Favourite Fifty of 2023

Featuring Devours, Feist, Elisapie, Masahiro Takahashi, Nico Paulo, Sunnsetter, and more

2023 was a weird year for us. Early on in the process of compiling our annual list of fifty favourite albums of the year, it was apparent that there was little consensus—or consistency—in our team’s selections. We more or less coalesced around the top ten records (highlighted in the list below) while the balance of albums on our list represent the broad scope and breadth of our individual preferences, tastes, and listening habits. And yet, there’s something inherently us about this list, regardless of how unexpected it seems. 

In keeping with past practice, we are sticking with an unranked annual list of our favourite albums of the year (released from November 1, 2022, to December 31, 2023, to capture any late 2022 releases that didn’t make last year’s list). You may disagree with our choices (hi, Sandy!), but our intention isn’t to please you or reflect back your tastes to you; as always, we aim to recognize the creativity and diversity of long-admired artists and new discoveries and provide a musical snapshot of what 2023 looked like from our collective lens. We hope you’ll find something in our annual list of favourite records to love as much as we do and, most importantly, inspire you to support these artists by buying records, merch, and tickets to shows. 

On behalf of everyone who worked on DOMINIONATED this past year, thank you for your continued engagement with our work. It has been a year of transition for us, one that comes to a close with some questions about our future left unanswered. Like the artists on this list, everyone at DOMINIONATED brings passion and dedication to their work, but they can’t exist in today’s ever-challenging world on passion and dedication alone. We know everyone is feeling similar economic pressures to those our team is facing. We hope that, if you have the means and the desire to do so, you’ll consider supporting our work so that we can continue to grow into our mission to be Canada’s best Canadian-only music site—in our opinion, and hopefully yours.

Afternoon Bike Ride, Glossover

Friends of Friends Music • 2023

Pinpointing the exact intersection of tension and release within Afternoon Bike Ride proves impossible, yet their sophomore LP navigates this delicate balance seamlessly. Released on my birthday, Glossover quickly and quietly nestled into my heart. The album provides refuge for listeners to exhale and shed any lingering anxieties through their soft, lo-fi touch. • Weajue Mombo

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep. 069: Afternoon Bike Ride

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ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, “Darling The Dawn”

Constellation Records • 2023

“Darling The Dawn” by ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, a duo featuring Ariel Engle and Efrim Manuel Menuck, explores the boundaries between darkness and light, reflecting on the hopeful transition between night and day. Using orchestral-punk-electro-shoegaze as a sonic medium, “Darling The Dawn” conveys the power and effort behind each sunrise, symbolizing hope and resilience amidst melancholy. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT reminds us of the infinite possibilities and probabilities that make each sun rising a one-time-only experience.

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The Ape-ettes, Simply

Reta Records / Snappy Little Numbers • 2023

Simply finds The Ape-Ettes back on top of their game after a six-year break. The band continues to expand their garage rock meets punk sound as they embrace psychedelic rock (and self-love) on “Inner Child”, celebrate motherhood on the punky French sung “Rémi”, and showcase their humour (along with passing on an important message about protecting your ears) on the infectiously fuzzy “Hearing Protection”. • Em Moore

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Atsuko Chiba, Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing

Mothland • 2023

Atsuko Chiba‘s Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing is a hypnotic listening experience that lingers, utilizing diverse instruments to create a dynamic and thunderous musical foundation. The Montreal five-piece weaves thematic threads that explore the impact of human actions on the environment and the resulting anger and darkness. And yet, Atsuko Chiba’s music, blending influences from science fiction to progressive rock, inspires a sense of possibility and action rather than defeat. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep. 058: Atsuko Chiba

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Boy Golden, For Jimmy

Six Shooter • 2023

Boy Golden, an alter-ego of Winnipeg singer-songwriter Liam Duncan, challenges country and folk music expectations. The EP, For Jimmy, is an intriguing smokescreen, obscuring personal illusions while grounding the musical narrative in everyday reality. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: For Jimmy is a trip, but not one that requires you to get out of your head to let it in.

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Charlotte Cornfield, Could Have Done Anything

Next Door • 2023

Could Have Done Anything meanders slowly through the back roads of Charlotte Cornfield’s mind. Her everyday balladry glides from one line to the next, anecdotally narrating profound revelations and the not-so-profound banality of routine. “And I dream of the peeling kitchen walls too / And the seams of the drawers that came unglued / And all the things that we never had a chance to do,” resigns Cornfield on “I Dream Of.” Could Have Done Anything captures pure golden timelessness through the interplay and, at times, isolation of the acoustic guitar, grand piano, and muted drums. That perpetuity is precisely why it’s on this year-end list and should be on every list, everywhere, forever. • Myles Tiessen

Dive Deeper: Could Have Done Anything captures the human experience of being at one’s own mercy.

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Helena Deland, Goodnight Summerland

Chivi Chivi •2023

Helena Deland’s follow-up to the dense and dark Someone New probably shouldn’t feel so buoyant. Goodnight Summerland was mainly written in the wake of her mother’s passing, tackling grief and our inability to stop this big world from turning–and changing. But sonically, it’s light as air. Melodies dance masterfully around spare acoustic arrangements. Deland’s voice is the feeling of cool air filling up a pair of lungs. Breathe in Goodnight Summerland, and hold it for as long as possible. It won’t stop time from passing, but it might momentarily slow it down. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Devours, Homecoming Queen

surviving the game • 2023

Unlike most people familiar with the multi-talented Jeff Cancade, I found the music he makes as Devours by first exploring his ‘glambient’ side project, The Golden Age of Wrestling. Unpacking Homecoming Queen, the fourth album from Devours, was like getting a birthday gift several months away from the actual day. It’s full of clever pop hooks, soaring synths, wry and honest lyrics, and, more than anything, the feeling that Cancade loves making this music. His joy is contagious and inviting, and it’s easy to see why Devours has built such a devoted following in Vancouver. It’s also carefully crafted as an album—it feels like a concise yet whole dance party, with track moods and tempos carefully fitting together. We are more than ready for Devours to take over the rest of the country. • Daniel Field

Devours [ Self-portrait]

Dive Deeper: Devours’ extra-terrestrial persona feels closer to human than ever On Homecoming Queen.

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Michael C. Duguay, Saint Maybe


The mythology around Saint Maybe starts now. The astute among you will notice that Michael C. Duguay’s album is the only one among this year’s Favourite Fifty list not to have any external links to purchase or stream the record. That’s because you can’t do either of those things anymore; Saint Maybe has disappeared into the ether of the internet, the only place it existed for the short time it was among us. Why? Ultimately, that’s between Duguay and the label who released it. But what this vanishing album means for those who loved it all depends on whether they assumed it would live in perpetuity through the streaming services or whether they coughed up the dough to purchase and download it from Bandcamp (which, the last time I looked, was only me and a couple of other fans). Upon release in July, Dugauy’s idiosyncratic folk styling easily resonated with fans on our team, who appreciated Duguay’s signature honesty and vulnerability. In so many ways, Saint Maybe plays out like an open diary. As someone who has been through the depths and despair of addiction and dependency and found a way out through recovery and reconnection, Duguay can’t help but express the utter joy of still being around to tell his story (“Handle With Care”) while acknowledging just how precarious day-to-day existence can be (“Ain’t Apathetic.”). It’s a slippery slope, hammered home by the fact that this album about how we all are one or two decisions away from disappearing has done just that. • Jim Di Gioia

Michael C. Duguay [ Dave Rideout]

Dive Deeper: Saint Maybe is a life and death album born out of struggle and strife that celebrates and honours all the work Michael C. Duguay put in just to be here.

Jeremy Dutcher, Motewolonuwok

Secret City Records • 2023

I was fortunate to see Jeremy Dutcher perform in a renovated barn in Campbellford, Ontario, during the late summer of 2019. This concert was at the tail end of a nearly two-year stretch that had seen the classically trained tenor from Tobique First Nation rise to the top of the Canadian music world. Dutcher would win both the Polaris Prize in 2018 and the 2019 Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year for his debut record, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, a meticulously written, researched, and produced record which built arrangements around century-old Wax cylinder recordings of his Wolastoqiyik ancestors. More than five years after his debut, Dutcher has released Motewolonuwok. The album’s title is Wolastoqey for Two Spirit and translates to “the people of great spiritual power” and, as one might guess, continues Dutcher’s deep engagement with his community and language. Motewolonuwok, like Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, is a record that inserts Indigenous presence into the settler-dominated, English-speaking Canadian music scene through language and a strong sense of respect for history. Dutcher’s arrangements soar while remaining grounded in the awareness of the work his music does for bringing the Wolastoqey language. Even when Dutcher sings in English, his music centres on ensuring settlers remain keenly aware of who controls the narrative at this juncture of history. Motewolonuwok is a gift to anyone who listens. We should all be grateful to Dutcher for inviting us to share in his journey; one cannot help but become better and more aware upon encountering his work. • Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Jeremy Dutcher [ Kirk Lisaj]

Dive Deeper: Motewolonuwok is a soul-stirring bridge between cultures and generations aiming for a lasting revival of language, culture, and unity.

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Elisapie, Inuktitut

Bonsound • 2023

In case you need the Cole’s Notes version of Inuktitut, a beloved artist covers her favourite classic rock and pop songs in her native tongue, Inuktitut. What could have been a simple novelty throwaway collection turns incredibly intimate and unique; the familiar melodies, careful production, and, most importantly, Elisapie’s voice combine to create something entirely new and wonderful. Instead of coming to each song with a straightforward bar-rock approach, she and producer Joe Grass found a balance between the original versions and the tenderness Elisapie’s voice brings to each track. Her inuktitut language blends beautifully with these tracks, almost as if they were meant to be sung like this. Not since Cat Power’s The Covers Record has a reinterpretation of popular music felt so fresh. • Daniel Field

Elisapie [ Leeor Wild]

Dive Deeper: Inuktitut is a gift to Elisapie’s family and community and a blessing to those hearing familiar songs from a whole new perspective.

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Expel, Digital Harassment

Self-released • 2023

Free time has not come easy this year for me, which might explain why Expel’s Digital Harassment got so many plays. Clocking in at just 11 minutes and 30 seconds, it is a brief but mighty introduction to Expel’s no-nonsense hardcore. If you want a sense of what these guys are capable of, spend the whole six seconds listening to “Tormented,” which somehow feels like a complete song regardless of its length. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Feist, Multitudes

Interscope • 2023

Leslie Feist consistently crafts each of her albums to stand out in their sonic uniqueness, and Multitudes is no exception. This album introduces a much-needed tenderness that, upon initial listen, might be misconstrued as dispassionate. On the contrary, Multitudes is where Feist’s passion feels most resolved. Every stroke on her guitar turns the strings, the body, and the neck into distinct instruments. The lyricism in Multitudes draws listeners in, weaving Feist’s distinctive voice into a kaleidoscope of glissandos. After a six-year hiatus since her last album, she returns with an introspective sense of serenity about her place in the world. Singing beyond the realm of human consciousness, Feist’s elegy is for the Earth, Moon, Stars, and the departed. This album stands as evidence that it is through such introspective explorations that Feist truly blossoms. • Weajue Mombo

Feist [ Sara Melvin / Colby Richardsson]
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Debby Friday, GOOD LUCK

Sub Pop • 2023

A cool thing I did this year was serve on the grand jury for the 2023 Polaris Music Prize, so needless to say, I spent a lot of time listening to the winning record, GOOD LUCK. Debby Friday’s debut LP is a strange, loud, and incredibly exciting blend of electronic, pop, punk, and noisecore. I didn’t hear another record released this year that sounds quite like Debby Friday’s. Good Luck will punch you in the face, and you will say, “Thank you!” • Laura Stanley

Dive Deeper: Debby Friday’s full-length debut earns its all-uppercase titles right from the jump.

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Home Front, Games of Power

La Vida Es Un Mus Discos • 2023

Few bands can do what Edmonton’s Home Front does on Games of Power. Their use of synths is unmatched as they blend elements of new wave, punk rock, goth, and indie with ease to create a chaotically danceable sound that will have you pondering the widening class divisions in our country, what it means to be free truly, and the impact living in a capitalist society is having on all aspects of our well-being. Heed the call of Home Front and “scream at a nation” today. • Em Moore

Dive Deeper: Home Front floods their debut with hard-hitting, infectiously catchy post-punk anthems.

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Shirley Hurt, Shirley Hurt

Telephone Explosion • 2022

There is something in the sound of Shirley Hurt’s self-titled album that is so classic and timeless but also singular and unique. It is an album that sonically never stops reaching and expanding but is compellingly tethered together by Hurt’s shapeshifting vocals. Something so beautifully crafted demands repeat listening. • Matt Hertendy

Dive Deeper: Shirley Hurt’s self-titled debut captures that often hard-to-obtain mystical, timeless sound that makes folk music so enchanting.

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KEN mode, Void

Artoffact Records • 2023

From the opening track “The Shrike” to album closer “Not Today, Old Friend,” Winnipeg’s KEN mode put on a masterclass of musical and emotional heaviness on VOID, their follow-up to last year’s NULL. The band pulls no punches as they explore the cavernous depths of mental health along with the state of the world with introspective lyrics that evoke desperation that is as angry as it is melancholic over an intricate mix of noise, metal, sludge, and post-hardcore that immediately pulls you into their seemingly bottomless depth of sound. Gaze into the VOID, and KEN mode will gaze right back. • Em Moore

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Khotin, Release Spirit

Ghostly International • 2023

Release Spirit marks a significant evolution of Khotin in his decade-long exploration of electronic music. This shift towards softer, more refined, yet free arrangements is beyond mesmerizing. Every listen feels like a warm sonic bath. Paired with Khotins’ first-ever vocal track done by Montreal’s Tess Roby, the album truly fills the atmosphere it creates. • Weadee Mombo

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La Force, XO Skeleton

Secret City Records • 2023

On La Force‘s XO Skeleton, Ariel Engle explores the intricate connection between death and our interpersonal interactions, delving into whether death marks a beginning, an end, or a transition to something beyond. The album’s mystical music effortlessly probes these existential questions, using musical structure and melody to evoke the intuitive interplay between our inner world and how our physical body engages with others. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: XO Skeleton cross-examines our relationship with death and how that association affects how we engage with others.

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La Securité, Stay Safe!

Mothland • 2023

Montreal’s La Sécurité pair odd time signatures with plenty of synths and dynamically direct vocals as they continue to explore their unique fusion of post-punk, new wave, and disco on their debut album Stay Safe! In just over a half hour, the band tackles longing, explores mental health, and talks about the importance of defending your autonomy with lyrics sung in English and French. La Sécurité proves that dancing is a means to revolution, so lace up your shoes, turn it up loud, and get ready to hit the dance floor. • Em Moore

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Land of Talk, Performances

Next Door Records • 2023

On Performances, Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell explores their reality as a non-binary artist, challenging societal expectations and the performative nature of being in the public eye. Powell’s shift to keyboards, breaking away from traditional guitar foundations, and the experimental touches, like on “Pwintiques,” opens their music to vulnerability, reflection and transformation. Balancing confessions with tenderness and empathy, Performances resonates with the confidence of Powell’s unshakeable self-knowledge, showcasing the comforting yet challenging impulses within Land of Talk’s music. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: Land of Talk imbues Performances with honesty and vulnerability that strips away any self-imposed constraints or outside influences.

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Thierry Larose, Sprint!

Bravo musique • 2023

Thierry Larose’s Sprint! transports us back to an era of sonic exploration and expansive orchestration without coming across as derivative. Sprint! is a lyrically and rich album that clips along beautifully–and much faster— than a snail’s pace. • Matt Hertendy

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Life In Vacuum, Lost

Born Losers Records • 2023

Toronto’s Life In Vacuum has delivered its most textured album to date with Lost. The band approaches their songs with the precision of a spider spinning its web as they combine intricately angular math rock, chaotic punk, and melodic post-hardcore to construct a sound that encapsulates a multitude of feelings, including the bittersweetness of moving on, the restlessness of city living, the pull of exhaustion, the determination to persevere, and, of course, the disorientation of being lost in both body and mind. • Em Moore

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep 068: Life in Vacuum

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Lindsay Misiner & the 7th Mystic, Lindsay Misiner & the 7th Mystic

LM Entertainment • 2023

Lindsay Misiner & the 7th Mystic’s self-titled debut album is jam-packed full of moving parts, each delicately balanced among the others. Each song is full of carefully orchestrated tension and release; the contrast creates a uniquely chill vibe. The stories woven into each song change with each listen, and with so many layers to focus on, this album is easy to leave on repeat for hours on end. • Alyssa Gelata

Dive Deeper: Lindsay Misiner & the 7th Mystic creates music with many moving parts while maintaining a chill vibe and telling stories.

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Marker Starling, Diamond Violence

Tin Angel Records • 2023

Marker Starling is one of Canada’s most remarkable songwriters and best-kept secrets. On Diamond Violence, he has delivered another set of perfect lounge-pop bops. Closer “Yet You Go On” featuring Dorothea Paas is one of his all-time best. And keep your ears peeled for a forthcoming project that promises to veer away from his signature Wurlitzer-forward sound with Joseph Shabason and Bernice’s Thom Gill (Justice for Cruisin’, by the way!).• Mackenzie Cameron

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Markus Floats, Fourth Album

Constellation Records • 2023

True to its title, Fourth Album is Markus Floats’ fourth collection of experimental pieces that further his craft by introducing collaborators and spoken word to explore themes of trust, exploration, and letting go. It’s a record wholly reflective of Markus Floats’ belief in the artistic pursuit as a continuous journey rather than a definitive goal. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: Fourth Album is an artifact of Markus Floats’ ongoing artistic journey and ethos, infusing his palette with vivid hues and newfound depth.

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Math Club, Suddenly

Self-released • 2022

Math Club, the alias of Wade Morrison, goes beyond wearing his heart on his sleeve; his lyricism and nuanced chord choices establish a heartbreaking atmosphere that lays bare intimate truths. Suddenly falls somewhere between tenderness and distress, capturing the essence of the best emo records- but what distinguishes this album is Morrison’s skillful navigating through his darkness. • Weajue Mombo

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Meltt, Eternal Embers

Nettwerk • 2023

Eternal Embers from Vancouver-based band Meltt is a slow-burning showcase for the band’s beautiful lyrics and tight instrumentation. Bouncy synths and soothing melodies are more than enough to keep listeners engaged without overpowering and dominating the arrangements. There’s room enough to breathe and appreciate the artistry of Eternal Embers.Alyssa Gelata

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep 065: Meltt

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mingjia, star, star

New Amsterdam Records • 2023

star star is the work of multidisciplinary artists, Mingjia, and the Tortoise Orchestra. Weaving classical, folk, and jazz influences with the adventure of improvisation, star, star is a heartfelt, playful, and undeniably unhinged sonic expression of flailing through life with the utmost grace. • Tia Julien

Dive Deeper: star, star is the work of an artist moving through creativity without limitations or inhibitions.

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Pantayo, Ang Pagdaloy

Telephone Explosion • 2023

Pantayo continues to harness their unique sound on their sophomore album, an amalgam of Filipino kulintang, R&B, and electronic music. Album opener and standout “One More Latch (Give It To ‘Ya)” has been on heavy rotation since it was released, with its vulnerable and emotive vocals and percussive groove. Ang Pagdaloy finds the quintet exploring tones and moods through several instrumental and experimental pieces that come together to create a gorgeous yet all too brief collection. • Daniel Field

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Nico Paulo, Nico Paulo

Forward Music Group • 2023

Rarely does a debut album seize my attention as suddenly as the self-titled release by St. John’s-based Portuguese-Canadian artist Nico Paulo. With a masterful touch, she infuses profound depth into the intimacy carefully built within her work. The album extends a compelling invitation for listeners to waltz and dance with Paulo, pushing listeners to completely embrace life’s myriad of flutters. This folk-inspired opus effortlessly transcends temporal boundaries, living beyond the constraints of pace and breathing pure warmth into every conceivable season. Even on the first listen, I felt the nostalgic touch that permeates the ballads, capturing a yearning that Paulo transforms into a symphony of music. Unhurried tracks like “Lovers in the Street” and “Hand Kisser” unfold as tableaus of deep-seated love. In a year where my heart has often felt cold, this album served as a poignant reminder that love is an enduring force, always waiting to be discovered. I am profoundly grateful for this record and the solace it continues to provide. • Weadee Mombo

Nico Paulo [ Matt Horseman]

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep 067: Nico Paulo

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poolblood, mole

Next Door Records • 2023

Besides being one of my favourite album covers from this year, poolblood‘s mole is a sanctuary for the soul. Like the shadows of old conversations or a book filled with things left unsaid, the beauty of “mole” lies in its ability to transcend solitude. The record unfolds like a dreamy secret. • Weadee Mombo

Dive Deeper: poolblood’s debut is a dynamic, open-ended study of relationships and life experiences that offers possible outcomes rather than resolutions.

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Population II, Électrons libres du québec

Bonsound • 2023

With their sophomore release, Électrons libres du québec, Montreal trio Population II maintains precision in crafting mind-bending psych rock, showcasing refined musicality. Drummer and vocalist Pierre-Luc Gratton’s skillful performance, especially in songs like “Réservoir,” anchors the album’s cohesive and well-executed blend of punk, prog, and psych influences. • Jim Di Gioia

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William Prince, Stand in the Joy

Six Shooter Records • 2023

It is not hyperbole to say that I could listen to William Prince sing the alphabet for the rest of my life and never tire of his voice. Prince’s latest offering, Stand In The Joy, is yet another collection of heartbreaking country-tinged folk meditations on the nature of love, nostalgia, and longing in a world that refuses to slow down to recognize the things that make life worth living. It’s no coincidence that the record begins with a song about missing someone you love (“When You Miss Someone”) that slowly catalogues the eschewing of material trappings while turning towards the light of quality company and goodness within oneself and others. In doing so, Prince narrates a process, perhaps rightly claiming that “love’s a situation” or a “representation” of what we like in ourselves and others (“Easier and Harder”). Still, no matter what it is, it doesn’t come all at once to anyone at any time. As Prince expresses it on Stand In The Joy, the work of love is a deeply felt process of selfless self-discovery and awakening to a broader range of emotions than we knew was possible. There is a challenge within the core of this album — found when Prince sings, “Give me my bare feet and I’ll walk door to door and stand in the joy where I’ve never stood before,” on “Peace of Mind” — let us all be so lucky to recognize the opportunity to be joyful wherever we stand every day. • Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

William Prince [ Joey Senft]
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Leith Ross, To Learn

Republic Records • 2023

In 2021, Leith Ross posted to TikTok an unadorned video of themselves performing a then-unreleased song, “We’ll Never Have Sex,” that went viral on the app. The stunning vulnerability of the track and performance are carried over to the Winnipeg-based artist’s debut LP, To Learn. Full of tender folk and a splash of bedroom pop, for the quiet ones with the loudest hearts, To Learn is for you especially. • Laura Stanley

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Allison Russell, The Returner

Fantasy Records • 2023

Allison Russell‘s sophomore album builds on the triumph and survivorship themes from her debut album, Outside Child. The Returner features Russell’s improvisational energy on a range of tracks that explore political activism, personal agency, and empathy. At the same time, collaborations with notable artists like Brandi Carlile and Hozier add depth to Russell’s emotive, narrative-driven work. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: Allison Russell doesn’t waste a single second on her sophomore solo album.

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Saltwater Hank, G​̱​al’u​̈​u​̈​nx Wil Lu Holtga Liimi

Self-released • 2023

G̱al’üünx wil lu Holtga Liimi by Kxeen-based (Prince Rupert) singer-songwriter, fiddler, and guitarist Saltwater Hank is a gritty country/blues record written and performed almost entirely in Sm’algya̱x, a language spoken by the Ts’msyen people that only has about 65 fluent speakers. Featuring original and traditional songs, Saltwater Hank (Jeremy Pahl) even sings a Sm’algya̱x translated version of Hank Williams’ “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around” (“Akadi K’uł Waal Nsiip’nsgu”). Released on July 1st, G̱al’üünx wil lu Holtga Liimi is an unforgettable record and a dazzling display of resiliency. • Laura Stanley

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Joseph Shabason, Welcome to Hell

Telephone Explosion • 2023

Joseph Shabason’s Welcome to Hell is a playground of guitar runs, bass slides, muted horns, and immaculate vibes. At the point of synthesis between skateboarding and jazz, this concept album features the dry passage of air through a saxophone amidst soggy synths and everything in between. • Tia Julien

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Andy Shauf, Norm

Arts & Crafts • 2023

Unparalleled in production, Andy Shauf has created yet another beguiling world for listeners to witness. Despite the departure from a conceptual narrative, Norm births obsessional characters that take on their own life. The ominous woodwind sections and cryptic strumming only contribute to the album’s enigmatic atmosphere. • Weadee Mombo

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Sister Ray, Teeth EP

Royal Mountain Records • 2023

With a voice that cuts, Sister Ray tells grim tales from daily living in a language that is both descriptive and cryptic. Their EP Teeth features edgy guitars, minimalist drums, and their timeless vocal tone. • Tia Julien

Dive Deeper: 20 or 20 Ep. 044: Sister Ray

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Arielle Soucy, Il n’y a rien que je ne suis pas

Self-released • 2023

Expanding on her EP, Unresolved Collection, Arielle Soucy creates a lush and sprawling landscape for her beautifully layered vocals to dance sadly, sweetly and hauntingly above. Soucy is an artist bursting with talent, and her debut full-length album is a thing of beauty. • Matt Hertendy

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Spider Bite, The Rainbow and the Dove

You’ve Changed Records • 2023

Spider Bite‘s The Rainbow and the Dove is an acute, unrelenting, and frighteningly well-realized hardcore testament to modern angst and the hope that we may one day find a way to move beyond it. The album’s ten songs will pass you by in less than fifteen minutes, yet when met with such a heavy sonic tapestry; one may be left with the lingering feeling of a complex dream that pulls you back in to do it all over again. • Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay 

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Rae Spoon, Not Dead Yet

Coax Records • 2023

Rae Spoon’s Not Dead Yet is a compelling chronicle of tackling issues related to their cancer diagnosis and the challenges faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in accessing healthcare. Songs like “Open Heart” and “ICU” explore the impact of illness on relationships and highlight the power of resilience. Despite a harrowing medical experience, Spoon’s album is often celebratory, showcasing their battle mentality in the face of mortality. • Jim Di Gioia

Dive Deeper: Rae Spoon took their second chance at living and made themselves the best damn album of their life.

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Sunnsetter, The best that i can be.

Paper Bag Records • 2023

If I had to describe Sunnsetter’s album The best that i can be., in one word (which I don’t)I’d choose “persistent” and follow it up with “sensitivity to the world”. It’s full of energy, rich with sustain and ambience, unique electric guitar tones, the woodiness of acoustic guitar, and the romance of piano keys. Sunnsetter’s vocal placement is really lovely, too, often nestled within all the layers of instruments. The melody builds and doesn’t rush, but with a sense of wonder and urgency. Amidst slightly blown-out drums and celebratory cymbal crashes are earnest lyrics: “I see the world / and the sound it beckons me / I see time / and it goes forgetting me.” The best that i can be. sounds haunted, but like the haunted person chose to exist with their ghosts harmoniously, make tea, and sip it by the fire. There are traces of movement that add presence, speaking to the magic of self-producing something so personal and impossible to replicate, which makes Sunnsetter’s distinct sound so endearing. • Tia Julien

Sunnsetter [ Andrew McLoed]

Dive Deeper: Sunnsetter’s Andrew McLeod reminds us all that we are always at our best when we are most ourselves.

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Masahiro Takahashi, Humid Sun

Telephone Explosion • 2023

I became a dad in March, which has affected my listening more than anything this year. And in a desperate attempt not to click play on some Spotify playlist for babies, I knew I needed an arsenal of music that worked for the whole family. I showed my son the classics, of course. Tapestry, the Beatles and the Supremes were always on as visitors came and went in those early, life-changing days, but in the quieter and more intimate family moments, no album got more plays than Humid Sun. That’s because Humid Sun is incredible music for babies and adults alike. Japanese composer-musician Masahiro Takahashi, collaborating with Tokyo-based electronic producers and a who’s who of experimental Toronto musicians, mixes mellow programmed rhythms, chimes, drones, saxophones and other woodwinds to create a warm and inspired collection of lightly psychedelic, nearly ambient tunes that keep the vibes mellow but the ear engaged. Rap producers would be wise to mine this record for samples: “Sweltering drive” could provide the backbone for someone’s “Hotline Bling”. The opening sounds of “Silkly lake” will forever transport me back to this monumental year in my life. It is a perfect album that I will always treasure. • Mackenzie Cameron

Masahiro Takahashi
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Avalon Tassonyi, Candlelightning

Vain Mina • 2023

Candlelightning is a folk-infused portmanteau of Avalon Tassonyi‘s evolution as a musician and human. In their debut album, Tassonyi skillfully captures the dualities inherent to both the grand and minute moments. This sense of peace is graciously uncovered for listeners through the simplicity of each track. Weajue Mombo

Dive Deeper: Candlelightning has the refreshing, healthy glow of someone finding themselves geographically, spiritually, and emotionally.

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Tomb Mold, The Enduring Spirit

20 Buck Spin • 2023

Tomb Mold is Canada’s best metal band, and they levelled up again this year with The Enduring Spirit. Metal genres can be strict—the band even caught some slack for dressing too pedestrian in one of their many magazine features this year—but here, Tomb Mold walks the tightrope, staying true to death metal’s signature sounds while still taking the genre to spacey, even beautiful new heights. It’s death metal with a lot of life. • Mackenzie Cameron

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Valery Vaughn, gris

Self-released • 2023

Hailing from Montreal, Francophone duo Valery Vaughn weave grunge, emo, punk, metal, and indie rock together on their album gris as they grapple with the unhappiness that can bloom in relationships due to issues such as lack of communication, emotional unavailability, and the fickle nature of love. With that said, the album isn’t all grey with tracks like “si le chapeau te fais, mets-le,” urging you to stop overthinking and smell the flowers, and the upbeat and danceable “gris II (sexxmania)”. • Em Moore

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Leland Whitty, Anyhow

Innovative Leisure • 2022

BADBADNOTGOOD saxophonist Leland Whitty steps out on his own with an album that feels as indebted to electronic music and dream pop as it does jazz. Groovy, melodic, dreamy and filled with treats for the repeat listener. • Mackenzie Cameron

Dive Deeper: Anyhow is a heavenly collection of left-field tunes with what it takes to stand the test of time.

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Zoon, Bekka Ma’iingan

Paper Bag Records • 2023

Zoon’s Bekka Ma’iingan has been called composer Daniel Monkman’s (Brokenhead Ojibway Nation) “pandemic record.” Given that the title translates from Ojibway to “slow down wolf,” it makes sense. Making art at a time when it was necessary to slow down to control something beyond our all-too-human understanding creates a specific kind of tension which is palpable in a lot of music made post-2020. The follow-up to 2020’s Bleached Wavves is a lush landscape of delay, distortion, strings, and spacey vocals, typifying Zoon’s moccasingaze aesthetic. The album delves into themes of renewal and reflections on loss and finding new ways to exist in the world on tracks like “Brave New World (Without You)” and “Awesiinh (A-Way-See).” Instrumentals intersperse and frame the album with the opening “All Around You” and “Niizh Manidoowig (2 Spirit)” halfway through, indicating ideas of travelling, another prominent theme, all communicating a dreamy sense of movement. The deeply personal aspects of Bekka Ma’iingan invite us to move alongside the artist in this process and to dig within ourselves for the strength we need to carry on and live our lives honestly and with bravery in the face of adversity and loss. • Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Zoon [ Vanessa Heins]

Dive Deeper: Restless and unrelenting, Zoon’s sophomore full-length is an exhilarating full-steam-ahead run into the world.

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