Sloan are the princes of North Atlantic garage rock. And once again, they’re hitting our shores – well, at least a very scenic little inlet. Quidi Vidi will play host to the “Iceberg Alley Performance Tent” from September 14-24.
It’s 10 straight days of prominent Canadian acts, with local favourites, blasts from the past, and some hip, fresh faces.
And then there’s Sloan, occupying a rare and unique place in the pantheon of performers. There are few bands of the past 30 years that have made such a profound impact on the musical identity of the east coast.
Sloan was transformative – no longer were we stuck with just jigs and reels as a cultural qualifier. Atlantic Canada began to have a distinctly modern sound, replete with gritty power chords and Beatles-esque harmonies.
Sure, they had their precursors and peers. But starting with Smeared, Sloan broke through in a way that others didn’t. All four members wrote songs. They had bowlcut charisma. They harnessed the ongoing modernization of the Atlantic Canadian musical identity and showcased to the country and the world.
Their music became stylistically descriptive of what would come to be “Maritime Rock” – punchy, poppy, scrappy rock with layered voices. It was the heyday of the Canadian rock surge of MuchMusic – content laws dictated a focus on the homegrown artists and while this certainly help them gain a footing (as it did for many now-nostalgic Canadian artists), they’ve continually survived on their own merits.
The band has evolved and matured, somehow churning out 11 LPs alongside an array of side projects (check out Chris Murphy’s TUNS. Just do it). Considering they’ve made such an impact, have had such longevity, and originate only a ferry ride away, I asked a bunch of prominent local artists about their favourite Sloan album.
MIKE HEFFERNAN (Author, Musician, Photographer)
Not sure. I’ll say Twice Removed just because it is of a time and place. It’s the quintessential east coast “grunge” album. Hali was supposed to be the Seattle of the east, which was sparked, partly, by Sloan and that album.
MIKE MERCER (The Combine)
Navy Blues for sweet chord progressions and heavy Elton John piano grooves. Sinking Ships and Seems So Heavy are the highlights. I have tried and failed to see Sloan 3 times now but hope to someday succeed.
DALE DREW (Sea Dogs and Physical Graffiti)
That’s easy. Twice Removed. Front to back the songwriting is so so so good. Harmonies, arrangements, hooks. It’s got it all. Me and my wife went to their show at club one for the Twice Removed anniversary tour and man it was awesome. They did the whole album, took a break then did like 15 more hits! What a band.
NATASHA BLACKWOOD (Eastern Owl)
I love all the older Sloan albums, but I think my all-time favourite is Navy Blues. Growing up in a small town, I was mostly exposed to radio pop, classic rock, and country. When my older sister moved to Nova Scotia for university, she went to a Sloan concert, got their autograph on Navy Blues, and sent it home to me in a care package. It was the first album I ever owned that wasn’t a compilation, and where I realized that you don’t have to live in LA or be on “Casey’s Top 40” to have success with a record. I listened to it on loop for an entire year. I still have that CD, and the lyrics book is worn, tattered, and loved to death. As I got older and took periodic trips to Halifax to visit my sister, I eventually bought all of their older albums as well. The rawness of One Chord to Another encouraged me to make half-assed recordings in my basement. The dark themes on Twice Removed encouraged me to explore writing sad songs, and not worry too much about being catchy. This was all between the ages of 10-15 years old, when I was making the transition from “concert band kid” to “aspiring musician,” and it was really encouraging for me to discover a band from a familiar city that was doing their own thing. There were lots of other bands doing that too, I’m sure. But when you’ve only got dial-up, there are no all-ages shows in your town, and there’s one TV in the house, you’re exposed to what other people choose to show you. And for me, that was Sloan. Sloan put out more records than people realize, I think. They made a real transition from garage-rock to radio pop-rock… and their prime was somewhere in between. I think Navy Blues was (and still is) my favourite because it encompasses the best of both worlds, right in between. It still has those raw, grungy, sloppy moments that sound like they started in the garage, but has more sophisticated, experienced songwriting, with songs catchy enough to get stuck in your head. Just listen to “Seems So Heavy”. Man, what a jam!