It’s time to take stock of the year’s best music, and one thing is clear: the musical landscape of 2017 was varied and diverse.
Not only were we treated to new music from some of Canada’s biggest stars, including Drake, Feist and Arcade Fire, but it was a year that marked the emergence of exciting new artists like Jessie Reyez, Partner and Colter Wall. We also witnessed the re-discovery of musical pioneer Jackie Shane and celebrated Gord Downie’s posthumous masterpiece.
Here is our roundup of the Canadian albums of 2017, as chosen by our staff of CBC Music producers and music programmers.
Scroll through the ranked list of albums below and tell us what your favourite Canadian release was this year via Twitter @CBCMusic.
Editor’s note: All albums were chosen from Canadian releases between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17, 2017 — not including French releases, which is a task our sister site ICI Musique will be undertaking.
17. Colter Wall, self-titled
Colter Wall's debut album caught a lot of attention this past year, with Steve Earle calling him "the best singer-songwriter I've come across in years,” and Pitchfork calling him “one of country music’s most exciting voices.” It's hard to believe this songwriter from Swift Current, Sask., is only 22. He calls his songs, which include murder ballads and tales of brushes with the law, “mostly autobiographical.” There is a gravity in his voice and an authentic feel to his lyrics that makes you wonder how much of it is true.
— Reuben Mann
16. Vivek Shraya, Part-Time Woman
Few albums can broaden or even upend one's whole world view, but Vivek Shraya's perfect collection, Part-Time Woman, makes it happen in just six songs. Exploring femininity, feminism, race, sisterhood, the male gaze, identity, violence and violence against transgender and racialized bodies in particular, Shraya interrogates what it means — and what it takes — to be a woman in 2017 against a backdrop of sing-along choruses, lush arrangements and evocative, avant-garde pop .
— Andrea Warner
15. The Weather Station, self-titled
Tamara Lindeman’s voice has been compared to Joni Mitchell’s for years, but it’s not a manipulation; Lindeman, a.k.a. the Weather Station, is the next chapter in Canada’s folk tradition. With this self-titled release, Lindeman said she wanted to make a rock 'n' roll album, “but one that sounded how I wanted it to sound, which of course is nothing like rock and roll.” Lindeman’s crisp folk is turned up to a relative Weather Station-level of rock on this 2017 release, as her vocals glide through each song, highlighting lyrical nuance that mines everyday minutiae with a fine-toothed comb. “I notice f--king everything,” Lindeman sings on single “Thirty,” and we know it’s absolutely true — and that we're better for the stories she tells because of it.
— Holly Gordon
14. Majid Jordan, The Space Between
Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman aren’t wasting any time. Following the release of their self-titled debut in February 2016, the Toronto R&B duo known as Majid Jordan got right back to crafting their signature nocturnal slow jams. While Drake was the only feature on that first album, lending his vocals to the lead hit single “My Love,” he’s physically absent on The Space Between, which actually works better to showcase Majid’s undulating falsetto. That said, it’s still very much an OVO family affair, with both PartyNextDoor (“One I Want”) and dvsn (“My Imagination”) making appearances. It’s also still rooted in the Toronto Sound that the “Hold on We’re Going Home” co-writers helped to create, though a much more refined and accessible release than their debut. With The Space Between, Al Maskati and Ullman further carve out their place at the forefront of the next generation of Canadian R&B artists.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin
13. Jackie Shane, Any Other Way
Any Other Way is a fantastic, triumphant, headrush, and it's such a loss that Shane's incredible, soulful voice was all but erased from Canada's music history. An R&B artist who made her home in Toronto for most of the '60s, Shane was a groundbreaking part of the city's LGBT scene and her live shows were legendary. This double-album reissue begins the work of restoring Shane to her rightful place as one of Canada's first soul queens. — AW
12. Arcade Fire, Everything Now
While Arcade Fire’s Infinite Content marketing campaign didn’t go over well with music fans this year, the Montreal band’s main offering still delivered enough for us to forgive the litany of absurd headlines. Everything Now finds Arcade Fire continuing in its evolution from earnest rock band to a more relaxed (yet ambitious) dance-rock force. Whether it's flirting with ABBA-style melodies or borrowing rhythms from reggae and synth-pop, Arcade Fire is eager to expand its scope — and when it hits just right on tracks like “Put Your Money On Me” or the Regine Chassagne-led “Electric Blue,” it stills feels invigorating. This may not be Arcade Fire’s strongest album to date but the band's batting average remains higher than most musical acts around.
— Melody Lau
11. Tei Shi, Crawl Space
Valerie Teicher, the Buenos Aires-born singer who spent her formative years in Colombia, British Columbia and Quebec, has been releasing singles and EPs since 2013, slowly garnering a fanbase and critical acclaim — and upwards of 4.5 million views on her video for the 2014 single “Bassically.” But 2017 marked the year that Teicher, a.k.a. Tei Shi, stood front and centre with her debut full-length album, filling it with jam after beautifully crafted jam that bounces between R&B and electro-pop, shoegaze and rock, and a knowing glance to ‘80s influences.
Teicher wrote and produced the album, adding two tape memos to the tracklist that she recorded when she was about 10 years old — “I just hope that one day, I can be like Britney Spears,” she states on one — resulting in a full-length that gives us insight to Teicher’s artistic process, balancing her vulnerability with vocal and production confidence that can only push her closer to stardom. — HG
10. Land Of Talk, Life After Youth
For Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell, 2017 was the year of the big comeback. Her last album was 2010’s excellent Cloak and Cipher, and after that, Powell seemed to all but disappear from the musical landscape (you can read more about that here). It wasn’t until last year that she started to slowly emerge from her self-imposed exile, and this year marked her full return with the triumphant release of Life After Youth. Many of the songs on this album come from Powell's period of retreat and introspection, but it also has its share of hook-filled rockers. From the soaring, gorgeous opener “Yes, You Were,” to the sweetly sentimental “In Florida,” you can hear Powell's newly won sense of optimism and gratitude woven through every song.
— Andrea Gin
9. Partner, In Search of Lost Time
On paper, you might not be sure what to make of this rock duo at first, which lists Weezer, AC/DC, Melissa Etheridge, Ween and Beavis & Butthead as key influences. One listen to the album’s opening song, “Everybody Knows,” though — with its catchy riffs, shredding guitar solos, hooky pop songwriting sensibilities and sage lyrics about getting baked — and you know that all those influences have added up to something good. Describing itself as “unflinching in its exploration of intimacy, friendship, sexuality, drugs, and the existential predicament of being a lesbian barista in the year 2017,” Partner's Josée Caron and Lucy Niles are not only the set of guitar-rock heroes we want this year, they’re also the ones we need. — AG
8. Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder
A reunion that was well worth the wait, Broken Social Scene returned this year at a time when many needed to feel a sense of real unity and upliftment. On Hug of Thunder, the band’s spirit is reinvigorated with new blood (Ariel Engle joins the fold) and a focused mission statement in light of the 2015 Bataclan attacks in Paris. All the hallmarks of Broken Social Scene’s anthemic sounds are back in full swing: open-hearted declarations shouted in harmonic unison over triumphant horns and walls of guitars. It’s a rock record that unabashedly swells with emotion and is infused with equal parts nostalgia and forward-moving momentum. It’s some of the band’s best work yet. — ML
7. Weaves, Wide Open
For Weaves, replicating the beautiful disarray of manic ideas that collided into the pop-rock gem that was their debut album would be impossible. So, in its equally great followup this year, the Toronto-band band teased apart its strengths, aligned them, and polished them into something much more focused — but just as thrilling. Wide Open finds frontwoman Jasmyn Burke taking centre stage, channelling her unique version of Bruce Springsteen, and proving that, underneath Weaves' DIY charm lays a band that can wield a powerful hook. — ML
6. Jessie Reyez, Kiddo
Jessie Reyez dropped her debut single, “Figures,” in 2016, introducing us to the 26-year-old Brampton, Ont., singer who would soon command our attention. “Figures/ I gave you ride or die/ and you gave me games,” she sings over simple guitar, lulling us in while stating in no uncertain terms that she’ll (eventually) be just fine: “You say sorry once and you think it's enough/ I got a lineup of girls and a lineup of guys/ begging for me just to give 'em a try.”
On her 2017 debut EP, Kiddo, Reyez’s heart remains unchecked, as does her energy and anger: she will enrage you with a song like “Gatekeeper” — “Oh I'm the gatekeeper/ spread your legs/ open up/ you could be famous,” she taunts, retelling her experience with a sexual predator in the music industry — and break you down with an outpouring of love for her family on “Great One.” Throughout the six tracks on Kiddo, plus a nearly minute-long interlude from a voicemail of her parents singing her happy birtrhday in Spanish, Reyez is vulnerable yet unwilling to be anything but herself, letting her raw emotion serve ballad-like tracks and bangers alike. Having already worked with the likes of King Louie, Chance the Rapper, Skrillex and Calvin Harris — and now immediately selling out shows — Reyez is looking at one hell of a 2018. — HG
5. Gord Downie, Introduce Yerself
In recent years, we've had a few remarkable opportunities to glimpse our musical heroes coming to grips with their mortality (David Bowie's Blackstar; Leonard Cohen's You Want it Darker). Gord Downie's posthumous release, the achingly beautiful, musically adventurous Introduce Yerself, not only deserves its place alongside those brilliant goodbyes, but it's also a devastating masterpiece. — AW
4. Feist, Pleasure
It had been six years since Feist released her last album, and she almost didn’t come back. 2011’s Metals was an overwhelming success — debuting at No. 9 on Billboard, named album of the year by the New York Times and winning the three Juno Awards, among other accolades — but Feist didn’t want to make another record just because that’s what she was supposed to do. After a period of “quiet reckoning,” she started working on music again, and we’re glad she did. Pleasure showcases Feist at the height of her creative powers: looking inward, pushing forward and experimenting with her sound. It’s adventurous, artful and a complete delight. — AG
3. Drake, More Life
Perhaps the term “album” has become too confining for Drake. The Toronto rapper’s two best releases over the same number of years have been a mixtape (If You’re Reading This it’s too Late) and now something he deems a “playlist.” More Life springs back from the overworked Views, and frees up some boundaries for the Toronto rapper. His grab bag of sounds feels much more relaxed and willingly experimental, swerving from grime cut “No Long Talk” straight into the trop-house ease of “Passionfruit.” We’ll happily accept another “playlist” next, Drizzy. — ML
2. Alvvays, Antisocialites
A lot of pressure can result from such a critically acclaimed beginning, but there are no visible nerves on Alvvays’ Antisocialites, the followup to the Toronto-based band’s much lauded, self-titled debut. Building on the jangly surf-pop that made Alvvays so popular in 2014, Antisocialites takes all the parts of Alvvays that worked and builds on them, proving that the band can consistently create some of the best pop in the country.
It wasn’t all rose-coloured success, though: frontwoman Molly Rankin told us that, after more than a year of non-stop touring, she and her bandmates needed to “get back to our apartments and walk through the city and have space and get back to ourselves” before she could write the new album. The self-imposed break resulted in Rankin’s artist retreat on Toronto Island, where she wrote the basis for these 10 new tracks of shimmery break-up songs, with hooks that shine brightly amid Alvvays’ trademark devastation. A taste of cotton candy after a long day at the fair, Antisocialites stands up no matter the season. — HG
1. Daniel Caesar, Freudian
Daniel Caesar's stunning debut is all sleepy tenderness, laidback wisdom and confident intimacy. Freudian opens with these deep, vibrating notes that are wholly immersive, swallowing the listener inside a world rich with soul-stirring organs, beautiful piano lines, sinuous, seductive arrangements and lush production. Caesar's voice, lyrically and physically, radiates warmth and intelligence, but one of the other things that makes Freudian feel so radically inspired is how Caesar makes space for so many women-identified and gender non-conforming collaborators and voices, and not simply as objects, either, but in dialogue with them as actual characters with agency within the narratives of his songs. With Freudian, Caesar illuminates another path forward for Canadian R&B, and it's a glorious one. — AW
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