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Spring 2017 preview: 24 albums you need to hear

Editorial Staff

Every season, we look ahead at albums coming out from across the country that we think you should hear. Our first 2017 instalment is for spring, which is officially from March 20 to June 20. And it's a big time: it'll deliver albums we've been waiting for from Feist, Shania Twain and Nelly Furtado. Additional releases include debuts from Wilsen, Stewart Legere and Dance Movie, as well as LPs from Ghostkeeper, Said the Whale and Lydia Ainsworth.

Read on for more about each upcoming release, and some new track premieres.

Who: Ghostkeeper
What: Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks
When: March 31

Why you should listen: If Alberta’s Ghostkeeper isn’t yet on your radar, that’ll change when you hit play on these story-songs from singers Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle. Along with bandmates Eric Hamelin (Chad VanGaalen) and bassist Ryan Bourne, they’ve created part two for characters Sheer Blouse and Buffalo Knocks, who, according to the press release, are “spiritualist/explorer of realms and benevolent warrior [respectively], chronicling their battle against environmental destruction and the burden it places on their homelands in northern Alberta.” The layers are many — electronic, pop melodies, metal linings, powwow music — and peeling them back is half the fun of Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks. The trance of tracks like “Transam Sister” and “Dandelion” will stay with you long past spring.

— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)


Who: Said the Whale
What: As Long as Your Eyes are Wide
When: March 31

Why you should listen: "Heaven," the new track from Said the Whale has a nostalgic feel to it, even before the word makes an appearance in the lyrics. "Step Into the Darkeness," the other single from their upcoming album, As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide, extends that sentiment and conjures up a feeling of long-lost entities being reunited. Aptly so, considering that it has been four years since the Vancouver indie rockers released a full album. And no, the tease that was their four-track Remixed EP from 2014 doesn't count.

This new album was recorded over a tumultuous period. Bassist Nathan Shaw and drummer Spencer Schoening left. Frontman Tyler Bancroft had a baby. Keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown got married and had to record some parts while on honeymoon. But it all came together eventually in an album that goes back to the roots of how high-school friends Bancroft and co-frontman Ben Worcester originally made music — by being free and experimenting. Electronic tones meet thick bass grooves, and Worcester's folksiness gets fused with Bancroft's eclectic rock. And all of it makes for a much-awaited fifth album.

— Tahiat Mahboob (@TahiatMahboob)


Who: Lydia Ainsworth
What: Darling of the Afterglow
When: March 31

Why you should listen: Toronto-based artist, writer and composer Lydia Ainsworth draws upon an intriguing array of influences on her new album, Darling of the Afterglow. There is everything from pop to classic to goth to R&B in this swirling mix, intercut with layers of synths. It is experimental indie pop at its best. The first single from the album, “The Road,” is slow-building and meditative, and features Ainsworth’s airy vocals over intricate layers of production. The second single, “Afterglow,” shows a more sombre side to the songwriter, feeling mystical yet almost sinister in tone. Darling of the Afterglow is Ainsworth's second record, a worthy followup to her Juno-nominated 2014 album, Right From Real. She will be embarking on her first-ever headlining tour of North America this spring. It’s probably best to catch her before the summer solstice takes hold.

— Andrea Gin (@andreagin)

Who: Nelly Furtado
What: The Ride
When: March 31

Why you should listen: If there’s a consistent element in Nelly Furtado’s albums, it would be change. After foot-in-the-door pop (Whoa, Nelly!), reverential familial influences (Folklore) and hip-hop-fuelled beats (Loose), among other avenues, Toronto-based Furtado has settled on lo-fi indie for her next sonic detour. Nabbing John Congleton — currently one of the busiest producers in music — to helm the whole affair is a very good sign, and gently insistent lead single “Pipe Dreams” does little to dissuade that notion.

— Del F. Cowie (@vibesandstuff)

Who: The New Pornographers
What: Whiteout Conditions
When: April 7

Why you should listen: The wait is finally over: indie rockers the New Pornographers are about to release their seventh album. And if their track "High Ticket Attractions" is any indication, this is going to be a cheerful and exuberant record. Layered with electric guitars and synths, this album is bound to be an addictive listen — "High Ticket Attractions" already has me bopping my head. — TM

Who: Janina Fialkowska
What: Chopin Recital 3
When: April 7

Why you should listen: Janina Fialkowska’s third instalment in her collection of Chopin recitals, Chopin Recital 3, builds on the Montreal pianist’s previous — and award-winning — Chopin release with a collection of the composer’s works that will make you feel as if you’re experiencing it in person. In place of playing a complete album of Nocturnes or Impromptus, for example, the ATMA label has given Fialkowska carte blanche — and with it, she has programmed an elegant recital performance, including aforementioned Nocturnes and Impromptus with pieces like Chopin’s formidable Scherzo No. 4 and Ballade No. 4. Together, Fialkowska and ATMA are building an impressive catalogue that piano lovers will consult as a reference for years to come. — HG

Who: Del Bel
What: III
When: April 7

Why you should listen: There's something dark, almost sinister about Del Bel's upcoming album. Lisa Conway's haunting vocals paired with New York City-based electro-acoustic composer Jason Rule's musical treatment give it a film-noir feel. But right when you think you have a sense of the album, Toronto-based rapper Clairmont the Second pops in to startle you out of your reverie. Threaded with melancholic trumpets, baritone saxophone and plenty of guitar, this is an album full of melodic foreboding. — TM


Who: The Wooden Sky
What: Swimming in Strange Waters
When: April 7

Why you should listen: The hope with which Gavin Gardiner sings “You’re not alone” on the track of the same name softens the lyrical blow of lines like, “Life is long and love is strange/ we're then in love but love could change.” But the strings on the song are enough of a buoy, as you fall in love all over again — with your person, and this band. On the title track of the Wooden Sky’s upcoming fifth album, the sound gets bigger but the message more pointed: “[It] is my attempt to come to terms with the anger I still have about my grandfather’s sexual abuse of my mother and its lasting effects on my family,” Gardiner told NPR in January. Swimming in Strange Waters is powerful and delicate — an album we expect to both listen to and draw from for years to come. — HG


Who: Sarah Slean
What: Metaphysics
When: April 7

Why you should listen: Sarah Slean is bound to turn heads with her ninth studio album, Metaphysics. The 10-track record is simple yet engaging, with a beautiful orchestral arrangement that includes horns and piano. “Sarah,” Slean's first single off of Metaphysics, is a healing anthem that will resonate with your soul. The lyrics, “Sarah be not afraid of the wounded one that comes with poems/ and to drink from the fountain of the little you know about the love and God/ and letting go,” is a great lead-in to how powerful and personal Metaphysics is. The album also has great production contributions from Hawksley Workman, Jean Martin (Tanya Tagaq), Daniel Romano and more. Get more info here.

— Kiah Welsh (@simplykiah)

Who: Leeroy Stagger
What: Love Versus
When: April 7

Why you should listen: Leeroy Stagger is back again with his 11th studio album, Love Versus. Though his trademarks are often darkness and cynicism, Stagger shows off his musical diversity with the album's first single, “I Want it All” — an uplifting song with a pop-rock bed. According to Stagger, Love Versus is an example of how his work has evolved from past projects: “I feel like something has changed in my songwriting over the last couple of years, and like a nice wine it seems to be getting better with age and time.” Produced by Colin Stewart (New Pornographers, Dan Mangan), Love Versus will be a great listen. — KW

Who: Stewart Legere
What: Quiet the Station
When: April 21

Why you should listen: Halifax has been keeping a tight hold on this little secret, but the word’s out now: Stewart Legere’s voice and lyrics have the power to sew any holes in your heart right up. On Quiet the Station, the award-winning writer/theatre actor and member of the Heavy Blinkers steps out from supportive singing roles to release his solo debut, a beautiful set of folk songs that have been simmering for some time. Travelling from broken to full heart over 14 tracks, Legere hides knowing winks within his expansive vocal range — when he sings a simple “mmmhmm” on first single “Sabotage” (officially premiering below) it’s almost like side-eye contact, in agreement that broken hearts can, in fact, keep going. The voices of Jenn Grant, Rose Cousins, Kim Harris, Melanie Stone and Don Brownrigg are all interlaced with Legere’s on this release, and the result is so loving and rich that we just hope it doesn’t take too long for any followups to materialize. — HG


Who: Fiver
What: Audible Songs From Rockwood
When: April 21

Why you should listen: Every song on this record feels like Fiver’s Simone Schmidt is rearranging my bones, and I’m undone over and over. Inspired by Schmidt’s two years of research into the real Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane (1854-1881) — reading the asylum’s patient files, superintendents’ diaries and architectural diagrams — every creak and crack of Audible Songs From Rockwood feels authentic, like Schmidt stumbled back in time and unearthed vintage, forgotten recordings. But it never once feels like a gimmick; Schmidt has too much respect for the real women whose lives were mined for these 11 tracks, and has put too much work into nailing the old-time folk sound with a faithfulness that borders on brilliance. This short doc below about the making of the album is a testament to Schmidt’s intentions and why Rockwood is so powerful and unsettling. — AW

Who: Dance Movie
What: Pierce
When: April 27

Why you should listen: Dance Movie self-describes its ethos as “heart first,” which I love, but lest you think that means there’s something gooey, soft and overly sentimental about the band's new record, Pierce, it’s important to remember just how hard a heart works. To remember the bombast and humility of its symbolism: strong, resilient, vulnerable, raw. That it’s a brave thing to bare it and the care it requires; its capacity for fullness; the ways it protects us and fails us and cracks open. Pierce does all of that throughout its 11 tracks, all with a bloodline built on blistering, bad-ass, dance-pop kiss-offs, crescendoing rockers and folky, foot-stomping campfire anthems.

— Andrea Warner (@_AndreaWarner)


Who: Wilsen
What: I Go Missing in My Sleep
When: April 28

Why you should listen: There is something very soothing about the delicate, restrained songs on I Go Missing in My Sleep, the debut album from Wilsen. The trio is comprised of (sort-of) namesake Tamsin Wilson, a U.K.-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter, along with bandmates Drew Arndt on bass and Johnny Simon Jr. on guitar. Wilson, who now lives in Brooklyn, talks about writing the songs for this album in the quiet of her apartment at night while the city was asleep. The description is apt; the songs evoke the kind of solitude and calm that can only be felt by those awake and working alone through the night. This feeling is perhaps best illustrated by the song “Garden,” which manages to evoke calmness and urgency at the same time, a paradox augmented by the song’s video, which shows the story of a suburban couple living together but unable to communicate — to an altogether disquieting effect. — AG

Who: Feist
What: Pleasure
When: April 28

Why you should listen: The only thing we’ve heard from Feist’s upcoming album — her first in six years — is the title track, and what starts off as a guitar-picking meander grinds into a bluesy, ragey gear. “Pleasure” dips back and forth between Feist’s lyrical whispers and near snarls, her foot gently easing off the gas and then going full speed. The ending handclap, with the taunting refrain of the word “pleasure,” is almost sinister in its promise for what’s next — whether it’s actually her pleasure, or yours. — HG

"Pleasure," by Feist

The title track to Feist's first album in six years.


Who: Fast Romantics
What: American Love
When: April 28

Why you should listen: Fast Romantics' forthcoming album, American Love, delves into an interesting narrative about the connection between social media and politics. Their song “This is Why We Fight” is a great example of this, reflecting the current political landscape in the U.S. The song is gritty with a hint of pop, and if it’s any indication of what to expect from the album, it’s worth a listen. According to frontman Matthew Angus, the album was inspired by:

“The songs aren’t even really about one country, they’re more about borders. So many borders are blurring,” frontman Matthew Angus told Exclaim!. "What does it mean to be Canadian, American or British?" he continued. "We’ve all got Twitter … but does that mean we’re the same? Or does it?” — KW

Who: Mac Demarco
This Old Dog
May 5

Why you should listen: "Chill," "mellow" and "quaint" are just some of the words that popped into my head when I hit play on Mac DeMarco's "This Old Dog," the title track from his upcoming album. The album's second single, "My Old Man," has a similar vibe. Oh-so-gravelly vocals mixed with acoustic guitar, synthesizers, some drum machine and even an electric guitar on one song hint at an album that the followup to 2014's Salad Days is going to be both melodic and relaxing. — TM

Who: Whitehorse
What: Panther in the Dollhouse
When: May 12

Why you should listen: “Boys Like You” is the first single off of Whitehorse’s forthcoming album Panther in the Dollhouse, and its poppy, dreamy hook will have you singing along in no time. Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet compliment their song with beautiful harmonies, making it impossible not to look forward to the rest of the record. This album follows up their Juno Award-winning 2015 release, Leave no Bridge Unburned. — KW

Who: Not You
What: Misty
When: May 12

Why you should listen: We originally thought this EP would be out already, but fear not: May 12 is fewer than two months away. The four-piece — with members Nancy Urich (Dog Day, the Burdocks), Stephanie Johns (the Stolen Minks, Moon), Rebecca Young (Soaking up Jagged, Pastoralia) and Meg Yoshida (Bad Vibrations) — has been peppering its live show with teasers from the release, and so far “LL,” with its sunny So-Cal start and pulsing refrains of kiss-off “away,” is the heavy favourite. But so far we still only have “haha” on the internet, which will also do. — HG


Who: Land of Talk
What: Life After Youth
When: May 19

Why you should listen: Land of Talk is well and truly back, finally. The much-loved Montreal band, led by Elizabeth Powell, will not only be releasing its first new music in seven years this May, but is also embarking on a headlining tour of North America starting in June. Life After Youth has been a long time coming: Powell put the band on indefinite hiatus after 2010’s Cloak and Cipher due to a variety of things (including returning home to care for her father, who had suffered a stroke). After reconnecting with original drummer Bucky Wheaton and workshopping new songs, Powell brought the band out of retirement in 2015, playing a handful of well-received reunion shows and working on new demos. This past February, “Inner Lover,” the first single from the album, was released and its haunting, meditative tone has served as an intriguing harbinger of what might come. This is a comeback Canadian indie music fans have been anticipating for a long time, and probably one of the most exciting Canadian releases this year. — AG

Who: The Royal Oui
What: This is Someday
When: May 19

Why you should listen: Adrienne Pierce and Ari Shine were musicians with lengthy solo careers long before they tied the knot, but the Canadian-American duo finally joined forces for their own band in 2014, releasing their self-titled folk-pop debut, The Royal Oui. Three years later, the pair has made an all-out dance party of a followup with This is Someday, a collection of heartfelt, hopeful pop anthems that will surely find their way onto every great TV and film soundtrack for the next five years. — AW


Who: Northern Haze
May 26

Why you should listen: In 1985, Northern Haze recorded the first-ever rock album performed in Inuktitut. In 2012, the group released a complete collection of its recordings over the members’ more than two-decade-long career, called Sinaaktuq. Now, five years later, Aakuluk Music, Nunavut’s first record label (launched last year), will release Sinaaktuq for the first time digitally. Now's a good time to dig in. — HG

Who: Riit
June 9

Why you should listen: Rita Claire Mike-Murphy, a.k.a. Riit, will count her new release as Aakuluk Music’s third release. While the Panniqtuq, Nunavut, singer-songwriter has shared the stage with names like Elisapee Isaac and the Jerry Cans, this will be her debut EP. We don’t have much information on it yet, but look out for it on June 9. — HG

Who: Shania Twain
What: TBD
When: TBD

Why you should listen: It’s SHANIA. The last record of new material that Twain released was 2004’s Up!. Thirteen years is basically a different lifetime — for her, her fans and the world — and, honestly, I can’t wait. Presumably her ex-husband, Mutt Lange, is also her ex-producer and ex-collaborator, so this new record could be a full-on reinvention, a doubling down of what we’ve always known, or something in between the two. Hopefully it will shut down haters who still want to give Lange most of the credit for Twain’s musical success, because, seriously, stop it. They co-wrote everything over their three blockbuster records together, and in the one instance (1995’s The Woman in Me) where they each wrote a solo track, Twain’s is the far superior song. Take a listen to “Leaving is the Only Way Out’ below while we wait for the first single from her forthcoming album. — AW