Having spent much of my youth haunting basement shows around the Toronto, I feel somewhat qualified to write this list. However, it's an impossible list to write without forgetting someone, injecting my own biases, or ignoring something essential. So I will just say that this is my own personal perspective on the Toronto punk scene that I've witnessed. I won't be ranking albums that came out before I was born (sorry Viletones!), I won't be including bands from surrounding towns outside of Toronto city limits.
The modern Toronto punk scene gets a lot of love from the org-core and punk blogosphere corners of the internet. To the average reader it might seem a bit tedious at this point, but in assembling this list I do find a common thread of influence and a distinct sound that is unique to the city. I would describe the sound as being a lo-fi garagey bleakness, with a back-to-basics austerity in the production. Of course, not all bands on the list conform to that sound, many have carved out their own niche in the city.
10. Fucked Up – Epic in Minutes
This is the first full length release from Fucked Up, a compilation of their early singles and EPs. Fucked Up can be a tough band to get into, a lot of their stuff is experimental or conceptual and requires a strong attention span to penetrate. This early compilation is the best place to start with them. It's kinda like their version of Black Flag's 'First Four Years', filled with simple and memorable anthems that don't require a PhD to appreciate.
Best Song: Baiting of the Public
9. The Flatliners – Destroy to Create
Before their time on Fat Wreck Chords, the Flatliners were a ska-punk band in the spirit of Operation Ivy, Choking Victim, or Assorted Jelly Beans. They went on to stop playing ska, embracing a midwestern punk sound. But still, every time they bust out one of these old ska gems at a show the place erupts into chaos. The Flats have gone on to write a bunch of cool albums since this one, but there's just a 'je-ne-sais-quoi' to this record that makes it a timeless genre classic.
Best Song: Fred's Got Slacks
8. Brutal Youth – Stay Honest
Brutal Youth are a crazy mix of 7 Seconds and Kid Dynamite. Their live show has pro wrestling theatrics, with Patty bashing the microphone so hard on his head it draws blood. They keep almost all of their songs under 2 minutes, but still manage to surprise you with unexpected turns and riffs buried in the frantic intensity.
Best Song: 53°
7. Cunter – 20
Cunter is a 'supergroup' mostly made out of the remnants of the popular emo band Moneen and Alexisonfire. Every song this band puts out is an unrelenting shred fest, with no breaks, slow downs, or ballads. They're the perfect band to listen to driving a motorcycle down an empty highway after quitting your job and leaving town forever, like a modern day Poison Idea.
Best song: Blackout
6. Brutal Knights – Feast of Shame
Brutal Knights are an often forgotten band that were on the forefront of Toronto's hardcore revival in the early-mid 2000s. They presented a mix of Toronto's blackened thrash rock sound with the energy and unpredictability of bands like TSOL and Germs. Their shows were always worth going out to, because you never knew what would happen in the chaos of their live environment. Eventually their frontman decided to ditch the music, and focus on being a stand-up comedian.
Best Song: I Do Nothing
5. Black Lungs – Pagan Holiday
This is Wade from Alexisonfire and Gallow's side project, and while it might seem skippable sitting beside those giants, 'Pagan Holiday' is one of the most succinctly pure examples of Toronto's gloomy punk sound. Musically and lyrically you can hear a lot of influence from the LA and Hollywood scenes of the 80s, but what makes the album special and not merely nostalgia, is the cold austerity of the record's production giving it a uniquely Torontonian sound. The lyrics paint a bleak picture of modern city life, 'Schizophrenics and stolen bicycles, smoking crystal meth out of a lightbulb'. While some nods are given to their Hollywood influences, Jeffrey Lee Pierce's 'For Love Of Ivy' sounds completely natural and not at all out of place on this record.
Best Song: Stay Out Of Parkdale
4. Pup – S/T
There's not much I can say about these guys that the readers of this blog don't already know. They are Toronto's punk rock equivalent to Drake. 'Started from the bottom, but we're heeeerrreeee!'
Best Song: Dark Days
3. Cursed – II
While existing in relative obscurity for most of their existence, Cursed is probably the most influential band on this list. Their brand of blackened crustcore has a reach of influence that extends from Mass Grave to Fall Out Boy. Their second album 'II' is Chris Colohan at his lyrical best, often buried under layers of lo-fi brutality. While probably being abrasive and challenging to most ears, this album delivers at a depth that few others in the genre can. It is not to be missed.
Best Song: The Void
2. Death From Above 1979 – You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
This is the canonical band that gave rise to the bass and drum player two piece punk band trend that was popular in the middle 2000s. Despite the band's short lifespan, and some qualms on the unevenness of this album, their influence and scope is difficult to ignore especially considering the constraints the band was working under. Without guitars and with lo-fi production Death From Above were able to make a danceable hit record that broke out of the weird Toronto art scene, making it into the pages of Rolling Stone and NME.
Best Song: Cold War
1. Burning Love – Songs For Burning Lovers
While not the most popular, nor the most influential on this list, this record is my personal favourite out of Toronto. It was born out of the demise of Cursed, and offers a mix of Toronto's signature punk sound with 70s rock riffs, not unlike Sheer Mag. Every song on this thing is a banger, every riff is classic, all the solos shred.
Best Song: Gain
This top ten was written by Mick Hutchinson of the Toronto punk band The Bare Minimum, their new EP 'Where the Buses Don't Come' can be download for free here: https://thebareminimumband.bandcamp.com/album/where-the-buses-dont-come