- Radiohead – Kid A 
The record that really shook things up. OK Computer had set the bar for what alt-rock could be. A lot of people were expecting a continuation of that record, but what they got what something completely different. Kid A was built from the ground up, with keyboards, an Ondes Martenot, strings, and a few bleeps and blops for good measure. Because of Kid A, when Radiohead release records all bets are off – expect the unexpected. The gloriously delicious unexpected.
“Strobe lights and blown speakers, fireworks and hurricanes. I’m not here. This isn’t happening.”
- Wintersleep – Wintersleep 
Wintersleep was born from the hot ashes of some heavy alt-prog-rock (Kary, Contrived, etc.). This was not the album people were expecting. Driven by acoustic guitar and Paul Murphy’s somehow soothing growl, Wintersleep’s debut was a blast of fresh air. Their subsequent releases have incorporated a lot more rock, and they continue to grow. But it’s nice to come back to this record and just chill the eff out.
“This avalanche of love and skin collides, conquers, and collapses.”
- Joel Plaskett – La De Da 
This record is tied to some great memories – driving back from the ECMAs in Sydney with my band late at night. Our minds were blown by what was coming out of the speakers of our rented SUV. It was completely unexpected. Here was the poster boy for Nova Scotian alt-rock, the leader of Thrush Hermit, strumming an acoustic guitar and quietly singing about how much he loves his home town. And I’ve listened intently ever since.
“The only thing worse than growing up is never quite learning how.”
- Hayden – Skyscraper National Park 
After an essentially failed major-label experiment, Hayden went into hibernation and emerged three years later with one of his best records. It was a mix of everything he had done previously (lullabies, moody instrumentals, etc.) but he took it up a notch. “Dynamite Walls” paints the perfect picture of driving around in the Canadian wilderness, and “Bass Song” tells a horrific tale of self-defense during a break-in. All in all, it’s full of great stories from one of Canada’s greatest storytellers.
“We’ll never find it because it’s not even there.”
- Sigur Ros – ( ) 
The one thing I couldn’t get out of my head after watching Vanilla Sky was the scene near the end on the roof. The music was heartstoppingly amazing. Turns out it was by Sigur Ros. I had to special order this record in at the shop in the mall in New Minas. It took forever to arrive. I played it start to finish that night, and fell asleep somewhere near the end. This was music I hadn’t heard before. It stirred something deep inside of me. It was haunting, it was beautiful, it was strange, and it was a joy to listen to.
- Sarah Harmer – You Were Here 
Although she’s now gone a bit country/bluegrass on us, Sarah Harmer is still one of the greatest songwriters in Canada. This album has university days written all over it for me. There are so many great moments and stories on this record, and it’s solid start to finish. I remember how excited my friend was when she moved into a new place in Wolfville… she lived out where the street ended, in a basement apartment, with one of her friends. I think they even had a leaky facuet…
“If they ask you how I’m holding up, say I’m holding out for the words.”
- Hey Rosetta! – Plan Your Escape 
Another great Canadian act, Hey Rosetta! were initially marketed as an edgy rock band. That’s how I first heard them on iTunes – their song “Lions for Scottie” was a free download one week. It’s a great tune, but not indicative of what Hey Rosetta! truly bring to the table – you don’t get necessarily get 100% of the sense of scope, the gorgeous string section, of Tim Baker’s ridiculously amazing voice, of lyrics that can move you, and everything else that make this EP one that you cannot afford to miss. This is one band that will hopefully be around for a long time to come.
“It’s not my fault that I get so low, but to drown you, too – that’s a sick way to love. It’s a sick way to love, a fucking sick way to love.”
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 
How could an album so great come close to not ever being released? The record industry was in full disarray at the beginning of the decade. Internet leaks and downloading were starting to explode, and the way they were doing business was going to have to change, or they would die. Unfortunately, they didn’t change for the better, and Wilco ended up being the victim of a lot of bullshit. Luckily, this was all documented in a great film called “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and even luckier is the fact that this album spawned a bidding war and was released with much fanfare in 2002. “Jesus, etc.” remains as one of my all-time favourite tracks, and the rest of the album is pretty damn good, too.
“I miss the innocence I’ve known – playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned.”
- Death Cab for Cutie – Plans 
Death Cab hit the big time halfway through the decade after being hyped on “The O.C.” People were wary about their major label debut – would they “sell out?” I don’t know if they sold out, but I do know that this is a great record – just as good (and better) as their previous outings, but slightly more accessible. You can’t deny the string of great tunes from this album – “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” “Summer Skin,” “Crooked Teeth,” and of course the huge hit “Soul Meets Body.” If this is what selling out sounds like, I’m okay with it.
“So brown eyes, I’ll hold you near, because you’re the only song I want to hear.”
- Radiohead – In Rainbows 
This one took a while to make, but it didn’t take long to release. The famous “Pay What You Want” model made news across the globe. I didn’t pay for the download – but I did throw down over $100 on the DiscBox vinyl+CD+craziness set. I don’t even know how to describe this record. Some folks say it’s more accessible than their last couple of albums, but I don’t really see it. What I do see (or rather, hear) is a fantastic record filled with moments that are spine-tingly good. And busting out “Nude” from ten years ago and making it into a gorgeous, haunting remnant of what it was? Well played, Radiohead. Well played.
“Don’t get any big ideas – they’re not going to happen.”
- Green Day – American Idiot 
Concept albums are hit or miss. A Green Day concept album? Doesn’t sound so promising. But guess what? It ended up being the best record they’ve ever made, and it brought a band back from the brink of the extinction and launched them into the alt-rock stratosphere. There are a heck of a lot of great tunes on this album, and when you blend them altogether you get conceptual rock opera bliss.
“What a shame, ’cause everyone’s heart doesn’t beat the same. We’re beating out of time.”
- Arcade Fire – Funeral 
Where the hell did these guys come from? And who told everyone about them? This album has to be one of the most amazing cases of “overnight” success in Canadian music history. Within two years of forming, and with only one release under their belt, these indie rockers from Montreal made top-ten lists around the world, and became bigger than they most likely ever thought possible. It still blows my mind that “Wake Up,” “Rebellion (Lies),” “Crown of Love,” “Tunnels,” and “Power Out” are all from the same album.
“We’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms, turning every good thing to rust.”
- Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs 
This one almost passed me by. I had been a huge fan of Ben Folds Five, but this album was released fairly quietly. And the single was not very representative of the rest of the record – “Rockin’ the Suburbs” was tongue-in-cheek comedy rock, and the rest of record was made up of what made BFF so great: moving sounds with insightful lyrics and virtuoso piano playing. “Fred Jones, Pt.2″ is just as moving as its “Whatever and Ever, Amen” counterpart. “Not the Same” is a powerful tune, even if it is sort of a joke about a bad acid trip. And “The Luckiest” is so damn good, I chose it as the first waltz at my wedding.
“You’ve got one good trick and you’re hanging on, hanging on to it.”
- The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving 
John K. Samson is another one of Canada’s best songwriters. His lyrics are truly poetry, and he and The Weakerthans have been putting out some of the best alt-rock albums this country has ever seen. There are so many great tunes on this album. From the opening riff of “Everything Must Go!” to the angst-ridden singalong chorus of “Aside” to the almost mournful, but still hopeful title track, this is the perfect road trip album, especially if you’re leaving Winnipeg.
“I wait in 4/4 time, count yellow highway lines that you’re relying on to lead you home.”
- k-os – Joyful Rebellion 
I never listened to a lot of hip hop. There were a few records and tracks that I would buy or listen to from time to time, but I wasn’t really a “fan.” k-os kind of restored my faith in the genre in 2004 with this album. It was eclectic, it was funky, and it had some really great tunes on it. Since then, there has been some great hip-hop coming out of Canada (Classified, K’Naan, etc.), and it’s a genre that I no longer ignore. I know there was great stuff before k-os, but I really think he helped breathe some much-needed like into the scene, and this record still sounds fresh six years later.
“I left my memories far behind on nature’s road. Seems so simple – the future’s the past, the present are the things we holdin’ on to make those last.”
Some Other Favs:
- City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love
- Classified – Self-Explanatory
- Coldplay – Parachutes
- Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
- Codlplay – Viva La Vida
- Damien Rice – O
- Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
- Eminem – The Eminem Show
- Finger Eleven – The Greyest of Blue Skies
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F#A#∞
- Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara
- Joel Plaskett – Ashtray Rock
- Killers – Hot Fuss
- Once – Music from the Motion Picture
- The Postal Service – Give Up
- Radiohead – Hail to the Theif
- Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
- Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
- Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
- Tool – Lateralus
- Two Hours Traffic – Little Jabs
- The White Stripes – Elephant
- Wintersleep – Untitled