Published Oct 31, 2019
40. Justin Bieber
By 2015, Justin Bieber's innocent veneer had faded. From arrests to rumoured drug use, the Stratford darling's journey to adulthood was a public unraveling. Bieber's image was tarnished and the time was ripe for a textbook "coming-of-age" album — a soul-bearing mea culpa. His fourth album, Purpose, was just that. But it didn't feel like a ploy; it was marked with grit and an undeniable sincerity that kept it from sounding formulaic. Bieber planted his feet more firmly in genres he had previously only flirted with. And he placated old fans (and won over new ones) by apologizing when necessary and embracing his flaws.
More Than Any Other Day (2014)
Ought's highly poetic and explosive spontaneity is led by brainy singer-guitarist Tim Darcy, whose fidgety, conversational prose staggers into chaotic outbursts of combustible barks and frantically articulated cries. On the Montreal-based quartet's debut album More Than Any Other Day, he's backed by jangly guitars and hyperactive drums that patiently transmit a restless energy, throttling Ought's volatility at times but eventually letting their sudden explosiveness converge into a cynical and empowering affair at opportune moments. More Than Any Other Day is a stimulating narrative about deep-seated anxiety, skepticism, brutal mundanity and a liberating view of the world that is veritably smart and mature.
38. Gord Downie
Secret Path (2016)
Secret Path, which tells the true story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who died trying to escape from a residential school in 1966, intentionally transcended the scope of Gord Downie's celebrity at a time when tributes to his life and career with the Tragically Hip were pouring in from all over the country after his diagnosis with terminal brain cancer. In his final years, Downie used his life's gift of music and his platform as a highly respected artist to bring wider attention to the suffering of those affected by Canada's residential school system. As a piece of music, it's gripping, poignant and dramatic. But the lasting legacy of Secret Path is that of a one-of-a-kind document of history, a vital gateway to deeper learning and an extraordinary work of art.
37. Marie Davidson
Working Class Woman (2018)
Marie Davidson's sophomore album Working Class Woman is a hard-hitting breath of fresh air. All hardware electronics and sharp notes, Working Class Woman stands out from the crowd for a slew of reasons, but especially because of how unique and out there it is. Making techno and experimental electronics accessible to a mainstream audience is hard to do, but Davidson did it, elevating her profile to a national level, including a spot on the Polaris Music Prize shortlist, in the process.
36. Timber Timbre
Hot Dreams (2014)
Of the three Timber Timbre albums released this decade, 2014's Hot Dreams most effectively delivered their murky, cinematic sound. As its title suggests, the album is sensual and surreal, full of brooding instruments and psychedelic visuals. Frontman Taylor Kirk's vocals give his deceptively complex songs their edge: "I wanna find another daydream, another nightmare," he croons on the title track. But several powerful musicians on distinct instruments flesh out the album's subtle menace, including Colin Stetson on sax, Mika Posen on violin and viola, and Mathieu Charbonneau on an arsenal of vintage keys. Each of the band's collaborators add to a bristling danger, an unspoken peril, that hangs like a heat haze in a horror western.
All eyes were on Alvvays after the success of their self-titled debut album, and they certainly delivered with the release of followup Antisocialites in 2017. Alvvays had already been performing a few Antisocialites tracks like "Your Type" and "Not My Baby" in their live sets since 2014, while a handful of songs were penned within the walls of an abandoned schoolhouse on the Toronto Islands. The lyrical storytelling in combination with the dreamy keyboard and guitar melodies won the indie pop outfit the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year in 2018.
Karen K. Tran
34. Royal Canoe
Today We're Believers (2013)
On Today We're Believers, Winnipeg sextet Royal Canoe meddled in genre-bending with brazen time signatures, ingenious song structures and a faultless balance between buoyant and darkly gripping tracks bursting with emotion and unrestrained imagination. It all comes together on standouts like "If I Had a House," a track with an utterly haunting end refrain that reaches its hand deep inside our most vulnerable parts and gives a squeeze. Today We're Believers is what you'd imagine falling into a kaleidoscope feels like, its ambition outshone only by its creativity.
33. Majical Cloudz
While Majical Cloudz have since disbanded and moved on to other projects, Impersonator still possesses the same sense of urgency and emotional intensity as it did upon its release. Consisting of achingly direct lyrics sung with extraordinary, wide-eyed intensity — and paired with hushed electronic tones constructed to build atmosphere rather than take centre stage — Impersonator was Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto's universally lauded, and award-nominated offering to the world. With the seriousness of a heart attack and an almost childlike sense of vulnerability, the album is a deceivingly simple ode to loving fiercely, and fearlessly.
32. Dilly Dally
Katie Monks doesn't get enough credit for having one of the best voices in rock music right now. And as a queer woman screaming so desperately about desire, the power and catharsis of these songs only begin with her raw vocals. Sore feels hopeful, emboldening. It's a battle cry, and it burns into its listener with lyrics that are both seething and extremely tender: "I want you naked in my kitchen, making me breakfast in the morning light." Liz Ball's guitar strains to keep the balance with Monks's wail, as heartache and vengeance are laid out vivid, honest and a little grandiose.
METZ's debut is ugly, primal, visceral and abrasive in the best possible ways. Sculpted from monstrous drums, overdriven bass, frenzied vocals and wailing guitar dissonance, it's a snapshot of a band that thrive when they conjure up as much noise as possible. Sure, it's not difficult to try to play as loud as possible, but it can be a delicate balancing act between creating a noisy mess and using these ingredients in a captivating way. METZ know this as well as anyone, and their debut is a master class on how to turn the impulsiveness of noise-punk into a chaotic thrill ride.