Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Songs of the 2010s
Published Nov 06, 2019
PUP are masters of self-directed ugly truths. "DVP" is a rare breed of song brave enough to wrestle with the idea that perhaps its narrator's problems aren't caused by some external oppressor like an ex-lover or an unfair society, but rather by their own shitty habits. The legitimate acceptance of criticism ("She says that I drink too much") coupled with more humorous, self-deprecating potshots ("Three beers and I'm so messed up") together build this deeply human little story of something resembling growth — all told in two-and-a-half minutes. All that, on top of relentlessly punchy instrumentals that sound dead set on busting your speakers, make "DVP" an easy contender for most intense track of the decade. Try not to lose your mind over this one live — it can't be done.
Corey Van Den Hoogenband
9. Marie Davidson
"Work It" (2018)
As electronic dance music exploded throughout the 2010s, a disturbing culture of workaholism became pervasive in the industry — multiple gigs in one night, tour listings that run on for pages on Resident Advisor were less a badge of success than a mark of legitimacy. No stranger to the game, when Marie Davidson delivered 2018's "Work It," she'd just come off a 70-date tour and readied herself for another. Declaring, "You wanna know how I get away with everything? I work. All the fucking time," it's part mock motivational guru, part brutal honesty, but at the same time, it's a self-referential parody of the culture. It's most importantly an anthem for self-care: "When I say 'work,' I mean you've got to work for yourself," she emphasizes. "Love yourself. Feed yourself."
8. The Weeknd
"Can't Feel My Face" (2015)
The Weeknd has always capitalized on chaos. The contrast between feelings of utter euphoria (often onset by drugs and affection) and total numbness (comedowns and heartbreak) is pretty standard for the Scarborough native. However, nothing captures the lack of emotion and the overwhelming dizziness of elation like Abel Tesfaye's 2015 track "Can't Feel My Face." The track is less brooding than Tesfaye's previous efforts, with disco sheen complementing moody lyrics ("I know she'll be the death of me / At least we'll both be numb"). He enlisted pop hitmakers Max Martin and Ali Payami as producers, along with the Cardigans' songwriter and guitarist Peter Svensson, to produce the track, but comparisons to "Thriller" might make you wonder if Quincy Jones had something to do with it. The layering of bass lines and vocals in the chorus, the infectious melody — hearing it is inevitably cause for celebration. It's a perfect storm.
"The House That Heaven Built" (2012)
In Japandroids' world, stasis is the cousin of death. Whether singing (yelling?) in unison about drinking, romance or heartbreak, the need to push forward is the band's beating heart, every song essentially a travelogue. "The House That Heaven Built" is no different, concerning a failed romance doomed by the protagonist's nomadic lifestyle. Its first two-thirds chronicle lovers settling into domestic life, and there's a moment after the triumphant bridge where it seems it might end here. But just as the song is about to peter out, life comes crashing down. The sense of melancholy is pervasive, even as the buoyant "oh-oh-ohs" of the chorus urge on the narrator's impulses, no matter their self-destructive nature. The guitars and drums fire up and the band hit the road once again.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen
"Call Me Maybe" (2011)
Who would have guessed that one of the decade's most enduring songs would come from a Canadian Idol also-ran and a guy who wrote songs for Faber Drive and Jakalope? But that's the world of pop music — sometimes all it takes is a killer beat and an even better chorus. Melding brilliantly gooey Eurodance piano hits with a whopping 15-second chorus, Carly Rae Jepsen managed to unleash one of the biggest earworms in the pop canon. But, aside from its sonic allure, "Call Me Maybe" remains timeless due to Jepsen and co-writers Tavish Crowe and Josh Ramsay's decision to avoid hackneyed clichés and of-the-moment trappings that leave even the most vibrant pop music sounding dated and forgettable. "Call Me Maybe" is a bulletproof song.
5. Arcade Fire
"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (2010)
"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" has become a staple of Arcade Fire's live show, but unlike other climactic Arcade Fire tracks, this one teases a peak but never crests it. Instead, the five-and-a-half minute anthem keeps steady, with Régine Chassagne's soprano vocals weaving with desperation. Rather than finding release, the song lets the energy stretch out, as endless as those dead shopping malls and rows of suburbia. The synths and drums pop while Chassagne sings of a futility that might feel grim, if it weren't for the '80s groove and absolute danceability. The accompanying interactive video even changed the pace of the song in time to your webcammed dance moves (from a time before we were quite so wary of our webcam privacy.) "Sprawl II" is about longing and movement inside boxes, but still finds significance in playground kisses and cut-the-lights darkness.
"Hold On We're Going Home" (ft. Majid Jordan) (2013)
Drake put out a lot of excellent songs (by both popular and critical opinion) in the last decade, but "Hold On, We're Going Home" cemented Drake as the reigning champ of popular hip-hop. He ditched the rap bars in favour of his equally adored (even if incredibly Auto-Tuned) sing-songy croon, playing up a melody that remains stuck in our heads nearly seven years later — and will likely stay there for years to come. As if the song's title and hook weren't enough of an homage to Toronto, Drizzy reps his hometown by enlisting production from 40, Majid Jordan and dvsn's Nineteen85. It was simultaneously a hyper-local affair and a universal hit, proving that Drake is Canada's most valuable export of the decade, if not all time.
"Archie, Marry Me" (2014)
For many, your mid-twenties is a time when you attend countless weddings and then a few years later learn that half of those couples are getting a divorce. During those years, feelings of love and bitterness are tightly tied together like the ribbon on the wedding gifts you give. In "Archie, Marry Me," from their self-titled debut album, Toronto-based band Alvvays write an unforgettable anthem for this chapter in life. Lead singer Molly Rankin sharply describes being a young adult ("Too late to go out, too young to stay in"), reflects on being in love, and the tired idea that marriage has to be the next step in a relationship. It's all done as a hazy, jangle-pop track whose driving rhythm mirrors a coastal drive in the summer. Five years after the song's release, its chorus is still stuck in our heads.
"Can't Do Without You" (2014)
The warm intent behind Caribou's Our Love led Dan Snaith to wring plenty of human feel from his electronics on his seventh studio album, and opener "Can't Do Without You" stands as a perfect microcosm of that entire sonic achievement. On the surface, the song primarily revolves around Snaith's five-word affirmation and a chord progression some could deem simple by his musical standards. In his hands, these seemingly straightforward pieces are tweaked and treated to mesmerizing effect, pulling head and heart out to the dance floor and beyond. Snaith's looping vocal lines, pitch-shifted opposite one another, are the melodic drivers that leave space for a steady beat and filtered, kaleidoscopic keys to rise and fall ahead of a final dance break blowout, after which Snaith gets even more tender. The musical and emotional pull of "Can't Do Without You" is undeniable; it has even attracted the most reprehensible among us.
Given our current cultural moment, it seems obvious that a cyberpunk cri de coeur about post-traumatic stress brought on by sexual assault was a surefire way to launch Grimes into the wider cultural consciousness. Yet, "Oblivion" touched a nerve long before #MeToo, becoming not only one of Claire Boucher's signature songs, but her breakthrough to a broader audience. The song is a harrowing portrait of the aftermath of abuse, the terror that lingers long after the crime. Its power comes from Boucher's ebullient delivery, a lilting melody that reclaims the paralyzing fear of the refrain, "See you on a dark night," flipping it into a powerful call to arms. The iconic video, which plopped the diminutive singer into traditional male spaces — locker room, football game, monster truck rally — certainly helped break the song big. But Boucher grounds her futuristic production with real emotional stakes, her looped, ethereal voice riding overtop a burbling bass line that burrows into your skull. That the song still sounds so alien, its message so necessary, speaks to Boucher's forward-thinking influence and the shittiness of modern culture.