Last weekend—November 20-23—journalists, bands, and music fans tramped to Quebec for the annual M For Montreal music festival. The event—which is a little more conference-oriented than some of the city’s other festivals—is held every November in frigid French Canada for the express purpose of getting bodies into clubs and getting eyes on fresh young acts from Canada and beyond. And while the festival’s roster of acts isn’t as massive as SXSW’s, M For Montreal’s curation is fairly smart. Bands are chosen more on the basis of artistic merit than whether they’ll draw big crowds, and the fest’s slate includes everything from world music to twee pop.
This year, for the first time ever, The A.V. Club hopped a flight to M For Montreal and spent days in dark clubs, drinking whiskey to stay warm and watching band after band. Here are five burgeoning Canadian acts that we not only think are great, but that seem poised to break onto the American scene any minute now.
This two-piece garage act sings in French, but the language difference shouldn’t really be a barrier to entry. In fact, listening to brothers Guillaume and Maxime Chiasson rock out en Français is much more palatable than listening to other Quebec acts try to translate their lovely turns of phrase into clunky English. That being said, Ponctuation isn’t really about the lyrics, as the duo’s wall of sound is the real selling point. The guitar-drum combo is raw, feverish, and charmingly unpretentious. The band’s M For Montreal set wasn’t long, but it was jam-packed with ragers, with no boring chatter in between. It was a sonic assault, and much appreciated.
Where Ponctuation rocked, Groenland rolled. The orch-pop act is hugely popular in Montreal, and it’s easy to see why: Its songs are practically factory-built to appeal to fans of Arcade Fire and Amanda Palmer, and the sextet’s energetic performance is certainly enthusiastic, though it can get a little grating. Lead singer Sabrina Halde is charming when she gets into the songs, and even more adorkable when she breaks out the ukulele. Coupled with the group’s strings, keys, and melodica, the effect is a little precious, but still downright catchy.
Andy Shauf is really cute, but that’s not what makes him such a captivating performer. The Regina, Saskatchewan singer-songwriter is blunt and sharp, and his latest record, The Bearer Of Bad News, contains the perfect balance of artistic uncertainty and absolute spirituality. Though Shauf’s one-man material is minimal, it’s anything but boring. Think of him as Canada’s modern answer to Nick Drake—this week, at least.
Toronto’s Odonis Odonis isn’t exactly new to the music industry. In fact, the noisy group has toured with A Place To Bury Strangers, The Soft Moon, Ty Segall, Chelsea Wolfe, and citymates METZ. Still, they’re relatively unknown to most casual music fans, and that’s a shame. The trio’s punishing wall of sound has set it up to be perfectly on trend right now.
Psych-opera act Yamantaka//Sonic Titan certainly isn’t unknown to the United States, but that doesn’t mean the group is anywhere near as popular as it should be. The Asian-Canadian equivalent of Ghost B.C., Y//ST is one of those “you’ve got to see it to believe it” bands. The quintet’s performances are part art project, part opera, and part rock concert, and the group calls its style noh-wave, which it says is a blend of noise, metal, pop, and folk with “Peking opera, Buddhist ritual punk, Taiko shows,” and Tokusatsu—basically TV and movies with lots of crazy special effects. The band’s latest record, YT//ST, is out now in the States on Suicide Squeeze Records.