Well, we survived yet another year. It was a big year for Montreal; we celebrated 375 years of colonialism, we elected our first female mayor and we somehow had to endure even more construction! For a city that is constantly evolving, the artistic output has remained consistent and the underground scene continues to flourish.
I’ve been writing for Montreal Rampage for a few years now and I’ve made it a tradition to pick my favourite Montreal albums near the end of the year. I did the same for my radio show on CJLO 1690AM, but I never thought to shamelessly promote the Sewer Spewer brand, until now. The whole premise of my radio show is to promote local punk and metal concerts every week, which often involves listening to new Montreal releases.
For this year, I wanted to leave no stone unturned. I made it my goal to listen to more francophone bands and more bands with female members. I normally only list my top five, but there was so much to choose from that I had to extend my list to ten. In total, I listened to roughly 25 albums and made my choice based on variety, energy, replay value and emotional impression. I’ll likely change my mind in a few months, but for now, here are my top picks of the year.
#10: Code 40-11- L’Amérique du Mort
The first of my francophone picks for the year, though I feel “québécois en crisse” is a more appropriate term for this band. Code 40-11 has dabbled in political punk in their previous releases, but L’Amerique du Mort is a prime example of a concept album that holds up a mirror to the dystopian aspects of Western society. The lyrics speak of ignorance and corruption, delivered by Pete La Liberté’s rough-melodic singing style. Each song includes a catchy sing-along chorus, often followed by a thrashy guitar solo.
Favourite track: “Anti-toute”
#9: Banal- Contra
Whenever I need to get my blood pumping, I put on this album. It’s hard-hitting powerviolence with bite-size tracks that clock in at under a minute, with the exception of the sludgy “À chaque jour.” Throughout, drummer Antoine Weinberg switches between machine gun speed to slow sledgehammer pounding. Banal voice their distaste for backwards Quebec politics, especially in “L’Ignorance,” in which the opening verse is sung in Chinese and mocks the fear that immigrants are ruining Quebecois culture. Tracks are complimented with samples taken from (what I assume are) TVA news clips.
Favourite track: “J’suis pas raciste mais…”
#8: Days of Rage- We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead
This is what punk rock is meant to be: fast-paced with a spit-in-your-face attitude. Days of Rage are unpolished, unapologetic and unrelenting. You can hear the phlegm at the back of their throats and the sweat dripping from their brows. Sure, they don’t bring anything new to the genre, but there’s no shame in using a template that has resonated with punkers of all ages time and time again. The anthems will have you slamming your fist against your chest in time with the snare, shouting for revolution. Their take on the Poison Idea classic “Plastic Bomb” neatly fits the general mood of the album.
Favourite track: “In the Underground”
#7: The Barrel Heads- Canned Peaches
The much-anticipated debut full-length of Montreal Rampage favourite the Barrel Heads, who unfortunately disbanded only a few weeks ago after seven years of playing together. How she goes, as they say, but Canned Peaches is a suitable farewell gift. It’s an anthology of tales of wild debauchery and the regrettable mornings after. Frontman Mosquito Mike’s bluesy whiskey-drenched vocals are reminiscent of rock n’ roll titans of the past. The final track “Fattal Flaw” directly pokes fun at the drunk punks of the Fattal lofts and their narrow-minded preference of music.
Favourite track: “Keep Off (the Grass)”
#6: Les Ordures Ioniques- S/T
This band has been around for quite a while. They started off in 1995, announced a hiatus in 2002, but came back in full force in 2012 and have been going hard ever since. This year, they released their fourth full-length album and toured extensively in Europe. The staple feature of their franco punk sound is founding member V8 (Luc Boucher) sharing the microphone with a female vocalist (on this release, Marie Lavigne of the Horny Bitches). Their combined vocal ability backed by an energetic band makes for a powerful album. In particular, the chorus of the re-recorded “L’Harmattan” (originally off the EP “Kick La Cacanne”) is enough to lift the hairs on my arms in a feeling of pure ecstasy.
Favourite track: “L’Harmattan”
#5: Society’s Ills- Stumble
One of the few remaining bands from my potty-training days in the Montreal scene. This is the third album of self-described “stumble punks” Society’s Ills. I was hoping this album will finally enlighten me on what a stumble punk is, but alas, I find the word unfitting, since these scene veterans demonstrate nothing but precision and flawless structure from song to song. The one French song on this album “Plaintes de bruit” is as Montrealais as you can get, as they mourn the closure of music venues thanks to the stuck-up idiots who decide to move above them (I’m looking at you, neighbours of Divan Orange). There’s a real sense of sentimentality in the drawn-out melodies and guitar leads in each song. It’s something I’ll likely listen to if I ever feel homesick.
Favourite track: “Line of Sight”
#4: Explicit Delicious- S/T
Goddamn, this is a fun album to listen to. It’s a mix of funk, Tarantino surf rock, a couple hip-hop tongue-twisters, all wrapped up with a punk rock attitude. If you’re not one to jump and dance along, then you’ll at least be tapping your foot and grooving along in your seat. There’s 15 different juicy tracks to sink your teeth into, most of them glorifying drug use (“Brain Drain”) or frowned-upon sex acts (“Glory Hole”). But no reason to get worked up about the lyrics, they’re all in good humour. Explicit Delicious is the answer to the question: “how many different funky ways can you say ‘mother fucker?’”
Favourite track: “Bleed Fukkah”
#3: French Frogs- Advienne Que Pourra
I came across this album completely by a fluke and it caught me by surprise. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this band before. If anything, it proves that I need to listen to more francophone releases. In terms of variety, this album has everything. The beginning serves up some punk with elements of metal sneaking in. Near the end, the songs become longer, the song structures delve more into progressive rock and piano parts are added for dramatic effect. Vocalist and bassist Antoine Mauffette demonstrates mastery of his voice, from a low confessional tone to deep guttural growls. According to the album description, it tells a story of a middle-class worker as he struggles with with his spending habits and his own personal beliefs, ultimately leading to his death. The lyrics for “Écoute comme je suis muet” read like a final will and testament, whereas the final title track presents the moral of the story, gradually becoming more existential as the instruments build to a crescendo.
Favourite track: “J’achète donc je suis”
#2: Teen Seizure- Seizure Bloody Seizure
I love an album that begins with a manifesto: “This House is No Longer a Home” is a poetic declaration of what you are about to experience (recited by Kat Valentine of Death Proof), ending with the line: “Forever trapped in a Teen Seizure.” Many of the songs are re-recordings of songs from previous EPs, but with more crispness and energy stuffed in. Previously unreleased originals like “Pink-Floyd-The-Wall” and “Losing My Party Hat” show a different side of what I’ve come to expect for Teen Seizure. I genuinely enjoy their grungy sound and that’s why I had to give it silver medal this year. Unfortunately, Teen Seizure fell apart before the release of their debut full-length, but as the band describes it, it’s merely “the final testament of the first phase,” so here’s hoping they reform with a new lineup sometime in the future.
Favourite track: “Tragedies”
#1: Show of Bedlam- Transfiguration
In an interview with Absolute Underground, Show of Bedlam revealed that Transfiguration took five years of constant reworking to make it into the gem that it is now. It goes to show that perfection comes to those who take the time to develop their art. There’s only seven tracks on this album, but four of those tracks clock well over eight minutes while the shorter tracks are used as transitions. They act as chapters to Show of Bedlam’s overarching narrative of a girl locked in an 18th century insane asylum. Paulina Richards’ eerie reverberating voice woven into the heavy atmospheric doom tell of their character’s horrifying experiences of abuse inflicted on her by the orderlies and the visiting public. Show of Bedlam experiments using different guitar effects and peppering obscure samples throughout. I’ve been told Show of Bedlam normally projects nightmarish imagery behind them when they perform live. I imagine it’s similar to the psychedelic music video for “Taelus” featuring a cast of cloaked cultists walking ominously through a cemetery. There’s many emotional layers explored in this dark opera, giving off a mood of gloom and dread. Listening from front to back is an adventure into the darkest parts of the human soul. There’s always something new to discover with each repeat listen. It’s enough to make you question your own sanity.
Favourite track: “Easter Waters”