Written by Andrea Gin and Jennifer Van Evra
Canada is gearing up to celebrate 150 years since confederation, and to mark the occasion, CBC Music is featuring top up-and-coming acts from cities and regions across the country.
We’ve polled artists, labels, record stores and colleagues to bring you what we hope is a comprehensive series of the best new and emerging music you should listen to right now.
We've already profiled Montreal and the North. Next up is Vancouver, where you can find everything from rootsy folk to edgy punk, from atmospheric R&B to neo-glam psych-rock, making it tough to choose just 10 acts.
Vancouver’s Hayley Law, a.k.a. Hayleau, is not only a singer-songwriter in real life, but she plays one on TV. While as an actor she is best known for playing the character Valerie Brown on Riverdale — the hit show based on the Archie Comics — she is also a rising star on the music scene, releasing her self-titled debut EP with the seductive R&B single “Banana” last fall before the show took off. Even though she now finds her talents much in demand, she enjoys the low-key existence of her hometown. “It’s sick to be able to see the mountains and the ocean in the same day,” she recently told Beatroute. “I don’t take it for granted, and I’ll never get sick of it. The atmosphere [here] keeps me grounded.”
With a debut album that landed on several local “Best of 2016” lists and a spot on the Georgia Straight’s list of Top 5 Vancouver Bands to Watch in 2017, Douse is a Vancouver-area art-rock trio that’s turning heads. And it’s no wonder: with influences that range from post-punk to world music to folk, the group has a lush, atmospheric sound that delves into darkness, but also finds glimmers of light.
Sam Lucia and Geoffrey Millar, the names behind experimental rap duo So Loki, aren’t about emulating the sound of any other city; in fact, their main goal is to pioneer their own “Vancouver” sound. Their debut album, V, certainly helped them towards this goal: it was self-released on their own Owake Records, sold out its first run in 26 hours, and their single “Liquid Luck” garnered more than 100,000 plays on YouTube in a week. It also received a lot of critical praise, with Noisey referring to them as “the new vanguards of Vancouver’s fragile hip-hop scene” and the Georgia Straight calling them the city’s “next big thing.”
There’s more than a little David Bowie in both the sonic and fashion leanings of Art d’Ecco, a performer who fluidly crosses musical and gender lines, creating highly memorable tracks — and sporting an unforgettable look. Often labelled “neo glam,” the music boasts hints of everything from '50s pop to psychedelics, from Velvet Underground-era art rock to Grimes-inspired electronics. Splitting his time between the Gulf Islands and Vancouver, the performer also crosses the urban and rural divide.
Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott were raised on opposite sides of the Lower Mainland tracks: one on Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside, the other in the picturesque beach-side suburb of Tsawwassen. When the two met at the Saint James Music Academy, their vocal chemistry was immediate and remarkable. The duo writes songs true to their lived experiences, and try and keep the tone celebratory rather than pessimistic. “One criticism that we heard a few times from people — and it was meant to be constructive — was ‘Get darker. Get grittier,’" Walker said last year to the Georgia Straight. "That came from this maybe misguided conception that, to be an artist, you had to be tortured. That may be true, but I have enough of that in my life. It’s a reality that I live with.”
Last fall, R&B singer Evelyn Mason, a.k.a. Evy Jane, released her debut album, Breaking, and it’s a record that she described as her “Vancouver album.” "I almost want to call it a mixtape," she told Noisey. "It is rainstorm music — a great soundtrack for being emo/walking around in the rain under an umbrella. I reference nature and technology, identity and oblivion.”
This February, Mason debuted a starkly beautiful followup track called “Rave Angel.” Her softly layered vocals over gentle staccato beats radiate a calming feeling that's also so alive and fresh — it's hard to think of another artist that captures the vibe of the city so well.
Vancouver has a long history of great punk bands, including NoMeansNo, D.O.A., the Subhumans and SNFU, and up-and-coming punk outfit Sore Points falls squarely into that tradition. Their self-titled 2016 demo (already on its third pressing) is an agressive, frenzied, eight-song journey into the heart of old-school punk in this city.
Only a Visitor
It’s not easy to put a label on Only a Visitor. Led by singer-songwriter Robyn Jacob, the band features three singers (Jacob, Emma Postl and Celina Kurz), who take turns at lead vocals while also harmonizing, accompanied by neo-classical piano and jazz rhythms. Under the backdrop of this poetic mix, Jacob writes lyrics about her research into her family’s immigration history to Canada and her search for identity.
“Canada is built upon erasure,” she told Discorder Magazine, “especially Vancouver. I find it really satisfying to dig stuff up. And it’s there. The information is out there. And you don’t know it unless you seek it. It isn’t just handed to you.” The band will release its third album, Lines, on June 16.
Not to be confused with legendary Vancouver band Destroyer, synth-heavy rock trio Little Destroyer — which first united under the name Legs — has a radio-ready sound that’s both gritty and catchy, featuring distorted keys, driving guitar and propulsive drums. Now dividing its time between L.A. and Vancouver, the band is landing gigs with top acts from Against Me! to Mother Mother.
It’s hard not to be a little seduced by the smooth balladry of Vancouver’s Patrick Geraghty, founder and leader of Gal Gracen. The band started off as a novelty act called Dick Fingers in 2012 and went through many versions before evolving into the vintage dream-pop of its current iteration. The sweet melancholy of the band’s nostalgia rock is best captured in its video for “The Hard Part Begins,” the title track from Gal Gracen's 2016 release that features scenes from a sad, surreal prom.