28 Great Canadian Albums You Might Have Missed in 2023

As originally published by Exclaim! Staff on Exclaim!

Canada has long been known for producing a surprising number of crossover successes for a country with a relatively small population. In 2023, however, our star exports mostly took a backseat: indie faves like Alvvays and Destroyer were busy promoting 2022 albums, the Weeknd dropped the ball with an embarrassing HBO show, Drake released an album seemingly no one liked, Grimes demoted music to her “side quest,” and I’m frankly not sure what Shawn Mendes or Justin Bieber were up to.

Only Tate McRae, who suddenly ascended from TikTok buzz artist to pop megastar, had a breakthrough year in terms of releasing buzzy new music. Death metal combo Tomb Mold were the lone Canadian group to crack the top 50 of an aggregated roundup of year-end lists (coming in at exactly No. 50, as of this writing).

But even if Canadian musicians didn’t dominate the discourse in the way they so often do, there was still a ton of great music popping off just under the radar. From long-running acts still operating at the top of their game to unexpected collabs from familiar faces, as well as some newcomers who are worth keeping an eye on for years to come, the year offered no shortage of must-hear albums for anyone with an ear for adventurous sounds from fresh artists.

Below are 28 great Canadian albums you might have missed in 2023. Read more about Exclaim!’s favourite music of the year, including the best albums and songs, here.

ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT
“Darling the Dawn”
(Constellation Records)


It was a big year for Broken Social Scene’s Ariel Engle, who, in addition to releasing an album through her solo project La Force (seen later on this list), teamed up with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Manuel Menuck for an album of exploratory post-rock and avant pop under the name ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT. Engle’s malleable voice is feather-light as it flutters softly above ominous, foggy drones that sometimes stretch to 10 minutes in length, setting a post-apocalyptic mood that’s as unsettling as it is gorgeous.
Alex Hudson

Amos the Kid
Enough as It Was
(House of Wonders Records)


Enough as It Was sees the enigmatic Winnipeg alt-country rocker Amos the Kid as a juvenile prankster, a heart-worn cowboy, a transgressive blasphemer and a loving partner. Between the vulnerability of “Western Store,” the muted serenity of “Under Thin Eyelids” or the clattering honesty of “World Burn” is a fusion of optimism and bitterness, clarity and confusion. He’s not looking for life’s answers and doesn’t expect them; sometimes things are enough as they are. 
Myles Tiessen

Begonia
Powder Blue
(Birthday Cake Records)


Where Begonia’s fire-starting voice tends to tear through the air like a comet, her songs prefer to slink and shudder — it’s that tension between release and restraint that makes Powder Blue such an affecting listen. Shotgun weddings, religious trauma, sexual evolution and good ol’ heartbreak are cast in spacious, hi-fi forms that run the gamut from bossa nova to piano balladry, icy R&B to nocturnal trip-hop. Alexa Dirks has never sounded more self-assured or less afraid of failure; on Powder Blue, she takes flight. 
Kaelen Bell

Haley Blais
Wisecrack
(Arts & Crafts)


Haley Blais was destined to be a singer — but she was also born to be funny. Known for her witty YouTube videos and humorous social media captions, it’s fitting for the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter to title her sophomore album Wisecrack. This is Blais’s most personal record yet, as she delves into nostalgia, moments of mourning and complex family dynamics. With tracks like “Coolest fucking bitch in town” and “Baby Teeth,” Blais creates a soft sonic landscape reminiscent of ’90s shoegaze while capturing the hard truths of growing up and how complicated that can be. 
Heather Taylor-Singh 

Charlotte Cornfield
Could Have Done Anything
(Next Door Records)


Occasionally, I stumble across the subreddit r/BrandNewSentence, devoted to unlikely combinations of words that have probably never before happened in the English language. Cornfield is a bit like the lyrical version of that, as her folk rock songs are full of things I’ve never heard anyone sing about: looking “sun-kissed in your Subaru,” or impressing a date by scoring tickets to a sold-out Magnetic Fields show at Montreal’s Théâtre Corona. Through these hyper-specific references, she taps into universal emotions, offering vivid snapshots from a life of keen observation.
Alex Hudson

des hume
FM.era
(des hume initiative)


FM.era is a queer coming-of-age story wrapped up in psychedelic synthpop and radio static. Songs like “Quarterback” and “Bottle Rocket” chronicle first loves and humiliations amidst blipping electronics and tip-tapping beats, while climactic standout “Promising Boy” offers the grand catharsis of an LCD Soundsystem banger. As the album reaches its pinnacle, Vancouver songwriter Thom Kolb gleefully hollers about breaking the mould of social convention: “If you’re stuck in a rut / Or if you’re down on your luck / Let me asking you something / Have you tried not giving a fuck? / Man, just give up!” 
Alex Hudson

Devours
Homecoming Queen
(Surviving the Game)


The high-camp electropop Jeff Cancade makes under their self-described “gaylien” moniker took on an icier tone on this late-spring dispatch, leaning harder into wintery xenogoth synthpop landscapes than the 8-bit hyperpop bombast of their first encounters. While rainbow capitalism gentrifies queer place-building, Cancade casts lyrical eye rolls and reflects on postcard images from pasts that can’t or simply won’t be repeated, phoning home with lines about sitting on Montreal rooftops and singing Feist songs on Detroit porches.
Tom Beedham

Jeremy Dutcher
Motewolonuwok
(Secret City Records) 


Jeremy Dutcher’s follow up to his Polaris Music Prize-winning debut is a work equally stunning in its beauty and raw emotional power. Musically, Dutcher is a talent on the level of Sufjan Stevens, with operatic vocals comparable to the arresting, passionate artistry of ANOHNI. Motewolonuwok is a more expansive album than its landmark predecessor, with the Tobique First Nations composer choosing to express songs in both Maliseet-Passamaquoddy and English while also blending cultures with jazzier full-band arrangements. These arrangements complement a vital storytelling voice that’s impossible to absorb without being brought to tears. 
Scott A. Gray

Faith Healer
The Hand That Fits the Glove
(Mint Records)


The Edmonton/Montreal duo of Jessica Jalbert and Renny Wilson hadn’t released an album in six years, but rather than storm back with a grand opus, they’ve returned on their own terms, with a wonky piece of skewed pop that takes the vintage pop sounds of the 1970s and warps them in unpredictable, idiosyncratic ways. Full of strange philosophical musings and queasy rhythmic shifts, there’s no other hand that quite fits the same glove as Faith Healer.
Alex Hudson

Gayance
Mascarade
(Rhythm Section International)


The Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted debut from Gayance is a party you shouldn’t miss. On an album of remarkable rhythm and joyous melody, the Montreal-raised producer mines musical influences from around the globe — including UK broken beat, Detroit techno, jazz, gospel and more — deepened by her decade of DJing to pair with the talent of vocal luminaries in her home city like Janette King, Judith Little D, Hua Li 化力 and trio Raveen, taking the 514 to the world.  
Calum Slingerland

Hannah Georgas
I’d Be Lying If I Said I Didn’t Care
(Arts & Crafts)


Hannah Georgas’s fifth album is her most quintessential, spanning the full breadth of her styles: stripped-down acoustic balladry, blearily synth-draped pop and fuzzy indie rock. This collage of styles is tied together by the songwriter’s open-hearted, self-searching lyrics that probe mental health and fraught relationships, making I’d Be Lying If I Said I Didn’t Care the album where Georgas is her truest self. Simply by hitting “play,” listeners become her confidant, entering her emotional world. 
Alex Hudson

Beverly Glenn-Copeland
The Ones Ahead 
(Transgressive Records) 


Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s singularly expressive, operatic voice outdoes impressive instrumentation on The Ones Ahead‘s “People of the Loon.” He sings: “For each, there must be room… hear us, hear us.” That’s all the more meaningful because heteronormative, genre-adhering gatekeepers marginalized him for decades. Hearing him here pay tribute to his wife on the heartfelt “Harbour,” and to his mother and ancestry on the galvanizing “Africa Calling,” makes one wish we’d made room for him far sooner. 
Kyle Mullin

Half Moon Run
Salt
(BMG)


A meal comes together in four elements: salt, fat, acid and heat. Half Moon Run really let themselves cook on this one, boiling down their essence by revisiting drafts previously relegated to the graveyard — and it turns out their sepia-toned substance may be more diverse than even they knew, flirting with cabaret rock revivalism (“Hotel in Memphis”), feathery math rock (“9beat”) and whatever the hell the irresistibly fun “Goodbye Cali” is, in addition to sumptuous, string-laden slow jams.
Megan LaPierre

Tim Hecker
No Highs
(kranky)


Tim Hecker’s 11th full-length, No Highs, is the artist’s first release in a while to fully embrace malaise and unease as affective cornerstones. The musical conceit comes by way of the songs’ uncharacteristic embrace of rhythmic pulses, like on album highlights “Monotony,” “Total Garbage” and “Lotus Light.” All three of those tracks begin with steady synthesizer sequences, a relative sonic departure for a musician who has recently been keen on using software and outboard effects to smear melody and rhythm from acoustic instruments to the edge of recognition. Despite the colder, more focused synthetic palette and punctuated feelings of dread, No Highs still has Hecker’s unmistakably romantic touch, most notably present in his treatment of Colin Stetson’s saxophone contributions.  
Tom Piekarski

La Force
XO SKELETON
(Secret City Records)


Every song on Ariel Engle’s second album as La Force is an exquisitely complex spider web of its own, spinning together brooding meditations on life and death with oil-slick art pop hooks. Together, they decorate an altar to lost innocence in the attic of a childhood home — at once dense with unshakable woodwind keepsakes and cavernous with shadowy beats, haunted equally by the delicate contours of the shell and what lies beneath.
Megan LaPierre

La Sécurité
Stay Safe!
(Mothland)


As the zine-reminiscent artwork for the debut album from the Montreal art punk collective may suggest, La Sécurité’s music is coloured by funky shapes and patterns with jagged edges. On Stay Safe!, they spike the punch of their pitch-faded disco bass lines and warped synths with sawtoothed post-punk delivery, tackling topics as serious as bodily autonomy (and as lighthearted as being chronically late), ultimately urging fellow outsiders to take care of themselves — and each other.
Megan LaPierre

Terra Lightfoot
Healing Power
(Sonic Unyon)


Clattering, stomping and ricocheting through every emotion a human being can possibly muster, Healing Power is a deep-saturation album, every feeling turned up to 11. From the Springsteenian road-rock of opener “Cross Border Lovers” to the patient hum of “Fired My Man,” Lightfoot’s latest sets her steely voice atop some of the boldest sounds of her career. It’s on the stomping, incandescent “Someone Else’s Feelings” that Healing Power comes closest to perfection though — an empathetic, invigorating line in the sand, it finds Lightfoot towering above the bullshit. 
Kaelen Bell

Nora Kelly Band
Rodeo Clown
(Mint Records)


Earnestness is the name of the game on Rodeo Clown. As Nora Kelly confronts her roots and faults, the tenacity of her voice signals that we’re getting to her core. Still, she doesn’t default to softness all the way through: she grapples with being the villain for her own good on “Lay Down Girl,” her saltiness carried by the twang of the guitars. Even in her more pillowy moments, you can tell she takes no shit. 
Sydney Brasil

Mother Tongues
Love in a Vicious Way
(Wavy Haze Records)


The long-awaited debut full-length from Toronto psych duo Mother Tongues is as detailed and gleaming as the artwork that adorns its cover, its 10 tracks containing 32 minutes of impeccably crafted dream pop that distill watery new wave (“A Heart Beating”), headbanging stoner metal riffs (“Dance in the Dark”), acoustic meditations (“Drip Drip”) and hypnotic Slowdive-isms (“Worm Day”). After years spent honing their craft in the local scene, Mother Tongues waited until they were masters before finally releasing an album.
Alex Hudson

Nico Paulo
Nico Paulo
(Forward Music Group)


The debut full-length from the St. John’s singer-songwriter begins with a pastoral dreamscape of twittering bird calls and gently lulling layers of vocals, perfectly setting a peaceful mood for the LP’s dreamy folk rock, breezy bossa nova strums and Paulo’s liquid vocals. The album was produced in part by Tim Baker, who brings some of Hey Rosetta’s baroque elegance to Paulo’s sweetly plaintive songs.
Alex Hudson

poolblood
mole
(Next Door Records)


The debut album from Toronto’s Maryam Said has the tender, bedroom-borne fragility of the K Records catalogue, but with moments that tap into grand sounds and heart-swelling emotions: the glorious chorus harmonies that give “twinkie” the loud-quiet-loud dynamic of alt-rock, or the ascendent horns and strings that push cinematic closer “my little room” from hushed lullaby to soaring baroque anthem.
Alex Hudson

Population II
Électrons libres du québec 
(Bonsound) 


Population II exist in a weird space between prog, stoner rock and free jazz. On their outstanding sophomore LP Électrons libres du québec, the Montreal trio expand on the sound of their debut by adding catchy choruses to their sonic experimentation. Through their surrealist lyrics and intricate structures, the band draw on a lineage of countercultural acts from the late ’60s and early ’70s (such as the Quatuor de Jazz libre du Québec, Les Sinners and L’Infonie) for a freaky and exciting result. 
Bruno Coulombe 

William Prince
Stand in the Joy
(Six Shooter Records)


This astonishing fourth record by Peguis First Nation’s William Prince is a masterwork that has catapulted the deep-voiced country singer to unprecedented success. The songs sound like they’ve existed since the dawn of time, and Prince’s voice rumbles and rasps as he performs these dusty, golden hour narratives. Every bit of the arrangements, from lap steel guitars to choral keyboards, serves to reinforce the setting and feel of each tune. After playing the legendary Grand Ole Opry a few months before its release, Stand in the Joy is William Prince’s case for country classic status. 
Anthony Boire

Allison Russell
The Returner
(Fantasy Records)


When speaking to Exclaim! for a cover story this summer, Allison Russell likened recording The Returner to “having a party in the studio.” Listening to The Returner is to be transported to this party. Surrounded by the Rainbow Coalition — an assembly of multi-generational artists including Brandi Carlile, Hozier and members of Prince’s band the Revolution — Russell fills her record with groovy melodies and effervescent energy. Compared to Russell’s previous folkier projects and her 2021 solo debut Outside Child, The Returner‘s sound is a notable change for the Montreal-born artist, but it’s one that can be summarized in one word: joyful. 
Laura Stanley

Arielle Soucy
Il n’y a rien que je ne suis pas 
(Bonbonbon)


Arielle Soucy’s songs sometimes feel pulled from thin air, solidifying around her as she sings them into existence. Her latest could be described as effortless if it weren’t so beautifully effortful; its inescapable melodies, crystalline fingerpicking and careful lyrical vistas are too considered to be anything but a labour of love. All that effort coalesces on the perfect “Promenade,” a meditation on time and healing that belies its gentle sway — Soucy’s bilingual folk songs are always beautiful, but they hide daggers in their gilded pockets. 
Kaelen Bell

Spider Bite
The Rainbow and the Dove
(You’ve Changed Records)


Composed of the You’ve Changed progenitors Steve Lambke and brothers Daniel and Ian Romano, Spider Bite is a fiercely independent assembly of colossal talent. By colliding the political potency of Crass, the plasmic heat of D-beat and the rebellious vitality of skate punk, The Rainbow and the Dove is a dexterous rejection of jingoistic media companies, deluding legislators and wranglers of the cultural ouroboros. Its sonic violence is matched only by its genuine intention to catalyze an alternative communal action. 
Myles Tiessen

Tough Age
Waiting Here
(We Are Time)


Tough Age’s fifth album is their boppiest and poppiest yet. Having started in Vancouver and moved to Toronto, they’re now back on the West Coast where they started — and they’ve also returned to their sonic roots, shifting away from the spiky post-punk of recent albums in favour of jangly two-minute blasts of fidgety garage pop, drawing influence from Murmer-era R.E.M. and the Flying Nun roster.
Alex Hudson

Vanille
La clairière
(Bonbonbon)


Like many of us, Vanille’s Rachel Leblanc’s favourite form of escapism is imagining she’s a sprite in the garden of a woodland cottage. As her foray into baroque pop, La clairière channels the gossamer ambiance of the elements. The record evokes a Renaissance faire, with fluttering autoharps and flutes bringing sheen to the burlap of its guitars. Still, it doesn’t feel like Leblanc is playing a character, as La clairière is all-encompassing and immersive.
Sydney Brasil


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