North Stars of 2009

Five Canadian Acts Burning Their Way To International Acclaim

In its annual special report on the music scene in Canada, Billboard has tipped off readers early to the best acts emerging from north of the border, from Arcade Fire to Tokyo Police Club. As Canadian Music Week takes place in Toronto March 11-14, we continue Billboard’s tradition of talent-scouting with profiles of five Canadian acts to watch this year.

Hey Rosetta!
Album: “Into Your Lungs”
Label: Sonic
Manager: Jason Burns

The gang-size lineup of Newfoundland’s Hey Rosetta has led some to compare the band to Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Both bands have numerous members and offer engaging frontmen, and both work the grand side of rock music. Hey Rosetta offers songs that run the gamut from intimate and quiet to loud and fast, but always epic, similar to Arcade Fire’s style. The act’s debut album, “Into Your Lungs,” produced by Hawksley Workman, is full of memorable tracks, leading many critics to name the group as the next Canadian breakthrough on the international scene. For the album track “Red Heart,” the band filmed a video with director Gabriel Allard-Gagnon. Hey Rosetta is based in relatively remote St. John’s, Newfoundland, which means the group doesn’t tour as often as it should. But recent showcases in New York should boost the band’s profile.

Album: Self-titled
Label: Pheromone Recordings/Universal Music Canada
Management: Sebastien Nasra, Avalanche Productions

Montreal’s Beast has captured the imagination of Canadians (and fans abroad via several European record licensing deals) with what one pundit called “Portishead meets Rage Against the Machine.” The band is the creation of composer/drummer Jean-Phi Goncalves, and vocalist Beatrice Bonifassi, best known for her work with DJ Champion and on the soundtrack of the “The Triplets of Belleville,” .” Featuring a heavy disco stomp with the vocals of Bonifassi, Beast’s self-titled debut has come out of nowhere to become a surprise success. Combing everything from rap to soul, and jazz to funk, Beast’s eclectic nature forces listeners to approach their sound with an open mind.

Jenn Grant
Album: “Echoes”
Label: Six Shooter
Management: Shauna de Cartier

Halifax’s Jenn Grant comes across like a jazzier version of Aimee Mann. Initially part of the orch-pop band The Heavy Blinkers, Grant released her first solo EP in 2005. She followed it up two years later with “Orchestra for the Moon,” for which she filmed a video of the track “Dreamer.” Her latest, “Echoes,” hit stores in February and features Grant’s smoky vocals over well-constructed, carefully crafted songs. Characterized as a break-up album, the dark overtones of Grant’s voice and matched by an often minimal approach to the arrangements. Strings and brass instruments slide in and out, always finding their place in support of Grant’s often understated delivery. Given the multi-platinum success of Feist, it isn’t hard to envision music fans embracing Grant’s own tastefully crafted songs.

Crystal Castles
Album: Self-titled
Label: Last Gang
Management: James Sandom /SuperVision

They caused a stir in the U.K. before anyone in Canada paid too much attention, but Crystal Castles are gaining momentum like a runaway train. The band is signed with Last Gang Records supremo Chris Taylor, who found success with the similarly noisy Death From Above ’79. Much of the buzz around the band has focused on dynamic frontman Alice Glass. The band’s debut, which focuses on merging minimalist electronic tendencies with blips and beats, is a polarizing affair. But judging by their reception during opening gigs for the likes of The Cure, Cystal Castles have some mighty powerful supporters. They’ll likely gain more with a booking this June at the Bonnaroo Festival.

Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees
Album: Self -titled
Label: Youth Club
Self managed

Take a group of Halifax musicians intent on making dance music with a rock influence. Add singer/songwriter Rebekah Higgs and the result is a kind of pulsing, intelligent and yes, danceable, music that makes the floor move and puts a swing in the feet of indie kids as well. Thought Higgs’ vocals are put through an array of effects designed to modulate and distort her singing, she comes off as the star here, a diva in the making. Top it off with the fact the band seems to be taking great enjoyment in the show – dressing up, instead of just wearing the indie-kid uniform of jeans and shirts – and you have an act that could blast its way out of the clubs.
Also worth watching is Higgs, who put out a guitar-heavy solo album in 2007 and is working on the follow-up. Higgs is also playing a showcase during Canadian Music Week.