Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Albums of the 2010s
Published Oct 31, 2019
Our Love (2014)
Dan Snaith's second album of the 2010s as Caribou is 2014's Polaris-short listed Our Love, a timeless addition to Canada's electronic music landscape. The record is a collection of minimally produced sad bangers, and home to universally loved tracks like "Can't Do Without You," "Silver" and the Jessy Lanza-featuring "Second Chance." Snaith balances his signature electronic impulses with the record's more human aspects for a deeply intimate take on the topics of fatherhood, love and friendship. In its simultaneously boogie-inducing and tear-jerking qualities, Our Love is at once powerful and understated, romantic and melancholic.
The Dream Is Over (2016)
The Dream Is Over, the sophomore album from Toronto punks PUP, fuels itself on this intensity, voicing each emotion in its most acute form. Fittingly, things start with a death wish: the comprehensively-titled track "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will." Much of the album follows in this tone, with cathartic, tipsy expressions of hurt and aggression. Lurching guitars hurtle up against the frantic insistence of drums. People are told to grow up, to move the fuck out. Ultimately, though, it's the album's tonic of release and perspective that makes it such a heady listen.
Before Kaputt, it was almost unthinkable to put Kenny G-grade sax on an indie rock record; after Kaputt, it became so popular that it verged on cliché. Vancouver songwriter Dan Bejar suddenly made it cool for indie musicians to embrace kitschy sounds usually relegated to bargain bins. Without Kaputt, the War on Drugs might never have turned heartland rock into a psychedelic daydream and Mac DeMarco might never have trawled the weirdest depths of yacht rock. Which is to say: it's difficult to remember just how radical this sounded back in 2011, but the synth-hazed dream-pop of "Savage Night at the Opera" and the opulent disco epic "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" are undeniable, regardless of context.
17. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012)
Acclaimed Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor earned their reputation by challenging norms — of music, of ethos, of industry — and 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, the band's first album in a decade, marked a profound return to form in every way. Dropped discreetly on the band's merch table one night, the album's gospel spread quickly, not unlike the music's well-honed quiet-loud dynamics, with each of the album's towering, 20-minute-long theatrical instrumental rock tracks embodying ominous terror, ebullient triumph and melodic brilliance. The album's legacy was capped off with a Polaris Music Prize victory that found the band admonishing the event for happening in the first place — how's that for classic Godspeed?
Whether through appreciation for the Stone Roses, Beach Boys or Saturday morning AM-radio rock, you have either directly or indirectly heard Alvvays. This became certain in 2014, when vocalist Molly Rankin and her gang of reverb-soaked rockers sang of aging indecision, nostalgia and romantic devotion. Cuts like the compelling "Archie, Marry Me" and dazzling "Atop a Cake" caught on quickly. Much like the unrequited love manifested on "Party Police" ("We wrote our names in the overpass, and I hope it lasts forever"), Alvvays has aged with precision and prestige. A debut far more realized than their peers rightfully put this PEI-via-Toronto jangle-rock phenom at the forefront of Canada's independent spotlight.
15. A Tribe Called Red
We Are the Halluci Nation (2016)
Furthering the Indigenous musical revolution they helped ignite, A Tribe Called Red delivered a foundational rumbling statement, equally powerful in music and in message, with We Are the Halluci Nation. With poignant storytelling and songwriting receiving attention commensurate with their innovative beat production work, the group and their many talented collaborators created an album that reaches far beyond the aims of most electronic music. Every musical track on the album is a fully formed song that, while heavily sculpted by ingenious sound design, would retain its core appeal dressed in other sonics. We Are the Halluci Nation is a rare achievement in electronic music that raises the bar in the overall genre while exploding notions of what Indigenous music can be.
14. Mac DeMarco
Salad Days (2014)
By the decade's midpoint, Mac DeMarco's idiosyncrasies had become ubiquitously recognized, and his iconic gap-toothed grin had become inescapably plastered all over the internet. The Edmonton-born singer-songwriter had inspired an entire generation to dress like him, adopt his laissez-faire attitude, and buy cheap darts – but this cultural phenomenon was no accident. Salad Days is lyrically relatable and sonically agreeable for most audiences, making it one of the decade's best albums to kick back and smoke to, or turn up and dance to. DeMarco's unique and immediately recognizable soft-rock twang became one of the most imitated sounds of the decade and helped bring lo-fi psych pop to the forefront of popular music.
Before the eye surgeries, odes to AI overlords and romances with tech tycoons, there was Visions, the breakthrough album from Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes. Written and recorded in just three weeks on GarageBand, the record sounded like transmissions from another dimension when it was released, Boucher's ethereal voice its humanizing force. Visions was rightly hailed then and the ensuing years have only buoyed its standing. Scores of imitators subsequently branded themselves "alt-pop" in the Grimes mould and Boucher quickly abandoned the sound in favour of more a more maximalist take on pop, but this cybergoth wonderland remains a singular experience.
12. Fucked Up
David Comes to Life (2011)
That any band could make a rock opera about love, terrorism, light bulbs and fourth wall-breaking narrative defiance and have it turn into anything other than a pretentious sprawling disaster seemed downright impossible, and yet, Fucked Up pulled it off with David Comes to Life. Almost every moment, riff, bassline, shout-along chorus and inimitable Damian Abraham bellow is packed with boundless, raw, visceral energy. Can you follow the plot? Not totally! It doesn't really make sense! But who cares!? David Comes to Life is a wild, breathtaking ride of an album, and it is pretty safe to say no one will ever make anything like it again.
11. Jeremy Dutcher
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (2018)
Rarely does musical genius and cultural stewardship combine so succinctly as it does in Jeremy Dutcher's Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Dutcher takes songs that had been silenced for decades due to anti-Indigenous policies and presents them with operatic tenor and lush piano accompaniment in a manner no other artist could. It is an album that is both deeply personal and urgently collaborative, delivered in the Wolastoqey language spoken by few today. And yet, that collection of seemingly niche ingredients is combined into an emotionally resonant listen even more accessible than the individual genres that informed it. While we can demur over which albums will stand the test of time, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa already has.