Tuned Up presents: Canada’s Top 20 Alt/Indie Releases of the 21st Century

Below is the unofficial top 20 albums released by Canadian artists within the alternative/indie genre since the year 2000. For those of you wondering how to define “alternative/indie”, I hope to clear up your quarries with the list below. Note: the countdown is limited to one entry per artist.

20. Allan Rayman – Christian

Toronto-based Allan Rayman starts off our countdown with his third studio album, “Christian”, released in 2020 via Universal Music Canada.

When asked about his creative process by Donna-Claire Chesman of DJBOOTH, Rayman stated: “I’ve always tried to make music I like to listen to. I don’t take into mind pleasing other people. I do this for myself. It’s gotta be true and real to me, and that’s the bottom line.”

Well, Allan, whether you meant to or not, your new album is pleasing people other than yourself. Track two, “Madhouse”, is an absolute masterpiece, carrying with it a mesmerizing vibe with smooth synth swells tying together the vocal and drum layering.

I know you say you do this for yourself, but this one, this one was for me.

After you check out “Madhouse”, be sure to peep “Stitch”, “Blush”, “Chief”, as well as “6am” to get a true idea of the variety Rayman delivers throughout his triumphant LP “Christian”.

19. Verzache – Thought Pool

The first full length album from Toronto producer Verzache came in 2018. I must say it is a mighty compelling body of work.

The project is the mind-child of twenty-three year-old Zach Farache. Along with the album, Zach included a behind-the-scenes look at his personal journey in creating “Thought Pool”.

“I had found myself constantly overwhelmed for the longest time but through making this I definitely learned how to better myself. I really opened up for this so every part of the process was a learning experience that gave me some understanding/control over what’s going on in my head.”

You will be sure to vibe out to the whole album, but a great starting point is the interlude “Free”, the following track “Alright”, and the one after that “Kick It”.

Verzache is a pioneer in the modern experimental acoustic sound, and certainly worth a listen for indie listeners across the continent.

18. Caribou – Suddenly

London, Ontario… welcome to the map; local producer Dan Snaith has put you on it.

This is the fifth studio album released by Snaith under the cheeky moniker Caribou.

It had been six years since his last album was released in 2014, and Snaith claims he wasn’t in a rush, but was merely collecting the ingredients to whip up his musical soufflé—if you will.

In a recent interview with Will Schube of Billboard, Dan explained his process: “…it was just a collection of little bits and pieces. That’s how I work. I generate tons and tons and tons of little rough ideas and it doesn’t head anywhere for so long”.

Whether you meditate to the soothing simplicity of the intro track “Sister”, strut to the ear-worm savviness of “Sunny’s Time”, or vibe out to his more upbeat electronic bangers “Home”, “Never Come Back”, or “Like I Loved You”, a good time is surely to be had.

Released in 2020 via Merge Records, this marks our list’s second ‘new-born’ album.

17. Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre

In 2010, the Montreal quintet, Karkwa, ousted several notable artists (Broken Social Scene, Shad, Caribou) to win that year’s Polaris Music Prize.

Some consider this group to be the Francophone parallel to Nova Scotia’s Anglophone group Wintersleep, and I can’t disagree; their guitar work and drum rhythms certainly ring a similar tune.

Their album “Les Chemins De Verre” was composed with poignant precision, capturing the listener with countless gratifying arrangements, not to mention electrifying vocal deliveries.

In a 2010 interview with CBC News, their lead singer Louis-Jean Cormier stated: “We created [Les Chemins De Verre] live in the studio, and made it sound more… vivant – alive. So maybe that’s the difference, and maybe that’s a good thing.”

You will find yourself smitten with a number of tunes off this album, including the charismatic alt tune “Marie Tu Pleures”, and the gorgeous ballad entitled “Le tour de l’ile”.

“Les Chemins De Verre” is perhaps the most impressive Francophone-sung indie LP released in Canada these past two decades, and finds itself a deserving spot in our countdown.

16. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People

It wasn’t easy choosing the top Broken Social Scene album for this list. As you know, I am limiting myself to one entry per artist. “You Forgot It In People” stood out as a consistently charismatic indie album; this 2006 record is truly a timeless classic.

I myself am enamored with the mellow takes known as “Looks Just Like The Sun”, “Lover’s Spit”, and “Anthem For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl”. That being said, I know I’m just a sucker for the moody numbers, and the album also strikes an upbeat tone with “Cause = Time” and “Almost Crimes”.

It appears the Toronto collective was going for an approach that would captivate their listeners. Frontman Kevin Drew elaborated on this subject in a 2006 interview with Sean Michaels of The Skinny: “We didn’t’ want to make a romantic album, an ‘I’m on the road all the time’ album. We wanted to make something that really, really got a hold of you.”

When I saw Broken Social Scene perform at Pemberton 2015, Drew jokingly admitted to the crowd: “My mom always told me I should have written more hits”. While this album doesn’t have too many standout, ‘single worthy’ tracks, it lays down consistently comfortable indie flavours.

15. River Tiber – Indigo

Another incredible Toronto producer, Tommy Paxton Beesley (River Tiber) made his come-up through his prestigious list of affiliated artists.

He has worked with KAYTRANADA, Daniel Caesar, and BADBADNOTGOOD, to name a few. Most notably, a vocal clip off of his song “No Talk” was re-sampled into Drake’s “No Tellin” in 2015.

The track “No Talk” is one of the most popular compositions found on River Tiber’s 2016 LP “Indigo”, which finds itself at number 15 on our top 20 countdown.

Along with “No Talk”, the album contains a handful of other unforgettable tunes, including “Acid Test”, an invigorating psychedelic number, “West (feat. Daniel Caesar)”, a sultry R&B-infused track, “I’m a Stone”, an electronic sense-toucher, and don’t forget “Motives”, an upbeat spine-chilling banger.

On December 20 of 2016, in an interview with Jordan Darville (FADER), Beesley grappled with the motives behind the molding of his own unique sound: “I remember trying to fill this gap of what I had imagined but what didn’t exist out there…I was trying to make my own favorite music.”

Well, maybe this 2016 gem will become your new favorite Canadian-made album; it certainly took over my library when I first discovered it.

14. Close Talker – Flux

In the decades of 2000 and 2010, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has produced several notable alternative favourites (Andy Shauf, The Sheepdogs). I would argue, however, that Saskatoon’s true prize indie possession is the three-piece outfit Close Talker.

It wasn’t easy choosing their most fantastical record; they have released four records between 2013 and 2019. When deciding which album felt the most complete and coherent (my basic rubric for rating LP’s), I couldn’t help but recognize just how consistent their 2014 release “Flux” is from front to back.

Their guitar work, synth selection, detailed drumming and vocal layering dazzle on every track, but most notably on “Heads”, “Burnstick”, “Blurring Days”, and the two-part wonder “The Silence”, which is—if you ask me—one of this decade’s most radical, melodic and serene two-part song.

The three core group composers have and always will be Will Quiring, Matthew Kopperud, and Chris Morien. When I asked Matt at one of their Calgary shows which songs off of “Flux” were the most difficult to perform live, I wasn’t surprised to hear him mention “The Silence I, II” as a challenge to translate into a live setting on their recent European tour.

Nonetheless, a year or so later, (upon popular request, I’m sure) the group molded a live rendition of this mesmerizing song and included it in that tour’s setlist, once again exemplifying their versatility and dedication to the performing arts. Go figure.

Go listen! “Flux” by Close Talker takes the 14 slot.

13. Sam Roberts Band – Collider

Who can forget when the Sam Roberts Band decided to include saxophone on a record? Well, after releasing said 2011 record “Collider”, the Montreal-based band promoted that release with a massive tour.

One stop on the tour was in Banff, Alberta, where they played an outdoor show supported by Dan Mangan’s opening set. For the first time—before even hearing the record—I witnessed the group’s new sax player, Chet Doxas, expound vivid saxophone melodies on numerous tracks, notably: “The Last Crusade” and “Let It In”.

In an interview with Sedera Ranaivoarinosy in May of 2011, Sam explained how they merged saxophone into their record: “If you listen to the record, it has a more spare, sparse sound to it so that when you do introduce woodwinds and percussion, they have room to make much bigger impact, and that was definitely a new approach for us.”

Keep this album near the top of your indie collection for some flavourful compositions. If you need a good place to start, try the smooth listener “Without A Map”, or the clever, catchy “Streets Of Heaven”.

12. Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune

Speaking of Sam Roberts Band’s performance in the park in Banff, Alberta: Dan Mangan, the opening act, happened to be touring a 2011 release of his own.

In 2011, Arts & Crafts extinguished many Canadian’s anxiety fires with the soothing sensation known as “Oh Fortune”, Dan Mangan’s third studio album.

The music truly speaks for itself, and illustrates my point: many Canadians may not have overcome their diverse individual obstacles without the wistful musicality of Mangan’s snow-piercing lyrical articulation within these atmospheric, heart-holding compositions.

There is more to it though, as the Mangan project—based out of Vancouver—also dabbles with more upbeat energies on the songs “Rows of Houses” and “Post-War Blues”.

Be sure to partake in these artistic accomplishments, and don’t neglect the mellow side; do listen to “Leaves, Trees, Forest”, as well as “Daffodil”—if you have some tissues nearby.

11. Metric – Fantasies

Fronted by Emily Haines, Metric has consistently plotted as a mainstay in Toronto’s alternative music market, and their masterful LP “Fantasies”, released on Crystal Math Music in 2009, is seen by some as the catalyst of their plot for success.

If you’re wondering where to start with this album, don’t be shy; start it from the top with “Help I’m Alive” and “Sick Muse”. If you are still not convinced, skip forward to track 5, “Gold Guns Girls”, which you may recognize from its feature in the blockbuster comedy, Zombieland in October of 2009.

When asked in a 2009 interview with Pop Matters, Haines reflected on their recently released “Fantasies”: “…it feels like a natural progression. Our goal is to never repeat ourselves.”

Certainly “Gimme Sympathy” and the closing track, “Stadium Love” are worth a listen as well. Indie fans indulge: one of Canada’s numerous iconic female vocalists has emerged as a staple of the 21st Century in the Great White North.

10. Patrick Watson – Love Songs For Robots

In the number 10 slot, I couldn’t picture a better album than “Love Songs For Robots”, an emphatic ten-track classic from Montreal solo composer Patrick Watson.

Released in 2015 via Secret City Records, the album delivers organic components with uplifting electronic production. For example, the second track, “Good Morning Mr. Wolf”, creates a curious contrast between the instrumentation of the two verses.

For example, the first verse contains a simple acoustic guitar riff behind the vocals; fast-forward to the second verse, and we hear the same sparse approach, but this time with an arpeggiating synth going through the same chord progression.

“We wanted to find the romance in science and technology, and we wanted to make the record sound acoustic, even though there’s loads of synths on there”, stated Watson in an interview with Kyle Mullin at Exclaim! Magazineon May 21st, 2015.

The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and Studio Pierre Marchand in Montreal, and contains a handful of unforgettable tracks, including “Love Songs For Robots”, “Bollywood”, “Turn Into the Noise,” as well as “Places You Will Go”—a crowd favourite.

9. Geoffroy – 1952

The only 2019 release on our countdown features another Montreal artist, Geoffroy, who was signed to Bonsound for the release of their phenomenal 2019 full length album, “1952”.

If you were hoping for a list of Juno winning albums, well, this list is simply not that obvious. There have been countless releases outside Canada’s inner circles of popular alternative music, and Geoffroy Suave’s project is a prime example.

Geoffroy composed this album in tribute to his late mother, who passed a couple years before the album’s conception. “I realized I was writing about her in the middle of it all. I told my mom it was dedicated to her before she passed”, Suave attested in an interview with Aimee at Greeblehaus on November 6, 2019.

Suave and his two bandmates/producers escaped to a cabin in rural Montreal to record the twelve compositions Geoffroy had prepared for the album. The result: an escapist aesthetic, and twelve exceptional productions.

Listen to “The Fear of Falling Apart” to get a real idea of his intimate dedication to his mother. Peep track two, “21 Days” for an inside track on the band’s label-funded video trip to India. And for some all-around good listening, check out “All Around”, “Come Around” and of course, the funk-filled jam, “By the Water”.

8. Feist – The Reminder

Calgary’s own, Leslie Feist, will go down in history as a Canadian icon. She contributed to many projects before branching out on her own; notably, as a backing vocalist in Peaches, as well as Broken Social Scene.

Nine months after Polydor (Universal Music Canada) released Feist’s “The Reminder”, her breakout single “1234” was featured in an Apple commercial.

In 2011, four years after the release of “The Reminder”, James Blake released a mesmerizing cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love”.

In an interview with Daniel Peters at Bandwagon in 2017, Leslie referenced these pivotal popularity boosts by stating that “The album had a second wave…So the hype wasn’t immediate.”

Aside from “1234” and “Limit To Your Love”, I would encourage you to listen to “My Man My Moon” as well as “I Feel It All” to get a real idea of the diversity on this smashing 2007 record.

7. City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love

We simply cannot make a list on Canadian indie artists without Dallas Green in it. City And Colour (Dallas and Green) made an impressive debut in 2005 with the LP “Sometimes”. Although, Green admitted to Interview Magazine in 2011 that his true first album was “Bring Me Your Love”.

“My first record [Sometimes] was a culmination of the songs I had written from when I was 16 until I was 21 years old. People started to get into that record and that was cool. I feel like the first record is not really my record. I feel like it’s a prequel. I feel like BMYL is the actual first record. It’s the record I would have made if I had known there would have been people listening.”

Released on Dine Alone Records in 2007, the album features session work from Daniel Romano and a vocal feature from Gord Downy. St. Catharines, Ontario should be proud.

Make sure you pop in for “The Girl”, “Sleeping Sickness”, and “Waiting” to hear what everyone seems to love. But for the deep cuts, stop in at track two “Confessions”, track six “What Makes A Man?” and track eleven “Sensible Heart”.

6. Royal Canoe – Today We’re Believers

In March of 2013, Nevado Music (Bahamas, Yukon Blonde) signed Royal Canoe to a record deal that would see their LP “Today We’re Believers” catapult this 6-piece indie outfit to the upper stratosphere of Canada’s live music scenes.

Fronted by vocalist Matt Peters and keyboardist Matt Schellenberg, the group lacks no depth in talent, with Bucky Driedger on lead guitar, Brendan Berg on bass, and Michael Jordan on drums (no kidding!).

“Today We’re Believers is our way of trying to capture the moment of the first day of spring, when the snow has freshly melted and everything comes alive. No matter where you are and no matter what you had to endure to get to this point, everything is forgiven and makes perfect sense, and your capacity for joy feels endless.”

This was Matt Peters’ charismatic reflection on the making of the album in an interview with Vivian Hua at redefine in 2013.

The album is undoubtedly full-bodied. From track one (the title track), through to track three “Just Enough”, track six “Button Fumbla”, two stops ahead to track eight “Birthday”, and through to number ten “Stemming” … any stop you make on this underground subway, the platform air is filled with juicy alt/indie noises.

Royal Canoe is arguably the greatest group to come out of Winnipeg, Manitoba since The Guess Who.

All aboard, people.

5. Wintersleep – Welcome to the Night Sky

If you’ve heard the lyrics: “Ohh, have you seen my ghost?” then you know what the Halifax five-piece Wintersleep is known for: their Billboard charting single “Weighty Ghost”. What you might not know about this group is how they burst onto the Canadian scene with a Juno Award for New Group of the Year in 2008, the year of their “Welcome to the Night Sky” LP release.

The Nova Scotian group consists of five members: frontman Paul Murphy on guitar and vocals, Tim D’Eon on guitar and keyboards, Jon Samuel contributing on guitar and backing vocals, their drummer, Loel Campbell and bass guitarist Jud Haynes.

In 2008, Haynes confidently declared on record with Ryan Spaulding’s RSL Blog that the band is “…one hundred percent proud of everything about [the album], from each sound, to the tone and pacing, to the packaging”.

“Welcome to the Night Sky” is a testament to Canada’s boundless reserves of talent from coast to coast.

If this article inspires you to dive deeper into the album, track six “Search Party”, track nine “Laser Beams” and the closing track “Miasmal Smoke and the Yellow Bellied Freaks” are great places to start.

4. Leif Vollebekk – Twin Solitude

Released via Secret City Recordsin 2017, Leif Vollebekk’s “Twin Solitude” is a Canadian treasure. I truly consider this man a musical visionary. I say this because he does indeed see his music as he composes it. Leif is blessed (or cursed) with a rare neurological condition known as synesthesia, which gives a person the ability to see sounds in colour as they hear them.

When “Twin Solitude” hit the record shops (so to speak), Canadians and fans abroad all began to see what Vollebekk was going for with his moody lyricism, as his content touched on the depths of loss, and the beauty of stillness. Now his visions have come to life, as his music continues to spread.

Among the many notable songs off the album, Leif blesses us with “All Night Sedans”, a sultry, rhythmic number; “Elegy”, a moving piece primarily on piano; “Into the Ether”, a personal memoir of his perspective on a close and troubled friend, and “East of Eden”: a love song set ablaze with dazzling metaphors

In a 2017 interview with Laura Stanley of Exclaim! Magazine, Vollebekk declared that “Each song has its own little feeling”. Though I can’t disagree with that sentiment, I do sense a sort of musical glue that holds the album together in a web of peaceful despondency.

3. Dan Mangan + Blacksmith – Club Meds

Coming in at number 3 is the first and only album released under Dan Mangan’s coveted collaborative project “Blacksmith”. This is the one exception to the one album from each artist rule set out for this article (due to the collaborative release).

It’s hard to deny the complexity and artistic prestige with which this album was assembled. Dan Mangan teamed up with his then-current band members Kenton Loewen, Gordan Grdina and John Walsh to compose a record that touched on the more experimental fringes of alternative music.

In his 2016 interview with Craig Silliphant at The Feedback Society, Mangan stated: “This record felt like, not the closing of a previous era, but the beginning of a new era when it comes to this band and my body of work. It seemed like the right time. It’s hard to turn a large ship; a fast moving ship. But the ship had slowed down enough that we could sort of move it in a new direction.”

“Club Meds” was produced by Colin Stewart, who was also the producer of “Oh Fortune”, Dan Mangan’s preceding release from 2011 (see number 12 on this list), and released on Arts & Crafts in January of 2015.

You can’t miss the radio-popular singles “Vessel” and “Mouthpiece”, or the lead track “Offred”, and their third single “Kitsch”. That being said, I would encourage you to devour the rest of the album, front to back, over and over

2. Half Moon Run – Dark Eyes

“Dark Eyes” from the Montreal-based trio Half Moon Run comes in at number 2 on the countdown.

It’s hard to find an album that matches this 2012 LP’s consistency. Twelve tracks, and I assure you, not a single one is worth skipping.

From the thriller shakedown “Full Circle” to the upbeat indie banger “Call Me in the Afternoon”, and on through to the track-4 foot-tapper “She Wants to Know”, the album knocks off hit after hit.

It seems to come naturally to the trio consisting of Devon Portielje from (Ottawa, ON), Conner Molander (Montreal, QB) and Dylan Phillips (Comax, BC). “We just did what we were naturally driven to do without forcing anything. It was spontaneous, and the process was exciting”, mentioned Dylan Phillips in a 2015 interview with DIY Mag.

For a mesmerizing send-off, don’t miss the last two tracks of the album: “Fire Escape” followed by “21 Gun Salute”. Man, do I love when two songs are strung together; this combination of tracks is SO deadly.

Don’t be surprised if this becomes your new favourite album.

Thank me later.

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs 

There is not much debate here. Arcade Fire made serious waves with their Grammy/Juno/Polaris winning album “The Suburbs”.

Produced by Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon), and released via Sony Music, this 16-track masterpiece has many hits and very few misses.

The coherency of the album is second-to-none, and its highlights are of great notoriety. Standout tracks include “The Suburbs”, “Ready to Start”, “Rococo”, “Month of May” and “We Used to Wait”.

The Montreal group is spearheaded by husband and wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, along with Win’s younger brother Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara.

In a 2010 interview with Chris Cottingham of CLASH Magazine, Will Butler described the album as a darker record, “…because it was super ornate, with strings and lush emotional instrumentation.”

Though Will may see this as darkness, the rest of the country has been blinded by the magnificent light that is “The Suburbs” …or was that just the passing cars 😉

COUNTDOWN RECAP

 1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs  2010  Independent

 2. Half Moon Run – Dark Eyes  2012  Indica Records

 3. Dan Mangan + Blacksmith – Club Meds  2015  Arts & Crafts

 4. Leif Vollebekk – Twin Solitude  2017  Secret City Records

 5. Wintersleep – Welcome to the Night Sky  2008  EMI Music Canada

 6. Royal Canoe – Today We’re Believers  2013  Nevado Music

 7. City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love  2007  Dine Alone Records

 8. Feist – The Reminder  2007  Polydor (Universal)

 9. Geoffroy – 1952  2019  Bonsound

 10. Patrick Watson – Love Songs For Robots  2015  Secret City Records

 11. Metric – Fantasies  2009  Crystal Math Music (MMI)

 12. Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune  2011  Arts & Crafts

 13. Sam Roberts Band – Collider  2011  Secret Brain (Universal)

 14. Close Talker – Flux  2014  Independent

 15. River Tiber – Indigo  2016  Independent

 16. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People  2003  Arts & Crafts

 17. Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre  2010  Independent

 18. Caribou – Suddenly  2020  Merge Records

 19. Verzache – Thought Pool  2018  Independent

 20. Allan Rayman – Christian  2020  Universal

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