CMB’s 25 Best Albums of 2020

The Canadian Music Blog tracked a total of 612 Canadian artist studio albums in 2020 (24 more than last year). We have settled upon our 25 favourites of these (representing 4.1%) and ranked them, all done regardless of genre, language, region, and popularity of the artist.

Best album lists have become less and less about the music and more about who the artists are, what they stand for, what brands they endorse, and how much attention they draw. At Canadian music blog, we are concerned solely with the music itself. We like music that is sophisticated and progressive with catchy melodies, pleasing vocals (unless it is instrumental), and palatable lyrics. Find below our 25 favourite Canadian artist albums of 2020 including our Album of the Year!

The Grand Mirage
by Robotaki

DJ and producer Robotaki released his debut album in 2020, The Grand Mirage. It followed a spread of singles and EPs, and the master has also done remixes for a number of greats such as Kaskade and Chilly Gonzales. Sparkling synthesizers, bass thumping grooves, and percolating beats combine to paint a kaleidoscopic atmosphere that is enhanced at times by a squad of satisfying singers. Touches of square wave arpeggios give some tracks a video game arcade feel. While the entire disc is solid, highlights include “Quasar”, a luminous jam of flickering synths and addictive beats. Hit single worthy “Dreamcatcher”, a feel good summery anthem features the fine vocals of emerging singer Miko. “Obelisk” offers a sobering excursion into a universe of cool. Robotaki’s The Grand Mirage is a winner on all counts.

Les Oiseaux
by Les Passagers

This sophomore album from Canadian collective Les Passagers popped right into the 2020 universe, and we were delighted with it. The disc is what they call a genre-defying work of art. Hear a mishmash of retro grooves, electronic dressings, and jazzy stylings on this slice of nice from the jam-proficient quintet. The tracks offer in-flight stories, fantastical and lifelike, of personalities searching for life-changers or imagining existences in parallel worlds. The music flirts with haunting dreams and sobering realities, all woven into sophisticated orchestral arrangements. Opener and title track “Les Oiseaux” should get you hooked on the album’s swinging grooves right away.

by Rachel Therrien

The world could use more jazz. It is stress’ biggest nightmare. As far as instrumental jazz goes, valiant trumpeter and flugelhornist Rachel Therrien, with a highly skilled and sensitive backing band (percussion, keyboards, bass, and more), delivers 2020’s fabulous Vena. One of the genre’s biggest weaknesses is the continual recycling of old material; some of the classics have be redone … how many times? Vena, however, contains all original material: 15 brand new compositions, and they are all smashing. The group, with Rachel at the helm, wields its instruments with such fluidity that the outcome shines out in a glamorous light. At times chill and others intense, the album dances around you from the background into your sights and then tiptoes into the posterior again. Loads of fun.

by Cri (JN)

In 2018, CRi received an Electronic Album of the Year JUNO nomination for his EP Someone Else. He is a former pizza delivery guy who decided one day to deliver musical goods instead. You can count him among the new legion of Canadian aces like Kaytranada and Jacques Greene; his take on the genre involves spicier dance beats. In 2020, CRi unleashed his debut LP, Juvenile. It is one of the year’s best. The disc features the vocal talents of three-time Juno award winner Daniel Bélanger, Bernache, Jesse Mac Cormack, Robert Robert, and Sophia Bel. It is a parade of colour bouncing between the dream and the dancefloor. Juvenile is released through prestigious British record label Anjunadeep. Overall, this is a very satisfying disc.

Uniquement pour toi
by Mara Tremblay

The queen of the néo-trad genre decorated the 2020 wall of marvellous music with album Uniquement pour toi, and she sure has not lost her magical touch after some 20 years of brilliant artistry. Mara Tremblay’s new album sounds as if she has never had more fun. She tosses every flavour she can into the music box – progressive, folk, rock – you name it. It’s spacey; it’s down to earth. It’s airy; it’s dense. It’s genetically incapable of being pigeon-holed. And it is only with Tremblay’s gifted skill that such an inherent essence can be fashioned. Here we have music fit for either the star-gazing planetarium or for a fanciful night at the museum – you decide. As with her superb previous works, count this one a winner.

by Noble Oak

Vancouver-based Noble Oak (Patrick Fiore) garlanded 2020 with a nicely done dream pop album reminiscent of Montreal’s Seoul. The full-length Horizon quickly followed EP Derailed. The disc nicely fits in with the electronic landscapes inspired by British Columbia’s natural beauty being crafted by such geniuses as Loscil and Teen Daze. Breezy, light-headed tunes carried by Fiore’s gentle croon, serve as effective medicine for a stressful age, and 2020 provided us with quite a bit of that. The colourful textures and peaceful chimes summon immersion into the Noble Oak world, a forest where every turn reveals a stately scene. This is a solid album from start to finish.

Irrational Revelation and Mutual Humiliation
by Peripheral Vision (JN)

Juno nominated instrumental jazz group Peripheral Vision graced 2020 with double album Irrational Revelation and Mutual Humiliation. At the core is Don Scott on guitar and Michael Herring on bass who do most of the composition. Trevor Hogg adds saxophone and Nick Fraser drums. We get some atmospheric vibraphone on several tracks thanks to Michael Davidson. Craig Harley spices things up with the organ and Fender Rhodes. Jean Martin handles organ bass, and to give the music a progressive edge, Chris Pruden dazzles with the Prophet 6 synthesizer. Jean Martin co-produced the work. The group had our Indigenous friends in mind when making the album. “Reconciliation Suite” is a 14-minute dedication to those who have faced unconscionable ill-treatment. The suite moves from a sorrowful and turbulent start to patterns of hope and optimism. “For Kent Monkman” is a tribute to the Indigenous artist. This is PV’s fifth album since debuting in 2010. Overall, IRaMH is a tight set and a joy to experience. It comes highly recommended for those who appreciate jazz.

Bob Guido
by Bob Guido

Ontario-based composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Bob Guido charmed the ambient airwaves early in 2020 with his eponymous album, a breathtaking 12-track affair. The eclectic mix showcases one of our country’s finest talents doing what he loves. Guido handled most of the instrumentation bringing in guest guitarists and drummers for some tracks. The album takes us on a journey through varied terrain with unexpected twists in the road, and as ambient music does so well, elicits various moods by sculpting a savory atmospheric latticework. The disc opens with “Astra Eterna,” written after a brush with death making Bob question the meaning of existence and importance of making a contribution. “Mooregate” evokes memories of the creator’s experience growing up in a dangerous neighbourhood. “Leaving the World Behind” was recorded immediately following the funeral of Guido’s sister. “Noor Kadiwala” is dedicated to a late friend from Mumbai also into ambient music.

Quand la nuit tombe
by Louis-Jean Cormier (JW)

Louis-Jean Cormier, soloist, JUNO award winner, double gold album certification recipient, judge on The Voice, former member of critically acclaimed group Karkwa, hurdles through nightfall in his latest album, Quand la nuit tombe. The lyrical territory is strewn with themes of family breakups, failed romances, dogma, new flings, social media antagonism, racism, and geographical migration. The musical landscape, sculpted by the artistic genius of LJC, contains patches of indie prog rock, ominous electropop, and neo jazz funk. Along with keyboard player and composer François Lafontaine, Cormier continues to paddle through the waters between treacherous coral reefs and safe harbours. There is artistic beauty here, and there are sudden, unexpected bursts of various devices, be they blaring horns, breezy percussion, or dancing piano keys. Quand la nuit tombe is a celebration of both the meticulous and the bold, a curious blend that few can pull off as well as Louis-Jean Cormier.

Super Plage II
by Super Plage

Super Plage, project of Jules Henry gave us the party album of the year, Super Plage II. Swirling around relaxed grooves and punchy beats are colourful pop anthems that will put a smile on your face and have you tapping your feet. He brings in a unit of choice singers to add some saccharine vocal flare. Highlights include the title track, a fluttering ditty that bounces along at a satisfying pace. “Joies méduses” fills the speakers with arcade glitter and “Mush” with addictive beats. The lazily sung “Baignade interdite” is fit for a hazy recline on the beach. The synth throbs and Grimes-like vocals of “Petit matin avec toi” ensure the album hits the spot right through to the end. The fruity grandeur of Super Plage II is a nifty one! Be sure to check it out.

Nowhere in Time
by Sheenah Ko

Sheenah Ko has served as keyboardist for The Besnard Lakes, and in the spring of 2020, she released solo work Nowhere in Time. It is her second offering. Fitting snugly in the alternative genre, the disc, born from the electronic mould, feels spontaneous and at times bold. Delivering such enticements as the eerie “Nowhere in Time”, immediately likeable “Wrap Me Up”, pensive “Need to Grow”, funky “See You”, new wavey “Bialystok”, and hypnotic “Heartbeat”, the album benefits from the raw yearning of Sheenah’s vocal work. Sheenah Ko’s Nowhere in Time secured a number of entities’ stamp of approval in 2020 including Canadian Music Blog’s.

Miami Beach Witches
by Das Mörtal

Chilean-Canadian producer Cristobal Cortes, under his Das Mörtal alias, released full-length album Miami Beach Witches furthering his cause of moulding cinematic synthwave fitting for a John Carpenter movie. It’s not all spooky and gothic; a spin of the title track had us on an edge of seat thrill ride with energizing beats, and “Hopeless Necromantic” ensures the album keeps the flow going. Although usually instrumentals, a few tracks contain vocals, like the ominous “It Comes”, catchy “Wicked Desires”, and delicious 80s daubed “Age of Solitude”. The rich atmospheric tapestry in “Beyond the Night” tips its tuque to OPN, one of the disc’s short and sweet offerings. Das Mortal’s Miami Beach Witches had us spellbound.

by HF (JN)

Juno nominated Toronto based quartet HF decked the wall of 2020 sound early in the year with fifth album Deleter. The band continues its preference for using actual instruments and gadgets to make music rather than delving into the modern current of laptop software tinkering and is known for using vintage laser pistols and keyboards salvaged from junkyards to generate electronic sounds. Deleter gets bonus points for its catchy rhythmic patterns heard on tracks like “Near Mint”, a layering of bass grooves, driving drums, and tinkling percussion, and the hard hitting “Moment”, a dancefloor anthem for robots. Opening track “Luxe”, a pulsating whirl of a tune, features Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, perhaps the eastern Atlantic’s version of HF. “Endless” punches holes in the sky with droning synths and jabbing beats while “Free Gloss” flosses the speakers with a satisfying sway of shimmering funk.

Des feux pour voir
by Marie-Pierre Arthur (JN)

Singer and bassist Marie-Pierre Arthur, on the scene since 2009, dropped her fourth album in 2020, Des feux pour voir. Her previous two efforts were both nominated for Juno awards. The new work switches on flashlights to peek into a number of departments and backrooms in the genre spectrum. It opens with “La guerre” offering at first piano rock balladry and then breaking into the ominous thuds of a fuzzy dream. The reverie continues on “Les nuits entrières” adding the sizzle of cutting orchestral strings. “Tiens-moi mon coeur,” a hard-hitting new wave nugget, could well be the standout track. Things take a playful turn on the funky “Dans tes rêves” and get punky on the title track. Jean-Louis Cormier joins her on the atmospheric sweep of the closeout number. Marie-Pierre remains loyal to her primary instrument – the bass – which, along with her soothing vocals, stitches the album tracks together and gives the overall presentation satisfying vigour.

Late Bloomer
by Mirabelle

Laurence Hélie released her debut album in 2010 and won the ADISQ Félix award for best country album. A second effort appeared three years later which, though still country flavoured, fit more in the singer-songwriter category. And then Ms. Hélie pulled a disappearing act … until 2020. She has rechristened herself as Mirabelle and with album Late Bloomer has abandoned all things country and entered the field of mostly English-language alternative pop. A listen to all three albums of hers has convinced us she is one of the finest artistic talents in the land. Late Bloomer opens with the cloud surfing dream sequence of “One in a Million” before a rough landing in the angst-ridden thumper of “Betty”. The lone Franco track “Phénomène”, perhaps the catchiest on the disc, flows in stilted grace. Ambient flutter billows in tracks like “Rose White” and “Cheated”, while sobering guitars and spicy synths perk things up in “Teenage Dreams”. “Magic Spell” feels like a carnival ride and “Daddy Long Legs” an entry into a haunted castle. Mirabelle’s Late Bloomer is a winning art pop record for the modern era.

by Purity Ring (JN)

Womb, the third album from Juno nominated Edmonton electropop duo Purity Ring dropped in 2020. While Womb examines the ups and downs of womanhood, the title also symbolizes a place of comfort and refuge, something of which its authors feel the world stands in need in the modern era. Megan James’ tungsten vocals float over a dense atmosphere of intoxicating electronica. “Pink Lightning” sees a storm hit a family reunion which turns out to be just as tumultuous. “Peacefall” includes backing vocals from Jonas Bjerre from Danish rock band Mew. “Femia” has one of the coolest synth riffs we have heard in a long time and is immediately addictive, while “Silkspun” can boast the perfection of a musical plot with an exhilarating climax of cascading synthesizers. Womb closes on a bright note with uplifting pop tune “Stardew”. Purity Ring now has three superb albums under its belt.

by Le Couleur

Synth pop dressed with funky bass lines and dance grooves has rarely been done better than by Canadian outfit Le Couleur, a trio led by the suave vocals of Laurence Giroux-Do. But the group’s latest offering, Concorde, is its best work yet. You will hear a wide range of influences on the disc which we will not bother listing here. The important point is the music presents a rich, sophisticated sound stuffed with fascinating details including analogue synth riffs, uplifting crescendos lying in wait around the bend, electric guitar solos, and complex bass arpeggios. We also like how a few tracks allow for the band to deliver a spontaneous closeout jam. Lyrically, the disc explores dark themes like the end of the world. Musically, classic styles from multiple eras are combined with the modern and woven into flailing dancefloor rhythms. Grab a copy and enjoy an epic flight. Le Couleur’s Concorde was easily one of the best albums of 2020.

by Matthew Cardinal

Edmonton trio nêhiyawak received nominations for both JUNO and Polaris honours in 2020. Member Matthew Cardinal has pursued a side project of electronic proportions. The result is a full-length ambient record called Asterisms. It holds up to works of the genre from those more established. The album contains 11 tracks named after dates. He crafted them in the bedroom with analogue synthesizers, modular systems, electric piano, and various samplers, and processors. We found ourselves getting lost in another world with this – en route to a distant planet on the breezes of a tesseract. Matthew Cardinal’s Asterisms keeps the dreams expanding.

The Lemonade Stand
by Tenille Townes (JN)

Tenille Townes has gained unstoppable momentum to become one of our leading country stars both domestically and internationally. Her song “Somebody’s Daughter” is now certified platinum and made the Top 30 in the United States. “Jersey on the Wall”, which reminds us of the tragic Humboldt bus crash, has gone gold. “White Horse” peaked at #8. These three delicious songs, delivered by her equally savoury raspy vocals, are included on Townes’ major label debut album, The Lemonade Stand. (She released a pair of independent discs in 2011 and 2013 respectively.) The rest of the new album fares extremely well, packed with all kinds of fun. Hear rousing anthems like “Holding Out for the One”, clap-along swingers like “Where You Are”, bluesy burners like “I Kept the Roses”, and sentimental charmers like “When I Meet My Maker”. If this is what a lemonade stand sounds like, we’ll head over there any day of the week.

Two Cares Due None
by Absolutely Free

Absolutely Free is a Polaris nominated trio that creates cinematic space dust erasing all thoughts of time and place. Two Cares Due None, released in 2020, is soundtrack for the 2016 independent artistic feature film of the same name. Hauntingly beautiful, the instrumental electronic music summons moods of mystery and calm. This ranks right up there with scores from such greats as Tangerine Dream and Maurice Jarre, maybe better. For those curious, the film, shot in Canada, Iceland, and Italy, examines ways various cultures assign value to certain artifacts. Lose yourself in this music which will take you down a lazy river in supernatural fluidity.

What We Started
by Paragon Cause

There is fresh music wafting out of the nation’s capital. What We Started is the 2020 album from Ottawa electro-rock duo Paragon Cause (Michelle Opthof and Jay Bonaparte). The album serves to remind us that we need more of this kind of music. A reference point to the genre may be Britain’s Curve. On this, we have extra spicy anthems of flickering cool that were moulded with assistance from producer and songwriter Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes. Michelle’s vocals suit the musical style perfectly – a concoction that offers driving sonics through territory that is dense, dark, but ultimately uplifting. All the tracks are good; it is one album that is worth buying as a whole.

by Kiesza (JW)

Following double platinum radio hit “Hideaway”, Juno award winning debut album Sound of a Woman, collaborations with Duran Duran among others, endorsements from the likes of Madonna, songs penned for Rihanna and Kylie Minogue, and recovery from a serious car accident, Calgarian dance pop ace Kiesza launched her sophomore LP Crave, easily a standout pop record in 2020. The album finds her shining in her comfort zone – dance shoes blazing around a colourful dancefloor. While her debut effort celebrated the 90s (she has often cited Robin S as a big influence), Crave rings a bit more of the 80s – which naturally is a good thing. This is particularly true on opener “Run Renegade”, a bass-funk bounce which leads nicely into the irresistible euphoria of “All of the Feelings”. The title-track “Crave” continues the fun, with Carly Rae Jepsen leanings, before things dip into relaxing soft piano “Can’t Be Saved” which bursts into a rollicking chorus. “Love Me with Your Lie”, a further standout, with its burbling groove, qualifies as party anthem of the year. “Sky Ain’t the Limit”, another 80s tribute, has a little bit of everything including spicy synth refrains and liquid rhythm guitar. “Love Never Dies” reminds us how fabulous Kiesza’s vocal talents are; the song begins with a gothic piano line before bursting into a soaring thunderclap. If you are able to get hold of the album on compact disc, you will be rewarded with two bonus tracks, including the best song of the whole package, “Sweet Love”.

Fantasy Chapel
by Riches

The well-known electropop ace who is Young Galaxy‘s Catherine McCandless has conjured up a new project called Riches and released album Fantasy Chapel, an alternative electronic work of sorts. It is, for lack of a better word, excellent. Interspersed with nine standard-length songs are instrumental interludes called “Thresholds,” each percolating with a unique mood. Catherine’s knack for welding captivating dream pop is offered in spades here. “More Alive Than Ever’s” powerful choral spirit of incantation feels like something is being summoned, and we are not sure whether it is good or evil. It has been suggested that it is a devotion to opening a portal to our unconscious mind. The more playful title-track has a catchy, tribal ring to it. This juxtaposition of doom and optimism continues on “Eyes Open but Not Looking” and “Thief in Your Eye”. Rhythmically, as heard on tracks like “Lily,” we feel as if on a boat swinging from side to side as we more forward at an elegant pace. One of the disc’s many highlights is how the synths muscle their way in for the climax of “Nakedness.” Fantasy Chapel by Riches is a standout amidst 2020 albums and not to be missed.

Carte mère
by Catherine Major (JN)

Juno nominated recording artist Catherine Major bore her fifth album in 2020, Carte mère. Known for her heart-haunting melodies of beauty, this could be her most supernatural work yet. Motherhood has been a dominant theme throughout the artist’s works (she now has four little ones), and on Carte mère she introduces the concept of a computer motherboard as the control center of the family of components, its circuitry connecting the elements together. It also symbolizes the challenge Catherine had in switching from composition on piano to computer. The pains of labour from this steep learning curve have yielded splendid fruits. The album is stunning to say the least: eerie and magical, drenched in minor chords, expanding the characteristic Catherine Major universe in its layers of ghostly charm. Her hypnotic vocals carry the misty poetry over popcorn beats, wobbling electronic hammers, and expansive strings. It’s the stuff that elicits lucid dreams of a landscape that is dark, moody, and creepy, but ever so gorgeous. One of the finest albums of 2020.

Canadian Music Blog’s
Album of the Year 2020

Our 2020 album of the year (our first of the 20s), follows Lillix’s Tigerlily (2010), Lights’ Siberia (2011), Victoria Duffield’s Shut Up and Dance (2012), Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob (2013), Azélie’s Something Good (2014), Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion (2015), Alexe’s Alexe Gaudreault (2016), Louise Burns’ Young Mopes (2017), Diversion’s Connection (2018), and Electric Youth’s Memory Emotion (2019).

The winner of the 612 albums in 2020 fills a void in current times – pop-rock with a progressive edge and reminds us a little of the aforementioned Lillix’s Tigerlily album. The songs presented by this all-female trio are well written, and the album is impressively produced. In fact, Derek Hoffman was nominated for the producer of the year JUNO thanks in part to his work on it.

Album opener “Silk for Gold” should get you hooked right away, but beyond its initial cool sweep, when the guitar kicks in, feel a rush of ecstasy heading into a wallop of a chorus. “I Wonder” is a superb track to follow. Again, what starts off as a slick pulled back groove hurls itself like a slingshot. “N.Y.P.” should satisfy those who like things more synth heavy while “Obsessed” bops itself right into the 80s. Just when you think things are about to fizzle out, the album gets injected with energy. Find impressive composition on “Guess I’ve Changed” and a great synth-led driving rhythm on “Landslide”. Atmospheric ballad “Up in Flames” serves as a perfect conclusion.

Canadian Music Blog declares Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark by Caveboy as 2020’s Album of the Year!

Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark
by Caveboy