being defined by its splitting off from the now-defunct Pop Winds, which is too bad because I've always liked Welsh's music more. His dreamy, bouncy, three-minute tunes combine pop with refreshing experimentalism, fulfilling what I always took to be the mission of the Pop Winds. This is bedroom noodling that deserves a worldwide audience. His digital album, Majical Cloudz II, has offered one of the most consistently pleasing listens of 2011.

Reversing Falls

For a while, I thought Reversing Falls had gone the way of Murder Ford Monument. I found the group's early online demos, including the smashing "Little Goodbye," back in 2009 and didn't hear anything about them for a while after. That's why I was all the more pleased when the band contacted me earlier this year for an interview. There we talked about their forthcoming album with producer Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, The Unicorns). They're still sitting on it, perfecting it to levels I can hardly fathom, and will no doubt make huge waves when it drops in 2012. One single released to the internet, "Is This Thing On?", has been in regular rotation in my headphones for months. This is officially my most anticipated release of next year.

Suuns

Sort of like Grimes, Suuns have reached a level where they don't really need my endorsement. After their debut LP "Zeroes, QC" kicked ass on Pitchfork, they had a year of numerous festival appearances, touring with Crystal Castles, and lots of attention on NPR and many other big media outlets. I mention them here for two reasons. The first is that they got a bit shafted on on year-end lists in 2010, as albums released late in the year frequently do. This may or may not have influenced the Polaris judges, who, in one of the greatest Polaris-related travesties, did not even include them on the 2011 long list. Their masterful album, with its explorations of everything from kraut-rock to space age, techie-jazz textures, deserved far more than that. Which brings me to the second, largely biased reason for including them: Suuns are my favourite current Montreal band. It's mostly a matter of personal taste - they just capture that sound of intensity, experimentalism, darkness, noise and melodic drive that I'm always looking for, and hordes of other listeners look for it too. Their recent 12" EP, "'Bambi' b/w 'Red Song,'" shows they haven't let up one bit.

Technical Kidman

Seeing Technical Kidman in concert is like riding on the back of a jumbo jet for 40 minutes. Between the percussive intensity - aided by the dozens of tambourines they pass out to the crowd - and the howling vocal chants, these guys whip you through the atmosphere and leave you somewhere you've never been before. Their shows are a nice reminder of how good music should be all the time. If I come off as hyperbolic, that's too bad, because I'm really trying to be bigger than hyperbolic. If I had one wish this holiday season, it would be for a full length Technical Kidman LP after the new year to compliment their revelatory self-titled EP.

UN

un- Veins veins pumping love from unmusicband on Vimeo.

Just to clear things up, UN is not pronounced like the abbreviation for the United Nations, nor like the French masculine word for "one" or "a." It's the prefix "un," like un-inhibited, un-hinged, un-shitty, un-boring. That last one should be kept in mind when I say UN are an electro-pop duo, since the genre has become spread so thin as to apply to anything with a synth and drums. The results can be un-satisfying. But this duo bring a certain pounding drive that is equal parts nihilistic, badass, and cathartic. The songs on their EP are catchy, but the delivery is gripping, as if it's not enough for UN to win your appreciation. They're coming for your soul, in a good way.


Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

With their talk of cultural synergy, reclaiming of pre-colonial pasts, reappropriation of Eastern and Native stereotypes, etc., the self-described "Noh-Wave" duo Yamantaka // Sonic Titan can come off as a bit heavy and foreboding - the kind of band that makes you choose between drinking the Kool Aid and standing on the side wondering what the hell is happening. All of this is canceled, however, by the fact that their debut LP "YT//ST" is really, really fucking good. The long list of influences presented in their bio, ranging from J-Pop to noise rock to Mohawk drumming, all melt together into an urgent, warm, gritty celebration of sound. The album actually has the remarkable ability to revitalize prog-rock for a totally new generation. There's real spirit here, wherever it comes from.

get updates on these bands and many, many more on our Montreal Weekend Playlist Podcast
photograph of Technical Kidman wielding their famous tambourines at Mission Santa Cruz taken by Andi State and posted on her fabulous photo blog, A Day in the Life

Discussion

19 Comments

Christine / December 30, 2011 at 05:46 pm
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Great selections!
Jason / December 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm
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Some great bands on this list, but honestly, how did Sweet Mother Logic or The Unsettlers not make the cut?
Greg / December 31, 2011 at 10:36 am
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Hey Jason - Very fair point, since I love both Sweet Mother Logic and The Unsettlers. They've definitely seen a lot of coverage on the site. But the idea here was to focus on newer bands that did something to establish themselves or break onto the scene in 2011 - by releasing a debut LP or EP or even playing their first show. The Unsettlers and Sweet Mother Logic have been around a little longer and we've been into both for a couple years. I'm really glad you mentioned them in your comment, though, because the nature of these lists is to leave out some really amazing bands who didn't make the cut for reasons other than quality. Thanks for your picks!

Jasmine / January 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm
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Yeah Unsettlers! Also Moonface is worth a listen, and Miracle Fortress - those are my 2011 discoveries!
Jonathan Stilton / May 8, 2012 at 07:24 am
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do country have a band page yet or any upcoming shows?
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