The year 2020 is one that many artists and music fans would prefer to see in their rear view mirror. A global pandemic essentially destroying live music, at least the live music culture we’ve come come to know over previous years. In Eastern Canada quite a few music venues shut their doors, much to the disdain of music seekers; notably places like Call The Office in London, Ontario, Katacombes in Montreal and The Matador Ballroom in Toronto. And there are countless more venues closing or hanging on by a thread. Not just here, but everywhere. Without these venues and live performances however, many groups didn’t slow down recording and releasing records up in the north.
Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll focus on a few Canadian releases that impacted the underground music scene during the pandemic-stricken year.
Before we get there, first we’ll pay honourable mention to the Canadian Punk Rock legend, Mr. Chi Pig of SNFU. With 8 studio albums and countless live performances since forming in 1981, Chi Pig is hugely influential on Canadian music. His impact is felt beyond Canadian borders, with artists like Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More) citing his influence on his music. His legacy lives on and his impact on the underground music scene is felt internationally.
Honourable Mention: SNFU, Cement Mixer (Track, 2019)
The final track recorded by Chi Pig, released shorty after his passing.
Canadian Underground Records from 2020
1. Ripcordz, Don’t Buy The First Album, Jerk Wad. Get This One!
Speaking of influential underground punk rock bands, that list should not be complete without including a record from proudly Canadian Montreal punk rockers Ripcordz. Their 17th album since forming in suburban Montreal in 1980 ‘Don’t Buy The First Album, Jerk Wad. Buy This One!’ is their first with newly joined drummer Gopal D (Reset). Any time you listen to a new Ripcordz record it feels like you’re hanging out at a show in a less than favourable environment, unless you’re a punk. The band certainly doesn’t hold back their influences, writing songs about friends along the way, places they’ve seen and throw in a touch of political events that have shaped their music through the years.
2. Terminal City Rats, Year Of The Rat
Street punk Rock n Roll hailing from Vancouver, this record has some classic west coast Canadian punk vibes: fast drums, multi-vocal parts, the basslines are simple when they need to be and run around at the right parts. Plus they definitely make good use of the word “Whoa!”. You can certainly hear elements of ‘The Rebel Spell’ make its way on to this record, and I’m totally alright with that. I don’t think anyone would accuse the City of Vancouver of not producing some of Canada’s finest punk rock over the years. Terminal City Rats have done a pretty solid job on this one keeping that reputation going.
3. The Mahones, 1990-2020. This Is All We Got To Show For It. Best Of 30 Years.
I know what you’re thinking, a ‘Best of’ record on my list. Whatever. There’s not many bands that can lay claim to being at the top of their game for as long as The Mahones. Not just in Canada, but internationally. The Toronto-based Celtic punk band tours extensively overseas to legions of loyal followers. In fact, the band was mid-tour in Germany at the beginning of the pandemic and spent several weeks on lockdown waiting to return home. That certainly didn’t slow down frontman and founding band member Finny McConnell much. Not only did he return home to complete the production of remastering these tracks at Telejet Studio in Toronto, he also returned to Europe for an acoustic tour when the restrictions lifted just enough to do so. That work ethic is prevalent throughout the band’s history over the past 30 years. The record is available as a 10 track green vinyl or on CD which includes nine additional tracks.
4. Fuck The Facts, Pleine Noirceur
The Ottawa based, Juno Award nominated Grindcore band returned with their first record in five years. To put it mild, it rips. It’s dark and has everything you want to hear on a grind record. The drums are technical, the guitars are morbid sounding and the vocals are powerful. This record certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s the type of stuff that will give your neighbours nightmares and make sure they lock their doors at night. It’s their 11th studio record since forming in 2007 and it’s out on Relapse Records.
5. Cancer Bats, You’ll Never Break Us // Separation Sessions, Vol 1
Certainly not a record that you would necessarily come to expect from a heavy hitter like Toronto’s Cancer Bats, but expect the unexpected. Another former Juno Award nominee, this record captures the bands darker influences with a southern acoustic driven vibe that takes you through some earlier tracks, re-envisioned for this EP. It’s definitely worth taking the trip through the seven songs and a must-listen for followers of the band. The record’s purpose is to raise awareness of the clean water crisis facing First Nations communities throughout Canada, with proceeds donated to Water First.