This was a great year for Canadian music, and this list only represents the tip of a pretty substantial iceberg. From extraordinary singer-songwriters to blistering punk, experimental electronica to shimmery pop, soulful hip-hop to grinding garage rock, this list demonstrates something of the breadth of talent, and the range of possibilities being explored in Canadian music today. Though it hardly represents all the great stuff that came out of Canada in the past 12 months, if you’re looking for a way in to the Canadian scene, this list isn’t a bad place to start. Stuart Henderson
A Tribe Called Red
A Tribe Called Red
A tremendously successful blend of hip-hop beats, pan-aboriginal rhythms and vocalizations, anti-racist politics, and deep-seated funk, this self-released (and still free to download, as of this writing) record by Ottawa-based First Nation visionaries is an absolutely revelatory listening experience. Electric Pow Wow, people. This is what the future sounds like.
Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou, Manitoba) continues to solidify his reputation as Canada’s foremost electronica artist. Especially in the guise of Caribou, Snaith’s genius for texture, for an almost synesthetic tangle of tone, colour, and groove, shone through at every turn. But with Daphni, Snaith explores retro dance grooves with a looseness and jagged-edged vulnerability that squares the circle of familiar/fresh. Building playful tracks that feel spontaneous, even improvised, it is his most scattershot record in a long while, but perhaps this is what makes it so affecting, so endlessly playable, and so goddamn fun.
The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
Hamilton-based singer-songwriters (and married couple) Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland have been reborn as a rootsy Americana duo, and the results have eclipsed any of their previous work. The way their voices blend and harmonize, and the splendid alchemy that is this union of stylistic approaches, the one slipping delicately alongside the other, is something to behold. But it is the songwriting that will win you over, bring you back again and again to this marvelously honest album full of timeless tunes.
The Other Side of Tomorrow
As I wrote on this site back in February: “Among Toronto’s most exciting musical voices, this DJ, producer, singer, songwriter, arranger, you-name—it has made one of this year’s best records. It sounds great, but it feels even better.” A kaleidoscope of reggae, folk, funk, pop, and 1970s-era Stevie Wonder-esque psychedelic soul, this is a hugely ambitious but still utterly accessible album. Soulful, richly melodic, and irresistibly joyful, this was the record that defined my back-porch summer afternoons.
12 Bit Blues
An album of blues music built out of samples, this is the rare case where a high-concept record overcomes the novelty of its idea. Pulling from Chicago, the Delta, electric and acoustic, guitar and piano, country and boogie-woogie, this record is both deeply reverent and radically inventive. Listen as this most elemental of genres is reimagined by this most versatile of DJs; in his hands the tracks take on a hypnotic effect, their looping, yelping, sorrowful repetitions uncovering a new depth of emotion in music that was always, at its root, about catharsis and release. This is the blues as they’ve always been, and as they’ve never been before.