Canadian Artists Pick Their Favourite Albums of 2021
The Weather Station, PUP, Shad, Cadence Weapon and more reveal their favourite releases of the past year
Published Dec 03, 2021The critics have had their say and picked the best albums of 2021. Here at Exclaim!, we crowned Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz as the best album of the year.
Now that the dust has settled on our own list, we decided to ask a wide selection of Canadian artists about what they were listening to in 2021. Sometimes the results made perfect sense — like Cadence Weapon picking a standout rap album, Charlotte Cornfield naming an abstract folk masterpiece, or PUP celebrating some pop-friendly punk.
But other choices seemed to come out of left field — like Danko Jones highlighting some obscure Swedish garage rock, and someone picking the new Limp Bizkit record.
Check out the eclectic selection of picks below. Interestingly, only one album got picked twice, so keep your eyes peeled for which one.
Absolutely by Dijon
Dijon was already super hot, and this being his debut LP, I feel he resisted the urge to make the "biggest"-sounding record he could, and instead made something that sounds original and true. I definitely learned some engineering tricks just from listening to it — they use room mics in a really cool way — and I love the way tracks two through four flow into each other. Great record. It's been stuck in my head since it came out.
Michael Leo Valeri of Brand of Sacrifice
GLOW ON by Turnstile
I feel like, somewhere down the line, hardcore and punk forgot how to be fun — this album completely flips that notion on its head. There's so many influences in here that throw you for a loop — from surf rock-y passages to sheer aggression reminiscent of something off of Kill 'Em All, there is so much to enjoy. The hooks are infectious too. Boom boom boom! Can't get enough of it.
The House Is Burning by Isaiah Rashad
My favourite album of the year is The House Is Burning by Isaiah Rashad. The songs here are incredibly rich and detailed, dabbling in a variety of regional rap sounds while still sounding completely original. A vibe-y collection of chill bangers, various phrases, lines and ad-libs from THIB are destined to burrow their way into your subconscious.
Andrew Baena of Carcosa
Eternal Blue by Spiritbox
We've had the pleasure of knowing Mike, Courtney and Bill for years, well before Spiritbox started, and watching their formation and subsequent growth has been amazing. They are the hardest-working musicians that I know and have gone out of their way to help us in our career as well. Remove any potential bias and the music still just speaks for itself. Every track on Eternal Blue is a perfect example of everything modern metalcore strives to be. From extremely catchy choruses to disgustingly heavy breakdowns, soaring vocals to carefully crafted electronics, this album truly has it all! Some of my favourite tracks are "Hurt You," "Yellowjacket" and "The Summit."
fishmonger by underscores
I think my favourite album that was released in 2021 would have to be underscores' fishmonger. This was really tricky because there were so many 2021 albums that made an impact on me this year, but I think this whole album is such a gem, and particularly "The fish song" captures a feeling and moment in 2021 that are very special to me. A really fun and beautiful album!
Is It Light Where You Are by Art School Girlfriend
This album takes me to a still place and keeps me there. Not only is it a creative album, but it serves as a guided meditation. When looking for art to consume, I'm always searching for an escape, and this album is 45 mins away from real life.
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature by Cassandra Jenkins
This is a truly gorgeous record. I love everything about it: the songs, the lyrics, the arrangements. When I listen to it, I feel like I'm escaping into a little world for a while. There are only seven songs, but each is its own vignette and the whole thing feels very complete. "Hard Drive" is the masterpiece, to me. I can relate to that song on so many levels.
Kevin Comeau of Crown Lands
I Don't Live Here Anymore by the War on Drugs
They have distilled their sound to match the sold-out arena tour they're about to embark on. The War on Drugs are the best live band in the world right now and I can't wait for them to bring the new record to Toronto in February. The lyrics are some of Adam's best, and the synth-heavy mix makes me cry in a real good way. I've listened to this album multiple times a day since it was released. It's a triumph from front to back. Incredible record. Standout tracks: "Harmonia's Dream," "Victim."
LP! by JPEGMAFIA
LP! is probably the most innovative and entertaining album I've listened to all year. Fell in love with every song pretty much instantaneously. So many incredible bars throughout the whole thing, and the production and mixing are next-level. So much raw, unfiltered existentialism and aggression. As always, Peggy hits you with hard truths and addresses the shit that everyone is too scared to say. He is a true artist and revolutionary in my eyes.
Al Mundo Azul by Mr Twin Sister
What we have here: a group that has consistently pumped out some of the most exhilarating oddball dancefloor music of the decade while stubbornly remaining under the radar. I've been a devotee since "All Around and Away We Go" descended upon the zeitgeist, following each release with glee — I maintain that 2018's "Power of Two" is the hottest song of the decade — so you'd better believe that I was hyped for the November release of Al Mundo Azul. It does not disappoint: 11 tightly wound disco-adjacent tunes that flash past like an overly cologned muscle jock on rollerblades, flitting gracefully between Spanish and English and overwhelming the stereo field with their characteristically bonkers production. Another kick-ass album from one of the greatest bands you're missing out on.
Alli Deleo of Doohickey Cubicle
Hildegard by Hildegard
One of our favourite albums of the year is Hildegard's self-titled debut album. We were lucky to see them — Ouri and Helena Deland — debut the project live at POP Montreal in 2019 and fell in love instantly. Ouri is such an incredible producer, and together they made some really amazing tracks. Listening to the album start to finish is a nice, mesmerizing adventure we truly recommend.
Nabi Sue-Bersche of Ellevator
Two Saviors by Buck Meek
Buck Meek is some kinda wonderful. His lyricism lives in this mystical place between the spirit world and a tiny apartment kitchen. Two Saviors is my go-to listen for most activities these days — and whenever it plays, I feel myself balancing out. Special shoutout to "Dream Daughter" — my favourite song on the album.
Kevvy of Fake Shark
Still Sucks by Limp Bizkit
Who knew that the band everyone had a favourite song from but never admitted liking at a certain point would somehow age better than all their contemporaries? Maybe it's owning aging, maybe it's that they're back in our thoughts as Woodstock '99 documentary scapegoats, maybe it's that they actually really know what they're doing and have consistently put out bangers for decades? Either way, "Dad Vibes" is song of the year, and I want that Fred Perry jacket Durst wears now.
PESSIMIST by Greta Isaac
We discovered Greta Isaac early on in the year and immediately fell in love with her music! Her 2021 EP PESSIMIST seamlessly intertwines folk melodies with pop production, every song cohesive with the next but each able to stand out on its own.
one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden by Ada Lea
I stumbled across this album a couple of months ago and think it's really special. Ada Lea's songwriting is very captivating and I love the production, especially the guitars. Very refreshing and beautiful, top to bottom!
Matthew Lyall of Gold & Youth
ULTRAPOP by the Armed
A rotating collective of bodybuilding dudes who may or may not be in a cult making heavy doom pop — what's not to love? It's a whole thing, and I love all the weird mythology bullshit around it. You can only kinda parse what elements are satire, but it's also just earnestly great music. It's just an incredible sounding record. "ALL FUTURES" is one of the best songs I've heard in years.
This Is Really Going to Hurt by Flyte
My favourite album of 2021 was This Is Really Going to Hurt by Flyte. This album takes you on this journey and just flows so well. The opening track gets you in this emotional state that really prepares you for the vibe. It made me quite nostalgic over some past relationships, but in a bittersweet way. My top three favourite tracks are "Losing You," "Everyone's a Winner" and "Love Is an Accident." I listened to this album for the first time lying in my bed staring up at the ceiling, and it hit me in such an intense way emotionally. I highly recommend it — just be prepared to maybe shed some tears!
Jackson Fairfax-Perry of Hillsburn
Head Above the Waters by DijahSB
My favourite album of 2021 is Head Above the Waters by DijahSB. I just found out about DijahSB in the past few months and I'm in love with them. This album is the perfect marriage of great rhymes and house-style beats à la Kaytranada.
Kampen går vidare! by Gatuplan
I constantly needed music to counter the shitshow that was 2021. Gatuplan's Kampen går vidare! album helped lift my spirits. Gatuplan is the brainchild of Inge Johansson of the (International) Noise Conspiracy, Against Me! and Totalt Jävla Mörker, and it's an old punk melange that will get anyone up and dancing.
If I can, honourable mentions: Exodus's Persona Non Grata, Steve Conte's Bronx Cheer, L.A. Guns' Checkered Past, Fucked Up's Year of The Horse (Act One) and Quicksand's Distant Populations were audio aids throughout the months, too.
Bigger Dreams by Mouraine
I had the pleasure of watching Mouraine grow from his T.O.A. (The OverAchievers) days. One thing I've always loved about his music is his honesty, and he always represents where he's from and where he's going.
Mike Walker of Kiwi Jr.
Roxy Girls Are in the Drink by Roxy Girls
As part of a job, I once took a train to Sunderland to stand in the empty parking lot of a Smyths Toys waiting for the sun to set. This EP didn't exist yet, but if it had, it would have helped.
Elizabeth Powell of Land of Talk
Harmonize the Moon by Michael Feuerstack
A collection of existentially reverent short stories, letters to loved ones sung in the key of not-ignoring-the-brighter-side-of-life. The understatedly elegant production and impeccable mix gives this record the beautiful life it deserves. And how lucky we are to be the beneficiaries of such a gracious gift!
Plastic Bouquet by Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams
This record is heaven. Kacy has the kind of voice that makes my heart hurt and writes songs that are like short stories. When this album was announced, I was so excited because I knew the blend of Kacy's voice with Marlon's would be richer than the Queen of England! I have spun this around so many times I've practically worn it in. My favourite track is "Last Burning Ember."
Raphaëlle Chouinard of Les Shirley
Juno by Remi Wolf
This album is just so much fun! It's fresh and makes you wanna cause a ruckus and dance all over the beach. It sounds like M.I.A. mixed with SZA and it got me hooked.
The Tower by Geordie Gordon
Geordie Gordon is one of those rare, legendary superstars who can't be contained by genre. Pure joy, creativity, tastefulness and songwriting craft pours out of him into everything he creates. The Tower was written, recorded and produced by one genius with a heart of gold, and every song is a lo-if invitation into Geordie's bedroom and imagination, diving so deep and far away from the pandemic. Understated, simple, powerful arrangements provide the backdrop to beautiful and memorable melodies worth putting on repeat.
Certified Lover Boy by Drake
The album that had a lot of replay value for me this year was Certified Lover Boy by Drake. The intro is cinematic and heartfelt. The project is just super eclectic; I mean, every production is intentional and I really love the approach to blending elements of R&B, hip-hop and even Afro/dancehall styles. That's my entire artist personality!
CLB brings the usual hard, relatable punchlines, and producers were in their bag with incredibly dope samples. The album even features the city's talent, with production credits from our very own WondaGurl and PARTYNEXTDOOR, and sampled vocals from Charlotte Day Wilson. To take it a step further, the featured collaborations are exciting, including Tems, JAY-Z, Giveon and Lil Baby, just to name a few. Needless to say, this one's on repeat for 2021 and beyond.
Muvaland Vol. 2 by Cakes da Killa
This release made me yearn for the pre-pandemic days of being in a sweaty night club, dancing with other gays. Cakes da Killa delivers on this album. Immediately in the first track, he hooks me in immediately as he announces "this is for faggots" on "Stoggaf." And this album is exactly that: Cakes is giving you gay '90s house ballroom bops.
Spectrums by Odonis Odonis
My favourite Canadian album released this year is Spectrums by Odonis Odonis. This album is dark and high-energy. The songs are so thoughtfully written, each having a certain mood that you can feel viscerally while you are listening. Spectrums is the perfect soundtrack if you are trying to be the main character in an '80s industrial goth action movie, and, really, who isn't?
Heaux Tales by Jazmine Sullivan
I really struggle with picking "best" albums and ranking in general, but an album that meant a lot to me this year is Heaux Tales by Jazmine Sullivan. I think she is one of the greatest living singers, so I was so excited that she channeled her virtuosity into such a cohesive and fun body of songs. I listened to them until they were burned into my brain. When Jazmine sings a run, I feel a jolt of electricity travel from the top of my head down my spine. I feel alive! Her voice is like from some other celestial dimension, but her songs are these intimate explorations of such specific and human experiences. I love that juxtaposition!
Zack Mykula of PUP
Let Me Do One More by Illuminati Hotties
Sarah Tudzin is an incredible songwriter and producer and has surrounded herself with equally talented musicians. Never has a song of hers missed the mark, and every performance — live or recorded — is irresistibly infused with such energy and charisma. The songs are personal. They're weird and full of energy. They're stacked with hooks. The arrangements are thoughtful and interesting. Basically, they are perfect. She is who she unapologetically is in every piece of music she makes, and it's undeniably great.
When Smoke Rises by Mustafa
The 2021 Canadian album I listened to the most this year was When Smoke Rises by Mustafa. In terms of sound, the album is something I hadn't quite heard before. Feels like an achievement to me just on that level, a real unique contribution to music. And then, of course, the storytelling on the album is just amazing. Stirred up some deep emotions and conversations in my home and brought us a lot of comfort too.
Tyler Bancroft of Said the Whale
Last Birthday by Valley
This band is *chefs kiss*. They are the whole package. One day I'll tell my kids about how Valley messaged me on Instagram, just to chat. From that we became friends. We went out for pizza, we collaborated via my management client TITUS BANK, we swapped merch after a late night of A&W-fuelled partying. We've hung out in three or four different cities now, I think, because they always make the effort. And through all that, I've come to see this group for who are they are, which is: immensely talented in every aspect. They are incredible musicians, producers and live performers; they are engaging online; visually chameleonic; and last, but certainly not least, they are excellent songwriters. Boundary-pushing creators of pop music. A lyric which stands out from their song "Tempo," off their recent EP Last Birthday: "Bubbles effervesce from the Sprite." A quick line that is designed to glide past the listener, but to me, it's just magical. People who drop gems like that within the confines of pop music in 2021 are in my personal hall of fame. Fuck, man. I love Valley.
Sargeant X Comrade
Sound Ancestors by Madlib
Madlib is a genius. He has compiled sounds and textures representing various cultures and musical history to give the listener a reflective insight into themselves. Allowing us to see that music itself is genre-less, as it is a recollection of the human experience through sounds and frequencies.
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST by Tyler, the Creator
The album of the year for me is Tyler, the Creator's CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST. The textures he chose for the album are so heavy and crazy. Having DJ Drama host it was wild too — felt like a throwback Gangsta Grillz mixtape. He was just having fun, rapping his ass off and not giving a fuck about the rules. That's what I'm on right now.
Any Shape You Take by Indigo De Souza
I love this record so much because it perfectly blends elements of synthpop, folk rock and grunge, tied together with Indigo's ethereal voice and emotionally devastating lyrics. From the colourful pop lullaby opener "17" to the cacophonous climax of screaming, heavy breathing and dog barking on "Real Pain," Indigo manages to capture the full spectrum of human emotion on this album in such a beautiful, honest and unpredictable way that it just has to take the title for me.
Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station
Eau de Bonjourno by Bernice
I'm a fan of this band and have been for a long time, so I was already really looking forward to this record, but it really exceeded my expectations. Just felt like the record I'd been waiting for from them. I've listened to it more than anything else this year, and it stays with me and always surprises me. Such a heartfelt record but also so interesting and unusual. I love Robin's lyrical voice — how she leans into qualities that I'd describe almost as naïve, if they weren't so subversive also. I love Felicity and Robin singing together, and how strange and ungrounded the band is. So much space and silence. I truly love this record, and it is just an instant classic in my world.
Juno by Remi Wolf
My favourite release of 2021 would have to be Juno by Remi Wolf. I kind of discovered her by mistake with the song "wyd." I instantly thought it was a smash. She has a very eclectic style and a crazy delivery — very colourful, very refreshing. Definitely a must if you haven't heard of her yet.