Fall 2020 guide: 26 albums you need to hear

From Gord Downie to Diana Krall to Pierre Kwenders and Clément Bazin, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on

From Gord Downie to Diana Krall to Pierre Kwenders, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on

Diana Krall, Beverly Glenn-Copeland and the late Gord Downie all have must-hear albums coming out this season. ((Getty Images; courtesy; design by CBC Music))

Sweater weather has arrived, which brings with it another cozy assurance: a slew of great fall albums.

This fall is different from most, of course. We're heading into the third seasonal turn of the COVID-19 pandemic, and dealing with what that means depending on where we live. Countries continue to reckon with their histories of racism, especially toward Black and Indigenous people. People are grieving for hundreds of reasons. And one thing remains certain: we need art.

With the fall equinox here, we're digging into 26 upcoming Canadian albums that we think you'll love, all below in chronological release order. What new records are you looking forward to? Share with us @CBCMusic.   

Artist: Beverly Glenn Copeland
Album: Transmissions
Release date: Sept. 25

Canadian national treasure Beverly Glenn-Copeland recently told the New York Times that he never sought fame, but only to share his music with the world. While it took decades for Glenn-Copeland's '70s and '80s folk and new-age recordings to find audiences, let alone the critical acclaim they currently hold, the 76-year-old artist's goal is being realized as he embarks on what feels like the most promising journey yet: delivery of his forthcoming, career-spanning collection titled Transmissions. Timing, and the surrender to whatever mystical force decides it, has been a hallmark of Glenn-Copeland's fascinating trajectory. And with the release of Transmissions, on which the lead single, "River Dreams," is his first in 16 years, it feels as if we might finally, truly meet Beverly Glenn-Copeland — not in bits and pieces, not as something long overdue, but holistically, as an artist who has been ready for this since the beginning. — Jess Huddleston

Artist: Yves Jarvis
Album: Sundry Rock Song Stock
Release date: Sept. 25

Yves Jarvis possesses that distinct ability to convey space and silence within a song where, sonically and otherwise, quite a bit is happening. Sufjan Stevens, Billie Eilish and Ben Howard have also mastered this craft, and listening to the first singles off Jarvis's forthcoming album, Sundry Rock Song Stock (mainly, the mesmerizing "Semula"), it's clear that Jarvis has reserved pockets of soothing sparseness for really feeling what's washing over you. Undoubtedly one of Canada's most underrated singer-songwriters, this kind of autumnal, progressive folk is hard to do well (and differently), but is majorly welcome as the country cools off, reflects on a summer gone by and figures out its next steps. — JH

Artist: Diana Krall
Album: This Dream of You
Release date: Sept. 25

Diana Krall recorded these songs with her longtime creative partner, Tommy LiPuma, before the famed producer died on March 13, 2017, at the age of 80. Though LiPuma worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Barbra Streisand to Paul McCartney, his relationship with Krall was special. Over the course of more than 20 years, they recorded 11 albums, with Krall and LiPuma eventually co-producing together. Krall is the sole producer of This Dream of You, which takes its name from the album's ninth song, the Bob Dylan classic. And though the tracklist is definitely eclectic — a torch take on Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean," a flawless rendition of the jazz standard "I Wished on the Moon" — Krall is quick to stave off any misconceptions about This Dream of You: she describes the collection  as a "long-playing record" that's "very far from a record of outtakes or unfinished music." In fact, she considers This Dream of You to be "more the arc of a film," with bookends: "But  Beautiful," the opener, as the "overture," and closer "Singin' in the Rain" as the "end title." — Andrea Warner

Artist: Marie Davidson & L'Œil Nu
Album: Renegade Breakdown
Release date: Sept. 25

"Expect no collaboration," Marie Davidson deadpans in the middle of her latest track, "Renegade Breakdown." Of course, those tuning in to the track will know that Davidson's latest project is a collaborative effort between her Essaie pas partner (and real-life husband) Pierre Guerineau and Montreal artist Asaël R. Robitaille, but Davidson's dark humour is always a key ingredient to anything she puts out. Which leads us to Renegade Breakdown, her still dance-oriented followup to a phase in her career that was defined as a "retirement from club music." Here, the trio operates more like a band, incorporating thick bass lines and wailing guitars fit for a metal band into disco and Daft Punk-inspired music. In a press release, Davidson and L'Œil Nu also list Fleetwood Mac, Kraftwerk, Billie Holiday and Mylène Farmer as inspirations for the album — an eclectic mix that sounds disparate on paper, but in the hands of Davidson and L'Œil Nu it will surely be magical and transformative. — Melody Lau 

Artist: Angela Hewitt
Album: Beethoven Variations
Release date: Oct. 2

Angela Hewitt plays 7 sets of variations by Beethoven on her next album, due out Oct. 2. (Hyperion Records)

It was at the conclusion of the recording sessions for this album, held last January at Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin, when movers accidentally dropped and destroyed Angela Hewitt's Fazioli F278 concert grand piano, causing her great distress. So it's especially poignant to hear it sounding so beautifully on this collection of variations, a fun detour while we await the final instalment of her Beethoven sonata cycle for Hyperion Records. Don't make the mistake of dismissing these variations as mere showpieces. There is in fact much to admire in their inventiveness, with contrasting moments of tenderness, despair and fury amidst all the humour and pizzazz. The centrepiece is the Eroica Variations, Op. 35, with smaller sets rounding out the program, including Beethoven's variations on "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the Queen." Hyperion has chosen it as its record of the month. — Robert Rowat

Artist: Owen Meany's Batting Stance
Album: Feather Weights
Release date: Oct. 2

Owen Meany's athletic ability is not the focus of John Irving's 1989 novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, but when Halifax singer-songwriter Daniel Walker named his band Owen Meany's Batting Stance, he built a knowing literary wink into his catalogue. That lyrical cleverness is at the heart of Feather Weights, the debut full-length from Owen Meany's Batting Stance, and the followup to the band's 2016, self-titled debut EP. Kicking off with a folk song about hockey's toxic masculinity ("A mad scientist experiments with mice/ to perform gender on the ice," Walker sings on "The Androgynous Hockey Stick") all the way through to the closing, choral heartbreak of "Breakfast Again," Walker is conversational in tone while digging deep in feeling, his carefully and unexpectedly structured vignettes breathed to life by a full band that includes bassist Cailen Alcorn Pygott and keyboardist Siobhan Martin, with helping hands from drummer Michael Belyea and singers Kim Harris and Emilee Sorrey (of P.E.I. band Sorrey). An extra nice touch: some perfectly placed trumpeting by Daniel Ledwell. — Holly Gordon

Artist: Mathieu Gaudet
Album: Schubert: the Power of Fate
Release date: Oct. 9 

Mathieu Gaudet's discography now comprises 6 titles on Analekta. (Analekta Records)

In addition to being a wonderful classical pianist, Mathieu Gaudet is an emergency room doctor in Cowansville, Que. In June, at the height of this pandemic, he somehow found time to record Vol. 3 in his ongoing Schubert cycle for Analekta Records at Palais Montcalm in Quebec City. (Volumes 1 and 2 were titled The First Romantic and Late Inspirations, respectively.)

On this instalment, he plays two sonatas — E-flat Major, D. 568, and A Minor, D. 845, which are often paired on records despite their distant key relationship. Together, they reveal, in Gaudet's words, "a soul whose fragility nonetheless bore a creative power that continues to astonish to this day." Expect a performance informed by intelligence, secure technique and a humble respect for the score. — RR

Artist: Okan
Album: Espiral
Release date: Oct. 9

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne called their band Okan, which comes from the word for heart or soul in Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion — and that "okan" is the driving force behind the partners' forthcoming album, Espiral, the astonishing followup to their Juno-nominated 2019 debut, Sombras. Over the course of nine songs, Rodriguez and Savigne explore their Cuban roots, fusing their history and culture into arrangements that push Latin jazz into new and unexpected territories. On "Mercedes," Okan collaborates with Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz, using elements of an almost extinct Cuban music rhythm called Pilón. Rodriguez and Savigne also focus the bulk of their lyrics on songs that celebrate "the strength of women." The record is just 35 minutes long, and it's lush and vibrant, urgent but specific and deeply intentional. It's a glowing testament to Rodriguez and Savigne's musicianship (they're multi-instrumentalists and vocalists), the creative force of their compositions and the power of their partnership. — AW

Artist: Bahamas
Album: Sad Hunk
Release date: Oct. 9

Afie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, is one of Canada's most consistent songwriters and a skilled guitarist to boot. Each release of his builds on the simple foundation of a memorable riff and earnest lyrics, always resulting in something that is simultaneously intimate and grandiose. His followup to 2018's Earthtones, which earned engineers Robbie Lackritz and Philip Shaw Bova a Grammy nomination, gets its title from a nickname that Jurvanen's wife bestowed on him in reaction to the way he was portrayed by the media. There's a wink of humour to it, but in some ways, it's also true. Bahamas' songs have always tackled heavy subjects, but are also often given a levity that feels soothing even if Jurvanen doesn't have all the answers to life's questions like, "Is there some trick to being happy?," which he ponders on Sad Hunk's album opener, "Trick to Happy." There is likely no trick, but Sad Hunk is here to provide temporary commiseration. — ML

Artist: Jeen
Album: Jeen
Release date: Oct. 9

A flood of distortion and longing open up Jeen's forthcoming self-titled album. Depending on where you're at emotionally and mentally, be prepared for the tears to prick the back of your eyes as Jeen brings her opening track, "Friends," to a devastating close with the line, "All of my friends that I haven't seen in a while/ and all my friends that I only met right now/ because you know this is the only hope for me." The record's debut single, "Anything You Want," is urgent and arresting, and also a little familiar. It's an eclectic evocation of some of the best bands of the last few decades — Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Mazzy Star and the Cranberries echo throughout — but Jeen never lets the song get away from her. In fact, every song on the record, from the thrashing rock of "For Your Love" to the bouncing indie pop of "Deep End," highlights different facets of Jeen's artistry. It feels like a musician re-introducing herself to the world, fully stepping into her own creative power. This is one of the great things about an artist arriving at their eponymous album a bit further along in their career: it's a declaration to put your name on something, to make yourself the titular figure in your own discography. — AW

Artist: Mise en Scene
Album: Winnipeg, California
Release date: Oct. 9

Manitoba grunge-pop duo Mise en Scene is back this fall with its third album, and if this release doesn't alert the rest of Canada to its talent, we're not sure what will. Guitarist/vocalist Stef Johnson and drummer Jodi Dunlop lean into their sense of humour on the cheekily titled Winnipeg, California, but there's nothing lighthearted about their skill: Johnson and Dunlop have crafted grungy slow burns ("Dollar Dreams") and blistering punk-rock numbers ("Love and War") that will have you yearning for a live show. Produced by Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Arkells) and Dave Genn (54-40, Marianas Trench), Winnipeg, California is full of riffs and big-hearted feelings — which Johnson and Dunlop perfectly showcase in their brand new, scrunchy-filled video for single "High School Feeling." — HG

Artist: Gord Downie
Album: Away in Mine 
Release Date: Oct. 16

When Gord Downie received his diagnosis at the end of 2015 for an incurable form of brain cancer, he got to work. In the time before his death in 2017, the legendary Tragically Hip frontman toured the country, as well as recorded two solo projects, Introduce Yerself and Secret Path. Little did we know that he also recorded songs for a third album, his final farewell. Called Away is Mine, it will feature a collection of 10 new songs written and recorded in the summer of 2017 at the Tragically Hip's storied studio in Bath, Ont. On top of that, each song is presented in both an electric and acoustic version. On it, we hear Downie staring down his immortality like never before, an affecting, poignant final statement from a man who was so good at seizing the moment. For more on the album, click here— Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Artist: Jennifer Castle
Album: Monarch Season
Release date: Oct. 16

Jennifer Castle's upcoming sixth album, Monarch Season, begins with the sigh of Lake Erie, just before a tone-setting guitar instrumental takes hold. Titled "Theory Rest," the opening track feels literal, laying preconceptions to rest before moving to a clean slate. For Castle, that clean slate is an album written and recorded more sparsely than anything else she's created, but in leaving that space she has made so much room for natural sound and the character of her location — and spirit — to seep through.

Recorded alone in her "quiet coastal kitchen in Ontario, windows open to the insects and the wind and the reflection of the moon," according to the press release, Monarch Season came to fruition pre-pandemic but feels perfectly captured for this time. Castle's harmonica is a pleasant surprise, punctuating a handful of songs and giving the illusion of a much older folk record. On "Justice," a protest anthem, Castle floats a question into the air: "Justice, my sister/ I need you, this very hour/ where are you?" The singer told the Fader that it's a song about the expectations of motherhood — "The world looks to mothers as a symbol of hope and strength. This song is by them, for them. And for all the people, young or old, who might need it," she said — though it feels rooted in the injustices that 2020 keeps serving. Amid the crickets, the waves and the moonlight, you can take solace in Monarch Season— HG

Artist: Helena Deland
Album: Someone New
Release date: Oct. 16

A debut album from Helena Deland is the precious gem we've been waiting for. The Montreal singer released four short volumes of EPs in 2018 under the series name Altogether Unaccompanied, the title a nod to each release standing in solitude, offering glimpses of Deland's formation as a songwriter. On those songs, Deland twirled indie rock, pop, synth and folk around her finger, stretching their boundaries with every note. Now, with Someone New, her voice feels settled in, whether it's over the sparse beginnings of the title track, the chugging guitar of "Truth Nugget" or the dreamy, lullaby-like "Lylz." Deland continues to show off her chameleonic nature on Someone New, blending her tonally soothing guitar work with synth-pop and folk elements. The album was written over a two-year period, and as a debut it literally introduces us to "someone new," though, as Deland describes in a press release, the title track "ambivalently celebrates and condemns the idea of being in one's 'prime,' as it is so rare that youth and self-understanding are simultaneous." Deland will likely be introducing us to someone new with every album to come. — HG

Artist: Pup 
Album: This Place Sucks Ass
Release date: Oct. 23

Not ones to sugarcoat the bleakness of life, Toronto punk-rockers Pup return with the aptly titled EP This Place Sucks Ass. Although the place isn't specified, it can be deduced that this hellish spot the band speaks of is a place of their own making, as singer Stefan Babcock admits on "Rot": "I self-sabotage." But Pup doesn't dwell on things too heavily. Instead, the band members stare straight into the darkest parts of themselves in order to find the light and catharsis. Pup's thrashing, cacophonic melodies (this EP also includes the previously released "Anaphylaxis" and their Grandaddy cover of "A.M. 180") are the soundtrack of that journey, of crawling out of a place that sucks into a place that is hopefully a little less sucky. — ML

Artist: Pierre Kwenders and Clément Bazin
Album: Classe Tendresse
Release date: Oct. 23

This new four-song EP is a collaboration between Congolese-Canadian singer-songwriter/pop artist Pierre Kwenders and Parisian electronic artist Clément Bazin. The sole single (so far) is the almost hypnotic "Sentiment." "It's my love anthem with a prompt to 'coupé décalé' carried by a simple message: One love, Moko feeling!" Kwenders said in a press release. "Sentiment" revels in momentum and repetition, digital flourishes countered by flesh-and-blood harmonies. Classe Tendresse promises four original songs tracking one's life, from infancy to old age, evoking the joy, turmoil, tragedy and hope that helps define the journey. — AW

Artist: Plants and Animals
Album: The Jungle
Release date: Oct. 23

Thirteen years into their career, Montreal band Plants and Animals continue to push the boundaries of their propulsive indie-rock sound. With songs inspired by tragedies (the death of singer Warren Spicer's father) and anxieties (guitarist Nicolas Basque helping his son cope with climate change), The Jungle finds the band powering ahead despite the uncertainties that the future brings. ("Le Queens" is an exception, a dreamy respite featuring singer Adele Trottier-Rivard that waltzes backward in time to relive the feeling of falling in love.) Songs like "House on Fire" and "Sacrifice" highlight what the band does best: form a rhythmic engine, whether it's fuelled by a chugging riff or driving synths, that feels unstoppable, and will surely inspire the same feeling in its listeners. — ML

Artist: Matthew Cardinal
Album: Asterisms
Release date: Oct. 27

There's just one track available so far from Matthew Cardinal's debut solo album, Asterisms, and it's the dreamy, lustrous "May 24." For Cardinal, also a member of the Polaris shortlisted group nêhiyawak, releasing his foray into ambient electronic music couldn't be more timely; "May 24" washes over the listener, a synth-driven celestial bath of calm and wonder and gratitude, all things that feel desperately in short supply at this moment. The track embraces the vastness of space and the unknowability of it all isn't intimidating or frightening, but rather freeing. Cardinal describes Asterisms as an audio journal exploring "captured moments of experimentation and expression" with the titular dates for all 11 tracks "drawing attention to where I was musically, mentally and emotionally at very brief passages of my life." I don't know where Cardinal was on "May 24," but I do know that this track is my gateway to an escape, even if it's just to hover above the fracas for four minutes. If "May 24" is any indication of the rest of the album, Oct. 27 can't come soon enough. — AW

Artist: The OBGMs
Album: The Ends 
Release date: Oct. 30

The OBGMs are one of Toronto's best-kept secrets. The three-piece punk band has an explosive, in-your-face energy that's impossible to ignore. This is not background music, this is stop-whatever-it-is-you're-doing-and-bang-your-head music. Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Densil McFarlane, drummer Colanthony Humphrey and bassist Joseph Brosnan, the OBGMs (Oh Baby Gimme More) almost didn't make it to this point. In February 2018, at the end of a tour, McFarlane was in a dark spot and ready to call it quits. But instead, the band channelled that energy into 10 songs, produced by Dave Schiffman (Trash Talk, Pup, Rage Against the Machine), each one a short burst seething with urgency. "This is a Black-fronted punk band, and that's really important," McFarlane says in a press release. "Rock 'n' roll is mostly white suburban kids — that's what gets promoted. But we are Black and we out here. I was inspired to make rock music when I saw a Black guy onstage, and if someone sees that in us, I hope it will inspire a new generation to go after this." — JKG

Artist: Suuns
Album: Fiction
Release date: Oct. 30

Ahead of its forthcoming EP, Fiction, Suuns teased with the lead single "Pray," a sprawling, sinister track the band recorded in 2015 for its album Hold/Still. "It didn't make the cut, probably because we loved it so much and thought we had an even better version of it in us," says drummer Liam O'Neill in a press release. The belated gifting of "Pray" feels timely as the ground chills, Halloween season looms and lead singer Ben Shemie eerily weaves the lyrics "pray for me, pray for us" through the song's pulsing effects and eventual stomp. Each of the EP's six tracks are found recordings that were reworked while in isolation, with "Pray" as the perfect reintroduction to Suuns' bewitching approach to modern psychedelia. — JH

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

Charlottetown rapper Vince the Messenger plans to release his next album in November. (Courtesy of artist)

Charlottetown rapper Vince the Messenger is set to follow his award-winning debut album, 2018's Self Sabotage, with a second full-length, titled Trustfall. Still delivering rapid-fire verses, Vince continues to hone his lyrical and production skills over 13 tracks, building addictive loops and beats all sandwiched between a moody intro and outro that feel like allusions to his previous release and whatever he's planning next.

When we talked to him earlier this year, Vince referenced P.E.I.'s burgeoning hip-hop scene, and the challenges he's faced: "I know not everyone is going to like it, but there's people who are here for it," he said. "So I want to cater to the people who are going to stick around." Trustfall is exactly that, and as he raps on album standout "Dead World": "It's Vince season, I told you" — and we know it to be true. — HG

Artists: Pentaèdre, Philip Chiu
Album: Jacques Hétu: Music for Winds
Release date: Nov. 6 

With this album, Montreal's Pentaèdre wind quintet is doing its part to expand the catalogue of recorded works by Jacques Hétu, the venerable Québécois composer who died 10 years ago. Select symphonic works and chamber music for strings by Hétu have been commercially recorded, but not the chamber music for winds represented here: Wind Quintet (1967), Four Pieces for Flute and Piano (1965) and Elegy for Bassoon and Piano (1979). Pentaèdre and pianist Philip Chiu recorded this album following their much-hyped concert tribute to Hétu that took place in November 2019. A welcome addition. — RR

Pentaèdre's 10th anniversary tribute to Jacques Hétu will be released on Nov. 6, 2020. (ATMA Classique)

Artists: Esprit Orchestra, Evie Mark, Akinisie Sivuarapik, Alex Pauk
Album: Alexina Louie: Take the dog Sled
Release date: Nov. 6

Alexina Louie's Take the dog Sled was commissioned by the OSM. (Centrediscs)

More than a decade ago, Alexina Louie was commissioned by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal to write a piece for two throat singers and an ensemble of seven musicians, to be performed on the OSM'S 2008 tour of Nunavik. "The main problem was how to make a composition that integrated fully the sound world of two great traditions," wrote Louie about the challenge. "You cannot take one tradition and just stick it onto another."

The resulting eight-movement work, Take the dog Sled, struck the right balance at the premiere: "I worried needlessly…. The new sounds didn't alienate [the audience] at all [and] of course they recognized these traditional throat songs upon which I based several movements." The work has since been performed by Canada's NAC Orchestra (2012) and Esprit Orchestra (2018). This upcoming Centrediscs release is from the latter ensemble. — RR

Artist: Gianna Lauren
Album: Vanity Metrics
Release date: Nov. 13

It's fitting that Halifax-based songwriter Gianna Lauren would record such a beautiful EP and crown it Vanity Metrics, flipping a middle finger to the likes, hearts and streams you can gather as an artist on the internet. Hitting the studio after a two-week tour in fall 2017 with her band of Ontarians, the singer mostly recorded the album live off the floor on Nova Scotia's south shore in a collaborative effort — with a "touch of exhaustion," according to a statement from label Forward Music Group. Over five songs, Lauren creates a lush, idiosyncratic backdrop for stories of longing, heartbreak and forgiveness. "Before I die, I wanna tell you/ I love you/ but while I'm alive, I'm gonna hide," she confesses on the chorus of lead single "Spark," over a hypnotic guitar and some Bahamas-esque flourishes. "I crawled my way to sleep/ meet you in my dreams," she continues on the sparse beginnings of followup song "Whoa," building layers of horns, strings and backup vocals just in time to pull back and let her voice back in, as if waking up in fits. "I think of you in the dark/ how you left me," she reveals, her guitar acting as accuser. There's an emotional rhythm to Vanity Metrics that feels unstoppable, no matter the outside judgments we put on art. — HG

Artists: Art of Time
Album: Ain't got Long
Release date: Nov. 13

"Whenever we have experimented with popular music, the challenge has always been to find that fine line between remaining faithful to the original in terms of melody and form, and pushing the boundaries as much as possible in every other conceivable way," says Andrew Burashko, artistic director of Art of Time, which has been fusing high art with popular culture since 1998. The group's next album does just that with songs by Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Jane Siberry and others, artfully arranged by Jonathan Goldsmith and featuring guest vocalists Madeleine Peyroux, Sarah Slean, Jessica Mitchell and Gregory Hoskins. Pre-released on Sept. 16, their take on Siberry's "Calling all Angels" sets high expectations for the rest of the album. — RR

Artist: Yukon Blonde
Album: Vindicator
Release date: Nov. 13

It's been a decade since the Vancouver-based rock band released its self-titled debut, and there are few bands whose journeys have been this musically adventurous and rewarding. Yukon Blonde started out as a pretty straightforward guitar rock band and over the course of 10 years expanded into synths and drum machines and keyboards to explore everything from garage rock to synth-pop to electronic. The band's new album, Vindicator, promises further experimentation in psychedelic and soul and dance pop, as indicated on one of the first singles, the joyful "In Love Again." This is a celebration and as the title indicates, a vindication of sorts: Yukon Blonde produced this record themselves and they're feeling themselves, too. "It's a very rewarding feeling taking control of yourself and your creative ambition," the band notes in a press release. "It's something that you can ride high on because expectations were met and fulfilled and that's a joyous thing." — AW