The 30 Canadian Artists You Need to Know in 2020Photos by Andrés Navarro Aguilera, Shelby Fenlon, Erik Snyder Music Lists Canadian Artists
If the sole Canadian artists you listen to these days are limited to Drake, Carly Rae Jepsen, Arcade Fire and The Weeknd, we want to change that. Canada has a number of rich music scenes and is home to some of the continent’s most exciting up-and-coming musicians. Over the years, Paste has shared some of our favorite new artists from places like New Zealand, the U.K., Atlanta and New York City, but we think it’s long overdue to round up the new Canadian artists we love. Perhaps best known for Neil Young, Rush and Celine Dion, Canada is a hub of multicultural, creative artists and music festivals, and there’s no shortage of fresh-faced talent. Music discovery is especially important at a time when so many musicians have lost income and the opportunity to introduce themselves to new listeners at shows, so let’s just pretend that Paste has put together a festival showcase of 30 new Canadian acts, and each of these musicians are performing just for you in the contents of this article. Scroll down to sample a wide variety of the country’s buzzy new music, listed in alphabetical order by artist, and if you hear something you like, please consider purchasing their music or merchandise.
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.
1. Ada Lea
Montreal singer/songwriter Alexandra Levy, who makes music under the moniker Ada Lea, released her debut album what we say in private last year via Saddle Creek. Her folk-pop songs fold in wiry synths and driving guitars, and her expressive voice transfixes. Beyond her compelling breakup songs, what separates her from the folk and indie rock pack are her unusual instrumental and production quirks—her music is as comforting as it is fascinating.
2. Alexia Avina
Experimental folk singer/songwriter Alexia Avina doesn’t just make music for the ears, she makes music for the soul—and not just your current soul, but all past and future forms it took and will take. Her latest release, 2019’s All That I Can’t See, is full of wispy, ambient sounds that range from gentle to blustery, and it’s the perfect mental and emotional detox for when you’re feeling disconnected or overwhelmed.
Earlier this month, Halifax musician Lance Sampson released Legacy, his debut album as Aquakultre. It’s a raw yet elegant record about perseverance in the face of a well-worn life, and Sampson wears his heart on his sleeve, both musically and lyrically. His songs range from soul and blues to R&B and hip-hop, but the common denominator is Sampson’s deep-rooted passion and radiant wisdom. Plus, is there a better opening lyric than “Wait a minute / Capitalism and prison systems / I can’t tell the difference”? Let’s consult its song title: “I Doubt It.”
4. Badge Époque Ensemble
Toronto instrumental group Badge Époque Ensemble are a wonderful artistic experiment. Led by Maximilian Turnbull (a frequent collaborator with U.S. Girls and husband of Meg Remy), the project makes groove-centric, improvisational music built for the highest tier of psychedelic transcendence. Blending psych, funk, jazz and prog, the group’s latest release, last year’s 12-inch EP Nature, Man and Woman, is an intoxicating, vivid whirlwind.
Vancouver five-piece Blessed unveiled their debut album Salt last year, and it’s a moody, shape-shifting album with a treasure trove of interesting sounds. Pulling from psych, krautrock, industrial, math rock and post-punk, Blessed are intense and evocative, and every time you think they’ve played their final sonic wild card, they present another.
6. Bleu Nuit
Montreal quartet Bleu Nuit released their debut album Le jardin des mémoires (which translates to “the garden of memories”) last year, and it marries striking darkwave with snaking post-punk. This is a band that revels in textures—their songs chime, rumble and hiss, which result in waves of pleasure.
7. Cayley Thomas
Edmonton singer/songwriter Cayley Thomas shared her debut EP, How Else Can I Tell You?, earlier this month. With lush production and touches of retro pop, soul and indie rock, this five-track release is incredibly enchanting, particularly due to its timeless songwriting and Thomas’ beautiful vocals.
Montreal band Chiiild specializes in all things silky. With their debut EP Synthetic Soul, released earlier this year, they traverse psych-rock, soul and R&B and stop to luxuriate in the moment at every given opportunity. Songs like “Count Me Out” ride a wave of sensual, distorted R&B while others like “Back to Life” rest on life-affirming psych-pop.
9. Common Holly
Folk musician Brigitte Naggar released her latest album as Common Holly last year with When I say to you Black Lightning. Her experimental folk songs are meticulously crafted—occasionally sinister and other times, pretty and nurturing, but always moving. Her character-driven songwriting makes her a uniquely arresting lyricist, and no matter the unexpected detours her songs take, she always finds a way to reel you in.
Montreal quartet Corridor aren’t just one of the most tantalizing French-Canadian bands out there today—they also make hypnotic pop better than just about anyone. Their music centers around euphoric, driving guitars and satisfying vocal harmonies as they dabble in krautrock, psych and post-punk, but above all, they’re acute students of pop music. Their latest album Junior was released last year via Sub Pop.
11. Crack Cloud
Vancouver DIY art collective Crack Cloud (which also features members of N0V3L) emerged in 2018 with their self-titled debut EP, an idiosyncratic collection of post-punk, art rock and synth-punk with bold personality. The following year, they returned with a new single, “The Next Fix,” an intensely rhythmic, beautiful funk-pop song, which was written to remember those they’ve lost to suicide and drug overdose. The group formed over shared beliefs in the power of harm reduction, local organizing and DIY art communities, which leads one to believe they’re far more than just a band—they’re a chosen family.
Toronto post-punks Deliluh released their latest album Beneath the Floors last year (which Paste named one of the best punk albums of 2019) and its “sibling record” Oath of Intent a few months prior. As austere as the songs on Beneath the Floors may seem, there’s much personality to be found in their downtempo, ominous songs. As soon as you press play, you’re invited into their engrossing, cinematic dystopia.
13. Ducks Unlimited
Toronto jangle pop four-piece Ducks Unlimited released their debut EP Get Bleak last year, which landed in our list of best EPs of 2019 and also clinched the band a spot in our list of best new artists of 2019. If you’re looking for twinkling, benevolent guitar-pop that sounds equally perfect at the beach in summertime as it does at home during not-so-rosy evenings, Ducks Unlimited are the band for you.
Hamilton singer/songwriter Linnea Siggelkow, who records as Ellis, released her debut album Born Again earlier this year via Fat Possum, and though unassuming on its face, it’s an emotional gut punch. The record rests on Siggelkow’s tender vocals, which hover over melodic, dreamy guitar lines and deliver yearning lyrics, aching for self-discovery and self-actualization that are simultaneously within reach and miles away.
15. The Golden Age of Wrestling
Veteran Vancouver musician Jeff Cancade (who also records music under the name Devours, which we highly recommend) recently formed a side project called The Golden Age of Wrestling, and he released their debut album Tombstone Piledriver earlier this year. It’s a wonky ambient, electro-pop record often marked by minimal video-game-like pulses or windy textures, but Cancade has a more specific term for it: “glambient.”
16. Haviah Mighty
Toronto rapper Haviah Mighty released her latest album 13th Floor last year, and it took home the highly-coveted Polaris Music Prize. It’s a socially-conscious record about embracing self-love in the midst of power structures, and Mighty spits bars with a fiery swagger throughout. Its booming instrumentals need no introduction—they’re just as menacing and uncompromising as her vocals.
17. Kiwi Jr.
On their debut album Football Money, Toronto four-piece Kiwi Jr. don’t break any indie rock rules, but they clearly understand the power of sonic glimmer, lyrical charm and rhythmic chug. They border on college rock, punk and surf and dabble in jangly and slacker sounds, but they’re an indie rock band through and through. Football Money is a sharp, feel-good delight.
18. Lido Pimienta
Colombia-born and Toronto-based artist Lido Pimienta shared her second album Miss Colombia earlier this year via ANTI- Records. Pimienta won the Polaris Music Prize for her 2016 debut La Papessa (the first artist recording in a language other than English or French to take home the award), and her follow-up is even more ambitious. Mixing electro-pop, industrial and reggaeton music with cumbia rhythms, Miss Colombia is a fearless album about identity, resistance and pain.
Vancouver punk three-piece lié embrace forceful condemnations, unrelenting energy and gothic soundscapes on their latest album You Want It Real. Their sharp-edged guitars and vigorous rhythms are just as piercing as their lyrics of desire, dread and abuse. This band is decidedly venomous and dogged, and they’re all the better for it.
20. Luna Li
Toronto multi-instrumentalist Luna Li was classically trained in piano and violin and is adept at several other instruments, so it only takes about 10 seconds to realize her intuitive musical prowess. Given that we’re all stuck inside, these talents made her the perfect candidate for viral videos of home-recorded songs. There’s a decent chance that footage of her jamming on keys, harp, guitar and bass popped up on your timeline (she’s racked up millions of views), but her latest recorded music is worth diving into as well: “Afterglow” and “Trying” are divine, string-laden dream pop tunes.
Canada-via-Philippines band Pantayo released their self-titled debut album earlier this month via Telephone Explosion Records. Simultaneously harsh and pleasantly melodic, their music taps into R&B, electronic and punk music as well as kulintang—an ancient form of atonal music native to their home country and featuring the use of various gong chimes. It’s a wonderfully challenging and meditative listen.
Following last year’s exuberant debut EP No. 1 (which landed on Paste’s list of best EPs of 2019 and scored them a spot in our list of the best new artists of that year), Montreal five-piece Pottery are gearing up to release their debut album Welcome To Bobby’s Motel on June 26 via Partisan/Royal Mountain. Consisting of 11 new tracks, the album spans post-punk, funk. psych and blues, and it shifts between charmingly groovy and devilishly spastic.
23. Scott Hardware
Engel, the recently-released sophomore album from Toronto artist Scott Hardware, is literally and figuratively seraphic. It was inspired by the 1987 film Wings of Desire, which followed angels around a pre-unified Berlin as they comforted its populace. On Engel, Hardware imagines these angels hovering over him and his loved ones, and the backdrop is piano-led art-pop, filled with graceful swells of tender vocals and off-kilter instrumentals.
24. Shay Lia
Back in 2017, we were just beginning to get acquainted with the talents of French-Djiboutian, Montreal-based artist Shay Lia. She wrote (and sang on) a song for Kaytranada’s 2016 debut 99.9%, which Paste named one of the best albums of the past decade, and a year later, Kaytranada returned the favor—co-producing her first single “Blue,” alongside BADBADNOTGOOD. Last year, Shay Lia unveiled her debut EP Dangerous, an album of smooth, ruminative R&B and neo-soul.
Montreal four-piece TOPS self-released their fourth album I Feel Alive earlier this year, and when they’re at their best, they execute the retro soft rock sound better than the vast majority of bands brave enough to attempt it. They may be blatant in their ’70s and ’80s pop influences, but there’s a timelessness to Jane Penny’s floaty voice and their slick synth-rock.
Winnipeg three-piece Tunic are the definition of hurtling noise-punk. They released their debut Complexion last year, and it’s filled with David Schellenberg’s spitting vocals and guitars that vibrate, bleed and wail without restraint. File this band under in-your-face noise rock and bloodthirsty punk.
Veneer are an endlessly compelling, versatile band, even as a three-piece. The Winnipeg trio wowed at New York City’s New Colossus Festival this year with their minimal and playful, yet intensely heartfelt guitar pop. Warmth and pure joy radiated from their shared vocals, which overlapped and ping-ponged back and forth with emotional immediacy and rare chemistry. Their self-titled record arrived in 2019—a gorgeous set of lo-fi, pop and indie rock songs.
Edmonton band Wares, led by singer/songwriter and guitarist Cassia Hardy, released their latest album Survival earlier this year. It’s a deeply personal album with fervent, textured guitars and dynamic song arcs. Survival is anything but stereotypical: “Living Proof” channels melodramatic electro-goth, “Hands, Skin” takes cues from emo-punk and “Surrender into Waiting Arms” boils to a metal guitar finale.
London, Ontario DIY five-piece WHOOP-Szo released their latest album Warrior Down in 2019, a record which celebrates both their Anishinabek and Canadian roots. It seeks to break down boundaries while also acknowledging historic and continued oppression in indigenous communities, and it’s soundtracked by vicious post-hardcore, pummeling psych-rock and heady grunge.
30. Young Guv
You may know Ben Cook as the guitarist in Canadian punk band Fucked Up, but his solo project, Young Guv, demonstrates his broad music taste and undeniable songwriting talent. Last year, he unleashed a two-part album GUV I & II via Run For Cover Records, which boasted pretty, lo-fi guitar pop songs with a ravishing melancholia.
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.
Lizzie Manno is an associate music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno