25 Canadian Albums You Might Have Missed in 2020

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 7, 2020

The past year has been filled with plenty of incredible new music, including Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2020, but even the most fastidious listener is bound to have skipped over a few quality releases. These 25 Canadian albums you might have missed cover a wide variety of sounds, scenes and locations, but all are worthy of a deeper listen this holiday season and beyond.

Badge Époque Ensemble
Self Help
(Telephone Explosion)

Max Turnbull (f.k.a. Slim Twig) and his adventurous septet effortlessly weave together avant-jazz explorations and catchy soul-pop songwriting on their sophomore album. They sound equally at home creating a toe-tapping lounge anthem with U.S. Girls leader Meg Remy ("Sing a Silent Gospel") as they do deconstructing rock and jazz with an 11-minute instrumental epic ("Birds Fly Through Ancient Ruins").
Alex Hudson

Usual Suspects: Season III

Effortlessly mixing hip-hop, rock, funk, soul and R&B, Blakdenim have the kind of well-rounded sound that probably shouldn't be as unique as it is. Stacked with perfectly paired vocal duets, pounding rhythms, scene-stealing guitar playing and a groovy brass section (see "Champagne" in particular), the bilingual Ottawa band also enlists the major-league rap talents of DMC on the high-calibre "Sharks." 
Adam Feibel

(Royal Mountain)

The debut album by Winnipeg artist Micah Visser brings together the kaleidoscopic sounds of M83, the wide-eyed romanticism of Carly Rae Jepsen and the rock'n'roll bombast of the Killers for a synth-pop record that's colourful and youthful. Also this year, Boniface cut to the tender heart of these songs with a stripped-down companion EP of acoustic renditions.
Adam Feibel

Casey MQ
(Halocline Trance)

Jumping triple salchows through boy band conventions and queering them with liberal pitch shifting and radical electronic disruptions that variably scorch and twinkle, Casey MQ's full length debut reinvents the wheel while throwing the traditional chart-fucking formulae off-balance just enough that you can reckon with what's kept those machines churning.
Tom Beedham

Cindy Lee
What's Tonight to Eternity
(W.25th / Superior Viaduct)

With What's Tonight to Eternity, Cindy Lee has released one of the most harrowing records of the year. By the time you arrive in this album's universe, the volcano in your psyche has just erupted. Despite your best efforts to keep the destruction at bay, guitars rain down like sheets of molten ash. Saccharine vocal melodies serve as painful reminders of all that is being turned to dust before your eyes. There are glimmers of hope, but the album's power is in how confidently it presents the process of burning things down so one can rebuild.
Tom Piekarski

2020 the Album

Clocking in at 23 minutes, 2020 the Album is a perfect distillation of everything that makes DijahSB one of the most exciting voices in hip-hop: easy flow, incisive lyrics and smooth beats that would fit as easily on a certain popular lo-fi YouTube channel or your next Zoom party's playlist.
Scott Simpson

Fuck the Facts
Pleine Noirceur 
(Noise Salvation)

Pleine Noirceur, Fuck the Facts' first album in five years,  perfectly continues their self-proclaimed bastardized grindcore sound, which is to say it uses extreme punk as a basis to do everything extreme punks wouldn't do. Slapping post- on any genre is a tired trope, but as they increasingly incorporate post-metal, post-rock, post-hardcore and even post-punk, maybe it's inevitable. Bastardized sounds cooler, though.
Bradley Zorgdrager

Jennah Barry

Even though the world that Jennah Barry builds on her sophomore record Holiday is filled with the same anxious thoughts that crawl into your head as you try to fall asleep, it's a place that you never want to leave. Sonically, Holiday is a retreat from harshness and it makes the ideal companion for working through your worries.
Laura Stanley

Jon McKiel
Bobby Joe Hope
(You've Changed)

Music-making and record collecting have long been pursuits preoccupied with rediscovering and recontextualizing sounds from the past. On Bobby Joe Hope, Maritime legend Jon McKiel manages to do both, constructing loops out of a forgotten tape found in a Teac A-2340 reel-to-reel recorder purchased online to create a haunting, psychedelic masterpiece for a new generation.
Matthew Ritchie

Jonah Yano
(Innovative Leisure)

There's a lot of separation on Jonah Yano's debut album, souvenir. Yano wrote the exceptional album closer "shoes," for instance, after seeing his father for the first time in 15 years. But by contrast, every song — all pop and R&B affairs — is warmly connected, sliding easily from one to the next, and altogether forming a remarkable memento of Yano's artistry.
Laura Stanley

Studio Monk
(Pirates Blend)

Cohesive, atmospheric and captivating, Studio Monk highlights what makes the rising class of Toronto hip-hop so vital. Junia shines on the mic and behind the boards, with jazzy, soulful instrumentation and samplework to pair with some fantastic collaborators including Faiza, J.O. Mairs and STORRY
Josh Weinberg

All My Friends

Merging clean, detail-rich production with bedroom pop intimacy, Toronto's Giuliana Mormile punctuates lush, emo-tinged tracks about the power of companionship with expertly placed field recordings of friends and happier times, adding another layer of nostalgia to All My Friends' road trip through the sounds of '90s alt-rock.
Matt Bobkin

Klô Pelgag 
(Secret City)

Named after an island municipality on the Saint Lawrence River, the follow-up to 2016's lauded L'Étoile thoracique somehow manages to buck all expectations while remaining true to Klô Pelgag's already impressive catalog. Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is an immersive experience that highlights Pelgag's artistry without succumbing to the album's dark themes and lyrics.
Scott Simpson

Le Couleur
(Lisbon Lux)

Sleek keys, sticky bass lines, and luxurious grooves fuel Concorde's svelte disco-pop. But dreaminess turns to nightmare when you realize the Francophone album's inspiration, the 2000 Air France crash. Concorde satisfies the pleasure principle and celebrates the 1970s airliner's posh symbolism without ever losing sight of the fragility of life.
Leslie Ken Chu

You Want It Real

Vancouver's vicious "dark punk" trio lié bring immense power to their fourth full-length, You Want It Real — a visceral, cathartic album leading the charge in the new wave of heavy Canadian music. Opting for a more open-ended approach to their lyrics, the band balance their efforts to favour musicality here, while still delivering as much roaring anti-oppression messaging as ever.
Allie Gregory

Markus Floats
Third Album

Montreal musician and soundscape artist Markus Floats is well-suited for pandemic protocols, as he's been making solitary, synthesized music for some time. On Third Album, he performs in the moment, improvising with the technology at hand, and creating a batch of busy, bubbling, ambient pieces that are visceral and truly mood altering.
Vish Khanna

Matthew "Doc" Dunn
Rain, Rain, Rain
(Cosmic Range)

Music is great for showcasing extremes, which is why there are so many records for summer and winter, but less so for spring and fall. Matthew "Doc" Dunn succeeds in his goal of crafting an autumnal record with Rain, Rain, Rain, a subtly psychedelic odyssey of folk and country sounds perfect for wistfully staring out a window.
Matt Bobkin

Nicole Chambers
Voice of a Virgo
(Escape Tracks)

Virgos are known to be meticulous, organized, and command attention when needed — for soulful Brampton R&B singer Nicole Chambers, she decided to introduce herself with sultry debut Voice of a Virgo. Though the 12-track album does have features, Voice of a Virgo is saturated in Chambers' honeyed vocals and, of course, pure Virgo tendencies. 
Erin Lowers

Prince Josh
The Joy
(Hand Drawn Dracula)

Prince Josh's The Joy is a well-sequenced look at the Prince Innocence producer's stylistic breadth; dreamlike in the way it flits between a range of tones and dynamics. While Cold Specks, LA Timpa, Yves Jarvis and Lauren Armstrong guest, the rhythmic function of sampled vocal fragments is the album's defining feature.
Calum Slingerland

Skinny Dyck
Get to Know Lonesome

Corrosive whiskey recrimination and barstool philosophy; a southern Alberta gem informed by Merle, Buck, and the honky-tonk sound of another century. Concise liquid truths and lies of commission are hardcore country essentials: three chords and misremembered truth. The distilled spirit of wide-cut country, pedal steel and "Dreamin'," Skinny Dyck pours a generous measure.
Donald Teplyske

Thanya Iyer

On her second LP, Thanya Iyer melds indie rock's vulnerability with free jazz's blurred lines and R&B's sensualism. Across 11 highly adventurous and brilliantly structured songs, the Montreal singer/songwriter/violinist/keyboardist crafts exactly that eclectic atmosphere that Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend have been shuffling bandmates to achieve. Sorry, your secret weapon is spoken for. 
Daniel Sylvester

Vile Creature
Glory Glory! Apathy Took Helm!

The grotesque beauty of this transcendental album cover sums up the feel of the music within: blackened doom with a silver — or sky blue — lining. The Shakespearean dramatism of its title is inspired by the Bard's sarcastic bent, but beneath that cynical veneer is a duo who care deeply and fend off apathy with every droning thud.
Bradley Zorgdrager


Led by the unparalleled Cassia Hardy, Edmonton-based Wares' second record is a nakedly ferocious endeavor full of unbridled passion exploring identity and burning intimacy. Throughout the record, nervous, fastidious guitar work is unshackled with bursts of ecstatic proclamations with pure power-pop abandon. Survival is a delightful, triumphant statement about overcoming complex vulnerabilities within a reachable reality.
Chris Gee

White Poppy
Paradise Gardens
(Not Not Fun)

Crystal Dorval's latest release as White Poppy feels like a balm for isolation. Swirling together kosmische grooves, new age atmosphere and dream pop hooks, Paradise Gardens soothes the ache of mental illness and separation by addressing it head on. It's a particularly comforting record for a particularly lonely year.
Matthew Blenkarn

Bleached Wavves
(Paper Bag)

Daniel Glen Monkman stamps his distinct imprint on shoegaze with Bleached Wavves. The genre's standard blissful guitars cascade over traditional First Nations drumming as he reckons with his experiences with racism, poverty, and substance use. The name Zoon comes from Zoongide'ewin, the Ojibwe word for "bravery" "courage." Bleached Wavves is Monkman discovering strength in pain, as an individual and as part of an ancestral community.
Leslie Ken Chu

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