Fall 2019 guide: 17 albums you need to hear

From Tegan and Sara to Riit to T. Thomason, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on this season.

From Tegan and Sara to Riit to T. Thomason, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on this season

It's always difficult to transition out of summer, slowly loosening our grip on the season that brings all the Vitamin D we could possibly want. But fall is a special time all its own, one of getting back into the swing of things and zeroing in on what needs to be done before year's end. Luckily, with all that fall expectation comes a host of new music to keep you motivated.

As we enter this beloved season of layering, we wanted to dig deep into the albums we're most excited to hear. From Tegan and Sara to Riit, Devarrow to Patrick Watson, Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà to Cartel Madras, we're here to guide you through the Canadian albums you need to hear this fall.

Did we miss something? Let us know via @CBCMusic

Artist: T. Thomason 
Album: T. Thomason
Release date: Sept. 25

Even though Halifax-raised, Toronto-based musician T. Thomason has released records in the past, his upcoming self-titled album will act as a debut of sorts as it will be the first under his new name. Thomason came out as transgender in 2015 and has been sharing his journey of transformation with his fans over the years, but T. Thomason will finally give him the chance to dig deeper into his story through his music. Teaming up with producer Dave Henriques, who produced Thomason's 2016 EP, Sweet Baby, and has worked with Justin Nozuka and Iskwé, Thomason promises a more polished pop sound with this self-titled release, one that listeners got a taste of on his The Launch-winning single, "Hope," as well as his recent track, "Pleasure." 

"T. Thomason is the result of four years of collaboration ... four years of growing and learning, massive change  yet many things unchanging, unconditional," Thomason said in a press release, of his working relationship with Henriques. "Though our experiences are vastly different, Dave was the best collaborator and witness to all of this that I could have asked for. The record is a snapshot of the ups and downs of chasing dreams which seemed completely impossible at times, coming to self-determination and the freedom it brings, and being faced with the beautiful/ugly realities of the worlds we find ourselves part of. I am so grateful to have a document of this time. I became T. Thomason as this record was made." 

—  Melody Lau

Artist: Tegan and Sara
Album: Hey, I'm Just Like You
Release date: Sept. 27

While writing their upcoming memoir, High School, Tegan and Sara had to dig through their past a lot. What the twin sister duo found were photos, memories and experiences of their most formative years, but they also stumbled upon many lost cassette tapes of songs they wrote when they were teenagers. Hey, I'm Just Like You, a companion to their new book, finds Tegan and Sara revisiting those tapes and reworking them to fuse together their punk-rock roots with the pristine pop aesthetics they've mastered in recent years. "This is the record we never could have made as teenagers, full of songs we never could have written as adults," Tegan and Sara said in a statement. It's an exciting experiment that we can't wait to hear. —  ML

Artist: Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà
Album: Pulsations
Release date: Oct. 4

Violinist Angèle Dubeau and her all-woman chamber orchestra, La Pietà, have carved out a niche for themselves as Canada's most ardent proponents of the so-called post-minimalist composers. With Pulsations, due out Oct. 4 on Analekta Records, they not only delve deeper into the catalogues of favourites Max Richter and Ludovico Einaudi, but also expand to include other popular post-minimalists and film composers such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Alex Baranowski, Yann Tiersen and Canada's Jean-Michel Blais. It's effusive, emotional music that really benefits from the rigour and respect that Dubeau and La Pietà bring to it. A project with huge crossover potential.

—  Robert Rowat

Artist: Devarrow
Album: Devarrow
Release date: Oct. 4

The opening track on Devarrow's self-titled album begins with a deep intake of breath, a steadying for a song that begins with calm strumming and builds to the near-frantic closing lyrics, "I don't know what's true … heart attack in the middle of the night/ even though my heart's all right/ I don't know what the hell I'm gonna do." The words tumble out of Graham Ereaux, a.k.a. Devarrow, conveying a feeling of dread that is achingly familiar.

Devarrow sees Ereaux pushing the boundaries of folk — recording sounds on his phone and laptop to incorporate his daily devices into the process — while examining modern-day anxieties like loneliness, aging and technological pressures. Despite that heavy pull of how to find balance — and peace — in a modern world, Devarrow is playful and cheeky, with the palpable inspiration of Neil Young and Fleet Foxes on such tracks as "Unwired" and "Heart Attack." Recorded with Halifax bandmates Evan Matthews (percussion), Peter Gillis (bass) and Daniel Crowther (guitar), Devarrow is technically Ereaux's second album, but his first on Paper Bag Records — and it's the perfect re-introduction to an artist just finding his footing in Canada's folk canon.

—  Holly Gordon

Artist: City and Colour
Album: A Pill for Loneliness
Release date: Oct. 4

After spending the summer touring with Alexisonfire, Dallas Green is using the fall to refocus on his City and Colour solo project. A Pill for Loneliness will be Green's sixth solo album and his first since 2015's If I Should go Before You. "I wrote a lot of dark songs and wrapped them in the most beautiful sounds we could find," Green said in a statement about the upcoming release. "There are personal connotations, but they're also relatable. I'm thankful for the opportunity to create." So far, he has released three singles: album opener "Living in Lightning," "Strangers" and the sprawling six-minute "Astronaut," which ignites into a searing, fuzzed-out instrumental breakdown in its final moments, a highlight that leaves us wanting more. — ML

Artist: Lightning Dust
Album: Spectre
Release date: Oct. 4

On Lightning Dust's forthcoming album, Spectre, lead singer-songwriter Amber Webber is stepping into the spotlight in her own way, by her own design, an agent of her own change. Webber and Lightning Dust bandmate Josh Wells both walked away from their other band, Stephen McBean's psych-rock outfit Black Mountain, in 2017. Webber returned to school and considered a different kind of life, but it didn't stick. Instead, "it made me realize that art and music are still my light," Webber said via press release. "Spectre is my journey. It's for all the women warriors that have been battling throughout life looking for a place to express themselves that feels inclusive and inspiring. It's about finding yourself when no one is paying attention and inventing a new way of creating that feels honest and sincere. I truly feel that women, especially as we age, are underrepresented. That was truly the driving force to creating this album."

The result is Webber at her most raw, wry and wise, her voice captivating and flawless whether upbeat and aggressive ("Run Away", "Competitive Depression") or dreamy ("Led Astray", "More"). The guitars are mournful and urgent, electric riffs and fuzz agitating against spare acoustic strings. Synths bridge decades of influence in single songs, filling in the space between genres to craft a complicated rock album that's breathtakingly expansive. From the creeping, atmospheric opener "Devoted To" to the soaring, orchestral "Joanna" to the album's wild, seven-minute-long closer, "3am/100 Degrees" this is Lightning Dust at its most evocative and daring, and a standout showcase for Webber. 

—  Andrea Warner

Artist: Patrick Watson
Album: Wave
Release date: Oct. 18

Normally dreams are a comfort, a place to find solace, hope or even a map for the future. But when Patrick Watson asks, "Don't you wish that we were just dreaming?" he wants to get out, to bring himself out of a reality he didn't expect. Having written Wave during a period where he lost his mother and separated from his partner, it's clearer as to why the Montreal singer-songwriter asks to be woken up alongside the swell of a string section on opening track "Dream for Dreaming."

Performed and recorded with Watson's full band (Joe Grass on guitar, Evan Tighe on drums, Mishka Stein on bass), Wave is part confession, part rebirth, landing softly on album closer "Here Comes the River," a beautiful piano-and-string ballad, a crack in Watson's voice just audible over the keys halfway through. While melancholy seeps from the front half of Wave, the feeling of being submerged underwater clears as Watson emerges from the back half with an eye to — and a hope for — the future. —  HG

Artist: Sorrey
Album: In Full Bloom
Release date: Oct. 18

Sorrey's full-length debut album starts with a melancholic sweetness on "Baby," Emilee Sorrey's voice ringing clearly over the strum of her guitar as she sets the scene for a love that has ended, but still pulls. It's a love that's central to In Full Bloom, a cohesively stunning dream-pop album that borderlines as a concept record, all of its songs easily standing alone but together laying out a narrative that flows from the heady days of being in love to the jarring reality of a relationship you can no longer uphold. "Everything's easy/ everything's hard/ tried to build a mansion but we built a house of cards," Sorrey sings on the chorus of "Recalibrate" over a layering of guitar, drums and keys, silencing them in the back half of the song to rebuild each part as she repeats the standout line "recalibrating hearts."

Recorded, mixed and mastered on Prince Edward Island where Sorrey and bandmates Colin Buchanan (bass), Andrew Murray (guitar), Bruce Rooney (keys) and Luke Pound (drums) are from In Full Bloom really is the perfect recalibration for this season, marking Sorrey as a must-watch band that we'll be listening to for years of love's unpredictable phases.  HG

Artist: nêhiyawak 
Album: nipiy 
Release date: Oct. 24

Since the release of the band's excellent 2018 breakthrough EP, starlight, there's been substantial buzz about nêhiyawak's full-length debut. Comprising three Indigenous artists — Kris Harper (vocals, guitars), Marek Tyler (drums) and Matthew Cardinal (synths, bass) — the group is based in amiskwaciy (Edmonton) on Treaty 6 territory. They've taken their inspiration for nipiy, which means water, from the Idle No More movement, and most of the songs from starlight have found a second life on nipiy's tracklist. The result, from what we've heard, is a psychedelic-rock record that exceeds its hype by defying convention and building up and out from a foundation of family and Elder teachings, honouring the connections and relationships between everything from the Sixties Scoop to the flow and pace of the kisiskâciwanisîpiy (North Saskatchewan River). 

Consider the first official single from nipiy, "ôtênaw," a beautiful song evocative of urbanity, and appropriately so, given that its title translates as "city." The sonic landscape swallows the listener in a crush of guitars, drums and synths like a swarm of people taking to the streets, and you're as whole as you've ever been, but also sharply, achingly alone, just one in a crowd. This is a bold debut that's as inspired as it is empowering. — AW

Artist: Gabrielle Papillon
Album: Shout
Release date: Oct. 25

"I don't want to go to bed/ I don't want to be alone," confesses Gabrielle Papillon on the opening track of Shout, her upcoming and seventh full-length album. It's a raw start, the percussion and keys swelling and ebbing in a pattern familiar with doubt's insistence. The followup to 2017's Keep the Fire, Shout is "deeply personal," says Papillon, as she delves further into the art-pop realm that's so far brought us "Shout it Out" — recently nominated for a Music Nova Scotia Award — and "What do I Know."

Through Shout's seven tracks, we accompany the Halifax singer-songwriter as she emerges from that early doubt: "I made this record to share with the ones who are itching to bust out of their shells, of the boxes other people have fitted for them," she says. "For the awkward dancers, and the crowd-averse. For everyone who ever does anything brave even when it is hard." On Shout, it feels like Papillon has broken free into a new sound, and a new sureness of self — giving us a possible blueprint for how to rally ourselves for change, too. —  HG

Artist: Riit
Album: ataataga
Release date: Oct. 25

Riit's long-awaited debut, ataataga, is electro-art-pop at its most dazzling. Every song shimmers: the refracted dance of sunlight kissing snow; frozen lakes like mirrors, moonlight filling up the night sky. From the album's eponymous opener, Riit envelops the listener in a sonic landscape that juxtaposes her history, traditions and cultural practice with futurist, club-ready beats and synth-pop flourishes, offering stunning original compositions and a few skilfully re-imagined covers of beloved Nunavut songwriters. 

Throughout ataataga, Riit sings in Inuktitut, and on many tracks she literally makes space for her contemporaries, sharing songs that speak to #MeToo ("#uvangattauq," an empowering and urgent duet featuring Zaki Ibrahim), heartbreak (the call-and-answer ache of "qujana" featuring Josh Q), and resilience (the meditative drone and lushly reverent "uqausissaka" featuring Elisapie). The album's first single, "qaumajuapik," is particularly mesmerizing. The warm digital bass vibrates against backbeats of throat singing, an organic hush of tension against the percussive electro elements. It's intense and intoxicating, and a perfect introduction to Riit's wildly enchanting world. — AW

Artists: Land's End Ensemble
Album: Kickin' It 2.0
Release date: Oct. 25

Calgary's Land's End Ensemble will continue its promulgation of contemporary Canadian music with Centredic's release of Kickin' It 2.0, featuring recent works by Derek Charke, Omar Daniel, Analía Llugdar and Land End's artistic director, Vincent Ho, composer of the four-movement piece that gives the album its title. Karl Hirzer conducts the latter. The group's usual roster — violinist John Lowry, cellist Beth Root Sandvoss and pianist Susanne Ruberg-Gordon — is expanded for the occasion to include percussionist Ben Reimer, who made such an impression last year on Nicole Lizée's Juno-nominated Katana of Choice. Expect polished, impassioned performances, and prepare to be engrossed by this sampling of exciting new Canadian works. — RR

Artists: Stick & Bow
Album: Resonance
Release date: Nov. 1

Stick & Bow is the Montreal duo of cellist Juan Sebastien Delgado and marimbist Krystina Marcoux, and they're going to kick off their upcoming tour of Quebec and the Maritimes with the release of their debut album, Resonance, on Leaf Music. Here, the musicians perform fun arrangements of a wide range of music, from a jazzy take on the D major Prelude from book 1 of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier to a tango-infused version of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," by way of Luigi Boccherini, Béla Bartók, Robert Schumann, Paco de Lucía, Nina Simone and others. They also play a suite composed for them by Jason Noble. It's an interesting sound-world that's been beautifully captured by the recording team. If you can't catch Stick & Bow on tour, don't miss their new record. — RR

Juan Sebastian Delgado (left) holds a doctoral degree in cello performance from McGill University and Krystina Marcoux was 1st-prize winner at the 2012 OSM competition. Together they are Stick & Bow. (Annie Éthier)

Artist: Cartel Madras
Album: Age of the Goonda
Release date: Nov. 1

Canadian rap is often centered in Toronto, but there is something exciting brewing in Calgary. Meet Cartel Madras, a Desi sister duo that's combining trap, punk, house and South Indian aesthetics to create a new genre called "goonda rap." (In India, "goonda" is a word used to mean "thug.") The result is assertive and in-your-face. They're a radical act that promotes inclusivity and a space for queer and brown voices, and they want to have a fun time while doing it. Their latest single and video for "Lil Pump Type Beat" is the perfect example of this: a high-octane flow crammed into two minutes as members Eboshi and Contra command a room full of shirtless men. They are the ones in control, the ringleaders of their own circus. Age of the Goonda is Cartel Madras's second EP, and its first on American label Sub Pop, which is also home to other Calgary artists such as Chad VanGaalen and Chixdiggit. —  ML

Artist: Half Moon Run
Album: Blemish in the Great Light
Release date: Nov. 1

On Nov. 1, Half Moon Run will return with Blemish in the Great Light, the Montreal indie rock band's third and fullest-sounding album yet. Half Moon Run's new collection seems to pull influence from songwriting greats like Neil Young, Michael Stipe, the Shins and Todd Rundgren in its varied mix of soulful ballads and jangly anthems, uplifting Devon Portielje's unmistakable howl on each of its 10 tracks. Whether listening to the characteristically upbeat "Favourite Boy," the golden, country-infused "Black Diamond" or haunting the piano interlude "Undercurrent," it's clear that the band's four-year break and stylistic experimentation have served it well.

—  Jess Huddleston

Artist: iskwē
Album: acākosīk
Release date: Nov. 8

On her exhilarating and bracing new album, acākosīk, iskwē infuses her expansive and bombastic electro-alt-rock with big drums, percussive synths and samples of powwow singers, including Eddy Robinson, Gary Parker, Gabe Gaudet, Nathan Roy, Elijah Stevens and Thunder Jack. There's also a song featuring the incomparable Tanya Tagaq. 

Iskwē has released three music videos so far in support of the record's singles, and each track is its own little fire. The urgent and haunting "Little Star" is an elegy for Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, and an indictment of the colonial violence and systemic racism that resulted in their murders. "Breaking Down" is a stomping, beat-driven anthem of resilience and reclamation with big drums and side calls by Matthew Stevens, Joseph Nimkii Ozaawaamick, Josy Thomas, John Miigwans Snake and Kyle BIgcanoe. The newest single is the lilting, lovely "Sweet Tuesday," a heartbreaking beauty of a farewell to a friend passing on to the next world after a long fight with cancer. "I'll stay until it's over," iskwē promises again and again, her voice breaking as the end nears. — AW

Artist: Louise Burns
Album: Portraits
Release date: Nov. 8

We were pretty taken by Louise Burns' single "Just Walk Away" when it was released earlier this summer, revealing a bolder pop sound from the Vancouver-based singer and a flip-off attitude that felt perfect for the simmering season. That sound holds true to Portraits, Burns' fourth full-length out this fall and first album that she's produced for herself, which features guests such as Damian Taylor (Arcade Fire, the Killers), Stint (Carly Rae Jepsen, Santigold), Jasper Leak (Sia) and Hannah Georgas. For the writing of Portraits, Burns returned to Los Angeles, where she first started in the '90s as bassist for teen pop band Lillix. 

The album title feels apt for 10 tracks that have Burns looking back, reframing herself and her sound 20 years later while taking the helm in all aspects of production. "L.A. is a very specific place for me," Burns explained via statement. "It reminds me of some really bittersweet memories — some really happy ones and some really awful ones. This record was about embracing my past rather than trying to hide it or be self-deprecating." She's having some fun with it, too: closing track "Sky (Every Album Needs a Ballad)" is a tongue-in-cheek slow song that would slide perfectly into the Stranger Things soundtrack.
 —  HG