The best Canadian albums of the millennium

The best of Canada, (from an American’s perspective)

20. Single Mothers – Negative Qualities (2014)

As a style, punk rock has always been rooted in emotional expression, or at least pessimism, but sounding legitimately irate on wax has often been the Achilles’ heel of bands whose rage is rendered contrived when translated in a studio. On Negative Qualities, Single Mothers’ first full-length album was a stellar effort on that front, tossing out vividly pissed-off imagery and lucid notions left and right. The album’s lyrical quips are all punctuated by plenty of solid riffs.

19. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (2011)

The concept of the rock opera has become something of a lost art. The always prolific Fucked Up went out large and loud on their artistic statement, David Comes to Life. The album’s themes of love and self-discovery relate on a universal scale as well as in the context of a structured narrative. And up against these brick-house guitar arrangements, the script serves as just an added level of emotional investment.

18. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (2015)

Emotion presents a more unified front than Carly Rae Jepsen’s lone hit “Call Me Maybe.” A-list songwriters and producers such as Sia, Devonté Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, Shellback and Greg Kurstin help Jepsen focus her bubbly pop effervescence into a cohesive sound that hits an irresistible sweet spot.

17. Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)

Kaputt utilizes 80s sophisti-pop, new romanticism and FM adult contemporary to deliver a wonderfully messy dive into maximalism. Atop that, it’s filled to the brim with twinkling synths and wailing trumpets and saxophones.

16. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator (2014)

The opening titular track is about as complex as Impersonator gets, with skeletal, off-kilter strings and vocal loops intersecting each other before Devon Welsh’s bulletproof baritone charges in with contemplative lyrics about insecurity and isolation. The rest is a chilling hatch patch of minimalistic electronic as desolate as Montreal winters that can fill a room with its ambition.

15. Women – Public Strain (2010)

While clinging to the lo-fi grit that made them such a varied but equally compelling group, Women broadened their horizons for this sophomore album. Two years in the making, Public Strain is more urgent than the debut in that the melodic parts are more corrosive, the tension is more palpable, and the shimmering, razor-sharp sonics are more evocative.

14. Ought – More Than Any Other Day (2014)

More Than Any Other Day snapshots the same kind of primal energy in all of Ought’s influences and filters them into a collection of songs that seamlessly volley between biting political punk and jittery post-punk finesse.

13. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (2009)

For their debut, Japandroids hit the ground running on Post-Nothing, a warm, endearingly jumbled disorder of fuzzy guitar, ecstatic drums and overly-optimism lyrics yelled in unison by guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse. The album’s childlike presentation is at times juvenile, but it captures a brand of buoyancy and nostalgic reminiscence for societal defiance that’s impossible not to bash along to.

12. Women – Women (2008)

At its most melodic, Women’s debut is a blend of noise and songcraft that adheres best when the band taps into its pop side. Underneath these nuggets of nervy, cavernous cacophony are some of the best distillations of high-octane pop of the millennium.

11. Grimes – Visions (2012)

On Visions, Claire Boucher further expands the esoteric sound she fostered on her past efforts, where her songs hovered in an infinite space loop one moment and hit the dancefloor in the next. Boucher’s baby-voiced vocals are so divisive yet intoxicating that you can’t help but envelop yourself in her otherworldly soundscapes.

10. White Lung – Deep Fantasy (2014)

Vancouver B.C.-based punks White Lung reached a blistering peak on their 2014 album, Deep Fantasy. The record is an unrelenting assault of thrash-crossover mastery. The intricate guitar leads and arresting vocal performances from singer Mish Way contribute to a rewarding set of songs that swirl by in less than 20 minutes.

9. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Wolf Parade enlists producer Isaac Brock on its debut, Apologized to the Queen Mary, using his attuned ear as a source to tinge their chrisp indie pop tunes into something larger than life, producing cinematic grace while acknowledging their debt to post-punk bands of yesteryear.

8. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (2008)

On their self-titled debut, Crystal Castles churn out eight-bit noise as auditorily challenging as an Atari game’s soundtrack. These sounds churn into something chaotic, and oftentimes moody pop with a warped exterior. It was an especially revelatory sound in an age defined by technological paranoia and uncertainty.

7. Crystal Castles – (II) (2010)

Crystal Castles are, at their core, an electropop band. But on the follow-up to their instant classic debut, the band takes the disjointed sonic trickery it specializes in and pushes its stylistically singular sound to new heights. (II) has a much darker, melodic edge and punchier sonics than its predecessor, while elaborating on the more ethereal components the band ventured into on its debut.

6. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012)

With an abundance of jumpy, anthemic chants as hooks, sung from the perspective of a naive young-adult on the verge of adulthood, Celebration Rock delivers on the earth-shattering ruckus, youthful gusto and fiery fervor Japandroids delivered with their debut, Post-Nothing.

5. New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005)

Twin Cinema is a sharp and abundantly enjoyable indie record which never lacks in its references to pop music. This is thanks to the zestful performances, contagious hooks, simplistic production approach and quick-wit writing, usually from the articulate vocabulary tongue of its members.

4. Preoccupations (FKA Viet Cong) – Viet Cong (2015)

Despite the eclectic range of industrial and post-punk viewpoints, Viet Cong manages to contain it all in a finely tuned, bone-chilling experience. The warped sounds permeating this record are unified by a strong stylistic line and unmatched energy.

3. The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? (2004)

Like their fantastical moniker implies, the Unicorns are playful, seemingly functioning in a mythical world of their own. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? ambitiously balances the band’s lo-fi leanings with acute experimental flourishes and a mastery for pop. This is held in tandem by an instrumental palette of synths, recorder and clarinet.

2. Death From Above 1979 – Heads Up (2002)

Taking notes from fellow two-piece acts such as Lightning Bolt and Liars, Death From Above 1979’s recipe for destruction is a pummeling, danceable fit of clamor with enough punk sensibilities for the indie kids and enough distortion for the noise addicts.

1. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Arcade Fire’s gorgeous debut is both poignant and empowering, and injected with a spirit that many indie-rock acts desperately lack. The band’s members operate in perfect synergy, pushing the album’s dense instrumental catalog to breathtaking musical vistas about childhood and the psychological trappings of adulthood.

Honourable mentions:

Drake – Nothing Was The Same (2013)

Mac DeMarco – 2 (2012)

Purity Ring – Shrines (2012)

METZ – METZ (2012)

Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


The next wave of Canadian alternative rock

A guide to the country’s recent chart-topping alternative rock bands

Canada has always been a breeding ground for great alternative rock groups. Pioneers such as the Tragically Hip paved the way for countless other groups to become successful. Recently, new Canadian talents have been emerging at an astonishing rate—their down-to-earth, authentic and deeply personal takes on the genre are turning heads, not just around the country, but around the world.

July Talk

July Talk is arguably the most exciting Canadian band around right now. They’ve played shows alongside Canadian rock icons such as Billy Talent, Sam Roberts and Matthew Good Band. They also won Breakthrough Group of the Year at the 2014 Junos. The group dropped their much anticipated follow-up album, Touch, which cemented them as the band to watch in Canadian music. Their latest release, Touch, focuses on themes of loneliness and lust. One particular reason for their success is chemistry. Lead singers Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis—both from Toronto—have this electric energy between them. Every song feels like a battle for control. Through all of this emerges a sound that can only be described as captivating—each track is an explosion. Songs like the lead single, “Push + Pull,” only further serve to ingrain July Talk’s rapidly growing reputation as a mainstay in the Canadian rock scene.

Recommended album: Touch


The Dudes

There is no other band that recreates that Western Canadian sound like the Dudes, a rock group from Calgary that’s been around since the late 90s. With each subsequent album, the band explores and digs further into their Canadian roots for inspiration—through catchy hooks and laid back storytelling. Tracks like “Saturday Night” showcase what it means to be a Canadian hockey fan, while incorporating heavy guitar riffs and pumping drums that have become signature components of the band. Their albums embody the feeling of a drunk night in Banff, spending hours telling stories with friends around a campfire. The Dudes accompany their pop-rock sound with an ability to make some of the corniest lines sound cool, such as “And I think she’s right for someone else, let me introduce myself, I’m someone else, Mr. Someone Else.” They’ve become a staple in the Canadian rock conversation—the band brings an air of consequence-free fun that is sorely missed in music these days.

Recommended album: Blood Guts Bruises Cuts

Coleman Hell

Alternative rock singer Coleman Hell blasted onto the musical scene in 2015 with the song “2 Heads,” a track that went triple platinum in Canada, which comes from his debut album, Summerland. The album is inspired by the Wiccan belief of a purgatory between lives. Hell’s distinct, deep voice is accompanied by electronic beats. The intense electronic sounds and light, poppy banjo riffs come together in Hell’s Summerland album. Playing off this theme of purgatory, death and rebirth, the album delivers some of the best songs of the year. “Howling Moon,” “Devotion” and the title track, “Summerland,” all bring out the best in Canadian folklore. He doesn’t play it safe—he experiments with different sounds to bring a unique spin to the alternative genre. He manages to keep this light, catchy and triumphant album grounded. Even though it’s very possible Hell might become one of the biggest names to come out of the Canadian alternative scene, it seems like he’ll never lose sight of his Canadian background that inspires him.

Recommended album: Summerland

Dan Mangan

Since releasing his debut album, Postcards and Daydreaming, back in 2005, Dan Mangan has been steadily growing his reputation as one of the most consistent and talented Canadian songwriters in recent memory. The singer is based out of Vancouver, B.C. and frequently collaborates with other Vancouver artists, including Kenton Loewen, a former member of Mother Mother. Mangan’s sound has been compared to that of Bon Iver. He takes a softer, more subdued approach to the alternative genre. He has always been an artist who appeals to Canadian audiences because of his storytelling ability. His album Oh Fortune won the Best Alternative Album in 2012 at the Juno Awards. Recently, Mangan has shifted from his usual acoustic guitar-driven sound to fuller, darker, band-orientated projects. His latest record, Unmake, is full of that same ability to tell deeply personal stories, but Mangan’s stripped-back guitar and heavier production makes the overall tone bleaker in comparison to his earlier work, which was closer to the folk-pop genre. His impeccable production has become a trademark throughout his past albums. Mangan’s evolution is a story, heard from album to album.

Recommended album: Unmake (EP)

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