Canadian content or ‘Cancon’ rules place a quota on radio programming in Canada requiring that a certain percentage of the music played must be from Canadian artists. While decried by market libertarians, there’s a reason the Canadian music scene exploded in the 1970s – the rule worked. Before its introduction, worthy Canadian acts could not get onto playlists, crowded out by high profile American and British artists. For Canadians, success in Canada would only follow making it in the United States, a path successfully taken by group like the Guess Who but few others. But from the 1970s on, thanks to Cancon, a host of homegrown acts could make a living just being stars in Canada. This Canada Day (yes, international audience, today is Canada’s national holiday), let’s focus on just two great Canadian acts made possible (at least in part) by the legacy of Cancon.
Welland, Ontario’s Daniel Romano is an irrepressible musical force, unrestrained by genre boundaries or conventional marketing strategies. Country, metal, new wave, prog rock – different musical styles are just a blank canvas for Romano to work out his songwriting and performance magic. Seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? I got turned on to his talent with his killer swinging single, “When I Learned Your Name” from 2017’s Modern Pressure. I had just had to keep hitting replay. Then his 2018 double album drop of Nerveless and Human Touch turned my head. Man, I thought, can he crank out the songs. Well 2020 has seen Romano surpass even his previous over-achieving bar, releasing seven albums so far! And with no compromise on quality. I’m going to highlight tracks from just a few of them but, really, you won’t go wrong with anything stamped Daniel Romano.
From Visions of the Higher Dream I’m digging “Where I Take My Rest” which has a nice, almost brittle 1979 sort of sound, with a great punchy change-up in the chorus. Super Pollen has a winning title track, a great barreling-forward poprock song, carried on a bed of blistering but still melodic electric guitars. But perhaps the most adventurous mix comes on Dandelion, a more mellow rock and roll rumination with touches of country and super smooth background vocals. There something so Canadian about this recording, with hints of the more radio-friendly Bruce Cockburn here and there guitar-wise. Check out the distinctive horn shots on the hit single hooky “If You Don’t or If You Do,” or the catchy rhythm acoustic guitar guiding “Silent Spring,” or the new wave keyboard on “Ain’t That Enough for You.”
Toronto’s Girlongirl describe themselves as “jangle pop smothered in grunge” and that is confirmed with “Take,” the opening track of their most recent album. I like it, but the band really get down to business in my view with track 2, the obvious single “Girls,” throwing out an irresistible guitar hook to anchor the song. This is a band with a tight, distinctive sound, typified by the dreamy rumble guitar behind “Nen” and “Burn Me” and strong vocals. Another should-be hit single is “Marathon” which alternates between ethereal jangle and grunge guitar, making the shift on the transition from verses and chorus. You can tell from the performances here that Girlongirl would be a kick ass live band. Someday we’ll get to find out …
We’re not the flag-waving, love-it-or-leave-it types up here in the great white north. Canada Day often passes with little more than a BBQ and some cranking of the backyard tunes. This time, add Daniel Romano and Girlongirl to your Cancon-inspired holiday playlist. Cancon or no, they’re most deserving.