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Canada has a proud history of providing the world with some of the greatest rock, folk, and jazz musicians of all time, including Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Oscar Peterson, and Arcade Fire. And there are still many talented artists waiting to be discovered – so here are five songs by five of the very best, underrated Canadian musicians.
Patrick Watson is perhaps most well-known for providing the vocals for the Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘To Build A Home’, a song which has been overplayed as a soundtrack for everything from adverts to film-trailers and documentaries. Watson’s solo music, however, is largely unfamiliar outside of Canada. A resident of Montreal, Watson has written a number of moving and brilliantly atmospheric songs in both French and English. His sound in the beautifully composed ‘Je Te Laisserai Des Mots’ might best be compared to alternative-rock legend Jeff Buckley in the way he lets his voice ebb and flow in both pitch and volume, creating a sense of poignancy even when the lyrics are hard to distinguish at times. This is perfect music for a rainy day.
Also listen to: ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Lighthouse’
Son of one of Canada’s, and even the world’s, most renowned and prolific singer-songwriters, Leonard, Adam has received far less recognition than his father in a career spanning almost twenty years. But listening to Adam Cohen’s ‘What Other Guy’ you come to realise how similar the Cohen men’s music actually is. You would be forgiven for mistaking the vocals for a young Leonard Cohen’s; the lyrics are every bit as nostalgic, remorseful, and sexually suggestive as his father’s most famous songs, and the use of female backing singers is also a compositional nod to Cohen senior. Yet Adam Cohen is far more than a cheap imitation of his father; his music, as this song demonstrates, may be reminiscent of an older genre, but he has successfully modernized it to create a sound closely aligned to the likes of Ray LaMontagne.
Also listen to: ‘Like A Man’, ‘We Go Home’
Bahamas, the stage name of singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, has enjoyed a steady rise to fame with the success of his last couple of albums Barchords and Bahamas Is Afie. Like Watson, his style is generally mellow, soulful, and compellingly listenable, as exemplified on the wonderfully simple and melodic song ‘Montreal’, but his vocal performance is far more gentle and unassuming, providing a uniquely laid-back feel. The song is casually world-weary rather than overly emotive, but its tone of regret and resignation makes it all the more affecting, and while some of his other popular songs are more upbeat, this relaxed sound runs coherently through all of his music. Some have noted that Bahamas is reminiscent of Jack Johnson, with whom he’s previously worked, but his songs are not filled with the same saccharinity.
Also listen to: ‘Lost In The Light’, ‘Caught Me Thinkin’’
Husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland both pursued solo careers until 2011 when they decided to join forces and create the folk-rock duo Whitehorse. Although they’ve released an album every year since then they’re yet to real gain any major acclaim outside of Canada. Yet a song like ‘Emerald Isle’, with its fusion of harmonious acoustic folk vocals and a catchy electric-guitar riff, is a great example of the wealth of talent they possess. With the emergence of folk/country and blues in the last few years with the likes of The Civil Wars and Angus & Julia Stone, Whitehorse have every chance of establishing themselves internationally in the coming years. This is folk music as it was intended to be heard, melodious at times and gritty at others, but unburdened by too much post-production which detach it from its vintage roots.
Also listen to: ‘Killing Time Is Murder’, ‘I’m On Fire’
The newest act on the list, Alvvays only released their eponymous debut album in July 2014, but they’ve already made an impression on a number of critics both in Canada and abroad. This Toronto-based indie-pop group have released an album of bright, upbeat songs, headlined by the tongue-in-cheek love song ‘Archie, Marry Me’. Lead singer Molly Rankin’s vocals always sound so effortlessly casual which enables the band to successfully avoid ever verging on being too twee or sentimental. Alvvays’ music has a certain timeless quality about it; these songs would have almost certainly been popular in the 1990s, and there is no reason why they won’t continue to be favourites amongst people in their twenties for years to come. This is intelligently made pop music at its best.
Also listen to: ‘Adult Diversion’, ‘Next of Kin’