Toronto musical acts put out literally hundreds of releases this year. A few of them were brilliant. Here are our 10 best local albums, mixtapes, and EPs of 2012, presented in alphabetical order. Most of them were featured in Sound Advice, although we missed some. (We only get to review one release per week, so things occasionally fall through the cracks.)
Click through the photo gallery, below, to learn more about each title.
<strong>Art Imperial:</strong> <em>Cult of Love</em><br />
Equal parts ‘60s surf rock, ‘50s doo-wop, R&B, and indie rock, <em>Cult of Love</em> is a tough record to classify and an even harder one to stop listening to. It's an eight-song EP of heart wrenching break-up music, all set to fuzzy, lo-fi instrumentals and held together by Imperial's clear tenor voice. Between his incredible singing, the classic subject matter, and his ability to work both uptempo numbers and ballads, Imperial has all the tools for stardom. If there’s any justice in the world, 2013 will be a big year for him.<br />
<strong>BadBadNotGood:</strong> <em>BBNG2</em><br />
BadBadNotGood first rose to prominence for re-imagining hip-hop hits as jazz songs. On their second album, <em>BBNG2</em>, they proved themselves to be much more than a novelty act. Sure, there were plenty of jazzifications of other people’s songs—most notably Earl Sweatshirt and, somewhat surprisingly, James Blake—but the band also brought a fair bit of new material, showcasing its members' skills as composers, and allowing each of them to flex his particular gifts.<br />
<strong>Beta Frontiers:</strong> <em>...EP</em><br />
A great, diverse electronic release from local duo Beta Frontiers, <em>…EP</em> has sounds ranging from downtempo chillouts—we’re consciously not using the term “chillwave” here—to straight-up house bangers, all united by a common lo-fi aesthetic. Between the catchy, fuzzy synth riffs and the re-purposed hip-hop vocals, <em>…EP</em> is one of the year’s most listenable releases.
<strong>Cold Specks:</strong> <em>I Predict a Graceful Expulsion</em><br />
Cold Specks is one of those artists that you have to see live in order to appreciate. Her voice is both powerful enough to make your chest rattle and haunting enough to make every hair on your body stand up. That’s almost impossible to recreate in a recording. That said, <em>I Predict a Graceful Expulsion</em> comes pretty close.
<strong>Crystal Castles:</strong> <em>III</em><br />
For their third full-length release, Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass and Ethan Kath tossed their computers aside to revel in the glory of old analogue synths, recorded on equipment from Communist-era Poland. The result was a more nuanced sound that balanced their traditional bombast with softer, creepier (and sometimes downright ethereal) material.
<strong>D-Sisive:</strong> <em>Jonestown 3: The Dream is Over</em><br />
<em>Jonestown 3: The Dream is Over</em> isn’t just the final instalment in D-Sisive’s Jonestown series, a trilogy done in collaboration with producer Muneshine. It’s also the final instalment in D-Sisive’s rap career, at least for the time being. D-Sisive announced that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26NgDpseViw">he would be on indefinite hiatus</a> following the release of <em>The Dream is Over</em>, which is both good and bad news. It’s bad news because the record marks his peak, both as an MC and as a storyteller. It’s good news because, frankly, if D-Sisive is determined to walk away from rap, it would be hard to leave on a better note. This record combines quick punchlines, clever wordplay, and complex metaphors with almost cinematic storylines to create fascinating narratives.
<strong>METZ:</strong> <em>METZ</em><br />
A perfect blend of the raw ferocity of punk with indie rock’s willingness to colour outside the lines, local trio METZ absolutely crushed everything in their path on their Sub Pop debut. An eclectic mixture of punch-you-in-the-face aggression, herky-jerky drums, and the odd surprisingly poppy hook, the album (and the band) could not have shined more brightly.
<strong>Planet Creature:</strong> <em>You're on Planet Creature</em><br />
An early version of this list had three releases from <a href="http://www.opticalsounds.com/">Optical Sounds</a>, the local independent label dedicated to psych pop and garage rock, but after much deliberation, we decided to have Planet Creature as Optical’s sole representative. Planet Creature combines ‘60s girl-group pop with late-‘70s style punk, and while they’re by no means the first band to use that combination of sounds—or the 101st, for that matter—they manage to pull it off better than the vast majority of their competition. <em>You’re on Planet Creature</em> is a brilliant marriage of sweet bubblegum vocals and manic punk energy.
<strong>Raz Fresco:</strong> <em>Cakey Pockets</em><br />
It’s somewhat odd that a rapper born in 1995 would release a mixtape so strongly influenced by the East Coast rap of the early-to-mid ‘90s, but that’s exactly what 17-year-old Raz Fresco did on <em>Cakey Pockets</em>. His flows are fast and dexterous, his rhyme schemes are complex, and his punchlines and metaphors are on point. He delivers his lyrics on top of beats that mix smart samples and boom-bap drums. (Fresco produced the record, too.) If <em>Cakey Pockets</em> proves one thing, it’s that the dream of the ‘90s is alive in Raz Fresco.
<strong>The Weeknd:</strong> <em>Echoes of Silence</em><br />
<em>Echoes of Silence</em> technically came out at the very end of 2011, but that was too late for inclusion on last year’s edition of this list. That said, it’s still very much worth recognizing. This record was Abel Tesfaye’s final independent release. It came out after he started his rise to stardom, but before he was signed by Universal. It’s also his best release to date. The hazy, drugged-out mixture of sex and sadness is filled with smooth vocals and jagged emotions. It’s the perfect portrait of an artist who’s already on the way to a fame he’s not quite sure he wants.