I feel like I’m being neglectful in even trying to put this list together because there are some terrific bands that I caught this year that are not on the list. My dilemma ultimately stems from the fact that I sampled 700+ bands when I made my selections for this year, so I had a very good idea of what I would be encountering prior to the sets. And, none of the bands fizzled out in their live performances (it didn’t hurt that when I was making my selections, I almost always watched a video of a live performance to make sure they could play live).
As such, every single band that I caught this year—no exaggeration—was terrific. So, I’ve been left in the position of having to weed out slightly less colourful roses from a garden that was in full bloom.
Ultimately, a big deciding factor was to ask myself which bands I’ve been incessantly listening to since, and using that consideration to narrow down the list. All of which is to say that I had an amazing week of music this year, and I felt incredibly privileged to catch every band that I checked out live. The fact that I saw a set or listed a band as an alternate pick means I was already massively impressed by their work.
Without further ado, here is my list of my favourite bands from CMF 2013:
1. Lucius (Brooklyn)
To a certain degree, my favourite picks were also influenced by the way a particular band managed to surprise me in their live performance. And, Lucius is at the top of the list for this reason.
Coming into their absolutely astonishing set at Rancho Relaxo on Friday night of CMF, I knew that Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig could belt out a tune with acoustic perfection. However, I was not altogether ready for the mind-blowing energy that they brought on stage.
I was expecting something slightly cheery and ephemeral based on their video of “Turn Around” which projects a post-modern take on a happy house-wife circa the 1960’s. What I got instead was a crazy high-energy sweaty show that thoroughly kicked my ass. The audience went absolutely crazy with their high-energy indie pop—a genre which would normally be a bit of a disappointment for me—but they pulled off their craft like absolute experts.
To get a sense of their sound I recommend the said video for “Turn Around”:
But if you want to get a feel for a bunch of their songs and their live performance abilities, their NPR Little Desk set is particularly great:
The only caveat on all this is that you’ll never get a sense of their terrific sweaty performance abilities from those two clips. Moreover, all of the live show videos that I’ve been able to track down online have a far more subdued and mellow performance than the high-octane set they delivered at Rancho Relaxo. But the clips are a start …
Lucius @ Rancho Relaxo – March – 22, 2013
2. Sandra Kolstad (Oslo)
I’ve previously described Sandra Kolstad as the wicked love child of a dirty threesome between David Bowie, Annie Lennox, & Laurie Anderson. I’ll stick with that descriptor.
I really can’t say enough about the awesomeness of this band, but unfortunately they are damn tough to describe in words. They just pump out some slightly weird, and awesomely energetic electronica with occasional drum & bass elements. The video for “The Well” will give you a sense of their mellower songs:
They unfortunately got a little screwed on the show I caught in so far as they were in the middle two bands that had nothing to do with their genre, and so they had to do all the work to pump up the crowd; a feat which was tough to pull off given that they were also given the 11:00 pm time slot on a Tuesday night at Clinton’s.
Accordingly, the audience energy wasn’t what it could have been, but Sandra Kolstad still managed to utterly DESTROY the set.
You’ll get the best sense of their upbeat songs and engaging physical performance from the video for “Fire Burn, Blood Flow” (and you’ve got to love the name of the song):
Sandra Kolstad @ Clinton’s – March 19, 2013
3. The Box Tiger (Toronto)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that Sonia Sturino’s vocal work absolutely wrecks me. Her vocals are sharp and confident, yet with a complete lack of arrogance. I’m not 100% sure that her vocals are for everyone, but I can’t get enough of that little tremble in her voice. To top things off, the band is just seriously tight. Acoustic or on full mode, The Box Tiger is the most exciting Toronto indie rock band that I’m currently monitoring.
If you want to check out Sturino at her acoustic best, check out the video for “Taller than Trees” below:
But if you want to explore their full sound, check out the “Knives” single that has just been released post-CMF:
The Box Tiger @ The Great Hall – March 20, 2013
4. Adaline (Toronto)
I didn’t know quite what to expect when I showed up for the Adaline set at Tattoo because the material that she has posted online is quite varied. Ultimately, she delivered what can only be described as an incredibly intense and endearing set as she just nailed out some solid vocals, all the while hiding her face behind her hair.
The most accurate reflection of what we saw that night would have to be her video for “The Noise” from the Green Couch sessions, though she’s definitely not as shy on video:
What I love about Adaline is her massive vocal range. She can sing whatever she wants with utter perfection, sometimes whispering out a tune, and at other times throwing it all out there with huge vocal resonance. And, ultimately you have to love the simplicity, it’s just her and an electronic mixing board that she definitely employs with gusto, but it’s really all about vox here.
I would recommend that you top off your viewing with the video for “Rebels of Love.” Again, it’s all about her tremendous vocal work, but the drum and bass elements really work well here:
Adaline @ Tattoo Rock Parlour – March 21, 2013
5. Paper Beat Scissors (Halifax)
Originally hailing from England, lead vocalist Tim Crabtree is now based out of Halifax. As I’ve noted earlier, I originally caught Paper Beat Scissors as a random opening band in a show that I caught at Clinton’s in 2009. Such was the impact of the performance, that I soundly remembered the band four years later as I was scanning the performer roster for CMF.
At their full capacity, Paper Beat Scissors has some brass elements and strings, but ultimately the band boils down to Tim Crabtree’s unique vocal work. His voice is at times emotionally piercing, at others just serenely wispy—often both within a single song. The video for “Wren” is a good illustration of his vocal capabilities:
Trying to catch Paper Beat Scissors was a bit of a comedy of errors during CMF. Originally, they were only booked for a VIP set at the Rivoli on Saturday night, but Crabtree managed to get himself booked for a show at Tranzac earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the Tranzac show due to prior commitments and my wristband didn’t get me into the show at the Rivoli. Fortunately, Crabtree managed to add a solo set at the Rustic Owl for Sunday night.
Initially, I saw him play around with the sound system the Rustic Owl, but he then opted for a more intimate set sans any amplification and it was a fantastic choice. As I’ve noted earlier, I’ve never seen a voice and guitar captivate a room like that since I heard Ora Cogan nail down an audience at Tranzac in 2007. So, do the math, it’s been six long years since I’ve seen someone kill a room like that with pure acoustic prowess. Ultimately, I find it difficult to put his sound into words so I suggest you check out the video for “Wren” above, and the following video for “Flicker”(as a stand-alone video it’s pretty neat too):
Paper Beat Scissors @ The Rustic Owl – March 24, 2013
6. The Funeral Suits (Dublin)
I’ll admit it, I’m still a bit pissed at The Funeral Suits for eschewing the fine lighting system at the Drake to play their set entirely in the dark—and it didn’t help that I was already having a terrible night of shooting that Thursday night. However, it’s hard to deny that this is a seriously tight band.
The sound is squarely in the indie rock genre and they really do their craft well. The drumming is just right, not too much, not too little, and you’ve got to love the way that the band can build things up to a crescendo.
I’m also not readily a fan of male vocals, mostly because male vocalists typically can’t sing for shit, but in this particular case the vocal work is great. All in all, they have an amazing sound that you just have to check out.
I can’t stop listening to “Hands Down” from their 2012 Lily of the Valley release. The video itself is a masterpiece:
On the happier side of things, you can check out the video for “Colour Fade,” it’s not quite as tight as “Hands Down” but it’s still pretty damn good:
The Funeral Suits @ Drake Underground – March 21, 2013
7. Do Mar (Toronto)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love bands that manage to surprise me and mash up musical genres: Do Mar fits squarely into that fold. As I’ve noted previously, you initially think you’ll be listening to a hard-hitting alternative rock band, but some 30 seconds in, the heavy funk bass work kicks in and transforms their songs into a funk rock blend. “Bathe Me” is the best illustration of this:
But if you want a display of Marigold Kingrey’s terrific vocal feats, you have to check out the video for “Step Off the Edge.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they could pull off the subtlety of the vocal elements and tight instrumentation live, and I’ve got to say that I left the show with a tiny bit of a crush on Kingrey. She delivered a terrifically sexy and intense performance.
Do Mar @ Rancho Relaxo – March 19, 2013
8. Daisy Blue Groff (Vancouver)
I will be frank and say that I was expecting somewhat of a grimy live performance when I initially recommended Daisy Blue Groff—mostly because the recording sound quality in some of her live performance videos was not the greatest.
However, when I caught her at The Central she pleasantly surprised me with the tightness of her sound. You can tell that she loves what she does, and every single song that she belted out to the, albeit disappointing crowd (not much you can do with a 6:00 pm time slot on a Wednesday), had me swaying along. The stand-up bass was an unexpected addition and the two of them worked the room nicely. As I’ve noted before, if you like the garage rock elements of the likes of Army Girls, you’ll like Daisy Blue Groff.
You’ll get the best sense of the awesome set that I caught by checking out her video to “Forever Slowly”:
Daisy Blue Groff @ The Central – March 20, 2013
9. Giant Hand (Toronto)
My last favourite for CMF was Toronto’s own Giant Hand. I only made it to the last three or so songs in his set, but I was so impressed by what I heard that I had to include this fellow in my list of favourites.
The music in the set at the Cameron House was simple, just Kirk Ramsay on his own, strumming on a guitar, and for one song, belting out a tune on a piano. But man, he nailed every song I caught.
Now, I am told that his voice may be a bit of an acquired taste. It’s a deliciously trembling voice, which I’ve been told annoys the shit out of some people, but I absolutely love it. And, his live performance was simple yet amazingly powerful. All in all, you have to check out Ramsay live if you have the chance.
My favourite song is “Books” from his 2011 EP, Starting as People:
Giant Hand @ The Cameron House – March 23, 2013