The Canadian Music Blog tracked a total of 579 Canadian artist studio albums released in 2018. Below is a ranking of our 15 favourites of these regardless of genre, language, region, and popularity of the artist. These 15 represent 2.6% of the albums. We did not consider live, various artist, Christmas, and compilation albums, none of which are included in the 579. For EPs we published a separate list. At the CMB, we like music that is sophisticated with catchy melodies and pleasing vocals (unless it is instrumental). Though fairly eclectic, this list reflects Canadian artists becoming world leaders at progressive music. Find below our 15 favourite Canadian artist albums of 2018 including our Album of the Year!.
Dusted is a pet project of Brian Borcherd, and Blackout Summer the sophomore record. Essentially a work of alternative rock, its strong suit lies in the writing. Songs often begin discreetly and grab attention when the bass and drums enter the picture. Opener “Seasons” welds the brooding hypnosis of The Psychedelic Furs’ “Sister Europe” with the ghostly yodels of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. The more experimental “Dead Eyes” pairs subdued vocals with perky guitars oscillating between simpler arrangements and ones more sophisticated. The swaggering “No Prison” beautifully captures the jangly guitar sound of the 60s from such aces as The Byrds and beefs things up with some pleasurable pulses. Well done! iTunes
Scoring huge Mandopop hit “Ti Mian” (Decent) this year, theme song of Chinese feature film Ex-Files 3: Return of the Exes, Canadian singer and actress Kelly Yu followed up with her first album in four years after debut LP Spirits. Though the Vancouver raised star gained fame with her roles in TV series One and a Half Summers and blockbuster film Ex-Files 3, Yu in fact graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music and was guitarist in a backing band before launching her own solo career in music. The legend who is Peter Frampton was so impressed with her guitar skills, he had her perform with him on stage.
Kelly’s 2018 album, entitled Undefined, consists of ten soothing ballads including previous hits “Can’t Steal Now” (Track 1), “Past” (Track 4), and of course “Decent” (Track 8). The album also contains English language number “Save Me”. Undefined’s standout track, though is possibly, “Accompaniment” (Track 7) which does what Mandopop does best, hooks us onto an irresistible melody with soul-piercing vocals over some killer piano. Hear some heart-melting keys and strings on concluder “You Are Mine”. iTunes
Beatrice Deer is originally from Quaqtaq, QC and now based in Montreal. She is of Inuit and Mohawk descent and in the past 14 years has become a natural at blending Indigenous flavours with contemporary pop-rock. She refers to her resulting folk-rock style as Inuindie. Beatrice’s 2018 LP My All to You, her fourth, showcases such a marvellous sound with songs performed in three languages: English, French, and Inuktitut. Being more involved in the songwriting herself, than on previous works, she still managed to pull in some high-profile collaborators including members of The Barr Brothers, Land of Talk, Stars, and Timber Timbre.
Hear modern alternative rock and folk with traditional throat singing and the stuff of Inuit legend. My All to You is a collection of eight original pieces with Beatrice Deer’s interpretation of two traditional songs. Thematically, it is, in the author’s words, about reconciliation with oneself, “the hardest thing to do.” The wistful “1997” contains some nostalgic guitar strums that might remind one of Travis or Smashing Pumpkins. Title-track “My All to You” asserts an irresistible, steady beat. Closer “You’re with Me” acknowledges the importance of companionship along life’s treacherous journey. On My All to You, Beatrice Deer, embarked on a voyage of personal reconciliation, and sounds as if she came out of it with pure resilience. iTunes
Roots music outfit Ladies of the Canyon was a successful quartet, nominated for the CCMA Rising Star Award in 2011. After two albums, the group felt it had reached a crossroads, its members wanting to embark on separate paths. Maïa Davies had already released solo album Héritage paying homage to the Francophone side of her bilingual roots. But her path eventually began to veer in a more progressive direction, and at some point along the way she bumped into JUNO award winning producer Gavin Brown who has crafted works from Mother Mother, Metric, The Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer, and Three Days Grace. Maïa’s penning catchy songs began to attract more stellar names to join her team: Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies and JUNO nominated recording engineer Gus Van Go.
The 2018 album, Plus que vive, marks Maïa‘s first foray into the exciting kingdom of pop music with electronic trimmings. You will also hear some choice nuggets of progressive rock, some of which outshine even the immediately catchy pop charmers like “Alléluia” and “Échos”. Opening with the electronic boom of atmospheric “Années-lumière”, a piece that smartly combines Maïa’s angelic vocals with processed vocoder backups, we were immediately hooked. Fortunately, her songwriting skills come complete with big, satisfying choruses heard in cuts like “Éternellement”.
Maïa also has a knack for creating addictive beats – in “Folie” for instance – a track that is drenched in a dizzying wall of sound. The driving “Les couleurs me reviennent” presents another example of an exhilarating chorus. It’s not all a high wattage pop electronica however, as “Seule comme une étoile” injects a cool dose of soul-stirring piano, haunting like a Sarah Brightman song. Oh, and feel free to clap along to “Içi dans les nuages” – good music is meant to inspire you to do so. We come to closer “Comme un homme” with electric guitar themes that remind us of Gary Numan’s “Ancients” (that’s meant as a huge compliment by the way). Her vocals on the track are simply delicious.
The great voice, songwriting, and production make this thing a triple threat that should unravel the prowess of all A Listers. iTunes
The group hardly needs an introduction, but reggae pop act Magic holds the overlooked distinction of being the first Canadian band to top the British charts … ever! Two JUNO wins punctuate its status, plus of course global smash hit “Rude”. Expectations is the outfit’s third studio album, and despite “Kiss Me” becoming a certified hit, the album should have received much more attention because the quality of the music is outstanding. Although there is still some reggae seasoning, the players shifted to a more mainstream pop sound that is richer than on its previous discs. Expectations by MAGIC! is one of the finest pop releases of 2018. iTunes
Originally from Saint-Romuald, QC which has now been amalgamated with Lévis, Montreal-based electropop ace Ariane Moffatt released her sixth studio album in 2018, Petites mains précieuses. Her debut album, Aquanaute (2002), went platinum, and her third, Tous les sens (2008), won a JUNO award. The new album is perky with some dark patches and is modern sounding with occasional tips towards 1970s grooves. It is always a pleasure to listen to her velvety voice which wisps through the tracks gracefully. Popular cuts include stringy opener “Du souffle pour deux”, funky “Les apparences”, and the driving “Pour toi”. As interesting musically as its title, we enjoyed the fluttering “Cyborg” and more heavily electronic “ONO” which stands for One Night Only. Not many artists can boast six solid albums, so Ariane Moffatt is among the elite. iTunes
After launching an EP in 2015, which allowed him to play more than a hundred shows in Canada and Europe and to win numerous prizes and accolades, Moncton, New Brunswick’s Simon Daniel launched in 2018 full-length album Nightcrawler, and it’s a beauty. Of the disc’s title and theme, Daniel states, “Myself, being a night owl, that’s when my imagination lets loose and when I’m most creative.” Nightcrawler exposes his creative genius in concocting a fresh sound with funky bass grooves and punchy trip hop beats intertwined with crackling guitars and whirls of analog synthesizers. The tracks lead off with simplicity and gradually evolve into sophisticated soundscapes, often with towering choruses. It’s both a nocturnal road trip and an intergalactic odyssey. Simon Daniel’s Nightcrawler could well be 2018 alternative pop’s finest hour. iTunes
With a voice as enticing as Coeur de pirate’s and as enchanting as Anna of the North’s, The Yukon’s Sarah MacDougall scored a winner in 2018 new wave folk album All the Hours I have Left to Tell You Anything. By her own telling, the lyrics deal with “strength, identity, death, the breakdown of relationships, birth, and the ghosts we honor and carry throughout”. These themes were influenced by the passing of her grandparents, birth of her niece, and a breakup. The music’s atmospherics were shaped by the vast and desolate Yukon terrain as well as the shadowy splendour of her country of origin: Sweden. One of the disc’s chief strengths lies in Sarah’s ability to craft surging choruses that do more than satisfy. Listen too for some savoury electric guitar solos. All the Hours… was heralded by singles “Empire” and “We Are Fire” but has much more to offer, such as the slow-burning drive of “Bleeding on the Dancefloor”, stabbing thrill of “Animal”, and synth tingles of “Cruel Spring”. iTunes
Via Universal Music, Toronto synth pop duo Brave Shores released sophomore LP La Hoo La La following EP La Hoo earlier in the year. It is an album that just might knock you off your feet, as the dense wall of sound is a hard-hitting scoop that elevates the listener up to planes of euphoria, especially with such an array of bristling, ethereal synth voices. But even electric guitars make grand entrances from time to time packing a spicy jolt. Some of the earlier tracks on the album do something which may sound impossible to the imagination: combine 70s progressive rock with 80s synth pop. The two styles merge into a whole new animal which is a charming one. La Hoo La La also presents nuggets that are completely unique. The album was expertly produced by personnel behind Bjork, Future Islands, and Canadian acts Dear Rouge and Said the Whale. Brave Shores is brother and sister duo Jay and Stefanie McCarrol. iTunes
Adrian Underhill launches his debut album C U Again. It is smooth, mellow R&B inflected adult contemporary with splashes of alternative. Adrian is originally from Vancouver but now based in Toronto via Montreal. Pastel grooves swish through the disc ever so naturally. The gentle earworm “I Want It All” harnesses a simple melody that is oh so catchy. “Cruel” flows along nicely before breaking out into a funky conclusion. “As I Think of Something Different” makes effective use of vocal harmonies, and “How to Make a Life Count” includes some dazzling keyboard work. Find pleasant reggae peppering on “I Could”. As far as R&B goes, Adrian Underhill’s C U Again album is the surprise charmer of 2018! iTunes
British Columbian outfit The Coriolis Project returned in 2018 with album Demagogue presenting its brand of ambient music with a driving edge. Unsealing track “Branches” switches on an atmosphere that swings coolly thanks to some nice ride cymbal percussion and ultimately excites with bristling guitars and ultra spicy synth riffs. Another standout for us is “Mephistopheles” opening with icicle clicks, wind chimes, and Gregorian type background chanting, augmented with electrifying guitar strums, haunting bells, and thunderclaps. Past the halfway mark enter electronic bass pulses to bring things to a glorious climax. Brilliant. iTunes
Toronto based Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps are back again with another stellar album of ambient electronica. Recording under project name North Atlantic Drift, the followup to last year’s excellent Departures Vol. 1 was released this year, the second volume. If you ever wanted to depart for a seafaring adventure in the North Atlantic but felt it was too dangerous, the waves of electronic drones and shimmers on this recording will transport you into a dreamworld that involves basking in the sun on the deck of some modest craft, adrift in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by nothing but dark blue water. With Departures Vol. 2, North Atlantic Drift is on its way of becoming one of Canada’s finest acts of the genre that include Tim Hecker, Loscil, and the aforementioned Coriolis Project. iTunes
Electronic group Young Galaxy formed in Vancouver but relocated to Montreal where prolific album releases – six so far – have ensued since 2007. A few of these have been long or shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. After going through a number of membership changes, YG is essentially down to the duo now of Catherine McCandless and Stephen Ramsay. 2018’s Down Time is the outfit’s first fully independent release. Stuffed with often lengthy tracks of warm, dense, mesmerizing electronic soundscapes and sophisticated percussion and effects, the disc picked up strong reviews.
Down Time opens with the haunting bleeps and burbles of “Under My Wing”, complete with veiled vocals. Glittering synths animate “Show You the Valley”. The lively percussion and layered vocals on “River” feel like a Caribbean cruise while the long instrumental prologue of ethereal wisps in “Frontier” gently blow the listener up and up and outside the atmosphere. “Stay for Real” released last year was ranked by the CMB as the 14th top track of 2017. It is the album’s strongest track as far as single-suited material goes. Young Galaxy’s Down Time is very cool stuff. iTunes
Following up 2017 album Encounters, Canadian electronic act Viñu-Vinu dropped Echoes from Afar, a sweeping tapestry of ambient soundscapes reminiscent of the best cuts from Tangerine Dream. More remarkable is that the album was recorded live off the floor (in Banff, AB and Montreal), capturing a spontaneous organic process that circumvents modern proclivities towards repetitive loops. Chillout vibes, downtempo beats, and ethereal synthesizers merge to create an enjoyable waking dream. We particularly liked track “Afar”, a deliciously dreary ride through spook and calm. Also savory is the droning whirl of “Deep Forest” something in which we would not mind getting lost with a soundtrack like this booming through the trees! Brilliant album. iTunes
Canadian Music Blog’s 2018 Album of the Year
What do you call an album that is among the best you have ever heard, but no one has heard of it, nor the artist? Concealed from the ears of the land, the most priceless jewel among all 579 Canadian artist studio albums released in 2018 is the best EDM record we have ever heard. This project, released through Colorize, delves into trippy, chillout house electronica. Think of Kaskade’s early stuff but a little richer, dreamier, and more ethereal. The album mixes instrumentals with some vocalized pieces, and the vocals are astounding. While the soothing ambient surf of tracks like “Get Closer” caresses the soul, the disc also bristles with energetic beats heard on cuts like “Knockdown” and “Would You Just”. Importantly, hypnosis is also a factor, most evident on “Falling”. Four years in the making, this masterpiece contains not a single weak moment; it is a solid joyride from start to finish. The album had us speechless. The Canadian Music Blog declares Connection by Diversion as 2018’s Album of the Year! iTunes