Calgary boosterism

There’s no way around it — 2008 has been a banner year for Calgary’s music scene. Major events like Sled Island and Juno Fest attuned at least a few outside ears to local music, while Virgin Fest introduced acts like The Summerlad and The Firm Handshake to Calgarians more inclined to seek out Stone Temple Pilots. More than the attention, though, what makes 2008 stand out is the absurd amount of world-calibre music that came out this year.

The list that accompanies this article may represent the cream of the crop, but it still only represents a fraction of Calgary’s output this year. Some bands chose to confine themselves to the more concise format of EPs, the Neighbourhood Council (newly rechristened BRAIDS) and The Ex Boyfriends being two prime examples. Others simply haven’t gotten around to recording — see the newly formed Sharp Ends and singer-songwriter Kris Ellestad, whose melodically rich folk pop is one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets.

The variety of the music released this year is also impressive. This year’s most-buzzed bands includes Women, whose self-titled debut is an alternately jangling and droning slab of lo-fi indie pop; Azeda Booth, whose In Flesh Tones is a remarkable blend of the organic and the electronic; and Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, who stomp through Ten Thousand like the vintage bluesmen of tomorrow. Digital label Neferiu Records had the hip hop side of things covered, with a particularly strong release from Mantrakid in Palmflower Black. There were the psychedelic mindfucks from The Tetraktys, Tetrix and the Azymuth, Gunther’s punch-to-the-gut instrumental rock, the orchestral pop of Woodpigeon’s Treasury Library Canada and unclassifiable albums like Beija Flor’s The American.

Singer-songwriters were in particularly fine form this year. The Cape May’s Clinton St. John and The Neckers’ Bill Hetherington both released fine solo albums this year, while Aaron Booth added to his collection of folk pop gems with Back Stories. The always impressive Chad VanGaalen finally sat down to produce an album of all-new material rather than an assemblage of bedroom demos, and the result is Soft Airplane, his most consistent and straight-up album to date. Meanwhile, Ghostkeeper and Jay Crocker used several of the same musicians (Crocker and bass player Scott Munro are on both albums) to craft two vastly disparate albums. The former’s Children of the Great Northern Muskeg ignores the boundaries between back-porch boogies and artful indie-rock, while the latter’s Below the Ocean Over sprawls across rock, funk and jazz landscapes to create something entirely unique.

For all the talk in these pages of the world’s eyes turning to Calgary, all that really matters is that the city keeps supporting its musicians, and the musicians keep doing what they do best. By all indications, that’s exactly what’s happening.

SIDEBAR: 2008’s BEST LOCAL RELEASES

1. Chad VanGaalen — Soft Airplane (Flemish Eye)

2. Azeda Booth — In Flesh Tones (Absolutely Kosher)

3. Jay Crocker — Below the Ocean Over (Artunit Recording Company)

4. Women — Women (Flemish Eye)

5. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir — Ten Thousand (S.A.P. Recordings)

6. Clinton St. John — Black Forest Levitation (Independent)

7. Aaron Booth — Back Stories (Independent)

8. Ghostkeeper — Children of the Great Northern Muskeg (Saved by Radio)

9. Bill Hetherington and the Asian Tigers — Bill Hetherington and the Asian Tigers (Independent)

10. Jane Vain and the Dark Matter — Love is Where the Smoke Is (Rectangle Records)

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