We mined just about every genre to come up with our list of top 10 Toronto albums (and, sure, we stretched a bit to get to welland, hamilton and london). IN the end, the "local" tag is almost unfair: These artists put out some of the best work of 2013, Period.
1. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan UZU
It's not easy to follow up an acclaimed debut album, but the theatrical Montreal/Toronto art collective hit it out of the park with the emotional UZU. On it, the five-piece continue to seamlessly blend metal, opera, noise and pop while also bringing in Iroquois chanting, tribal drumming and piano balladry. It's ambitious and complex, yes, but works away at your heart just as much.
2. Teenanger - Singles Don't $ell
The Toronto four-piece purge themselves of their earlier, swingier, garage-punkier inclinations with a record that comes in fast, frantic, a little bit paranoid and under 30 minutes. As the banner act (and head honchos) of homegrown label Telephone Explosion, Teenanger embody the city's gushing punk spirit, lame and earnest as that sounds. Whatever. We're totally buying what they're not selling.
3. Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow
There's something about Basia Bulat's songs that make you want to sing, to lose yourself not only in the giddy elation of letting your voice fly, but also in expressing whatever lies deep within. And that's the secret of Tall Tall Shadow: Bulat's exceptional musicality is matched by her ability to convey both joy and sorrow, often in the same tune. Born of loss, such a record of uncommon beauty and wisdom can only be our gain.
4. Drake - Nothing Was the Same
Another album, another group of silenced haters. On his third full-length, Drake boasts his most mature production to date and continues his penchant for crafting anthems for a city, if not a generation (see Worst Behaviour). He also puts a very brave foot forward, smack into straight-up R&B, on the entirely sung (and not surprisingly smash hit) Hold On, We're Going Home. You may have heard that hot love and emotion on the radio.
5. Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair back
An intoxicating mix of icy minimal techno, 80s R&B, futuristic soul and glistening pure pop, Jessy Lanza's debut - co-produced by fellow Hamiltonian Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys - made an indelible mark. Sophisticated songwriting paired with superbly understated sonic textures.
6. Jim Guthrie - Takes Time
This perfect collection of wistful indie pop gets better with every listen. The Toronto musician's light touch is enviable, the product of decades of songwriting in bands like Islands and Royal City, and for video game and film soundtracks. And while Jim Guthrie's guitar work is excellent and his textural arrangements tasteful, it's his youthful vocals and astute lyrics that make the strongest impression.
7. Daniel Romano - Come Cry With Me
Daniel Romano's album is a sad one. Tales of heartbreak and loss unfold in raw, convincing fashion, with a touch of humour lest it get too dark. What isn't sad is Romano's remarkable ability to embody classic 60s country, proving that George Jones- and Stompin' Tom-level storytelling can thrive today in the right hands. Subtle harmonies with frequent collaborator Julie Doiron, a light touch on his guitar and impressive vocal range further the songs' simple beauty.
8. Fiver - Lost The plot
The "solo" debut of Simone Schmidt, Lost The Plot has the singer/songwriter backed by her One Hundred Dollars and Highest Order bandmates. Hewing close to the former's roots, the record proves Schmidt's finest effort to date, her cutting, confessional songwriting sublimated into complex, literary character studies. Rage Of Plastics, driven by a thwompy instrumental that feels lifted from a David Lynch film, may be the most epic, layered, songwriterly song of the year.
9. Fresh Snow
Born of a six-hour basement jam session, the carefully honed seven tracks on Fresh Snow's debut album strike a powerful balance on a number of levels: between loud and soft, noise and melody, epic and brief, serious and airy. One of the most exciting instrumental releases in a long time; your favourite track will change with every listen.
Buoyed by a name change, PUP (née Topanga) tore through 2013 with endless performing, shouting and crowd-surfing at local gigs that paid off with the group's recent signing to L.A. punk label SideOneDummy. They're still very much a live band, but their self-titled debut captures the sweaty turmoil of their gigs (Reservoir), and even comes down for a few reflective, almost melancholic moments (Never Try).