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Summer music preview: 14 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. This instalment is for summer, which is officially from June 21 to Sept. 21. It’s a typically slow season for releases, but this is a good year: we’ll get new music from Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Alvvays, New Swears and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, plus debuts from Quantum Tangle and Mappe Of.

Read on for more about each upcoming release, and listen to tracks from each one.

Who: New Swears
What: And the Magic of Horses
When: June 23

Why you should listen: Ottawa’s New Swears have long been known as a band that takes its party rock very seriously. The quartet just released And the Magic of Horses, its label debut for Dine Alone Records, and while the release sees the band trying to grow beyond its party-punk roots, it’s still an album you’ll put on when you need a soundtrack to some raucous, good-time fun.

— Andrea Gin (@andreagin)

Who: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin
What: Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 - 5 
When: June 23

Why you should listen: Deutsche Grammophon keeps the Nézet-Séguin party rocking with this three-CD set of Mendelssohn’s symphonies. “I like to compare Mendelssohn to Mozart,” he says in the promotional video, “because Mendelssohn was effortless in his way of composing, and there’s always this luminous quality.” In other words, look no further for your classical binge-listening this summer. Joining Nézet-Séguin is the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the group with which he released his four complete Mozart operas and his fine 2014 set of Schumann symphonies. The RIAS Chamber Choir and three soloists — including soprano Karina Gauvin — augment the forces for Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 (“Hymn of Praise”).

— Robert Rowat (@rkhr)


Who: Mise en Scene
What: Still Life on Fire
When: June 30

Why you should listen: How do you make a rock album seem refreshingly new in 2017? Winnipeg garage-rock trio Mise en Scene has somehow managed it: the band's second full-length is not only full of kick-ass rock songs, but it's also overflowing with honest-to-goodness thoughts and feelings. The album’s thesis gets as much attention as any of the plentiful riffs, as the band spends much of Still Life on Fire asking listeners to abandon apathy and figure out how to be present and engage with one’s own life. It’s an infectious, soaring effort and one of the most compelling albums you’ll hear this year. You don’t need to just take my word for it though — the album is being released next week and we’ll have an advance stream of it starting tomorrow. — AG

Editor’s note: violence and nudity warnings for the video below.

Who: Needles/Pins
What: Good Night, Tomorrow
When: June 30

Why you should listen: After a three-year hiatus, Vancouver-based pop-punk band Needles//Pins is releasing a new 12-track album, Good Night, Tomorrow. If “Back to the Bright,” the first single, is any indication, this album organically builds on what the '70s-influenced trio has previously written, both musically and lyrically. The sound is true to Needles//Pins hook-centric philosophy, and guitarist/vocalist Adam Solomonian’s voice is gruffer than ever — in the best possible way. Macey Budgell’s heavy drumming and Tony Dubroy’s solid bass lines perfectly round out Solomonian’s vocals and guitar playing. For anyone in need of a foot-tapping, head-bopping, punk-inspired fix, this album is your jam.

— Tahiat Mahboob (@TahiatMahboob)


Who: Broken Social Scene
What: Hug of Thunder
When: July 7

Why you should listen: Broken Social Scene is not good at taking hiatuses. The band, which played its “final” show in 2011, has very much stayed active in the interim years with festival gigs and side projects, but the one pillar of this supposed break was the absence of a new album. That will all change this summer when the band formally returns with Hug of Thunder, its first album in seven years. It’s a return to form, with the entire roster of members — including vocalists and songwriters Emily Haines, Leslie Feist and Amy Millan — and the result is a full-sounding record that stands up to some of their best work as a collective. So, whether you believe the band actually went away or not, we’re more than happy to finally receive some new music.

— Melody Lau (@melodylamb)

Who: Quantum Tangle
What: Shelter as we Go ...
When: July 7

Why you should listen: You may remember the ecstatic faces of Greyson Gritt and Tiffany Ayalik from the 2017 Juno Awards after the Yellowknife duo’s 2016 EP, Tiny Hands, won for Indigenous album of the year. "We just jumped up, screamed, hugged each other and cried," Gritt said at the time. "There's nothing else like it." This summer, Gritt and Ayalik will release their debut full-length, Shelter As We Go …, which opens with that EP title track, jump-starting an album that targets systemic racism, colonialism and gender equality. “Our overall vision for this record was to explore the idea of shelter and how we find that in different ways and in different relationships,” Gritt said in a press release. “Whether that is being free to love the person that you love, to make a home with your family wherever you go or to fiercely protect your home when it is threatened.” Gritt and Ayalik draw from their respective Anishinaabe-Métis and Inuit backgrounds to create story-songs that blend throat singing, blues and twangs of country for a contemporary — and show-stopping — sound.

— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)


Related: The North: 10 emerging artists to watch for

Who: Whitehorse
What: Panther in the Dollhouse
When: July 7

Why you should listen: Whitehorse’s new album, Panther in the Dollhouse, promises Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet’s quintessential vocal interplay and intense guitar riffs. Their collaboration with production duo Likeminds adds a new layer of sound, with vintage drum machines, samplers and analog synths. The result is dark and rhythmic, tensely building up to a dreamy pay-off. And the songwriting matches the intensity of the sound. Panther in the Dollhouse is full of gritty stories of raw, fictional characters who strike somewhere deep in the soul, making it the musical equivalent of a neo-noir drama. — TM

Who: The Dears
What: Times Infinity Volume Two
When: July 14

Why you should listen: Last year, Montreal orchestral-pop-noir denizens the Dears emerged from hibernation with Times Infinity Volume One, their first album in six years. This summer, they release Volume Two, which the band notes was written and recorded at the same time but is the “much darker” effort of the pair. Together for more than 20 years as a band, you might think you know what to expect from Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak’s smouldering, dramatic anthems of love, but it’s not necessarily the case. You’ll see another side to this band on the catchy second single from the album, “I’m Sorry That I Wished You Dead,” which features Yanchak on lead vocals and juxtaposes some amusingly misanthropic lyrics with a light, jaunty sound. — AG


Who: Arcade Fire
What: Everything Now
When: July 28

Why you should listen: After a very Arcade Fire marketing campaign — who else would think to combine cryptic posters around London with leaks from a secret Russian Twitter account? — Arcade Fire announced its fifth album, Everything Now, which will be out July 28. And judging by the three singles released so far, we can get a pretty good glimpse as to the band's new direction.

First was "I Give You Power," a lo-fi, bass-heavy, disruptive song featuring Mavis Staples that channels NIN, of all things. That was followed by the title track, co-produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, which is a much more grandiose and globally focused sound (it samples pan flute from Cameroonian artist Francis Bebey), even for a band that is known for big, global sounds. Then came “Creature Comfort,” by far the strongest release of the three songs so far, which sounds like a cross between Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and ABBA — a song that isn’t sure whether to make you dance or to think, so it opts for both at the same time. Needless to say, the Canadian rock group’s fifth album aims to be both dark and dancey, the cerebral with the celebratory. If that wasn’t clear enough, Everything Now, which was recorded in Paris, London, New Orleans and Montreal, will also feature work from the likes of Portishead, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Pulp’s Steve Mackey.

— Jesse Kinos-Goodin (@JesseKG)

Who: Marc-André Hamelin
What: Morton Feldman: For Bunita Marcus
When: July 28

Why you should listen: “You are about to enter a world unlike any other,” writes pianist Marc-André Hamelin in the notes for this extraordinary new release, and he’s not kidding. It’s a recording of Morton Feldman’s 1985 work, For Bunita Marcus, a 72-minute, abstract, pointillistic unfolding of (mostly) single notes that never goes above a pianissimo dynamic. The effect is otherworldly — music to evoke a starry sky, a spacewalk, a deep-sea dive, or any experience that takes you entirely out of your element. Hamelin performed it in public at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music back in 2014, and now we’re beyond thrilled to see it’s going to be released on disc. — RR

Morton Feldman: For Bunita Marcus (excerpt)

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)


Who: Mappe Of
What: A Northern Star, a Perfect Stone
When: July 28

Why you should listen: Whitby, Ontario's avant-folk artist Mappe Of sounds like Bon Iver (“Cavern’s Dark”) meets Fleet Foxes (“Nimbin”), so if you’re into that Venn diagram, then this debut album is for you. Or at least those first two singles, because A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone doesn’t fit into boxes very neatly. The horns swell at the same time the guitar twangs on “Nimbin,” while a banjo and hand percussion make their way into the intro for “Carbon Scores and Smoke,” before Mappe Of’s voice crashes in. At times haunting, at others downright catchy, Mappe Of has created a 10-track album worth a front-to-back listen — followed by giving in to it many times over. — HG


Who: Partner
What: In Search of Lost Time
When: Sept. 8

Why you should listen: This duo lists Weezer, AC/DC, Melissa Etheridge, Ween and Beavis & Butthead as key influences, and you can hear exactly what that sounds like on “Everyone Knows,” the first single from Partner's upcoming fall release, In Search of Lost Time. Catchy riffs, shredding guitar solos, hooky pop songwriting sensibilities and sage lyrics about getting baked — there’s really nothing here not to like. Partner is not only the most exciting band to maybe ever come out of Sackville, N.B., but its debut album is also one of the most highly anticipated Canadian releases this year. — AG


Who: Alvvays
What: Antisocialites
When: Sept. 8

Why you should listen: “In Undertow,” Alvvays’s first single in three years, is a breezy summertime hit, but Molly Rankin’s refrain — “There’s no turning back/ after what’s been said” — spirals just enough to blot out that sun and wash some cold, salty waves over you, lest you get too happy about it. Which means the Toronto-based band is back: after the acclaim of that self-titled 2014 debut, Alvvays cares not for the sophomore slump and is sailing right over it with Antisocialites. The hook is strong but the haze hasn’t lifted — just how we like our (break-up) songs of summer. — HG

Who: Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
What: Choir of the Mind
When: Sept. 15

Why you should listen: It was uncertain whether or not we’d get another solo album from Metric frontwoman Emily Haines after 2006’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back. But, it appears the second Metric record that was promised following 2015’s Pagans in Vegas has morphed into a new Haines solo effort. In a Rolling Stone interview, Haines said, “I found myself wanting to just start fresh and make this record my own.” Now, we’re getting Choir of the Mind, which was produced by Haines herself and performed mostly on an 1800s piano in her Toronto studio. Lead single, “Fatal Gift,” toggles the line between her band and solo sound: a quiet piano melody that grows in strength (and synths) as it moves along — intriguing enough to hook fans of either project. — ML