Top 10 Halifax Artists of the ’90s

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut January 11, 2016

The Halifax Pop Explosion isn’t just a music festival, it’s a name used to describe that sound that came out of the Nova Scotia city in the early ‘90s. Sub Pop and other labels came to town looking for the next Nirvana, only to find the next Mudhoney. This is a list of 10 such acts that stood out, including videos that you used to have to tape Much East to catch.

10. The Heavy Blinkers

“Something Clean and True” from Hooray for Everything (Pleasant Street, 1998)

This is not a band I would consider a ‘90s band, but the baroque pop collective’s debut came out in 1998, so here we are. I had no idea this tune existed until I went searching for it, and just like everything else Jason MacIsaac and co. deliver, I ate it up.

9. Hip Club Groove

“Shootin the Gift” from Trailer Park Hip Hop (murderecords, 1994)

Canadian rappers are the only ones who seem to tell it like it is in their videos – here’s a duo + DJ playing a local dive talent contest, being judged by the audience (and a judge) and being chased out of the place. They don’t suck, though, as nothing that came out on murderecords ever really did. This video may have been lost to the ages if it weren’t a strange precursor to Trailer Park Boys (or if Buck 65 didn’t show up to tell them to steal third). Fun fact – DJ Moves and and Derek “MC” Mackenzie joined Len, who had that one mega hit, and Cory Bowles performed with Aide-de-Camp. And yeah, that’s Jonovision at the beginning, twanging away.

8. Jellyfishbabies

“Alba” from The Unkind Truth About Rome (Pathetic Romantic, 1990)

This Halifax quartet imploded before the explosion, but influenced the CanRock climate in many ways (its members went on to be in Jale and Doughboys). While this record was released when the band made the big move to Toronto, it’s definitely got that Halifax sound. After a third record, 1993’s The Swan and the City, the band was donezo.

7. Sarah McLachlan

“Possession” from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (Nettwerk, 1993)

This video is ridiculous, but the song makes me think of that episode of Due South where Fraser is in love with that woman from CSI: New York and she’s a crook or something, and it’s a two-parter, and she totally uses him but still loves him, so it’s kind of a heart breaker. Anyway, did you know Sarah McLachlan was born in Halifax?

6. The Hardship Post

“Watchin’ You” from Somebody Spoke (Sub Pop, 1995)

This one is from the band’s only full length, and it’s a killer. It looks and sounds like almost every band today, which says something.

5. Plumtree

“You Just Don’t Exist” from Predicts the Future (Cinnamon Toast Records, 1997)

Yes, Scott Pilgrim. Yes, all-girl band. But Plumtree was much more than a footnote, and continues to influence a whack of acts. The quartet even has a YTV Achievement Award. Dig deep. Listen to the records. They’re on iTunes if you can’t find them in the used bins.

4. The Super Friendz

“Up and Running” from Slide Show (murderecords, 1996)

I used to wait up and watch Much East every Sunday night to see if they’d show “Karate Man” because it made me laugh and made me play air guitar. YouTube doesn’t have “Karate Man” so we’ll go with this one, which could be a Sloan video from that same year. I still don’t know why these guys didn’t blow up.

3. Jale

“Not Happy” from Dreamcake (Sub Pop, 1994)

Two albums and an EP is all we got before this quartet parted ways shortly after the release of 1995’s So Wound. Deceptively sweet with a killer edge, Jale never blew up, but we’ll always have a thing for them.

2. Thrush Hermit/Joel Plaskett*

“From the Back of the Film” from Clayton Park (Sonic Unyon, 1999)

The rockumentary thing hadn’t been totally killed by parody at this point, but I don’t think I even understood the satire at the time, I just thought these guys looked cool. Yeah, it’s from the band’s final record, and they maybe have more significant works to discuss, but Plaskett going “yeah” near the end gets me every damn time.

“News of Your Son” from In Need of Medical Attention (No Alternative, 1999)

I remember there was supposed to be this final Thrush Hermit tour, the Frontman War Tour, with Local Rabbits and Super Friendz, and Plaskett got sick, but the Internet seemed to think he was already jumping into his solo debut, and that record came out around the same time as the final Hermit disc (Clayton Park). I was just a dumb kid in Winnipeg getting my news once a month from Chart Magazine at the time, so I had no idea what was going on until it was too late. This video is great because it is so anti-video. One take. One guy. One song.

1. Sloan

“The Good in Everyone” from One Chord to Another (murderecords, 1996)

You knew it would be Sloan.

I had never seen Easy Rider, but I loved this video the second I saw it. After I had seen Easy Rider, I loved it even more. The details the band and director Mike Andringa put into the shot-for-shot scene (including Jay dressed as Phil Spector’s character, complete with “Back to Mono” pin) make this one important and silly and classic. That, and it was on Big Shiny Tunes, and you know you have that. We’re all glad Sloan made this record as a send off, only to stay together for the kids.

*Yes, very different. Yes, many different people involved. But Joel fronted the mighty Hermit (yes, he shared vocal duties, but … it’s my list, so yeah).