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Off Key: Oh, Canada!

 by Ben Horowitz
 published on Thursday, February 16, 2006

Horowitz/issues/arts/695780
Horowitz
 

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Oh, Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north! How we do occasionally envy thee for thy snowy slopes and picturesque forests. For thy universal health care and talented pool of hockey players.

Thy horseback mounted police are undoubtedly cooler than ours, oh Canada, with their red shirts and funny hats. And thy lumberjacks are surely friendlier.

Alright, so despite the jokes often made at Canada's expense, they do have a few things we Americans can be jealous of.

These Canadian observations come from my recent observation that a surprising amount of bands getting a lot of play on my iTunes are not American.

Yes, they may sing without adding "eh" to the end of every line, but many of my favorite bands are, in fact, Canadian.

Comparing Canada's Juno Awards to their distant cousin, the Grammys, may be a good place to start to investigate how this has happened.

The nominee list for the Feb. 8 Grammys read like a "who's who" in American music for the past decade. With a few exceptions, many of the artists who were up for honors have been making music readily available to the public for years -- even some of the "New Artist" nominees.

In fact, two of the most relatively new bands on the various lists, Franz Ferdinand (Scotland) and the Arcade Fire (Canada) aren't even American.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that there is a lack of talented American bands. The question is, why does it take a band like Death Cab for Cutie years to be considered for a Grammy, when their sound hasn't changed much over that period of time?

In the meantime, a plethora of relatively young new bands are rumored to be in the running for top honors at this year's Juno Awards. The nominations haven't been officially announced yet, so I stooped to browsing Canadian gossip websites (which are just like the American ones, only more polite).

The Arcade Fire and a band called Wolf Parade were a hot topic of discussions for their debut albums, Funeral and Apologies to the Queen Mary, respectively.

The Constantines, also a personal favorite, have been mentioned for their latest, Tournament of Hearts. Other indie darlings rumored to be up for nominations include Broken Social Scene, Metric and the New Pornographers.

Former nominees include the Weakerthans, whose literate alternative country ballads make perfect road trip music, and whose bass player, Greg MacPherson, might be up for an award this year for his album of Springsteen-esque anthems, Night Flares.

Unlike the Grammys, which sport international bands in various categories, all of the aforementioned bands are Canadian.

None of these bands sound much like anything you'd hear on the radio today -- but they're still all incredibly listenable. They all have a knack for respecting the legacy of past pop musicians, without being afraid to add their own voice to the mix.

Not to say that radio here in the southern portion of North America is necessarily bad, but what is it that keeps the variety off of our airwaves?

Until we resolve that issue, we can at least take comfort in one thing: Canada's rap scene can't hold a candle to ours.

Reach the reporter at benjamin.horowitz@asu.edu.



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