Down with 2020, Long Live its Music – Some Releases we Missed in 2020
2020 is over. It’s almost over at least. As 2020 closes out, I wanted to take a few minutes and look back, and touch on ten Canadian music releases this past year we didn’t get a chance to cover, for one reason or another.
It’s important to remember history in context, to understand the thoughts, feelings, and various psychosis of the people that experienced it. In many ways, art is one of the rawest expressions of how culture might view something – especially from a critical or outsider perspective. Without context, the importance of events, and their effects can be quickly lost to time.
Overall the tones surrounding music in 2020, to me at least, sounded somber, angry, confused but still mostly hopeful, comforting, and empowering. I would say music is more hopeful this year than it was last year. 2019 wasn’t all that great – it wasn’t this, but shit was still a mess.
I’ve spent a few weeks pouring over songs and albums released in the past year to find the ones that stood out and that for some reason or another, we at Dropout didn’t cover. There are lots of reasons we don’t get around to covering music. There’s a ton of music that comes out all the time across Canada that is great. People submit music and we try very hard to listen to everything that comes in, but email is a fickle beast and sometimes messages go months hidden deep in the spam folder.
We try our best to get around to sharing everything that piques our interest, and that we think will peak yours too. We also make a concerted priority to cover independent artists more often than their mega-star counter-parts.
Earlier this week I covered six tracks on the Dropout New Music Mondays Podcast that I had missed when they came out, that are awesome enough to give some shout-outs to. Now I want to take a moment of your time to share with you ten Canadian releases (albums, EPs, and singles) we didn’t get a chance to cover this year that we genuinely wish we had.
With no further delay, here are Dropout’s top ten albums of 2020 we didn’t cover that we should have.
1. Yukon Blonde – Vindicator
I’ve been meaning to write about Vindicator, the newest album by Toronto indie rock band Yukon Blonde, for a few months now – but you know, it’s 2020 so I was doom scrolling. I should have made a more concerted effort though as now that I’m relisting to the Vindicator album I’m getting right back into the chill (almost smokey) groove that I was in for a hot second when it first came out back in November. It’s worth noting this is the first Yukon Blonde Album produced entirely by the band themselves and is a bit of a chilled departure from their previous work.
Yukon Blonde Bassist and Vocalist, James Younger had this to say about the album “We’re more mature and comfortable with ourselves now and we know that we can try something new even at this stage in our career,” explains Younger. “We completely deconstructed the narrative of the band and made the music that felt good at the moment.”
The album moves farther away from the fast-rock sound some die-hard Yukon Blonde fans might miss, but to me, this album has very much cultivated the electric/groovy sound that makes a lot of their previous hits so successful. It’s a great direction and it was a great album to just chill the fuck out to this year. Much needed.
2. Savannah Ré – Opia
Montreal born Savannah Ré grew up in Scarborough on the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario. Ré is an R&B artist and it’s no secret that eyes around the world are on Toronto’s scene just waiting for the next Drake, or Reeaz to make him or herself known. Ré is certainly a good contender and having released her first full-length album this year Opia on Universal Music Canada, she’s well on her way.
Ré had this to say about the album in a press release, “I’m so proud of this project,” says Ré. “I feel like I’ve been carrying this baby for a long time and it’s finally going to come out into the universe. It’s an amazing feeling. This is the space, this is the time.”
In addition to the EP’s acclaimed single “Best Is Yet To Come” named one of the 100 Best Songs of the Year by Apple Music in 2019, Opia features five songs that speak to the hopes, insecurities, and beauty we experience as we navigate the journey of knowing and loving ourselves and others.
After establishing herself as a one-to-watch songwriter and performer, championed by R&B heavyweights from Babyface and Boi-1da to Jessie Reyez and Wondagurl, Savannah Ré’s remarkable debut project is a testament to her dedication to her craft.
3. Quinn Pickering – Supernova
Quinn Pickering is an alt-pop singer/songwriter from Vancouver, Canada with a presence in his music that just gets right under my skin in the best way. Supernova was released by Pickering back in November and it’s one of those albums that I heard and I knew I liked immediately. It was instinctual. One of the first singles from the Supernova album, Grapefruit, was what drew me in. Grapefruit is a love song about missing someone, and simultaneously being cold in a city, while the narrative is familiar the execution is absolutely beautiful from the lyrics to the composition. The song is sexy, heartbreaking, and innocent all at once. The rest of the Supernova EP is equally as impressive.
Pickering had this to say about the EP in a press release, “Although there are some big choruses throughout, it’s the intimate moments in contrast that represent what I wanted the EP to feel like,” said Pickering. “Thematically it’s full of stories and vulnerabilities that I’ve experienced in my life up till now told through the lens of an Alt-pop production.”
Pickering’s Supernova EP is full of dreamy, melancholic vibes with plenty of nostalgia and ghosts of past relationships. While his singles ‘Ultraviolet’ and ‘Grapefruit’ examine the end of a relationship, his single, and the album’s title-track ‘Supernova’ focuses on the budding of a new relationship, and the feeling of wanting to be someone’s first choice.
4. Crown Lands – Self Titled
Crown Lands’ first full-length and self-titled album was released back in August 2020, and it’s not an easy album to blast on the SONOS late at night while my neighbours are sleeping. The two artists behind Crown Lands are Kevin Comeau and Cody Bowles, both from Oshawa, Ontario. The duo puts a lot of effort into their music to raise awareness of ingenious rights issues in Canada, of which there are many. As the name suggests –
“Crown Land” is a territorial area belonging to the monarch—or, as Bowles (whose own heritage is half Mi’kmaq, an indigenous tribe from Nova Scotia) puts it, “Crown Land is stolen land and we are reclaiming it.”
Crown Lands was recorded in the iconic RCA Studio A in Nashville and produced by six-time Grammy winner Dave Cobb (Rival Sons, Chris Stapleton). On the album, Kevin Comeau (guitar, keys) explains, “the record is a culmination of five years of work. We started Crown Lands in 2015 with the view to put out a cohesive body of work. We have finally done that! We started writing this record last year after touring with Primus and Jack White. We took that influence and ran with it. When we met Dave we knew he had to be the guy to make this record with us. We loved his organic, live-off-the-floor approach and the desire to capture a real performance. He pushed us way out of our comfort zones and I think I’m ultimately a better guitarist for it. He’s a masterful arranger and we spent a lot of time on the Mellotron arrangements on the record. I love the retro yet timeless quality of the sonics on the record. It captures us as we are – two music nerds obsessed with prog-rock of old, but with a desire to bring those sounds into modern song writing.”
5. USS – Happy
Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker (USS) is a Canadian alternative rock musical duo that began in the heart of Parkdale, a very unique neighbourhood in the west end of Toronto, Canada. The band is composed of Ashley Buchholz and Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons. USS has filled venues all over Canada and the world and has worked with artists such as Ashley MacIsaac, Lights Walk of the Earth, and have even performed with The Tragically Hip.
The band has a new studio album out – ‘Einsteins of Consciousness’ – on January 8, 2020 – so stay tuned for a review of that. We did miss the release of the first single off that album. The song is a frustrated bid at accepting your circumstances, or maybe overcoming them. The song is called Happy
USS describes the song as “the result of being comfortable with where you’re at right now without looking too far into it. We’re all constantly seeking something bigger and better, but this is about being in the moment and allowing yourself to enjoy it.”
If there’s ANYTHING to learn from 2020, it might be this.
6. Dizzy – The Sun and Her Scorch
Dizzy is the second band on this list from Oshawa, The indie-pop band’s debut album won the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2019. Consisting of frontwoman Katie Munshaw and instrumentalists Alex Mackenzie and Charlie Spencer, the group released their second album The Sun and Her Scorch earlier this year, all the way back in July 2020.
Recorded at Quebec’s Mechanicland Studios and in Munshaw’s mother’s basement, The Sun and Her Scorch was produced by Dizzy and mixed by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Florence + The Machine.) The album is a candid exploration of the messiest, most raw emotions young people experience in 2020, laden with confessions of insecurity, resentment, and fear of failure. “[Dizzy’s debut] Baby Teeth was all about the confusion and sadness of my late teens, but this one is more about the qualities of myself that I’m not very proud of,” Katie says. “I wanted to be completely honest about the things nobody ever wants to admit, like being jealous of your friends or pushing away the people who love you. So instead of being about romantic heartbreak, it’s really about self-heartbreak.”
Dizzy is one of those bands to keep an eye on, an ear on?
7. Hotel Mira – Perfectionism
Hotel Mira is an alt-rock group from Vancouver, British Columbia. The band consists of Charlie Kerr, Colton Lauro, Mike Noble, Clark Grieve, and Cole George. Formed in 2010 as JPNSGRLS the band released their first EP as Hotel Mira in 2018. Their new album Perfectionism came out in February of 2020, back just at the tail end of the before-times. This album is solid and is a bit of a more serious sound than the band’s previous releases, more put together. Which is kind of an ironic thing to say if you listen to Kerr talk about the album himself.
In a press release, Kerr describes the album this way: “This project, like many before it, is a direct result of falling deeply in love. I had been writing songs that felt more poppy and the sound we were moving toward was a lot more polished. But lyrically I was really writing some of the darkest material I ever have and spilling my soul all over the place. Most of these songs were written with tears streaming down my face. Somewhere between an open book and an open wound. Perfectionism is something that had plagued me forever.”
8. The Wilderness – Until Tomorrow
The Wilderness indie rock band from Kingston, ON. The band consists of frontman Jonas Lewis-Anthony, Liam Neale, Nicholas Lennox, Sacha Lansky, Henry Lawrence, and Karl Tombak. The band has an incredibly unique sound. It’s like a sonic mash-up of Canadian folk, Britt-Pop, and American Indie Rock.
The Wilderness released their newest 13-track album, Until Tomorrow, earlier this year. It’s a more somber album than the band’s previous work, with more serious subjects matter than heartbreak, although there is still plenty of that to be had. Overall the writing is a bit more conscious and a bit more self-reflective when you get down to the guts of the album. I guess that’s the way the world is though, and that’s probably a good thing. I thought this album was important to include because it’s so reflective of such an incredibly uncertain period of the year. Until Tomorrow came out back in August 2020.
9. The Royal Foundry – Strangers
The Royal Foundry is an award-winning Electro-Alt-Pop Band from Edmonton, Canada. And their new album is the last thing you would expect to hear after reading that description. To be very straightforward it is one of the most beautiful independent albums to come out this year in my opinion.
Strangers is a four-song nostalgic and thoughtful EP. It is a pleasure to listen to and is helpful when everything needs to slow down. The song isn’t sad, but it’s not happy, instead, the sound is more hopeful, hopeful, and tired. This makes it the perfect release for the end of 2020. The group largely abandons the electronic sounds in favour of a more acoustic, albeit beautifully produced approach to the music. This honest reflection of your tired, hopeful soul was released on December 18, 2020.
10. Bleeker – No Rain
Covers were also plentiful this year, more so than most, I think. Albums like Thief by Dan Mangan helped connect us to a time in the past when things were less, uncertain maybe? Toronto indie pop-rock band Bleeker brought back the ‘90s Blind Melon hit No Rain earlier this year. The cover track has been a favourite on my playlist ever since it was released so I thought it might be a fun way to end off this article and this year. Maybe just for a moment, we can take a trip back to 1993… or any other year.
No Rain by Bleeker was released as a single and was included on the Endless Summer from Better Noise Music album released in August 2020. For all the beach parties we had…? Bleeker appeared on the album along with other Better Noise Music artists such as Cory Marks, Shiny Toy Guns, and Little Stranger.
The best music or at least a common thread that runs through successful music is that it’s genuine, it’s connected on that raw unfiltered level that allows us to hear ourselves in the lyrics and feel ourselves in the tone. Music from a year like 2020 deserves to be remembered, maybe more than most. It certainly deserves a second look back as we put 2020 in the past.
Music was different this year and I mean more so than it generally is year-to-year. There were identifiable tones this year in songs that came out, themes that were a long time coming, and themes inspired by the events of this year made by artists who lived through it. We can learn a lot about ourselves in times of crisis, especially through art. I hope none of the music released this year will be lost on us.