How many bands can come from a single town in 20 years? A thousand? Seems like a low estimate, somehow. This storied burg has a musical history deep enough to drive a ferry through every half-hour---about the amount of time it takes for some kids on Agricola to put up a new Bandcamp page.
Because so much music comes from here, everybody would tell you something different were you to ask what you should hear. There is no such thing as definitive in music, but were you to gather the following tracks, you would glimpse a cross-section of the kind of art made here. Can't find anything you like? Pick up your own guitar. That's how we do.
I was in grade eight when "Underwhelmed" came out. You probably weren't alive, but that's no reason to ignore history. The Next Seattle years of Halifax music---in the mid-'90s, every A&R rep was looking for a new scene to exploit, even Canadian ones, when there were still many labels to be represented---is really where shit starts, April Wine and The Cutting Crew notwithstanding. There are lots of people who were there (maaaaan) who could tell you about the real deep cuts, but if you've got some Sloan, Superfriendz' "Karate Man," Thrush Hermit's "French Inhale" (and some solo Joel Plaskett of course, maybe "True Patriot Love"), Plumtree's "Scott Pilgrim"---which would be necessary without the movie thing---"Sick" from Rebecca West, The Inbreds' "Sense of Time" and anything from jale's Dreamcake, you've laid yourself a foundation.
The Next Seattle of my generation was the short-lived but glorious Dependent Music era. Dependent was one of the early artist-run, co-op-style collectives, started in Yarmouth by Brian Borcherdt ("Co.," from The Remains of), whose stellar solo material is offset by his more prominent career as leader of Holy Fuck (and, aptly, co-runner of Toronto's Hand-Drawn Dracula). The most successful artist on the Dependent roster is Wintersleep, and though "Weighty Ghost" propelled them through the ranks, it's the moody, explosive "Orca" that hooked ears in the first place. Other seminal records from Dependent include Contrived's Dead Air Verbatim ("Surrounded by Genius"), Jill Barber's Oh Heart EP ("A7th Minor"), one of heavy meadows' self-titled records ("Wilderness") and Kary's Light (title track).
In recent years, Halifax has been awash in so much singing-songwriting that a festival, In the Dead of Winter, was created in 2006 to accommodate the wealth. One of the best among them is Jenn Grant---if you can find her debut EP, Jenn Grant and Goodbye 20th Century, you'll hear an awesomely scrappy version of "Don't Worry Baby," which was re-recorded all nice by the CBC for Orchestra For The Moon. Amelia Curran's catalogue is extensive at this point; "You Won't Find Me" is a good place to start while longtime audience fave "The Mistress" finally made it to tape last year on Hunter, Hunter. Old Man Luedecke's banjo backs up some of the best lyrics we've got, including the gentle anthem "I Quit My Job." David Myles fights for his feelings in "Love Again" from his second record, Things Have Changed. Matt Mays is considered a rock guy but some of his best work was in the much-missed Guthries ("Patsy Cline"); he reached a career high on the epic title track from Terminal Romance. The Guthries is also where Ruth Minnikin started as a teenager, and her solo career has been bountiful---check out "Horsetail Clouds" from Marooned and Blue. Meaghan Smith is one of the few major label success stories since the Next Seattle years; her Sire debut spent years in the can, but now everyone gets to hear "If You Asked Me."
Two hot scenes right now are beach-pop---say hello to Long, Long, Long ("Mennonite Men"; and predecessor York Redoubt's "I Said Slightly"), Cold Warps ("Hang Up On You"), Duzheknew ("It Came Out the Other Side, OK")---and dance-pop---Rich Aucoin's "It", Windom Earle's "Kitten vs. Pegasus" and Jenocide's "Transparent" will get you moving.
Other local hits to be included based on pure undisputed awesomeness are Classified's "Find Out," In-Flight Safety's "Surround," Buck 65's "The Centaur," The Heavy Blinkers' "I Used to Be a Design," i see rowboats' "In Cars," Al Tuck's "Can I Count on You?," The Prospectors' Union's "Flaming Death," Tom Fun Orchestra's "Watchmaker," Skratch Bastid's "The Dirty Dirty," Dog Day's "Rome" and Black Moor's "The Human Disease."
You must either begin or end with "I Have Made You a Mixed Tape" from Daniel Ledwell's EP, Two Over Seven, a throwback to high school days when the only way to express our feelings perfectly was to carefully select and compile songs that said exactly what we couldn't. (So it's not a throwback, after all.)