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)


Mixtape : Canadian Music Week

From March 21 until March 25, Toronto will be taken over by bands from all over Canada and the rest of the world during the nation’s biggest music industry event. The conference is celebrating its 30th birthday this year and will bring together not only a ton of musicians, but will also provide conferences, workshops, a comedy festival and an award show, on top of delivering Canada’s biggest new music festival. The Canadian Music Festival includes more than 900 bands from over 40 countries, performing at more than 60 live venues in downtown Toronto. Unfortunately, as students, most of us either won’t have the time or the money to attend, so as an absolutely incomparable consolation prize, I’ve compiled this mixtape to simulate being there. I’m sorry and you’re welcome, all at once.

Listen to the mixtape here:

SIDE A: Homegrown
1. “Leaves, Trees, Forest” – Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune
2. “Body Parts” – The Pack A.D. – Unpersons
3. “Paddle and Row” – Gabrielle Papillon – The Wanderer
4. “Hope for the Flowers” – Rich Aucoin – We’re All Dying to Live
5. “Tiger” – The Balconies – Kill Count
6. “Seed of Love” – Ben Caplan & the Casual Smokers – In the Time of the Great Remembering
7. “Panorama” – Daniel Lanois – Belladonna
8. “Took a Train to India” – Eight and a Half – Scissors
9. “Fever Stricken Night” – Gloryhound – Electric Dusk
10. “Missing” – Hands & Teeth – Hunting Season

SIDE B: Come From Aways
11. “Make Light” – Passion Pit – Manners
12. “Stay Useless” – Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
13. “Down River” – The Temper Trap – Conditions
14. “Old Friend” – Caveman – CoCo Beware
15. “Put Some Red On It” – Spoek Mathambo – Single
16. “Travel As Equals” – Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
17. “Young Man Blues” – The Bright Light Social Hour – New Year’s Live
18. “Vampires in Love” – A Great Big Pile of Leaves – Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?
19. “Drive By” – Train – Single
20. “Lighter Side” – Benjamin Winter – The Wind Blows Way Up High

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