Top Toronto Albums
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Top Toronto Albums

Photo by Sylvain Dumais from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Old people, prepare to get pissed off. SoundProof Magazine asked a whole bunch of Toronto bloggers—Torontoist’s staff included—and asked them to make a list of their favourite Toronto albums ever. The results are in, and though 158 albums got votes (!!), the list is very recent-album heavy: Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it in People shoves some old dude named Neil Young out of the way to take the top spot, and Feist and Final Fantasy both make appearances for each of their two records, with Feist’s The Reminder (you know, that album she released two months ago) landing at #11.
SoundProof‘s list, you say?
20. The Rheostatics – The Blue Hysteria
19. The Barenaked Ladies – Gordon
18. Main Source – Breaking Atoms
17. The Constantines – Shine a Light
16. Glenn Gould – The Goldberg Variations
15. Final Fantasy – Has a Good Home
14. The Diableros – You Can’t Break the Strings of Our Olympic Hearts
13. The Deadly Snakes – Porcella
12. The Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions
11. Feist – The Reminder
10. Feist – Let It Die
9. Holy Fuck – Holy Fuck
8. Hayden – Skyscraper National Park
7. Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
6. Metric – Live It Out
5. Rush – 2112
4. Death From Above 1979 – You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine
3. Maestro Fresh-Wes – Symphony in Effect
2. Neil Young – Harvest
1. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People
For added commentary, check out SoundProof‘s full Top Toronto Albums feature. Because we care, Torontoist staffers’ slightly-more-aged picks (plus our hopefully well-founded justifications for them) are after the fold.

Torontoist’s Picks

Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

A classic Toronto Album in every way. Recorded in Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity, by a bunch of upper middle class kids from Etobicoke, the album’s low-energy cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” led to the album becoming a dorm-room classic across North America (which is why I personally hate it). Lead singer Margo Timmins later went on to marry Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, who was involved with the fundraising scandal that pushed Toronto Liberal MP Sarmite Bulte out of office.

Femme Generation – Brothers & Sisters, Alone We Explode

This is my pick for best Toronto album in recent years. It’s impossible not to get into this album. It has a twinge of 80s style totally reinvented into a sound that actually sounds, well, new. The album sounds just as good live, and their shows are something else…imagine a school dance that didn’t make you want to vomit because it only had the fun elements—streamers, balloons, confetti—and everyone got really into dancing. It’s a CD that I haven’t taken off my iPod since I put it on there last year, which I think says it all.

The Hidden Cameras – Mississauga Goddam

I fucking hate Mississauga. Every person I’ve ever met from the suburb is awesome, but the suburb itself, that little tract of land between the city and nowhere, is horrid: everything is too quiet, too isolated, too familial, too inaccessible, too unindividualistic. Witness the title track of the Hidden Cameras’ 2004 release; an ode to the area that Joel Gibb, the band’s leader, couldn’t wait to leave: “Mississauga people,” Gibb sings, “Carry the weight of common evil / And go about their lives / With a whisper and a whine about Mississauga goddamn.”
The rest of the album is less Toronto-centric, but the band itself—and its endless collection of members and former members—has been omnipresent in Toronto over the past few years, with alumni like Owen Pallett going on to great success. In one of Mississauga’s catchiest songs, Gibb proclaims, again and again, “I want another enema.” Thank God that he was cleansed of Mississauga long ago and headed downtown.

Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt

Two albums by Toronto bands made history in 1991. The first set the bar for the best-selling Canadian independent release of all time, and the second leap-frogged it for the same honour. First, there was Shakespeare My Butt: a tightly-written collection of highly literate, folk-pop tunes. From beginning to end, it was a great album, and it still stands up today. “Rosy and Grey,” “Bleed a Little While Tonight,” “Subversives,” and “Letter from Bilbao” stand out as that rarest breed of pop animal: the intelligent, yet catchy love song. These tunes made their way onto a fare share of mixed tapes, especially those produced by lovesick, Henry Miller-reading, long-haired, first-year English majors. The second album to make history that year was a little tape with five goofy songs made by a band fronted by two chubby guys from Scarborough. The tape and the band were called “Barenaked Ladies.” If you had been taking bets at the time as to which of these bands would go on to become world-famous, the smart money would have been on the Low, but the band’s infighting tore them apart before we could really find out what they were capable of achieving.

Maestro Fresh-Wes – Symphony In Effect

Symphony In Effect by Maestro Fresh-Wes is—nearly twenty years after it debuted on the charts, and well before the great 90s explosion of hip-hop—still the best-selling Canadian hip-hop album of all time. Great Canadian MCs like k-os, Choclair and Kardinal Offishal all owe a debt to Maestro blazing a trail, and clubgoers owe him a debt for “Let Your Backbone Slide,” which still gets spun in the clubs even today.

Main Source – Breaking Atoms

There are those who would say Breaking Atoms doesn’t deserve to be on this list. Recorded primarily in New York by a group made up of two Torontonians and one New Yorker, Breaking Atoms may not be Canadian enough for the CRTC, and is pretty low on T-Dot references.
All that said, it’s a golden era hip-hop classic. It contains one of the best songs about love gone sour in any genre of music (“Lookin’ at the Front Door”), the only song to ever use sports as a metaphor for police brutality (“Just a Friendly Game of Baseball”) and a guest spot from a then-unknown Queens teenager named Nas (“Live at the Barbeque”). In a time when rappers from outside of New York and L.A. were few and far between, two Torontonians held it down.

Platinum Blonde – Standing In The Dark

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.” It opened with a nod to the BBC program Listen With Mother, and in 1983, Platinum Blonde’s Standing In The Dark dropped like a bomb on the Canadian music scene. Influenced by Mark Holmes’ post-punk Brit heritage and 80s peers like Duran Duran and The Police, Standing In The Dark was an instant New Wave classic, featuring the hit title track, as well as the smash “Doesn’t Really Matter.” With poignant comments on acid rain, the Cold War and broken marriages, many of the album’s best tracks were smarter than simple radio-friendly glam-pop from four bleached boys in tight pants.
These days, the era’s sound has been emulated by bands like The Faint, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers and Kaiser Chiefs, and the debut album from the Toronto-based peroxide purveyors still holds up today—and deserves a re-listen.

The Quintet – Jazz At Massey Hall

The room was only one-third full (there was a title fight on at the Gardens) and Charlie Parker showed up with a plastic saxophone, but this concert—which includes Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach—is considered one of the best in jazz history. If you don’t dig be-bop, that might not mean much to you, but it’s hard not to listen and, from that moment on, find yourself randomly asking people for, “Salt peanuts! Salt peanuts!”

Rough Trade – For Those Who Think Young

Perhaps more politically than musically groundbreaking, Rough Trade’s sexually explicit and often very funny lyrics set over synthy new-wave pop music was deliciously controversial in Toronto. Lead singer Carole Pope (who was romantically involved with British songstress Dusty Springfield, who appears on this record) favoured bondage gear over jeans, while co-songwriter Kevan Staples’ androgyny was both compelling and confusing. Opening track “All Touch” was the band’s most commercially successful single. Peaches might not exist without this band.

Sarah Slean – Night Bugs

Sarah Slean’s baroque-cabaret pop bridges the gap between the elegant music of yore and whimsical modern pop. Night Bugs is decadent, honest, haunting and just off-kilter enough. The album’s rollicking centerpiece, “Sweet Ones,” is her best known song—and for good reason. The way she drawls, “Come over to the sweet ones baby, I’ll tell you where to go” in that sublimely sparkling voice, who could resist?

Smile – Change of Heart

In an era when I lived and breathed the Toronto Indie Rock community, COH was legendary. The band’s leading force, Ian Blurton, even showed up in one of my twenty-one year-old self’s dreams as a shaman. If Ian was the rock gawd of the scene (he hates that portrayal, but it’s apt), Smile was my oratorio. It was recorded live-off-the-floor without overdubs—except for a tiny little part of “Coma”—at Reaction Studio in 1992, and the recording method perfectly suited the band known for its scorching live shows. It’s a concept album that doesn’t seem like a concept album until you realize there are no “hits”—except “There You Go,” which was well-received on radio in…Saskatchewan. I wore through two copies of the cassette before CDs were invented.