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Top Canadian Albums of 2020

By: Dakota Arsenault

Just like last year, I’m back with my picks for the top Canadian albums of the year.

Throughout 2020 I listened to 200 new albums exactly, with 56 of them being Canadian releases. This list is purely my own choosing, but if you are interested in seeing The Soundtrack’s list with input from all our contributors, make sure you read our Top 100 albums of the year.

Some honourable mentions that just didn’t quite make the cut include Basia Bulat - Are You In Love?, City Natives - Water & Fire, Jaunt - All in One, Lido Pimienta - Miss Colombia, Mango Reinhardt - In The Shade, Matthew Tavares and Leland Whitty - Visions, PUP -This Place Sucks Ass, Snotty Nose Rez Kids - Born Deadly EP, The Weeknd - After Hours, Witch Prophet - DNA Activation.

20. Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B

Jepsen once again put out an outtakes album that is still better than just about anything anyone is in the pop game is releasing. After 2015’s E•MO•TION, she released a B sides collection and here are the best of the rest of the Dedicated sessions from the 2019 release. While her career still seems to be curiously managed as far as lead singles go, she has transcended the pop genre and become a favourite of even your punk loving friends. On Dedicated Side B, disco reigns supreme with the sensual “This Is What They Say” and we get a cameo from Bleachers who remains a frequent songwriting partner and producer. Highlights: This Is What They Say, This Love Isn’t Crazy

19. Blue Hawaii - Under 1 House

Raphaelle Standell-Preston of Braids and Alexander Cowan return with a 24-minute EP of deep house cuts that are so great, they make you angry you can’t be out in a dark sweaty club with booming speakers right now, because *gestures wildly at everything* reasons. Standell-Preston’s voice soars over bass beats that wouldn’t be out of place at a 90’s rave, making it the duo’s most fun record yet. Highlights: I Felt Love, Not My Boss!

18. Fast Romantics - Pick It Up

Matthew Angus always wears his heart on his sleeve for everyone to see. His overwrought emotional delivery never veers to the melodramatic as you always believe his sincerity. After the Toronto by way of Calgary band’s breakthrough in 2017 with American Love, the band returns for their 4th full length album and it’s just as melodic and touching as you would expect from them. The album hits a high note at the very end culminating things with the hand clapping beat of “Do No Wrong” that is a perfect album closer if one has ever heard one. Highlights: Do No Wrong, Hallelujah, What’s It To Ya?

17. Austra - HiRUDiN

Katie Stelmanis soaring chamber pop vocals will always garner her comparisons to Florence Welch, but Austra’s dark synths and grooving bass lines will always separate the band with its witchy themes. Stelmanis plays with her vocals plenty adding some really dynamic layers including providing her own harmonies. Austra’s music is simultaneously intimate and worthy of filling the largest stadiums as each song has plenty to unearth and find new gems with each re-listen. Highlights: Risk It, I Am Not Waiting

16. Tafari Anthony - The Way You See Me

I learned about Tafari Anthony after he appeared on the excellent episode of the Wavy podcast talking about this EP. His soulful voice might be, without any hyperbole, one of the most beautiful and powerful ones I have ever heard and if it doesn’t stop you in your tracks you might as well be dead inside. His unapologetically queer love songs are refreshing in today’s music landscape, which seems to pride itself in being as opaque as possible most of the time. Tafari Anthony will be the next megastar to come out of Canada in the coming years, get on the train early with this EP. Highlights: Centerfold, One For You

15. Wolf Castle - Goldrush

Several years ago the very first interview I ever did was with a very green A Tribe Called Red and a quote they said that has always stuck with me was the idea that any Indigenous party by virtue of it even happening is political in nature. Wolf Castle, the Mi’kmaq rapper who hails from Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick, continues the trend of Indigenous artists like Snotty Nose Rez Kids putting their spin on trap music, which is political even when bigging up his drip. Wolf Castle has the type of polished studio production you don’t normally hear in underground rappers. His flow is smooth and his word play is clever as he drops references from the comforts of rez life while also having aspirations of dominating the world. Highlights: Burner Phone, Cha Cha

14. Louis-Jean Cormier - Quand la nuit tombe

Quand la nuit tombe is the third solo album from former Karkwa frontman Louis-Jean Cormier and while I don’t speak French, it doesn’t stop me from loving his larger than life album that is incredibly hard to pin down. It has the drum and bass beats of hip hop, the horn progressions of jazz, the guitars and synths of indie rock and a vocal delivery that bounces between ballads, spoken word poetry and rapping. Cormier may not be a household name in Anglophone Canada, but he’s a superstar in Quebec where he even was a judge on their version of The Voice back during season two. Highlights: 100 mètres haies, Les poings ouverts

13. METZ - Atlas Vending

The noise rock band has put out three excellent albums that blend the line between a wall of indistinguishable excess and something that resembles a traditional song structure. On their fourth record, the vocals by Alex Edkins are much cleaner (and easily decipherable) with their anger appearing much more pointed. “The Mirror” almost comes close to having a melody between Edkins searing guitar and Hayden Menzies heart pounding drumming. “Hail Taxi” has a killer distorted bass breakdown in the middle by Chris Slorach that sounds like it could be a dance beat from Death From Above. Having loved this band from the beginning, this new sound is a welcome addition to their catalogue. Highlights: The Mirror, Hail Taxi

12. Junia-T - Studio Monk

The first of three 2020 Polaris Prize nominees to crack this list is the debut album from Junia-T, first known as Jesse Reyes tour DJ, but should be now known as a producer with impeccable ability to create layered and lush arrangements that still urge you to lean back and vibe out with them. He occasionally raps on the songs, but leaves most of the vocal heavy lifting to his impressive list of guests including well known artists like Jessie Reyez, River Tiber and Sean Leon and more underground ones like Faiza (appearing on three tracks), Nate Husser and STORRY. Despite the songs seeming laid back on the surface, they never let you forget about any day to day obstacles of being a person of colour in today's world either. Highlights: Sad Face Emojis, Make It

11. Tim Baker - Survivors

The former Hey Rosetta! frontman put out his debut album in 2019 and it made last year’s best of list, but he returned with a delicate EP of more songs that are just as beautiful. The mini-offering opens with the wonderful title track “Survivors” that features Baker on piano with a jaunty drum beat and fluttering horn break in an utterly empowering track about overcoming past trauma and obstacles. The EP is mostly sparse instrumentation that highlights his soothing voice. Highlights: Survivors, Sylvan Valley

10. Andy Shauf - The Neon Skyline

After the excellent album The Party from 2016, Regina’s Andy Shauf returns with a folk album that has more instrumentation than the sparse acoustic arrangements on the previous record. Shauf continues his trend of concept albums, this time a man is out drinking one night and runs into his ex. The songs are both conversational and deal with the inner monologues inside our heads. The full sonic weight of the instrumentation comes and goes in brief glimpses sporadically throughout the album always causing our attention to be piqued. Highlights: Dust Kids, Try Again

9. Clairmont the Second - It's Not How It Sounds

Lil Mont starts his latest project off with an intro that sounds like a classic video game akin to Pac-Man, before he destroys the rap game showing why he’s been on the rise for the last few years. He seems to have multiple personalities that come out on each song like classic Nicki Minaj as he transitions from lucid bars to non sequiturs that are hard not to laugh at. He gets his brother Cola H., drummer for The OBGMs (who appear later on this list) to guest on Clockout, making it a powerful family affair. Highlights: Flip-A-Bird, Clockout

8. Born Ruffians - JUICE

It’s almost refreshing when an indie rock band puts out a straight indie rock album these days. I love my synths and pop music, but it seems like every guitar based band from the 2000’s has gone pop. The album starts out with the banger of a single “I Fall In Love Every Night” and just keeps the pace up. The album also features a guest appearance from Maddy Wilde who fronts the art rock band Rapport (formerly of Moon King and Spiral Beach) in one of the albums most tender moments. There are plenty of familiar yelping harmonies from Luke Lalonde and company that makes a Born Ruffians so enjoyable. Highlights: I Fall In Love Every Night, Dedication

7. Purity Ring - Womb

After what seemed like an *ahem* eternity since the trip-hop/dark synth pop duo’s last album (Another Eternity from 2015) we finally got a third record and it didn’t disappoint. Still present are Colin Roddick’s tumbling and stuttering electronic drums and keys that make you groove to Megan James’ trademark dark and insidious poetry that still always sounds heartbreakingly beautiful despite the gore. This album does trade the darkness of death for the potential of life and what the effects it has on a woman. Highlights: peacefall, vehemence

6. Caribou - Suddenly

While Dan Snaith has been releasing music under the name Daphni the last few years, it has been six impossibly long years waiting for a followup to the Caribou masterpiece Our Love. The album's opening track builds slowly, and after that its auditory bliss the rest of the way through. Snaith explores plenty of genres and styles of music this time around as he also provides vocals on every track, a first for a Caribou release. He finds new ranges with rap and RnB samples on back to back tracks in “Sunny’s Time” and “New Jade”. The lyricism is much more complex on this album, allowing for more stories to be told and not just repeating hooks. Highlights: Lime, New Jade

5. U.S. Girls - Heavy Light

Meg Remy has always been elusive about what is a U.S. Girls record, is it disco? Funk? Pop? Rock? Soul? Jazz? A little bit of everything? Heavy Light was my pick for last year’s Polaris Prize and I desperately was hoping her third shortlisted nomination would finally help her breakthrough and win. Alas, she didn’t, but this is a beautiful album about growing up, loving yourself and dealing with adversity. Throughout the album are voicemails from people talking about what they would tell their younger selves or how they deal with people who don’t value them, pairing nicely with her hopeful and uplifting songs. She gets a killer sax solo from Jake Clemmons, nephew of the late Big Man himself Clarence Clemmons on “Overtime”. Highlights: 4 American Dollars, Woodstock ‘99

4. Partner - Never Give Up

I wasn’t fully on board with Partner’s Polaris nominated In Search of Lost Time as it was a bit too cheesy for me. The duo’s followup still has the pop-punk spirit accompanied by humour and wordplay the genre is known for but they flirt with different avenues to use their guitars. “Honey” is a hair metal blast, while “Big Gay Hands” is a southern fried rocker, “Good Place To Hide - At The Time” is basically their version of a Rush song. Never once throughout this album do you doubt the duo is not having fun. Highlights: Honey, Couldn’t Forget

3. The OBGMs - The Ends

Somehow a ten song album just barely clocks in at 23 minutes and rocks you so hard you will swear you were just in a fight. The brash in your face Afropunk band delivers thrash music with a purpose, but the MVP of the album might be Colanthony Humphreys the trio’s drummer as he not only bangs the shit out of his kit, but he layers in some great hand percussive beats as well that give a roundedness that most punk music severely lacks. Lead singer Densil McFarlane brings the energy of a performer with a similar name in Denzil Curry on his Like a Version of Killing in the Name Of. “Triggered” will give listeners whiplash as the beat changes up midway through and you need to alter your headbanging to keep up. Highlights: Triggered, Fight Song

2. Chromeo - Quarantine Casanova

This five song EP (doubled to ten with all songs having an instrumental version included) is the right amount of fun and cheese that only Chromeo can deliver with a straight face and not creep you out. The album dropped in June, only four months after COVID quarantines and concerns had been going on in Canada. Songs like “Clorox Wipe” has the Montreal duo seductively ask if they can help all the ladies wash up, not only their bodies but their countertops, doorknobs and groceries too. They preach the safety protocols of staying six feet apart and not leaving the house like good quarantining gentlemen. Sometimes you need a pick me up when you're on yet another month of quarantines, shutdowns, curfews and markers on grocery store floors to help you stay an appropriate distance apart from our neighbours and this record is it. Highlights: Clorox Wipe, ‘Roni Got Me Stressed Out

1. Orville Peck - Show Pony EP

I seem to be a bit predictable these days. Last year I named Pony the best Canadian album of the year and I’m back with another Orville Peck release. Gone is the studio effects making it sound like you are trying to tune your grandparents old car radio and instead just some well written and performed country songs. The big news about the album was how the masked cowboy paired up with Shania Twain, real Canadian country royalty, to put out an appropriately named song “Legends Never Die”. While the song is absolutely more Twain than Peck, it still is one to keep on repeat. “No Glory in the West” might be his most melancholic song yet with its sparse acoustic guitar plucking allowing to accent Peck’s deep and emotive twangy singing voice. Highlights: Legends Never Die, No Glory in the West


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