Who said guitar music was dead? All across America, independent labels like Sideonedummy, Run For Cover and Epitaph ride at the crest of a new wave of punk music. Recent albums by bands such as Modern Baseball, the Menzingers, and the Wonder Years have been released to not only popular triumph, but to relatively impressive critical acclaim. They’ve muscled their way into teenage bedrooms with massive, captivating hooks, a tongue-in-cheek air of self-deprecation, and more than a tad of apathetic I-hate-my-hometown woe. The UK punk scene flourishes like never before, our Yankee neighbours dominating the headline spots on stages across the country. Despite all of this, I can’t help but feel we’re missing out on a little winter chill. So put on your thickest jumpers, kids: our syrup-quaffing, moose-riding cousins from the deep dark wilderness of Canada are coming to get you.
For fans of: Ceremony, Jawbreaker.
Stand-out track: Queen of Hearts, from David Comes to Life (2011)
Fucked Up, a six-piece hardcore collective from Toronto, ON, are by no means strangers to our shores, having toured the UK multiple times over their 11 years as a band. Yet they have somehow eluded the big publications and festival stages. “Band” is a very loose term when describing these guys: I think they’d prefer ‘collision’. Fucked Up take no prisoners and leave no room to breathe, punctuating their frenetic, two-guitar grit with lead vocalist Father Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham’s bearish barks. Despite this, they still manage to deliver big melodies and sing-along choruses, with clean vocals of bassist Sandy ‘Mustard Gas’ Miranda offering an entirely different flavour to proceedings. Where they truly come alive is at their live shows: Damian, truly more bear than man, huge and topless and slippery, spends the majority of the set deep in the pit, emerging only for air. So, buckle up kids, and bring a towel.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, Comeback Kid.
Stand-out track: Hail Destroyer, from Hail Destroyer (2009)
Certainly the heaviest band on this list, Cancer Bats are also perhaps the most well-known, partly due to their (admittedly impressive) cover of the Beastie Boy’s track ‘Sabotage’. Also from Toronto, they’re essentially the musical equivalent of a kick in the face. Cancer Bats have teeth: big, nasty ones. Frontman Liam Cornier delivers his venomous howls over thick, sludgy guitar riffs and tommy-gun drum fills. It’s an impressively large sound for a four piece, and despite their typical thrash-metal exterior they’re a band of surprising maturity. It’s rowdy, it’s fun, and it leaves you begging for more. Not ones to ditch a successful enterprise, you can catch them on tour this year as ‘Bat Sabbath’, playing, you guessed it, sets consisting entirely of their own brand of Ozzy and Co.’s music. With a new album rumoured for release this year, I implore you to catch them while you can.
Death From Above 1979
For fans of: Blood Red Shoes, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Blood…
Stand-out track: Romantic Rights, from You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine (2005)
There’s something in the water in Toronto, and I want what they’re having. Death From Above 1979 have amassed a huge cult following with their simple bass-and-drums setup (sorry Royal Blood, you’re old news). Endless groove, big pop hooks, biting wit and dregs of insanity: everything I want in a band. Imagine throwing Led Zep out of a club for punching your mate and watching it collapse in a pool of its own vomit on the curb, and that’s a rough idea of how Death From Above sound. Don’t take my word for it; just listen. NOW.
For fans of: The Hold Steady, The Mountain Goats
Stand-out track: Plea From A Cat Named Virtute, from Reconstruction Site (2003)
And now for something completely different. John K. Samson and the Weakerthans play punk and anything but: with their singer-songwriter sensibilities, country guitar lines, and glassy vocal harmonies, I’ll make no secret of the fact that they’re the personal favourites of mine on this list. Their distinct brand of pop-punk for the learned man has a very, very special place in my heart. Samson’s lyrics reach out in abstract, philosophical ways, yet still maintain a simple heartiness. Every track is polished and bright like the fresh snows of their hometown of Winnipeg, flavouring standard-fare Emo/Indie themes of love and loss with a certain level of Canadian optimism. Sadly, they’re no longer playing together as a group, but you can catch vocalist John K Samson touring his new folk album Winter Wheat this May.
For Fans of: Beach Slang, Joyce Manor
Stand-out track: Mabu, from Pup (2014).
Okay, I lied. PUP are probably my favourite band on this list. Don’t make me choose, okay? It’s unfair. They’re everything a good modern punk band should be: smart and sinful, they balance deep, insightful song-writing with jagged, sawblade guitar riffs and big hardcore gang vocals. Most importantly, they hold onto the distinct Canadian spirit that permeates the music of every band on this list. Like a wolverine, they’re mean with a wicked edge, ready to bite at any moment, yet aren’t ever afraid to show a little softness. Their headline show at Tufnell Park’s Dome last September was without a doubt my live show of the year: they bring the fun everywhere they go. Keep both eyes on these guys!
Listen to all the recommended tracks here!