Summer 2020 guide: 22 albums you need to hear

From Neil Young to Jessy Lanza, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on.

From Neil Young to Jessy Lanza, all the Canadian releases you should keep an eye on

Expect to hear new albums from (from left) Emanuel, Jessy Lanza and Neil Young this summer. (Matt Barnes, Jessy Lanza/Facebook, Getty Images; graphic by CBC)

As the world continues to navigate a pandemic and countries reckon with their histories of racism, especially toward Black and Indigenous people, music has become not only a crucial tool for expressing fear and anger, but also a balm during this time. 

With the summer solstice approaching this weekend, we are about to enter a season that is normally packed with festivals. This year, things will be decidedly quieter with many events either delayed or outright cancelled. But that doesn't mean there won't be an abundance of new music coming out and whether you plan on cranking these albums loudly at home or perhaps bringing the tunes with you to your (socially-distanced) park hangouts, new music will be here to brighten up the upcoming months. 

Below, we've chosen 22 Canadian albums we can't wait to hear this summer. What new records are you looking forward to? Share with us @CBCMusic.

Artist: Neil Young
Album: Homegrown 
Release date: June 19

In 1975, Neil Young wrote and recorded Homegrown, and then he shelved it. His fans have been looking for it ever since. In the '70s, Young was on the roll of a lifetime with the success of Harvest, but that was contrasted with the dark realities of drugs and death. Young took that time to experiment with his sound and challenge audiences with what became known as the "ditch trilogy" — Time Fades Away, Tonight's the Night and On the Beach. That trilogy contains songs that are considered classics today, but at the time they were deemed commercial failures. And yet, in the midst of all that, Young also recorded Homegrown, which is not only more in line with Harvest than any of those three albums, but also his most personal. Writing for Neil Young Archives, Bill Bentley says the album is "an extremely personal letter sent from Neil Young back in 1975 that somehow got lost and sat behind a filing cabinet in some dusty Post Office back room all these years." Leave it to Young to wait for a global pandemic to release an album that fans have been seeking out for 45 years. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Artist: Jonah Yano
Album: Souvenir 
Release date:
June 19

The first time you may have heard soulful Toronto singer Jonah Yano was on his standout contributions to BadBadNotGood's "Key to Love (is Understanding)" and "Goodbye Blue." At the time, we described Yano as having such "a languorous and fluid voice that it sounds like it's coming from a dream." His debut album, Souvenir, is no different and features smooth, laid-back instrumentation that allows the Japan-born, Toronto-based musician's vocals to effortlessly drift above it. Equally inspired by Feist, Sharon Van Etten and jazz icon Bill Evans, Yano makes the music that plays through your head when you're laying on your back outside and staring at the clouds. — JKG

Artist: Emanuel
Album: Session 1: Disillusion 
Release date: June 19

Listening to up-and-coming Toronto R&B artist Emanuel, who has already received a significant cosign from actor Idris Elba, ignites that universally exciting feeling of having stumbled upon greatness. With his debut EP, out today, each of the three songs is a unique sampling of Emanuel's wide range — a crushing piano ballad, a hazy, guitar-driven confessional and a Channel Orange-inspired groove — all carried by his impossibly soulful and capable vocals. After today, Emanuel will undoubtedly emerge from under the radar and begin a rightful ascent that's already long overdue. — Jess Huddleston

Artist: Klô Pelgag
Album: Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs 
Release date: June 26

To listen to Klô Pelgag, given name Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon, is to hand yourself over to her universe, and the one she's created for Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs a place that exists both geographically and in her mind is one of healing through heartbreak. Translating to Notre-Dame-of-Seven-Pains, the real-life town is one the Quebec artist would pass signs to while on family trips as a child, imagining a place of horror and sadness. Then recently, she found herself in a mirrored head space: "In the middle of all my anxieties, not knowing anymore who I was, taking hits and hating myself more than anyone else. I now lived on this island that I built or imagined on my own," she said via press release. This album, her third, rescued her. "Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is an album in which songs talk to each other, harmonically, lyrically. These songs saved my life," she said, coming full circle in the mini documentary about the album. Pop-leaning while diving into ambitious orchestral arrangements (the strings and brass in "La maison jaune" are particularly stirring), Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs feels like a life's work in 12 songs. — Holly Gordon

Artist: Tenille Townes
Album: The Lemonade Stand
Release date: June 26

The Lemonade Stand is country singer Tenille Townes' long-awaited full-length debut on both Sony Music and Columbia Nashville, though we've been given plenty of sneak peeks for months now. The Road to the Lemonade Stand EP, released in February 2020, collected five of the 12 forthcoming songs and showcased Townes' specialties: empathetic storytelling coupled with that Stevie Nicks-like range — a voice that cuts right through a full band or simmers gently atop an acoustic guitar. Produced by Jay Joyce (Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town), The Lemonade Stand includes hits like "Somebody's Daughter" (a song that's made Townes the only woman to have two No. 1 singles since Mediabase started monitoring in Canada in 2004) and "Jersey on the Wall (I'm Just Asking)" as well as not-yet-released tracks "Find You" and "Lighthouse." After years of digging deep to do the work, it's about time that Townes gets to unleash this full-album project. — HG

Artist: Moscow Apartment
Album: Better Daughter EP
Release date: July 10

Moscow Apartment's Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla may still be teenagers but their musical careers have already grown exponentially since releasing their 2017 debut EP. In those three years, the folk-rock group has toured extensively, won Slaight Music's It's Your Shot songwriting contest and performed at the 2018 CBC Music Festival. Now gearing up for their sophomore release, Better Daughter, their music has only gotten more polished and poignant as they tackle topics including rape culture and the complicated nature of adolescence. The former is the inspiration behind their latest single, "New Girl," a sparkling number that highlights Fry and Padilla's wonderful harmonies over a Broken Social Scene-esque guitar work. (Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew provided guidance on the song.) — Melody Lau

Artist: July Talk
Album: Pray for It
Release Date: July 10

Since July Talk debuted in 2012, they've been one of the most exciting and consistent rock bands in Canada. Their live shows are not to be missed, with the push-and-pull dynamic between singer Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis proving to be truly magnetic. Yet in that time, the band has only released two albums, their self-titled debut and 2016's Touch. That makes their third album, Pray for It, an event for Canadian rock fans (one the band will be celebrating with two Drive-In shows in Toronto in August). Not much is known about the album yet, but the lead single, "Pay for It," is a gorgeous, affecting solo ballad from Fay about combating violence, greed, destruction and hate, proving that just as they can hit you over the head with their energy, they can also hit you in the heart. — JKG 

Artist: Jerry Cook Quartet+
Album: Walk in the Park
Release date: July 24

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Cook lists Stanley Turrentine and Gene Harris among his influences, so when he leads a jazz ensemble, you just know it will be a soulful, bluesy outing. This album of standards, ballads and originals was recorded soon after Cook debuted his quartet at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver last fall. His bandmates are Chris Gestrin (piano), Jesse Cahill (drums) and John Lee (bass.) The "+" in the band's name is for guitarist Dave Sikula, who joins on certain tunes. Look forward to their Horace Silver-inspired take on "Summertime," a surprisingly swinging arrangement of "Smile" and their transparent touch on "Soul Eyes." — Robert Rowat

Artist: Jessy Lanza
Album: All the Time
Release date: July 24

This new release marks the first time Jessy Lanza and her longtime creative partner Jeremy Greenspan created an album in separate cities. With Lanza now in New York and Greenspan back in Hamilton, Ont., the process was admittedly difficult, but as a press release assures, "All the Time has turned out to be the most pure set of pop songs the duo has recorded." While lead single, "Lick in Heaven," shows off that pop sensibility with its simple, repetitive refrains circling around layers of synths, All the Time still embraces spontaneity and improvisation by adding blips and flourishes throughout the album like an electronic signature that is uniquely Lanza's. — ML

Artist: Land of Talk
Album: Indistinct Conversations
Release date: July 31

After making a comeback in 2017 with Life After Youth, their first album in seven years, Land of Talk is now returning with their fourth studio album, Indistinct Conversations. The album takes on a more acoustic guitar sound as Liz Powell wrote these songs while "subletting a place with paper thin walls," as they noted in an online bio. The results feel intimate and more emotionally vulnerable than anything Powell has ever put out before, with their stream-of-consciousness lyricism flowing out effortlessly over quiet, but powerful, soundscapes. — ML

Artist: Quinsin Nachoff, Molinari Quartet, Nathalie Bonin, others
Album: Pivotal Arc
Release date: Aug. 7

Saxophonist, composer and two-time Juno nominee Quinsin Nachoff's latest project presents three new works: a violin concerto (13 years in the making!) written in collaboration with its soloist, Nathalie Bonin; a string quartet commissioned (and performed) by Montreal's Molinari Quartet; and the title track, a genre-defying chamber work for multiple instruments composed as a response to the looming threat of climate change. Promotional material promises "a multifaceted but seamless sound world interweaving driving rhythms, pointillistic modernism, and folk-tinged romance," which sounds about right for a musician of Nachoff's adventurous leanings. — RR

Artist: Kathleen Edwards
Album: Total Freedom
Release date: August 14

Cherished Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards put down her guitar and pen in 2012 following personal hardships that, according to an interview with Rolling Stone, she understandably opted not to write about and "sit with." Instead, she hunkered down and opened a coffee shop in Stittsville, Ont., called Quitters, and until country superstar Maren Morris called her up for songwriting help in 2017, she hadn't considered reopening for music business. Lucky for us, Edwards decided she was ready to play her own music again and is now returning with her fifth studio album — a collection that, judging from the first two beautiful singles, represents an artist rejuvenated, comfortably imperfect and, mostly, free. — JH

Artist: Dog Day
Album: Present
Release date: Aug. 14

Halifax's Dog Day released its 2013 album, Fade Out, and then took the title seriously, only returning for a handful of shows in summer 2018. But now, with the returning husband-and-wife harmonies of Seth Smith and Nancy Urich alongside original drummer KC Spidle and new member Meg Yoshida, Dog Day is back. Filled with moody earworms that Yoshida's synths buff with just the right amount of summer sheen, Present is yet another aptly titled album for the band, whose new lineup fits perfectly into its core DIY aesthetic: Yoshida and Spidle play together in Bad Vibrations, while Yoshida and Urich play together in Not You; everyone creating music in the time they have with the people they want. Luckily for us, that means a set of pop songs that give new meaning to the Dog Day(s) of summer. Unfortunately, there isn't yet a lead single, but rumour has it there'll be one soon. — HG

Artist: Haley Blais
Album: Below the Salt
Release date: Aug. 25

Vancouver artist Haley Blais began documenting her music career the way many people do nowadays: on YouTube. Now with over 175,000 subscribers, Blais' channel is a mix of vlogs, song covers and original compositions like her latest dream-pop track, "Too Good." Now gearing up for her debut LP, Below the Salt, Blais has transformed from a solo folk songwriter to a rising bedroom-pop star. Indie-pop group Tennis and fellow Vancouverite Louise Burns provide production on the album, transforming her charming honesty into some of her catchiest tunes yet. — ML

Artist: Véronique Mathieu, Jasmin Arakawa
Album: Cortège
Release date: Aug. 28

Violinist Véronique Mathieu met pianist Jasmin Arakawa when they were graduate students at Indiana University and they've been performing together ever since. For their second album as a duo, they've settled on a program of 20th-century French music — works by Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, Lili Boulanger and Nicolas Bacri — exploring processions (cortèges), from the solemn, funereal variety to the triumphant. Expect confident, impassioned playing from Mathieu, and the kind of synergy with Arakawa that comes from seasoned collaboration, as this excerpt reveals. — RR

Artist: Nate Husser
Album: Adult Supervision Required
Release date: September

Nate Husser is no stranger to the Canadian hip-hop scene — the anglophone Montreal rapper has kept busy in different formats: first as part of rap trio the Posterz and more recently as a solo artist, often nabbed for collaborations with other Canadians to watch. Husser's new EP, set for release this fall, is proof that he's really done the work on this one — its sonic range spanning from laid-back club flow ("I Just Bought Another Neck") to sing-rap and blazing manifestos ("Punk Me") paired with T.H.C.-style production. — JH

Artist: Hannah Georgas
Album: All That Emotion
Release date: Sept. 4

Singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas says her new album represents resilience, noting in a press release: "It's about finding hope and a way out the other side of tough situations." While this new release, titled All That Emotion, started taking shape shortly after her last album, 2016's gorgeous For Evelyn, the sentiment of this record feels rather timely now. And Georgas' voice, at times serene but also beautifully evocative, is much-needed in turbulent times likes this. With help from the National's Aaron Dessner — the album was recorded at his upstate New York studio — All That Emotion builds lush instrumentation around airy melodies as exemplified by singles "That Emotion" and "Dreams." — ML

Artist: Joshua Van Tassel
Album: Dance Music Volume II: More Songs for Slow Motion
Release date: Sept. 11

"There's a lot of really ugly shit happening in the world, and I wanted to make a really beautiful album." Joshua Van Tassel said this in April, one month into the pandemic, when he announced his forthcoming album, and while it felt true then it feels sharper now. Dance Music Volume II: More Songs for Slow Motion doesn't hold answers, but it holds salve, and if you're able to lose yourself in Van Tassel's compositions for even a few minutes, you'll feel a bit lighter. The musician/composer/producer, originally from Nova Scotia and now based in Toronto, made the first edition of Dance Music: Songs for Slow Motion as a gift for his wife, a dancer, to use in her sessions as a craniosacral therapist. This followup — created with the Ondea ("a contemporary re-creation of the famed French synthesizer, the Ondes Martenot") a string quartet and electronics — feels like another heartfelt gift to all of us.

Side note: you can order a companion print by Geordan Moore (the Quarrelsome Yeti) on eco-friendly wildflower paper that you can plant in your garden and watch bloom. — HG

Artist: Rich Aucoin
Album: United States
Release date: Sept. 18

"How it Breaks" and "Reset" could be chapters written directly out of today's news cycle, but Halifax's Rich Aucoin wrote the songs while cycling across the United States two years ago. That they are so fitting today is both infuriating and predictable, and Aucoin's videos for the two songs are strung together with news footage that spans years, with the recently released "Reset" showing cut after cut of shootings across the country.

"I wanted to really see the States alone as an observer with lots of time to process the experience," says Aucoin of his trip, which he started after the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, in which 17 students and faculty members died. "I've loved touring there and was interested in how such a progressive country could elect their current president. After cycling through town after town with decaying downtowns where photos were displayed in the local cafes showing the town in full bloom after the second world war, I could see how his propaganda of 'Make America Great Again' really conned people." Knowing Aucoin, and considering that the first single, "How it Breaks," is built on the beat from Rihanna's 2007 hit "Umbrella," United States will take both message and dance beat seriously when it comes to protest anthems. — HG

Artist: Drake
Album: TBA
Release date: Summer 2020

Ten years ago, Drake released his debut studio album, Thank Me Later, and helped usher in a new sound that effortlessly blended pop, R&B and rap that would dominate the charts for the decade. In 2020, he's still going strong, having already released the Dark Lane Demo Tapes, a collection of lost and found songs that was just a warm-up for what's to come — Drake's official sixth studio album, which he's been recording in quarantine. "God has us all inside the house right now sitting down, so the amount of focus I'm able to put into this album is probably way different than it would've been," he told Diddy on Instagram live. "I remember the last time I had to sit down was when I tore my ACL and I made a great album out of that." That album was Thank me Later. Only time will tell if his next one will have the same impact. — JKG

Artist: Le Ren
Album: Morning and Melancholia
Release date: TBA

So far there's just one single available from Le Ren's forthcoming four-song EP, Morning and Melancholia, and it is stunning. "Love Can't be the Only Reason to Stay" delivers on the promise of its raw title. Consider this devastating verse, which Le Ren (26-year-old Lauren Spear) delivers simply and firmly, wise but not bitter, her voice waltzing up and down the scale for a lilting sing-song effect that recalls both Leonard Cohen and John Prine. — Andrea Warner

I loved you my darling
You know that it's true
I loved you til you beat my heart black and blue
But I just can't stand to be treated that way
No, love can't be the only reason to stay.

Artist: Adria Kain
Album: TBA
Release date: TBA

CBC Music last caught up with soul singer Adria Kain in 2019 when she previewed songs from her release When Flowers Bloom in a First Play Live session. Now, a little over a year later, it seems like the Toronto R&B singer is ready to release more new music. In a Facebook post this week, Kain told fans: "I'm ready to share something new. A moment of clarity. A space to breathe. To let go and release any anxiety or tension. A place to hold, peace and be still, just for a moment...." With any luck, we'll have new tunes from Kain to add to our playlist this summer. — ML

Adria Kain | Something New | CBC Music

4 years ago
Duration 3:43
Adria Kain performs for CBC Music.