The Sound of October 2021: This Month's Essential New Releases

Must-hear music from Lil Nas X, Arkells, Andy Shauf, Japanese Breakfast and more

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Oct 6, 2021

October is typically spooky season, but this month's essential new releases are anything but — they're warm and inviting, traversing the spectrum of genre to give listeners a helping hand during the last glimmers of sunshine, before we're collectively plunged into the depths of winter. Here is the sound of October 2021 — best experienced on Sonos.

Naya Ali
Godspeed: Elevated

Travelling inward to further her personal growth is the overarching theme of this eight-track project recorded between Montreal and Toronto. Making a significant departure from the more accessible pop stylings of her debut Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), Naya Ali has elevated her rap game with this mature offering. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Air Ali"
Opener "Air Ali" sets the bar and gets the listener ready for takeoff. Assertive in her raspy delivery, Ali raps, "Lately I've been feeling so low, but I'ma be right / Ain't no more feelings involved, I'm gonna take flight."
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo

Angels & Airwaves


Tom DeLonge has always offered towering, timeless pop melodies in his singular voice — but instead of Blink-182's pop-punk, Lifeforms goes interstellar with sci-fi arpeggiators and dance rock crescendos. Even when the grooves and instrumentation are miles away from his most famous work, the choruses always sound unmistakably like DeLonge. DeLonge recently took the Exclaim! Questionnaire.

Standout track: "Losing My Mind"
There's something oddly comforting about hearing DeLonge sneer, "There's idiots abound and they're all fuckin' racist," showing that even the Crown Prince of Bestiality Jokes is willing to take a stand against the alt-right.
Alex Hudson

Blink Once

Here's the one time we'll advise going against @canadamusicmemes: don't draw 25, listen to Blink Once. Hamilton's Arkells are always willing to evolve their sound without becoming unrecognizable. They balance finding pockets of unadulterated joy in the grief that drives their seventh LP by leaning into their hip-hop influences more than ever before. Read our recent conversation with the band, including a track-by-track breakdown of Blink Once.

Standout track: "Truce"
A distant horn riff anchors this disjointed, mid-tempo jam to your back pocket, with everything else following suit in cursive loops: "It comes flooding back now."
Megan LaPierre

Baby Keem
The Melodic Blue

The Melodic Blue marks a new chapter for both Baby Keem and his Pulitzer-winning cousin Kendrick Lamar, but the former isn't content to ride the coattails of his famous family member. Through his debut's highs and lows, Keem proves to be a budding melodist with an imaginative ear for production.

Standout track: "Family Ties" (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
While familial weirdness highlights their other album team-ups, "Family Ties" sees Keem and Kendrick leave it all in the booth with respective boisterous, blistering verses.
Calum Slingerland

J Balvin

(Sueños Globales)

After years at the top of the Latin music world, J Balvin became a globally recognized name — collaborating with the likes of Beyoncé, Cardi B and Pharrell — but was surpassed by his own protégé, Bad Bunny. With JOSE, Balvin undeniably succeeds in his mission to humbly recapture his seat on the throne. Read our full review.

Standout track: "La Venganza (feat. Jhay Cortez)"
"La Venganza" means "revenge," and Balvin is back with a vengeance as he takes control of this sombre reggaetón banger in sonic symbiosis with special guest Cortez.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo

Alessia Cara
In the Meantime

(Def Jam)

Six years ago, Alessia Cara declared she was too anxious — or, perhaps, too cool — for house parties on breakthrough single "Here," and now that the world has unequivocally agreed with her, she's moved on to more upbeat, relaxed sonic fare. Third album In the Meantime finds her tackling the ups and downs of early adulthood with ample confidence and swagger. Learn more with our Fall 2021 cover story.

Standout track: "Shapeshifter"
As great as Cara's newfound lighthearted jubilance is, her take on "Black Magic Woman"-esque seduction finds her channelling her hero Amy Winehouse for an outstanding vocal performance, lightly accented by shimmering harps.
Matt Bobkin

Crown Lands
White Buffalo


Crown Lands are making classic rock for a modern age — boomer music in a Gen Z world. In their songs and interviews, they've been outspoken about Indigenous issues, as well as anti-Semitism and gender identity, and the duo's social conscience and their devotion to the power of the shamelessly epic makes their retro rock music actually, legitimately exciting. Read our full review.

Standout track: "White Buffalo"
The third instalment in a trilogy of songs addressing Indigenous rights, it feels a bit like "Carry on Wayward Son" reworked for a younger generation living on amid the horrors of history with its thumping, riff-heavy verses, anthemic choruses, hippie-folk interludes and determined message. 
Adam Feibel

Tasty Raps, Vol. 1


Only a few months after keeping their Head Above the Waters with the thematically cohesive, Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted LP, the Toronto rap phenom is back with a looser collection of tracks that live up to Kid Cudi's titular co-sign from earlier this year. Read our recent interview.

Standout track: "The Greatest (ft. Ray HMND)"
A reunion with one of Waters' standout collaborators, Dij reconciles their trademark humbleness with the undeniable reality of their success: "The higher I climb, the harder I fall / But I got a trampoline to bounce back up the wall."
Matt Bobkin

Ducks Ltd.
Modern Fiction

(Royal Mountain)

Ducks Ltd. make it sound easy. Across all 10 tracks on their debut album, Modern Fiction, the band find a perfect combination of jangling indie pop arpeggios, careening rhythms and Tom McGreevy's beautifully unvarnished singing. There's little variation in quality, as if the band have struck upon such a perfect, ageless-sounding combination that it's impossible for them to miss. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Under the Rolling Moon"
Ducks Ltd.'s signature jangle pop sounds completely transcendent amidst weeping slide guitar and poignant memories of "Long nights that never quite get good."
Alex Hudson

José González
Local Valley


Singer/songwriter José González returns with his first multilingual album, showcasing his Swedish and Argentine roots. Poetic lyrics take a backseat to the construction of an airy atmosphere replete with sun-drenched vocals and birdsong — almost prayer-like in tone, it's an album built to feed and soothe the soul.

Standout track: "Visions"
Who would have thought existential reckoning could be so relaxing? González tempers his unsettling lyrics with lulling, dreamy vocals and gentle guitar-strumming to reassure: "We are here together."
Haley Bentham

Illuminati Hotties
Let Me Do One More

(Snack Shack Tracks)

Songwriter Sarah Tudzin displays razor-sharp songwriting, whether trading in skronky freak-outs, atmospheric pop ballads or her signature brand of "tenderpunk." After the glorious chaos of last year's FREE I.H, the more meticulous Let Me Do One More is the sound of her fine-tuning the eclecticism without toning it down. Learn more with our recent interview and full review.

Standout track: "MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA"
Tudzin freely admits that she's not a technical "singer" — but this scorching single (pronounced "moo") shows just how much she can do with her rubbery voice, as she careens between cute humming, seething shouts and evil-villain laughter.
Alex Hudson

Japanese Breakfast
Sable (Original Video Game Soundtrack)

(Dead Oceans/Sony Masterworks)

It's been a huge year for Michelle Zauner between her memoir Crying in H Mart and album Jubilee, and her soundtrack for Shedwork's indie game Sable feels like a well-deserved victory lap. However, rather than bask in self-indulgence, Sable is a minimal, patient and transporting work of narrative ambience like little else in her catalogue. It'll take you places. Read our recent interview with Zauner.

Standout track: "Glider"
"Glider" evokes its title with startling accuracy — airborne, speeding, it feels like flying just above the earth. It demands attention even on a record made to disappear.  
Kaelen Bell

Peace & Love

(Mo Gravy)

After the Edmonton rapper took listeners into The Room in which he recovered from a car accident last year, K-Riz is preaching Peace & Love with his follow-up LP. But don't go in expecting good vibes and psychedelic platitudes: the new album finds K-Riz doubling down on his vulnerable explorations into life's many difficulties.

Standout track: "I Don't Trust You"
Over five minutes, K-Riz takes several approaches to unpacking his heartbreak, from hook-driven R&B to rhythmic rap verses to a chopped-and-screwed coda that really draws out the emotions, all the while flexing his versatility.
Matt Bobkin

Language Arts


In the wake of a bike accident that left lead vocalist Kirsten Cudmore with a brain injury, she reflects on many facets of her life before and after, wrapped in delicate pop arrangements that are just as adept at conjuring dance floor grooves as they are introspective and empowering.

Standout track: "Indestructible"
Amid sprightly indie pop, Cudmore sings with breathtaking detail about her accident, with relentless hooks to underscore the resilience that continues to propel her.
Matt Bobkin

Thierry Larose

(Bravo musique)

Thierry Larose could have given any track from this year's stellar chamber pop LP Cantalou the remix EP treatment and it would work, but "De la perspective d'un vieil homme" proves to be an inspired choice, working both as humorous hip-hop and a slow-burning piano ballad.

Standout track: "De la perspective d'un vieil homme (P'tit Belliveau Remix)"
E-drums, chintzy sax and a rap verse from Acadian rising star P'tit Belliveau (channelling local heroes Radio Radio) transform the upbeat rock tune into a hip-hopping display of French-language solidarity.
Matt Bobkin

Ada Lea
one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden

(Next Door/Saddle Creek)

Ada Lea's music rarely moves in expected patterns — though it's most easily categorized as folk rock, her newest record is weirder, fresher and more intriguing than that label would suggest. Burnished guitars, humming keyboards and a rich, late-summer strangeness push one hand head and shoulders above its peers. Read our full review.

Standout track: "oranges"
With web-like guitar and a steady rhythm, "oranges" is driven less by the music than by Lea's vivid lyrics — words so alive they nearly trip over one another on the way out.
Kaelen Bell

Click "Next" to continue reading:

Hubert Lenoir
PICTURA DE IPSE : Musique directe


Hubert Lenoir's PICTURA DE IPSE : Musique directe is an audio diary full of noisy field recordings and disjointed snippets, touching on the Quebec phenom's struggles with self-esteem following a media backlash. But peppered amidst the album's chaotic interludes are gorgeous songs that touch on synthpop and soul, amounting to a demanding but rewarding listen. Learn more in our recent interview.

Standout track: "HULA HOOP"
PICTURA DE IPSE moves fast, with 20 tracks in 50 minutes. But "HULA HOOP" is a long, slow exhale with purring organ, echoing splashes of guitar and a chorus hook as cyclical and hypnotic as the titular toy.
Alex Hudson

Lil Nas X


Two years after breaking records with debut single "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X proves that he's no one-trick pony on debut album MONTERO. On it, he heavily explores themes of queer love and heartbreak, his adjustment to the spotlight, his pride in his accomplishments, and reflections on his life before fame. Read our full review.

Standout track: "SCOOP"
Lil Nas X and Doja Cat have electric chemistry atop a glossy, plucking string section and booming bass — it's impossible to sit still while listening.
Jordan Currie


(Ninja Tune)

Inspired by fig trees, six-song EP Psyconia finds producer Travis Stewart's enthralling electronic experiments in full bloom. Imbued with a similar iridescence as last year's full-length A View of U, collaborators including Chrome Sparks, Deniro Farrar, Angelica Bess and Jorge Elbrecht anchor his sprightly rhythms and flights of melodic fancy. 

Standout Track: "Only One (ft. Angelica Bess)"
Bess's tuneful verses and layered chorus sections sit amongst kaleidoscopic chord progressions, fleeting vocal chops and nimble drumming that never loses the pocket.
Calum Slingerland

Mas Aya

(Telephone Explosion)

How do you touch the present? That might have been the single question guiding Brandon Valdivia's newest Mas Aya record — or perhaps more finely: how do you touch another country's present, when there's nearly six thousand kilometres between? A dialogue of sorts with Valdivia's homeland of Nicaragua, Máscaras answers that question with deep, active listening. Read our full review.

Standout track: "18 de Abril" 
Referring to the first day of the 2018-2021 Nicaraguan protests, the repeated short but united blasts of a chorus of flutes resemble a people's siren.
Tom Beedham

Moor Mother
Black Encyclopedia of the Air


Camae Ayewa pulls together a collection of underground hip-hop artists to help create something more digestible without sacrificing an ounce of her boundary-pushing, political or adventurous spirit. Mostly sticking to hip-hop beats and traditional song structures, Ayewa decides instead to challenge listeners through performance and her lyrics. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Obsidian (ft. Pink Siifu)"
In just 90 seconds, the haunting, chopped-and-screwed "Obsidian" features a genre-bending verse from Pink Siifu, tackles domestic violence with honest lyrics, and finds Ayewa channelling Caribbean dark magic.
Daniel Sylvester

And Then Life Was Beautiful

(Little Tokyo)

On her third album, the English singer-songwriter sheds her trademark "wonky funk" vocal distortion and drum machines for largely live, organic arrangements. She'll also abstain from touring with her myalgic encephalomyelitis diagnosis — and this prismatic record couldn't have been made by someone who was less devoted to the healing process.

Standout track: "Nothing's for Sure"
Led by the spark of NAO's effortless, lightning-bug vocal acrobatics, this vibe-y mantra makes for the most fun, groove-driven meditation practice you've ever had.
Megan LaPierre

Deb Never
Where Have All the Flowers Gone 


Hailing from Washington, Deb Never's sophomore effort improves upon the unique sound established in her 2019 EP. Raw writing filled with references to casual sex, The Matrix, drugs and escapism make for a deliciously angsty listen. The soundtrack blends hip-hop and pop with hints of grunge to produce the perfect late-night, vibe-filled album.

Standout track: "Stupid" 
The album's lead track centres on the mangled remains of a heartbroken lover — although the content is an oft-treaded territory, the song offers catharsis in the form of a crashing crescendo, marking Deb Never as an artist to watch. 
Haley Bentham

Anthony OKS
In the Garden


Manitoba hip-hop mainstay (and member of the Lytics) conjures the golden age of hip-hop with its horns and boom-bap beats. Over In the Garden's six tracks, OKS reconciles his family history with his present-day experiences in Winnipeg, including a collaboration with vocal virtuoso Begonia. OKS recently participated in an Exclaim! survey on upheaval in the music industry.

Standout track: "Boy from Freetown"
As he tells his father's story of immigrating from Sierra Leone, OKS showcases his singing chops before switching gears for urgent, rapid-fire verses.
Matt Bobkin



FLUX situates itself in and around the broad category of rock and its derivatives, but what it really does is encapsulate Poppy's desire to evolve through genres. She's identified that her constant need for change — for flux — is, ironically, the very thing that gives her consistency. Read our full review.

Standout track: "On the Level"
It stands out not only as a perfect instrumental — with its deconstructed guitar chords and funk-infused percussion — but also as the only earnest love song to have come from Poppy to date.
Rhys Juergensen


(Secret City) 

The words "get in touch" occasionally punctuate Shad's cerebral raps on TAO as both an ad-lib and imperative: a shorter, more immediate distillation of his push to remain aware of how this world can increasingly warp shared aspects of humanity, and the desire to "be whole and holding it down." Read our recent interview.

Standout track: "Work"
On one of his most aggressive releases to date, Shad scrutinizes the landscape of labour and its real-world issues in humorous, yet weary, wary fashion.
Calum Slingerland

Andy Shauf

(Arts & Crafts)

With Wilds, Shauf returns to the world he created with last year's The Neon Skyline, delivering a selection of tracks recorded during that period that didn't make the cut — though this is far from being a B-sides or demos compilation. In fact, it's quite the opposite; instead of feeling like a collection of deleted scenes from a movie, Wilds feels more like a proper spin-off series building on its foundation. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Jaywalker"
Shauf's brilliant songwriting shines brightly here, as he uses the imagery of an unsuspecting jaywalker to explore the emotional and mental weight of being blindsided by life's challenges as an individual who is heedlessly meandering through it.
Wesley McLean

Eternal Blue


The hype was worth it: Spiritbox's command of dynamics within Eternal Blue's swirl of beautiful and brutal sounds feels poised to make a ripple effect on the future of heavy music. Leading the charge is vocalist Courtney LaPlante, who turns in a masterful performance singing and screaming across this impressive debut. Read our recent interview.

Standout track: "Secret Garden"
An elastic main riff and ambient piano lead LaPlante's vocals to a soliloquy, where a dizzying bass groove keeps up momentum until a soaring chorus.
Calum Slingerland

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine
A Beginner's Mind

(Asthmatic Kitty)

Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine each make susurrant music that's rich with heart and striking imagery, and their first collaborative LP confirms that they are a musical match made in heaven. A Beginner's Mind will not wow you with grand theatrics, but it will have you on the edge of your seat nevertheless. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Olympus"
The pair's tenderness on this track is exquisite and the final, unexpectedly lovestruck verse will have you loudly sobbing.
Laura Stanley



Colourgrade marks a radical departure from the pop scaffolding of Tirzah's 2018's debut, Devotion, instead opting to dismantle that record's simple pleasures for a set of songs that hum and groan and clatter with a thrilling disregard for convention. There are still hooks, still body-pushing rhythms, but they're beamed in from another, stranger dimension — it feels like the future. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Send Me"
It's the record's most straightforward song, and also its most hypnotic — that is, until a blast of distorted guitar barges in at the very end. Tirzah rarely lets you get too comfortable.
Kaelen Bell

Last Birthday


The Toronto quartet romanticize their birth era on the follow-up to 2020's sucks to see you doing better, with single "Like 1999" going viral on TikTok even before completion. Reference-laden turns of phrase and glassy production make Rob Laska and Karah James trading vocals about any millennial plight sound irresistible.

Standout track: "Can We Make It? (Jim Carrey)"
Combining their best impression of the 1975 with a gospel-inspired chorus on top of their signature driving synthetics flexes another potential sonic direction of interest.
Megan LaPierre



Yebba has an extraordinary gift. This much has been evident since the moment a video of her performing her haunting original "My Mind" live in New York in 2016 went viral. Named after her late mother, who died by suicide shortly after said breakthrough performance, Dawn is a brave and incredibly vulnerable tale of loss, grief and healing. 

Standout track: "Far Away" (feat. A$AP Rocky)
Questlove's hearty drums provide the perfect backdrop as Yebba dukes it out with her demons on this gritty, soulful lament. A$AP Rocky provides an assist.
A. Harmony

Listen to all of these standout tracks with our Spotify playlist.

Latest Coverage