21 Canadian albums we can't wait to hear in 2021

Expect new music from Drake, Arcade Fire, Rhye and more.

Expect new music from Drake, Arcade Fire, Rhye and more

From left: Rhye, Drake, Dominique Fils-Aimé. (Getty Images, Getty Images, Dominique Fils-Aimé/Facebook; graphic by CBC)

With 2020 behind us, it's time to look at the year ahead. Live music may continue to be an uncertainty in the coming months, but one thing in music will be guaranteed: new album releases. Below, we've highlighted 21 Canadian albums we're looking forward to hearing next year. 

Which albums are you most excited for in 2021? Share with us @CBCMusic.

Artists: Cory Weeds Quintet
Album: O Sole Mio
Release date: Jan. 15

Vancouver's Cory Weeds assembled a spectacular group for this survey of Italian tunes, which will be drenched in soul by the time they're through with them. Weeds plays alto sax, with Eric Alexander on tenor, Mike LeDonne on Hammond B3 organ, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Recorded at Armoury Studios in late 2019, the album includes some classics ("Torna a Surriento" played as a sprightly waltz, and a deliciously slo-mo version of Bruno Martino's "Estate") and surprises (an uptempo take on Nino Rota's immortal theme from The Godfather). A great way to pop the cork on Cellar Live's 20th anniversary, which holds a record number of jazz releases and other special events in store. — Robert Rowat 

Vancouver's Cellar Live jazz label launches its 20th anniversary with Cory Weeds Quintet's O Sole Mio. (Cellar Live)

Artist: Rhye
Album: Home
Release date: Jan. 22 

What better title to give your album than Home, in the soon-to-be year of our lord 2021? While we're all ready to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, the truth is that at least the first half of next year is going to look a lot like this one: trying to curb a pandemic by staying home as much as possible (if you're fortunate enough to have one). And Rhye's upcoming album will be a balm for these upcoming winter months, his soothing vocals wrapping you up in a warm blanket of orchestral touches and seductive movements. ("Black Rain," the lead single, is one of the 16 disco songs that added sparkle to this lacklustre year.) "Home is centred around the idea of home as the core of creativity and community," reads the press release, which feels poignant. Until the February release, you can keep yourself cozy with this IRL Rhye blanket— Holly Gordon

Artists: Cameron Crozman, Philip Chiu
Album: Tapeo
Release date: Jan. 22

Cellist Cameron Crozman and pianist Philip Chiu return with the followup to 2019's gorgeous Cavatine, their all-French album. On Tapeo they explore Spanish repertoire for cello and piano — works by Gaspar Cassado, Manuel de Falla, Joaquin Turino — as a vehicle for Crozman's circa 1769 Joannes Guillami cello, known as "El Tiburon" (the shark), on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts' music instrument bank. These musicians have honed their partnership over several years, so expect performances that go way beyond technical proficiency to deliver flamboyance and soul and likely some much-needed Iberian warmth. — RR

On Tapeo, due out Jan. 22, 2021, Cameron Crozman and Philip Chiu play music by Cassado, de Falla and Turino. (Supplied by ATMA Classique)

Artist: Drake
Album: Certified Lover Boy
Release date: January

It turns out 2020 didn't deserve a new Drake album. The artist's sixth album was originally supposed to come out this past summer, which was then pushed back to October, which is now pushed to January — and what better way to start off the new year? Not much is known about Certified Lover Boy, other than that it's going to be considerably more concise than the 25-track Scorpion, and it will feature a lot of different styles. The trailer also recreated some of Drake's past album covers, which could be a hint that we're in for a look-back album of sorts, much like how lead single "Laugh Now Cry Later" sounded reminiscent of his 2010 output. Rumoured collaborations at this point include rapper Roddy Rich and Brampton's very own Jessie Reyez. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Artist: Mustafa
Album: When Smoke Rises
Release date: January

Mustafa has long been considered one of Toronto's best-kept secrets. As a poet and songwriter, Mustafa has earned a reputation for being an expert wordsmith, having penned songs for Camila Cabello, the Weeknd and most recently, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber for their mega-collab "Monster." But in 2021, all eyes will be on Mustafa with the release of his debut album, When Smoke Rises. The singles he's released so far are stunning, even landing on our top 100 songs of 2020 list. Tracks like "Stay Alive" and "Air Forces" are powerful portraits of empathy, pleading to younger generations to avoid gang violence. Mustafa's music doesn't shy away from the darkness of grief and anger, but love is always at the centre of it all, acting as the beating heart, a sliver of hope that keeps everything afloat. — Melody Lau 

Artists: The Weather Station
Album: Ignorance
Release date: Feb. 5

In writing her new album Ignorance, the Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman became "obsessed" with rhythm, and the first two tracks, "Robber" and "Tried To Tell You," illustrate a compelling fixation. "Robber" contorts and pops with an art-house, freestyle jazz, its angularity softened by Lindeman's deeply humane lyrics. "You never believed in the robber but the robber never believed in you/ he never saw you, he only saw what he would be allowed to do/ no, the robber don't hate you." Lindeman speeds up and delivers the propulsive but chilled-out "I Tried to Tell You," a song that sounds like it shares the same ink as an Eleanor Friedberger gem. When Lindeman sings, "Would it kill you to believe in your pleasure?/ I tried to tell you" the gentle bite of recrimination stings a little less when the synths are circling and swirling, a frenzied last hurrah as the narrator says goodbye. — Andrea Warner

Artist: Nick Schofield 
Album: Glass Gallery
Release date: Feb. 5

Nick Schofield's Glass Gallery is, contrary to the surface in its name, a soft place to land. The Montreal musician, producer and radio host has created an album of ambient music inspired by the light and space of Ottawa's National Gallery — and for anyone who's been to the Moshe Safdie-designed space, the elasticity in Schofield's compositions makes perfect sense for the building's harmoniously cavernous and inviting spaces. On lead track "Mirror Image," Schofield used a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 and "layered arpeggiations while watching the snow outside streaking downwards, millions of diagonal dots gravitating in a single direction, somehow unified in a flurry of descent," as he described in the press release. While listening, it does feel like you're bound to run into a woodland creature at any turn. Glass Gallery will be the perfect mid-winter listen. — HG

Artist: Noble Oak
Album: Stories
Release date: Feb. 21

Noble Oak is the project of Vancouver's Patrick Fiore, the multi-instrumentalist whose 2020 album, Horizon, provided a serene, dream-pop escape from our mundane concerns. Fiore's next project is Stories, a five-song EP of solo improvisations on his "most fluent instrument," the piano. Two advance tracks, "Out of the Window" and "Look up Through the Trees," reveal an artist able to imbue ambient soundscapes with genuine musical substance. "My hope is that these sounds will be a place for your mind to explore, and find solace," he said via press release. They're perfect additions to your working-from-home playlist and self-care routine. — RR

Artist: G.R. Gritt
Album: Ancestors EP
Release date: Feb. 24

"Quiet Years" is the first track from G.R. Gritt's forthcoming album, Ancestors, which also marks Gritt's long-awaited debut as a solo artist. The song opens with a kind of loping shuffle or a sway, and the composition is full of oddly compelling details. It's the perfect framework for this kind of song: lyrically harrowing, but anchored in this strange arrangement, trusting Gritt's voice to take its rightful place as the simple, trusted centre of the song. In just under three-and-a-half minutes, Gritt asks a series of hard questions that speak to the anti-Indigenous violence of colonization and the residential school system, and they do so with an almost surf-like sway. One can feel the island beneath Gritt's feet, which is fitting since Gritt — a Juno Award-winning two-spirit, transgender, francophone, Anishinaabe/Métis artist — was inspired to write "Quiet Years" during a visit to Haida Gwaii. 

"I was invited to perform at the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay, and I learned about the language and cultural revitalization happening in response to the 'Silent Years,'" Gritt explained via press release. "The Silent Years began with the smallpox epidemic, and continued with the potlatch ban, the criminalization of culture and language, and with the residential school system. The Haida had to secretly share and pass on culture and knowledge in order to survive. Indigenous peoples on this continent have experienced a parallel history with colonizers. We are still experiencing it. This song is about the Quiet Years my grandmother inherited and experienced. It's about wondering about the impossible decisions she had to make, and if she would have been able to speak up after all those years. I think about our collective Quiet Years — if we strung them together, how many lifetimes would that be? How many generations?" — AW

Artist: Tika
Album: Anywhere but Here
Release date: Feb. 26

Montreal-based Tika is an unstoppable creative force: model, makeup artist, festival programmer and musician behind some of our favourite slow jams of 2020. And through it all, she's unwavering in her mission to put women — especially Black and queer women — front and centre. And that's what you can expect from Anywhere but Here, her upcoming debut album. On advance tracks "Sideways" and "Soothing Love" she employs '90s-style production to evoke all your best Toni Braxton and Monica memories, while thematically focusing on fantasy in Blackness, the beauty of Black intimacy and Black queer intimacy, as her videos powerfully illustrate. — RR

Artist: Dominique Fils-Aimé
Album: Three Little Words
Release date: February 

The lead single from Dominique Fils-Aimé's forthcoming album is a masterclass in setting one's intentions. "Love Take Over" begins with a bed of percussion, an electro-soul groove, and Fils-Aimé speak-singing the first two lines: "Taking over the same old kingdom/ building empires made of freedom." Then, suddenly, a small burst of trumpet sounds and her voice swells in layers as she continues her vow, "Making over the brand new queendom/ nurturing roles that lead to freedom." The track is stunning, as is the music video, which is a beautiful tribute to the power and importance of Black women. Three Little Words is the soulful conclusion to Fils-Aimé's album trilogy exploring the roots of Black music culture (2018's blues-focused debut, Nameless, and 2019's Juno Award-winning jazz record, Stay Tuned!, which explored the civil rights movement), making this trio of releases one of the most ambitious debut projects by any Canadian musician ever. — AW

Artist: Vince the Messenger
Album: Trustfall
Release date: March

We previewed Vince the Messenger's upcoming album in the fall, but like many things this year it's been pushed a little further down the road. We're still looking forward to the Charlottetown rapper's followup to his award-winning debut album, 2018's Self Sabotage, this time building 13 tracks with addictive loops and beats all sandwiched between a moody intro and outro that feel like allusions to his previous release and whatever his future holds. In the meantime, Vince has released "Ash it Away" on Bandcamp (produced by fellow Islander Niimo), a short, downtempo single that alludes to his commitment to his music ("Didn't let it up when it's calm, cause I gotta steer my fate") and his ability to look inward and re-assess ("I fled to my roots cause them branches would sway/ breeze ain't shoot straight dog, it led me astray"). We're ready to hear what he has to say for 2021. — HG

Vince the Messenger Live Performance + Interview | The Intro

3 years ago
Duration 10:43
Vince the Messenger is a talented, and versatile musician at the forefront of Charlottetown’s hip hop scene.

Artist: Sluice
Album: Le succès par le travail
Release date: April 30

"I used to be afraid to speak French, even ashamed sometimes," admits Trevor Murphy, whose new francophone project, Sluice, is gaining momentum with two recent singles and a debut album on its way. "Even though I spoke the language every day, we grew up with an understanding that the Acadian dialect just wasn't 'good enough' or 'proper French.'" Now, Murphy's not only embracing his linguistic heritage but celebrating it with his guitar-driven, energetic punk pop. "Et le ruisseau a seché c't'année," he sings in the chorus of "Le ruisseau," staying true to his dialect, "le ruisseau coule plus astheure." Drawing on the local lore of Murphy's Par-en-Bas region of Nova Scotia for thematic material, this is music as microhistory — and we're eager to learn more.— RR 

Artist: Naya Ali
Album: Godspeed
Release date: spring 2021

This year, Montreal-based Ethiopian rapper Naya Ali released her debut album, Godspeed: Baptism (prelude). But just as the title suggests, that was only part of the story. Godspeed: Baptism (prelude) is one-half of a two-part release, while the second half is expected to drop next spring. From what we gathered in the first half though, Ali is brimming with musical ideas: cut-throat rapping that seamlessly transitions into more melodic hooks, beats that feel tough yet soulful, and even glimmers of more pop-oriented dance moments. Godspeed: Baptism (prelude) had us hooked, and we can't wait to see where it goes next. — ML

Artist: Backxwash
Album: TBA
Release date: May 28

Montreal rapper Backxwash had a breakout 2020, but that momentum is only going to continue picking up more steam in the new year. Fresh off her Polaris Music Prize win for God Has Nothing to do With This Leave Him out of It, the metal/hip-hop hybrid artist/producer wasn't even done processing her monumental achievement before announcing that more music was on the way. "I think my album will be pushed to the summer of next year," she revealed to fans, hinting that an earlier release date was scheduled. But if you follow the rising star on Twitter — and we very much recommend you do for her fantastic music commentary — Backxwash is keeping fans updated on every step of her process, including announcing a new release date recently (May 28) and this exciting insight into what we can expect: "Next album will be my yeezus just in terms of sound." — ML

Artist: Hillsburn
Album: Slipping Away
Release date: TBA

It's been five years and two full-length albums since Hillsburn's "Farther in the Fire" Searchlight days, and this summer the band went through a major change: founding member Paul Aarntzen left the quintet, leaving siblings Rosanna and Clayton Burrill, Clare Macdonald and Jackson Fairfax-Perry with the decision of whether to continue. Sitting on a fully recorded album — worked on for nearly a full year leading up to the pandemic and made in Vancouver with Grammy-nominated producer Howard Redekopp (who worked on Tegan and Sara's So Jealous and Sainthood albums) they decided to readjust and move forward, stretching to fill unfamiliar roles. Slipping Away sees the band using more synth alongside a healthy dose of gang vocals, and the Hillsburn hooks are just as sharp as ever — and the band's heart is just as big. It sounds like they're right where they're meant to be. — HG

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA

When the pandemic forced the world to hit pause, Montreal rock band Arcade Fire was in the middle of writing and recording its followup to 2017's Everything Now. But instead of packing things up, the band kept working. The result is, according to lead singer Win Butler, "two or three" albums' worth of music. "Once your body's already going, there's no stopping it," Butler told producer Rick Rubin on an episode of the Broken Record podcast, "so I've just been writing. I can't remember a time when I've written more." With any luck, these projects will begin to roll out as early as next year. — ML

Artist: Haviah Mighty
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA

Toronto rapper Haviah Mighty set the bar pretty high with her 2019 debut album, 13th Floor. That release won the Polaris Music Prize and landed on numerous year-end lists (including the number 1 spot on CBC Music's best albums of 2019), but instead of taking time off to soak in her success, Mighty has continued to power ahead with more music. A few new singles and a standout feature on Tobi's star-studded "24 (Toronto Remix)" has kept fans satisfied throughout 2020, but next year will hopefully mark Mighty's highly-anticipated sophomore release. — ML

Artist: Lowell
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA 

Toronto singer-songwriter Lowell has had a bit of a stop-and-go career over the past six years. In 2014, Lowell released her debut album, We Loved Her Dearly, a daring pop collection that carved out a sound and identity all her own, much like pop contemporaries Grimes and Charli XCX. But soon after the album's release, she moved to Los Angeles to focus on songwriting for others, penning hits for Demi Lovato, Charlie Puth and Lennon Stella. In the years since, she's continued to balance both, quietly releasing a follow-up album in 2018. Next year, Lowell will return with her third full-length record. From the singles we've heard so far, Lowell has pared down her pop tendencies in favour of R&B-inspired piano ballads, like the ode to toxic positivity, "Lemonade." It's an unexpected new direction, but one that signifies an exciting metamorphosis into the next stage in her already long and accomplished career. — ML

Artist: Brittany Kennell
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA

Country artist Brittany Kennell's debut EP has been a long time in the making. A decade ago, the Quebec-born singer-songwriter did what many have done before her: move to Nashville to kick-start her career. During that time, she found herself on NBC's competition series The Voice as the only Canadian to ever compete. In the end, neither Nashville nor The Voice worked out, but Kennell has since relocated to Montreal and released a string of successful singles including "Eat Drink Remarry" and "You Don't Get Me Stoned." Having earned prominent spots on playlists everywhere, including Shania Twain's personal favourites, Kennell's optimistic and determined style of songwriting is empowering and catchy, a winning formula that we can't wait to hear more of. — ML

Artist: Le Ren
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA

In 2019, some were introduced to Montreal-based musician Le Ren (real name Lauren Spear) when she opened for Orville Peck on his national tour. This year, Spear released a four-song EP called Morning & Melancholia, 13 minutes of heartwrenching folk songs that feel intrinsically tied to the styles of songwriting icons like Joni Mitchell, John Prine and Neil Young. With a voice that feels intimate and familiar, Spear creates music that may sound comforting but upon further inspection is filled with devastation. With the past two years serving as the buildup, 2021 is primed to be Le Ren's breakthrough year with the release of her debut album. — ML