Best of 2014 Colorado VIPs: Carleigh Aikins of Paper Bird

We've asked some notable members of the Colorado arts scene, whom we dub "VIPs," to share their favorite music of 2014.

First up is Carleigh Aikins. Aikins is among the newest members of Colorado's music scene, as she joined local folk-rock band Paper Bird as a lead vocalist this year. She has performed professionally as a vocalist for many years, and shared the stage at last year's Denver Music Summit with members of The Head & the Heart, Chimney Choir and more.

Aikins hails from Barrie, Ontario.

Photo: Carleigh Aikins of Paper Bird
Carleigh Aikins

My Top Ten Canadian Releases of 2014 (that I hope Americans will get to know)

Spending most of my time touring the U.S extensively, I've come to fall in love with countless American artists, and the musical communities they inhabit.

Yet, as I travel, I’ve found myself asking my American friends: “Have you heard of THIS Canadian band?” And, to my surprise, the answer is usually a resounding: “NO.”

Artists who influenced me to find interest in music itself seemed to be virtual unknowns once I crossed over the American border. Our country has so much to offer the world with its diverse music scene, yet it’s a proven challenge for our artists to reach a listenership in the southern regions.

I've comprised a list of Canadian artists who have influenced, excited and informed me the most this year alone; but this is just the tip of a musical iceberg waiting to be discovered and appreciated by music enthusiasts just south of our Canadian soils.

Now that I am officially a part of an American band, I’ve made it my personal mission to infiltrate as many U.S ears as possible with the music that defines us as Canadians.

  1. Zeus - "Classic Zeus" (Arts & Crafts): The members of Zeus have shaped the way I listen to music: they spent their younger days crafting their songwriting under the tutelage of the Beatles, Beach Boys and Queen, played on tape through boomboxes. Their latest effort, "Classic Zeus," is indeed an instant classic; one that might even be best listened to through an old fuzzed-out tape player. This, their third full-length release, once again showcases the three songwriters’ uncanny ability to merge their common influences to create (and produce) irresistible pop rock tunes, alternating between instruments seamlessly. A must-see live experience, Zeus is the number one band I have introduced my American friends to, and I am always met with a “Why didn’t you show me this sooner?!"
  2. The Weather Station - "What Am I Going to Do With Everything I Know" (You’ve Changed): Colorado music patrons fell in love with Tamara Lindeman when I convinced her to join me as one of two Canadian artists to perform at the Denver Music Summit. Recorded in Ontario and North Carolina, this EP showcases Lindeman’s beautiful, fragile vocal stylings (akin to another Canadian songstress named Joni Mitchell); yet with a songwriter’s voice uniquely her own. Her honesty and vulnerability draw you in as if she is whispering to you, and her lyrics make you want to sit by a fire contemplating those delicate questions of love, that we don’t always have the answers to.
  3. Basia Bulat - "Tall Tall Shadow" (Secret City Records): I tagged along this year for The Head and the Heart’s first headlining Canadian tour, and Basia Bulat was their support. Petit in stature but tall in talent, Bulat blew audiences away on that tour, as she has been for years; juggling multiple string instruments, including a dulcimer and an autoharp that she wails on as if it were an electric guitar. Her 2014 Polaris Prize performance of the single "Tall Tall Shadow" stole the show, and exposed her flawless and powerful voice as she accompanied herself on the piano. This woman is a huge inspiration to me with her work ethic, her immovable talent and her strong sense of self, which is revealed on this, her rawest record to date.
  4. The Barr Brothers - "Sleeping Operator" (Secret City Records): Montreal’s The Barr Brothers are beginning to make their mark on American audiences, by tirelessly touring their unique ambient folk soundscapes, created through innovative instrumentation and a tender delivery. They’ve been hauling their harp, banjo, guitar, organ and even a bicycle wheel (see them live) across the nation. Their recent Letterman appearance left Dave raving that he and Paul Schaeffer wanted to be their new managers. Seemingly, it’s catching on in America. And how could it not? Their music is heartbreakingly beautiful, and this record is a masterpiece.
  5. Stonetrotter - "The Truth Don’t Look The Same To You And Me" (Self-released): To me, Stonetrotter is one of our country’s best-kept secrets, and hopefully not for long. Dave Allen’s rich and brooding voice is brimming with a sombre wisdom well beyond his years. His incredible band brings delicate three-part harmonies and their Canadian-bred folk sensibilities to breathtaking and meticulously crafted songwriting. They just self-released an EP produced by Andrew Shropshire, recorded on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment on a sleepy farm in Creemore, ON. It doesn’t get more Canadian than that. Their EP is available on iTunes.
  6. Wax Atlantic - "Wax Atlantic" (Self-released, available on Bandcamp): Dave Dalrymple has spent many years cutting his teeth playing for some of Toronto’s most respected artists. Those artists have long been urging him to present his own material, and this debut record is the sweet answer to everyone’s prayers. "Wax Atlantic" is driven by Dalrymple’s flawlessly soulful tenor voice and his accomplished piano chops. His songs are a perfect amalgamation of the many folk and rock influences my generation of Canadian musicians were raised on, done in a way that only a skilled player such as Dave could. Plus, he finally had a chance to invite a cast of Toronto’s most beloved musicians (members of Hayden, Zeus, Jason Collett, Yukon Blonde, Julie Doiron) to play on his psych-infused indie rock songs.
  7. High Ends - "Super Class" (Dine Alone): Vancouver’s Jeffrey Innes, frontman of Canada’s beloved Yukon Blonde, took time out of his main projects’ insane touring schedule to create a debut of his solo synth-driven pop, with a little help from his friends: members of The New Pornographers, LadyHawk and Gold & Youth. The result is pretty infectious and I am hoping people got the chance to catch it during their recent American tour.
  8. Alvvays - "Alvvays" (Polyvinyl): Lead vocalist Molly Rankin comes from a lineage of Canadian traditional folk royalty (The Rankin Family), yet Alvvays’ self-titled debut seems to have made a name for itself internationally. Polyvinyl put the record out and saw it hit #1 on US college charts, and their surfy, dirty guitar pop has generated hits like "Archie, Marry Me" which is already being covered live by an American you may know, [Death Cab for Cutie frontman] Ben Gibbard.
  9. Doug Paisley - "Strong Feelings" (No Quarter): Paisley’s timeless songwriting harkens back to a time of purity; as if his country songs were written sixty years ago on a porch somewhere in the south. He has been praised and listed as a top songwriter by publications such as Rolling Stone and MOJO, and his talent is what keeps him in legendary company. This record features the likes of Mary Margaret O’Hara, Bazil Donovan and Garth Hudson (yes, of The Band). So, listen to it already!
  10. Mac DeMarco - "Salad Days" (Captured Tracks): DeMarco has generated a lot of attention with his strange antics and outspoken weirdness, but his quirky, catchy psych-pop is what makes him really stand out. DeMarco is a small-town Canadian boy who finds himself now living in Brooklyn, and "Salad Days" was recorded (and documented on film) in his low-frills apartment. It garnered him a shortlist nomination for the prestigious Polaris Prize this year, despite his obvious aversion to such formal accolades. He was recently detained by campus police at UCSB for climbing the rafters during his own set. His infamous live antics coupled with his irresistible tunes makes it nearly impossible to score a ticket to his shows here in Canada.