By: Dakota Arsenault
Personally, I think Canada puts out the best music in the world. Sure, I’m biased because I’m surrounded by it and have access to see artists before they blow up to levels of Arcade Fire or Drake, but I will put Canadian artists up against anyone else and think they are better. I track the music I listen to on a spreadsheet trying to almost exclusively listen to new albums. This year I logged 295 albums with 76 of them coming from the great white north and here are the best of the bunch. The top 10 are more in-depth including song highlights, 11-20 are more condensed reviews with some honourable mentions at the end because I just had to fit in so many names.
1. Orville Peck – Pony
Not only is this the best Canadian album of the year, in my opinion it is the best record hands down. I wrote about it on The Soundtrack’s Album’s of the Year post and you can hear me talking about it on the first episode of the Wavy podcast discussing the best albums of the decade. For those unaware, Orville Peck (not his real name) is a masked cowboy singer who released his debut record this year. He (supposedly) was a drummer in a middling punk band in Montreal before switching to make a country album that he always dreamed of doing. Listening to him croon about Rodeo Queen’s (a drag queen) and lost loves you can’t help but notice the influences of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Dolly Parton. He is like a memory of an old country song with added haziness that makes the memory fainter while also deeper. Even for people that don’t normally listen to the country will let out a hearty yeehaw after listening to this album. Highlights: Turn to Hate, Kansas (Remembers Me)
2. PUP – Morbid Stuff
The Toronto punk rock quartet broke through the mainstream in 2016 with The Dream is Over and the hometown classic DVP, but followed up their guttural screams with Morbid Stuff, the band's third output. There were fears that the band wouldn’t record a new album after lead singer Stefan Babcock’s throat issues from too much screaming. After getting a taste of success the band turned their attention inwards and poured out all the self-loathing and depression and made an even catchier record. The band was again shortlisted for the Polaris Prize (and were unfortunately robbed) but they solidified the turmoil that regular people have to bubble under the surface. Highlights: Kids, Sibling Rivarly
3. Dave Monks – On A Wave
The Tokyo Police Club lead singer and bassist turns away from indie garage rock and picks up an acoustic guitar and showing off his tender side. The album has a feel of early 70’s singer-songwriter tunes as he explores different themes and stripped-down compositions. The title track is mostly just piano and drums and gives the listener some time to meditate with Dave. Highlights: On A Wave, Love Fades
4. Loud – Tout ça pour ça
I wasn’t familiar with Montreal rapper Loud before this year, and finding info on him in English is few and far between. But listening to his music you don’t need to know much anyways. Most of his songs are in French but he throws in one-liners in English a few times per track. His beats hit hard, you bob your head and groove along but with the bombast, there are hints of darkness in Loud’s delivery. He gets jazz-pop vocalist Charlotte Cardin to do a bilingual feature on Sometimes, All The Time about long-distance relationships that showcases the duality of Loud’s music. Highlights: Sometimes, All Time, Longues vie
5. Badge Époque Ensemble – Badge Époque Ensemble
This new Toronto jazz-fusion group is lead by Slim Twig (Max Turnbull) who has been putting out wildly innovative records for over a decade and has been an integral part of his wife’s project U.S. Girls. While groups like BADBADNOTGOOD made jazz cool again, they haven’t been putting out great material for a while now. Enter Badge Époque Ensemble where the music sounds like the wildest sounds of 70’s rock, slick guitar solos, flute crescendos, and killer drum beats. This is an instant stoner classic. Highlights: Milk Spilt on Eternity, Undressed in Solitude
6. Clairmont the Second – Do You Drive?
The Toronto rap scene has exploded since Drake and while there have been many artists that have positioned themselves the opposite of him, lyrically and stylistically, Clairmont the Second might be the best of the bunch. Blending early Chance the Rapper style beats with laid back Texas flows you have a recipe for success. He even had a verse on the Polaris Prize-winning Haviah Mighty record from this year (Clairmont was long-listed but shamefully didn’t make the final ten). Highlights: Grip, Grain
7. Half Moon Run – A Blemish in the Great Light
The Montreal group has been making music that blends heavy rock experimentation of Foals with the folk tendencies of City & Colour, but might have produced their most grandiose album yet. Utilizing more string sections than previous albums allows for more feelings to seep into the cracks. The band ditches their folk influences for large chunks of the album too, completely reinventing what a Half Moon Run album sounds like. Highlights: Then Again, Jello on My Mind
8. Daniel Caesar – CASE STUDY 01
Much like how Frank Ocean turned the slick pop RnB album Channel Orange into the meditative Blonde, Daniel Caesar also made a deeper and less accessible album than his hugely successful Freudian from 2017. CASE STUDY 01 still showcases Caesar’s perfect vocal prowess, but delves deeper into his psyche (ironic considering his previous albums name) discussing what turns him on. The album also has some killer features from Pharrell Williams, Brandy and John Mayer’s guitar. Highlights: CYANIDE, ARE YOU OK?
9. Leif Vollebekk – New Ways
It has been three long years waiting to hear the sweet voice of Vollebekk and his last album Twin Solitude. He is as groovy as ever, making you want to find a partner to slow dance sensually with as his piano playing wafts between the two of you. If you’ve never listened to Leif Vollebekk, it is a perfect time to check him out. Highlights: Never Be Back, Transatlantic Flight
10. City & Colour – A Pill For Loneliness
Gone are the days of stark acoustic songs like Save Your Scissors as Dallas Green has finally recorded an album that his live shows sound like. I first saw him live during his The Hurry and The Harm tour and was surprised at how much country and western influences he paired with shoe gaze-like guitar playing. This album explores sounds in ways we haven’t heard him do before and it is all for the better. He is finally able to make “rock” music under his own name (sort of) without worrying about it being confused with his band Alexisonfire.
Highlights: Living in Lightning, Strangers
11. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
Jepsen spurned catchy bubblegum pop of Call Me Maybe for catchy bubblegum pop of E•MO•TION. Wait that doesn’t sound right? Carly took the formulas and somehow cranked up the depth of her lyrics and put out another instant classic with Dedication.
12. Haviah Mighty - 13th Floor
Brampton has been a hotbed for art the last few years and Haviah Mighty cemented its place on the rap scene with her phenomenal debut 13th Floor that won this year’s Polaris Prize. You rarely hear straightforward rock and roll music these days, but the Kingston group keeps cranking out arena bangers that make you want to crack open a 2-4 and party all weekend.
14. Blue Hawaii – Open Reduction Internal Fixation
Blue Hawaii is the side project of Raphaelle Standell-Preston of Braids who has a deep house affinity. Their music screams 3AM in the club when you've been dancing all night and need a bassline injected directly into your soul.
15. Snotty Nose Rez Kids – Trapline
Kitimaat duo Young D and Yung Trybez continue pairing hard-hitting beats with stories about life on a reserve and why they are proud to be indigenous. It hits harder than you would think.
16. The Beaches – The Professional
Despite only being a 5 song 16 minute EP, this album rocks out and is more memorable than most other releases this year. The east end Toronto group keeps showing off why it is so cool to be in a band with your best girlfriends.
17. Daphni – Sizzling EP
Dan Snaith who records under so many names it is hard to keep track (Caribou, Manitoba, Daphni etc.) but it really doesn’t matter because everything he produces is a solid gold dancefloor banger. He goes full disco on this EP and makes you want to get your platform boots out boogie down.
18. Tim Baker – Forever Overhead
Former Hey Rosetta! frontman Tim Baker puts out his debut solo album that pairs back his former bands lush sounds but keeps his tender and deep lyrics making his voice the main draw here.
19. Wintersleep – In The Land Of
Halifax folk-rock band hit it big a few years ago with Amerika and have followed up their radio-friendly tunes with more great listens. Beneficiary might be their best song yet.
20. Sum 41 – Order in Decline
They were one of the best pop-punk bands of the early 2000’s, then they fell off and they have reinvented themselves as an actual power metal band. No joke, they rock really hard and there is no irony to it. Trust me I’m surprised as you that they put out an album this solid too.
The rest of the best honourable mentions are in alphabetical order:
Alice Merton – Mint, Basic White – The Second Half, Dominique Fils-Aimé – Stay Tuned!, Dwayne Gretzky – Dwayne Gretzky, Girlfriend Material – Cool Car, GRAE – New Girl, Moon King – Voice of Lovers, Ralph – Flashbacks & Fantasies, Riit – ataataga, TOBi – Still