Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Best of the East Coast Music Award Nominees

Casey Dorrell

Out on the eastern end of Canada, on the oft forgotten, Prince Edward Island, the East Coast Music Awards are being hosted this weekend. The ECMAs are an annual award show for artists based out of Atlantic Canada. It's now in its 17th year and beyond being a one-day ceremony, the awards (which rotate through the Atlantic-Canadian provinces) mean a weekend full of multi-artist shows where, at any point, there's likely two or three ECMA-related sets taking place.

The awards and surrounding shows are regularly criticized for featuring only to the most established groups and, often, for appearing somewhat out of touch with the focus on groups catered to an older audience (e.g. Shoreline Festival's absence from the "Event of the Year" category). While I agree with this sentiment to a degree, I think the real problem is that it's no longer 1995 (When Halifax indie reigned supreme) and what's popular isn't always what's best. Same goes for any other region.

With that said, there are some nominated artists that deserve further exploration:

Two Hours Traffic - Rock Recording of the Year Nominee [MP3]
They've toured both with Joel Plaskett and Cuff the Duke, and their latest album was produced by the former. Their full-length debut falls short of being terribly challenging or exciting, but it's consistently . . . pleasant. Early-90's throwback pop.

Wintersleep - Video of the Year, Alternative Recording of the Year Nominee [MP3]
Coke Machine Glow describes Wintersleep's latest album, "This album's interesting; it seems to occupy some sort of no-man's land between mainstream rock sludge and, say, country-indie like My Morning Jacket or Magnolia Electric Co. Maybe like if Three Doors Down made a "difficult" record where they (successfully) "established themselves as artists" (Ouch....sorry if that was overly harsh)." That's probably better than anything I could have said. Wintersleep's lead, Paul Murphy, features a sort of dirgy, shaky vocal style that I usually find off-putting, but on most of their songs, it works for me. The song, Orca, is particularly haunting.

Matt Mays & El Torpedo - Album of the Year, Group of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, Single of the Year, Rock Recording of the Year Nominee [MP3]
Matt Mays is self-described as hard rock, and while many of his songs are heavier than the one I've selected, the band is actually solidly rooted in alt-country territory. Comparisons are made to both Neil Young and Tom Petty, but the vocals definately mirror the latter more than the former. Jason MacNeil (AllMusic) describes "On the Hood" as "resembling something cruelly omitted from 'Into the Great Wide Open'" which also happens to be my favourite Petty album. Mays sells better than any of the other artists on this list where I work (Sloan included), but he's yet to find a wider audience outside Canada.

Joel Plaskett - Male Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year Nominee [MP3] [2]
Plaskett is a product of the Halifax Pop Explosion back in the 90's when Halifax was briefly what Montreal is today. He's released three albums either under his own and as The Joel Plaskett Emergency. His post-Thrush Hermit music is mostly acoustic-based songs that are often narrative in nature, sometimes coming across as stream-of-conscious lyrically. His songs on record are almost to easy to enjoy - which generally means you won't find anything you've missed on repeat listens. Best heard live and acoustic.

Sloan - Single of the Year nominee [MP3] [2]
Sloan was both the impetus for the Halifax scene excitement in the 90's and the only band that kept on going. They've been around for fifteen years now and, sadly, each new album they put out is just a bit worse than that which preceded it. They continue to produce some pop gems, but most of their new material is throw-away. Still, if you're a fan of power pop, your album collection is lacking if it doesn't include at least one of the band's first four albums, all of which are near-flawless. I've selected two older songs, both of which are better than the single they're nominated for: "Underwhelmed" is off their debut album and is both amusing and insanely catchy. "Coax Me" is from their sophomore album - a slower tempo song which is no less catchy and also includes the lyrics, "I drink concentrated OJ" and "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans".

Buck 65 - Video of the Year, Alternative Recording of the Year Nominee [MP3] [2]
Buck 65 made some end of year lists in 2005 with his album, "This Right Here is Buck 65". The album, his American debut, was actually a compilation of tracks off several of his earlier Canadian releases, excluding his most recent one. This is a shame because, while all but his earliest efforts are worthwhile, his latest Canadian release, "Secret House Against the World" (on which he colloborated with electronic titans, "Tortoise") is an eclectic tour-de-force which was easily one of the best albums released in 2005. This will likely be the last Buck 65 album that's eligible for the ECMAs as he now resides in Paris.

Known for an almost-spoken word style of hip-hop that envokes Tom Waits, on "Secret House..." Buck 65 actually sings on select tracks, includes female-back vocals courtesy of his wife, and jumps from Johnny Cash to Frank Zappa (which explains why he's in the alternative genre for his nomination rather than rap). Beyond his musical inventiveness, though, what Buck 65 is best at is lyricism, as each song expounds a different fascinating narrative; sometimes they recount the mundane, sometimes the fantastical, but each clearly show Buck 65 to be a storyteller at heart. I selected two songs almost at random because the songs are so varied that's it's hard to showcase properly.

Dependent Music is nominated in the "Record Company/ Distributor/Indie Label" category. A regular freelance mocker, Rollins, recently did a feature on the label and all the bands it represents. Read it here.

Classified - Maritimes
Buck 65 - Devil's Eyes
Buck 65 - The Floor
Sloan - Underwhelmed
Sloan - Coax Me
Joel Plaskett - Love This Town
Joel Plaskett - Happen Now
Matt Mays and El Torpedo - On the Hood
Wintersleep - Orca
Two Hours Traffic - Better Safe Than Sorry

Comments on "The Best of the East Coast Music Award Nominees"


Anonymous moe said ... (26/2/06 2:25 pm) : 

joel, wintersleep, and buck definitely get my thumbs up!


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (26/2/06 4:21 pm) : 

No love for Sloan?


Blogger Cheval said ... (26/2/06 5:26 pm) : 

sloan haven't lived here in 7 or 8 years. they shouldn't be members of the association.


Anonymous Rollins said ... (28/2/06 12:03 am) : 

lead singer of wintersleep is Paul Murphy not Jud get yo facts straight casey geez


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (28/2/06 12:19 am) : 

God damnit.


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