Vancouver is home to some of the most explosive, abrasive, classically rocking bands I’ve heard. Many of them are my go-tos – my defaults – when I feel an express need for a dose of adrenaline. I frequently marvel at how no one else has written one of those band’s exact riffs, melodies, or lyrics before.
But what caught my ear the most in 2015 was the city’s wealth of outside-leaning music – music that was so original (or original enough) that it never raised the same question in my mind; there weren’t many comparisons for it. It wasn’t that labels like the electronically inclined 1080p or Genero Sound, events like Big Joy Festival, or occasional musical performance spaces including Selectors’ Records and the Remington Gallery were new or suddenly blew up my consciousness and opened a whole new world to me; it was more likely a timely confluence of me growing slightly weary of some configuration of post-punk-garage-wave-bikecore at the same time that 1080p in particular blew up not just locally but overseas as well.
My picks for the 10 best Vancouver albums of 2015 skew heavily in favour of non-bands. But as always, these kinds of lists can only contain so much, especially at happy, square number like 10. Here, once again in alphabetical order, are the local albums that occupied the most space in my head this year.
C.Diab – No Perfect Wave
Listen: “Three Pyramids”
C.Diab’s glacial meditations on his third album, No Perfect Wave, come from an unlikely source: an acoustic guitar. Granted, he plays his guitar with a bow and filters his sounds through an array of pedals to create vast, chilly drones.
But unlike a similarly evocative work, such as Roger Eno’s glowing Between Tides, No Perfect Wave doesn’t move in entirely fluid motions. Several raw, human details accumulate, breaking the flow. On “Your Interruption”, low fidelity creates distance between the listener and the creator, until clicking sounds switch off the broadcast, and footsteps can be heard in high fidelity. It’s easy to imagine C.Diab dragging his bow back and forth across his six strings on the screeching “Silent, Still”; pressing his fingers on what sounds like an accordion on “Memory As Mist” and the instrument slowly inhaling and exhaling; or the trumpeter’s cheeks puffing as the player blows on “Yet to Be Titled”.
Like John Fahey in his final recording days, when he turned from the American Primitive finger-picking style that he pioneered to more dissonant, guitar-based compositions, there’s a melancholic, broken beauty in C.Diab’s music, a detached yearning. Each note plays like a delicate dab of a finger in a pond; the motion, the sound, ripples out slowly. But No Perfect Wave is hopeful at times, owing in no short amount to details like the trumpet on “Three Pyramids”. Think Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their least bleak. No Perfect Wave rides up to, but never passes, the moments right before Godspeed’s worlds go up flames.