Various Artists – [Album]

Monday, 14 February 2011

One look at a map of Canada tells the story of just how sorrowful a lot the province of Manitoba has been handed in life. From a national character standpoint, Manitoba is regularly forgotten; it is regularly forced to play straight man for the clowns to the left of it (the prairie provinces and British Columbia) and the jokers to its' right (Ontario, Quebec and The Maritimes) and, were that not enough, the province STILL doesn't get much opportunity to complain because it is south of the territories. To add insult to injury, Manitoba's NHL franchise (the Winnipeg Jets) packed up and moved to Phoenix, the province's CFL football team, the Blue Bombers, hasn't done anything of note in decades (their “glory years” consist of a fourteen-year stretch between 1935 and 1949, during which they went to the Grey Cup ten times but only won three) and, while Neil Young has promised to finally appear at the Juno Awards if the show is ever held in Winnipeg, the organizers have never hosted it there; it's rumored that the Awards will be hosted there in 2011, but all bets on whether Young will show up are off.

Even if Mr. Young forgets his promise, Manitoba has clearly taken matters into its' own hands to show both the rest of the country and the world what kind of stock the province has in its' entertainment reserve. A compilation album simply entitled Manitoba Music featuring twenty of the province's newest, best and brightest artists has been released, and what might surprise listeners is just how large a musical mosaic is featured.

While the bands of other city centers around Canada often carry signature inflections which help to further cement that city's cultural stereotype (lots of music comes out of Toronto, but the common tie that binds all of the bands in that scene is that the music is very polished and urbane; Montreal is diverse, but there is a uniquely francophone bent to the art, Halifax has some phenomenal pop and Vancouver is just a melting pot for everything that has ever landed on its' shores), these twenty songs are a marvelous free-for-all that genuinely expresses diversity rather than just implying it. Here, The Weakerthans rub elbows with the rough and woody edge of Greg MacPherson's scruffy take on folk and rock, Ash Koley's synth pop, the singer-songwriter delicacy of both Ruth Moody and JP Hoe, Wab Kinew's solid but slippery hip hop flow, along with no less than fourteen other sets of songwriting sensibilities that are all perfectly unique of each other. Unlike those aforementioned cities, there are no guiding principles of composition or community here that would imply all of the acts included on Manitoba Music are all from the same geographic region, but they do illustrate that there is a rich music scene brewing in the province that doesn't owe a particular debt to any one sound or style rolling out of any of the other centers. Here, the myriad artists who reside in Manitoba don't need something so pedestrian or narrow as a “scene” to produce interesting music, they simply need the will and interest to do so. The results of that will and interest are genuinely interesting here; there are enough different sounds present that if one song comes up which doesn't really suit a listener's taste, all that listener needs to do is track the album the album forward to try the next and see if that works better for them. It's a very interesting and exciting prospect, and proof positive that, in music, the dark horse should never be overlooked or forgotten.



Imaginary Cities – “Hummingbird”

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