Alpen Glow
Amertape 2020
Independent
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  

Blxck Cxsper
EUROSTAR vol.1
Trans Trenderz
Montreal, QC
RIYL: Juice WRLD; Rihanna; Capricorns

Boasting untameable Capricorn energy, this September mixtape from Trans Trenderz founder Blxck Cxsper was supposedly assembled in two weeks, but it rallies a cast of producers and features that could speak to months of calculations. Cxsper’s syrupy vocal flow spills out early on an English rendition of Belgian rapper Hamza’s “Life” and creeps across the tape like a mudslide, but tightly wound trap rhythms and twinkling melodies keep things in a dreamy state of motion. 

Tracks like “Castle” invigorate the space with a breeze and boom that commands attention, while Cxsper reclaims Harry Potter and the Mona Lisa from a TERF patriarchy, articulating their subjects as affectionate pet names for trans lovers. Younga’s production work on “Gare Du Nord” puts the cherry on top, stirring up loose and pulsing sounds that could occupy the same cloudy atmospheres as Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” Blxck Cxsper flips the switch on that track’s sense of rejection, licking the spoon in English and French: “found love in the dark, found love I could lie in.”

– Tom Beedham

Itchy Self
Here’s The Rub
Celluloid Lunch Records
Montreal, QC
RIYL: Neon Boys; Mirrors; reading zines instead of the internet

Joe Chamandy (Protruders, Kappa Chow) continues to push back against the modern world with the tunefully scuzzy proto-punk of his new band Itchy Self. Rounding up a gang of longtime collaborators and fresh faces – including Chris Burns of cult ’80s garage-rock group Terminal Sunglasses – this five-song EP also marks the first release from Chamandy’s zine-turned-label, Celluloid Lunch

The band’s Sailor-Ripley-esque belief in individuality and personal freedom is showcased in the EP’s opening song, “B What You B”, before this motivational theme is flipped into a sarcastic call-and-response on “God Bless The Ego.” Here’s The Rub’s title track is an onslaught of Quine-style skronk, but the band prove they’re capable of slowing things down on “Reprobate” and the bent Velvet Underground strut of closer “Playin MTV.” Carrying on the traditions of what they call “de-professionalized rock music,” Itchy Self scratches hard to reach spots that have been there for decades. 

– Jesse Locke

Le Couleur
Concorde
Lisbon Lux
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Choses Sauvages; David Cronenberg’s Crash; flying first class

In his new book On Nostalgia, Edmonton-based writer David Berry describes the potential trap that nostalgia threatens as “a feedback loop that would gradually but persistently turn our own past into a shining perfect gem, precisely the memory we need to get us back on our feet and out in the world, regardless of its relationship to what ‘actually’ happened.” Looking back at the peak of air travel through the lens of loungy disco on their latest album Concorde, Montréal’s Le Couleur deftly avoid such pitfalls by balancing their retro longing with a healthy dose of tragedy. 

It’s easy to see why the Concorde jet is such a rich concept for a band to hang an album concept on: it’s symbolic of the peak of technology, luxury, and sexiness. But by framing that luxury on a path that leads ultimately to death, there’s a morbidity to the material that questions whether or not the nostalgia is aspirational without a healthy dose of melancholy to go along. That sense of balance is further maintained between the heavy concept and the lightness of the music, which is lush and careens weightlessly without ever feeling like it’s on autopilot. 

– Michael Rancic

Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu
Renegade Breakdown 
Ninja Tune / Bonsound
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Charlotte Gainsbourg; Euro Pop; power moves 

Renegade Breakdown is a breakup album. Marie Davidson’s well-publicized step away from the electronic music scene is also a retirement from her treatment as techno darling, and she knows it. “There are no money makers on this record / This time, I’m exploring the loser’s point of view,” Davidson sings on the album’s clear moneymaker, “Renegade Breakdown.” 

Davidson is confident. Just as confident as she was on Working Class Woman, except now she really gets to put her unflappability to work. Here, Davidson tests the bounds of her signature magnetic, commanding sing-talk across genres and through collaboration – the singer is backed by L’Œil Nu (comprised of her husband, Pierre Guerineau, and Asaël Robitaille). From the cabaret-inspired “Just in My Head” to the haunting pop of “Lead Sister” and the drama of “Back to Rock,” Davidson traverses style and mode, invoking the various identities we find her in on the record’s cover. 

Even still, there are moments where it is hard to square Davidson’s unique vocal performance with Guerineau and Robitaille’s instrumentals. But Renegade Breakdown’s highs are high, eclectic, and captivating. “Center of the World (Kotti Blues)” is one of the most accurate dedications to Berlin I’ve ever heard, a tender and heartbreaking ode to the city that made and broke Davidson. Berlin, like its various subcultures and lifestyles, can be self-contained and all-consuming. Davidson’s seen that world, got bored of it, and is onto the next one.  

– Katerina Stamadianos

Rhododendron
La jachère
Atondo Musique
Montreal, QC
RILY: Angel Olsen; Jessica Pratt; the perseverance of Spring

When winter arrives, it feels like somebody has taken a giant eraser and removed all of the colour from your surroundings. In place of green, red, and pink hues there are whites and greys. It seems impossible that anything colourful will ever surface again from the frozen ground or emerge on the bare trees that shiver in their snow coats and yet, every year, miraculously, vibrant colours do return. 

Rhododendron – Montreal-based singer-songwriter Marine Noël – writes, firmly, in her Bandcamp bio “Ceci n’est pas une plante!” But La jachère, Rhododendron’s debut EP, contains the same determined spirit that plants do. Across Noël’s songs – quiet, folky affairs – she sings of pushing through tough stuff and of renewal. The very last line of the EP is “Il faut repartir et resplendir” (“We must go back and shine”) and even the EP’s title nods to restoration and rebirth. La jachère takes its time unfolding, but oh how beautifully it blooms. 

– Laura Stanley

Yves Jarvis
Sundry Rock Song Stock
Flemish Eye
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Moses Sumney; Sandro Perri; Mocky

Another chapter in Yves Jarvis’ colour-theory informed album series, the green Sundry Rock Song Stock, further refines the artist’s sound while artfully still nudging listeners to new places. 

Jarvis’ previous records Good Will Come To You (released under Un Blonde) and The Same But By Different Means were sprawling mosaics of short song snippets. On the former, the songs felt self-contained, but part of a larger whole, emphasising a sense of communion, whereas on the latter it seemed as though Jarvis intended to overwhelm, with some songs ending abruptly and creating a fractured mentality that was reinforced by the album’s lyrics. 

On this outing, the songs are notably longer affairs, and there’s fewer of them. While Jarvis hones in on some of the hallmarks of his lo-fi sound here (layered vocal parts, lean bass/drums/guitar/keys instrumentation, incorporating ambient sounds), every song save for “Ambrosia,” which is completely instrumental, ends with an instrumental coda. These are dreamlike, often synthesizer-led passages that aren’t framed as intrusions of Audet’s pastoral folk but extensions of it. By their nature, these sections allow Audet’s words to hang and be absorbed. On a record that focuses greatly on questioning others’ motivations, the artist not only provides the space for, but rewards that contemplation with kaleidoscopic dreamscapes.

Michael Rancic

Thanya Iyer
KIND
Topshelf Records
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Bernice; early Maylee Todd; Laura Barrett

Though it might be hard to pin down Thanya Iyer’s sound — is it jazz? Is it pop? Is it folk? — there’s no mistaking that the band, named for its primary songwriter, has accomplished something truly rare with their latest album, KIND

In its expansive, expressive way, KIND addresses mental health, identity, and belonging, supported by an entire ecosystem of sounds that feed into and off of one another. Beginning with “I Woke Up (In The Water),” the group conjures the natural world with a field recording of a chorus of cricket chirps and bird calls, before it is enveloped in plucked and bowed strings, Iyer’s expressive vocals, glowing synths, supportive bass, and rolling percussion like a creeping shadow cast on a forest floor from the tree canopy above. Nature and Iyer’s proximity to it is a major theme of the album’s lyrics and the music shores up these themes through the sounds evoked. The band’s fearless exploratory disposition also helps them coax out rhythms and tone colours that make the entire listening experience feel fresh and immersive, in complete lock-step with Iyer on this journey of self-discovery.

Michael Rancic

Martyn Bootyspoon
Lickety Split
2 B Real
Montreal, QC
RIYL: being whispered to; not-so-serious techno 

Is that the ice cream truck? Shit – even better – it’s the “Ice Cream Mane” rolling through, here to “sample you some flavours/giving some taste of what you need.” Martyn Bootyspoon delivers on this promise of variety across Lickety Split’s five genre-traversing tracks, scooping and serving a parlour’s assortment of techno, grime, acid, and adult content. Despite Bootyspoon’s frequent association with camp and the Casanova, Lickety Split’s precision and playfulness solidifies the artist as a competent, bold producer. For another tasty treat, check out this impeccable mix Bootyspoon did for Crack Magazine – it’s one of the best sets I’ve heard this year.

Katerina Stamadianos