Take a deep dive into the five projects nominated for Album of the Year.
See the complete list of finalists in every category. Watch the awards show on May 7 at 8pm via YouTube or Rogers TV, Channel 22 in Ottawa.
Ottawa’s music community was forced indoors over the last year. Gone were the nights of discovering the city’s budding talent on open mic stages or fighting back exhaustion on night five of a festival. Although those nights may someday return, in 2020 we also mourned the loss of many of our favourite local venues, including The Bourbon Room, Pressed, Bar Robo, and Cinqhole. The lack of live music allowed for more time to sit with one’s record player and reconnect with albums old and new, including several albums from local artists.
Solitude often spawns creativity, and despite not having anywhere to play this year, many of Ottawa’s hardest-working artists released career-defining albums in 2020. As we approach the second annual Capital Music Awards, we decided to take a closer look at five definitive Ottawa records vying for the coveted Album of the Year award.
Double Experience – Alignments
Formed in 2011 under the name “Colfax,” Double Experience has been rocking venues across Ottawa for the past eight years, building a large coalition of devoted fans in the process. Alignments was actually released as three EPs between November 2019 and March 2020 before being compiled together as a full-length album. Alignments might also be the first Dungeons and Dragons concept record in existence, as the songs on each EP were shaped around the Good, Evil, and Neutral “moral alignments” from D&D.
Double Experience is at their best when blending pop hooks with hard rock guitars, as evidenced on “Perish Song” and “New Me.” Album standout “New Me” features a rising anthemic chorus that would have the power to rock fans at the top of any stadium’s rafters.
Alignments is loaded with guitar solos, and “New Me” features one of guitarist Brock Tinsley’s finest. Despite being the heaviest album nominated this year, Alignments is not without its sugary moments, including the radio-friendly pop of “My List.” Album closer “Alignments” finds Double Experience showing off their full range of dynamics, as the band shuffles from an onslaught of raucous guitars to Ian Nichols’ hushed vocals on the verses.
Top Track: “New Me”
Andrew Cassara – Freak on Repeat (Deluxe)
Like many of you, I am left with only faint recollections of the concept of a “party” prior to the pandemic. Thankfully, listening to Freak on Repeat allows every room you’re in to instantly transform into a club. The title of the album comes from a lyric on “Bad Bad,” where Cassara’s vocals are reminiscent of Patrick Stump during that period when Fall Out Boy went dance. Andrew Cassara’s energy is contagious, and “Gimme Bass” is sure to be a pump-up club anthem in Ottawa’s club scene. Cassara lists the Backstreet Boys as one of his primary influences, and their influence is particularly felt on “Dancing Mono.”
It’s no surprise that Freak on Repeat is also nominated for Best Production and Arrangement, as the entire album is coated in a glossy sheen that accentuates the dance party vibe of each track. Although the full record is guaranteed to get you moving, we shouldn’t pigeonhole Cassara as only an electro-pop musician, and “You Are” showcases the full range of Cassara’s talent as he sings in a near impossible falsetto.
Top Track: “Funkadelic”
Céleste Lévis – Noël tout autour
It would be an injustice to write off Noël tout autour as just another Christmas album. Frankly, I have never listened to a holiday-inspired album with so much depth before. Céleste Lévis possesses a voice rich with character which captures both the joys and the secret sadness that the holiday season can elicit, as best exemplified on the title track. This isn’t your traditional Christmas album, as Lévis has assembled an outstanding group of musicians who provide an organic texture to a genre of songs that can often sound two-dimensional. Lévis wrote eight of the ten songs on the album, and despite the album title, many of these songs can be enjoyed year-round.
Céleste Lévis is a brilliant vocalist (listen to “Minuit chrétrien” to experience her full range), but even her incredible talents come close to being upstaged by the talented musicians on this album. This is best exemplified by the rising crescendo on “Par la cheminée,” which grows from contemplative piano to pure chaos as Lévis swoons over a tornado of drums and guitars. Noël tout autour is also nominated for Best Production and Arrangement, and Lévis’ memorable Session Live Officielle Complet performance earned her a nomination for Virtual Performance of the Year. Tune in on Friday night to watch Lévis perform live during the broadcast.
Top Track: “Noël tout autour”
Marie-Clo – Shell(e)
Is there anything that Marie-Clo can’t do? In her young career Marie-Clo has already performed in musicals worldwide, graced the stages of Canada’s biggest music festivals, and has even starred in an Aero chocolate commercial. Anticipation had been growing for Marie-Clo’s breakout album since she announced the first of her three Shell(e) EPs early last year. Featuring the empowering “Animals Eating People,” it was evident that Shell(e) would be the defining project of her career once released as a full album.
Shell(e) is sonically rich from start to finish, and the pulsing synths on songs like “Lève tes voiles” can instantly augment the mood of any listener during the grey days of Spring. With an indie-rock staccato guitar line and pop hooks delivered with a voice steeped in blues, “At Ease” is emblematic of the many feel-good tracks spread across Shell(e). The album was produced by Marie-Clo, Polaris Prize shortlisted drummer Olivier Fairfield (Timber Timbre, Leif Vollebek, Fet.Nat), Greggory Clark (Pony Girl, Gianna Lauren, Old Cabin), Julien Dussault (Pony Girl, mal/aimé, Gianna Lauren) and it’s shocking that Shell(e) didn’t also earn a nomination for best production. Marie-Clo was nominated however for Video of the Year, and her “At Ease” music video captures an epic vintage-store dance party like no other (directed by Aaron De Silva).
Top Track: “The Noise”
Paragon Cause – What We Started
Time travel is best enjoyed with friends, and on What We Started, Paragon Cause takes the listener by the hand on a trip back to the late 1980s. The alternative/electro-pop duo composed of Michelle Opthof and Jay Bonaparte teamed up with Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes for a record heavy on electric gleam and undulating rhythms. Wagner had produced their previous EP, Lies Between Us, and returned as more of an active creative collaborator on What We Started, becoming an honorary third member of the band.
What We Started is one of the more creative and sonically eclectic albums nominated this year, and there are new aural layers to be discovered with each subsequent listen. “Silent Prayer” transports the listener on a trip that shifts from a synth dreamscape to pulsing drum-and-bass to shoegaze all on the same track. Paragon Cause fans won’t have to wait long for new music, as they have a new album set to be released this month (another collaboration with Sune Rose Wagner) and recently released a new video for “Making Up for Lost Time.”
Top Track: “Without You”
The 2nd Annual Capital Music Awards will be held Friday, May 7 at 8pm on Ottawa RogersTV (channel 22). This special one-hour broadcast will be streamed via YouTube. Read more on apt613.ca or visit ottawamic.com to find out more about the other 2021 nominees.