Favourite Fifty of 2021

It was pretty clear on December 31, 2020, that all bets for 2021 were off. At DOMINIONATED, we were coming off an impressive run. We posted more content in 2020 thanks to the fact that our team spent the better part of the year taking solace in music and records to make the quarantine time pass. When it came to compiling our annual list of the fifty releases that defined our year, none of us had the heart to quantify our love with a numbered ranking. We have decided to do the same thing this year. It’s an editorial decision that seems even more fitting this year than last: our contributors put forth such a diverse list of albums for consideration that we couldn’t possibly come to a consensus about a ranking. This list represents our favourite musical discoveries of the year, our aural comfort food, and our go-to recommendations to friends and family when we finally connected IRL. 

As I’m writing this introduction, two DOMINIONATED team members are seeing the Weather Station live in Toronto. For both, it’s one of the first live performances they’ve seen in the last year. It will also be the first time these two will be meeting and talking to each other in person after years of working together on DOMINIONATED online. That is what DOMINIONATED has always been about: starting conversations. We sincerely thank each of you for being a part of our conversation this year. Whether you liked a post, retweeted a link, subscribed to our Patreon, or are joining us for the first time, your engagement with, interest in, and support for what we do means a lot. As always, we hope you’ll find something in our annual wrap-up to enjoy, celebrate, and most importantly, to support with your wallets. 

We can’t wait to see you in the record shops and out at gigs real soon.


Ugly Hag

For the follow-up to last year’s Polaris Music Prize-winning God Has Nothing to Do With It Leave Him Out Of It, Backxwash goes all-in on being honest about her pain and suffering and dependencies and depression. I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES is an unrelenting and unforgiving brute of an album that’s undeniably well-constructed and produced. You don’t get to this level of sustained musical rage and intensity without being a crafty and compelling songwriter, and Ashanti Mutinta more than proves her mettle as musician, producer, and songwriter on the likes of “IN MY HOLY NAME,” “BLOOD IN THE WATER,” and the peerless “BURN TO ASHES.”

The sound of I LIE HERE BURIED… is suffocating and sometimes claustrophobic, but it is deeply compelling. For all its intensity, it’s not a one-note record. Amidst the fury and flash, Backwash shows us glimpses of her humanity. The result is an unyielding exploration of the emotions and experiences that motivates us to wrath and fury: the fear of being hunted and hated for embracing your true self; the determination and grit to survive against all odds; the desperate need to connect to others who know and understand what you’re going through. “The purpose of pain is to get our attention that something is wrong, protect us from further damage and to request care,” says a disembodied voice on album opener “PURPOSE OF PAIN” in the most matter of fact, monotone voice, adding, “It’s in this sense that a little bit of pain is a good thing.” The irony of course is that what’s about to follow is anything but a little bit of pain, but I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES is most definitely more than just a good thing: it’s not only an expression of rage and anger but also a distillation of what leads us to it in the first place. • Jim Di Gioia

Buy it on Bandcamp



People’s Champ

There’s been a neat and tidy symmetry to BADBADNOTGOOD’s releases thus far. Aside from 2015’s Sour Soul, a collaboration with Ghostface Killah, the band’s studio LPs have followed each other in a numerical sequence culminating in 2016’s IV. There has also been a sonic continuity to these releases. Operating brilliantly in the charged space between hip-hop and jazz, BBNG has cultivated a sound and built up an impressively distinctive back catalogue. And while IV saw them branch out and collaborate with vocalists, DJs, and instrumentalists alike, they held firm to the sounds and moods that have served them so well. 

Five years on from IV, that symmetry has been derailed in spectacular fashion. With a film score, production credits, high-profile writing credits, one-off singles, and the parting of a founding member behind them, BBNG returned this year with Talk Memory — an album that marks such a significant vibe change and sonic maturation for the group that it’s almost jarring. This change is felt immediately with “Signal From the Noise.” Mournful, weathered, apoplectic, and sensual, the nine-minute lead single and album opener is cinematic in its scope and emotional heft. The band then settles into a groove, knocking off one improvisational number after another, all punctuated by some of the best performances of their career. Drummer Alexander Sowinski’s frenetic style is on display throughout, but it’s his deft control, nuance, and space-making on tracks like “City of Mirrors” and “Timid Intimidating” that impresses the most. Chester Hansen’s psych-jazz bass freakout on “Signal From the Noise” is a mix of primal emotion and pure precision. Leland Whitty’s hypnotic, freewheeling saxophone over “Momentum 73”’s smoky, heady atmosphere is an early album highlight. 

To augment their own performances, BBNG enlisted the help of a dreamlike lineup of musicians. From Laraaji (“Momentum 73”) and Karriem Riggins (“Besides April”) to acclaimed harpist Brandee Younger and Terrace Martin (“Talk Meaning”), the talent of these musicians and the spirit of collaboration takes Talk Memory to a new level. That said, it’s the contributions of legendary Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai that stand out the most. BBNG has been vocal about the influence Verocai has had on their own work and thankfully, they make the most out of the collaboration. Verocai’s string arrangements add a palpable sense of history, richness, and sophistication to Talk Memory’s arrangements. The interplay between the trio’s youthful energy and Verocai’s precision and experience works brilliantly well, to the point where it feels like a partnership that has always been so. 

After a remarkably solid, fruitful, and consistent first 10 years, BBNG have laid new foundations with Talk Memory. The trio have blown apart their sound, leaned into the more classic elements of the genre, and are left in a fruitful landscape where a whole host of sonic directions seem possible. • Geoff Parent

Buy it on Bandcamp

Quinton Barnes, As a Motherfucker

Grimalkin Records

Quinton Barnes’ ambitions and musical bravery know no bounds; From the popping beats on “Switch” to the ambient soul of “Heartbeat”, he’s unwilling to stay in any one lane long enough to get pigeonholed. It’s impossible to slot As a Motherfucker into any one genre without completely ignoring another of its musical facets. What rings true throughout, though, is Barnes’ seamless blend of assuredness and romanticism. He embraces contradictions and mines them for all their worth while exploring the grey areas between polar opposite emotions. As a Motherfucker is all Quinton Barnes all at once; confident and bold, tender and passionate, profane and profound. • Jim Di Gioia

Buy it on Bandcamp

Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep.019: Quinton Barnes; Quinton Barnes, As a Motherfucker

Bernice, Eau De Bonjourno

Telephone Explosion

“Don’t you know, heaven is a template you can draw?” sings Robin Dann on “Infinite Love”, the penultimate track on Bernice’s lush, untethered masterwork, Eau De Bonjourno. It’s a sentiment that rings throughout the whole record: a band more than capable of writing straight-forward pop songs creating a collection of pop songs that go any direction but straight. There is so much opportunity to get completely lost in Bernice’s impressionistic, improvisational groovelation and Dann’s personal, funny, yet poignant reflections on her own anxieties and desires. Bernice are world builders and Eau De Bonjourno is their richest sonic map yet. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice

You’ve Changed Records

As I sit to write this, water has been pummelling what we know as Canada. Floods have erased roads, houses, and bridges. A blizzard temporarily quiets the extractive thrum of prairie industry; the self-proclaimed centre of the nation prepares for a temporary nap via a white blanket of snow and a reorganization of consumption practices. An island braces against torrential and severe rains while insurers prepare to wash their hands of those who lose their home. It is hard to blame water for all this – while humanity has worked to shape and to ignore and to fight against water, water still brings us life. • Jon Neher

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Dive Deeper Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice


Southern Lord

BIG|BRAVE’s latest album, Vital, continues their hallmark of heavy guitar sound and pummeling percussion while finding a way to infuse it with the soul of folk’s simplicity and an emotional range that’s deeply compelling for those who wouldn’t normally gravitate to their turned-up-to-11 wall of sound. Guitarist and vocalist Robin Wattie delivers riveting performances throughout, but especially noteworthy is the note-heavy gymnastic routine on “Half Breed,” a song about finding yourself in between worlds and cultures. Wattie conveys a range of emotions and states of mind through her howls and screams when other vocalists might get locked into anger, venom, and rage. It’s clear that BIG|BRAVE is an elastic and dynamic band, uncompromising in its sound and vision. • Jim Di Gioia

Buy it on Bandcamp

Dive Deeper BIG|BRAVE, Vital

Black Dresses, Forever In Your Heart


If we all had Forever In Your Heart in the worst months of 2020, we all would have had an outlet for pure feeling, even if you’re unsure what that feeling is. 2020 was a bad enough year for Ada Rook and Devi McCallion that Black Dresses called it quits, but now, thanks to this album, they will be forever in our hearts. Their album is a huge ball of feelings, those emotions amplified to the max when McCallion screams and turned way down low with Rook’s stoic vocals. Glitch-pop and screamo meld in ways that shouldn’t be possible as McCallion and Rook process their issues separately and together. They wonder if things can ever be beautiful in an ugly world. They’re scared and they’re hopeless, but they find perhaps some relief.  Has there ever been an album where one band member asks the other if they’re okay? This has that, too. Even if you’re not okay, Black Dresses have your back. • Michael Thomas

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 BONUS Ep.: World Peace, Black Dresses; Black Dresses, Forever In Your Heart

Blessed, iii

Flemish Eye

Music aside, what impresses me most about Blessed is their unwavering commitment to the act of being a band. From their relentless tour schedules to their focus on community to creating songs that highlight the interplay of shared skill rather than any one individual’s talent, this is a band that does “being a band” real well. As consistent as they are, however, their artistic approach is anything but. Building off of the stylistic grab-bag that was their 2019 LP, Salt, the iii EP finds Blessed double down on their erratic, adventurous approach to songwriting while embracing their love of communal collaboration. Featuring four songs produced by four different individuals, iii’s songs sound strikingly different from one another when compared as isolated units. But what’s remarkable here is how, when taken as a whole, the EP just works. It is a centred, focused effort that willfully smears its disparate parts together. This is precisely how the band likes it. In their shared rejection of stylistic continuity, Blessed finds common ground and moves forward in harmony. As vocalist/guitarist Drew Riekman says: “If it’s art made by us, the consistency is us.” • Geoff Parent

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Dive Deeper Blessed, iii Visual Review

Bon Enfant, Diorama


Bon Enfant’s Diorama is a delicious little bonbon of seventies-style pop. “Cinema” is chock full of slide guitar, country swagger, and Rhodes piano that has me playing it on repeat. “Ciel bleu” is like an Elton John opening number, designed to get crowds revved up and energized, ready to jump in and sing along with the opening verse while pumping fists in the air in time with its motorik beat. The hook-infected chorus is all but a given. Criminally underlooked and under-appreciated by anglophone audiences, Bon Enfant’s slick and stylish sound deserves a bigger crowd. Every year-end list has that one album you didn’t know about but fall in love with once you hear it: on this list, Diorama is that album. • Jim Di Gioia

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Bukola, The Chronicles of a Teenage Mind

Autumn Studios

In between the diary readings that bookend her debut, The Chronicles of a Teenage Mind, Bukola takes on the struggles of being a young Black woman with an honesty and vulnerability that feels rare for someone of my generation but is increasingly the mark of a new generation of candid and confessional singer-songwriters. Song titles like “A Good Thing” and “I Am Enough” speak volumes before you even get to hear the dulcet R&B they’re set to. “Is the future as daunting as it seems?” she asks on “Dear Diary Wonders,” all the while knowing that the answer is yes, but it’s nothing that she can’t handle. • Jim Di Gioia

Listen to it on Spotify

Dive Deeper Bukola, The Chronicles of a Teenage Mind

Cadence Weapon, Parallel World

Dream House Studios

No album in 2021 landed with as much urgency as Parallel World, the Polaris Music Prize-winning fifth album from Cadence Weapon. No subject matter is off the table here because, as the album so pointedly suggests, these issues are fundamentally connected. Racism sits front and centre on opener “Africville’s Revenge.” But Cadence Weapon’s reference point — the primarily Black community that dates back to the mid-1800s, found on the outskirts of Halifax, whose leaders refused to provide its citizens with basic services like sewage, clean water, and garbage disposal — parallels the ongoing treatment of Indigenous communities that have been plagued by the indignity of boil-water orders for generations by governments that refuse to put in the work. Already an accomplished poet and music producer, Rollie “Cadence Weapon” Pemberton ups his game by balancing angry rhymes, funny lyrics, and the sickest beats of his musical catalogue on an album that incisively takes on the encroaching surveillance state and poison toxicity of online living that offers us a new perspective and a possible way forward. In 2021, Parallel World is an unparalleled success. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Cadence Weapon, Parallel World

Charlotte Cornfield, Highs in the Minuses

Charlotte Cornfield, Highs in the Minuses (album art)
Next Door Records

I take no pleasure in making people cry, Charlotte Cornfield, but let’s just call us even. Highs in the Minuses, in particular its lead single, “Headlines,” sucker-punched me in the gut three lines in. “Woke up sweating over the state of affairs / From my mountain isolation / Up three flights of stairs,” could basically have been my status update for the better part of the last twenty-four months. It’s hard not to see yourself reflected back in pandemic-influenced art as we’ve all been living similar versions of the same nightmare for months, but it takes an artist of Cornfield’s calibre to distill the undefinable mass of emotions into a neat three-line rhyme.

Highs in the Minuses is an unassuming treat of storytelling genius and from-the-heart musicality. It’s not flashy, glammy, or glib. Cornfield is the sincerest of singers and performers. She gives you the goods with a novelist’s eye for detail and vocabulary with lines like “In the partial lamplight / Splayed like a fan / I thought you were my man” and then simultaneously cracks you up and cracks your heart with “You were a Pac-Man / Eating everything in sight / And you know what? You were right / When you said that you were bad” (“Pac-Man”). In a year that’s careened like a roller coaster car off its rails, albums like Highs in the Minuses keep us grounded. I take pleasure in knowing that every time I put in on, I end up feeling a little less alone than I did in the silence before it starts. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Charlotte Cornfield, Highs in the Minuses

Daniel Romano’s Outfit, Cobra Poems

You’ve Changed Records

Daniel Romano’s Outfit’s Cobra Poems is a rock n roll record; what else is there to say? Heavily indebted to bands like the Kinks or the Rolling Stones, Cobra Poems is a Gibson SG-powered steamroller that works as a love letter to the 1970s. If I’m being frank, I thought “Baby If We Stick It Out” was a cover because of how timeless it sounds. While maintaining a consistent aesthetic, there are nods to Romanos’s other musical projects. His love of punk is reflected in the power-pop of “Nocturne Child,” and there are nods to his psychedelic phase with ”Even In The Loom Of A Caress.” Perhaps most importantly, Cobra Poems feels like the thesis statement of the current collaborative chapter in his solo career. Julianna Riolino’s vocals shine extra bright, and Ian Romano’s drumming is louder than ever. Fans of Dan will not be let down, and for new listeners, there is plenty to appreciate. • Myles Tiessen

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Dive Deeper The Collected Pandemic Releases of Daniel Romano

Devours, Escape from Planet Devours

Surviving the Game

When they write the history of Pop Music in 2021, there will certainly be chapters about Lil Nas X’s “breakout” performance on SNL, the freeing of Brittany Spears, and the triumphant return of Adele. If there were any justice in this world (and I’ve long ago given up any hope that there is) there would also be a chapter on Jeff “Devours” Cancade’s escape from the pandemic-fuelled depression and disenfranchisement that he tackles on Escape from Planet Devours. For an album about how making music stopped being fun for Cancade, Escape from Planet Devours is one of the year’s greatest thrill rides. “I’ve worked too hard / To be stuck in a rut,” he sings on early single “Nomi’s Got Heat.” Digging deep and with fist-pumping determination, Cancade counters all the negativity hurtling through space towards him to declare, “Well, baby, I’m back / And I’m bitter as fuck.” Opening track “Poltergeist” exorcises the demons setting unrealistic benchmarks for “success” (“Did I do it for love? / Was I in it for fame? / I should have trusted my gut / I have no one to blame,”) while “Death Is a B-Side” does the same to the insidiousness of the idealized gay male body (“Fuck the gym / Let’s get fat together,”). What sticks with you most about Escape from Planet Devours is not Cancade’s no-holds-barred attitude and sharp, witty barbs, but the deeply felt heart and compassion with which he approaches these subjects — and himself. Escape from Planet Devours is a synth-pop masterclass in self-healing, self-care, and self-love. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Devours, Escape from Planet Devours

DijahSB, Head Above the Waters


The rise of DijahSB, since the release of 2020 The Album just eighteen months ago, has been as steady as the beats that buoy their records. Two albums and two EPs in that short time span is impressive based on volume alone. But what really makes Dijah fun to be a fan of is the mind-boggling consistency of it all. Over danceable, feel-good beats that harken back to early Kanye and feel in line with Kaytranada’s brand of modern house music, DijahSB walks a delicate tightrope between good-humoured braggadocio and aching vulnerability and openness. Head Above The Waters, at the moment at least, feels like Dijah’s most complete project. Tracks like “Throw That Back” and “Overtime” suggest Dijah may be close to a pop crossover, while “By Myself” and “Way Too Many Ways” are clinics in open-hearted, technical rapping. To paraphrase Dijah, Head Above The Waters is more than just some rapping, this is Dijah’s life and struggles on display, packaged over some of the breeziest music you could imagine. If their 2021 is any indication DijahSB is swimming good, and the conditions they have created in their wake point to smooth sailing into 2022. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 012: DijahSB; DijahSB, Head Above the Waters

Willie Dunn, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology

Light in the Attic Records

When Willie Dunn sings, “It’s a long lonesome journey/ Shuffling through the snow,” there is a haunting echo that burrows through my skin. I can’t help but feel paralyzed. This song “Charlie” is an agonizing recounting of the story of Chanie Wenjack, a child who ran away from a residential school designed to destroy his Indigenous identity and erase his people. Tired and hungry, Charlie waits for the winter winds to take his soul. “Charlie” is quite possibly Dunn’s most heartbreaking song. His finger-picked folk music and poetry are often candid reflections of settler-colonialism deeply embedded in the country he lives in and the industry in which he works. But, there are moments in Dunn’s songwriting where jubilation shines like the morning sun. Moments of quiet serenity with a partner or memories of untouched nature are treated with the optimistic brilliance they deserve. Regardless of the tone, his music inspires change. Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies is an expertly crafted anthology of Canada’s greatest treasure; an artist whose music holds the disparate brutality and tenderness of humanity. • Myles Tiessen

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Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition, Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition

You’ve Changed Records

When I first heard about Fiver and the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition, a collaboration album between Fiver and members of Special Costello, I knew I needed to listen to the album. How could a collaboration between one of the most moving Canadian songwriters and some of the most memorable live musicians I’ve ever seen be anything short of astounding? I’m happy to say I was not wrong. My friend and I locked ourselves away for an afternoon of listening and were completely mesmerized for its entire forty minutes.

The album falls immediately into a grove that’s as warm and cozy as the classic folk albums that remind you most of home. The jazz piano and saxophones sneak up on you, seamlessly building on country-style guitar before the gospel-style vocals cut through. These three musicians have a chemistry that feels so effortless and full of gentle soul. The album quickly feels soothing and familiar, while also being fascinating and innovative, with new details to notice during every listen. • Mackenzie Smedmor

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Dive Deeper Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition, Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition

Fleece, Stunning & Atrocious

Fleece Music

The definitions for the words ‘stunning’ and ‘atrocious’ may sit at opposite poles, but when it comes to Montreal quartet Fleece’s third LP, the feelings that this record exudes allow both words to snuggle under a blanket made of the group’s namesake. At certain points, it’s hard to tell what separates the stunning from the atrocious. The spatial, dreamy ambience of both Jameson Daniel and Megan Ennenberg’s guitar licks blend in brilliantly with drummer Ethan Soil’s thunderous yet tasteful percussive arrangements (don’t even get me started on the oh-so-catchy structure to “So Long”). Matt Rogers’s lyricism on tracks like “Upside Down” and “Do U Mind? (Leave the Light On)” musters up a vulnerability that bears the risk of being deemed ‘atrocious’, but sung stunningly (“‘Cause I wanna see those eyes tonight. We’re not in love but I wanna feel like I am tonight”). With each listen, the distance between stunning and atrocious closes, to the point where everything melts together in a concoction that only Fleece can serve. It’s unabashed and totally unapologetic. • Michael Beda

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Constellation Records

The hubbub in Twitter-land when G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! was released focused almost exclusively on how this was the most “hopeful” Godspeed You! Black Emperor has ever sounded on record. I think this implies that most people did not listen to “Luciferian Towers”, which, despite a song title like “Bosses Hang,” remains one of the most uplifting and cathartic records I’ve ever heard. But what does it say that GY!BE’s music has gotten less dystopic and bleak as our planet seems to head ever-faster in that direction? The Montreal collective has been surveying our society for nearly twenty years, often seeing things before “we” have been able to. “We will outlive them” is etched into one of the runouts on the vinyl version in Yiddish. It’s a signal to those who do not care what happens to this tragic planet that there is a generation ready to fight for a better world. This is the evocativeness of  G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!. If those skinny fists are not raised by the climax of “Ashes To Sea Or Nearer To Thee,” you have not been paying attention. There is no time left for apathy; our side has to win. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Homeshake, Under the Weather

Shhoamkee Records / Sinderlyn

A veil of fog seems to blanket the entirety of Under the Weather, Homeshake‘s fifth record to date. Already experiencing the depression and isolation most have felt during the pandemic in 2019, Peter Sagar captures the weight of loneliness through shimmering synths, his soothing falsetto, and CBD-dosed grooves to keep one stable.  And though its sentiment comes from a dark place, the music ultimately keeps the mind and body afloat. It’s a record to put on in the background when practicing self-care or, oddly enough, in the bedroom with a lover, with flourishes of Sager’s R&B influences shining through. On “I Know I Know I Know,” a jazzy guitar lays the track down at a comfortable pace as if Steve Lacy were to write something gloomy. There are small moments of levity that creep into the record as well, as on “Spend It” with its bass grooves and bells making one smirk, or on instrumental “Half Asleep After the Movies” with its slinky bubblegum guitar warble. Meanwhile, “Mindless” makes for a good cry in the club soundtrack with its chillwave influence and brazen insecurity beaming from Sager’s vulnerable lyricism. When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can always rely on the consolations of Under the Weather to put you at ease, like a steaming hot bath after a long day of work. • Anton Astudillo

Buy it on Bandcamp

JayWood, Some Days

Royal Mountain Records

Making music always involves a little time-travelling. Whether drawing upon a sordid past or manifesting your ideal future, music lets you dive deep into a moment and explore it from all angles. What do you see now? How do you feel now? How will this all change in time?  Some Days from JayWood really takes this to another level when you know that the songs were originally written and recorded in 2015. Even in their original incarnations, the songs must have been somewhat optimistic for the future, but with the benefit of hindsight, the juxtaposition of glum lyrics with upbeat instrumentals seems almost prophetic of the sunny days JayWood would have ahead. Did JayWood know that in five years he’d be releasing music on the label Captured Tracks when he first wrote “What do you do when you’re half-past done? / When you’re not really sure if your life’s begun” on the title track? Did he know he’d be re-recording his past self when he first sang “’Cause now is the time where we can say / That we can pull through anything”? You pulled through JayWood, and the world is a better place for it. • Jon Neher

Buy it on Bandcamp

Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 035: JayWood; JayWood, Some Days

Keeper E., The Sparrows All Find Food


While the Weather Station’s Ignorance has been deservedly praised for its fresh lens on and expression of climate grief, another album by a Canadian artist arrived at a similar point of view without having to shift her perspective. Keeper E. is the musical moniker of bonafide zoomer Adelle Elwood. Her brilliant debut, The Sparrows All Find Food, presents us with the outlook of a young person who must reckon with climate catastrophe as they navigate simple things in a complex world. Love, family, home all have a different weight in the spectre of climate doom and Elwood, through her (at the moment, wildly underrated) lyrics, navigates it all with empathy, detail, care and wide-eyed wonder. Elwood’s anxiety comes through in her vocals but really manifests itself in the nearly industrial, bubbling electro-pop she crafts so expertly around them. Combine all these elements, and you’ve got a record that might just revitalize your faith in music, people and the places you hope never change (unless it’s for the better). For my money, The Sparrows All Find Food is the year’s most promising debut, and I bet Elwood’s beyond-her-years wisdom will guide our understanding of life during “these unprecedented times” for years to come. “Be careful what you sing”, she exclaims on the penultimate “Everywhere I Go,” showing us she understands her burden and her gift. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 037: Keeper E.; Keeper E., The Sparrows All Find Food

Brittany Kennell, I Ain’t A Saint


On behalf of the entire DOMINIONATED team, I extend this heartfelt apology: Country music, we’re sorry. We don’t give you enough love and attention. And it’s not for lack of trying or championing. Case in point: I Ain’t a Saint, the whip-smart debut from Montreal-based singer-songwriter Brittany Kennell. Standing on the shoulders of giants who came before (Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow, and Kacey Musgraves all come to mind), Kennell’s I Ain’t a Saint is a love letter loving yourself flaws and all that smashes the country music patriarchy. Kennell takes the genre’s predominant tropes — relationship heartbreak (“Eat Drink Remarry”), hangovers (“You Don’t Get Me Stoned”), and headaches (“Bought the T-Shirt”) — and mangles their misogynistic asses beyond recognition. She may or may not be a saint, but Brittany Kennell’s musical sins (if she has any) are few and far between. • Jim Di Gioia

Listen to it on Spotify

Thierry Larose, Cantalou


It’s nearly that time of year where I’ll slouch over a tremendously complex holiday puzzle and do my damnedest to chip away at it one piece at a time. Thierry Larose’s debut LP Cantalou is the perfect soundtrack to this year’s puzzle-making endeavour. Larose’s rapid-yet-deserved ascension in the Francophone indie-pop/psych/folk scene has been meticulously laid out, much like a daunting 1000+ piece puzzle that requires careful construction of odd-fitting elements to make it whole. Opening track “Club vidéo” sets the tone and builds the frame. The hard part is filling in the interior, but Larose further envelops you with each subsequent tune. By the time you’ve hit “De la perspective d’un vieil homme”, you’re cruising through the most challenging portion of the puzzle (those pesky sky pieces!). It glitters, it moulds together, and it keeps you interested until the last piece (the introspective “Les éléphants”) snugly snaps into place. • Michael Beda

Buy it on Bandcamp

Le Ren, Leftovers

Le Ren, Leftovers (album art)
Royal Mountain Records

To listen to Le Ren’s Lauren Spear sing about love — in all of its tragic, euphoric, platonic, intergenerational, eternal, and fleeting manifestations — is to hear a voice that is wise beyond its years. On Leftovers, her incredible debut album, Spear pulls no punches when it comes to love. This is an album and an artist hellbent on plumbing its depths, describing the contours of its guiding hand and deciphering its protean pull over us and the ones we dare to share it with. At their most affecting, Spear’s timeless folk tunes are capable of dismantling the listener and leaving them in ruins. The double whammy of “Dyan” and “I Already Love You” — two songs that explore the love between a mother and child from the perspective of each — lands with a palpable emotional weight. These two songs, and the whole of Leftovers for that matter, display Spear’s poetic gift for inhabiting the soul of her subjects. This is music stuck out of space and time, that floats serenely in the dimensions that love carves into both our present and our memories. • Geoff Parent

Buy it on Bandcamp

Dive Deeper Le Ren, Leftovers

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

Next Door Records

For me, and I assume many others, the past two years have been so aggressively confined to one place that it can be easy to feel resentful of it and want to escape. Sad little walks around the block on autopilot, day in, day out. On the other hand, though, being in one city or neighbourhood without any outside exploration can lead to discovering new beauty and deepen the connection you have with that place. This is the tension that fills Ada Lea’s evocative and stunning sophomore album, one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden. Physical versions come with a map of Montreal, each song tied to a specific place. Armed with a pack of smokes and several bottles of wine, Alexandra Levy takes us on a tour of her neighbourhood and beyond and all the feelings, memories, and possibilities contained therein. Lyrically and musically, Levy conjures some of the most surprising and creative indie rock of the year. On occasion we’re spinning, wine-drunk and elated and then, ruminating in the quiet stillness of the morning, each feeling perfectly matched with pulsing synth-rock or quiet finger-picked acoustic guitar. The album is bookended by “damn” and “hurt”, each a contender for song of the year, each displaying with aching detail how much things, people, and places can change over time, and how hard it is to tell if that change is good or bad. one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden marks the arrival of Ada Lea as one of Canada’s best storytellers and songwriters — the latest bard of Montreal. • Mackenzie Cameron

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

Russell Louder, Humor

Lisbon Lux Records

It always feels a little false calling a record like Russell Louder’s Humor a debut, given that a number of its songs existed as stand-alone singles that date back as far as 2018. While fans of Louder’s work may already have been familiar with “Hello Stranger,” “Light of the Moon,” and “Cost of Living,” their place on Humor helped make the album feel like more of a slow, methodical introduction than a collection of previously-released work. You could forgive anyone new to Louder’s audaciously catchy dance-pop for thinking the whole affair a greatest hits package because Humor is packed to the brim with bangers. From the bassy bounce of opener “Home” to the brooding, dark undertones of “Vow,” Humor is not only a showcase for Louder’s incomparable voice but also their impeccable pop songwriting chops. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 025: Russell Louder; Russell Louder, Humor

Men I Trust, Untourable Album


The newest release from Montreal-based trio Men I Trust serves as the perfect soundtrack for our year of transition, uncertainty, and anxious optimism. As a sombre reflection on the passing of time and the nostalgia of home, Untourable Album features some of the band’s most ethereal songs to date, further cementing their soothing sound amidst a crowded dream-pop landscape. Lead singer Emma Proulx’s layered vocals shine once again, though the hypnotic instrumentation and rich production also deserve equal recognition. At times sorrowful, mourning days past, the album simultaneously produces much-needed moments of beauty and bliss. The chunky bass line of “Oh Dove,” the Boards of Canada-inspired “Before Dawn,” and “Ante Meridiem” — with a synth melody reminiscent of Mario music on downers — infuse the record with colourful variety that punctures the dreamlike fog of the group’s trademark sound. Its short runtime is unfortunate, but perhaps fitting, for an exploration of the fleeting nature of time. May this album soon be tourable. • Borna Atrchian

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Dive Deeper Men I Trust, Untourable Album

Ariane Moffat, Incarnat

Simone Records

What started out as a backward-looking, stripped-down reimagining of her back catalogue for the twentieth anniversary of her debut album turned into Ariane Moffat’s strongest and boldest musical statement yet. Incarnat is an emotionally invested record that resonates with both introspection and inspiration. Moffat’s new material is steeped in the hushed, tender aesthetic she initially intended to employ on new versions of her previous work. “Observer / et obséder longtemps /  Puis l’éviter pour un instant / Baigner dans la lumière,” she sings on opener “Beauté,” roughly translating to “Observe and obsess for a long while, then avoid it for a moment.” I imagine that’s how Moffatt’s process evolved: a deep-dive into her catalogue, trying to work out arrangements and settings, then a contemplative pause — a pivot — before the muse picks up the thread and starts weaving something new. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Ariane Moffatt, Incarnat

Mustafa, When Smoke Rises

Regent Park Songs

It’s hard to distill a release with the emotional magnitude of Mustafa’s When Smoke Rises into a brief year-end blurb but here we are. When Smoke Rises is filled with love, grief, and anger. Mustafa mourns friends who have been killed and the violence surrounding him in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. In a letter posted on his socials, Mustafa writes, “When Smoke Rises is about losing someone you love and retracing what of you they left behind…” On “The Hearse” he lays his anger bare, “My patience and my peace, I feel all of the rage for you,” he sings. With contributions from artists like Sampha, Jamie xx, and James Blake, Mustafa characterizes the tracks on When Smoke Rises as “inner city folk songs.” They are filled with soft touches like muted beats and delicate piano and guitar playing and are anchored by Mustafa’s deeply affecting — quiet but demanding — voice. Sit with When Smoke Rises and give it your full attention. • Laura Stanley

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Dive Deeper Mustafa, When Smoke Rises

N0V3L, Non-Fiction

Cover of the band N0V3L's Non-Fiction album
Flemish Eye

It feels as if there can never be too many bands portraying today’s socio-political conditions as nothing but grim. On Non-Fiction, the post-punk army N0V3L understands the dire nature of the complex systems that rule and affect all beings. Everything is connected, as they say. Capitalism, inequality, mental illness and the opioid crisis can’t seem to escape the city’s residents, especially with the pandemic exacerbating what has been ravaging communities worldwide. In dreary disco/funk rhythms, Talking Heads guitar-deconstruction, and deadpan vocalizations, N0V3L addresses the effects of a worldwide plague, both real and symbolic. It’s a haunting, sometimes uncomfortable listen, not dissimilar to the alienation one experiences under a capitalist state. On tracks like “Group Disease” and “Notice of Foreclosure,” sombre riffs repeat in eternal abandon, never leaving the psyche and walking you through the apocalypse. Currently, punk needs more direct political commentary, and N0V3L’s Non-Fiction relays the news adeptly. Although most have gone through the violence of governing forces for hundreds of years, there’s never been a more urgent situation than the present to hear and experience other people less privileged than ourselves. • Anton Astudillo

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Dive Deeper N0V3l, Non-Fiction

Cedric Noel, Hang Time

Cedric Noel, Hang Time (album art)
Forward Music Group

Cedric Noel’s Hang Time is, simply put, a moving and beautiful record. Noel sounds like he’s always in motion. Ever since Jim likened Noel’s album to a film in his review, I think about the flickering movements of a film reel when I listen to it. Noel surfs through life’s loud and quiet moments (meditating on identity and home) and often matches the emotional tenor of his lyrics with boisterous rock instrumentation or quieter ambient and folk sounds like those found on Noel’s 2020 release Nothing Forever, Everything. On “Okayokay,” Noel shifts from quietly confessing to feeling alright — almost like he doesn’t quite believe it or has to convince himself — to a sonorous declaration: “I am okay!” he sings. “I’m just tired from staying up late. I’m too fired up.” “Stilling” has similar crashing waves of emotions and assertions. This time it’s “I fall down but I’m still alive, still a light.” And oh, how he shines. • Laura Stanley

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Dive Deeper Cedric Noel, Hang Time

Saifa Nolin, SEUM


There’s a storm coming. You better batten down the hatches, find a tranquil corner in the house and hunker down while listening to SEUM, a mini-album from Québec singer-songwriter Safia Nolin. Nolin presents four new tracks on this album in two different forms; sunset and sunrise. With sunset, clouds form in clusters and darken the sky long before the sun makes its intended escape over the gloomy horizon. Heavy grunge and post-punk tones pulverize the lonely town with both anger and sadness, two moods that Nolin evidently felt during production. Once the torrential slaughterhouse “Personne” concludes, the album’s mirrored ‘sunrise’ half sees the clouds retreat. Nolin tells the same story from the perspective of the storm’s aftermath. • Michael Beda

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Anthony OKS, In the Garden


Mixing R&B, hip-hop, Afrobeat, and pop, Anthony OKSIn the Garden softly glows like a pastel gradient which makes the perfect backdrop for his vivid use of language and imagery. In the Garden is lush with love: Anthony OKS sings and raps about his father (“Boy from Freetown”) with awe and devotion and on “Fortified Bond,” a duet with fellow Winnipeg-based artist Begonia, he celebrates finding meaningful connection (romantic or otherwise). Turning inwards, Anthony OKS gives thanks for being able to make and share his art (“What a privilege to roam around the world and rock the microphone,” he raps on “Mic Live”) and honours his past and the people who helped him along the way (“Clearly Now”). In “All About You,” the love and connectivity at the heart of In the Garden is iridescent as Anthony OKS reminds you that “You can’t go alone on the road / You gotta bring your family with you.” In a time when isolation and social distancing are commonplace, In the Garden reminds us of the vitality of loved ones. • Laura Stanley

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Dorothea Paas, Anything Can’t Happen

Telephone Explosion

Anything Can’t Happen might technically be Dorothea Paas’s debut album, but it’s hard to believe given the intricacy and maturity of these songs. The culmination of years of playing DIY shows across Canada and recording multiple excellent cassette EPs has helped to refine her craft and the results are on full display here. 

The title track “Anything Can’t Happen” swells into lush, layered vocal harmonies with the same full sound and attention to detail as the production of a Fleetwood Mac album. Her unique vocal style floats through these songs like winding trains of thought, with gentle meditations on life and profound, brutally honest lyrics. Sparkling guitars interplay with her soprano vocals, falling into an effortless grove with the rhythm section, creating a perfect equilibrium.

Somehow, Dorothea Paas strikes the perfect balance between being close and intimate on an anything but shy and quiet album. • Mackenzie Smedmor

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 034: Dorothea Paas; Dorothea Paas, Anything Can’t Happen

Parlour Panther, Retrograde

Coax Records

The phrase “pandemic record” will be in the music writer’s lexicon for the next few years at least, and it will have a very specific meaning. A pandemic record is often recorded in a way not traditional for the group or artist, and it often deals with isolation, loneliness, regret, and, quite possibly, hope. While the term pandemic record may come to suggest a downer of a record, Parlour Panther took a different approach to theirs. Retrograde is an album full of synth-pop bangers and heart-on-sleeve lyrics. The opener “Hi-Lo” proclaims a lover: “If you love me / Then you’ve got to ride my highs and lows.” There is nostalgia for the “before times” in “Faded & Happy”; “Hold Your Head High” tries to process the ever-weird present day. By the end of the record, Parlour Panther still wants to dance even if the world is going to be gone. But closer “The End” isn’t the end of the world; it’s the end of a relationship. Even in the moments when relationships start to strain, Parlour Panther finds a reason to move, and I think we could all use a reason to keep going on. • Michael Thomas

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Dive Deeper PRESS PLAY: “Out in the Ether” by Parlour Panther, Parlour Panther, Retrograde

Julien Sagot, Sagot

Simone Records

It may shock no one to know that Julien Sagot, former percussionist with Karkwa, was born in Paris, France, before moving to Canada with his family early in his teens. Since his previous band’s breakup, much of Sagot’s musical output has been marked with a sense of continental flair. Sagot is just such a record: deep grooves and trip-hop beats blanket his latest set of songs in an aura of mystique that few can master. In Sagot’s hands (and in his deep, penetrating voice), songs like opener “Sexe au zeppelin” and “Cendre et descendre” are steeped with a foreboding sense that anything can happen at any moment. Tensions run high on  “Vérité detournée” and “Morte alitée” but that just makes the eventual (and mostly unexpected) resolutions all the more satisfying. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Julien Sagot, Sagot

Nick Schofield, Glass Gallery

Backward Music

There could be stranger inspirations for music than an art gallery. Still, anyone who’s ever visited the National Gallery in Ottawa can understand why Nick Schofield used the building as his muse for Glass Gallery. Its architecture (“Central Atrium,” “Water Court”), its ambiance (“Light and Space,” “Travertine Museum”), and its artworks (“Key of Klee,” “Molinarism”) all inform Schofield’s immersive soundscapes. In much the same way you can get physically and philosophically lost in the gallery’s expanse, Schofield leaves room in compositions like “Kissing Wall” for your spirit and mind to wander. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Nick Schofield, Glass Gallery

Shad, TAO

Secret City Records

Shad’s stylistic markers could be seen as somewhat oppositional: a conscious rapper speaking explicitly to social justice while also clowning with his puns and references. Depending on the record, I’ve felt that Shad can lean too far in one direction and become heavy-handed. That said, when Shad is at his best, the yin of his witticisms and the yang of his sharp social commentary balance to create an engaging and relatable listen. You’d be hard-pressed to pack more droll double entendres and cultural touchstones in the bars from “Slot Machines“: “My friends in hard times / Like this mademoiselle / That always thought/ She’d own a boat / Now she’s having a sale / Couldn’t afford a laptop / Named her daughter Adele”…but damn if that doesn’t paint a bleak picture of aspiration in capitalism and the system’s failure to live up to its own hype. It’s this kind of “spoonful of sugar with the medicine” approach that I really appreciated on TAO. There’s a path to make our world better and on TAO Shad makes me hopeful we can achieve this holistic balance. • Jon Neher

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Dive Deeper Shad, TAO

Skiifall, WOIIYOIE Tapes Vol. 1

Skiifall / Graduation

The award for the year’s most economic release is WOIIYOIE Tapes Vol. 1, the debut EP from Montreal-via-Saint Vincent rapper and hook monster Skiifall. Eight minutes and twenty-five seconds of pure potential. You are unlikely to hear a more fresh and satisfying Canadian hip-hop release this year. Dancehall, reggae, grime and a little bit of Drake-y melodicism — plus immaculate production lead by Yamasato — make Skiifall one track away from blowing the fuck up. He won’t be Montreal or Canada’s best-kept secret for much longer. • Mackenzie Cameron

Listen to it on Spotify

Spectral Wound, A Diabolic Thirst

Profound Lore Records

In a year where the world’s most popular black-metal-ish band retreated from the genre entirely, Montreal’s Spectral Wound doubled down on the genre’s key sonic signifiers and created a record that makes you wonder if black metal could cross over without an inviting album cover and stylish haircuts. A Diabolic Thirst is punishing, filled with the blast beats and screeching vocals you expect from black metal. But it is also anthemic, epic and — holy hell yeah — fun. So often, metal is excluded from these year-end lists (Apologies to Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance (2019), Vile Creature’s Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! (2020) and more) because it can be difficult for the average listener (let alone music bloggers, critics and more) to invest their time in actively-difficult sounds and styles. But the quality of metal in Canada is making these acts and albums harder and harder to ignore. A Diabolic Thirst is another landmark in Canada’s modern-metal pantheon and an invitation to step towards a hellish yet thrilling darkness that is rarely expressed so gruesomely. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper Spectral Wound, A Diabolic Thirst

Status/Non-Status, 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years

You’ve Changed Records

The question of whether to revoke one’s identity for certain privileges has been on the minds of many Indigenous people throughout the chronology of the discriminatory Indian Act. Adam Sturgeon’s new band Status/Non-Status seeks to raise the awareness of its afflictions through folk, psychedelia, and noise on their debut 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years. Recorded in 2018, the overdue released EP was influenced by Sturgeon and his band’s time spent in Guadalajara, Mexico. The city’s all too familiar colonial past was like looking into a mirror, the devastation of imperialist powers’ afflictions wrought all over the globe. 

The record does not take its time getting into the throes of colonial dispossession, running at a swift yet forceful fifteen minutes. In “Genocidio,” a torrent of hi-hats, heavy distortion, and Sturgeon’s primal scream clash against today’s settler colonialism. The surge of “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy” recalls 60s psych-rock, attributing its lyrics to, of all things, hockey and the music industry. Bodies fold and tear in between cities on late nights, the disorientation from head injuries and loud music only causing more confusion. The EP’s closing audio clip presents Alvaro Marino, the band’s tour guide in Guadalajara, revealing the ever-present marginalization of their own indigenous community that has not changed much for over 500 years.

It’s on the folk jam opener “Find a Home,” where Status/Non-Status’s advocacy for self-love allows the healing process to begin. It opens its arms to us in wistful hope: “In the stars, you are calling me home / In the stars someday I’ll find a home,” sings Sturgeon, soul-searching and yearning for an identity within a system made to keep people down. 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years is a reclamation of a colonial past that has oppressed Indigenous people and people of colour for centuries. The record’s potent message, as well as musical mastery, will only break through barriers and continue to expand upon Canada’s cultural history. • Anton Astudillo

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 EP. 039: Status/Non-Status; Status/Non-Status, 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years

Suuns, The Witness

Secret City Records

For their first foray as a trio after the departure of original member Max Henry, Suuns settle into mellow — yet menacing — grooves. The Witness trades in the thick sounds and heavy rhythms of 2018’s Felt for a level of restraint that turns the twitchy grit and bellicose energy of their music into dreamy improvs and danceable delights. “It’s hotter than fuck, it’s all over the news,” Ben Shemie sings on the stellar “Witness Protection,” his phrasing teasing listeners with a taste of the taut, full-on rhythm that Liam O’Niell and Joe Yarmush are about to let fly about mid-way through the song. Just when you think Suuns have hit the groove, the track takes another left turn into soft-focus psychedelia. The Witness is Suuns at their best. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper Suuns, The Witness

Swimming, That’s OK


On an episode of the aptly named podcast Indiecast, pre-eminent emo booster/critic/co-host Ian Cohen wondered if Swimming were the best band to ever come out of Newfoundland. And despite mispronouncing Swimming’s home province, he is likely on to something (All apologies to Hey Rosetta! and, uhh Great Big Sea, I guess). Swimming’s debut album That’s OK, and their EP from earlier in the year, More of the Same, are refreshing, thrilling and expertly executed takes on mathy, emotive emo and post-rock from the late aughts and early 2010s. With every finger-tapped guitar part and shout-along chorus, Swimming fights to build songs that just might get them off their island home. That’s despite the fact that the unabashed, highly relatable feeling of wanting to break free from where you come from that radiates through their music might not exist without it. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Sam Tudor, Two Half Words


To write his third album, Vancouver’s Sam Tudor relocated, reevaluated and expanded. He wrote Two Half Words primarily after moving to Toronto through bouts of loneliness and apathy towards his trusty guitar. So when it came time to execute this gorgeous new collection of songs, he brought in more musicians and friends than ever to create a warm bubbling blanket around his lyrics about curiosity, communication and lack thereof. The result is Tudor’s most nuanced album to date: an immersive, surprisingly danceable, musical world that gets bigger the farther you wander into it. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 040: Sam Tudor

Tunic, Quitter

Tunic, Quitter (album art)
Artoffact Records

I’ve been trying my best to work out recently, and my go-to gym accessory is the trusty treadmill. Tunic’s Quitter is the treadmill album of the year for me. It is a record of pummelling blasts of noise rock that is sometimes heavier and catchier than that label implies. Quitter is a lean but jam-packed album that will bump your heart rate up whether you’re working out or not. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Dive Deeper Tunic, Quitter

Valence, Pêle-mêle

Chivi Chivi

There’s a nostalgic quality to Pêle-mêle, songwriter Vincent Dufour’s first album under the moniker Valence. You’ll get 70s soft rock vibes from “Rosier” and “Tôt ou tard,” languid balladry on “Jamais (j’aurais pensé)” and the title track, while dreamy melodies and lush instrumentation abound. And yet, even when Dufour feels overtly steeped in FM radio-isms as on the infectiously spry opener “America,” Pêle-mêle never comes across as a throwback. Valence is most clearly a forward-looking project. Pêle-mêle is a ray of sunshine breaking through the dissipating storm clouds of the past twenty or so months, a reminder to get out of the house, get out of your head, dance around and splash in the puddles with wild abandon. Your inner child will thank you. • Jim Di Gioia

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Virgo Rising, Sixteenth Sapphire

House of Wonders Records

Under a swirl of neon lights, the hushed and vibrant sounds of Winnipeg’s Virgo Rising provide an unwavering assurance for those in need of it. On Sixteenth Sapphire, vocalist/guitarist Emily Sinclair and multi-instrumentalists Lauren and Jenna Wittman experiment with bedroom pop, utilizing restraint and release to convey divergent yet reconciling moods of youth. The coming-of-age themes that run throughout the record succeed in disarming the listener as if being shared an intimate secret. “Goat-Footed,” “Molly Ringwald Dances in the Front Row,” and “Back of a Head, Body of a Couch” display their musicianship through proficient tempo switches and in the way instruments clash with one another. Each section tells a story in itself. On the patient “Juice,” the warmth of Sinclair’s vocals grant us the beauty of merely existing: “You’re sweet and small / You don’t need to be tall / Your eyes are blue, and I can’t wait to see it all.” • Anton Astudillo

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 Ep. 030: Virgo Rising

The Weather Station, Ignorance

Next Door Records

Admittedly, I wasn’t as quick to go all-in on the Weather Station’s Ignorance as my fellow DOMINIONATED contributors. I didn’t get it. I know in hindsight that the issue was not the music, it was me. Or more specifically, it was the narrow scope through which I approached the songs, too closely associating Tamara Lindeman’s music with the plaintive folk I first heard on the Weather Station’s All Of It Was Mine. I was trying to keep Lindeman in a box that she’d shed a couple of albums ago. I was blind to her evolution as a songwriter over her subsequent two albums. It’s clear to me now that I was responding more to the hype around Ignorance than the substance of the work itself. 

There are records that earn your respect and admiration through repeated listens. For me, it was the other way around with Ignorance. With each successive play, I prostrate myself before the shimmery jazz inflections on “Robber,” the solid pop underpinnings of “Tried to Tell You,” and the poetic folk lyricism of “Atlantic.” I was ignorant, you might say, to the subtle versatility in Lindeman’s sound and the poignancy of her words, a mirror for a break-up and the deepening climate crisis around us. Again, so much early press and hype focused on the album’s subject matter, but I wasn’t hearing the capitalism critique on “Robber” or fully digesting the climate grief that informs “Atlantic.” 

So what changed? What made me a convert and a believer? It’s embarrassingly simple: I listened to Ignorance. A lot. Truly listened. At first with purpose, but soon enough with desire, need, and compulsion. A desire to understand the intent behind Lindeman’s carefully chosen, almost economic lyrics. A need to hear those gorgeous melodies and sinewy rhythms on repeat. A compulsion to “get it” in a way that I knew meant I had to fundamentally change my mindset in order to approach the album the way it deserved to be listened to. It took me a while, but my God did I ever get there in the end. • Jim Di Gioia

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Dive Deeper 20 or 20 BONUS Ep.: Life, Death, and Ignorance; The Weather Station, Ignorance

Yu Su, Yellow River Blue

bié Records

This river I step in, is not the river I stand in.

These words arch across Toronto’s Queen St. viaduct — a steel truss bridge that connects the two banks of the meek and muddy Don River. They are supposedly inspired by Heraclitus’s ideas on change: specifically that the world is in a never-ending state of flux and that the monolithic permanence we ascribe to everything around us via definition and categorization is an illusion. 

Like all things, Yu Su’s Yellow River Blue does not escape the desire to define — I’m sure these wonderful songs appear on a wide range of Spotify playlists looking to pin down the Vancouver-based artist’s work. In any case, to step into Yellow River Blue is to stand in an environment that shuns classification, eschews rigidity, and taps into the dynamic blending of a chaotic world we’ve lost the ability to experience. 

True to its name, this is a record that meanders through both sonic and emotional geographies. At times meditative (“Dusty,” “Melaleuca [at night]”) and propulsive (“Xiu,” “Melaleuca”), Yu Su’s brilliance lies in her ability to bridge these more pindown-able moments with ones that draw the listener into a serene state of ambiguity. The deep rhythmic pulses of “Futuro,” the jittery atmospherics of “Touch-Me-Not”, the anodyne trip-hop of “Gleam” — Yellow River Blue’s thrilling stylistic agnosticism results in a euphoric, liberating listening experience that changes each time you opt to step into its flow. • Geoff Parent

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Dive Deeper Yu Su, Yellow River Blue