Top 10 Sask Songs of 2017

2017 was the year alternative country defeated indie rock and Saskatchewan cultivated a sound that resembled the soul of the working family. The salt-of-the-earth, beer and potatoes-type of people. The people you're likely to meet every day around here. 

Artists like Colter Wall, Blake Berglund, Megan Nash, Gunner & Smith,  and the Deep Dark Woods all bring with them a flare for early mornings, home-cooked breakfasts and slow small-town existence. It's the picture outsiders envision when they think about Saskatchewan. It's a wholesome vision that sets Saskatchewan apart from the rest of the country. 

There isn't a lot of glamour and glitz to this stuff, but it's raw and passionate and it means something to a lot of people. I'm gonna label it Sask-core. 

2017 was the year of the Sask-core explosion.

But even outside of the countrified stuff, 2017 was a great year for Saskatchewan artists. Def 3 fronted the hip-hop scene. Metal was as popular as ever and rock music made a resurgence with acts like One Bad Son and the Pistolwhips gaining huge amounts of attention around the country. Even traditional country singers like Jess Moskaluke and Tenille Arts put out their strongest works to date.

After much thought and debate, MJ Independent, brings to you, the Top 10 Songs By Sask Artists in 2017. 

1. Colter Wall - Kate McKannon

Could you possibly start a song off with a better opening salvo then "well, a raven is a wicked bird, his wings are black as sin"?

In Saskatchewan, 2017 was the year of Colter Wall. Mind you, so was 2016. And most of 2015 too. He could have easily had 4 songs in this list, but I resigned myself to limiting it to one song per artist. He's that good. Saskatchewan could soon get something out of Colter Wall, that doesn't come to these parts too often: an international success. He was signed by Rick Rubin, promoted by Brock Lesnar, played Nashville with Lucinda Williams and had songs featured in Hollywood movies on two separate occasions. All this for a 22 year old from Swift Current. The kid is going places. 

His self-titled, debut album is full, front-to-back with instant classics. His thick baritone reminiscent of Johnny Cash and his songwriting even more menacing. "Kate McKannon" stands out as the most instantly memorable track on the album. And like The Deep Dark Woods, he carries on that tradition of local artists penning really great murder ballads.

I can't recommend this enough; if you haven't yet listened to Colter Wall you are doing a disservice to your fellow countrymen.

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2. Blake Berglund - Heat of the Sun

Regina's Blake Berglund sharpened his musical fangs on a cattle farm in Kennedy. It comes across in his sound. A sound that, largely spearheaded by artists like him, has become synonymous with life under the living skies. Alternative country. It's like country music for people who don't much care for country. 

Berglund's fantastic debut full-length, Realms, is an "allegorical concept album about the breadth of human experience". There are a lot of great tracks on it. But "Heat of the Sun" stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Lines like "Well I worry if my thoughts don't change/ the ones that I might entertain/ define a man as simply overcome" set Berglund ahead of the pack as a lyricist; and where he may lack in vocal range, he makes up for it with raw emotion. 

"Heat of the Sun" is gonna make some women swoon and some men want to become musicians. 

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3. Brodie Moniker Even Birds Return

Brodie Moniker is basically the David Bowie of Saskatchewan. Always evolving. Whether it's in beards, blazers and shades with his group Fancy Diamonds, fuzzy animal costumes with PandaCorn or carnival gear with Brain Sauce, he has been pushing musical boundaries in this province since 2006.

His solo project, Nowhere Left to Ghost, sees him at his most introspective, and possibly his best.

"Even Birds Return" is his brooding au revoir to his home city, Moose Jaw. He claims he was driven to leave after over-hearing people make light of a downtown building fire.That goodbye wasn't easy for him and it seems as if he has resigned himself to the fact that one day he will find himself living there again. You know...because, "Even Birds Return"...

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4. Def 3 - Small World (Feat. Del the Funky Homosapien, Moka Only & the Gaff)

If you're a local hip-hop head, you can appreciate how cool it is that a rapper from Regina managed to get Del The Funky Homosapien to cameo on his record. But that's becoming standard fare for Def 3. He has also shared the stage with some of the rap games all-time greatest: Nas, Ghostface Killah, Onyx,  even Maestro Fresh Wes. Def 3 is producing the quality of music that brings this sort of attention and recognition.

"Small World" is the title track off of his sophomore record; produced by Late Night Radio. Not only is Del featured on it, but so is Moka Only, a Canadian hip-hop legend. It seems Def is making all the appropriate connections and releasing all the appropriate material necessary to make a heavy impact in hip-hop.

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5. Shooting Guns - French Safe

Shooting Guns have remained busy over the years; and they built up quite the collection of accolades in the process. Besides creating music that has been nominated for Junos and Polaris Prizes, they found the time to record the score for WolfCop.

Heads up. Shooting Guns is a dirge-y, hyper-repetitive doom-metal band and they don't have a singer. It's straight up metal for long drives; perfect for chugging along, a little over the speed limit on a highway late at night. "French Safe", from Flavour Country, is quintessential Shooting Guns. A wall of cinematic sound. Thick, charging guitar riffs. The stoic destruction of Mylar drum skins. It's all messy vans, Agalloch, Sleep, sludge and bong tokes.

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6. Deep Dark Woods - Fallen Leaves

Deep Dark Woods are the musical equivalent of Flannery O'Connor or William Faulkner. A sound that belongs in the locust-filled valley's of the deep American south. Its this sound that has made them one of the most positively received bands in the province over the last decade. It's all murder ballads and gallows gossip.

"Fallen Leaves" comes off their sixth album, Yarrow, and, as could be expected, it's about death and dying and burying a loved one. According to the band, they were attempting to recreate the sound of Texas Tornados keyboardist Augie Meyers. What they ended up with was a harrowing glimpse  into bereavement and the deep, dark and impending loneliness.

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7. Close Talker - Okay Hollywood

Although one wouldn't think of this province as a home for indie-rock, There was a time, not that long ago, when Saskatchewan was inundated with these bands, each one vying for whatever share of the hipster-pie they could sink their teeth into.  That's changed. The market drifted, most of those bands either folded or took on other incantations. Only the absolute best of the indie groups survived. That's where Close Talker reigns. At the top of the heap. The pinnacle of prairie cool. 

"OK Hollywood" comes from their latest album, Lens. The production quality is amazing, but that's what happens when you work with the guys who produced The Arcade Fire. Alex Quiring's voice has become its own distinguishable entity. Not unlike what James Mercer's voice does for the Shins or Andy Hull's for Manchester Orchestra. It's possible to envision him singing almost anything and making it completely his own.

Close Talker is able to repeatedly capture emotion better than any other act in the province and "OK Hollywood" is the perfect example of that. 

8. Megan Nash - Bad Poetry

"I wish I had carved my bad poetry/into your back while you were asleep/ a little something to remind you of me".

I'm gonna go on a limb and say this song isn't necessarily a personal anecdote but more of a protagonist/antagonist story in which millions of people can be expected to relate. Yeah man, we all want to get back at ex-lovers who have jilted us. "Bad Poetry" is an archetype; and it's a hell of a rock song to boot. 

From Moose Jaw, Megan has been a recording artist since 2011. Her latest output, Seeker, came out in September. She is now recording with Bears in Hazenmore as her backing band, allowing her to take everything up a few notches from her previous work as an ethereal solo artist.

Her charm and work ethic, mixed with hits like this, are why Megan Nash has become one of the province's most formidable names and talents. There's no telling how high her ceiling is. 

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9. Rehashed - Killing Spree

A lot of people might question the decision to include Rehashed in this list, because the style of music Rehashed plays, is, for many,  extremely difficult to listen to. They blend hardcore punk with thrash metal. A genre commonly known as "crossover". It's loud, it's fast and it's super aggressive and abrasive. And, if you like that loud, fast and aggressive, it's a lot of fun.

I don't think people in Saskatchewan realize what they have here in Rehashed. This is largely in part to people in Saskatchewan (or everywhere else in the world, really) not concerning themselves much with crossover music. It certainly isn't the most marketable of genres. But as far as crossover is concerned, I have a hard time finding a band that does it better than these dudes from Saskatoon. And I mean that literally. These guys are (arguably) the very best in world at what they do. 

   "Killing Spree" is off Government Cheese, their second full length album. 

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10. Taylor Jade - Ghost

Taylor Jade is a talented young lady from Saskatoon...and she's currently "going through a phase". Everything about her is strange. Her fashion, her voice, her lyrics. All of it. Strange. But it works. The girl's got chops. 

Her first album, Dreamy is the Night, was released in November and the first single from it; "Ghost" is a hair-raising journey into her gothic-yet-folksy mind. It's about a ghost that comes out at night and weeps the weepery of a broken heart. The track is so completely void of subtlety,  that it takes on an air of psychopathy or delusion, one could easily come to the conclusion that this ghost is actually haunting Taylor in real life, not unlike the reaction Robyn Hitchcock received when he released the similarly eerie "My Wife and My Dead Wife" all the way back in 1985.

It's a harrowing track with an incredibly catchy chorus. Taylor Jade might not have the same name recognition as most of the others on this list, but she can write a hook as endearing as any of them. 

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