You might notice our third annual Bands to Watch list has taken a stylistic turn from previous years. While Toronto’s rock and punk scenes mature, the electronic music and hip hop coming out of our cultural patchwork is impossible to ignore (see: the 2011 success of Austra, Azari & III, The Weeknd and Drake). A slew of local albums were on critics’ 2011 year-end lists, yet no one’s talking about a “Toronto sound” (like Montreal circa 2003 or San Francisco circa now). That’s because we don’t have one. But interestingy, we harbour fertile pockets across multilple genres, so we tried to capture a cross-section of that on this list. – Marsha Casselman, Richard Trapunski and Chris Wright

Trust

Fans of Brit-sounding male vocals in dark electro-pop will drool over the debut album from Maya Postepski and Robert Alfons, TRST, out on Arts & Crafts on Feb. 28. Mixed by Damian Taylor (Bjork, Prodigy) in Montreal, its witchy dancefloor-ready beauties will stand out in a sea of indie dance music. Postepski’s drumming for breakout actAustra, opening for DFA1979 and garnering support from TO house music exports Azari & III has created a bubble of anticipation around Trust. – MC

Teenanger

We got a sneak peek at Teenanger’s sophomore album,Frights, late last year when their label Telephone Explosion (not coincidentally operated by a couple of members of the band) decided to stream it on their website. It’s since come down and, due to a printer error, the January 24 release date moved back to some time in February, but we’ve logged enough listens to tell you the Toronto garage rockers have delivered a more-than worthwhile follow-up to their 2010 debut, Give Me Pink. Frights is full of their trademark garage-rock riffs and catchy, reverbed vocal hooks, but despite drummer Steve Sidoli’s assertion that it’s an album “about becoming an adult and all the stress that comes along with it,” it’s faster, louder and snottier than they’ve ever sounded. – RT

 

Kevin McPhee

Scarborough-bred Kevin McPhee is relatively new to the production game, yet last year found himself backed by a slew UK labels like Nakedlunch and Idlehands (i.e. those releasing big dubstep names like SBTRKT and Breakage). His three releases last year garnered him buzz, as did, we imagine, the embrace of a Pitchfork writer. He tells us in 2012 he’ll be releasing more “upbeat/peaktime productions.” His ghostly, grainy tracks and knackered remixes will be a big part of the post-dubstep and house world, (alongside fellow Toronto rising star XI). –MC

 

Holiday Rambler

Holiday Rambler is the new bluesy folk project from drummer D. Alex Meeks of Toronto indie pop darlingsHooded Fang. His debut LP There Is No End To The World, And Nothing Can Shatter The Earth, out Feb. 14, is described as “folk songs entrenched in the spirit of the American South,” but he’s not afraid to get philosophical in his lyrics. Rambler plays the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture on Jan. 21. –MC

Brownman

Trumpet master Brownman Ali has rep’d Toronto’s jazz scene for years but plays a big part in its hip hop crossover. A former soloist for Jazzmatazz (crew of the late Gang Starr legend Guru), Brown will tour his own jazz-hybrid Gruvasylum Syndicate in Canada this year. The 11-man crew now with both New York and Ontario rappers has been called “a Wu-Tang Clan of jazz-hip-hop”, with buzz that Jeru Da Damaja may be joining the outfit. Expect the second album from Gruvasylum, Brownman Electryc Trio and his latin-jazz band Cruzao out this year. Not to mention insider sources tell us Brown’s been called on to work with THE biggest producer in pop music’s history. Can you guess? –MC

 

Rich Kidd

Given Drake’s domination, Weeknd’s rise and Raekwon setting up shop here, the climate is right for more of TO’s urban artists to ascend to global status. Rich Kidd has emceed for years, opened for Clipse, and now lends his gravel voice on the Canadian scene, but it seems he’s got a better grip on producing. We’re talking beatmaking for Redman, Drake, Saukrates, K-OS and others. His fifth mixtape in the We On Some Rich Kidd Shit series featuring the likes of Rah Digga, Redman and Shad makes him a key player in funky hip-hop. This year he’ll produce a new project called Naturally Born Strangers with MCs Adam Bomb and Tona. -MC

 

BBNG

BADBADNOTGOOD (let’s call them BBNG) were the toast of hip hop fans last year. The Humber College students’ unique jazz-hop covers of Odd Future found a huge audience (including Tyler the Creator’s and Gilles Peterson’s), and the band followed that up with delightful covers of A Tribe Called Quest, Flying Lotus and now Kanye. Look forward to more free downloads this year. This is the kind of thing that is best seen live, so make sure you take in a show of theirs in 2012. – CW

 

Co-op

Co-op is a Toronto duo producing smooth, aqua-like techno. The first single by Karim Sultan (keys/guitar) and Oreste Camarra (sequencing/mixing) was a success according to Thoughtless label head and Canadian techno vet Noah Pred. This year will see them release a remix, EP and possibly a full-length. And you might want to catch them live: They actually move their bodies – a breath of fresh air in the often stiff world of live techno. They join Arthur Oskan as Toronto’s rising techno stars. -MC

 

Sonic Avenues

While some poppy punk can’t seem to escape the teenage male viewpoint, some of it really matures well. Montreal’s Sonic Avenues have named their sophomore LP Television Youth (out Jan 31 on Dirtnap), but it’s not just for young folks. Songs have crisp structure, with just enough fuzzy, scratchy overlay to sound like it came out of a garage. Their harmonic french-tinged vocals are combined with hints of piano and surf guitar reminiscent of 60s groups. This album is a catchy, garage rockin’ gem. – MC

Fadin’ Luv by Sonic Avenues

Odonis Odonis

Falling somewhere between Dick Dale and Joy Division (I realize this might not be helpful, you should seriously listen to this band), ex-Ten Kens guitarist Dean Tzenos’ new project capped off 2011 with their debut album,Hollandaze. The album has gathered a lot of kudos (we thought it ruled) for its scary-good injection of surf rock vibes into post-punk noise, and Odonis Odonis will release a follow-up, Soft-Boiled, Hard-Boiled this spring. – CW

 

Indian Handcrafts

This duo from Barrie must have been utterly baked when they settled on a band name. This will become clear when you listen to their music, a brash and incredibly listenable channeling of 90s stoner rock. They’ve impressed the folks over at Sargent House, who announced they’d signed the band and will put out a record in March of 2012. All this and a gig at Edgefest 2012? This is a band you’ll want to keep an eye on. – CW

 

Absolutely Free

DD/MM/YYYY were favourites of ours from the beginning,so we were sorry to hear about their breakup back in November. But it didn’t take long for four/fifths of the band to reunite as  Absolutely Free. There’s no music up online yet, but in an interview multi-instrumentalist Moshe Rozenberg told me the band is “sort of like a kraut-rocky version of DD/ MM/YYYY, but played by Martians… a lot more drums, a lot more synthesizer and more groove, [with] a real monotonous outer space vibe.” Sounds promising to us. They’ll play their first Toronto show on Jan. 20 atDouble Double Land, and their debut album should follow soon behind. – RT

Burning Love

When Burning Love released their debut LP, we were surprised to hear it was possibly the most accessible thing T.O. hardcore veteran Chris Colohan had released, slathered with his trademark Cursed growl, but teeming with clean, chunky stoner rock riffs. In a, interview for NOW, Colohan told me the band was about to hole up in Salem, Massachusetts to record their sophomore album and their first for renowned metal label Southern Lord (Boris, Earth, Sunn O)) ).) Regarding the album, already titled Rotten Thing To Say, Colohan said: “It’s getting louder, rougher sounding and there are points both slower and faster than any BL material yet… Ideally it’ll be simultaneously sharp, loose and low in the ways we want it to be, and abrasive at the same time.” Could be an even more substantial crossover.