Spring 2020 guide: 25 albums you need to hear

From Jessie Reyez to Rufus Wainwright to Missy D, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on this season.

From Jessie Reyez to Rufus Wainwright to Missy D, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on

From left to right: Missy D, Jessie Reyez and Rufus Wainwright all have must-hear albums coming out this season. (Facebook; Joe Scarnici/Getty Images; graphic by CBC Music)

It may be a bit tough to get into the swing of spring this year, considering the global pandemic, but one thing we could all use from time to time is a reprieve — and brand new music from Canadian artists is just the thing.

Considering that many artists, particularly those with new album cycles on the horizon, have had to cancel tours and other events, please consider buying the albums that you love, if you can. And if you're looking for other ways to support Canadian musicians during this difficult financial time, we've put together 5 ways to do so.

Below, we dig deep into the albums we're most excited to hear this season. From the Weeknd to PartyNextDoor, Rufus Wainwright to Basia Bulat, Jennah Barry to Quiet Parade, we're here to guide you through the Canadian albums you need to hear this spring.

Did we miss something? Let us know via @CBCMusic

Artist: the Weeknd
Album: After Hours
Release date: March 20 

The Weeknd made his name singing about the time between when the club closes and the sun comes up, often dealing in drug-fuelled, self-loathing tropes. His debut, House of Balloons, was released almost 10 years ago, and it helped change the sound of R&B music. But in the years since, Abel Tesfaye has branched out from the subterranean production that helped define that early work. By collaborating with pop kingmakers such as Daft Punk and Max Martin, the Weeknd became a household name. Hit songs like "I Can't Feel My Face" and "Starboy" cast a massive spotlight on him, and he's been trying to get back into the dark ever since.

"No more daytime music," he tweeted in January before announcing his new album, aptly called After Hours. The two lead singles, "Heartless" and "Blinding Lights," make that much clear. "I'm back to my ways 'cause I'm heartless" he sings on the former. And on the title track, Tesfaye sings about regressing back to his "darkest hours" alongside some House of Balloons-style production from longtime collaborator Illangelo. With other songs titles such as "Alone Again," "Hardest to Love" and "Scared to Live," it would seem Tesfaye's completely stepped back from the light, with those themes of isolation, heartbreak and misanthropy being pushed once again to the fore of his sound. 

— Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Artist: Matt Tavares and Leland Whitty
Album: Visions
Release date: March 20

Last year, BadBadNotGood co-founder Matt Tavares announced his departure from the Toronto jazz group, noting in an online post: "As the audiences started to get larger, my happiness was diminishing." But Tavares remains friends with his old bandmates, so much so that he has teamed up with member Leland Whitty on a new project. Tavares and Whitty's collaborative album, Visions, is part improvised, part composed, and almost entirely recorded in one take, combining "modern jazz, impressionist classical music, and Arthur Verocai-esque arrangements," a press release stated. The result, as previewed on the opening track, "Through the Looking Glass," is emotional, surprising and something absolutely new but still suitable for fans of BadBadNotGood.

— Melody Lau

Artist: Missy D
Album: Yes Mama
Release date: March 20

"Something in my melanin gives me all that I need," Missy D sings on the fifth track of her new EP. The song's title, "Melanin," is purposeful and direct, a declaration and a celebration of her roots in Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. As evinced by the album's title, Yes Mama, this is a record that is all about Missy D's relationship to where she comes from, musically, lyrically and physically. She sings and raps in English and French, her voice all radiance and glow, whether she's biting rhymes in half or delivering lines with warmth and soul.

Missy D writes passionately about issues of justice and equity, calling out racism and sexism and hate against a backdrop of sonic influences that blend together — jazz, hip hop, neo-soul, electronic, Afrobeat, pop — to almost dizzying effect. On "Au revoir," Missy D bids adieu to her recently deceased father over mournful piano chords and a recessed drum beat. But the title track is the real standout, a joyful tribute to the motherland, her mom and the matriarchy. Yes Mama is the EP we've needed for a long time.

— Andrea Warner

Artist: Witch Prophet
Album: DNA Activation
Release date: March 24

DNA Activation is a wild and creative excavation of the sacred and the spiritual, and it's as intense and personal as it is joyful and inspiring. Witch Prophet and her partner and co-producer, Sun Sun, have crafted a record full of purpose and intention. DNA Activation is a deliberately feminist queering of sonic and linguistic landscapes — the songs are a cool collective tangle of jazz, R&B, hip hop and soul sung in English, Amharic and Tigrinya — fuelled by Witch Prophet's Ethiopian and Eritrean roots, and inspired by her own family members, mythology and bible stories. "I will not forget that power lies in me," Witch Prophet sings, and with her aptly titled new album, she delivers on that promise. — AW

Artist: Daniel Romano and the Outfit
Album: Okay Wow
Release date: March 27

The Welland, Ont., native and his live touring band, the Outfit, are set to release a collection of live versions of Romano's tried-and-true folk-rock songs at the end of the month. Romano's first release since 2018's Finally Free, Okay Wow is also his first live album — a format that will likely suit the spaghetti Western-inspired singer, given his dynamic stage presence and use of instruments. If you know Romano but are unfamiliar with the Outfit, a press release from the band stated: "They all wear the same size clothing. They take the same vitamins and they love with the same warmth and tenderness. They are an outfit, united in song and banded in vitality. If you have seen them, you know all of this as it is evident. If you haven't, then close your eyes and set the dial to 10, turn the heat up in your sparse, stuff-less, undersaturated, air-plant filled apartment and drop the needle into the Outfit." 

— Jess Huddleston

Artist: Basia Bulat
Album: Are You in Love?
Release date: March 27

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

Basia Bulat teams up with producer Jim James, of My Morning Jacket, once again for Are You in Love?, her followup to 2016's Polaris Music Prize shortlisted Good Advice. On lead single "Your Girl," Bulat buoyantly sings through heartache as she admitted in a statement: "Someone once told me you can't sing and cry at the same time but that wasn't true for me when we were recording this one." — ML

Artist: P'tit Belliveau
Album: Greatest Hits Vol. 1
Release date: March 27

It takes a certain amount of swagger to call your debut album Greatest Hits Vol. 1, but Acadian musician P'tit Belliveau's tongue is firmly in cheek. Originally from Baie Sainte-Marie, N.S., and now living in Moncton, P'tit Belliveau's brand of banjo mixed with drum machines, coupled with his seamless transitions from French to English, make for an atypical electro-folk sound often laced with wry humour. While tracks like "Income Tax" ("À cause mes poches sont pleines and I'mma blow a fuse," he sings, his pockets full after getting his tax return) and "Drivin' on Empty" ("Driving on empty, four bald tires") ring literal, there's often another side to P'tit Belliveau's coin. Lead single "Les bateaux dans la baie" sounds, lyrically, similar, but in a 2019 interview with Voir, the singer shed some light: "Je suis Jonah, de la Baie. Qu'est-ce que je peux faire? Je vais juste regarder les bateaux dans la baie. C'est pas une chanson inspirante. C'est juste pour se sentir bien avec notre impuissance." ("I'm Jonah, from the bay. What can I do? I just look at the boats in the bay. It's not an inspiring song. It's just to make us feel good about our powerlessness.") As he sings on the track: "C'est OK." — HG

Artist: PartyNextDoor
Album: PartyMobile
Release date: March 27

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

The Mississauga R&B artist and songwriter warned us in 2017 that he was "taking my time with this album," referring to his followup to 2016's PartyNextDoor 3. Well, almost three years later, the OVO Sound star is finally ready to put out his highly anticipated third full-length. PartyMobile was originally teased as a January release, but has now secured a March date. It will feature singles "The News," "Split Decision" and his latest Drake collab, "Loyal." — ML

Artist: Dana Gavanski
Album: Yesterday is Gone
Release date: March 27 

Serbian-Canadian singer Dana Gavanski describes her debut album as "a reckoning with myself," and with a name like Yesterday is Gone, you'd think the mood would be particularly sombre. But the title track hints at a lightness underneath, inspired by '60s pop music and accompanied by a playful video — and minute dance moves — filmed in Montreal's brightly recognizable metro stations. What anchors Yesterday is Gone is Gavanski's beautiful voice and (often frank) emotion, while the structure of her songs hop increasingly blurry lines between pop, rock and folk, the additions of classical guitar, horns and synths — and related effects — inviting a deeper listen each time. "I didn't grow up playing instruments, I grew up singing," Gavanski told earlier this month, the Vancouver-based singer having only picked up a guitar at the age of 18. But taking her time is Gavanski's strength: there's a tenderness to Yesterday is Gone that could only come from a slow burn, and while the singer processed a lot to get this album out, her sights are clearly set on the future. — HG

Artist: Jessie Reyez
Album: Before Love Came to Kill Us
Release date: March 27 

After two successful EPs, a number of standout features and a Grammy nomination, it seems like one of the only things left for Toronto R&B artist Jessie Reyez to do is put out a full-length album. With its release coming up at the end of the month, Reyez has expressed that she is feeling "conflicted" given the current COVID-19 pandemic. "The whole premise of building this album was to make something that made people think about their morality," she wrote on Instagram. "Now it seems like a theme song to what's happening irl." That said, Reyez still plans on dropping the album, now with a few additional tweaks including a guest feature from rapper Eminem, whose album Reyez appeared on two years ago. "If we drop now and the world ends tomorrow, at least my art was authentic," her post concluded. — ML

Artist: Jennah Barry
Album: Holiday
Release date: March 27

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

'Tis the season for long-awaited followup albums, and Jennah Barry's Holiday is on that list. Her ever excellent Young Men came out in 2012, and since that release she's taken a break from singing due to vocal surgery, and started a family. Now the Mahone Bay, N.S., singer is back with nine tracks and a new perspective, one of deep breaths and AM radio hits. From the gutting lines on "Roller Disco" ("There was a line drawn thru our love/ without any space between/ but this circle is my own/ your line doesn't end with me") to the aching waltz of "No Dancer" to the heavy sigh of "Pink Grey Blue," Holiday is one heartbreakingly realistic dream sequence after another, beautifully arranged by Barry to include strings and horns alongside drums and guitar — including that lap steel. — HG

Artist: Tory Lanez
Album: The New Toronto 3
Release date: March 

Toronto rapper Tory Lanez made a name for himself in the early 2010s by releasing a successful string of mixtapes. Among his discography are two long-running series: his Chixtapes and The New Toronto. Last year, Lanez released Chixtape 5 and now he is promising fans a third volume of the New Toronto. And whereas his Chixtapes reimagine R&B classics over the decades, Lanez's The New Toronto tapes will likely offer more hard-edged raps. There is no definitive release date yet, but Lanez warns fans that it's "coming sooner than u think." Stay alert. — ML

Artist: Purity Ring
Album: Womb
Release date: April 3

In the years since Purity Ring released its last album, 2015's Another Eternity, the synth-pop duo has gradually upped its profile by working with other artists like Soccer Mommy and Katy Perry. Now, Megan James and Corin Roddick are returning to their own project to release Purity Ring's third full-length, Womb. The album, which is entirely produced and recorded by the two members, "chronicles a quest for comfort and the search for a resting place," a statement explains. Its lead single, "Stardew," doesn't stray far from the group's signature sound of glitchy production and airy melodies, but instead achieves that sense of aforementioned comfort, helping ease fans back into the world of Purity Ring. — ML

Artist: Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Album: Born Deadly
Release date: April 3

"We the new generation, we gonna keep it moving/ flip the flag on its head, this a revolution," Snotty Nose Rez Kids declare on "Cops With Guns Are the Worst!!!," the latest track off the Haisla hip-hop duo's forthcoming EP, Born Deadly. A fiery anthem supporting the Wet'suwet'en pipeline protests, the second single will be part of SNRK's fourth studio release in three years — the duo of Darren "Young D" Metz and Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce appear to never sleep — and signals another relentless, artful demonstration of grit in times of adversity. On the heels of back-to-back Polaris Music Prize shortlist nominations, for 2018's The Average Savage and 2019's Trapline, by now we know that new music from SNRK is not to be missed. — JH

Artist: Fiver & the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition
Album: You Wanted Country? Vol. 1
Release date: April 3

No matter Simone Schmidt's project, the story forms the bones on which they hang their music. In 2017, that took the form of Audible Songs from Rockwood, an album built on three years of research to give voice to the stories of women incarcerated in the mid-1800s at the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston. Later that same year, Schmidt caught improvisational musicians Bianca Palmer (drums), Jeremy Costello (voice, bass) and Nick Dourado (lap steel, piano) performing with Big Budi Band and Aquakultre at Sappyfest in Sackville, N.B., and approached them to work on their next project. "My idea was to bring in these new players, people who were naive to the tradition [of country music] and show them these old songs and then see how to wrangle their improvisational tendencies to bring about a new way of playing," Schmidt explains in episode 1 of Atop a Song, a short, three-part documentary they made for the album. "And what you can hear on the recordings is that there are no stock licks." 

Calling their new band the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition, everyone gathered in LaHave, N.S., to rehearse during Hurricane Dorian, eventually needing to relocate due to the weather. "I wasn't raised in a tradition of country music, but I was raised in a tradition of learning songs," explains Dourado in the same video. "The form is the path to any of them." On You Wanted Country? Vol. 1, you get Simone Schmidt and the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition's country: a nod to Schmidt's formative listening (Gene Clark, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck), with three covers and one original — but no rules, and open hearts. It's freeing. 

— Holly Gordon

Artist: Lido Pimienta 
Album: Miss Colombia 
Release date: April 17

When Steve Harvey accidentally crowned the wrong winner at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, many were shocked and some even turned the mistake into a joke. But for Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta, that moment sparked something much deeper, a reflection of the anti-Blackness she's experienced in both her homes of Colombia and Canada. It's the inspiration behind the title of her new album, Miss Colombia, which musically draws from many different places, from Afro-Latin musical history to contemporary acts like M.I.A. and Cardi B. If winning the Polaris Prize in 2017 helped put the Toronto-based artist on the map, then Miss Colombia aims to stake her claim not just in Canada, but beyond. — ML

Artist: Quiet Parade
Album: The Will to Weather the Storm
Release date: April 17

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

The driving, glossy beat of the first single from Quiet Parade's forthcoming new album potentially signals a more urgent and pop-forward future sound for the Halifax-based band, and I'm here for it. There's still plenty of tender thoughtfulness in frontman Trevor Murphy's emotionally astute lyrics. A flood of feelings as we leave it all on the dance floor? That's the sound of the young hearts in my circle of friends at least.

— Andrea Warner

Artist: Loony
Album: Joyride
Release date: April 23

When we included Loony's upcoming album in our list of albums to watch for 2020, we didn't have much information. What we did know was that "Some Kinda Love," the new song from the Scarborough-based emerging artist, is beautifully influenced by contemporary R&B/soul artists like Solange and Lianne La Havas. There are jazz flourishes, staccato beats, and a movement to the song that's evocative of a walk with someone who makes your heart skip a beat every other step. Loony's voice is exquisite, as is her live band on this track, and now that we have a release date and album name, we're ready to get our hands on her long-awaited debut. — AW

Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Album: Unfollow the Rules
Release date: April 24

After a detour during which he recorded an album of Shakespeare sonnets and composed two full-length operas, Rufus Wainwright is back on track with his first pop album since 2012's Out of the Game. Three advance tracks — "Trouble in Paradise," "Damsel in Distress" and "Peaceful Afternoon" — find the folk-pop artist in a darkly cheerful mood, his guitar-driven songs falling somewhere between prog-rock and jazz funeral music, with Wainwright leading the procession and drawing you into his incisive social commentary with buoyant melodies and surprising harmonic twists. "Many songwriters improve with age," says Wainwright, 46, via press release. "I'm flying the flag for staying alive!"

— Robert Rowat

Artist: Braids
Album: Shadow Offering
Release date: April 24

We're finally getting a followup to Braids' 2015 Polaris shortlisted album, Deep in the Iris. Produced by Chris Walla (formerly of Death Cab for Cutie), Shadow Offering brings hope in a time of crisis: "There's more hopefulness in this record than anything else I've written," singer Raphael Standell-Preston said via press release. "I think the songs are more human, more tangible, more honest." 

The first single, "Eclipse (Ashley)," was inspired by a trip that singer Raphael Standell-Preston and her friend Ashley took to see a solar eclipse. Ashley suggested they "should take this opportunity to think about what eclipses us in our lives," as Standell-Preston has explained, resulting in this layered, piano-driven track that is just as ethereal and intangible as that might sound. The album also marks the Montreal-based band's first release since former band member Katie Lee opened up about why she left in 2012, detailing what she called her former bandmates' "performative allyship." Pitchfork reported in November that current members Standell-Preston, Taylor Smith and Austin Tufts have recently reconciled with Lee. — HG

Artist: Austra
Album: HiRUDiN
Release date: May 1 

Austra's fourth album, HiRUDiN, tackles the cycles of a toxic relationship. In places throughout this new release, the Toronto artist struggles to break free, but on her lead single, "Risk It," she declares that she's "over it." The process of recording this album also found Austra shaking off her regular routine, seeking out new collaborators like a children's choir, contemporary classical group c_RL, cellist and kamanche duo Kamancello and kulintang group Pantayo. "I felt completely revitalized," Austra said in a press release of her new approach. That excitement is palpable on the album, which is Austra's most experimental and varied release yet. But its driving force remains the same: her powerful, moving voice, at once heartbreaking and empowering. — ML

Artist: Alanis Morissette
Album: Such Pretty Forks in the Road
Release date: May 1

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

Next year not only marks the 25th anniversary of Alanis Morissette's seminal record Jagged Little Pill, but it will also see the release of the Canadian icon's first new album in eight years. The album's first single, the piano-pop "Reasons I Drink," is out now and Morissette will hit the road some time this year, after postponing a summer tour with Liz Phair and Garbage due to the coronavirus pandemic. — ML

Artist: Pantayo
Album: Pantayo
Release date: May 8

"One way that we can make this world feel like home for folks like us is to mix the kulintang music that we learned with different sounds and song structures that feel familiar to us," says Kat Estacio, co-founder of Pantayo, a quintet of queer diasporic Filipinas based in Toronto. What Estacio neglects to mention is the total sophistication with which she and her bandmates introduce traditional instruments (kulintang, agongs, sarunays, gandingan, bandir, and dabak) into their music, which embraces elements of neo-soul, punk and art pop. Advance track "Divine" gives an idea of what their debut album's remaining eight tracks hold in store. — RR

Artist: Aquakultre
Album: Legacy
Release date: May 8

As published in our January 2020 piece, "25 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2020":

Aquakultre, CBC Music's Searchlight 2018 winner, has had a busy few years. Since winning Searchlight, Aquakultre has performed at the CBC Music Festival, completed the 2018 Juno Master Class and toured across the country. Aquakultre has also grown from a solo act into a full-blown band, which will likely give its upcoming debut, Legacy, a fuller sound to boost his already catchy, soulful tunes. — ML

Artist: Radio Radio
Album: À la carte
Release date: May 22

We don't have much information yet, but this May will mark the release of Radio Radio's final album. Originally from Clare, N.S., and Moncton, but based in Montreal for years, the hip-hop duo of Jacques Alphonse Doucet and Gabriel L.B. Malenfant — who rap in Acadian dialects Acadjonne and Chiac, respectively — formed Radio Radio in 2007 when their former band, Jacobus et Maleco, broke up. New members came on board and the name changed to Radio Radio, but over the years, that band has distilled to a two-member team. Following up breakout hit "Jacuzzi," released on Radio Radio's 2008 debut album, Cliché Hot, the band's second album, Belmundo Regal, landed on the 2010 Polaris Music Prize short list and won Radio Radio its first Félix Award: producer of the year, with producer Sébastien Blais-Montpetit. For the upcoming album, À la carte, the duo went into the studio "with a few longtime friends, and some new collaborators, to complete this ultimate album," according to the press release, and we're looking forward to hearing what came out of those sessions. — HG