Patrick Canning picks 7 of his favourite discs from last year’s 70 local offerings.
Last year’s RPM challenge brought in an unprecedented bounty of 70 albums from the St. John’s area. That’s almost equal to the total amount of professional releases put out in the entire province in all of 2008.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “How can you possibly make a quality album in just one month’s time?” You’d be friggin’ amazed actually. Late-night inspiration hits, you find that old banjo to pull it all together, and things just fall into place. And when that happens, you have every reason in the world to celebrate. Shout it from the rooftops if you have to.
Musical genius is not what the RPM is about. It’s about giving people an excuse to be creative and the impetus to get something—anything—done. But it sure is nice when brilliance happens.
So let’s have a look back at a few of the standouts from last year’s challengers to show you that 28 days is totally do-able—you can pull this off, no matter what your skill level and experience—and that sometimes, genius happens.
Vegan Porn’s album To The Animals… May We Be Forgiven? has been stuck in steady rotation in my media player since I heard it last March. Lone porn star Matthew Finateri came out of nowhere to produce one of the most weirdly infectious albums of left-field pop music I’ve heard in ages. It takes a few listens for it to fully sink in, but when it does, this collection hard-to-categorize, semi-lo-fi indie pop, with lyrics filled with snarky social and political commentary, gives the listener plenty of meat- and dairy-free goodness to digest. The songs “Fish In Your Stew” and “New-Welfarist In The 21st Century” are great standout tracks that stick to you like crab lice. Good crab lice. Yeah. Listen here.
Errand Boy’s RPM entry Cape Disappointment was strong enough to make into last year’s Atlantis Music Prize shortlist, if that tells you anything. It’s a rich, and densely textured aural stimulant that feels more organic and less sample-driven then his previous releases. Errand Boy, a.k.a. Bryan Melanson, has been getting a decent bit of attention here and away for his world-class talent for crafting exquisite, moving, and complex electronic auditory panoramas. Cape Disappointment not only fueled the fervor, it proved him to be fully capable of churning out lush, cinematic masterpieces under strict time constraints. Listen here.
Steve Haley’s Two Steps in the Dark is one of the best singer/songwriter albums I heard last year. It’s a lovely collection of delicately, intelligently arranged songs that are lonesome as all hell. They ebb and flow with an easy-going grace that heightens the unforced, dramatic nature of the tunes. The end result is a perfect album for a late-night sulk in the darkness. I found this style of brooding, down-tempo folk to be a much better fit for Steve’s voice than his previous work with The Human Soundtrack. Listen here.
The 6 Fort Waldegrave (from 6 Fort Waldegrave Street, of course) take the award for best concept album of last year’s RPM. All the songs on Long Night on Camp Blood are directly inspired by the classic slasher movie Friday the 13th. Some directly reference scenes from the movie, and some are meant to be played over certain scenes as an alternative soundtrack. Done in just two weeks, but remarkably well-recorded, it has the trademark shambolic, off-the-cuff feeling you would associate with RPM participants, oozing giddy sounds of friends getting drunk and ridiculous. I mean, really, with titles like “Kevin Bacon Gets an Arrow Through his Neck” and “Chick Gets an Axe In The Face” you can’t go too wrong. Listen here.
RPM veterans and notorious local weirdos Mopey Mumble Mouse made one of their most inspired and enjoyable releases, The Wrath of Least Persistence. All the members take over on songwriting and frontman responsibilities so it’s more of a mixed bag than usual, but each member has at least one classic track on this album: Curtis Kilfoy’s vocal performance on “Forever and Ever, Amen” is cathartic and exemplary; Tom Davis’s “Grey Afternoon” is a really beautiful and tender piano ballad; and Bart Pierson delivers the rock classic we all knew he was capable of with “Vicious Circle” which drips in classic Elevator to Hell/Sabbath thunder and riffage. Listen here.
Typically found drumming for the Subtitles, Bryan Power picked up a guitar for last year’s RPM and, as Pilot to Bombardier, delivered one of my favorite albums of 2009. Come In Bombardier is an eloquent and subdued offering, with lush but delicate arrangements reminiscent of Smog or Red House Painters. Subtitles drummer Bryan Power’s voice is warm and understated, with an easy yet world-weary charm. The production is subtle and nuanced, perfectly highlighting the quiet mood of each song. Especially good is “Out of Tune,” with its quietly aching chorus and its vibraphone nod to “Chariots of Fire.” Listen here.
Another Subtitler, Rebecca Cohoe, teamed up with Exit Party’s Ian Murphy to make Pet Legs, a pure pop confection of the minimal 80’s keyboard variety. That type of album usually sends me running in the opposite direction, but Pet Legs’ self-titled gets the formula spot-on, with strong voices, energetic tempos, and catchy hooks all over the place. It’s the perfect type of project to benefit from the RPM challenge situation: With more time to spend, the album would definitely be at risk for over-thinking, over-producing and needless clutter. But the arrangements are beautifully sparse, the performances are solid, and the mixes are really full. A catchy, perky little gem of an album. Listen here.