Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Albums of the 2010s
Published Oct 31, 2019After the CanRock explosion of the 1990s and indelible contributions to the 2000s golden age of indie, Canadians' musical output at-large took on subtler forms over the past ten years. But as Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Albums of the 2010s demonstrate, just because they were subtler doesn't make them any less impactful.
From Indigenous renaissance leaders like Tanya Tagaq and A Tribe Called Red, to electronic breakouts like Kaytranada and Caribou, to globe-conquering pop stars like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, Canadian musicians shaped conversations at home and abroad over the past ten years. Here are the albums that led the charge.
Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Albums of the 2010s:
50. Owen Pallett
In Conflict (2014)
Following Owen Pallett's acclaimed 2010 concept album, Heartland, the composer and singer-songwriter searched inwards to create In Conflict, a stunning followup that found Pallett exposed in a way which his storytelling hadn't allowed for in the past. Anchored by his violin and viola, In Conflict harnesses synthesizers to form impeccable arrangements which blossom throughout the record, alternately exercising restraint and layering to build a colossal wall of sound on tracks such as "The Riverbed." In Conflict's lyrics can be heard as cutting in a way that only comes through self-examination, Pallett's ability to find salvation in his work a throughline.
Flying Colours (2013)
There is an assuredness and sturdy sense of self that pulses through Shadrach Kabango's fourth album, but the versatile artist's greatest achievement here might be that he doesn't let his messages and focus overpower his excursions into playfulness and wit. Flying Colours offers vibes and surprises for days like "Progress (Part 1: American Pie, Part 2: The Future Is Here)," a rap-ballad reimagining of the Don McLean classic, and the warm soul food for thought of "Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)," which dives headfirst into the importance of Canada's multiculturalism. And there, holding it all together, is the charismatic, thoughtful poet.
48. Jennifer Castle
Pink City (2014)
"Truth is the freshest fruit," Toronto singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle asserts on the opening track of her 2015 Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted album Pink City. The truth is the heart of Castle's perennial album as she plucks both beauty and pain from the world to masterfully craft her candid folk and soft rock songs. On "Sparta," Castle illuminates how revitalizing nature is while on tracks like "Working for the Man," she goes toe-to-toe with the capitalist grind of city life. In the end, Pink City is about finding balance while emphasizing the importance of staying true to yourself.
47. Colin Stetson
New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light (2013)
This is one of the best chances to hear a man become a river, a steam engine, a choir of lost souls, a flight of conquering angels. Colin Stetson's transmogrification, his melding of body, breath and brass, is perfected here as he wields his saxophone, with occasional vocal help from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, to create music that is so perfectly balanced between physical and spiritual it feels like a conjuring. Pulling from classical, metal, gospel, extended technique improvisation, minimalism made maximal, Stetson closes off his New History Warfare trilogy with eleven astonishing pieces that you can use for breathing, for dreaming, and for seeing more light.
46. Andy Shauf
The Party (2016)
The world of The Party is sparse. It's packs of cigarettes, lighters and bottles of wine; it's Jeremy getting stoned, Sherry in tears and Alexander keeling over dead on the ground. Throughout the album, Andy Shauf casts his magic in hushed tones and impeccable arrangements. He relays these vignettes of a single night of love and loss with his trademark drawl, letting the words slur out of his mouth as though he is reluctant to relay the events of the evening. It's a fitting tribute to rites of passage in "a city the size of a dinner plate" from the Saskatchewan-raised multi-instrumentalist. It is soft, honest and needs no grand gestures to spark immense feeling.
The Difference Between Hell and Home (2013)
The difference between this and Counterparts' two preceding albums is compromise: after moving away from metalcore in favour of flavour-du-jour melodic hardcore, the Hamilton heavyweights settled their sound in between. In doing so, they managed to write the Defeater-esque song they'd always tried to in "Witness," contrasted by an absolute demolisher like "Slave." The off-kilter chugs are more challenging than ever, while the melodies are less so; "Compass" encompasses the best of both worlds with one of the best choruses the band has ever written. Vocalist Brendan Murphy's intense introspection made it all hit harder; the one thing they didn't compromise was heart.
Public Strain (2010)
Shortly after a fist fight broke out between the band during a show in Victoria, Women had officially ended — just one month following the release of their second album, Public Strain. A little over a year later, guitarist Chris Reimer tragically passed away in his sleep. Since then, the short and fabled run of Calgary's Women would be remembered by their mesmeric record thick with crudely calculated noise and tinny, squealing guitar interplay that was loosely bandaged by the distant vocals of Reimer and brothers Pat and Matt Flegel. Public Strain was the work of a fluctuating post-punk machine, running through a hallucinatory haze of chilling feedback and reverb which unknowingly cemented themselves in Canadian rock mythology.
Deep in the Iris (2015)
Deep in the Iris is a work that integrates elements that can sometimes seem contradictory. It is full of raw emotional force, yet is still incredibly tightly produced. It blends synthesizers and drum machines with live drums and piano seamlessly. The percussion is particularly impactful on songs like "Happy When," when the drums are given room between iterations of the chorus. The album touches on themes like love ("Taste"), trauma and sexism ("Miniskirt"), and loneliness ("Sore Eyes"). Deep in the Iris is an excellent album that defined Braids' sound from their earlier, more ambient material.
42. Snotty Nose Rez Kids
If OutKast and N.W.A. had a baby, its name would be Trapline: Snotty Nose Rez Kids' acid-laced flow, buoyant beats and playful interplay between Young D and Yung Trybez create an album that is as dancefloor-filling as it is eye-opening. Proudly Indigenous and inclusive, the Polaris Prize shortlisters pioneered the Minay Movement, securing their place in the front lines of the Indigenous resistance. A chronicle of lived experience doused in reverberated bass, Trapline finds two Indigenous millennials dissecting era and culture, starting necessary conversations with every earworm. It's equal parts history lessons and bangers.
41. Tomb Mold
Planetary Clairvoyance (2019)
Tomb Mold are a unique Canadian voice in death metal with roots firmly planted in the Toronto hardcore punk scene. After rising to prominence with 2018 sophomore album The Manor of Infinite Forms, third album Planetary Clairvoyance put them at the head of the new school of death metal classicism. Planetary Clairvoyance retains Tomb Mold's distinct Finnish influences, but is also home to the progressive sounds of Cynic and Human-era Death. The band explore that sonic landscape to its outer limits, returning with an album that is inexorable in its aggression and irresistible in its groove. This is the next step for death metal as it looks to its past to shape its future.