DOMINIONATED has always been fuelled by conversation. At its core, a conversation is an informal exchange of ideas — a give and take. Every piece we share, every feature we write, and every podcast we produce is an attempt to share our wildly different thoughts about Canadian music, both with a larger audience and with each other. Every new contributor brings a different voice and a unique perspective into this growing compendium of Canadian music criticism. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s for these reasons that we so look forward to putting together the annual list of our Favourite Fifty Albums. It is a wonderful distillation of our varying perspectives and tastes, democratically whittled down to a list that we feel represents the best of Canadian music from the past year. The only guideline we collectively followed was to submit the albums we as individuals loved most.
This year’s list is so incredible because it so genuinely captures the diversity of Canadian music, both in the sounds created and the people who created them. It’s proof that this conversation is only getting better.
So, here’s to an amazing year of Canadian music and #CanadianMusicConversations. We look forward bringing on new voices and covering more amazing music in 2019.
50 Pale Red Heavy Petting
Heavy Petting by Vancouver-trio Pale Red is an album of sharp-as-hell indie-rock that captures the awkward euphoria of not being young anymore and fighting like hell not to be old just yet. • Mac Cameron
49 mita Soul
My favourite discovery of 2018 came very early in the year, when Calgary-based songwriter Mita Adesanya, who performs and records as mita, released the powerfully honest and vulnerable EP, Soul. The title track is a sincere, succinct, and sophisticated piano-led ballad about seeing past superficiality to a person’s heart and soul. It’s also indicative of the sincerity and candidness of the EP’s three other tracks. mita’s Soul is short on actual music (the EP comes in at under twenty minutes), but bursting with potential. • Jim Di Gioia
48 Khotin Beautiful You
I found this album in the midst of a drunken swim through Soundcloud earlier this year and I’ve been submerged in it ever since. Listening to Dylan Khotin-Foote’s compositions is both impossibly soothing (“Water Soaked in Forever”; Dwellberry”) and strangely foreboding (“Vacation”), like falling through a heavy fog wrapped in crushed velvet. • Geoff Parent
47 Chilly Gonzales Solo Piano III
The career-redefining of self-described musical genius Chilly Gonzales has been fascinating to follow as he collaborates with pop music icons like Drake and Daft Punk. Most gratifying, though, is when he works in the classical idiom. While it hasn’t really broken new ground, the Solo Piano trilogy has been my favourite series of Gonzales’s works as he coaxes out every imaginable emotion from the piano. Whether it’s a playful reimagining of a Bach standard (‘Prelude in C Sharp Major”) or a contemplative impressionistic painting of a specific date (“October 3rd”) Gonzales shows why his nickname isn’t all bluster. • Jon Neher
46 L CON Insecurities in Being
This album isn’t one L CON‘s Lisa Conway was sure would ever happen, but that doesn’t make the raw honesty of Insecurities in Being any less gripping. The album is more skeletal than her intergalactic Moon Milk and allows her cryptic lyrics to take centre stage backed by just the right amount of sparse, gloomy musical arrangements. • Michael Thomas
45 Bernice Puff LP: In the Air Without a Shape
Perhaps the most aptly named record of the year, Bernice’s Puff LP: In the Air Without a Shape is pop music that is whimsically weird, deconstructed, and often formless. All the expected ingredients are there — the grooves and catchy melodies abound — but they all float around waiting to grasped, only for them to slip through your fingers like wisps of cloud. • Mac Cameron
44 FRIGS Basic Behaviour
Basic Behaviour is a barren space full of creeping shadows, often entirely devoid of warmth. That’s why it works. FRIGS Vocalist Bria Salmena is an infernal force — composed, macabre and powerful in equal measure. She lays bare bleak mantras (“this is shit, just admit it, this is shit”) over sparse arrangements. These songs are visceral manifestations of the modern despondency. • Geoff Parent
43 Wordburglar Rhyme Your Business
I don’t think anyone has more fun than Wordburglar when creating hip-hop. On the tail of Rapplicable Skills, Wordburglar’s latest album is another masterful ode to old-school hip-hop with a heaping helping of lyrical smoothness. Sean Jordan has no problem creating new words like “Verbserker” and “Versonality” and devotes time to hilarious disses (“Mic Heckla”), retro nostalgia (“Rental Patient”) and, yes, Marvel’s “Damage Control” in the confines of this meaty new album. • Michael Thomas
42 Richard Reed Parry Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1
Inspired by his time spent living in Japan, Richard Reed Parry incorporates many aspects of the local mythology into some immaculately-crafted pieces. “Sai No Kawara (River of Death)” takes you on a psychedelic trip through time and space, “On the Ground” manages to blend Concertina, fiddle and even some Northumberian pipes into a magnificent piece of acoustic chamber pop. By the time things come to a head on “I Was In The World (Was The World In Me?)”, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 has transcended mere folk-rock to become a vividly beautiful concept. • Josh Weinberg
41 Matty Déjàvu
Created during a hiatus from the band, BADBADNOTGOOD’s pianist Matty Tavares fuses his jazz education with his songwriting sensibilities to produce a psych-rock album that swells with ambient sounds and contemplative lyrics. • Olivia Pasquarelli
40 Devon Welsh Dream Songs
On Dream Songs, his first solo record post-Majical Cloudz, Devon Welsh powerfully glides over orchestral string arrangements, leaving the electronic production behind. He expertly commands attention through dreamy soundscapes while staying consistent to his vivid lyricism, this time over a less contemporary canvas. • James Jackins
39 Blue Youth Dead Forever
I wrote about Blue Youth‘s Dead Forever when it was released because it got me thinking about catharsis, and it remained on my regular rotation throughout the year. The songs are tight, the tempos are relentless, and the vocals are as melodic as they are brimming with vitriol. Among the heavy music releases in Canada, the post-hardcore riffage of Dead Forever is a stand out. • Jon Neher
38 Wake Misery Rites
A blistering reminder that Canada was not bereft of quality metal in 2018. Wake creates a divinely chaotic and pummeling variety of grindcore that refuses to let up. The dissonant discord of tracks like “Exhumation” and “Exile” are only rivalled by the tension and utter melancholy of the mammoth closer “Burial Ground”. Misery Rites is as unsettling as it is fucking monstrous; an absolute must-listen for those wanting to take a walk on the heavy side of life. • Josh Weinberg
37 Jaunt Cue
Toronto-based band Jaunt makes idiosyncratic pop that crackles and snaps with ingenuity and originality. On their second EP, Cue, Jaunt explores sombre introspection through hazy-hued lenses that refract and reflect angelic harmonies and soft rock instrumentation with unquestionable pop skills. From the breezy, sexy slow burn of “Best Case” to funky, fresh “Faster Interactions”, Jaunt’s Cue never misses its mark. • Jim Di Gioia
36 Little Kid Might As Well With My Soul
Toronto’s Little Kid is big on emotion and textures, carefully layering both to make Might As Well With My Soul a subtly enchanting record that at turns feels ephemeral, yet lingers in the memory long after its final notes. • Jim Di Gioia
35 Baby Jey Someday Cowboy
A musical sci-fi Western and a vivid collection of sounds from different decades, Someday Cowboy from Edmonton’s Baby Jey offers “California Dreamin’” mid-century pop vibes, rounded out with an insane combination of whimsical synths, 80’s drum programming and Americana twang. • James Jackins
34 Nick Schofield Water Sine
Water Sine towers above much of the electronica I’ve heard this year. A gorgeous ambient album bursting at the seams with pure warmth and majesty. I’m still blown away by the imagery Nick Schofield can craft thanks to a blend of field recordings, and dreamy synth work. From springtime walks in the park (“Pale Blue Dot”) to flying above the clouds (“Isle of Skye”) and bleak rainy afternoons (“Underpass” and “Schönefeld”), the full emotional and seasonal gamut is on display for all to hear. • Josh Weinberg
33 Foxwarren Foxwarren
For many people, Foxwarren’s biggest draw will be Andy Shauf’s lonely voice and lyricism, but the band has so much more to offer. While the sonic palette is closer to that of a traditional rock band than what’s heard on Shauf or Darryl Kissick’s other records, the band still masterfully utilizes texture and arrangement. Whether it’s the woozy organ that lends an urgency to “Everything Apart”, the bouncy Rhodes that outlines the retro chord changes for “In Another Life”, or the sticky guitar leads throughout the album, there are so many little touches that demonstrate the proficiency of Foxwarren’s members. • Jon Neher
32 ODIE Analogue
In an interview with The Line Of Best Fit earlier this year, Nigerian-born, Toronto-based artist ODIE described a particular day working his retail job when he became musically inspired by a beautiful woman who walked in the front door. “It felt like I was in purgatory, stuck in a place where I had to be in the moment but my mind was always elsewhere,” he says of being caught between his work obligations and creative impulses. That elsewhere became Analogue, a waking daydream of an album, at turns surreal, sensual, and light years ahead of where this 21-year-old wunderkind’s contemporaries are. • Jim Di Gioia
31 Preoccupations New Material
“It’s an ode to depression and self-sabotage and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred.” That’s how Preoccupations frontman Matt Flegel summed up New Material earlier this year. While the album may have come from a place of dark, unsettling truths, there is hope sitting just beneath the mire. The stunningly earnest “Disarray”, the blistering “Decompose”, and the rousing atmospherics of “Compliance”, showcase a band reaching for some kind of redemption. • Geoff Parent
30 Witch Prophet The Golden Ocatave
No other artist this year captured the fraught complexity of intersectionality in as striking — and as beautiful — a way as Witch Prophet’s Ayo Leilani. The Golden Octave is a spell-binding record that challenges expectations, speaks Leilani’s truth, and does it all with a soulful, spiritual, golden master groove. • Jim Di Gioia
29 Nyssa Champion of Love
28 Too Attached Angry
The unstoppable Vivek Shraya is a powerful presence no matter what her musical project and her collaboration with brother Shamik Bilgli as Too Attached has once again produced an insanely catchy electro-pop confection. Angry simply sounds huge, bursting full of brash production and empowerment anthems from start to finish. You can feel the fiery passion in the title track and the album’s epic “Grateful” bears a powerful message encouraging all to come into their power. • Michael Thomas
27 Adrian Teacher and the Subs Anxious Love
Less-than-wonderful circumstances spurred Adrian Teacher and the Subs’s album of short, seemingly cheerful pop songs that expose a darker undertone the deeper you dig into the lyrics. Teacher sings of wanting to be strong on “Pop Medicine” and the changing of friendships of the brisk “Hello Everyone”. Thankfully, the album finishes with a note of optimism as Teacher sings of a love that can heal pain. • Michael Thomas
26 Mélissa Laveaux Radyo Siwèl
Montreal-born/Paris-dwelling singer-songwriter Mélissa Laveaux immersed herself in the sounds of Haiti, her ancestral home, and came away with Radyo Siwèl, a record that honours its history, bursts with contemporary sensibilities, and celebrates the potential of the future. • Jim Di Gioia
25 St. Arnaud Morning, Buddy
A sombre and heartfelt tribute to a friend and former bandmate, Morning, Buddy is the culmination of a long and dark few years for Edmonton singer-songwriter Ian St. Arnaud. He took these tribulations and proved his resiliency and desire to keep making music. St. Arnaud sings of wanting to be the “Dark Horse” with an earnestness to overcome all the bad breaks he faces and on Morning, Buddy there is much to be hopeful for. • Josh Weinberg
24 Astral Swans Strange Prison
An album that can appear as some straight ahead art-folk, Astral Swans’s Strange Prison has much more depth and subtlety to its delivery than it first seems. Matthew Swann’s second record as Astral Swans shows more vulnerability and a heightened acceptance of space, both lyrically and musically. • Thomas Williams
23 Bonjay Lush Life
A long time in coming, Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain’s full-length debut as Bonjay is a sophisticated and soulful blend of R&B, dancehall, and electro-pop melodies. Lush Life plays out like a compelling essay on the struggle to build identity and be creative in a modern, urban society continually skewing towards anonymity and solitude. • Jim Di Gioia
22 Fine Thanks For Asking
Thanks For Asking by Fine is as open and raw a debut as I can recall hearing. Over six tracks, songwriter and vocalist Max Pittet proves they are an expert at translating the angst of growing up into complex, infectious pop-rock singalongs. Pittet has a voice and perspective that feels vital and fresh despite playing within a well-trodden sonic universe. It appears emo is alive and well in Nanaimo. • Mac Cameron
21 Graham Van Pelt Time Travel
Time Travel is a beautiful testament to the value of honest expression. Graham Van Pelt brings an in-the-room intimacy to this stunning collection of electronic music. It’s the rare kind of EDM record that can incite emotional introspection while also compelling you to move, love, and connect in physical space — to come out of your shell and release your-goddamn-self. • Geoff Parent
20 Ramon Chicarron Merecumbé
Ramon Chicharron deftly blends the rhythms of his native Colombia into an uplifting experience on Merecumbé. The gently-picked guitars of “Los Manás Estan Barracos” lend themselves well to electronic accoutrements. There are moments of brilliance all over; subtle cowbell-laden grooves on“Nena Tú Tienes”, the romantic and sensual vibes of “Cosita Linda” and the casual yet confident delivery on “Dame Tu Querer”. The story of a politician using his role only to serve himself and not his constituents rings especially true in our current global climate. Duelling between a fiery intensity and an embrace of the future, Merecumbé is where everything comes together. • Josh Weinberg
19 Hubert Lenoir Darlène
Whether you’ve seen Hubert Lenoir‘s charismatic vocal energy live on La Voix or at this year’s Polaris Music Prize Gala (which was the most PUNK of all the performances that night hands down), Darlène is a mind-blowing post-modern jazz-glam odyssey set amidst the backdrop of suicide and youthful rebellion. Amongst great saxophone solos (see: “Darlène, Darling”), Beatles homages (“J. -C” being a dead ringer for “Good Morning Good Morning”) and a cover of Jean-Pierre Ferland’s “Si on s’y mettait”, Hubert cannot be denied. I stand by “Fille de personne II” as my song of the year. • Josh Weinberg
18 Shad A Short Story About a War
Once, in Paris, I met the CEO of the world’s largest landmine manufacturer. This is a personal experience that Shad brings me back to during the unabashed second track from A Short Story About a War, “The Revolution/The Establishment”, a real-life example of someone who neglects their moral compass in the name of profit. The track serves as a visceral preview of what is to come during the album. Shad is scared and he’s trying to spread his feelings loudly. He uses the mic like a megaphone, pleading for love and union in the pursuit of real change. In true hip-hop fashion, A Short Story About a War is a positive call for change, rather than an aggressive beckoning for action, even though he bares his positivity through gritted teeth; his terror is apparent. Vivid wordplay, a strong message, and an endless supply of punchlines has become commonplace in a Shad effort, and A Short Story About a War is no exception. • James Jackins
17 Deux Trois Health
Nadia Pacey had already proven her songwriting prowess with her synth-pop project Konig, but her songs reach a new level thanks to an infusion of rock and roll. Deux Trois‘s Health is rock music that at times bares its beating heart and at others indulges in high-octane thrills. Pacey will never call her collab with Benjamin Nelson (PS I Love You) and Ben Webb (Carvings) a supergroup, but how else do you explain the gut-wrenching and tender power of a song like “Dave”? How else do you achieve the perfectly satisfying hook in “Health”? Or how easy it is to dance to the percussion in “Late Night Girls?” As effortlessly propulsive as Health is, it is also breathtakingly quiet. Both extremes feel like equally valid, essential halves of Deux Trois’ identity. • Michael Thomas
16 Chastity Death Lust
Amid heavy riffs and shoegaze mentalities sits Chastity’s Death Lust, an album that embraces many suburban teenage influences and compiles them into a gritty mosaic. Whether it’s an alternative 90s-esque feel in “Scary” or harmonies that make you grit your teeth in “Negative With Reason To Be”, Death Lust explores all avenues of suburban youth existence — memories of riding bikes through strip mall parking lots or walking on ice-laden pathways through frozen ravines. Frontman Brandon Williams demonstrates his stylistic range throughout, channeling some bittersweet melodies in the first half of the album and then unleashing some of that restraint in tracks like “Anoxia”. • Thomas Williams
15 Bahamas Earthtones
From Felicity Williams’s delicate supporting vocals to the catchy guitar riffs and tradeoffs between Christine Bougie and Afie Jurvanen, Earthtones delivers the signature sound and warm tone Bahamas fans have come to expect — with an R&B twist. Enlisting the expertise of drummer James Gadson and bassist Pino Palladino, who have been featured on D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Black Messiah, Earthtones achieves bold grooves and deep introspection.
Although Jurvanen’s lyrics have been stronger in the past, he is more experimental musically, most noticeably on “Bad Boys Need Love To,” deviating from his typical vocal range to rap at a lower register. The quirky intros on “No Expectations” and “Everything to Everyone” are unexpected and delightful gifts that add a layer of playfulness to the record. Earthtones is an punchy album that makes for easy listening. It showcases Jurvanen’s earnest desire to reflect on his life experiences as a musician and a father, all while exploring the range of his creativity. • Olivia Pasquarelli
14 Art d’Ecco Trespasser
There’s an element of artifice to Art d’Ecco that’s impossible to miss. From his Warholesque shock wig (and if that’s not a wig and your real hair, Art, it looks fantastic!), prominent red lips, and pale white powdered face, d’Ecco’s dressed to impress. What’s most notable isn’t the the sight of the BC-based artist, though, it’s the sounds he conjures on Trespasser, a glittery glam-rock stomper of a record. For a genre not known to be all warm and fuzzy, Trespasser is a deeply personal and touching album that features a tribute to his grandmother (“Lady Next Door”) and a throw-down to rock’s “overt masculinity and cool artifice”. Just like Bowie’s intergalactic alter egos challenged macho male rock, d’Ecco is taking on the gender binary and redefining boundaries, making room for musical outliers. • Jim Di Gioia
13 Moonface This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet
The Minotaur is traditionally seen as a monster: a man-eating man/bull hybrid spitefully confined and consumed by violence. It is also one of the central figures of This One’s For The Dancer & This One’s For The Dancer’s Bouquet, the spectacular swan song for Spencer Krug’s Moonface project. Instead of demonizing the creature, Krug shines a far more empathetic light on the monster at the middle of the maze. On seven of the albums sixteen songs, Krug writes from the Minotaur’s perspective, framing each song around one of the mythical figures that wronged it. Over lush marimbas, steel drums, vibraphone, and sparse electronic percussion, the Minotaur grapples with the motivations of these figures and actively tries to see from their POV. These are not songs of hate, they are songs of tentative forgiveness and empathy. The rest of the album finds Krug turning the lens on himself. These more traditional jazzy/rock-driven arrangements explore feelings of regret, anxiety, loneliness and simply living in the world.
The didactic nature of myth often bypasses emotion for tidy, cleverly-spun symbolism. I will try to avoid that here, because both Krug’s and the Minotaur’s songs are built off messy emotions and trying (and often failing) to contemplate the world beyond structures both literal and figurative. But if there are lessons to take away from this brilliant, ambitious album, they are empathy and understanding. If we attempt to understand those we traditionally demonize (including ourselves), otherize, or alienate, perhaps some sort of internal and external peace is a feasible venture. Better that than getting bogged down in hateful mazes of our own making. • Geoff Parent
12 Isla Craig The Becoming
“Who Am I?” is the centerpiece and central question of The Becoming by Toronto’s Isla Craig. The songs that surround it explore and answer that question while encouraging those wrapped in her warm, gorgeous melodies and harmonies to do the same. The Becoming is the most musically satisfying album of the year. It appeals to the rockists and the jazzheads; to those who love R&B and dub. Craig spends time singing (and playing flute) in The Cosmic Range and Jennifer Castle’s band and the support and inspiration her community brings to her is palpable, but not a crutch. Presenting this collection of songs, she sounds elated and confident. The Becoming is proof Isla Craig knows who she is and that going forward, she can do anything. • Mac Cameron
11 Ought Room Inside the World
Ought’s third full-length release is the sound of a band improving in almost every possible way. That’s saying something, considering that the band’s first two releases were peppered with moments of true brilliance. With Room Inside The World, the stakes are higher, the outlook is darker, the songs hit harder, and the band is just flat out better.
On Room Inside The World, Tim Darcy largely trades in his idiosyncratic nasally delivery for an equally idiosyncratic croon that fits into these moodier compositions wonderfully. Bassist Ben Stidworthy and drummer Tim Keen up their game and are rewarded with a mix that shows some love to the bottom end. The entire band embraces the mid-tempo groove and find brilliant ways to work it in to their wiry post-punk sound. They reign in their frenetic energy, breaking it up with moments of soulful warmth, as if to beg us all to slow down, smell the roses, and recognize the beauty of where we are and what we can offer each other. Nowhere is this more prominently on display than on “Desire”, an easy candidate for Song of the Year. Over a beautifully warm composition (Springsteen meets Sade; the band’s words, not mine) Darcy sings of love lost. But the tenderness in his voice and the sheer power of the music and the choir seems to honour the beauty of that love and desire while it lasted and for what it was. After all, “it was never gonna stay”, because nothing ever does.
All of this noise, fury, and dirt may be ephemeral, but we would all do well to find some extra room for love and beauty inside our respective worlds before the bastards manage to burn everything down. • Geoff Parent
10 Young Galaxy Down Time
That it’s better to burn out than to fade away is the ultimate rock and roll cliché. And that’s too bad, because I think if most artists had their way, they wouldn’t burn out or fade away — they would rather endure. Unfortunately for artists and fans, sustainability is hard to come by under the late-capitalist hellscape we find ourselves in. Montreal’s Young Galaxy know this all to well and with a gun to their heads, they chose to burn out as bright as any band has managed to do in recent memory. Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless released Down Time in April and in September they released an EP, Snow Leopard, along with news that they were finished. They were in an impossible situation: making the best music of their career in a courageously independent way, but no longer charting on the radar of the crits and the gatekeepers. Lost in the deluge.
Time will be kind to Down Time. Its mood is similar to Low’s Double Negative, pale and apocalyptic, but you don’t have to try so hard to love it. Within the muted synth patterns, pulsating grooves, and the warm hum of McCandless’s voice is this attitude and energy that is nearly impossible to describe without hearing it. It is the sound of true partners achieving salvation from the shitty realities that plague modern life if only for the length of an album. It is the sound of four middle fingers aimed straight at a dying industry that mostly fails those it claims to help. It’s the sound of artists honing their craft, feeling more capable than ever in their abilities, while thrashing away at the swarm of outside forces that seem to want nothing more than to sedate and control. Down Time is deliciously paced and rich with imagery that inspires me to take stock of the real things in my life and fend off the poison. 2018 may have killed Young Galaxy, but they refused to die without a fight. • Mac Cameron
09 Scott Orr Worried Mind
Understated musical intensity is hard to convey successfully, but Scott Orr’s Worried Mind is near-perfect in its execution. Throughout the record, Orr manages to softly and subtly convey explosive emotion. It all nearly bursts through the seams of gently strummed acoustics, but the emotion is kept in check by Orr’s trademark whispered vocals. The textures Orr creates on tracks like “No Phone” and “A Memory” plunge listeners into his musical world, allowing them to get lost within its many folds. It’s a world anchored by his approach to vocal melodies and rhythmic guitars set against a backdrop of drum samples that pop through the album like an irregular heartbeat. On the opening track “Sunburned”, the rhythmic execution plays right into that notion, pulling the listener along with a drone-like pulse as Orr delivers sporadic vocals that ache with yearning.
Orr conveys vulnerability with an anxious yet delicate grace. “Don’t wait to call me/It’s just a bad kind of season/There is no rhyme and or reason/It’s just a bad kind of season”, Orr tells us on “Seasons” in a calm and reassuring way, but covered in connotation that he is bearing it all for us. Worried Mind provides some key insight to Orr’s life and his struggles that largely go unnoticed through the first listen. However as the listener delves deeper, beautiful nuances are revealed. Scott Orr has created a record that can connect with its listeners in a way that many are hesitant to explore. Both in the emotional complexity, and in his willingness to combine electronic textures with delicate vocals and simple instrumentation. It is a truly singular experience. • Thomas Willaims
08 Suuns Felt
One might expect that in dark times, art gets darker too, but Montreal’s Suuns took the opposite approach this year. On Felt, their fourth full-length, they decided to combat the darkness with electric light. Peppered with wild sound, samples, and loops, Felt is a rock album deeply-indebted to electronic music and hip-hop. Rhythm and atmosphere take precedence over riffs. Synth licks bubble up and around bass lines that are often foundational to the songs. The vocal hooks are simple and succinct and are catchier than anything the band has crafted in the past.
The propulsive and uplifting “Watch You, Watch Me” and the sticky lullaby “Peace and Love” invoke Radiohead at their most optimistic and experimental. Of course, Suuns makes sure listeners aren’t too comfortable with more challenging tracks like the woozy “After the Fall” and the disorienting “Daydream”. All of this adds up to a wholly unique and unforgettable record; one that pushes sonic boundaries, points Suuns towards the future, and engulfs you in its rich textures. If Felt is a rock album from the future, the future sounds surprisingly bright. • Mac Cameron
07 Fucked Up Dose Your Dreams
With Dose Your Dreams, Fucked Up have created the most ambitious, thematically resonant album of their impressive career. This from a band who has grown to prominence by embracing experimentation and grandiosity in a way that most hardcore bands could or would ever dream. Even referring to the them as a hardcore band at this point seems like a woefully inept description. Hell, even referring to them as a traditional band feels weird now. Dose Your Dreams is a record that proves that Fucked Up is more of a shifting entity than a band: it can be anything, at anytime, and include anyone.
The heart and soul of Fucked Up’s latest cinematic venture is Joyce Tops — a mysterious elderly woman with the power to induce metaphysical odysseys. She compels people to step outside their physical worlds and into a realm of multitudes and contradictions. They become fragmented in order to understand themselves more completely. They see themselves anew, adopt new perspectives, hear new voices, and find new meaning. She is such a fitting creation for a band that operates so wonderfully outside the conventions of the trade.
Over a sprawling hour and twenty-two minutes of music, we follow David Eliade, Joyce, and Joyce’s ex-lover Lloyd on a journey through the funhouse mirror. Much is made about the genre-bending music on Dose Your Dreams, and for good reason. The band blends punk, hardcore, pop, glam-rock, psychedelia, acid house, krautrock, grunge, industrial noise, and basically everything else in a way that reflects Joyce’s trip — fragmented yet abundantly clear. Each song stands alone as a vignette while also contributing to the larger narrative. Rather than explicitly move the plot forward, though, these songs exist as character snapshots or soliloquies meant to orient the listener to what the characters are feeling in this undefined space. The narrative is disjointed, because that’s how David and the rest are experiencing it.
The voices are also disjointed. Even though Damien Abraham is a staple on the record, he is just one voice of many. From Jennifer Castle and J Mascis, to Ryan Tong, Alice Hansen, Lido Pimienta, Miya Folick, John Southworth and more, Dose Your Dreams is medley of howls, barks, croons, and dulcet tones. What’s interesting is that these voices don’t seem to explicitly represent different characters so much as different temperaments, personalities and proclamations. Who is speaking gets muddy; the emotive lustre of what is said never weakens.
The more I think about this record, the more I think about a work by another Joyce. Ulysses is a gigantic, relentlessly experimental work that is meant to disorient. James Joyce exposes the reader to fragmented, dreamlike perceptions of familiar space. He presents a cacophony of voices, perspectives, styles that breathe strange life into his surrealist map. Like with Dose Your Dreams, the linearity of the narrative disappears, but the rich expressiveness of the characters grows clearer.
Despite the grandiosity of its style and its fantastical bent, Dose Your Dreams weaves together deeply affecting stories, where the stakes are simply living, loving, and finding happiness in trying times. Like with Ulysses, everyday life becomes an odyssey. • Geoff Parent
06 Helena Deland From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vols. I – IV
Much is made about the death of the album in the music industry. At the fear of sounding like a broken record, after previous scares during the rise (and falls) of MTV, Napster, and iTunes, there can be no doubt that streaming has increased the value of singles. This at the same time as the definition of “album sales” has shifted to recognize the prominence of the playlist. In some cases this has lead to bloated releases that throw a mountain of indistinguishable content out in hopes of being inescapable (see: Scorpion, Drake) or a collection of songs that seem plucked from the ether, as if the almighty algorithm was having a bad day and switching between Chill Beats to Study to and Weekend Glow Up at random (see: More Life, Drake). Part of what makes Helena Deland’s From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vols. I-IV so striking is how it embraces the album format and the single format simultaneously.
Each volume of “Altogether Unaccompanied” works very well if listened to independently. For example, Volume II features a cinematic downtempo burner in “Take it All” followed by a comparably more bouncy “Body Language” that saunters away with sneaky syncopation. This pair of songs clearly belong together despite their differing instrumentation and tempo but I am equally happy listening to them in isolation; “Body Language” would traditionally be labeled as the B-side from this volume but it is a favourite among me and my friends and has appeared in Deland’s live show both times I have been fortunate enough to see her. There really are no weak spots among the nine songs and it’s impressive how such a broad collection of songs can all feel so good next to each other.
The reason all these songs work so well no matter the format they are presented in is simple — Helena Deland is that good. She is that good at delivering whispery introspections as well as heralding sublime proclamations; you can hear both on “There are a Thousand”. Helena Deland is that good at songwriting where the verses and choruses merge together through oddly-shaped and extended phrases, so that a song like “Claudion” becomes some sort of synth-pop Megazord. Helena Deland is that good at drawing the listener into the palette of her “sincere-pop” music. Whether you are listening to her series of songs or a single that sneaked into your playlist, it will all make sense for as long as the song lasts. • Jon Neher
05 U.S. Girls In a Poem Unlimited
Meg Remy and I live in the same neighbourhood. We shop at the same vintage boutique and sometimes I walk past her on the sidewalk in Toronto’s west end. But it wasn’t until she released In a Poem Unlimited that I really began to take notice of her.
Remy was born and raised in Illinois, but now lives in Toronto with her husband, Canadian musician Max Turnbull. Performing under the moniker U.S. Girls, In a Poem Unlimited is the second record Remy has released through independent label 4AD. Much in the way that poetry arranges language in rhythmic and artistic patterns, this album evokes violent emotion from its breathy start to its percussive finale. But Poem doesn’t necessarily sound violent upon first listen. The songs are poppy, funky and certifiably danceable. It’s easy to miss the dark lyrics when you’re bopping to the beat — lyrics like, “The recoil is the celebration / The blood like oil spilling on the floor / This’ll surely feel against your nature / But girl, you gotta move on.”
Remy explores issues at the heart of #MeToo, like the abuse of power, the silencing of women, and domestic violence, giving female rage not only a voice, but a distinct sound. From exacting revenge to distrusting political figures and religious satire, In a Poem Unlimited explores characters and storylines that seem all too familiar.
Recorded with the help of Toronto jazz collective The Cosmic Range, this album is the product of more than two dozen collaborators. Despite the expansive creative input, it’s a record that executes on a clear vision. It’s a near-perfect political pop album. • Olivia Pasquarelli
04 Daniel Romano Finally Free
In the short time since its official release on November 30th, Finally Free has often been referred to in print as the most out-of-place record amongst Daniel Romano’s abundant back catalogue (by the artist himself, no less). That’s true, it is. And it will be for as long as Finally Free remains Daniel Romano’s most recent release. That’s because each successive Daniel Romano record represents another musical detour in a career carving out compelling and idiosyncratic paths through popular culture. From the Nudie Suit splendour of Come Cry With Me to the speaker-shredding shrapnel of his alter ego, Ancient Shapes, Romano has always been a self-styled off-road kind of artist; just when you think he’s turning right, Romano makes a hard left, does a 180° and starts burning rubber backwards in the opposite direction.
Finally Free is a trippy, poetic mashup of cosmic imagery, pastoral romanticism (like the “Sweet pollens of love in a syrupy breeze” sticking all over “Have You Arrival”) and some of Romano’s most elegant and ornate melodic lines to date (as found in the affecting balladry of “All The Reaching Trims”). It’s also arguably his most opaque record — a conscious decision. Casting up a heady brew of transcendental poetics and off-kilter tunings, “Celestial Manis” and “Gleaming Sects Of Aniram” act as a kind of red herring, intentional head-scratchers. Alongside more finely folk-aligned fare like “Between The Blades Of Grass” and “There Is Beauty In The Vibrant Form”, Finally Free’s esoteric elements initially feel disconnected from the whole. Finally Free is a grower, not a shower, though. Repeated listens begin to reveal a method to Romano’s madness, exposing the subtle and intricate ways he connects a record of sometimes disparate tangents: literally by inserting song titles and phrases from one song into lyrics of another; figuratively through the dynamic recording setup that had a solitary, unmoving microphone in the middle of a menagerie of instruments, each one played by him.
More so than any of his previous albums, Finally Free, like other notable albums in our Top Ten, signals the start of a tipping point. Romano is among the vanguard of artists making a conscious decision to break away from a wounded and crippled music industry and making art on their own terms — ignoring algorithmic pressures, free from meme-marketing, and eschewing lowest-common-denominator blandness. Burn rubber and leave the others behind. • Jim Di Gioia
03 Jeremy Dutcher Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Combining elements of classical composition, folk, rock, electronics, and a myriad of contemporary musical references, Jeremy Dutcher’s Polaris Music Prize-winning debut Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is unparalleled amongst the musical class of 2018. Dutcher spent countless hours in the archives at the Canadian Museum of History painstakingly transcribing the traditional songs of his Wolastoq First Nation, sung by his ancestors in their traditional Wolastoqey language and recorded onto wax cylinders at the start of the 20th century. Dutcher’s arrangements breathe new life into songs and a language that had all but been eradicated by the systemic oppression and colonialism that forced his ancestors to abandon their traditions and history.
Yet, for all of the accolades and praise heaped upon Dutcher and Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, what often gets under-emphasized is how powerful a cultural disruptor the record is. It’s an astounding shit disturber of a record. Think about it: Dutcher walked into an institution, a Crown corporation established by the very government of settlers that stole his ancestors land, repatriated stolen songs hidden away in its archive, and returned them to his community, to the people on the land that birthed these songs generations ago. That’s badass punk if you ask me. Emboldened by his classically trained tenor, Dutcher’s freshly transcribed arrangements are working to wipe away years of intergenerational fear and shame around about using his language one note at a time. This five-year labour of love is the ultimate middle-finger to the settlers and political thieves who worked at wiping out all trace of Indigenous culture and traditions on this stolen land. It’s an eloquently nuanced and composed record, yes, but Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is also a consequential “Fuck you” to years of tyranny and persecution nonetheless. • Jim Di Gioia
02 Jean-Michel Blais Dans ma main
What strikes you first about Dans ma main is how beautifully it toes the line between formality and feeling.
Jean-Michel Blais can tickle the ivories with the best of them, but he is infinitely more concerned with making you feel the music in your nerve endings. He obscures his technical proficiency behind a palpable layer of raw feeling so as to dissolve any hierarchical remove between artist and listener. Everything works in the service of translating emotion, memory, and shared experience. The emotions are sporadic, ever-shifting, and exorcised in fluid bursts of desperation and empathy. Pockets of cold darkness are punctuated with shots of warmth, tenderness, and optimism. The album is an unquiet mind, always shifting and never settling. It is tempestuous and riddled with disparate fragments.
Blais is an artist that has a tense relationship with convention. In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, he recently said “I never want to lose contact with the original piano instrument, but we have so many tools now to treat it differently than to just have the instrument on its own, so why not use them, and how?”. If your chosen instrument immediately conjures images or ruminations of the past, then how are you supposed to experiment and move it forward? For Blais, it’s not enough to neatly re-package elements of the classics, or evoke a specific movement or period. Instead, Dans ma main is an exercise in taking all that one can learn from the past in order to viscerally re-imagine it. Whether it’s the electronic elements on “igloo”, “a heartbeat away”, and “blind”, or the production moments that seem to want to situate the listener inside the piano, Blais continuously tries to re-contextualize how the piano can be heard.
Memory and emotion play heavily on Dans ma main, and the weight behind each note is staggering. Blais playing is worthy of the loftiest praise but he opts to work his magic in the messy trenches of human experience, where music this beautiful is needed most. • Geoff Parent
01 Jennifer Castle Angels of Death
Imagine how boring life would be if it were infinite. By the same token, it would be equally as sad and depressing if we spent the entirety of life anticipating its inevitable end. What makes death and the accompanying loss and grief so profound is all the living we do before it arrives. From the bluntness of its title onward, there’s no doubt that Angels of Death is very much rooted and informed by life’s end. That said, it’s also a record that resoundingly honours and acknowledges the universality of humanity: one day, all of us here now will not be here anymore. We will leave traces of ourselves behind, however, footprints both spiritual and physical, that will influence the living in ways they may never consciously be aware of.
So it goes with the singer-songwriter herself, who finds her own losses and experiences with grief informing the most poignant and personal moments on Angels of Death. “I go down to Texas / To kiss my grandmother goodbye / She forgets things,” Castle touchingly sings on “Texas”, reminiscent of many who’ve made a similar journey to offer a final farewell to a loved one. But rather than the expected sense of closure and finality, Castle finds inspiration and a window into the afterlife waiting for her: “But when I look her in the eye / I see my father / and he’s been gone so very long / in the name of time travel / help him to hear my little song.”
At its most affecting, Angels of Death gives language to the indescribable confusion and emotional upheaval death unleashes on the living. So often, loss and grief gets addressed through cliché and effusive emoting; on “Tomorrow’s Mourning”, Castle gives a masterclass in lyrical economy and in how to invest a subtle gesture or inconsequential moment like a late night drive with gravitas. Castle’s profound gift to us is recognizing the humanity in the minutest of details — the colour of the sky, moisture in the air, the deafening nature of silence, and the slow procession of time. As ubiquitous and inescapable as death is, it remains an unwelcome intrusion that leaves its mark long after it passes. Angels of Death dispels some of its mystery and mystique. Death doesn’t come to signal an ending, it comes to remind us of all the living we do between its visits. • Jim Di Gioia