Alpen Glow – Amertape 2020

Alpen Glow
Amertape 2020
Montreal, QC
RIYL: Anemone; Paula; Short Circutz

Amery Sandford swaps out the beachy slacker-rock of her band BBQT for a sleek electronic sound on the debut release from Alpen Glow. As she explains in an interview with Also Cool, the project initially began as a practical way to keep her mind occupied during COVID lockdown. “I wrote it all when I was deep in quarantine so that I could go somewhere else mentally – on the days when I could actually make music,” she says. “I also cried a lot and watched a lot of reality TV.” 

That melancholy streak permeates the four songs of Amertape 2020, and with the production assistance of David Carriere (TOPS, Paula), Sandford successfully vaporizes it into retro-futuristic synth-pop. She also used her time at home to create a series of computer animated videos for each song on the EP, welcoming listeners into a 3D fantasy world with locations like the hot new dance club, Amerbar. Until we can get together again IRL, this entrancing audio-visual combo lets us bask in a new kind of glow.

– Jesse Locke  

Baseball Hero – Salvation Mountain

Baseball Hero
Salvation Mountain
Winnipeg, MB
RIYL: Diet Cig; Palehound; Alex G

Baseball Hero’s Salvation Mountain is a scrappy and emotionally charged EP. The band – Allegra Chiarella (vocals/guitar), Mirella Villa (vocals/bass), and Lino D’Ottavio (vocals/guitar/drums/production) – are a tight team who make taught, lo-fi, grungy pop-rock tracks that sometimes whine as loud as the feedback from a baseball announcer’s microphone. On the rambunctious standout, “Emo Song,” Baseball Hero sound like they’re having an absolute blast, despite Chiarella cringing at the past: “think of all the stupid things you’ve done in front of everyone.”

If the self-described “slo-pitch slowcore” band had their own baseball card, the blurb on the back would probably read something like this: “The Winnipeg trio aren’t afraid to get their uniforms dirty and lead the league in sliding head first into other players. When not on the field kicking up dust, they can be found in the dugout helping teammates work through their emotions.”

– Laura Stanley 

Basic Instinct – Late Bloom

Basic Instinct 
Late Bloom
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: HÄG; Divide and Dissolve; languid riffs

Basic Instinct’s Late Bloom arrived on 4/20 like any self-respecting sludge album should. With this release the Vancouver-based duo do more than just adhere to genre standards or cliché – when the smoke clears, Late Bloom is one of the year’s best metal releases.  

Featuring former members of Hard Bitch and Joyce Collingwood, Basic Instinct takes the raw energy of those punkier beginnings to split sludge metal wide open across this record’s six tracks. No one song sounds alike. With a wealth of confident ideas, the band keeps their material consistently sharp. Album opener “Fresh” begins with marching drums and a slow, creeping riff that flips into a churning, black metal ferocity on a whim. Vocalist Carly Glanzberg is just as versatile as the band’s instrumentals: summoning a deep bellow that sounds at ease alongside the low-end her guitar provides, or a quiet coo on the restrained “Dark Turn.” That song revels in the ghostly, urgent tension invoked by percussionist Joy Mullen before turning into a magnificent slow burn.

On Late Bloom, the brand of metal Basic Instinct offer up is molten and malleable in their capable, creative hands. 

– Michael Rancic

Clara Engel Hatching – Under the Stars

Clara Engel
Hatching Under The Stars
Toronto, ON
RIYL: Ora Cogan; Aidan Baker; Ulvesang

Though this album came out in April, with the days getting shorter and as we head toward longer bouts of darkness and cold, it feels perfectly suited for fall. The stark toolkit of voice and guitar that songwriter Clara Engel has always evoked a nocturnal sensibility. With Hatching Under the Stars they lean into those darker proclivities to create a dreamlike expanse that’s among their best work.

For the better part of 16 years, Engel has plumbed the darkness of experimental folk, spinning tender songs that feel indebted to traditional or devotional music while still sounding wholly original. Here, Engel draws on that wealth of experience in an immaculately constructed and produced record. Highlights like “Preserved in Ice (for Marc Chagall)” and “Little Blue Fox” find Engel crafting distinct tableaus of poetic imagery. Their spare instrumentation gives plenty of space for imaginations to take hold, as each song blooms into a stirring beauty.

– Michael Rancic

Cryptozoologists – Pond Life

Pond Life
Whitehorse, Yukon
RIYL: The Mountain Goats; The Unicorns, quests

Maybe it’s time to take Cryptozoologists seriously. The Whitehorse band has traded in scrappy art-rock since 2016, but on their latest, they’ve finally married the sardonic cultural critique and existential wandering they honed on Songs for Losers and More Futility Jams with the folky esoterica they’ve always gestured towards and real, meaningful absurdism. 

Overflowing the font of Zach McCann-Armitage (guitar, vocals), Pond Life is a vast and mystical landscape densely populated with clairvoyants, poltergeists, wishing wells, and mushrooms, unlocking a new dimension for the project while scrutinizing the art galleries and punks that have always been in their crosshairs. Their sonic palette is expanded, too, now sprinkling synthesizers and sequenced drums into the mix, but not without some meta-commentary; invoking the legacy of Duchamp’s Fountain and so many readymades, on “White Silk,” McCann-Armitage declares, “repression comes easy in the shape of a solo show urinal.” Peering inside-out and packaged with a tarot deck bearing designs McCann-Armitage collaged on Home Hardware paint swatches, Pond Life just might tell your fortune.

– Tom Beedham

FSHKLL – Sashimi Shoreline EP

Sashimi Shoreline EP
Charlottetown, PEI
RIYL: Cold Warps; Terry Malts; Tacocat

FSHKLL are goofy and playful, but don’t call them egg punk. They let you know how much they hate the versatile shelled viand on lurching Sashimi Shoreline track “Eggman”: “No eggs in potatoes, no eggs over easy, no eggs in a bun,” singer Brad Deighan decries. 

Elsewhere, the five-song EP is relentlessly catchy, like on the positive mental attitude anthem “Dark Thoughts.” “Let’s do something great and focus on the positive,” he encourages. The soda shop punch of power-pop bottle rocket “Run-Out” makes it the most fun song you’ll hear about beating up Nazis. FSHKLL can pack a wallop, too. They come in hot with snarling EP opener “NYST,” on which Colin MacIsaac’s bass lines swing like a sledgehammer. 

Sashimi Shoreline ends in similarly hard-hitting fashion with the sarcastic “Canadian Dream.” “We comin’ for you,” Deighan warns on “Run-Out.” FSHKLL aren’t coming for me, though, so I’ll gladly chase them for more.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Greg Orrē – I Am In It Volume One

Greg Orrē
I Am In It Volume One
Saskatoon, SK
RIYL: The Frogs; The Mountain Goats; Regina Spektor’s “Ghost of Corporate Future”

Greg Orrē is learning acceptance and how to be present amidst the flickering piano-pop of I Am in It Volume One. “I was where I was supposed to be yesterday,” he sings over devotional keys on “Yesterday.” Orrē stays positive on “I’ve Learned (I Was a Fool)”: “What seems like the end might be the start of something fresh… Every consequence is a lesson to learn.” 

Self-improvement isn’t always easy, so it’s no surprise that the album, which features contributions from his partner Kristen Boyé, doesn’t fully sit still. Orrē’s soft sermons take unexpected turns. Garbled vocal samples intrude upon “Intro” seconds into him singing over its single keyboard line. His reflections on oneness manifest as jumbled internal monologues laid atop one another on “Do You Live Down Here? (Interlude One)” and “What Does I Am in It Mean to You? (Interlude Three).” The synth on “Will I Be Sad in Summer?” sounds like a twisted, mildly upset stomach. Despite such bends, Greg Orrē sounds like he’s finding his way towards enlightenment.

Leslie Ken Chu

Kicksie – All My Friends

All My Friends
Bolton, ON
RIYL: Jay Som; Boniface; Snail Mail

Kicksie is poised to break out. The Bolton, Ontario-based artist’s emo-accented pop-rock record All My Friends overflows with love – “what would I do without my friends?” Kicksie sings on the glistening “Left Lane” – and compassion – “don’t tell me you’ve given up while you’re still young, sit back and let me remind you that you are enough” on “Half-Hearted.” The sunny guitar-based record isn’t without its fair share of clouds, but Kicksie is devoted to happiness and that makes her songs feel irresistible. Simply put, All My Friends is a joy to listen to. To echo the words of “A Message From Selina,” a vocoder love letter from a friend, go Kicksie!

– Laura Stanley

Pansy Boys – Seasons of Doubt 

Pansy Boys
Seasons of Doubt 
Toronto, ON
RIYL: Fleetwood Mac; Blood Orange; harmonizing

I want to shake every person and tell them to listen to Seasons of Doubt.  In a healthier, pre-COVID world, my hands would (consensually) grab a stranger’s shoulders as I, out of breath, whisper out the album’s Bandcamp tags – “alternative pop…. folk… lush… queer…”, and faint into a bed of roses. 

Pansy Boys – twins Joel and Kyle Curry – simply have the range, extolling the minor tragedies of youthful infatuation across a seven-track EP that sonically elicits the colours and feeling of the sweeping sunset on the record’s cover. Beautiful, streamlined harmonies swirl around soft percussion, piano notes and Eliza Niemi’s cello bows to build the band’s self-described “lush” sound. 

Seasons of Doubt’s lyrics are equal parts gut-wrenching (“I want you to dance/without holding my tears in your hands”) and melodramatic (“Never felt like I belonged to anywhere/except maybe Montreal”), but what really ties the album together is its instructiveness. When you realize “We’re not each other’s property”, you’re likely well-graduated from the way you thought about love in your early 20s. 

Seasons of Doubt wants us to move on, mindfully. Yet it also gives us the opportunity to put on a song and remember it all over again. 

– Katerina Stamadianos