So 2005 promises tons of albums from a cavalcade of international artists. While you're waiting for Beck to finally release the follow-up to Sea Change he's been threatening for the past couple of years (no release date has been confirmed), there's a shitload of activity here on the homefront by acts that are just as good as, if not better than, their big-name peers.
Aside from eagerly awaited new discs from buzz bands like Broken Social Scene and the Constantines, both of which should drop in the latter half of the year, we can look forward to a slew of releases from the hard-working kids at the Blocks Recording collective, whose Web site promises new material by the likes of the Barcelona Pavilion, Final Fantasy, Animal Monster, Jenny Omnichord (of the Barmitzvah Brothers), Les Mouches and more. Meanwhile, Six Shooter Records takes care of the twangier set, with gravel-voiced urban cowboy NQ Arbuckle's Lunch In A Cheap Town as well as a re-release of alt-country upstart Justin Rutledge's indie debut, both slated for March.
And, riding high on the positive responses that artists like Uncut, Jake Fairley and controller.controller have received worldwide, our own Paper Bag Records has big plans for 2005.
First up is death-disco squad controller.controller's follow-up to last year's well-received History EP, which scored with tastemakers in high places and won fans like Franz Ferdinand, who invited the fivesome to open for them in Detroit.
"The new album isn't really a change in direction," says bassist Ronnie Morris. "It's a kind of fluid growth, but the difference is that we've gotten way tighter as a band. Some of these songs were actually written at the same time as the ones on History, so we've been playing them for over a year. It's like History, Part 2."
Controller.controller have their work cut out for them. With a glut of PiL revivalists clogging record store shelves, interest in hopping on the post-punk bandwagon is definitely on a downswing. The trick for the band will be allowing their angular guitar sound to morph and evolve into something innovative and distinctive enough that doubters stop dismissing them as Joy Division wannabes - a backhanded dis levelled by the Unicorns at last spring's CBC Radio 3 showcase.
Although they're still working with Rob Sanzo ("Lee Perry wasn't available," Morris laughs), the producer who helped shape the sound of the EP, Morris isn't too worried.
"It's not like we're part of some punk-funk scene in Toronto. We're just doing our thing, and it'll probably adapt and evolve over time. Some of the stuff we're doing now isn't at all straightforward disco-punk. On the other hand, Siouxie and the Banshees made a whole career out of it, so you never know."
The controller kids might want to ask labelmates the FemBots for advice, since the quirky duo of Dave MacKinnon and Brian Poirier have managed to overhaul their sound entirely from one album to the next.
Almost half a decade ago, they released the bizarre cut-and-paste analog collage Mucho Cuidado, which mixed samples of Teddy Ruxpin quips and old-time movie dialogue with their own indie pop hooks. Then, on 2003's Small Town Murder Scene, they shifted gears to pull off a creepy-good set of rickety country.
For their upcoming disc, set to drop sometime in the late spring, FemBot Dave MacKinnon claims he and Poirier are leaning closer to the vibe of the latter, although they're still enamoured of the tape loop approach.
"The biggest difference is that on our other records we worked mainly as a two-piece, whereas on this one we've been touring with other players, so it'll be more of a traditional band record," explains MacKinnon. "There'll be lots of (violinist) Julie Penner and (Weakerthans drummer) Jason Tait. We're hoping to get everyone who's been playing with us for the last year and a half, like James Anderson from the Singing Saw Shadow Show and Nathan Lawr."
Instead of the Louis Riel narratives and gothic abstractions of their last record, MacKinnon says he and Poirier were inspired by things much closer to home.
"A lot of it actually seems to be about Toronto - the things that have been going on over the past couple of years and the growing pains of the city," he offers, adding that tentative titles include Demolition Waltz and Hell. Yikes.
For a more feel-good vibe, Paper Bag is also planning to release a compilation of quirky tunes for kids. Co-founder/publicist Trevor Larocque is totally psyched about the project, which he claims is slated for summer release. In addition to the usual suspects (the FemBots and controller.controller are both working on tracks), Larocque's solicited contributions from a range of killer artists, including Broken boy Kevin Drew, Kid Koala, Lederhosen Lucil, the Unicorns, spiritual folkie Sufjan Stevens, Red House Painter Mark Kozelek and Low, most of whom are writing original songs for the disc.
Dude, it's like what would happen if Pitchforkmedia.com ran Sesame Street.
"It's gonna be a series," he raves. "The next one will be crazy - I've already contacted Four Tet, and it might have a more electronic feel. At any rate, this will totally be fun and different. You know how, like, Nettwerk and Sony have those kids' comps where artists like Madonna do covers? There's nothing interesting about that.
"These'll be classics kids will remember."
RELEASE DATE March
ADVANCE BUZZ Toronto's death-disco sweethearts try to repeat History and make a bid for world domination.
RELEASE DATE Late spring
ADVANCE BUZZ Kooky thrift-store plundering duo keep the country murder ballads on the back burner with their first attempt at a full band album.
PAPER BAG KIDS COMPILATION
RELEASE DATE August
ADVANCE BUZZ Local indie underdog label recruits the best of its roster and a remarkable assortment of talented artists to deliver a set of new cartoonish classics for moppets and the inner child in every hipster.