This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Toronto indie record label arts & crafts records. In honour of this occasion I've developed a top eight of the last ten albums by musicians who are part of arts & crafts records. Arts & Crafts records is a Toronto indie record label founded by members of Toronto alternative rock band, Broken Social Scene. Two of Broken Social Scene's first two albums: "You Forgot It In People" and "Feel Good Lost" were two of the earliest records to be produced as part of the Arts & Crafts record label. Over the last ten years Broken Social Scene has become the face of Toronto alternative arts culture and an important part of the Toronto indie music scene. The quality of their music is debatable(I'm a fan but some of you might disagree with me) but it's important to note that some key bands that are currently thriving which are a part of the Toronto music scene both nationally and internationally have emerged out of the Broken Social Scene collective such as Feist, Metric, and Stars started off their careers as members of Broken Social Scene (and a long list of other Toronto bands as well). Arts & Crafts records has a lot of great Toronto musicians part of their label as well: Jason Colette, Hayden, Stars, Feist, Timbre Timbre, Belle Orchestre, Still Life Still, Dan Managan, The Hidden Cameras, Los Campensinos,Gentleman Reg are some of many artists to have their records produced by Arts & Crafts records.
Top eight list of records affiliated with Arts & Crafts:
1. "You Forgot It In People" By: Broken Social Scene:
It's appropriate that this record is at number one simply because this is the record that started a record label in the Arts &Crafts glory days. I'm not saying that they've got any worse in fact I believe the opposite. This is one of Broken Social Scene's best records of all time because it's the perfect blend of everything they're good at: trippy instrumentals reminiscent of their first record, "Feel Good Lost" and K.C Accidental style rock and roll meets jazz style instrumentation, pop solos by Emily Haines, Amy Millan, and Feist, and tunes such as "Almost Crimes" and "Lover's Spit" that BSS is famous for.
Song Highlights: "Shampoo Suicide", "Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl", "Almost Crimes", and "I'm Still Your Fag":
2. "Let It Die" By Feist:
Feist records "The Reminder" and "Metals" are the ones that got all the hype and won all the Junos but this record which comes from early on in Feist's career is the one that I'd argue is Feist's all time best. "The Reminder" and "Metals" were much more heavily produced musically. That didn't necessarily take away the quality but heavy production is overlooking two of Feist's greatest strengths: the powerful nature of her singing voice and the rawness of the style of her music and her songwriting. "Let It Die" allows Feist's music to shine and thrive because it does what all Feist records should do: be organically powerful through minimalism and simplification. On this record there is also some great covers that come up in Feist's performances constantly that suit her voice and she does justice to: "Secret Heart", "Now At Last", and "Inside and Out", "When I Was A Young Girl", and "L'Amour ne Dure Pas Toujours". There is also the most heartbreaking song about heartbreak ever on this record that brings the quality up several notches called "Let It Die" which states: "the saddest part of a broken heart isn't the ending so much as the start".
Top songs: "When I was A Young Girl", "Let It Die", "Gatekeeper", "Now At Last":
3. "In Our Bedroom After The War" By: Stars:
The highlight of this record is that it's epic and theatrical in a rock and roll way but not a type of theatrical that's melodramatic in fact it's the opposite. On this record what Stars truly thrives at on this record is putting together music that functions in a manner similar to a work of theatre in its build and its storytelling. It begins with a simple instrumental that uses nothing but a synthesizer and a drum kit called "Beginning after the end" which concludes with the sound of Amy Millan's voice softly singing in the background "will you save me" followed by a reading of some lines of poetry where the reader states: " all the blood and the treasure and the losing of it all, will we wake in the morning and know what it was for up in our bedroom after the war?". These lines are appropriate considering what seems to be the overall theme of the record and the choice to follow those lines of poetry with Stars hit single about a sexual encounter "The Night Starts Here". The ending beautifully compliments the beginning with an anti-climactic ending where the record ends with Stars band member Torquil Campbell singing "In Our Bedroom After The War", the album's concluding piano ballad. What I mean by that is summed up with the lyrics it ends on: "wake up say good morning to that sleepy person lying next to you, if there's no one there, then there's no one there but at least the war is over". The strength and epic nature comes from something similar to the average Feist record: simplicity and minimalism put on display and explored with an intense amount of rawness. This record if you listen carefully is one big, battle with desire. There's also a great piano ballad about two people who arrange a date through a personal ad and it goes horribly wrong that is one of the best duets with Stars lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell I've ever heard.
song highlights: "Personal", "In Our Bedroom After The War", "Bitches In Tokyo", "Window Bird":
4. Timbre Timbre's self titled debute:
The song writing on this album is fantastic and so many of the lyrics on this album are quotable: here's a quoted sample of two of my favorite lyrics from this EP:
demon host: death she must of been your will/up beneath the reaper's veil/with your voice my belly sunk/and I began to feel so drunk/here is the church and here is the steeple/ open the doors and there are the people
No bold villain: I was a spook for you/ another goon/I was a fool for you/ another stool pigeon/ I was the kid/ Cee Cee was the clown/ and you took North when things went South
And the music itself: the singer and instrumentation reminds me of 1950s crooner style singing so much so that every time I hear it I think about how much I'd love the lead singer and his band to cover classics such as "I put a spell on you"and "Blue Moon" because their musical style is so similar which is why I love it.
song highlights: "Demon Host", "I Get Low", "No Bold Villain":
5. "Honey From The Tombs" By: Amy Millan:
My first introduction to Amy Millan's solo material was in the summer of 2009 out of total curiosity at a free concert series at Toronto Harbourfront. Prior to that my past exposure to Amy Millan had been through her collaboration with Broken Social Scene and Stars. I had no idea what Amy Millan would sound like solo and based on what I had been exposed to through the music of Stars and Broken Social Scene I expected it to be more upbeat and well...rock n roll (maybe) but instead I stumbled upon a musical gem that wasn't that but its own kettle of fish. In a music review in my campus newspaper I once described her voice as something like honey and her songwriting/ musical style like an intimate conversation between two close friends, more specifically one where the person sharing their story tells raw stories of love, heartbreak, loneliness, and desire. Amy Millan and her band are reminiscent of old school Hank Williams era country rather than contemporary mainstream country with some contemporary pop influences thrown in and maybe even a little hint of 1950s crooner style singing influence thrown in there somewhere. The appeal of this album is the intimate relationship between the musician and the listeners that it inevitably creates.
song highlights: "Baby I", "Ruby II", "Pour Me Up Another", "He Brings Out The Whiskey In Me":
6. "Happiness Project" By Charles Spearin:
Charles Spearin made experimental jazz cool again. Why? His interpretation. Charles Spearin interviewed and recorded a bunch of friends, family, and neighbours on things loosely on the subject of happiness. Once he compiled those clips together he took his musician friends and ongoing collaborators from both Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think and made music based on the natural rhythm of the way the subjects of his interviews speak e.g: a little girl who when she speaks tends to hesitate and say "and it's like, it's like...like um" transitions into a chorus of saxophones, with those words on repeat making music based on the natural rhythm of the way she says those particular words. The build is perfectly timed in a sense that the beginning and the end perfectly mirror each other. It beginnings and ends with Mrs. Morris' story with the lesson "happiness is love, love makes you happy, you can't expect other people to love you if you don't know how to love other people". Another part of this album worth noting: the way the musicians accompany Vanessa's story about being deaf and what it was like to be able to hear for the first time after getting an operation that helped her hearing. Something about the instrumentation gave off an impression of the musicians being the most in sync with Vanessa's story. The note choices for the guitar and piano that captured the rhythm of her story created this other world, mythical sound combined with a childlike sense of wonderment as Vanessa remembers what it was like to be able to hear for the first time.
song highlights: "Victtoria", "Vanessa", "Anna", "Mr. Gowrie":
7. "Anthems For The Could've Been Pills" By: K.C Accidental:
K.C Accidental is what Broken Social Scene was before Broken Social Scene became Broken Social Scene. The instrumentals and blending of experimental jazz and rock and roll style instrumentation is what later made Broken Social . The founders of Broken Social Scene: Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, and Charles Spearin worked together early on in their careers and did experimental stuff with saxophones, guitars, pianos, drums, and even an answering machine (see Kev's message for Charlie on part 2 of this two part E.P: captured anthems for an empty bathtub) and suddenly K.C Accidental was born. Part one: Anthems For The Could've Been Pills focuses on mellow instrumental tunes although this by no means what I'd consider elevator music friendly, stereotypical, mellow instrumentals, each one suggests a hint of vintage pop and rock influences and flows organically in a manner that resembles a number of different bands that were popular in that era. Emily Haines even makes a notable appearance on the record where she sings with Kevin Drew in "Them: Pop Song #3333". These two E.Ps are what allowed the band to flourish and grow and find its sound in order to later form Broken Social Scene and all the other bands that formed out of the Broken Social Scene collective.
song highlights: "Residential Love Song", "Instrumental Died In The Bathtub And Took The Daydreams With It", "Them: Pop Song #3333":
8. "Something For All of Us" By : Broken Social Scene presents Brendan Canning:
After Broken Social Scene went on temporary hiatus after releasing their most successful record thus far: their self titled record two separate, solo records were released by two of Broken Social Scene's founders: Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew under the name 'Broken Social Scene Presents'. The one that made it to the top 8 list is Brendan Canning's record simply because it successfully blended together two different types of music that have such distinct differences that I didn't expect them to work together: rock and roll and New Wave influenced disco pop. It's a mix of these two genres and also notable ballads such as: "Take Care Look Up", "Antique Bull", "Been At It So Long", and "Snowballs And Icicles", and "Chameleon". There's even a hint of Broken Social Scene style instrumentals which finds its way into the record through the song "All The Best Wooden Toys Come From Germany". This record is eclectic and doesn't stray far from Brendan Canning's past experiences with K.C Accidental and Broken Social Scene with things that made both bands unique sound wise finding their way into the record. It's no wonder the record title is Something For All of Us!
Song highlights: "Churches Under The Stairs", "Hit The Wall, " Something For All Of Us", "Been At It So Long":